Apple vs. Google vs. Microsoft: who will get to the future of PCs first?

It feels like a long time since we’ve had a great big knock-down, drag-out operating system battle. Windows vs. Mac shook out in the ‘90s. iOS vs. Android is mostly settled. But another one is starting this summer if you know where to look. It’s not in classic PCs, where the relative qualities between Mac and Windows have remained stable for some time now. It’s not in phones, where the iPhone is dominant at the high end and Android owns massive marketshare.

This time it’s happening in one specific place: cheap computers. And the fight for it is going to be as brutal and fascinating as the ones we’ve seen before. The players aren’t surprising at all: Google, Apple, and Microsoft. But this is a different kind of platform war, one where all three have a legitimate chance of coming out ahead.

Over the past year, we’ve been watching the players line up. The operating systems and ecosystems that will be competing are the ones you’d probably guess:

  1. Google’s Chrome OS (with Android apps)
  2. Apple’s iOS (on the iPad)
  3. Microsoft’s Windows 10 Cloud (and new-style Windows apps)

In all three cases, what you’re looking at are “underpowered” operating systems that most people think can’t be used as “real computers.” But in all three cases, those assumptions are based more on preexisting biases than fundamental flaws. More to the point, I think Google, Microsoft, and Apple each have a roadmap for eliminating those flaws.

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