Starbucks CIO shows why next version of Windows is “risky business” for Microsoft

Starbucks CIO, Stephen Gillett, and I had breakfast on Wednesday. He showed me Starbucks new Digital Network, which will pop up on the screen if you sign in on wifi at any of Starbucks US stores. 30 million people a month do that.

You can hear him telling me about that on this CinchCast, I’ll have a video up this weekend.

But what he told me about what Starbucks is learning about its customers was telling and demonstrates just how big a deal the next version of Windows will be to Microsoft. How big a deal? Well, Steve Ballmer is already telling folks it’s the riskiest product intro yet for Microsoft.

So, what did Gillett tell me?

He said that laptop usage is flat, or even slightly declining, and that mobile usage is on fire and growing a great percentage every month.

Take that trend out two more years, which is when we expect to see the next version of Windows, and you can see the “risky” problem for Microsoft: we might not care at all about the OS on laptops and desktop computers anymore and might have switched to smart phones or slates, like the iPad. By the way, Gillett also said that iDevices from Apple are used more in its stores than any others. How important is that? Well, Gillett wanted to use Flash on the social network, but there wasn’t any way he could because of Steve Jobs’ refusal to support Flash. Even today Apple is refusing to include Flash in its laptops and desktops.

So, Starbucks built its system using HTML 5. Note what that means: nothing special for Microsoft Windows. No Silverlight. No .NET code. No Windows Mobile 7 features. Etc.

How the world has changed in just a decade. If we were in 2000, instead of 2010, Gillett wouldn’t have kept his job if he tried betting against Microsoft. But today his customers are forcing him to.

When I visited Microsoft this summer employees there told me they knew this fact too: we are losing interest in the platforms that Microsoft is dominant in and that makes the next version of Windows very risky.

Look at what could happen:

1. Windows 7 is a fantastic OS, so we might just stay with that. If Windows 8 doesn’t have a “killer feature and killer apps” then there won’t be the leverage on us to upgrade. We all upgraded to Windows 7 to get rid of the buggy Vista, or get the new stuff that made XP seem old-in-the-tooth. But will Windows 8 come up with something to make Win 7 seem long in the tooth? That’s a far tougher challenge.

2. We could stop caring about laptops and desktops altogether. I’m noticing more and more iPhones and iPads when I fly. Steve Rubel, VP of Edelman, told me he doesn’t even carry his iPad or laptops on business trips anymore. Just uses his mobile phone.

3. We could get pulled into Apple’s platforms, or Google’s platforms. Look at all the new apps that are only on these platforms. That would mean the death of Windows.

So, what will happen? Well, Microsoft better pull a rabbit out of its hat. The problem is, that hat has been dry for some time.

What would get you to care about Windows again, after all, Starbucks is noticing we like using our mobiles in its stores a lot more and that’s NOT a good place for Microsoft right now.