Tag Archives: Microsoft

Will Apple miss the next big thing?

Will Apple be smart enough to capitalise on the next big opportunity in personal computing – turning the smart phone into the CPU for computing anywhere?

I remember back to the time when there was a huge debate about “convergence” – the big question about whether consumers would accept one multi-functional mobile device (the Swiss Army Knife approach) or would want a series of specialized devices such as a phone, camera, GPS. MP3 player and so on. The iPhone settled that debate completely with hardware and software (apps) which cater for just about every need. It now seems incredible that anyone even argued the point.

Well, we are fast approaching a re-run of that debate. Why have a computer and a smartphone when you could use a phone as your CPU, operating system and file store and simply link via Bluetooth to a screen, keyboard and mouse? Any why not make that screen your TV?

Apple is actually very well placed to make this move. It is already converging its operating systems – OS X looks increasingly like IOS especially after Mountain Lion. And they produce a superb range of Bluetooth-enabled peripherals and brilliant screens.

But this is a big leap for a company which makes so much money from computer hardware – $6.3bn in the last quarter of 2011. Risking that is a big bet for any company, let alone one that is riding the wave with its iconic highly designed and desirable computers.

If not Apple, then maybe Android? Already there have been Android phones launched with full versions of Ubuntu Linux loaded on them.  And Android’s makers Google doesn’t have a hardware business to cannibalise. In fact, it would make massive sense for Google to back a move like this – it is trying to push an alternative to Microsoft’s Office Suite (Google Apps) and what better Trojan Horse than consumers determined to carry their computing device with them wherever they go?

Even Microsoft may be better placed to capitalise on this trend than Apple. Microsoft doesn’t actually make computers (although their OEM partners clearly do) so although there would be much painful disruption if Windows 8 became the operating system on choice on the mobile portable computing device of the future, the company could but only profit in the long run.

I may be wrong, but I bet we will see this trend play out; it remains to be seen who will ride the wave.

Life in the Cloud

This may be the year that Cloud Computing really starts to take off – mainstream coverage has started to appear like this piece on the BBC website and it is appearing on corporate IS agendas.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this shift recently and I think under cover of this there is a much more profound change taking place – the shift from document centricity to web centricity.

By this I mean that the old client-server model which dominated the latter years of the last century gave way in this to a web-centric view of the world. Let’s call them the “Microsoft Way” and the “Google Way” since those two giants dominate each approach respectively.

The Micosoft Way focusses on the individual, sitting at his or her PC, loaded with software which empowers personal productivity, but in a off-line way. This was sensible – internet connections were slow and hard to come by and the best security came from having your documents on your machine.

Of course collaboration in this model was difficult – you created a document, emailed it to some colleagues, they each changed a bit and sent it back and you were left with the task of combining the results. This means multiple versions out them, many part-finished versions languishing on file and print servers, and email inboxes clogged up with documents.

The solutions, often quite complex and hard to use,  were then bolted on top – Track Changes to version documents, Sharepoint to store official version of documents, LiveMeeting to allow collaboration over the internet etc etc.

The Google Way is different. It starts with the internet – Google was born in a age when ubiquitous connectivity was becoming a reality.  The document in Google Apps starts life as an online document with the presumption it will be shared. Multiple people can edit the document simultaneously and all these edits can be tracked and rolled back seamlessly. Spreadsheets come with forms which can be emailed or embedded and which can update online spreadsheets which can be published onto intranets through Sites. Presentations can be instantly shared both in creation and play-back mode. Person-to-person communication through chat, video and VOIP is built in. Storage is no longer a problem – quotas are huge and growing.

Much of this can be achieved using the old paradigm but usually at an additional cost in licences (Sharepoint, Infopath, Livemeeting etc) and more often than not with the required help of internal IS staff who are needed to configure these complex add-ons.

This of course works for the IS community in corporations, creating jobs and a meaningful role in companies. But start-ups are not using these products – they are jumping straight to the cloud solutions – the Google Apps, 37 Signals, Saleforce.com solutions which are much simpler to use, and much more configurable by the users.

The result of this is dangerous – it has the capacity to create a real competitive chasm – building on a platform like Apps can empower ordinary knowledge workers to create quite sophisticated solutions without the intervention of programmers. The more they build the greater their propensity to build. And all of this extra functionality is coming at a very low cost and is increasing their agility.

In my view this is the real cultural shift at the heart of the Cloud Computing debate. Just putting your old apps into someone’s datacentre misses the point. Changing the way you work is the really smart move.

Microsoft woes

I wonder whether the news that Microsoft, still the world’s largest software company, posted profits down 29% in the second quarter may turn out to be a very significant turning point?

Microsoft has in the past been a shining example of the law of increasing returns where everything they produce pushes more developers to develop for their platform and therefore more people buy their software, and so on, and so on.

But now there are credible alternative platforms growing at speed: particularly Google in search, advertising, cloud based productivity apps, and now mobile; and a resurgent Apple in the desktop and especially the mobile space.

It could be that the relentless upgrade cycle which drove the company’s profits for so many years is finally faltering, as corporates delayed the upgrade to Vista because of the well-publicised woes of the platform, and enough alternatives have arrived on the scene to at least cause a review of IT strategy.

Of course it is far too early to call the end of Microsoft’s growth, but the earnings dip is surely a sign of more trouble to come.