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Google reminds me of Microsoft

December 7, 2012 2 comments

I recently upgraded my iPhone to a Samsung Galaxy Note II because I believe Android will prevail in the smartphone/tablet market, much like Windows prevailed in the desktop/laptop market, and for many of the same reasons. I’ve been to this movie, and I know how it ends.

Computing SOM

Source: Marry Meeker’s 2012 Internet Trends

The Cathedral And The Bazaar
In the 80’s & 90’s, “Cathedral and Bazaar” market dynamics propelled Microsoft to the dominant position in the personal computing market. IBM & Apple believed their walled gardens would create a better customer experience, broader revenue streams and better margins. They controlled the operating system and the hardware (Cathedral). Conversely, Microsoft licensed MS-DOS and then Windows to many hardware manufacturers (Bazaar) and benefitted from market dynamics that reduced cost and increased innovation. The Bazaar completely dominated the Cathedral, and here’s why:

  • Microsoft commoditized the hardware manufacturers (Dell, Compaq, Sony…). Faced with cutthroat competition, they operated on razor-thin margins and relentlessly decreased cost.
  • Microsoft grew a large ecosystem of small, innovative development partners. IBM and Apple cultivated a small group of large, slow development partners. A developer license for OS/2 cost $10K! Windows developer licenses were practically free by comparison.

Quantity has a quality all its own
Today, Google and Apple are competing for leadership of the new frontier: mobile computing. Though Apple is now better positioned in terms of products, cachet and cash, their approach really hasn’t changed from 1992 – classic Cathedral. Google, on the other hand is pursuing the Bazaar, with Android. How is that working out?

  • Android devices already cost less than Apple devices, pound-for-pound. Expect that price/performance gap to widen because Android has many device manufacturers focused on hardware and competing vigorously for customers.
  • Android already holds the technical high ground. The iPhone5 loses on screen size, resolution, CPU cores (2 vs. 4), battery life and more (e.g. Pen) when compared to Samsung’s Note II. Customer reviews from CNET and Amazon rate the Note II about 1 full star ahead of the iPhone, on a 5 star scale. And Android device release cycles swamp Apple, which only does about one release per year. So expect that gap to widen too.
  • Android already matches Apple’s iOS on table stakes features and leads in the most important emerging area: making your device smart. Apple’s Siri invokes software functions from voice commands and has some interesting conversational parlor tricks. But Android’s Google Now can invoke functions from voice AND anticipate what you want to do! I’ll cover that difference in a separate post, because it’s HUGE.

Of course, this isn’t exactly the same movie…
Here are some important facts specific to today’s situation worth considering:

  • Android has a fragmentation problem. Most Android phones never get an OS upgrade because device manufacturers have more incentive to sell new phones. But Apple successfully upgrades in-market phones to the most recent version of iOS.
  • Apple has a dominant share of market. Although Android enjoys a clear lead in smartphones (Samsung alone sells 2X more than Apple), Apple still dominates tablets and their users generate more mobile web traffic than Android.
  • The Android ecosystem may splinter. Samsung, LG, HTC, … don’t want an uber-dominant Google leaving razor-thin margins for them. They want to create a differentiable user experience on their devices and may create their own platforms or jump to a new one (e.g. Firefox OS).
  • The iPhone is a great product. I wouldn’t recommend Android to everyone today because the iPhone is easier to use. Apple provides an amazing customer experience and has tremendous customer loyalty.

Summary
Despite the challenges listed above, I still like Google’s chances. They are well positioned to dominate the next era of computing, just like Microsoft dominated the last. I believe fragmentation is largely a growing pain. Android is moving so fast and people are upgrading phones so quickly that it really isn’t critical today. And Apple’s SOM is declining. If the Android ecosystem does splinter, it will likely be due to the emergence of a more “bazaar-like” alternative (e.g. Firefox OS). And yes, the iPhone and iPad ARE great products. But so was the Macintosh. It just couldn’t beat the market dynamics of the Bazaar.

Categories: Mobile, Technology Trends

We Won’t Be Saying Goodbye to MS Office Anytime Soon

December 21, 2010 1 comment

I believe Rich Internet Applications (RIA) will eclipse and replace the desktop productivity applications we currently use, but we won’t be saying goodbye to MS Office anytime soon, and here’s why. In my previous post, I rebuilt a 512MB XP desktop. Now I had a working system and wanted to get some work done. This PC came with a trial version of Office and a full version of Works. So why am I using OpenOffice rather than GoogleDocs, MS Office or MS Works?

I’ve used the MS Office suite at work for over 15 years and frequently used it at home too because the corporate license included home usage for employees. However, corporate licenses are less liberal these days and product licensing is now enforced rigidly. In addition, the Office products use a lot of memory. Cost and memory made Office a non-starter for me on this machine.

I tried MS Works, but found that the feature set is not sufficient and the workflow seems designed to make substituting Works for Office impractical. If you want to exchange documents with the world you need Office formats and Works doesn’t easily store into Office format – the workflow is closer to import/export. I was surprised by the number of small compatibility issues. Documents created in Works often appear slightly different when opened in the corresponding Office product.

Google Docs is free to anyone with a gmail account and I reasoned it wouldn’t use lots of memory, being web-based. I didn’t expect gdocs to be feature rich or mature and wasn’t disappointed. It’s an interesting project but not yet ready for professional use. I had meaningful problems with memory consumption and reliability. Gdocs is a Rich Internet Application (RIA) and the browser sucks up memory as a result. When I left the application idle for long periods it became unstable and lost data. I also looked at Microsoft’s Office Live, a similar offering that felt less evolved and suffered from unusable performance. Overall, I’m intrigued by the possibilities, but my experience didn’t provide a compelling reason to manage documents in the cloud, though I believe that will happen. There’s a lot of basic product work remaining with this platform, but it’s pretty mechanical stuff – the answers are known. Once that’s resolved there will be a lot of invention required to make managing documents in the cloud compelling for end users and workable in a corporate environment.

I experimented with OpenOffice.org (OOo) previously and expected good things from this free Office alternative, based on that trajectory. Gotta say I was a little disappointed. OOo now sports a rich feature set, but the rate of progress has clearly slowed. Perhaps that’s due to Oracle acquiring Sun? Actually, I believe interest is drying up because developers expect RIA offerings to eclipse conventional desktop apps in the future. Despite that, I’ve chosen to use OOo because it’s complete, stable, has reasonable performance and easily manages Office compatible formats. There are some formatting irregularities and it lacks the finish that Microsoft has honed through years of user testing in the Office suite. Microsoft Office does a great job anticipating what you meant to do and what you will want to do next. The difference is really noticeable. Takeaways:

  1. I believe office productivity tools are headed to the cloud as RIA’s. Google Docs demonstrates that RIA is still pretty green, but that’s solvable. A tougher challenge (and bigger opportunity) is making office productivity tools more compelling as connected services than they are as desktop apps for both home and corporate users. When the platform matures and MS Office meets Facebook there’s going to be a revolution.
  2. I believe OOo is declining in relevance – why invest energy in defeating the past when you can build for the future instead? Without the threat of a free alternative, Microsoft may resort to predatory practices.
  3. Evaluating alternatives demonstrates just how good the Office products are. I don’t believe anyone can compete with Office as a pure desktop application. However, the Office team should take a lesson from the Windows team (previous post) in turn around. If Microsoft focuses on protecting the Office franchise they will be unlikely to win customers in the cloud. Office Live feels like it’s headed in the correct direction.

Microsoft has Improved Windows Reliability and Security

December 15, 2010 1 comment

Yes, it’s a journey, but I believe Microsoft is delivering on the promise of reliable and secure operating systems, and here’s why. I recently pulled a 512MB Compaq PC running XP out of the closet and put it to back to use. I purchased this unit ~5 years ago for the family and it served us well. But since then we’ve added a laptop, a Mac Book and a Mac Mini, meaning I could now have my own PC. Of course it wouldn’t be easy. The frugal, stubborn nature that prevents the obvious solution (spending a few hundred dollars on a new PC), also precludes spending any meaningful sum to upgrade the unit. So my goal was to create a workable, professional PC with an important constraint – don’t spend money. Anyhow, here’s a brief synopsis of the experience and some observations.

I needed to clean the beast up. The OS was pretty old and the family had added a few things I wouldn’t be needing, like malware, music sharing services and the like. The most malicious thing? A well known security product (Norton) that was so conspicuous and resource consuming it made the unit unusable. The constant pop-up reminders to upgrade my Norton subscription were really aggravating, so that went first. I’ve battled this product before and once needed the “Jaws of Life” to dislodge Norton’s grip. Thankfully, uninstall was sufficient this time. Then I went through the tedious process of patching the OS up to current standards (SP3). While it was time consuming, I must say that our friends in Redmond have figured out how to make patching work with Windows Update. As part of that process, I added Microsoft Security Essentials, which is a free, serviceable replacement for Norton. Takeaways:

  1. Microsoft & Symantec/Norton have reversed positions. Microsoft feels responsible for the security of home computers and they’re acting on it. Windows Update works well and Microsoft Security Essentials gets the job done without being intrusive. Symantec/Norton, on the other hand, has lost its way – at least with consumer products. The old Norton was pure genius. In contrast, Symantec offers the “Norton Removal Tool”, which promises to remove their software from your system.
  2. I’m not an expert on anti-virus, but wouldn’t recommend buying one or continuing a subscription. Corporations need broad, deep, deployable antivirus solutions but Microsoft has eliminated the need for 3rd party solutions in the home market. I removed Norton before patching the OS because that process was long enough without getting an overactive security product involved.
Categories: Microsoft Windows
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