Platform Pivot Possibilities

Anyone who has read my musings before already knows that I have loved technology for a very long time. You are also aware that I’ve used many different forms and flavors of technology. The list of operating systems is quite long. On the server side, I’ve used: Univac Exec 8, IBM MVS, IBM VM/ESA, IBM MVS/ESA, IBM z/OS, SunOS, Solaris, Irix, DG-UX, HP-UX, IBM AIX, Windows NT, Win2K(x), Linux and a host of other platforms. On the desktop, I’ve used: CPM, UCSD Pascal, HDOS, MS-DOS, PC-DOS, Windows (many flavors), MacOS (many flavors), Xenix, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, Linux (many flavors) and a plethora of experimental OSes.

As you look at this list, you have to be thinking a few things:

  • Roo is really old,
  • Roo is fickle,
  • Roo has been through a lot of tech transitions, and
  • Roo is really, really old

So why would I recite this list?  Am I building a new resume?  [No, I’m not.]  Am I a preening, arrogant technology elitist?  [Yes, I am.  But that’s not the reason I recorded the list.]  I wrote the list because I’m becoming convinced that it is time for yet another technology pivot.

There are some big trends that are becoming absolutely obvious:

  1. Computing technology is for everyone.  So it must necessarily be simple and bullet-proof.  Over the past three years, I have deployed more “appliance” devices at home than I have deployed computers.  Yes the appliances are computers.  But for the average consumer, they are plug and play functionality.  This includes: set top boxes, wireless routers, wireless extenders, wireless printers, wireless cameras, wireless phones, wireless monitoring systems, etc.
  2. Everything is becoming mobile.  Computers are getting smaller.  They are embedded in everything (including my heart).  And they are increasingly becoming disconnected from fixed structures (like an office or a home).
  3. We are finally starting to see new user interfaces.  Just as the keyboard was displaced by the mouse, the mouse is now being displaced by human touch.  Haven’t we had pen computing for almost a decade?  Yes, we have.  But the iPhone made touch computing ubiquitous.  More importantly, touch is not the only new user interface.  Speech recognition is becoming ubiquitous as well.  I can now talk to my phone and place calls (or write emails).  I can now talk to my car (or its GPS) and get driving directions.  With speech and touch replacing the hands and fingers that were tethered to a swivel chair, we are accelerating the move towards mobility.
  4. Retail purchasing and provisioning are finally reducing the need to go to the store.  It is very possible to sit in your chair at home and order anything for delivery right to your door.  I won’t go into the moral impacts of promoting such sedentary lives.  But I do think that this change is transforming the way that we live – and the computer systems that we utilize.

These trends (and a few other minor trends) are allowing new competitors to jump into prominent positions.  And these changes are putting strains on older competitors.

The big boys do see these trends.  Microsoft recognizes these changes.  And I think that they are trying to compete in these spaces.  But their corporate identity (based on sales pros getting commissions) is becoming outdated.  Their corporate ethos allowed them to miss the entire music resurgence that Apple inspired.  Sure, Microsoft is now in that business.  But not before Apple seized the entire market.  The Zune is cool.  And the Zune market is feature-complete.  But the battle was lost because Microsoft was trying to protect their existing channel model.

The Microsoft phone strategy has been equally anemic.  They did indeed recognize the mobility trend.  But Windows Mobile was incomplete and clunky.  Can WP7 and its successors thrive?  Uh, using the number ‘7’ in your name won’t repeat the Windows 7 success.  Did Microsoft have a chance?  Yes.  Can they seize market from both Google and Apple?  Sure, but they are taking table scraps from their competitors.  And their corporate heritage is holding them back.  Android has succeeded because it is repeating Microsoft’s PC success: Google has built an open platform.

Microsoft isn’t the only company at a crossroads.  Apple is also at a crossroads.  Their model of retail purchase via iTunes and delivery to a desktop device is now under assault.  The iTunes infrastructure has always used the desktop as the hub of your music experience.  But staying with that model would be like staying with high-end audio equipment.  Sure, some audiophiles still have a stylus and all of their other component gear.  But component audio was replaced by compact discs and then by PC audio.

The new model is to buy the rights to the music and to store the music remotely.  This allows you to access your content anytime and anywhere.  You don’t have to be at your desktop. You don’t have to stream from that same desktop.  And you don’t have to sync with that desktop.  You store your licensed content in the “cloud” and then stream it to wherever you want to play it.  For me, this meant that I could stream some cool music to Meredith’s outdoor wedding site while we decorated that site.  It also means that I can have my entire library available while I’m at work or in the car or on my bike.

And as of this morning, I’ve now switched all of my podcast content from my desktop (and iTunes) to my mobile device.  I’m playing with both Doggcatcher and Google Listen.  I haven’t chosen my final podcast catcher, but the choice to push content to my mobile device is now made.

That’s a horribly long setup to the real point of this article: I have finally broken the musical cord that tied me to my desktop computer.  And last year, I severed the cord related to web content browsing.  For me, this mobility push has been thanks to Google and Android.  For others, they are thanking Apple and iOS.  But the trend is obvious: cloud-based music is yet another desktop tether that can be severed.  And with cloud-based services like file storage (via Google Docs, or Dropbox or any number of other tools), I can snip yet another tether.

Think of a bundle of helium-filled balloons.  I’m slowly snipping the strings that hold them down.  And I think I may soon be cutting the last of the ties that hold me to my desktop computer.  Once I can effectively type on a mobile device, I may be able to come out of the cave where my desktop computer is connected.

The final straw will be whenever I purchase a tablet.  And when that happens, I will be free of both Microsoft and Apple.  I may end up being dependent upon new vendors (like Google or Amazon). But it is just about time to change things up in my computing ecosystem.  I can’t wait for yet another technology transition.

-Roo

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