Thursday, March 5, 2009

Is another revolution on the horizon?

Back in the early days of home computing, hardware was the thing that determined what software someone could run.

I well remember the fierce competition between the likes of Apple, Atari, Commodore, Radio Shack and Texas Instruments. If you bought an Apple 2, the hardware was extremely proprietary -- you could only use software that worked with that specific brand of computer.

Even back in those old eight-bit days, we saw the emergence of something that was subtle yet extremely revolutionary. Companies started to pop up that made computers specifically designed to work with the CP/M operating system. It didn't matter who made the hardware -- the CP/M operating system was sold by Digital Research and any computer that met a certain hardware profile could run that OS. People didn't care if their computers were made by Zenith or Bob's House of Techy Stuff -- they just wanted the operating system in order to take advantage of the software available for it.

Bill Gates over at Microsoft was sharp enough to see what was going on and he took advantage of it. Remember the old IBM-PC? The folks at IBM entered the personal computer market with the old notions that the hardware was what mattered. IBM contracted with Microsoft to provide an operating system, but Microsoft got very lucky in the deal. Why? Because IBM didn't retain the rights to the operating system.

We all know what happened next, right? Clone PCs showed up all over the place. The IBM-PC quickly became the industry standard, but a lot of non-IBM computers were manufactured that could run Microsoft's DOS, thus turning IBM into just one more competitor in an industry it created. You'll notice that IBM has all but vanished from the personal computer industry while Microsoft has just grown.

Frankly, I believe we're seeing another revolution in the works. For years, we've seen operating systems compete for users. The clear winner in that fight has been Microsoft for years because just about everything works with Windows and that's the OS people want. The Apple Macintosh has had some success, of course, and even Linux has attracted a loyal group of users.

However, I'd argue that even what operating system a person uses won't matter much in a few years. Here's what I mean. For the past few years, the Arkansas Realtors Association (ARA) has sold a program through which Realtors can prepare all forms necessary to a real estate transaction. That program has always run under Windows. Got a Macintosh or a Linux machine? Well, that was just too bad -- get Windows or the software just won't run.

This year, the ARA has rolled out an Internet-based program for form preparation, meaning that anyone with an Internet connection can buy a subscription to that service and generate their real estate forms all day long. It doesn't matter if someone has a Windows box, a Macintosh or prefers Linux.

We're seeing the same thing happening with office suites. Go take a look at Google Docs, for example. Want to put together a word processing document, spreadsheet or presentation? If you've got an Internet connection and a modern computer, you can do all of that through Google Docs. You'll find the same wonderful platform independence through one of my favorite services, Evernote. I can take notes all day long at work on my Windows machine and can access them at home on my computer here or through the Internet browser on my wife's iPod Touch.

That, folks, is convenience. When you combine that platform independence with the ability to access your work from any computer or (in some cases) device with an Internet connection, you've got something that could result in a day where we don't automatically run out and buy Windows because it's the only thing that will run the software we want.

That's certainly good news, huh?


Denford said...

Very true, Hawg. I think Microsoft know that this is the direction in which technology is going, hence their lunge for Yahoo a little while back.

But I believe that Google is way ahead of the game and they will become the new standard, the new MS.

Thing is, Google will be able to offer office suites, applications and all sorts FREE over the internet because, unlike MS, this is not their main revenue stream. Google Ads makes tons of dosh for them (sergei and his mate can afford to "pay" the US Air Force tyo be allowed to land at a military airport!).

They will get into phones big time as well.

So in essence, all our communication will eventually be consolidated into one company, Google and perhaps one or two other internet based competitors. said...

Good post, Hawg. I am not very techie, yet even I understood (most) of what you're talking about here.

This is all made possible, in part, due to software taking up less space. You no longer need large amounts of hardware in order to store everything. The small computer chips make a world of difference.


Eat Well. Live Well.

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Pistolmom said...

Very interesting and well written!

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fwaggle said...

My dad was one of the people who forecast the "network computer as a service" thing back in the mid 90s. It never eventuated of course, but the idea is basically making a comeback now and could take off.

Google are definitely at the forefront, but there's plenty of other players in the software as a service game, and it's not only that - since the advent of OpenOffice I don't know many folks who even pay for things like Microsoft Office any more at all.

I don't mean to hate on Windows blindly, and I definitely don't think Linux is ready for the desktop, but it's true that the only reason Windows has it's market share is because of the Catch 22 that it's installed on the majority of new machines and most software wants to run on it.

Get rid of either or both of those, and Microsoft could be in some trouble.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Denford -- I'm not sure if everything being consolidated into the hands of Google will be any better than the virtual monopoly Microsoft has enjoyed for years. Competition is good. I love Google's stuff right now, but what would happen if that company was the only game in town?

I hope I don't find out!

Paul -- I'm not a techie type, either. However, I do know what I like and what I hate, and this online stuff is great, indeed.

PistolMom -- Thanks!

Goldensparks -- Will do. Thanks for dropping by!

Fwaggle -- I well remember when everyone was talking about that in the 1990s and this seems like the first time where it has actually worked out. Heck, I remember a company that set up locally that planned to write applications software, store it on their servers, and sell licenses to people so they could log in and use them. They failed. Today, they might thrive.

Yeah, uh, Linux isn't ready for the desktop. I tried that for a few months and was in the middle of going through the complicated steps of installing a program when I said, "You know what? I could do this instantly under Windows."

I removed my Linux partition and went back to a Windows-only machine.

Frankly, I'm hoping Microsoft will lose its stranglehold on the market so I can switch to a Mac without worrying about what I might miss out on.