By Eric Neuman
Betanews welcomes reader contributions. Here, Eric Neuman responds to two February 21st posts by Joe Wilcox — “iPad is not a PC” and “5 reasons Macs will never outsell PCs.” If you would like to submit a post, please email joewilcox at gmail dot com.
Being a business IT professional, I have been watching with great interest and excitement the emergence of the iOS model of computing and cloud movements hitting the personal and now commercial computing worlds. However, I must add that initially I have also viewed these big changes with fear; as recently as 2006, my career was purely based on the SME IT status quo of on-premise Microsoft and LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stacks.
I have always enjoyed the ensuing comment threads that some of the topics spawn. In the interest of participating in the discussion I would like to offer a few counter points to your earlier articles “iPad is not a PC” and “5 reasons Macs will never outsell PCs.” I make five points to counter others which you made: 1) iPad is not a PC; 2) Macs cost too much; 3) Windows’ ecosystem is too big for Macs to compete; 4) Windows owns the enterprise, and Apple isn’t even trying; 5) Windows’ shadow ecosystem of malware writers and cybercriminals is large and profitable.
1. What used to be a PC vs. what will a PC be. In a way it makes sense to classify PCs exclusively as independent devices and to exclude devices that don’t fit this profile, such as iPad. For many years PCs were the center of their own respective universes, with networking and external data hubs and control points being mere optional extras. They were not core to the “PC experience.”
Today we are rapidly moving away from an independent device arrangement across all our form factors. iOS devices require another device to update the OS, require an App Store cloud to gain and update applications. Android devices are dependent on the Google cloud. Chrome OS is cloud or bust.
I believe that in a few years we will need to either change our definition of a PC or accept that all our personal computers have become dependent devices (and thus no longer PCs.)
2. Macs cost too much… But so may Windows some day. Microsoft has always expertly priced Windows to be the cheapest commercial product and so gained and held the OS market for generic devices. This expertly gained monopoly has also been under threat from free non-commercial offerings for over a decade, with no market share losses to speak of.
This new phenomenon of commercial-but-free (and maybe even cheaper-than-free) options appearing from Google are not to be confused with the Linux threats of the past. Android and Chrome OS are commercial ventures that have significant developer efforts and funds backing them. These OSes have behind them teams of people working on development, distribution, partnerships, advertising — the works.
Consider that major Windows-PC vendors like Dell, Samsung and LG are already active Android licensees and HP has noted plans for WebOS PCs. The sole protective barrier currently shielding the Windows ecosystem is the form factor divide. When Android, Chrome OS and HP’s WebOS invade the Windows-PC space, there will be trouble.
Microsoft has tons of smart people, they will surely be able to match any technology disruption in the PC OS space. However, responding to a business model disruption via Google (advertising, information) or HP and Apple (hardware), will be more difficult. There is some precedent with Windows Mobile’s business model disruption by Android and iOS to illustrate my point.
3. Windows ecosystem is simply too large…to adapt. There is no doubt that the Windows ecosystem is large, mature and has been outstandingly successful. The dark side of these attributes — it’s age, it’s established but outdated ways and customs — are also its weakness.
Chrome OS, WebOS and the like will at some point breach the Windows form factor barriers and start spilling into the laptop and desktop world. When this happens the Windows ecosystem with its informal application distribution, secret handshakes and focus on traditional standalone applications will be squaring off against a single store, single merchant model a la App Store with the dominant focus on cloud-centric applications.
To contrast the ecosystem differences, I cannot imagine my mother sufficiently finding, purchasing, downloading and installing a single application on her Windows 7 laptop. Even more importantly, she wouldn’t even attempt it. Windows software is installed by whizz-kid relatives, that’s how it has always been. On the other hand, let her loose on an iOS device with her established iTunes account and 6 weeks later there is almost a full page of purchased, downloaded and installed applications on it.
4. Windows owns the enterprise – and Apple isn’t even trying… but the cloud is! The on-premise enterprise ecosystem (e.g. the windows stack) will be eaten by cloud computing at a pace approaching Smartphone-PC revolution pace. I’m currently watching this unfold from the coalface working in business IT, and it is remarkable just how readily established businesses with a lot to loose are prepared to jump into the cloud with both feet.
To be clear, I don’t mean to say Microsoft will be the loser in this change; but it does leave Windows on the enterprise desktop very vulnerable to attack. From a business perspective, a core cloud computing attribute is that services are self contained. A cloud provider wants the list of prerequisites for its prospective customers to be as short as possible.
The result is that the inherent stickiness of the enterprise desktop SOE is fading away at a remarkable pace.
5. A note about the Shadow Ecosystem. A shadow ecosystem thrives because of a strong platform; not the other way around. An ecosystem contributes must-have applications, word of mouth “buzz,” associated advertising by third parties and much more back to the platform. A shadow ecosystem on the other hand siphons off large amounts of money from the consumer without doing anything to retain or attract new consumers into the fold.
Malware writers and cybercriminals have plenty incentive to keep the Windows ecosystem running, but they lack any direct control to do anything about this desire.
Eric Neumann has worked in the IT industry as a consultant for almost 10 years. His technological bread and butter are advising businesses on IT system decisions as well as implementing solutions. He currently works at a boutique IT firm providing on-premise and cloud solutions to the SME market. In his free time he pursues software development as a hobby.