The Post-Microsoft World

by Frank 15. January 2014 06:00

Sometimes companies get to believe their own myth and end up going down a path that is different to the path taken by their users. This creates a major disjoin between the company and its users which the users recognise immediately but the company doesn’t. The users usually then perceive the company as arrogant and out-of-touch and as a company that has stopped listening to its customers.

Sometimes the company fails with a particular product line (e.g., HP and its first tablets) and sometimes its fails altogether. Recent examples of companies that completely misread the market are the aforementioned HP, Kodak and Blackberry.  It was also only a few years ago that IBM almost came to the same crossroads but it managed to stem the collapse.

I guess the lesson is that it doesn’t matter how old the company is or how big or how respected, it can still get it wrong and it can still fail. This is probably truer today than it has ever been because trends and fads and favourites change so rapidly compared to yesteryear. For example, for how long will Twitter and Google rule the roost? I am positive that the next Google and Twitter are already in production and gearing up for the conquest. Does anyone not think that Google is arrogant; dictating what users want, not asking?

However, the company I fear is in more danger than most of becoming suddenly irrelevant is Microsoft. To my mind, Microsoft has pursued a path of change for change’s sake (and to hell with what the customers want) for too many years and I see it today as a giant room full of programmers and marketing people with no one minding the shop and no one steering the ship.

It makes most of its money from Windows and Office and yet these are two of the most disliked pieces of software on the planet. How many people actually love Windows 8 and Office 2013? Does anyone at Microsoft actually know this? They could ask me or anyone out of millions of users but they don’t and won’t. Like HP and Kodak and Blackberry they will internalise all marketing discussions and push through users’ complaints doggedly pursuing their own wayward path to the cliff top.

Windows ME and Windows Vista should have been big red flags but obviously they weren’t because we now have Windows 8 and Metro soon to be replaced by Windows 9. Remember the old expression, “Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat history.”

In the past Microsoft has got off almost scot free because there was no real competitor waiting in the wings.  Even today, there may not be a single competitor waiting to replace Microsoft but there are competitors such as Apple PCs and phones and tablets, Android PCs, phones and tablets, Linux PCs and servers, Chrome books and the like. There is also Windows 7 (Vista fixed) and Office 2003 and Office 2010 to tide people over under a really strong challenger emerges. You do not have to buy Windows 8 and you do not have to buy Office 2013; there are alternatives.

Even the major fall-off in PC sales over the last couple of years doesn’t seem to have been taken seriously by Microsoft.

There are a lot of factors pushing Microsoft towards the edge of the cliff and all that is needed is a really strong ‘alternative’ (to Windows and less so, Office) or an acceleration of the trend away from Windows PCs to push Microsoft over the cliff. When the end comes, it will be fast, like the next ice age.

When it happens senior management at Microsoft will say to investors and soon-to-be-redundant staff, “We didn’t see this coming” and the rest of us ordinary consumers will just smile knowingly and shake our heads, “Why didn’t you talk to us?”

The post Microsoft era will be one of much, much simpler operating systems (e.g., iOS), much more stable operating systems, much simpler office products and corporate application software that runs in a browser on most devices and under most operating systems (e.g., iOS and Android and Linux).

We won’t need Windows and without Windows, we won’t be forced to use Microsoft Office.

The most important factor contributing to Microsoft’s downfall will be software vendors like us moving away from developing for Windows and into developing for browsers.  This is happening now and the pace is quickening. I predict that by the end of 2015 almost any application software you or any company needs will be available running in a browser. You will not need Windows.

By my reckoning, Microsoft needs to change direction and have a new and popular paradigm in place by the end of 2014 or it doesn’t have a future as the desktop king. Let’s see if I am right; we don’t have long to wait.

Frank McKenna is the CEO of the Knowledgeone Corporation, a long-time Microsoft ISV and the producer of the RecFind 6 product suite.

Technology Trends for 2014 – A developer’s perspective

by Frank 7. January 2014 06:00

I run a software company called the Knowledgeone Corporation and we produce enterprise content management software for government and business. Because it takes so long to design, build and test a new product or even a new version, we have to try and predict where the market will be in one or two years and then try to make sure our product RecFind 6 ‘fits-in’ with future requirements.

Years ago it was much easier because we were sure Windows would be the dominant factor and mostly we had to worry about compatibility with the next version of Windows and Microsoft Office. Apple however, changed the game with first the iPhone and then the iPad.

We now need to be aware of a much wider range of devices and operating systems; smart phones and tablets in particular. Three years ago we decided to design in compatibility for iOS and Android and we also decided to ignore Blackberry; so far, a wise move.

However, the prediction business is getting harder because the game is changing faster and probably faster than we can change our software (a major application).

I was just reading about CES 2014 on ZDNet and the major technologies previewed and displayed there. Most are carry overs from 2013 and I haven’t noted anything really new but even so, the question is which of these major trends will become major players during 2014 and 2015 (our design, develop and test window for the next major release of RecFind 6)?

1.     Wearables

2.     The Internet of Things

3.     Contextual Computing (or Predictive Computing)

4.     Consumerization of business tech

5.     3D printing

6.     Big Data

7.     The Cloud

Larry Dignan, Editor in Chief of ZDNet, wrote an excellent summary of things to think about for 2014, see this link:

Larry sees China and emerging Chinese companies as major players outside of China in 2014 but I think the Europeans and Americans will resist until well into 2015 or later. Coming on the heels of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 their governments won’t take kindly to having their local high tech industries swamped by Chinese giants. He also talks about the fate of Windows 8 and the direction of the PC market and this is our major concern.

The PC market has been shrinking and even though Microsoft is still the major player by far a lot depends upon the acceptance of Windows 8 as the default operating system. Personally I saw the Windows 8 Metro interface as clumsy and as change for changes’ sake.

I really don’t understand Microsoft’s agenda. Why try to force a major change like this on consumers and businesses just when everyone is happy with Windows 7 and we have all almost forgotten Vista. Windows 8 isn’t an improvement over Windows 7 just as Office 2013 isn’t an improvement over Office 2010. Both are just different and in my opinion, less intuitive and more difficult to use.

Try as I might, I cannot see any benefits to anyone in moving from Windows 7 to Windows 8 and in moving from Office 2010 to Office 2013. The only organization benefiting would be Microsoft and at the cost of big disruptions to its loyal customers.

Surely this isn’t a wise thing to do in an era of falling PC sales? Why exacerbate the problem?

Smart phones and tablets are real and growing in importance. Android and iOS are the two most important ‘new’ operating systems to support and most importantly for us, browsers are the application carriers of the future. No software vendor has the resources to support all the manifestations of Windows, Linux, Android, iOS, etc., in ‘native’ form but all operating systems support browsers. Browsers have become what Windows was ten years ago. That is, a way to reach most of the market with a single set of source code.

We lived through the early days of DOS, UNIX, Windows and the AS/400 and at one time had about fifteen different sets of source code for RecFind. No vendor wants to go back to those bad old days. When the world settled on Windows it meant that most of us could massively simplify our development regime and revert to a single set of source code to reach ninety-percent of the market. In the early days, Windows was our entry point to the world. Today it is browsers.

Of course not all browsers are equal and there is extra work to do to support different operating systems, especially sand-boxed ones like iOS but, we are still running ninety five percent common source and five-percent variations so it is eminently manageable.

Does Microsoft realize that many developers like us now target browsers as our main application carriers and not Windows? Does it also realize that the Windows 8 Metro interface was the catalyst that pushed many more developers along this same path?

Let’s hope that the new CEO of Microsoft cares more about his customers than the previous one did. If not, 2014 won’t just be the post-PC era, it will also be the beginning of the post-Microsoft era.

Why isn’t Linux the universal desktop operating system?

by Frank 9. September 2012 06:00

I own and run a software company building enterprise content management solutions (RecFind 6) and I have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft Windows.

I love Windows because it is a universal platform I can develop for that provides me access to ninety-percent plus of the business and government organizations in the world.  I only need one set of source code and one set of development skills and I can leverage off this to offer my solutions to virtually any organization in any location. We may say that Microsoft Windows is ubiquitous.

I hate Windows because it is overly complex, unnecessarily difficult to build software for, buggy and causes me to have to spend far more money on software development than I ought to. There are many times each year when all I really want to do is assemble all the Microsoft programmers in one place and then bang their heads together and shout at them, “for heaven’s sake, why don’t you guys just talk to each other!”

Linux on the other hand, even in its many manifestations (one of its main problems), is not ubiquitous and it does not provide me with an entry point to ninety-percent of the world’s businesses and government agencies. This is why I don’t develop software for Linux.

Because I don’t develop application software for Linux I am not an expert in Linux but I have installed and run Ubuntu as a desktop operating system and I really like it. It is simple, clean and easy to use; more ‘Apple-like’ than ‘Windows-like’ to my eyes and all the better for it. It is also a great software development platform for programmers especially using the Eclipse IDE. It is also free and most of the office software you need (like OpenOffice) is also free. It also runs happily on virtually any PC or notebook and seems to be a lot faster than Windows.

So, Ubuntu (a flavour of Linux but a very good one) is free, most of the office software you need is also free, it looks good, runs on your hardware and is easy to use and uncomplicated. So why isn’t it ubiquitous? Why are people and organizations all over the world paying for (and struggling with – who remembers Vista?) inferior Windows when Linux varieties like Ubuntu are both free and better? Why are users and organizations now planning to pay to upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8 when alternative operating systems like Ubuntu will do the job and are free?

I read a lot of technical papers and IT blogs and I notice that the Linux community has been having similar discussions for years. As an ‘outsider’ (i.e., not a Linux zealot) it is pretty obvious to me that the Linux community is the main reason Linux is not ubiquitous. Please read the following ZDNet link and then tell me what you think.

When I read an article like this two terms come immediately to mind, internecine bickering or sibling rivalry. How many versions of Linux do we need? The Linux fraternity calls these distributions or ‘distros’ to the insiders.  At last count there are around 600 ‘distros’ of which 300 are actively maintained.  Ubuntu is just one of these distros. How would the business world fare if there were 300 versions of Windows? Admittedly, most of the 300 have been built for a specialised use and the real list of general use versions of Linux is much smaller and includes product names such as Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Fedora, Mint, Debian, Arch, openSUSE, Red hat and about a dozen more.

But, it gets worse. On Ubuntu alone there are there main desktop environments to choose from, GNOME, KDE and Xfce.  Are you confused yet? Is it now obvious why Linux is not the default desktop operating system? It probably isn’t obvious to the squabbling Linux insider community but it is patently obvious to everyone else.

Linux isn’t the default desktop operating system because there is not a single standard and there is never likely to be a single standard. No software developer is going to invest millions of dollars in building commercial applications for Linux because of this. Without a huge library of software applications there is no commercial market for Linux. Windows reigns supreme despite its painful problems because it provides a single platform and because software developers do invest in building millions of commercial applications for the windows operating system.

Until such time as the Linux community stops its in-fighting and produces a single robust, supported version of Linux (when hell freezes over I hear you say) the situation will not change. The inferior desktop operating system Windows will continue to dominate and Linux will remain the plaything of propeller-heads and techies and old guys like me who really like it (well, the Ubuntu version that is, there are too many distros for me to become an expert in all of them and that is the core of the problem).

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