Will the next version of Windows (after Vista) be delivered as web services? Mary Jo Foley thinks that there might be something to this idea, speculating on a few lines in a Wall Street Journal article titled “Life After Vista” and a follow-up interview with a Microsoft exec. The more moderate position that the article ends with is that Microsoft is working to develop an integrated strategy around delivering both shrink-wrapped software for the PC and online services.
I paid attention because I’m fascinated with the rebirth of the “browser is the OS” thinking that was first began when I was working with web development in 1994 or so. Netscape was really pushing the idea that if you could deliver applications through a browser, then the desktop OS was irrelevant. Of course, this was what finally motivated Microsoft to respond to Netscape and eventually crush them (and be prosecuted).
This will be an important strategy for Microsoft because it allows them to respond to Google’s online offerings with a combination of online/offline and AJAX / rich desktop client applications that can offer the best of both worlds. People that are comfortable with using Microsoft Office applications will benefit from more sophisticated means to take content that was created on the desktop and access it or share it with others in the cloud. My opinion is that this is the right approach for Microsoft – to extend their desktop apps and make them more useful – not by making online versions of the same apps, but by making their existing apps play well with new online services.
Next time I’ll write about what I think Apple’s opportunity is to find a working strategy in this space.
I took an interesting path through college. I actually started with an academic scholarship in theoretical physics and was flattered that I was recruited by the head of the department who let me look in on some research they were doing with an electron microscope during my campus visit. I was in an small program with 5 or 6 other students and a full professor, where my classmates in Physics 1 were in a lecture hall with 700 other people. But I quickly found out that the kid that wore the purple turtleneck and brown corduroys every single day (in Santa Barbara, where I often didn’t wear shoes to class) was astoundingly brilliant and I was unlikely to challenge for top marks in this small class. I looked around at the professors in the department and the grad students, and somewhat like my reaction to the kid who wore a purple turtleneck every day (in Santa Barbara!), I decided that I did not want to grow up to be anything like them. I eventually switched to History, which I loved.
I figured that I learned three important things in my (academic) career at UCSB. One of those was an idea I got from an American History professor who made the point that in the 20th century, American culture went through a profound transformation as industrialization and assembly line manufacturing took its toll on the psyche of the laborer. The net result was that workers became further removed from the product of their labor and thus could not derive their self-worth from the fruits of their labor. You could no longer look at a shoe and say to yourself, “I made that” or look at a chair and say, “I did a great job on that chair.” You repeated the same task over and over again and never really saw the finished goods. Instead, what came to replace this sense of self-worth derived from the results of your work was a sense of worth based on what you could buy. Consumerism replaced the protestant work ethic as a guiding principle of American culture.
I still think about that lecture, and even remember where I was sitting that day. I think that professor was right on the money (no pun intended). We can look today and see entire magazines devoted to the worship of consumer electronics. Of course, this effect is pervasive in the high-tech culture of the present day.
“So what?”, you say. Well, I wonder if there is a reaction brewing against consumerism in that there is a growing consciousness that what you own should not be the most important defining characteristic of your worth as an individual. I wonder if knowledge workers, who rarely see any kind of physical manifestation of their work at all if ever, are building a new ethos around information. Specifically, I wonder if the free software and open source movements are a consequence of people coming to see that if the product of their work is information and knowledge, then their self-worth is defined by how many people consume the information that they produce, not by how much information they “own.” Typically, these movements are described in terms of how they affect information consumers (or software users). But maybe there is a real need being filled by the open source movement to help the producers in an information society feel that their work is valuable because people use the information that they provide.
By most accounts, the Zune won’t have any impact on the MP3 market in general or on the iPod market specifically. I agree in that sales of Zune players are going to be so slow that it won’t register any impact on iPod sales. However, I still think that the Zune matters – and here’s why.
The most innovative feature in the Zune is the built-in WiFi support that allows you to share songs with other Zune users. Microsoft intended this as a way for people to easily share the music that they are listening to and built in some cool preview functions for DRM protected songs so you could still get a chance to listen to the song and decide if you want to buy it for yourself. I think it’s a safe bet to say that future versions of the iPod are likely to include a similar feature. Steve Jobs will probably wait until they can get the battery life up a bit before introducing a power hungry radio to the iPod, but it will come.
But Microsoft was wrong to think that the most common use of this feature will be to share songs with friends or random people on the train while riding in to work. The WiFi support is going to revolutionize the portable media device industry, but not through some kind of web2.0 social software phenomenon. Connecting to the outside world is going to open up the portable media device as a new advertising platform.
Think about it. If your media player can look for people that are sharing music, why not install a simple server that shares advertising messages into the subway station. Posters would tell you to check for a free download. These messages could be full multimedia experiences with music and video to bring you the latest info on Gap jeans, JIF peanut butter, or the new Mercedes sedan. Real Estate agents would be able to share a video tour of the house you are parked in front of while looking at the For Sale sign. Professional sports teams could offer video clips from the season or even game highlights seconds after you saw the play on the field.
The possibilities are really limitless, but it will happen. How do I know? Easy. I’ve never seen any good technology that could be used for advertising get passed up by marketing executives. What then will be the lynch pin to pull that will make all of this come together? Well, you only need a big enough market for advertisers to take notice. The iPod is the only platform that can come close. If Apple adds the WiFi features to the iPod, then they will also be well positioned to sell simple “share stations” that can serve up advertising and other messages to passersby that have their iPods set to look for others that are sharing content.
Some of you may even remember the book of this title. I thought I would borrow a little from Guy Kawasaki and put you all on notice that the primary subject of this blog will be Apple Computer and all things Macintosh. I’ve been in the industry since 1993 and left recently to pursue a dream of teaching. Still, I follow the industry closely and here I get a chance to comment on what I see happening.
My other interests are web2.0 and social software, particularly as it relates to education and personal organization. I think I might have some things to say about that as well.
For now, some links to my favorite web sites (mostly so I can test the link preview feature I added to this blog) are Flickr and del.icio.us.