Friday, February 26, 2010

How Microsoft Lost the Platform War

I'm a big fan of Joel Spolsky's blog:

Joel Spolsky has a lot of software development experience. While having worked at Microsoft in the 90's it is clear from his writing that his talents are mutually exclusive from those days. Microsoft was just another employer on the road of life. Today he runs FogCreek Software in New York City. One of my favorite postings from Joel was entitled How Microsoft Lost the API War written back on June 13, 2004. In technological terms this is now ancient history. However, what Joel wrote back then is still relevant in terms of how Microsoft lost the hearts and minds of software developers. While writing that column Joel took a tangent:

Why Apple and Sun Can't Sell Computers
Well, of course, that's a little bit silly: of course Apple and Sun can sell computers, but not to the two most lucrative markets for computers, namely, the corporate desktop and the home computer. Apple is still down there in the very low single digits of market share and the only people with Suns on their desktops are at Sun. (Please understand that I'm talking about large trends here, and therefore when I say things like "nobody" I really mean "fewer than 10,000,000 people," and so on and so forth.)

I wrote to Joel Spolsky in the past year and mused how those words no longer hold true (about Apple anyway). I pointed out that half of my team members at work were operating with Apple Macbooks.  

Then today I caught this on the New York Times:

OS X Share Up 29% in Past Year, Slowly Chipping Away at Microsoft


Apple’s relative share has grown by 29.4% in the past year, while Windows lost 3.8%. Mobile increased the most in the past year, more than doubling its share of web consumption.

Adding fuel to the fire is another potential paradigm shift - tablet/slate computing. While there will be various Windows 7 based tablet products on the market, I have a very high degree of confidence Apple's sales of the iPad will likely marginalize these offerings. This is an opinion I immediately formed when the iPad was announced and it is write ups like that of Brian X. Chen from Wired that reinforce this, i.e. he didn't write "What the HP slate Means for the Future of Computing."

What the iPad Means for the Future of Computing

At this point you're guessing I'm writing this on a Macintosh. Nope. I use Windows 7 day to day. However, I'm not an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. I see reality. Microsoft ZDNet blogger Ed Bott seems to be on the same wavelength:

Like I said, apps matter.

So why is Microsoft incapable of responding appropriately? Read the words of a former Microsoft Vice President:

Microsoft’s Creative Destruction

In short, Microsoft is severely hobbled by a Balkinzation stemming from differing agendas among its product groups, a lack of vision (Ballmer at best is a Chief Operating Officer, he has no vision whatsoever and the longer he stays the more Microsoft is damaged) and the usual myopia found at a large company wanting to protect cash cows originating in the distant past (Office, Windows).

Until Microsoft has a come to Jesus moment (often precipitated by lots of layoffs & loss of market share) nothing will change. Except by then, it could very well be too late...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Adobe's Flash R.I.P.?

Adobe is frustrated at Steve Jobs as Apple's mobile devices increasingly become a bigger player in the Internet experience. The iPhone platform which was released three years ago still does not have Flash and that does not seem like it will change anytime soon. But it's not entirely Apple's fault. Adobe's Flash platform isn't conducive to long battery usage. Simple as that.

The recently announced Apple iPad along with advances in HTML5 will only accelerate the trend of companies rebuking Adobe's Flash platform over the long term.

It turns out, Adobe's frustrations are well grounded (in fear). If content creators start considering the growing Apple userbase and stop leveraging Flash because they'd rather not alienate Apple device users, it means a long and slow death spiral for Adobe's platform. Fact: Adobe makes a LOT of money selling content creation software, Adobe doesn't make any money on people downloading the Flash plugin. Adobe is one of the largest software vendors for the Windows platform outside of Microsoft itself, e.g., Photoshop, Dreamweaver, PDF software, etc., etc. In short, Adobe makes a large portion of its revenue selling content creation tools. If one of its major formats dies, i.e. Flash, that's a serious blow to Adobe.

Case in point, remember when Real Networks blazed trails with respect to streaming audio/video over the Internet? Well, look where they are now. I can't remember the last time I installed any of Real's software and given the fact that practically no one puts out content in Real's format anymore, that won't be changing anytime soon.

I wrote about HTML5 a few days ago which shimmys itself in a position that essentially starts loosening Flash's vice grip on video playback. It seems I'm not the only one with this opinion:

"HTML vs. Flash: Can a turf war be avoided?"

Here's an excerpt:

Bruce Lawson, Web standards evangelist for browser maker Opera Software, believes HTML and the other technologies inevitably will replace Flash and already collectively are "very close" to reproducing today's Flash abilities.

"The Web (including video, games, animation) is too vital a platform for business, communication, and society to be in the hands of any single vendor," Lawson said. "But it'll be a while; there is a huge body of existing content that uses Flash."

Both Lawson and I have come to the same conclusion - the long term future for Adobe's Flash platform is not bright (pun intended).