Platform.new()

Taking platform management advice from a Mac person is like taking relationship advice from an autistic savant. His advice probably works for him, but Your Mileage May Vary.

Which brings me to John Gruber of Daring Fireball on OS opportunity:

If Palm can create WebOS for pocket-sized computers — replete with an email client, calendaring app, web browser, and SDK — why couldn’t these companies make something equivalent for full-size computers?

Short answer: look how many people are developing for Palm.

Long answer: Funny how an OS in some people’s minds (especially Mac users) stops at the web browser and email+calendaring. An OS as a platform is so much more. It took Linux 7-10 years depending on whom you asked to be taken seriously in the server world (it’s not quite there yet in the desktop world). Even the iPhone, with its seemingly unassailable 100k+ apps, has developers champing at the bit with its platform limitations. There is every likelihood that an open standard (whether in the sense of de facto industry standard or open-source, or both) like Android will do to the iPhone what the technically far inferior DOS and Windows did to the classic Mac.

Apple does particularly well these days well because it’s the equivalent of a BMW in the computer market — people buy it for fact that it’s a nice PC, and it has polish and grace for the basic tasks users need to perform: web, email, photo and video editing. But the Mac also has an amazing line-up of applications beyond these basics. Even discounting iWork, you can buy Microsoft Office for the Mac, and lots of Mac users appear to like it (indeed, Microsoft is the biggest ISV for Mac). Then there’s the all-star line-up of pro-grade DTP, photo, video and music manipulation apps – a niche the Mac has held on to for years. And yet even Apple has had to fight hard to convince even its top ISVs to keep the faith – witness the times the Mac community felt betrayed because Microsoft or (worse) Adobe seemed to prioritize the Windows version.

Nurturing a platform is hard work.

Sure a Dell or an HP could go its own and create a platform. But it’d have to stand by and commit to its platform for the 5-7 years it takes for a platform to gain critical mass. (Hint: you can’t commit and still sell Windows. That’d send a really bad signal about how committed you are.) Can Dell or HP take the sales risk? If all they want to do is escape the clutches of Microsoft, wouldn’t they rather throw a few pennies at Canonical and get Ubuntu on their low-end machines?

And no, Desktop Linux in its current avatar isn’t going to save PC OEMs. Apple bolted a proprietary, world-class consumer-grade GUI to an open-source Unix in 4 years. 12 years on, Linux desktop devs are still distracted with KDE v Gnome. Desktop Linux is very much a low-end user/advanced-user choice, not a solution for a mainstream user.

That said, I’m looking forward to seeing what Google’s Chrome OS has in store for us. Google’s heft in the marketplace would go a long way in assuring ISVs and OEMs of commitment. Slowly but steadily, they’ve been putting blocks like Gears, HTML5, Native Client and the Go language (it targets Native Client along with x86 and ARM) in place to make the beginnings of a compelling platform. And they have some of the finest minds in OS development working for them. If anyone can give the OEM market an alternative with polish and backing, it’s Google.

Interesting times ahead, for sure.

One thought on “Platform.new()”

  1. The kind of market share that Microsoft has which characterizes it as a monopoly makes competing against it more difficult than what it seems to be. For companies that have to compete in monopoly markets it is not enough that they do everything right, for them to have any chance of grabbing any significant market share from the monopoly they need outside help. It could be in the form of government regulation, fundamental/disruptive shift in the marketplace or mistakes made by the monopoly.

    Google is good at building technology, but they haven’t been very successful at productising much of it. Their DNA is delivering services online. Going from that to delivering shrink-wrapped software is a long way and will require “making the elephant dance”. They don’t have much experience in “high touch” businesses. For all their public posturing about openness the level secrecy they maintain when you try to do business with them is mind boggling. Google as a company has a serious fear of commitment, which is why they slap the beta tag on products that are very mature so that they can hide behind it if something were to go wrong. So, I don’t think anyone should keep their eyes peeled for a credible alternative to come from the Google stable.

    Now, having said that it does make sense for Google to do an OS even if it does not have any decent chance of competing with Windows.

    This is kind of a dance that Microsoft and Google are doing that eventually becomes advantageous for the consumer. Every dollar that Google throws at Chrome will force Microsoft to stay on its toes about Windows, which prevents it from pouring attention on Bing. Microsoft in a way does the same with Bing. It is a win win for everybody involved. Kind of like a nuclear deterrent that keeps peace.

    Ultimately, both these companies are pioneers who invented entire industries single-handedly. They should be smart enough to know that they can learn a lot from each other and both of them can learn from Apple. Whoever drops their ego first and decides that they need to hire a top honcho from the other side and give them a mandate to create what they done for their rival will emerge a winner.

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