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Bob Stout

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More on the future of computing

October 25, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to the blog...

Shortly after posting this morning’s blog entry on Windows 7 and the future of computing, I read another Forbes article, “Why Apple Is Gushing Hate On Windows 7”. In it, Brian Caulfield correctly points out that Apple has missed countless opportunities to expand the Mac OS user base by allowing it on non-Apple hardware. He even cites Steve Jobs’ 1996 statements (when he was in exile from Apple), “If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it's worth--and get busy on the next great thing, [...] The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago." In other words, exactly what we see today as Apple adamantly refuses to allow its user base to grow beyond Apple’s own hardware and pours its development money into iPhone, iPod, iEtc.

So, if my previous blog post on the future of desktop OSs is correct, where does that leave the major players when cloud computing takes over the desktop? As the Forbes article highlights, I think we’ve already seen it if we’ve been paying attention. The commercial OS makers will move to products where they can play to their strengths and still generate profits. For Microsoft that means Xbox and for Apple, that means iWhatever.

Again, Microsoft stand to lose the most. Since its Windows Mobile platform is already withering in the face of competition from RIM (Blackberry) and the Linux derivatives (Android, WebOS, Moblin, et al) Windows and Office are its only reliable revenue streams. Regardless of its merits, if Windows 7 stumbles, Microsoft will be in big trouble. Polls already indicate Windows 7 adoption may be slow among consumers, so Microsoft’s future may depend on its ability to win over those enterprise customers who have stuck with XP through the Vista debacle. Early indications are that they are more amenable, but remain cautious. If Windows itself falls, Microsoft Office will be the next domino. But that’s largely immaterial since Office functionality is moving to the cloud (e.g. Google Docs, Microsoft Office Web Apps). It would indeed be ironic if Microsoft’s future depended on Web Apps running from a non-Microsoft browser-based OS.

What about Linux? Linux is well established in the data center and its presence there continues to grow. On the desktop, it will remain a player in the smaller world of technical workstations. Multimedia workstations will likely remain a slugfest between Apple and Linux for as long as Apple want to remain in the fight. Windows may remain a player in the multimedia workstation world, but without its dominant market share on the desktop, it faces substantial competition from Apple and Linux.

But the desktop will belong to something that resembles Google’s upcoming Chrome OS. Since the Chrome OS uses the Linux kernel, I guess you could call that a win for Linux, but not for Linux as we know it. The same could be said of anything arising from the IBM/Canonical partnership. Their desktop OS will obviously have its roots in Ubuntu, but visually, I expect it will most closely resemble the existing netbook remixes based on Ubuntu.

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