Fifteen years ago if you wanted to write an application that would run on over 90% of the world’s personal computers, you only needed to target one OS. Today, to do the same, you’d need to develop for ten - Windows, Linux, OS X, Android, iOS, webOS, BlackBerry OS, Symbian, MeeGo and of course, the web.

You don’t get order without first having chaos and you don’t end up with consolidation without first going through fragmentation. The PC era was dominated by Microsoft and Intel. The transition to ubiquitous computing allowed for many more competitors, which results in a great deal of fragmentation up front.

The goal however, is the same. Every player in this space wants to be what Microsoft was during the PC era. Even the actions are the same. There’s no interoperability between platforms, there are closed door negotiations and exclusivity agreements resulting in a number of alliances that are not easily broken.

Microsoft’s leverage is existing revenue stream. Its partners want to continue to receive favorable terms for existing PC shipments and thus tend to avoid embracing Google or other non-Microsoft OSes too eagerly. Google’s leverage is the promise of a very un-Microsoft future. Lower costs, friendlier terms and the ability for its partners to get in on the ground floor of something big. Neither approach is guaranteed and aligning yourself with one company is risky. The rest of the players are vertically integrated hardware vendors that are trying to mimic the success that Apple has had with iOS and OS X (e.g. HP/Palm, RIM). MeeGo is the only exception there as Intel/Nokia want it to be treated as an alternative to Android.

Then there’s the web. The most universal of all of the platforms, the web isn’t controlled or dominated by any one company. Great open source browser projects have ensured that nearly all of the platforms I listed above have great ways to access the web, and most can run any app you’ve got on the web.

PCs are the more traditional portal to the web. Sure they can do much more than run a web browser, but as web applications and services grow more powerful, the list of things you have to do outside of a browser window shrinks. This is especially true for mainstream consumers who check their email in a web browser, get their news in a web browser, chat in a web browser, watch videos in a web browser and listen to music, all within a browser window. In fact, the netbook was born out of the idea that you don’t need a huge transistor budget to provide the silicon that can drive a browser and the apps you run on top of it.

Fifteen years ago most households had one computer, if that. These days you might have five within a single room (desktop, notebook, smartphone, media streaming box and tablet). Households didn’t become infinitely more wealthy over the past two decades - the cost of these secondary and tertiary computing devices just dropped. Moore’s Law enables two things: more processing power at the same cost, or equivalent processing power at a lower cost. Iterate the Law a few times and you’ll eventually be able to create silicon that’s fast enough for specific tasks at a very low cost. Shrinking transistor feature sizes, costs and high levels of silicon integration gave us the fast enough ARM based SoCs that enable today’s awesome smartphones, as well as the Atom processor that created the netbook industry.

Interestingly enough, the problems that impact the high end of the market also impact this fast enough segment of the market. At the high end we’ve got tons of compute, storage and IOPS thanks to multicore CPUs/GPUs, low memory costs and SSDs, but we don’t have a lot of software to really tax it all. Believe it or not, the same gap exists at the low end. The difference is that while Atom is more than fast enough to run a web browser, it’s typically burdened by a heavy weight OS that hampers the user experience.

Microsoft’s Inaction & Learning from Our Mistakes
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  • kevith - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    Is it just me, or are the prices of data insanely expensive? 50 dollars pr month for 5 GB?!!

    In my country WLAN with a 4Mb/s usb 3G-modem and 10 GB/month is 160 DKR, which is around 30 USD. My daughter has it, and she has to be careful of what she's doing, because after 10 GB they will not charge extra, but simply lower the speed to 64 Kb/s...

    So 100 MB for free is almost a joke.

    And that's why I'm very sceptic to all cloudbased computing anyway, or Google OS and its eventual future competitors: We'l be even more tied up to these companies.

    (I've just gone totally Linux, can recommend it warmly, it's not that hard anymore, they too have developed.)
  • Mumrik - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    "Every player in this space wants to be what Microsoft was during the PC era"

    Haha, I think claimed that era has passed might be jumping the gun a bit :-D
  • rs2 - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    A smartphone is not a computer. A tablet might be, but not if it's running the same OS as an iPhone. Similarly, Android, iOS, webOS, BlackBerry OS, Symbian, and MeeGo are not "personal computer" operating systems. Your definition of "personal computer" is so broad that my TI-89 calculator is feeling snubbed for being left out of your article.

    Ubiquitous computing doesn't mean that all of a sudden everything that has a web browser in it is a personal computer. There also needs to be parity in terms of capabilities, and today there is definitely not. I wouldn't feel comfortable trying to compose a document or PowerPoint presentation on a smartphone, I wouldn't want to use anything short of a laptop or better for software development and coding, and I just plain can't play most games on anything short of a laptop or desktop either.

    Until such discrepancies in functionality are well and truly dealt with, a smartphone is not a tablet, and a tablet is not a personal computer.
  • name99 - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    The comments here are very short-sighted.
    The INTERESTING point here is the future of files.

    Google has gone down the same road as Apple here, trying to pretend that files do not exist, and providing pretty much zero concessions to their existence in the UI. Both, for example, provide extremely limited ways to share files between silos --- eg you can have multiple PDF readers on your iPad, but you can't read a file that is in one of their silos using one of the other PDF readers.

    Presumably Google's theoretical grand strategy here is the claim that you don't need files because whatever would be a file (the canonical example being, eg, a Google Docs spreadsheet) will instead be a whatever-you-call-it living in the cloud.
    Apple, in contrast appears to have not even this level of grand strategy to their thinking --- they are winging it month by month, and it will be very interesting to see what iPad2 + iOS5 bring in this regard in a few months.

    It's not at all clear that this desperate attempt to pretend that files don't exist is a good idea or something users have been crying out for. Users don't want the HASSLE of managing files, I agree, but I think we can do better than both these two options. Google's option, in particular, strikes me as having the potential for all sorts of future legal fun

    (a) Anti-trust --- if all your docs are locked up in Google Docs, they would appear to be a whole lot more securely locked up than anything MS ever achieved. How exactly does a competing spreadsheet/word processor/whatever get into such a market?

    (b) Interaction with other individuals --- If I want others to see work I've done on a file, the current paradigms are well understood. I email the file, or copy it to a public folder on a file server, or transfer it using a flash drive. Sharing a google docs type document with just one other person (as opposed to making it publicly viewable) requires a whole new set of paradigms, and while one solution is to send an email URL to the document, there are actually many situations where you what you want to send other people is exactly a static version of what the document looked like then, NOT a live version that reflects every change I (and others) will subsequently make.
    I suspect to see much fun and amusement over the next few years as doctors, lawyers, politicians et al discover various ways that Google Docs they try to share (and subsequently modify) leak those new changes to the rest of the world.

    (c) Sharing with other programs. I don't want to go all luddite here and go on about the perfection of the UNIX command-line and the way one can flow data through pipelines from one command to another, but I suspect that almost everyone is going to find in time some particular cross-application way of working they utilize, but which others don't know about or care about, so which is not supported in the various (limited and hardwired by the OS manufacturer) ways of sharing that are provided.

    All of which makes me think that PCs are not going to go away. It makes sense to keep tablets and phones as simple as possible because the very point of these devices is their form factor. But it ALSO makes sense to retain PCs, with their rich keyboard input (not just typing but modifier keys, function keys etc), and rich UI (menus allow you to create large and powerful programs like Photoshop, or Mathematica, or Dev Studio --- no menus and no easy way of finding how to do things means much simpler programs).
    Apple, I think understand this. AND, I think, understand the value of having cloud services available for phones, pads and PCs, they just can't admit this until they have their own cloud infrastructure ready for the public.
    Google, I'm not so sure. Google has misfired with respect to UI so often that I'm not at all convinced they understand the needs and desires of most users. So it seems to me that here Google are solving what they think is a problem [and it is a problem], how can we provide a safer, easier, less hassle computing experience, but they AREN'T thinking of the flip side that Apple has more covered, namely what do our users do when they need more power? I suspect Google is being more condescending that Apple here, in that they are assuming most users just don't need "real computers", whereas Apple's strategy is more "use your phone for phone things, use your pad for pad things, and use your mac for everything else".
  • chewietobbacca - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    Is great for my mom, who doesn't use her computer for much more than online browsing and work things. But that's also the other problem - some work things won't work without Windows, and I don't see apps reaching what Excel can do for her (she's in accounting)

    Right now though, I'm just praying Fusion/Bobcat really are all they're hyped up to be, to take us away from this crap Atom has given us
  • maxusa - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    Lately Anand made several rather bold conclusions based on wishful thinking and hearsay. Come on, dude, pull your head out of the gutter, you, CEO and founder of one of the most popular technology review publications online.

    HINT: If you want to target 90% of personal computers 15 years ago and today, you still develop code against one platform only. Based on multiple sources, Microsoft commands 88-91% of the personal computer market share as of November 2010.

    Or, perhaps, Anand is just testing his readership for how much baloney it can swallow?
  • spiral529 - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    I think the Citrix Receiver implementation is one of the most exciting aspects of Chrome. Instant access to any enterprise application, including the MS Office suite, could really make it practical for enterprise users.

    There is a nice demo of Receiver for Chrome from Tuesday's event. You can view the video at the following URL (Citrix coverage starts around 21:30):
  • Conficio - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    Here is my list of things making this a No Go:
    * Configurable alternatives to the Google App Store
    * Basic upgradability, more RAM
    * Installable VPN, for Open Wifi access. I want to get to the web under my security control. Corporate anybody, enterprise?
    * Auto update ? NO, NO, NO! Can you hear me now? This is supposed ot be a "PC" as in personal computer and that is the one thing I won't give up on personal freedom. I want to be in charge as to when I take the risk that my system feezes or stops to function. Not in the midst of a meeting or vacation for that matter. Auto anything must be optional!
    * An array of server type apps for my desktops/home servers that make my data there accessible on demand remotely. Why? I can't control that my employer uses non cloud apps, but hopefully I can access those via such server programs I can install.
  • VooDooAddict - Saturday, December 11, 2010 - link

    What about dropping this OS on existing Netbooks?

    It would open up more potential buyers to the app store and put some of that hardware to use that otherwise sits there unused.
  • 529th - Sunday, December 12, 2010 - link

    This is like a kids OS in terms of being innocent of the other potentials of the internet. Its a good idea but this was the first thing I thought of after reading the app store section. LOL

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