Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Operating System that changed the World

The seeds were planted years ago, soon after the Apple iPod came out. However, Apple never disclosed its multi-device OS strategy until their momentum in the market was well established. Today, Apple's Operating Systems are powering phones, tablets and Macs. That has created a fair degree of market envy, but Apple now has a few generations of users that know their products work and pretty much keep working.

The high tech industry, which from 2007 until early 2009 failed to take Apple seriously, is now reeling from the continuous product hits coming out of Apple. In fact, one could argue that the PC industry has been permanently changed. Netbooks have given way to Tablets and Smart Phones without apps are just not highly desired, since data, not calls, are powering Carrier growth. Mobility, Applications and ease of use are the watch words.

Google recognized the trend early, put together a great team and now Android has become the OS of choice for most handset and tablet manufacturers. Other providers failed to act and now are scrambling to catch up.

The OS is not the only part of this success story, Apple made it easy for developers to monetize their work and that unleashed a wave of application innovation like we haven't seen in decades. The others that are in the game, with the minor exception of Google, don't have the same application portability across phones and tablets.

I was in the battles of the Desktop Operating Systems in the early days of a GUI based OS (I was at Xerox in Palo Alto) and in those days the desktop OS was looked at in one dimension (Workstations/PCs).  What is fascinating to me is how many large vendors have continued to look at the OS in a single dimension. Apple and Google get As, they did their homework, monetized their designs and are now reaping the rewards.

The question though is what lessons the other vendors (Microsoft, Dell, HP, Nokia, RIM, Sony) will learn from this. For many, a multi-dimensional OS was never viewed as strategic. For a few, it is fast becoming a matter of survival. Mergers and acquisitions will be the things to watch this year.

A sidebar about IBM. IBM certainly knows about Operating Systems, but they of stepped back from the desktop OS fray when they exited the PC business. Given all that is going on, this may be a time that they evaluate their strategy, since they have the core competence to scale an OS up and down.

The result of all this is that that it will no longer be a one OS fits all approach. Users will pick the apps they want, run them on the devices they want and access secure corporate portals that serve up the right content, data and analytics.


  1. So what do you make of HP's announcements that it intends to bring webOS not only to handhelds and tablets, but to the desktop as well? As a software developer, I only have so much time to learn each new environment and port my drivers and applications.

  2. Great question. It is about the App Store Ecosystem and developers should watch that closely. Limited apps means limited demand for a platform.