Is there a new world order emerging in the personal computer software realm? Microsoft, for many years the leader, are now facing stiff competition as Google has just launched its Google Apps Premier Edition. This integrated suite, of low cost or free applications, is now available as a trial until April 30th to try and tease you away from your expensive, hard-disk bound and feature laden applications you currently download and ‘own’.
Meanwhile Sony has launched its PlayStation3 which is described as being a ‘digital hub’ where consumers can play games, watch movies, store their music and surf the Internet. Similarly AppleTV will provide a simple user-friendly access to all your digital needs. These will both store and/or provide fast access to your data.
What’s going on? Several things. Firstly information and communication convergence is now gaining traction as the old media and telco moguls die off and/or give up on protecting their out-moded technologies such as analogue television and telephony. This convergence will occur in the living room, not through a PC. I would rather navigate with voice, a joystick or games controller than a QWERTY keyboard any day!
Secondly, just as we got comfortable storing our cash at banks rather than under our beds, several hundred years ago, we are now getting more comfortable storing our data online. For several reasons. We do not need to horde ‘big’ data items we did not make ourselves, such as commercial films and music. For our own home made developments such as images, video and music and collated pages of friends we are nothing if we can’t share and communicate them. A major socio-cultural trend currently sweeping the world is self-promotion. Define thyself or be defined. So we need to publish. Regularly. Hence any site that gives us access to millions of viewers in return for a little inconvenience of a few crappy ads has our business.
Third the rent-it-when-I-need-it model for digital applications is now overtaking the traditional, build, buy and own model. Simpler to download as desired or required. The old model was too expensive, unable to be customised and we had to wait years for new features.
So Google, Sun, Apple and now Microsoft have the apps if you are prepared to adhere to their business plan, and you can sleep comfortably at night not knowing where your data lies. Microsoft are having a bet each way. In November 2005 Bill Gates said “The Live era is just starting, it’s a new way to look at software and a better way to create opportunities.” Whereas this week a spokesperson in Australia was quoted saying “Microsoft believes that the PC is still the place where people store most of their digital media”. (AFR 20070224) Macromedia on the other hand argue Rich Internet Applications will dominate and salesforce.com are busy proving them right. I also agree. It is just a matter of when.
But it is not all bliss. The average user experience is still relatively poor. Most web sites have not kept up with current trends and are looking tired, slow and dumb. Retrofitting is expensive and quality Interaction Design is unfortunately practised by too few developers and marketers of online applications and services. That will change. Web 2.0 will clean out the pioneers whose business models, services and technology have lagged behind. ie Those that have not kept up with Smart Business Design. And smart in this case means simple logical interfaces, reliable technology and flexible business plans that don’t lock users out of their own data. That is possibly why Google is now employing a one hundred and thirty year old technology to help us feel assured. Yes they are offering 24 hour phone support with their new online applications.