Microsoft's Surface proves software is dead
Ballmer finally gets
with the program
Open ... and Shut Did Microsoft finally get the memo on software licensing? While Microsoft's legal department continues to believe that software licensing is the industry's best business model, its mobile team now acknowledges that software is just one piece of an overall product, and not even the part that consumers buy.
With the launch of its end-to-end Microsoft-designed Surface tablet, Microsoft has declared what much of the rest of the industry already knows: software is dead.
Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady best explains this come-to-Jobs moment for Microsoft. As O'Grady points out: "The market has not generated a large technology vendor oriented around selling software in twenty-two years," as companies like Facebook, Google, Red Hat, and more have learned to sell services based upon or built around software. But the software itself? Free.
Not just free as in beer, to paraphrase Richard Stallman, but also free as in freedom. The new "software" kings give mountains of code away through open-source licensing, because they recognise that their economic value is not in the software itself. Not content to just open-source its software, Facebook has taken to open-sourcing its data centre designs, too.
Not every company hankers after openness, of course. Apple is more closed than Microsoft ever dreamed of being. But Apple has for years set the pace on reducing the value of software as an economic driver. Apple sells iPhones, not iOS. Yes, it takes margin on all the apps sold through its App Store, but Apple's own software is inextricably tied to its hardware. The software is, in effect, free.
Google gets at the same result, but from a different angle. In mobile, Google has open sourced Android, allowing anyone and everyone to build Android-based smartphones and tablets. The software, again, is free.
Now Microsoft is following suit with the Surface tablet. The Surface isn't cool because of its technology, though the technology is cool. No, the truly impressive thing about the launch of the Surface tablet is, as Reg-correspondent-turned-Bloomberg-hack Ashlee Vance writes, that Microsoft would finally risk annoying its OEM partners to build a holistic product that embeds software but doesn't attempt to sell that software.
It's a strategy that Microsoft has been getting right in other areas, including the Xbox and its Azure cloud computing platform, but this is perhaps the most glaring example of Microsoft finally getting a clue. The industry has very definitely moved away from software as a business to software as a service. At long last, Microsoft is a poised to be a competitor again. ®
Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analysing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.
Re: Software isn't dead...
"Outlook might tank at the things you mention, but given the dismalness of available email clients, is still, from a *functional* perspective, the best email client around."
Outlook is one of the most awful email clients I've every had the misfortune to have to use. Its only saving grace is the fact that its calender and address functionality is compatible with most other peoples email set up ... because that's also Outlook. So that's pretty much on par with "I enjoy smoking because I'm a smoker".
Whether software is dead or not, or whether that has anything to do with lock in I can't say. But the fact that Outlook is still alive and so prevalent entirely to do with lock in.
Software isn't dead...
...it's the fact Microsoft have done it so poorly for so long that these "free or integrated OSes" are coming out of the woodwork to solve problems they caused themselves. Too much emphasis in locking you in, countless price increases and now going from Physical CPU to CPU Core licensing; I'm not surprised people are annoyed.
Anyway, it makes sense to integrate software into specialist products (such as mobile phones, tablets etc). You only enhance the experience by concentrating on how you use it rather than how it it works.
Uuuh, it seems to prove the opposite
People don't buy hardware either. They buy a device, and the device is the integral, inseparable sum total of its hardware and software. Most people probably wouldn't even be able to precisely tell you which bit was which.
Apple recognised that very well written, stable, easy to use, tightly integrated software was a key component in devices. The original iPhone was, compared to other contemporary leading smartphones at release, poorly specified and expensive. But it sold like hotcakes not because of hype, or clichéd notions of hipsters and stereotypes, but because IT WORKED. Other smartphones were a ridiculous, confusing joke of numerous GUI metaphors, design paradigms and serious bugs all wrapped up in one uninspiring package.
Moreover, the iPad and iPhone are often touted as being *all about* the software. "The device gets out of the way". Microsoft "borrowed" this quote, along with several others, when talking about Surface in their launch event. They've realised that you need to have the most unobtrusive hardware you can, which presents the best possible software in the best possible way to the user.
This is why there are app stores, and why app stores generate lots and lots and lots of money. Software is key.
In summary, I can't imagine many ways in which Mr. Asay could have been more wrong in his analysis.
Re: Apple is more closed than Microsoft ever dreamed of being
Also putting lipstick on unix and charging double for the hardware !- Steve Jobs is a genius.
Re: Apple is more closed than Microsoft ever dreamed of being
These only work on Microsoft platforms. Apple (and mostly other) open source projects work on any platform.