Tech titans lose our loyalty: Are fanbois a dying breed?
Apple, Microsoft, Google? Whatever does the job...
Sysadmin blog We've hit an inflection point in computing this year; one where which company makes your widget, operating system or office package finally matters less than it did the year before. Windows 8, Android, the latest iWidget and so forth are becoming interchangeable for an increasing number of people.
As I compose this article, I am driving in my car; I find easier in a lot of ways to think while I drive. It allows me to bypass writer's block in a way that sitting in front of the computer just doesn't. When I'm done dictating, I push stop, and the audio file is automatically uploaded to my Dropbox. By the time I walk in the door, pet the cat and settle down in front of my full-blown PC, the file has synchronised and is available on my desktop. I fire up Dragon Naturally Speaking, load the audio file and transcode what I've said.
It's a stream-of-consciousness approach. I'm really just core-dumping my ideas, but it gets the ideas out of my head and into a text file. I clean up my ramblings a little bit, add some hyperlinks and bam: blog post.
A deeper look at my personal approach to solving writer's block provides a good example of how "who makes the widgets" is starting to become irrelevant. The specific case of writing various forms of documents no longer requires a PC. I can speak into anything that will record audio to a file. The transcoding could be done by any number of devices, or even by a cloud service. The editing and so forth can be done in a browser; in fact, I recall having co-written a short book last week in exactly that fashion.
The only thing that prevents me from doing all of this on my Asus Transformer from start to finish is that I'm too lazy to hunt down the relevant apps and install them. I've written articles on my Galaxy S II before, so it's not too far out there. But that won't work for my use cases!
What works for me in this one use case doesn't apply to everyone in all situations. That said, the number of tasks that really aren't bound to a specific operating system or device is already quite astounding.
As geeks it's easy to become worked up about latest technology. We become attached to specific companies, products and even operating systems. In tying our sense of self-worth to the products we use, we've collectively lost sight of the reason we spend all this money on computers in the first place. We have stopped asking: "Why do we need a computer?" and simply internalised their existence - and their perpetual upgrade cycles - with a near-instinctual acceptance that this is the way of things.
Ask yourself - as a systems administrator, developer, CTO or what-have-you - what do you need your computer for? What do you need it to do? Ask yourself about the tasks you need to accomplish, not the software you believe you need to accomplish those tasks. You probably need to browse the web to do research. You probably need communications clients to talk to colleagues. You need the ability to manage the systems under your care and ideally to replicate the problems your users are experiencing using like configurations. You might need the ability to compile some code, or write some documents.
I have a television set at home that runs Android 4.03 (Ice Cream Sandwich) that can do all of these things. Not optimally, but in many cases, "good enough." It's a television, for frips' sake! Don't get me started on what I get done with my router.
We are spoiled for choice today. With the exception of some industry-specific niches, we have any number of available ways to solve the problems at hand. This is why Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS and the squillion varieties of Linux - Android included - just don't matter.
An ever-increasing number of users can now wander into the local electronics shop and buy a device for $199 that accomplishes the tasks they are asked to accomplish during their workday, but which does so more quickly and less intrusively than the six-year-old locked-down corporate special provided by IT.
How we as system administrators, software developers, widget designers etc deal with this will determine the degree to which our users, clients and customers will work with us, or treat us as damage and route around us.
Different people use computers in different ways. It's not about Metro, the keyboard and mouse, voice input, fondle screens or flailing at your Kinect. What matters is what we are trying to accomplish not how we accomplish it. If a technology company today fails to make the technologies we need to do the jobs we have to do (and how we want to do them) then we can simply use another company. No company - not even Microsoft - is irreplaceable. Ask Novell about that some day. Or RIM.
There's a diversity of individuals using computers today and no two people are alike. This diversity of individuals means that no one user interface - for an application or an operating system - will do. No one device design will meet all needs; one size simply does not fit all. How we cope with this reality will dictate our ability to extract maximum efficiency from our users and from ourselves. ®
Two good reasons
There are two excellent reasons why punters are decreasingly committed to any single supplier.
1. Slowly, very slowly, but inexorably, technical cluefulness is spreading. More people are equipped to notice when they are being conned or swindled.
2. The really huge corporations - like Apple, Google, and Microsoft - are becoming ever more cynically greedy in their attempts to screw a regular vig out of hundreds of millions of customers - preferably with the least possible cost to themselves.
Are fanbois a dying breed?
I hope they're a dying breed. Every time I read the word 'fanbois' I like to replace it in my head with 'religious nutjob'.
Re: Are fanbois a dying breed?
There's a difference between buying/using kit from one company for a long time and only buying from one company because you believe they're the best and can do no wrong, no matter what anyone else says.
I only have Android phones and tablets, not because Android is teh bezt!, simply because it does what I want in a way I've grown to like with hardware choices I like.
I don't believe that Android completely defeating iOS would be a good thing for consumers, in much the same way that Microsoft/Apple "winning" the desktop wouldn't be. But I agree with Trevor that those days are likely long behind us as people tend to be more tech-savvy.
Re: Several points
"Losing their monopoly " - be it MS or anyone else - doesn't mean "every single user in every single use case has alternatives." It means the plurality of users in the plurality of use cases do.
I do believe that time has arrived where there exist few - if any - true monopolies in tech. Not that "a niche can find an alternative," but that "most users can find an alternative."
More succinctly: treat users/customers/clients like crap at your own risk. Even if you are Microsoft, Apple, Google...
Re: Several points
You know Khaptain, I've thought about what you've said here long and hard. Went and nommed a pile of carrot sticks and enjoyed a Zen like moment of contemplation. In the end, sir, I believe you are probably wrong...though I must admit that my first instinct was to agree with your position.
The cynic in me would say "why yes, that's obviously Truth spoken to Power." The reality - admittedly in my n=1 anecdotal experience - is that, on balance, I have been treated better by freeware/open source companies than I have by Big Tech.
Some of this is to be expected; I'm a Great Big Nobody in the tech journalism (or sysadmin purchasing power) world. Why would Big Tech give two shakes of a bent damn about courting my interest? Freeware/Open Source on the other hand…they need all the exposure they can get!
I have been on exactly two junkets: one for VMware, the other for Spiceworks. One is Big Tech, the other is Freeware. I have gotten demo gear from small outfits: Unitrends, MobilePCMonitor, Ninite and so forth. I have gotten demo gear from Big Tech: Supermicro, Dell, VMware, Intel and so forth.
There are junkets and freebies to be had on either side of that corporate line. What changes is how they treat you during the process. Are you a highly institutionalised cog in a massive, scripted, heavily regulated and proscribed machine? Or are you someone that they want to legitimately engage with, get your feedback, help evolve their product to meet your needs and earn your loyalty as a long term customer and evangelist?
In large part, I find the smaller organisations leave me feeling excited. Like I have a voice in product development. Features I need and want will probably appear and the ages old bargain of "the more licences you buy, the quicker your features are dealt with" still applies here.
The larger organisations leave me feeling – for lack of a better word - processed. There is some secret, hidden social contract that I am just not privy to, but probably should be. They do these tickbox items I buy X number of widgets, or go forth and evangelise their thing. There is little to no feedback taking place: with big tech I am not a customer, or a journalist or so forth. I am an on message instrument of the hierarchy. Thoughts about product improvement be damned.
It's the smaller orgs that give me the warm fuzzies; I feel that I can bet the business on them because I feel my needs will be responded to.
Amongst the bigger orgs, I feel I can trust Intel; not because they'll listen to me, but because they Just Make Good Shit and I don't really have a reason to complain. VMware has engaged well with me and I feel I can trust them in a way that I can't trust any other big software companies. Supermicro have been mostly okay, a lot of the issues they had in the early aughties seem to have evaporated. Dell is a completely mixed bag, and you'll get awesomeness from one group and completely screwed over by the other.
So…are these junkets and back-patting going to drive corporate purchasing forever? I don't think so. Regardless of how nice the junket is, nobody wants to lose their job over a steak dinner and some mediocre wine. If vendors keep up with processing CxOs, they are going to start to clue in here…especially when they take the opportunity to get wined and dined by smaller orgs.
Dealing with startups who actually try to meet your needs seems like a far better deal – short, medium and long term – for your political existence within your company than selling out for the cost of a simple junket.
We have laws now that require accountability. Shareholder lawsuits are becoming more and more common. CxOs are actually being held accountable for their actions; some even have to prove they did things like due diligence.
So while at first blush it seems that the cynical view on this would stay correct forever…the truth is that the quality of the schmoozing on offer by the Tech Titans has declined as they have become more and more sure of the inevitability of their supremacy. Corporate hubris has led to Tech Titans that don't even bother to pretend that your input matters, or that your requirements will ever be met.
You are believed to be addicted to their software/hardware/services. They can treat you however they like, and you'll be back on the front steps the next morning, begging for another hit. For some use cases, they are probably still right.
I argue however that this simply isn't the case for the majority of use cases, anymore. The pendulum of power is shifting back into the hands of "people who buy widgets." Big Tech is going to have to start pretending they care, or they are going to start bleeding market share; eventually, they may even bleed the high-margin market share that actually matters.
Meanwhile, a whole new generation of tech startups are coming onto the scene with corporate cultures that say "listen to the clients, do what they need, and you'll get all sorts of customers, money, etc." The balance of power will shift and the dance will begin anew…