Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Andreessen Horowitz and The End of Windows

I read a very interesting post by Ben Evans, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, titled "Microsoft, capitulation, and the end of Windows Everywhere."

In many ways, what he says about Microsoft is right in alignment with our writing over the past few years.  In some other ways, namely about the future of computing, I am not sure that extrapolating the present gives the picture about the future winners.  It almost never does.

Mr. Evans introduces his article by saying that it's very difficult for large companies--like Cisco, HP, IBM and Microsoft--to throw in the towel on a business.  His identification of internal corporate processes driven by strategy teams and abetted by high price, outside consultants as outlawing giving up is hilarious, and true. I've sat through many of the "hundred-page decks" myself, arguing that tacking while staying the course was the best.

Back in 2013, we wrote,
  • Establishing our Windows platform across the PC, tablet, phone, server, and cloud to drive a thriving ecosystem of developers, unify the cross-device user experience, and increase agility when bringing new advances to market.(This means that the legacy though currently very profitable will inhibit real innovation.  Microsoft needs to let go of Windows and its legacy)
Ben Evans puts it succinctly, "Windows is not a point of leverage for Microsoft in mobile."  

He also debunks the strategy put forward by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella which emphasized courting the developer community to build apps for Windows 10, which will appear across all computing form factors, from tablets to phones and desktops.  Again, Mr. Evans writes, "Uber doesn't have a desktop Windows app, and neither does Instacart, Pinterest, or Instagram.  The apps and services that consumers care about are either smartphone-only or address the desktop using the web, with only partial exceptions for the enterprise." 

He unfortunately confirms my suspicion that my value-driven move to Windows Phone on Nokia devices will leave me abandoned in the desert, as Microsoft often does to its loyal customers. Windows 10 will mean nothing to me on this device, as I have the look and feel, and the great apps like Here Maps already.  

We are in rabid agreement that "Microsoft has missed mobile," but I am not sure that I agree with Ben's  conclusion that all computing will be done on phones.  

The most current, relatively disinterested data on smartphone usage comes from Pew Research, and I direct my readers to their surveys and conclusions.  But, let's go back to another strand from the IT Guru Business, namely "Big Data," and Smart Cities and Smart Corporations.  We know that the back end of these houses are going to need massive computing power, mainly driven by cloud-style models with consulting and analytical support.  

On the front end, where are the analysts, directors, and VPs going to do all their data analysis, scenario testing, and supporting work for presentations?  Certainly, none of this can or will be done on a phone, unless people start carrying around 30" flat screens!  If this phenomenon is real, as all the tech CEOs have said, since they are reporting their multi-billion dollar revenue run rates on every conference call, then surely this significant transformation of enterprise research, analysis, business forecasting, risk management, and financial forecasting won't by supported by the growth in the number of smartphones.

Suddenly, a device like Microsoft Surface looks like a godsend, or Apple's Macbook Airs.  

Pew's research shows that, especially for younger users, whether students or entry level employees, smartphones are used to relieve boredom, to text, send photos, find friends who are in the neighborhood and other non-GDP enhancing uses.  

Is the smartphone the future of "computing?"  Who knows?  But, it surely depends on what's meant by "computing," The venture backed companies developing apps are doing it in office spaces, on big displays, backed by computing power supplied by Amazon Web Services and others.  They may use their phones to order pizza at the desk, but the future of computing is surely more complicated and nuanced than that.  

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