Week in Review: December 23rd

At CES, Microsoft will confront a demon that’s been haunting it from the early ‘90s, and how it does that will likely have a major impact on the future of the company and of Windows and its ecosystem.  The demon is the GUI.

Most OSs can be visualized as a kernel and a shell, with the latter providing the human interface to the OS service set.  There are APIs in both the kernel and shell, and developers write software to these APIs.  Thus, the software is dependent on the features exposed by those APIs.  Since the shell/GUI APIs are specific to the GUI model the OS uses, the APIs depend on how the user-to-system interaction looks and works.  It’s all an ecosystem.

The challenge this poses is that Windows has always had a GUI designed for keyboard/mouse use.  Touch-screen versions of Windows offer some relief from this link, but everyone realizes that the Windows GUI doesn’t scale down well to smartphones or even tablets because the navigation is too display-intensive to work when the display is very limited in real estate.  The GUI also doesn’t include handy finger-features for navigation that tablet or phone users would demand.

Tablets are the biggest thing in computing, and as I noted in our Annual Technology Forecast this month, they’re the focus of the most significant technology issues and product sectors for the coming year.  But Windows 7 is Microsoft’s success story, the thing that pulled it back from a cliff that the earlier Vista release hung Microsoft on the edge of.  But Windows 7 isn’t compatible at the GUI level with tablets; the navigation doesn’t port.  That means the APIs don’t port, which means the programs don’t port.  So Microsoft has to either create a new OS for tablets with a tablet-specific GUI and let tablets then step on Windows 7 success, or they have to try to make a Windows 7 GUI compatible with tablets and risk losing the critical tablet market completely.

If they do the former, they’ll be following Apple’s lead with iOS versus OS/X but they’ll have no real software base to work with.  If they do the latter, they’ll be risking the future of Microsoft.  Clearly they have to do something closer to the first choice, but how?  The obvious approach would be to create a Win 7 kernel and a new GUI shell, and then come up with some new APIs that could map to either the older Windows GUI or to the newer tablet GUI.  I’ve heard some rumors that this might be the track they take, but Redmond is a pretty close-mouthed shop so we’ll probably not know for sure until CES.

Economic news remains largely on track.  The Eurozone debt crisis isn’t getting any worse; Greece passed austerity measures and Irish courts approved a bank bailout.  In the US, economic data has been pretty much in line with expectations; a slight upward revision in the last quarter’s GDP, a dip in durable goods orders, and a small dip in unemployment claims.  Consumer spending and income levels were up in November, and October’s number for spending growth was revised upward.

In the carrier world, we had an interesting counterpoint to the net neutrality flap in a major Skype outage this morning.  The reason this is interesting is that it reflects the truth that network infrastructure investment at all levels has to be economically justified.  Could Skype have created a more bulletproof server hierarchy?  Sure, but it’s hard to justify a lot of spending to make a free service bulletproof.  The telephone network has never had an outage of that scale in its history.  I’m not criticizing Skype here; I’m just pointing out that investment in infrastructure depends on some mechanism to generate a return, and where that mechanism is limited so is the investment.  That’s the issue the FCC has to balance in net neutrality.

The sad thing about the whole debate over net neutrality is that virtually none of the debaters have any notion of how the Internet works, how regulatory processes work, or how business works, nor do they want to.  This is all about publicity and rhetoric, which means that there’s no contribution to be expected from these discussions in advancing the real needs of the market.

Internet and broadband policies are complicated for sure, but that’s no excuse for having useless debates based on extreme-at-best and wrong-at-worst positions.  We can’t expect good public policy from bad public participation, and the latter is inevitable without some understanding of the issues.

In the technology space, our deep analysis of our fall survey results seems to indicate that enterprises find vendors broadly at fault with respect to providing strategic guidance on either technology or its application to specific productivity problems.  A comprehensive look at the collaboration space—one of the “hot buttons” for a lot of vendors—shows that enterprises are having problems getting solutions to fit their requirements even as they’re getting those requirements stated more clearly, though they think Cisco with Quad might be approaching it.  The challenge, enterprises say, is that Cisco doesn’t focus its Quad story on general collaboration and then fit telepresence in but tends instead to focus on the telepresence.

I think this complain should be the tagline for the last decade, an indication that vendors have let the NASDAQ crash and the bubble-related legislation induce them to pull in their activities and focus only on tactical sales issues.  If a strong strategic portfolio can’t be valued by investors because it might be a bubble, then why have one?  Companies are responsible to boost their stock prices.  But this year we’re entering a critical phase for tech, one that demands looking ahead in a rational way and not just looking as far as your wallet.

I’ll be in a period of reduced coverage during the holiday period for reason of the fact that there’s likely to be less news.  From CIMI Corporation, Happy Holidays!

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