Microsoft has just brought out the physical representation of its fifth major evolutionary change, and this one may turn out to be the most dramatic. The technology, Live Mesh, may actually both help Microsoft’s customer satisfaction issues and help move Apple and Linux onto desktops everyplace.
Speaking of Apple, it bought P.A. Semi, a processor technology company — which may address a critical problem Apple has and allow the MacBook Air to eventually replace the MacBook as a more acceptably priced general-use product.
We’ll talk about both of these things this week and close with my product of the week, a marvelous book on Steve Jobs, Inside Steve’s Brain, which is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why Jobs is as successful as he is, or anyone who simply wants to get a handle on what is likely coming from Apple.
Live Mesh and Microsoft 5.0
There are entire years when I wonder if Microsoft is clueless and so out of touch with their market that it is only a matter of time before it does a belly flop like IBM did in the ’80s. Then comes something like Live Mesh that causes me to re-evaluate the company and once again believe that it has a clue and can remain not only relevant, but dominant.
This offering is brilliant and it goes well beyond what anyone else is doing to blend the current distributed environment with the cloud. It will create a transitional environment that will allow the market to move from where it is (distributed) to where it is going (centralized and hosted). This transition will take years and may never actually conclude as technologies change centrally and at the end points.
Up until now, you had folks who were largely focused on the way the world is or on the cloud — which is where the world is going — and few doing any work on the middle step. Live Mesh represents this middle step.
Basically what Live Mesh does is take the idea of portable personality and explodes it across the existing ecosystem. What it means, when it matures, is that the stuff that defines your computing experience — from information to applications to files (including video and music) to personalized settings and services — will go wherever you need it to be.
This would range from phones to PCs, from clients to Web sites, and from Windows to Apple and Linux. Yes, this means that MacOS and Linux users could use Live Mesh to seamlessly move between the platforms. Granted, someone would have to create versions of the applications that would run on these alternative platforms. This isn’t trying to be what Java promised and didn’t deliver with regard to “write once run anywhere.”
It is hard for me to get around my favorite part of this and that is that I could buy a new PC, simply log into it, and after enough time to transfer the files, this machine would have all of my stuff on it.
This same capability could be used to set up my smartphone (including iPhone), and even a Linux or Apple box, assuming someone does the needed work. Companies like Dell, HP, and Lenovo could more easily preload my stuff and test it. In addition, these OEMs could not only provide better backup services, but they also could automate diagnostics and testing to a degree where they could anticipate problems I’d created and proactively fix them.
I’m trying to explain an iceberg by describing the very tip. This is big, folks — bigger than I think even I realize — and, assuming it is successful, will do amazing things for how we use technology personally and how we view Microsoft globally.
Apple Takes On Intel?
Apple just reported a very strong quarter and, as I mentioned last week, has reached a level of success that is causing firms to start to emulate it.
While I was fascinated by some of the comments from the Mac fan base — which evidently thought I was forecasting Apple’s death — my point was only that like IBM, Microsoft and even Dell, Apple had reached a level of performance that makes it an example for the others to emulate and that the result would be vastly improved products coming into the market from non-Apple vendors.
I neither said nor implied that Apple would be standing still — and its acquisition of P.A. Semi, a microprocessor technology company expert at small incredibly efficient PowerPC-based processors, showcases this. While some believe that this company will be used to create a processor for the iPhone, and others disagree, the reality is that in either case Apple is increasing its vertical integration to address problems the other PC hardware vendors are struggling with.
One of the problems, as I mentioned last week, is Intel. For Apple, which unlike its competitors can’t use AMD to drive more aggressive pricing from Intel, this problem is pronounced. For Apple, which finds this particularly annoying, Intel won’t do anything for it that it won’t also do for any of Apple’s competitors.
In addition, and particularly harmful to Apple, Intel provides substantial funding for participation in its sticker program — something that Apple does not participate in or benefit from, which forces Apple to pay more for the related parts than others do. Recall I mentioned last week that Apple isn’t alone in not wanting these stickers right now.
With P.A. Semi, not only can it design chips that are unique to Apple and won’t be shared with HP, Dell or anyone else, but it also can increasingly use the result to bring IBM Microelectronics back into the mix, or AMD or VIA, and position them against Intel to negotiate more favorable pricing terms from any of them.
While this could be applied to future iPhones — particularly when Intel’s future Atom processor for phones becomes available — the likely near-term target is to take the MacBook Air concept and mainstream it into the MacBook line by aggressively cost reducing the offering.
Apple can already competitively bid storage and graphics to drive down prices, and this acquisition allows it to get not only unique technology but unique pricing, resulting in better products at lower prices. Now, this assumes Steve Jobs is brilliant, but then why would I assume anything else?
Book of the Week: Inside Steve’s Brain
Earlier I’d mentioned the book True Enough: Living in a Post Fact Society, which explains why so many of the comments by Mac fans are both hostile and seem to have very little to do with what folks like me write about Apple.
For those who are fascinated with Apple and/or simply want to understand how to build products that people will be passionate about, a new book titled Inside Steve’s Brain is a must-read.
This book goes beyond the typical historical events and the natural tendency to pound on his abusive behaviors that are often evident in other books on Steve Jobs, to explaining what makes Steve effective. It has largely convinced me that every company needs to find a way to create a Steve Jobs clone and suggests Apple, in particular, will not survive unless it can do exactly that.
Steve’s focus on excellence goes from the product design to how it is presented and marketed, and he, unlike most of his peers, realizes that perception is 100 percent of reality and focuses his efforts accordingly. With Apple setting the pace on both growth and profit in the technology market in 2008, this book is a must-read for anyone who partners with, competes with, or simply wants to emulate Apple’s success.
I actually bought the Kindle version of this book so that it will always be with me and, along with True Enough, it stands out as an amazing piece of work and is an easy choice for my product/book of the week.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.