The Plus PC World: Client Computing Directions

The Technology pundits have it all wrong – calling for a Post PC World. Over on Reddit, we are having a small debate on the Post PC World versus the Plus PC World. The Post PC World see the decline of the PC as they are replaced by smartphones, tablets, games and other mobile devices . The Post PC World also sees the rise of new client OS with primacy placed on touchscreen operations, ease of  use, low power usage , and therefore strict control of multi-tasking. Apple iOS is the best examplar.

The Plus PCWorld takes the view of rapid convergence of the smartphone, tablet, gaming, and PC Worlds. Moores Law is again at work continuing to deliver a doubling in computing power [and dragging along storage, display area, and communication bandwidth with it]every 18 months or less for the same price. For example,  quad-core chips are being delivered in smartphones and tablet. the result is that every device can be a PC. Okay, not equivalent to todays fastest and best PC – but able to run the best of PCs from 4 -5 years ago. And most importantly run the bulk of programs and apps with good response time, ease of use, and that users want:  a browser, email, word processing, simple games, videos and maybe 2-3 special apps/programs.  But there are two other  phenomena pushing towards a Plus PC World – Convertibles and Cross Platform Compatibility.


architecting insights

Smartphones [see Motorola Atrix ] and tablets [see Asus Transformer Prime] are becoming convertibles. Game consoles like  like Sony Ericsson smartphone are becoming expanded use convertibles. Users can hook more smartphones and tablets into  docking stations with more traditional PC conveniences such as a full keyboard, a trackpad, more and better battery-life, more ports and disk storage. And  these devices now have the equivalent of PC computing power from just a few years ago.

Alternatively, WiFi Direct or Bluetooth bring about device-to-device or to network port/docking station connectivity at ever higher speeds of up to 25MB/sec. This makes  virtual connections among devices an alternative to wired connections; but also this place a premium on being able to communicate easily between devices.Thus being able  to run the same or familiar OS and  apps on those devices will be a winning option for the expanded Client Computing. As  Client Computing devices converge on features, speed of operations, and quickly achieved portability – then compatibility and a common OS infrastructure becomes a primary concern for consumers. Next consider cross platform compatibility for businesses and developers.

Cross Platform Compatibility

Cross Platform Compatibility has rarely won against proprietary systems with “better” feature sets. OS2 vs Windows is the best example of that to business’ great duress when Windows went onto major reliability,  bugs, security and pricing problems that can still plague the OS 20 years later. So the emergence of mobile OS like Apple iOS and Google Android raise the question of cross platform compatibility.

Now Steve Jobs conveniently “solved” the compatibility  problem while banning cross platform tools like Flash, Java, and program generator output from his iOS  devices. Steve’s solution was HTML5. But even two years  ago HTML5 had some serious discrepancies among vendors as this interview with W3C  HTML5  Editor Ian Hickson reveals. Since then issues with Touchscreen UI, Web databases,  CSS3 styling, and Offline Work among others have grown contentious  between major software vendors of  both OS and browser makers. Add to this the problems of  general Web HTML performance and security problems – and HTML becomes no magic cross platform solution.

In fact developers face an increasing Babylon of Programming Languages and Database Systems[ NoSQL anyone?]. Look at just the largely incompatible Operating Systems for Client Computing:

1 – PC OS – Linux, Mac, Windows
2 – Smartphone  and tablet OS – Android, BBOS, iOS, Windows Phone and Windows 8
3 – Gaming consoles – Nintendo 3DS, Playstation OtherOS and Vita, Xbox 360
4 – Cloud Operating Systems – Amazon EC2, Apple iCloud, Google Chrome OS, IBM eyeOS, Microsoft Azure,

Now for the past 30 years[if not 60 years] isolated islands of information have been at the top of IT Problems  for organizations large and small. Isolated sets of incompatible devices have plagued consumer computing. PCs brought a measure of unity for Client Computing. But the Post PC versus Plus PC  OS directions will answer whether the problem of isolated island expands or contracts. How do the major client computing OS vendors stack up.

Client Computing Directions

The client computing vendors have distinct positions on their OS  as the table below suggests:

Category Apple Google Microsoft
Smartphone Most Apps – 600,000
mind share leader
2nd in market share
2nd in Apps – 400,000
1st in market share
Well behind in apps
and market share
Tablets Most Apps – 120,000
1st in market share 
2nd in Apps – 40,000
2nd in marketshare
Well behind in apps
and market share
Mobile OS position Proprietary
Few languages for development
strict control of multitasking
No cross platform tools
Closed ecosystem
Open Source
Many languagesOpen 3rd party multitasking
Some cross platform tools
Semi-open ecosystem
Many languages but some proprietary
Open 3rd party multitasking
Some cross platform tools
Semi-open ecosystem
Game Consoles Mobile iDevices only Mobile iDevices only Proprietary
Xbox and Kinect UI

Market share lead
PC Proprietary
2nd Most Apps
Small Server presence
No real OS presence
Chrome OS??
1st in Apps
1st in market share 
2nd Server OS
PC OS Proprietary
some cross platform tools
2nd in languages for development
No real OS presence
Chrome OS?? 
some cross platform tools
Most languages for development
Futures Dividing line appears to be iOS
Mac equals  no touchscreen,
no iOS emulation,
no VM support except on Mac HW
In iOS  touchscreen exclusive
no cross platform support
restricted multitasking
iCloud exclusive to iOS
iOS in Apple TV
Chrome OS emerges??
Android makes jump to PC??
Google buys Canonical??
Android becomes game and
TV console controller
Windows 8 supports PC and tablets
Windows 8 converges on Phone 7
Supports Microsoft Azure for Cloud
Supports some 3rd party Clouds but not as closely
Xbox 360 and Windows 9 converge??

Clearly no one OS vendors has the lead across the board in the current and future Client Computing OS platforms. But  Apple clearly has the lead.

In client computing OS, Apple has become the new Microsoft. Its OS systems are moving to ever more rigorously closed and proprietary base. This is all good as long as Apple can lead the innovation mind share parade in hardware fact as well as OS features. Also, the Mac hardware and OS/X have been treated as poor cousins – no touchscreen operations, 2-3 times the price of identically equivalent PC hardware, slow transition to iOS feature set. The  upcoming Mountain Lion OS/X will catch up to many but not all iOS features.

It appears Apple is convinced of  3 things. First, the Post-PC era will bypass PCs except for niche operations. Typically these will be specialty apps  like multi-screen desktop configurations,  high-end  graphics processing,  large development machines, and/or desktops devoted to heavy analytics. Second, Microsoft will do a Vista on Windows 8 – have some show stopping bugs or feature misses that they can smirk in TV ads again – “We told you so”. Third, that the need for  cross platform capabilities is over-rated and the speed of  machine operations, ever faster communication bandwidths, and HTML, XML, and other data exchange formats will obviate the need for any real cross platform support.

Google, despite doing well in smartphones and inspiring a flood of just great tablet hardware designs, is still firmly entrenched in protecting its Search Business and their own  access to Client Computing. As long as that is true there is no need for a Google PC desktop presence and therefore there remains a big gap in Google’s Client Computing OS presence. Besides, Facebook is the real enemy with all its 800 million users and the amount of face time they spend in Facebook and the search engine Facebook is  working on.

Ye Editor has advanced the idea that any vendor that has an Open Source OS should be exempted  from any limits on app market share. Given that Google’s Android and Chrome OS are both Open Source this would appear to offer an opportunity for Google to get into app software in  a bigger way. But the app software market,  except through the Cloud, does not appear to meet the Google business model. Google appears committed to Chrome and the Cloud and thus a Post PC World.

Microsoft has looked like the ugly duckling in Client Computing OS for the past 10 years. They simply missed the mobile OS marketplace despite owning its entry points  and trying all sorts of tablets, Mobile CE, and phone operating systems. Ballmer lacked Jobs vision that PCs with ever greater computing power had a)become cumbersome to use with many programs having large learning curves and/or remember how to us and b)had for most users raced beyond the consumer computing  sweet spot , and c)discounted too much the importance of portable/mobile = light and long-battery life devices capable of knowing their physical state [GPS, ambient light, orientation sensors, altimeters etc]. Then Steve Jobs  navigated to the consumer computing sweet spot  by trial and error delivering the full range of audio/visual media on iPods;  then user phone and Internet connectivity with the iPhone and finally  renewed emphasis on ease of use with  iPad offering exclusive touchscreen operations in the Apple OS universe.

But Steve Jobs was not infallible – he was originally dead set against 3rd parties being able to create iPhone apps. And the latest Apple magic, Siri, was developed outside Cupertino. But credit Steve and the Apple engineers for  seeing the opportunity.  Siri has brought voice out of the computing UI desert despite many attempts from IBM, Microsoft and others to deliver it into the computing interface world [But Siri will not work well in business and organizational settings where  cross chatter interference will shoosh it up].

But also give Redmond credit, they have recognized their extremely vulnerable position and are betting the farm on Windows 8. Whats in Windows 8  is a series of big bets from the new Resilient File System through Live Tiles as Dashboards to Picture Passwords. Microsoft is “all in” on Windows 8. But the crucial bets are three. First, by bringing a Sensor API,  touchscreen operations and the Metro interface up to the Desktop, Redmond is betting that the legion of desktop software vendors will be able to inject new vigor and ease of use into their desktop apps  while porting others to the tablet and mobile devices. This is the Plus PC vision – the desktop does not have to wither and die; but given light and portable options can flourish  with the new Windows 8 enablement of knowing the state of the machine. This means that Windows 8 will be able to take advanatge of the new convertibles hardware better than Android or iOS.

Second, by bringing Live Tiles, Hubs and true multitasking to tablets and other mobile devices, Windows 8 developers will be able to take advantatge of the huge computing power coming to smartphones and tablets with quad core procesors and new SSD storage capabilities. Windows 8 developers will not just have all of the iOS-like  touchscreen and sensor APIs but have more programming  leeway to deliver “software magic” on Windows 8 than on iOS.

Third, despite maltreating Windows Web developers over the past decade, Redmond understands the developers, developers, developers advantage. Thus by rescuing their desktop apps, providing multiple language streams for development, and relaxing some of the burdensome Apple ecosystem constraints, Microsoft will initially hope to  get enough developers on board to deliver some compelling mobile and desktop apps. Personally, Ye Editor drools at the opportunity to run a touchscreen version of  Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paint. Ditto for Microsoft Project or Netbeans Java IDE. Or Techsmith Snagit.


Steve Jobs and Apple broke the  Microsoft Client Computing monopoly –  Redmond now has about a 50% share of client computing OS. With smartphones, tablets and extremely portable and long life computing devices, the PC dominance of client computing ended. But with enormous computing power and storage and high res screen size coming to all devices including smartphones, tablets, PC laptops and ultra compacts, the ball game changed again. All of the devices from smartphones through tablets to notepad/ultra compacts have nearly the same computing power at their disposal. And with docking stations or WiFi Direct, mobile devices can become transformable or convertibles. This changes a Post PC World into a Plus PC World if the right software is offered. And Microsoft is working triple overtime trying to make sure that the “right software” is offered. And come February 29th, users worldwide will get to see how  right the software is  with the Microsoft Windows 8  beta or Consumer Preview launched that day.

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