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Thu 19 May 2005
Connections and Inflection Points
Category : Commentary/inflectionPoint.txt
Okay, now that the dust has settled from the Tiger 10.4.1 release (I hope I'm not speaking too soon), I'm tracing the origins of the new LaunchDaemons mechanism in Tiger.
A good place to start is, I think, John Siracusa's Ars Technica article. But mid-way through the reading I was struck by this single line :
Just last week I was reading this straight from Robert X Cringely's pulpit :
Then, there's the usual doom and gloom about Apple, "iTunes to lose its market dominance - report" :
And, to keep you wondering where all this is heading, I've been thinking a lot lately about why it may not be a bad idea to go work in China.
But, bear with me, I think I can link all these together.
It's commonly believed that there were two ways towards market dominance in the Computer Wars - Microsoft's Way and Apple's Way - and Apple lost.
Apple's Way was about building the whole widget. Microsft's Way was about building the platform so that other people (the whole wide world) could come and build their own widgets. Microsoft won, Apple lost, game over, and ever shall be.
But wait a minute. Mac users (overwhelmingly) love their Macs. PC users (generally) barely tolerate their PCs. So, what's wrong with this picture?
I think there's another way to look at this and that is to consider the possibility that Apple had the right idea and the better way. But they lost because of poor execution.
The Microsoft Way did not have a divine right to win.
Now what's going on at iTunes is really a re-match - Microsoft's Way vs Apple's Way, again. But this time, I don't think Microsoft's going to win. One significant ally that Microsft had in the force of self-interest - the world's IT departments - is not going to get a jersey to play this time round. The more the machines shrink and the cheaper they become, the less relevance IT departments have as a force for deciding what's acceptable and what's not.
I believe that Microsoft's way, which sounds good in MBA-theory but works shoddily in practice, doesn't really serve the consumer's interest. The key thing about Apple's way is not that they build the whole widget, but that they take responsibility for the whole widget. That's the key to the whole Mac experience.
In the world according to Microsoft, only one company can hold the ring to rule them all, while it's universally agreed that Apple, in the face of all the other players' self-interest, will never be able to rule the whole market.
But whose side are we on, anyway? As consumers, we should only be concerned that the products we buy work as best as they can be crafted. Apple's way doesn't preclude other people going along the same route and drinking from the same well.
If Apple succeed, by having so many of us throwing money their way, that will force the other players to consider that it makes good business sense to take responsibility for building the whole widget, after all.
Especially as they can drink from the same Open Source well.
So, if Microsoft cave in and build their own Microsoft PC, shouldn't Lenovo and all the others think about using Linux rather than Windows to build their own. After all, Apple had shown the way - i.e., "copy like mad from what Apple is doing" - use all these Open Source stuff but add the critical value by thinking through hardware and software design.
Taiwanese companies like Asustek "spit out iPods and Mini Macs for Apple" from their factories in China. There may come a time, soon, when they realise that they ought to design, build, and sell the whole widget on their own. After all, walking the streets of Shanghai, you can see that the Chinese are believing that they're good enough to sell the shoes and jackets they make for Timberland and all, under their own brand name.
Much of what we have in the Mac today are Open Source stuff - Unix, Postfix, Apache, PHP, OpenSSL, and on and on. Even Objective-C. And there's a GNUStep Project. Like Cocoa? You can build on it. Or at least starting from the Foundation Classes. The Chinese companies can "do an Apple", at least theoretically. What's hard is to have the same genius for innovation, for hardware and software integration, and the sheer guts to be able to hold on to a dream. That's the hard part. But you don't get paid good money for doing the easy things.