UPDATE : A couple of days after this post, HP lurched into yet another crisis and fired its CEO, Leo Apotheker, replacing him with former eBay CEO, Meg Whitman.
I was in Utah last weekend attending a friend’s wedding when by chance I found myself outside the offices of Novell. The onetime biggest network operating system company in the world still trades today but it’s moved on to other areas after conceding the server war to Microsoft. Seeing that old Novell logo on the side of an office building in 2011 felt way out of context in today’s tablet, web and smartphone world and it got me thinking about technology shifts.
Today’s shifts are bigger than ever because technology has crept into so many aspects of our personal and working lives compared with back in Novell’s old glory days in the 80’s and 90’s.
Back in 1990 it took Microsoft six months to shift the first two million licenses of Windows 3 – and that was deemed to be a huge success. In its first six months a hundred million licenses of Windows 7 were sold.
Last month Google reported that it is now activating more than half a million Android devices a day and even this week upon unveiling its first developer preview of Windows 8, Microsoft reported that over half a million copies were downloaded by eager developers in the first 24 hours. These numbers tell a story that while the microprocessor revolution might have began life in an obscure, funky branch of the office automation world – today its influence is felt literally everywhere.
If the scale of technology shifts today is one measurement, then the actual nature of a technology shift is another. This summer we’ve seen a number of signs that we’re probably undergoing another big shift.
- The world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer, Nokia, decided to give up on its [huge] mobile operating system business and instead sub-license Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform for it’s future devices.
- The world’s largest PC manufacturer, HP, announced it wanted to get out of the PC business and become an enterprise software business. That’s like Ford deciding it no longer wanted to be in the car making business.
- And for good measure HP also waved the white flag on its iPad challenger aspirations with the TouchPad and canned it barely six weeks after its launch.
- Google purchased Motorola’s mobile hardware business to put some wood behind its Android arrow in its fight with Apple.
- The fortunes of the once invincible maker of the BlackBerry, RIM, appear to be spiralling downwards at an increasing rate every quarter.
- And Microsoft unveiled its ambitious new vision for Windows 8 as part of how it plans to carry its currently heavily PC flavoured products into a different model.
I don’t think it’s reading too much into these to events to conclude that a big shift is underway. Most likely the biggest shift we’ve ever seen. It’s long overdue. The nascent mobile technologies were in gestation for far too long before Apple hit fast-forward in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone and sparked a wave of rapid innovation. And the virtually unchanged thirty-year old PC form-factor with its clunky 1980’s desktop metaphor interface looks increasingly archaic an unintuitive today.
Precisely which devices and operating systems we’ll be using ten years from now are probably too hard to predict, and a little pointless unless you intend to pick some tech stocks ‘go long’ on. What’s more interesting for me is what we’ll do with them.
The world of mass manufacturing was transformed thirty years ago with the advent of computerized production lines and robotics. However in the mid-eighties your typical five-man workshop couldn’t afford to compete with the big guys spending millions to obtain the latest and greatest computer driven lathes and production lines. That is to say that scale still mattered.
But today we see even the tiniest of businesses now able to hand over ever-larger chunks of their back-office operations and processes to a new generation of smarter, low-cost technologies.
Taking both factors into account; today’s enlarged technology footprint and the way that modern software now enables super-efficient, integrated ways of working compared with the vision of what business software should be in the 1980’s – my sense is this emerging shift is going to be even bigger than the revolution launched with the first IBM PC in 1981.