PermaLink Apple, Google and IBM -- why not?07/02/2008 10:57 AM
We're at a cusp, and it's very possible that the next great leader in the information technology world won't be one company.  And it won't be Microsoft.  So why not an alliance of Apple, IBM and Google?

Bill Gates retired last week. This gives me great optimism personally, since he's not that much older than I am, and this means I get to look forward to doing things that (primarily) intrigue me and (secondarily) pay me money. Of course, Bill retires as one of the world's richest humans, where my retirement account actually lost several thousand dollars in real value in the first quarter of this year and probably will again in the second.

Technologically, this also gives me great optimism, because Microsoft is spent. There's nothing in the tank. Sure, Windows 7 is in the pipeline, and there are rumors of an interesting, far-off platform called Midori that's an outgrowth of some Microsoft Research stuff called Singularity. But Office is stagnant, Sharepoint is infantile, treating the users as servants of document files instead of being there to enable the users. .NET isn't up to the tasks people set to it, and desktop apps are moving rapidly to the web... and not in Silverlight. (take a look at http://280slides.com for an amazing example).

Sure, they'll be around for years, mostly on the strength of people too timid to explore better and more efficient technologies when they can instead just keep shelling out for Office upgrades, but Microsoft increasingly is not steering the technology ship because things are decentralizing and then recentralizing in a completely different paradigm.

Microsoft has no place in a mashup world.

The leaders in the next generation will.

So, let's look at it.

The single most mashed-up platform there is is Google right now. With all the different Google tools out there, if you can't mash together an app to do what you want with internet data, you're not trying. I saw a fascinating little thing the other day where a guy, on his own, used a mashup site called Seerio to chart, on Google Maps, the actual path taken during the incredible Ford-vs-Mopar car chase in Steve McQueen's 1968 film, Bullitt. He just went and did it.

You've no doubt seen lots and lots of other examples. But think back... how many of them used Microsoft products and services? Probably very few.

Let's bring IBM into it. No other major old-skool player has embraced new paradigms the way IBM has. I mean, a company that actually calls a tool "Mashups" instead of "The IBM AsynchronousTechnology And Interoperable Application Integration Tool, Part No. VZK3645J (div 2a)" has clearly reformed. Just like mashing on Google, if you can't find an IBM tool or set of tools to do what you need, you aren't trying. Everything from operating systems to APIs to clients to application services to professional services, they've got it.

But here's the problem with both IBM and Google: distribution.

Google has no problem making their tools available. Making actual "money" on them might be a little different.

IBM can make some money, but they don't have quite the influence they need to really make the tools pop. Every time I see an IBM commercial that doesn't mention a thing about Lotus, or about any specific tool or technology at all, I retch. What happened to "Work The Web?" Disappeared. What happened to "Super.Human.Software?" Canceled. Even if Joe Public or Sam Small Business Owner wants an IBM product, they have no idea where to start to go get it, but I guarantee you, if they search the web for it, they search it at Google.com.

So, Microsoft has the name and the mindshare, but not much new tech to back it up. IBM has the tech but not the mindshare. Google has the mindshare but not all the tech and not all the money. Who's the missing piece?

Apple.

Apple is remarkable in that their tech, while quite limited in some ways, works extremely well. They also have amazing mindshare in that the terms "iPod" and "iTunes" are in danger of going the route of "Zipper" and "Xerox" in becoming common nouns. And if you drag an aborigine out of the bush and ask him about PCs and Macs, the first thing they're likely to say is, "well, Macs are supposed to be better, right?" How the hell can you put a value on that one-line impression a lot of people have? And even better, Apple has an amazing distribution channel for both media and software, through the iTunes and Software Update models. Want music or video? You get it on iTunes. If you ask someone to name any other music site, they'd probably have to Google it. And Macs stay updated far more reliably than Windows machines because Software Update does only what it needs to do, doesn't bother or confuse people, and it runs without fuss and without accusing its users of being software pirates or making them install yet another new version of the updater software on some other website users have never seen before. The iPhone could be an amazing mobile platform for use of any software, any time, anywhere. It makes the software about communications, rather than communications being secondary to the software.

So, here's a model for you: Google as the technology inspiration, portal, and presentation channel. IBM as the back-end and middle-end technology builder and the gluer-together-of-amazing-stuff in the middle. Apple as the distribution and update channel, and the way by which money is made. The same model that basically offers music-as-a-service would have no problem handling software-as-a-service, and the Mac OSX platform is a phenomenal one for making it work in unobtrusive ways.

How about it, guys? None of you has enough money to buy one another out, and Microsoft will become increasingly irrelevant as it sits back in its we-can-steer-the-market smugness that won't work any more.

How's about you all get together and put on a show?

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