Is Desktop Software Dead?

When was the last time you were impressed by desktop software?

Really impressed?

After seeing (in chronological order) Steve Jobs, Al Gore and Tim Bray make use of Apple Keynote, I absolutely had to give it a try. And impressed I was – and to some extent, still am. For me, this revelation happened about a year ago. I cannot recall the previous instance – i.e., the time I was truly impressed by desktop software.

Although I may be premature, I can’t help but ask: Is desktop software dead?
A few data points:
  • Wikipedia states: “There is no page titled “desktop software”.” What?! I suppose you could argue I’m hedging my bets by choosing an obscure phrase (not!), but seriously, it is remarkable that there is no Wikipedia entry for “desktop software”!
  • Microsoft, easily the leading purveyor of desktop software, is apparently in trouble. Although Gartner’s recent observations target Microsoft Windows Vista, this indirectly spells trouble for all Windows applications as they rely heavily on the platform provided by Vista.
  • There’s an innovation’s hiatus. And that’s diplomatically generous! Who really cares about the feature/functionality improvements in, e.g., Microsoft Office? When was the last time a whole new desktop software category appeared? Even in the Apple Keynote example I shared above, I was impressed by Apple’s spin on presentation software. Although Keynote required me to unlearn habits developed through years of use Microsoft PowerPoint, I was under no delusions of having entered some new genre of desktop software.
  • Thin is in! The bloatware that is modern desktop software is crumbling under its own weight. It must be nothing short of embarrassing to see this proven on a daily basis by the likes of Google Docs. Hardware vendors must be crying in their beers as well, as for years consumers have been forced to upgrade their desktops to accommodate the latest revs of their favorite desktop OS and apps. And of course, this became a negatively reinforcing cycle, as the hardware upgrades masked the inefficiencies inherent in the bloated desktop software. Thin is in! And thin, these days, doesn’t necessarily translate to a penalty in performance.
  • Desktop software is reaching out to the network. Despite efforts like Microsoft Office Online, the lacklustre results speak for themselves. It’s 2008, and Microsoft is still playing catch up with upstarts like Google. Even desktop software behemoth Adobe has shown better signs of getting it (network-wise) with recent entres such as Adobe Air. (And of course, with the arrival of Google Gears, providers of networked software are reaching out to the desktop.)

The figure below attempts to graphically represent some of the data points I’ve ranted about above.

In addition to providing a summary, the figure suggests:

  • An opportunity for networked, Open Source software. AFAIK, that upper-right quadrant is completely open. I haven’t done an exhaustive search, so any input would be appreciated.
  • A new battle ground. Going forward, the battle will be less about commercial versus Open Source software. The battle will be more about desktop versus networked software.

So: Is desktop software dead?

Feel free to chime in!

To Do for Microsoft: Create a Wikipedia entry for “desktop software”.

The MFA is the New MBA: Illustrations by Steve Jobs and Apple

In March 2005, Dan Pink asserted “… the MFA is the new MBA”.
Why?

… businesses are realizing that the only way to differentiate their goods and services in today’s overstocked marketplace is to make their offerings physically beautiful and emotionally compelling. Thus the high-concept abilities of an artist are often more valuable than the easily replicated L-Directed skills of an entry-level business graduate.

I can’t think of a better illustration than Steve Jobs’ story of how the Mac became the first computer with beautiful typography.
And of course, true to form, Jobs illustrated Pink’s assertion more than two decades ago.
And since 1984, Jobs and Apple have made the illustration even more compelling with the current generation of Macs, the iPod, and most recently the iPhone.
Note-to-self: Look into MFA programs!

Aside: I’ve blogged previously about Pink’s book and its implications for displacing knowledge workers.

Browser Wars Revisited: Safari vs. Firefox?

Seemingly not to be out-done by all the buzz surrounding Firefox 3, Apple today (March 18, 2008) released version 3.1 of its Safari Web browser.
Apparently, we’ll love Safari because:

  • It’s fast – Up to 3x Firefox 2 on page loads and 4.5x on JavaScript execution. And although that’s impressive, performance is definitely coming across as one of Firefox 3’s core competencies. It’d be interesting to run the same tests with Safari 3.1 and even Firefox 3 Beta 4.
  • The UI – Of course. However, this is another area where Firefox 3 has made significant headway. Even on a Mac, Firefox 3’s UI is also elegant and clean. (For an amusing take on the Apple UI paradigm, have a look at this Eric Burke cartoon. I’m not sure how Burke would represent the Mozilla UI … However, one thing’s for sure, it’s become a lot more elegant and cleaner over the years.)
  • Find – The Firefox 3 implementation looks remarkably like Safari’s.
  • Resizable text areas – Excellent. Not sure if Firefox 3 has this.

Safari 3.1 also presents a twofold irony with respect to Web standards:

  1. You need to do a little digging (page 8 of the Safari Product Overview) to determine what is meant by Web standards support. And once you do, you’ll learn that it relates to CSS, HTML 5 and SVG. Of these, “HTML 5 offline storage support” has the potential to be most interesting, as Google is analogously demonstrating with Google Gears. So, it’s ironic you need to dig for something that has such value.
  2. In it’s support of HTML 5, we have a commercial entity (Apple) leading the way in terms of implementing standards. This is refreshing in general, and in particular in Apple’s case, as traditional expectations would have the Open Source implementations (e.g., Firefox) ahead in this regard. To quote Alanis Morissette: “Isn’t it ironic… don’t you think?”

When you factor in support for Windows, and apparently frequent releases, it’s no wonder that Safari is gaining momentum at the expense of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and Firefox.
And not that I’ve been following developments with IE, but one has to wonder, if we are to re-visit the IE vs. Netscape browser wars of yesteryear, might the combatants this time be Apple Safari 3.x and Mozilla Firefox 3.x?
One can only hope!

Firefox 3 Beta 4: Noticeable Improvements

I’ve just upgraded to Firefox 3 Beta 4.
The spreadsheets component of Google Docs appears to work now. And although this suggests improvements in AJAX support, a known issue with GMail contacts remains:

GMail (new version) conversation labels appear on their own row in the message list, and names don’t show in the contacts manager (bug 415252)

This GMail bug remains a showstopper for me.
Of course, it’s important to remember that

Firefox 3 Beta 4 is a developer preview release of Mozilla’s next generation Firefox browser and is being made available for testing purposes only.

BlackBerry Rules the Back Office – For Now …

I’ve had a BlackBerry 8830 for a few months now. And I must admit, I’m getting over my iPhone envy. (iPhone’s still aren’t officially available in Canada!) The 8830 has the tactile keypad I’ve grown to love, a (two-dimensional) trackball in place of a (one-dimensional) thumbwheel, GPS-based mapping, etc. This means that built-in WiFi is about the only capability for which I find myself wanting.

But enough about the client-side device (CSD).
So much of the value delivered to the CSD is because of what’s in the back office – behind the scenes, as it were.
In writing a book review on BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) installation and administration, I was reminded of this aspect on the ongoing BlackBerry vs. iPhone battle.
What’s in the BlackBerry back office?
Allow me to itemize:
  • Integration – The BES integrates the CSD with the enterprise messaging platform (e.g., Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Notes, etc.) and the rest of RIM’s BlackBerry universe. In addition to email and calendaring, this has the potential to include instant messaging (e.g., MSN, IBM Lotus Sametime, etc.) and more.
  • Security – Because the BES provides a single locus of control (the BlackBerry domain), it can and has been leveraged extensively to deliver an industry leading environment for end-to-end security. Encryption, authentication, plus six levels for administrative roles, are all present.
  • Policies  – To quote from my review:

The BES ships with over 200 policies that can be applied variously to users, groups and devices … The ability to administer users, groups and devices with respect to policies (including software), from a single point of control (i.e., the BES server), speaks volumes to the appeal and value that this offering can deliver to corporate enterprise environments. 

  • Provisioning – The BES facilitates provisioning of users, groups, devices as well as associated software. Software can even be bundled and targeted to specific CSDs.
The back office supporting the iPhone has a long, long way to go to catch up with all of this – if that’s even a plan that Apple has.
In fact, a far greater threat to the back-office portion of RIM’s BlackBerry universe is the ecosystem developing around Google Android.

Giving Up On Leopard … for now

Got my DVD on the release date.

Had a few minutes to do an install this past Sunday morning.

Spent 1.5 hours with Apple Support. No progress.

On hold with them again this morning as I blog …

Symptoms? During the installation-initiated reboot, my Leopard DVD is ejected. After I log in I see a Finder screen with two disk icons and nothing more.

My platform? A MacBook Pro laptop.

(And BTW, I’ve been able to reproduce this on two such laptops!)

Given it was from Apple, I just expected this would be a smooth transition.

At this point, I need to get back to work. I’ll wait for the re-release.

If you Google “Leopard installation issues”, you’ll get a lot of hits.

I’m very disappointed. I expected more.