Microsoftie (or about to be former Microsoftie) Ray Ozzie is out with a blog post the week of October 25 disguised as a final memo to Microsoft (MSFT) staffers and peers. Or is it a memo disguised as a blog post?
Either way it deserves more than the predictable five-paragraph news stories that I am seeing that basically describe it as some kind of kiss-off of Windows. Of course it also deserves more than a three-paragraph post by bloggers like me but here goes.
First, it reminds me of the work "Some Thoughts About the Social Implications of Accessible Computing," by Multics developers E. E. David and R. M. Fano, circa 1965, that foresaw the future of cloud computing long before that term was invented to tout stock. The full connection is explained in this post I put up in March 2008 but the idea is the same as Ozzie's:
Build it and they will come... but before you build it, figure out what they want.
I get this feeling from his 1939 World's Fair references and other Carl-Sagan-type flights of prose. Actually to some extent, Ozzie's "future" memo looks back.
Second, and as an example of his looking back, I reject the idea that the technical press is trying to divine from Ozzie's writing that he is declaring the end of "desktop computing." Ozzie doesn't say that. He says the era of a PC on your desktop is "winding down." Of course, it is winding down. Although "the dream" was basically about a PC on your office desktop, now there's one on almost every surface you own or pass by: your desk at work, your desk at home, your kitchen counter, your school laboratory's workbench (instead of a big honking Unix workstation), your retailers' checkout area (instead of a big honking cash register), and on and on. The market saturation upper bound for what I'll rename fixed-surface computing is probably somewhere around the population of the world times n, where n is more than 2. If because of some collossal foul up in Microsoft development and marketing, Microsoft does not continue to own this still-growing market for fixed-surface computing and all its future migrations and permutations, it will still be "desktop computing."
That leads to the third point. Ozzie is asking what follows "desktop computing." From an IT investor's perspective, the question can be framed in three pieces:
- To what extent will a percentage of that upper-bound number of fixed-surface computers, whatever it is, be replaced by mobile-computing devices with natural interfaces (instead of a few hundred million of those weird little virtual keyboards that only a pianist can work that we have today)? Versus...
- To what extent will such mobile-computing devices also enable new applications that fixed-surface computers could not enable? In goods in transit (computers, not just tags)? In cars in motion in sight... legally? In your vest pocket? Inside your eyelids? Etc.? Etc.? And...
- To what extent could more traditional immobile fixed-surface PCs be used in new applications not tied to a person? At every intersection? On every highway milepost? Etc.? Etc.? (As you can see, my limited imagination is restrained by the fact that I just returned from a long trip by automobile.)
In other words, and I don't think I am disagreeing with Ozzie, you ain't seen nothing yet.
(Note-- and this is the reason Ozzie's memo needs more considered thought.--nothing I have written above or that I've seen in the press even begins to scratch the surface of server-side-computing's future, another whole continuing IT investment opportunity basically bounded by the sum total of all information -- right or wrong -- ever created in the history of the world.)
-- Dennis Byron
(no financial interest in companies mentioned)