Hey, What’s Going on Here?

Randy Johnston, Vice President – Network Management Group, Inc.

2013 promises to be a big year from a computer hardware perspective with new Ultrabooks, tablets and phones, but the real news for 2013 will be in software. The basic building blocks of software, the operating systems, have been quietly going through a metamorphosis during the past few years. We will see the results of these changes positively affect our working style and ability this year and beyond. Operating systems are converging into what are called platforms, and the platform is now important as we will see later. Some of the operating system changes made by Microsoft and others were motivated by remote connectivity, portability and the cloud and some were motivated by trying to simplify the way we work. Applications have been swept along this sea change…perhaps it should be called a rip tide.

Since 2013 is a year of radical technology change, we have to plan our strategies. Successful strategies for your business might include: 1) strategic vision, 2) client focus, 3) working with your team, 4) simplification, and 5) technology. Choosing the right strategy and tools to service your market and clients the best way you can is a winning approach.

The Big Shifts

The vision is simple: 1) hardware is changing, 2) the operating systems that support these systems are changing into platforms, 3) the applications have to change to support mobility, web and ease of use, and 4) the backbone and infrastructure that supports all of our computing is changing, including virtualization, backup, private and public clouds, SaaS, and hosting.

First, let’s consider some background issues. We believe that brand name computers will generally have a lower cost of ownership over the life of owning the product. White box clones may be cheaper to purchase initially, but operational and compatibility issues can eat up any potential savings rather quickly. Second, there is a notable revolution in progress for the size and speed of end-user computer hardware and phablets (=phones/tablets) in the market leading to the bring your own device (BYOD) revolution. Third, we believe that the system software that runs these devices is converging and your choice of platform determines many of your options or choices. Most businesses have standardized on Microsoft Windows in the last two decades. We see three main platforms evolving currently: Windows 8/Microsoft, iOS/Apple, and Android/Google. Fourth, access to software through hosting or using Software as a Service (SaaS) is leading some businesses to a simpler configuration of computers in house. Some refer to this approach as the public cloud. In other cases, the systems requirements have become far more complex to the point that it is rare a single IT professional can install and maintain everything in a complete system. NMGI can very effectively run an entire IT operation from our offices with today’s remote support tools. The support approach used for in-house systems, often called managed services, allows a trusted and knowledgeable technician to maintain your system, often to the level of installing updates to applications such as accounting or your operating systems from anywhere. Because of these factors, you should pick an end-user computer hardware strategy that fits your needs. However, it is pretty clear that computer hardware platforms matter less today than they did five years ago.

Consider the impact of Ultrabooks and phablets and look at end-user computing hardware today:

Desktop Notebook Ultrabook Netbook Tablet
Speed Fastest Can be close to desktop speed Light, yet close to Notebook Low cost, slow Slowest
Size Largest Heaviest and largest portable Close to tablet Heavier than Ultrabook Smallest
Portability None Heaviest Close to tablet Between Notebook and Ultrabook Lightest
Cost $450-1000 $600-1900 $700-1100 $300-600 $150-1200

All of these computing tools can be used to run in the cloud. The netbook, tablet and smartphone do the worst job of running applications at high speed today, but they are very portable. The backbone is getting stronger and the applications are getting better to make these devices more usable. However, they are still best for consuming content, reading results, answering a few emails or taking notes, but are not very good for heads-down data entry.

But the big news?

The big news in technology is the seismic shift in operating system convergence to a single platform. For example, in 2013, it is pretty clear that technology platforms and operating systems will converge. Think: Windows 8, iOS/Mountain Lion, or Android Ice Cream Sandwich on phablets and computers. These three platforms are being designed so the same operating system, or one that looks and operates in a similar fashion, runs on your phone, tablet or computer. When you buy into a platform from a vendor, the way applications integrate and work together is largely controlled by the vendor. As you can guess, this is a fight between Microsoft, Apple and Google right now. Some of the fight is controlled by intellectual property, patents and lawsuits, some is controlled by innovation and ease of use and some is controlled by application availability. A future that allows applications to seamlessly run between a phone, tablet and computer could be very attractive as long as the application behaves appropriately on the different devices. Even more attractive would be a future that allowed applications to run on any platform and seamlessly work together.

For me personally, it has been a blessing to switch from one phone to another frequently including iPhones, Android phones and Windows Phones. Most of you don’t get the benefit of doing this because of your multi-year contracts. I usually carry a phone for 90 days or so to learn how it works, and then pass this product on to someone else. Today, I’m carrying a Windows Phone 8X by HTC, because I wanted to see how the Windows phone environment worked in conjunction with my Windows Surface Tablet and my Windows 8 computer. For sure, I say wow! While these technologies are far from perfect, the Windows 8 phone and the Windows Surface tablets may not quite be ready for the mass market, but I’m able to do key tasks quicker on my Windows phone than I could on my iPhone. Another big recent learning in this area was that the data shared between the Windows Phone, Windows Surface and Windows 8 is all a seamless experience. While I prefer running Windows 8 with a touch screen, it has also become apparent that with Microsoft or Logitech mice that have updated software to run with Windows 8, an upgrade to touch screen technology is not mandatory. Further the more sophisticated software like SetPoint for these mice actually makes Windows 8 more productive than Windows 7. The choice of platform has made my work processes easier. Even though the Apple iPhone was more elegant and simple, it is not easier than running Windows everywhere. As an additional point, with my Mac Air 2, iPad and iPhone, I did not have near the integration possible with Windows 8. As one last point, with my Google Chromebook, Google nexus7 and Motorola Droid phone, I did not have near the integration possible with Windows 8.

Platform limits choice while enabling ease of use. If we choose a particular vendor, we get the most benefits and the most restrictions by adhering to the vendor’s rules. Think of iCloud and iTunes as enabling your ability to shop easily and restricting your choice to what is in the Apple Store. Microsoft and Google are trying to mimic this model. Is a single supplier in your business’ best interest? Some say yes, while others say best of breed supports their strategy most effectively.

Some of our greatest frustrations come from hardware failures, inconsistent results or confusing design. Platform will minimize the differences between hardware run within the family. Each device will work in a similar fashion. Most of us could care less what the hardware or software is or whose brand is on it as long as it runs reliably 100% of the time and helps us get our job done. Platform will help us build our ideal future. Consider your platform choice and your providers carefully to get the best results for your business.