The PC Application EcoSystem. Open - Source & the futuristic web user

Posted by Rahul Sethi on 7:51 PM

In this post, reknowned marketeer Saurabh Sharma talks about the PC environement not having an app eco system - like the iPhone app store where applications are crafted in a way that they reflect function freed from form.

This according to him, has not happened yet because PC applications, have been dominated mainly by one software company viz. Microsoft. In the computing arena we are still carrying Microsoft influenced enterprise legacy on our shoulders.

I tended to disagree.

My response:

I think the function independent of form for PC's that you are talking about already exists. Look at the change in scenario coming about. We use so many web based apps. In my company atleast. We use Google Apps to host email (not outlook), we try using Google Docs or Zoho Docs as often as possible (not MS Office), for invoicing we use a web based invoicing tool, for Project Management we use a brilliant tool called Deskaway - it helps us simplify teamwork, it helps us manage projects, create milestones, tasks, responsibilities etc. - and it also acts like an online repository for client info (you should check it out). Then there is also slideshare on which we host our slideshows. I dont use Dreamweaver to customize my code - i do right off Wordpress. I use Wordpress/Blogger to help me convert text to code. I also use to make comics and if the online version of photoshop becomes better along with my bandwidth - then il chuck the CS3 version from my laptop as well!

Point is - web based tools are making this revolution happen where multiple applications are being developed to satisfy multiple needs - almost to an extent of mass customization to the finest detail. It's fantastic.

Case in point - check out FireFox and the various Plugins - the directory and the use of some plugins is brilliant. FF has created a developer community that Apple can only dream of.

Saurabh responded by saying:

Web based application are the precursor to the freeing of function from the form in the Personal Computing Arena. I would be happy to see more of these being as mainstream enterprise solutions and everyday home applications. Part of the fact that they still do not dominate the market is perhaps to do with the fact that they are relatively new in the market and another part of it is to do with enterprise inertia to shift – the risk is bigger for a large enterprise than for a start up or home business.

Also, I am curious how the market would be in the next 10 years. Would it be still dominated by one big application software company with many 'others' competing for the rest of 10-20% of the market or could it be that the stage shifts to web based applications.

I am also curious how platforms like Firefox make money. If money is not the motive than can it becomes a mainstream business model in the future? This is something that puts me in two minds about opensource. Is it commerce or plain activism to block dominance of big players, many times suppoered on the sly by another big brother who wants to counter the current number one?

My reply:

I think your concerns with OpenSource are valid. But i think plain activism led open source is not necessarily a reality that can be supported for too long. The world is too small and the buzzworthiness of information is much higher. It takes some time before Open Source becomes consumer friendly and the people who jump on to it initially tend to be more opinionated, more experimental and i would also say a lot smarter at a certain level. They would get the news if the open source project is activism led - and if the community decides that it's fine - so be it. You cannot dictate/ change the market, can you? And i think plain activism will not work at all - the open source project has to have some tangible benefit. Only then will people look to use/ contribute. It's sort of a chain reaction, isn't it?

Pseudo open source movements today are being championed by companies such as Google, Apple, (now) Rediff and Facebook - which i think is good for their businesses and in the long run also better for consumer because one is ensured that a market is created and if consumers find something valuable, returns are reaped (although there may be imperfections and these techonomies are not as 'free' as they should be).

Also, i think developers will flock to locations and develop open source to a large extent only if they are able to answer the question 'What's in it for me' - so for example, a lot of web development companies i know have developed an app on Facebook that they seek to make viral or they have a Firefox plugin that is really useful - then these open source economies become great to showcase skills with respect to platform and customer understanding for companies (just like our respective content and idea creation companies may keep a blog etc.) and consumers also benefit. Multiple small businesses are building on each other to create an eco - system that is mutually beneficial which i think is great. My economic understanding is still not sound enough to highlight glaring pitfalls - maybe you could enlighten me on that.

This i think is also a fundamental shift in the way we think. This may sound like faff but i genuinely believe that because of the internet and the openness of the weboconomy we have become a lot more utilitarian. In terms of the monetization bit - i think it is going to become difficult for more people to monetize more things because there (has always been) but there will be more stress on the intangible value of things.

I dont know how the market would be in the next 10 years but i certainly would like to see user groups using different kind of tailor made applications by different companies. But i suspect that will not be the case, we humans are a lazy, unadventurous lot. Most of us will use many applications by the same company and a few applications here and there by smaller peripheral companies. If one of the peripheral companies becomes very popular then maybe we will use more applications by that company. We are, i think (and i hope) on the long road to multiplicity of application use. I sincerely hope, that as mankind we can shatter the idea of '3-4 big players rule a market' - especially on the web. Hopefully, better distribution channels and more emphasis on Word of Mouth online because of obvious changes in the communication eco system, economies of scope will be higher.

I cant wait for tomorrow - and i love today.

Saurabh finally summed it up by saying:

On one hand we have this huge centrifugal force of open source that is brewing diversity, enabling newer niches, getting more and more 'micro' - a dream come true for many a advanced user. And on the other hand there is the impending challenge of a basic standard or operation. A basic common ground that can integrate everything seamlessly (without making us compromise too much!). By everything I mean Internet and Mobile Applications on one side and the new genre of RFID enabled devices and static objects that would need a common grammar to relate to, so as to be able to help everything in the room (and outside) to talk to everything else.
When your shoes will talk to my friends wristwatch - we would need both of them to agree on a basic grammar for their language of communication and operation.

As computing becomes ubiquitous we would need much more interoperability and greater the interoperability the deeper perhaps would be the need for a standard. I know that this word Standard sounds too Microsoftish, but I am sure that the future would not hinge on one enterprise to dictate the 'spelling' of the new universal communication Standard.
Lot of action awaits and I am quite excited!


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