IT Leadership

OPINION

What Apple and Google Could Teach AMD and FLOSS

Last week, I got into an argument about whether Microsoft was using TomTom to go after Linux. I also attended several events where the massive costs of the AMD vs. Intel litigation were discussed. I got to thinking how both entities — AMD and FLOSS — are currently defined by the dominant company that exists in their space. For FLOSS — the open source software community, not the stuff you clean your teeth with — it is Microsoft that seems to define them, and they have been largely the anti-Microsoft folks for all of this decade. Now that Microsoft is interoperating, has its own open source efforts, and is generally not pissing off buyers as much, FLOSS has evidently decided to FUD Linux and blame Microsoft.

Apple appears to have taught Google how to largely avoid litigation and screams of “the sky is falling” to win the game — and folks, it really is all about winning.

I’ll close with my product of the week: the first music distribution system from a major vendor since Sonos that actually works well.

In the Shadow of Intel

AMD was created in large part to be an alternative to Intel. For almost every part AMD has, Intel has one or more alternatives. Even when AMD has outmaneuvered Intel, Intel has had the historic ability to step on it like a bug. While that has resulted in a lot of litigation, in the end Intel is more profitable than AMD and remains in the stronger market position.

I’ve followed AMD since the early days, and it has always seemed overmatched, in terms of resources, and unable to get out from under Intel’s shadow. Intel has been overly focused on AMD as well, and for a number of generations seemed to be first arguing whether AMD was on the right path and then copying it.

At a recent event, it became clear that each firm’s excessive focus on the other has probably created a drag that extends well beyond the companies themselves and represents billions in lost revenue for the PC market. Recently, I concluded that it created an opportunity for ARM, which is suddenly positioning itself broadly against both firms, to come in and — partially as a result of Linux technology Intel likely helped create — stage a coup by moving around both firms.

In the Shadow of Microsoft

From a macro standpoint, when you change your name from “Open Source” to “OSS,” to “FOSS,” to “FLOSS,” you would kind of expect “FLOP” to come next. In a company, branding games like this are an historic sign that a firm is at risk of going under. It shows a lack of focus on what is important. In all cases, it is the customer that is important — and FLOSS appears to be in massive danger of having permanently forgotten that the customer doesn’t want wars, doesn’t want risks, and probably would prefer not to be connected to something that sounds like toilet paper for teeth.

Being anti-anything gives a great deal of power to the thing you are against. As Microsoft altered its behavior to become less of a threat, some of the more visible FLOSS leaders lost their voices, and the market started to drift back to what had been the status quo.

The recent TomTom flap seemed to emphasize this because it looked like a desperate attempt to paint Microsoft as a huge threat to rally the faithful. Unfortunately, it was very clear to anyone who looked into it that Microsoft was simply protecting some GPS patents it held, which TomTom was infringing. The irony was that the open source folks had experienced similar problems with the same company, which made them, at the very least, appear to be hypocrites on top of being desperate for attention.

In their effort to create a threat to Linux that didn’t really exist, the very folks who argued during the SCO days that there was no risk started blowing any risk out of proportion — and likely did more FUD damage to their side than Microsoft could have done had it wanted to. Simply look at the source of all the FUD this time. It isn’t Microsoft. Given that the administration’s new CIO favors open source, and his former office was raided by the FBI last week, you would think the FLOSS folks would want to avoid extra controversy for him at the moment.

The Lesson Google Learned From Apple

Back when I was at IBM, I got to participate in a wonderful program that was supposed to prepare employees to become senior executives. Big Blue put us in front of the leading minds of the day to discuss wide-ranging topics. One of the concepts I took away from that training is that you’ll never lose if you focus like a laser on the true goal — and that the true goal wasn’t your competitor’s butt.

Markets change. If your goal — which generally is customer- and revenue-related — is clear, you have advantages that an entrenched vendor doesn’t have. The biggest is that you aren’t worried about cannibalizing existing revenue streams. In fact, that is probably part of the goal, because someone else owns them.

The iPod and the iPhone are both examples of Apple suddenly realizing that it didn’t have to do what Microsoft did. The first put resources in an area where Microsoft was a minor player, and the second moved the smartphone concept into the mainstream — potentially setting the stage for a new world in which the PC was the smartphone, and Apple clearly was not under Microsoft’s shadow. Apple’s expected ARM-based iPhone netbook could begin to truly redefine the PC space.

The New Master

What Google learned was that Apple hadn’t addressed the scale issue, and should Microsoft get it right, it could likely steal back the market — much as it had initially done.

With Android, Google is creating a blend — Apple idea but Microsoft-like hardware independence — that will shortly drift up into the netbook space and could propel it to the goal before Microsoft reacts. In short, Google is going around Microsoft, not through it.

All of this was from focusing not on Microsoft but on where the market was going, and getting there first. Watch for the Google netbook in 2010. Apple is teaching the core lesson, but Google may show how to really get it to work and become the example of the student exceeding the teacher. (For some reason, this makes me think of a Bruce Lee movie.)

Product of the Week: Cisco Linksys Director

I’ve been a Sonos fan since I first discovered the company. It created a platform that was easy to install, very easy to use, and would actually play the same song in every room in the house at the same time. This last is something only Sonos and some companies with incredibly high-end offerings could do — until now.

Cisco launched its home media products at CES, and the one that stands out as a true alternative to Sonos is its Director. I’ve been using one for several weeks now.

It has an amp and a built-in display, and it comes with a remote. For US$549, you can get it bundled with the $150 matched speakers — it’s about $450 without them — which makes for a $50 savings on the bundle. It uses your existing network and will work with Rhapsody, so you don’t necessarily need to put a PC into the mix. This is the only affordable alternative to Sonos that has ever existed, and for a one- or two-room installation, it is actually cheaper.

Because this is a very nice first effort, because it finally does what so many tried and failed to do, and because it allows people to ease into streamed audio more affordably, the Cisco Director is my product of the week.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


2 Comments

  • Looks like a bit Biased article towards M$ advantage. Everyone knows that they are not doing charity and the TomTom case is just another way sewing the seeds of murky businesses, since M$ is having problems with the Open Source community. They war on technology have turned into a war on dirty politics and undermining activities. If you don’t see or believe it, then M$ have succeded.

  • FLOSS is growing by leaps and bounds around the world and TFA suggests it has a branding problem?

    The world needs software and can produce what it needs cooperatively in the FLOSS model. The more complex the licensing/distribution model of other systems becomes the more attractive is FLOSS. Then there is malware and DRM, all stuff the end-user does not need. M$ produces Vista and FLOSS has a problem? What a joke.

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