Microsoft out in the cold again

John Gruber has some interesting thoughts about the odd-man-out at Google’s I/O conference this week:

The big loser this week, though, was Microsoft. They’re simply not even part of the game. RIM looms large, as BlackBerrys continue to reign as the best-selling smartphones in the U.S. But Microsoft? They’ve got nothing. No interesting devices, weak sales, and a shrinking user base. Microsoft’s irrelevance is taken for granted.

Google’s competitive focus on the iPhone at I/O was intense and scathing. But it’s Microsoft’s lunch they’re eating. Apple’s and RIM’s game is selling the integrated whole — their own devices, running their own software. Google is playing Microsoft’s game — licensing a platform to many device makers.

Daring Fireball: Post-I/O Thoughts

This is the way I’ve seen the mobile market shaking out for quite some time now. Google’s Android fills precisely the same niche that used to be filled by Windows Mobile, but it does so with New Hawtness that Microsoft just can’t seem to match. The Kin will never be the hit the Sidekick was, because the market is different now and app-based smartphones are the norm, not the exception. Yes, the Kin line is supposed to merge with Windows Phone 7 eventually, but by the time it does, Android 2.2, with all its speed and Flashy goodness will be the norm, if not replaced by Android 2.3 or later. Microsoft is caught between a rock (okay, an Apple) and a hard place (a shiny, cheerfully multicolor hard place). They’ll never have the kind of market share needed to make their $8-15 mobile OS license business model pay off.

So the real question is this. Microsoft can see the writing on the wall. They know mobile is the Next Big Thing, as big a shift in personal computing as the advent of the GUI over command line interfaces. Not participating would be corporate suicide. But what they’re doing with Windows Phone 7 can’t possibly succeed. Google gives Android away for free. They can’t beat free. So what do they do?

Microsoft’s only hope is to merge the Kin, Zune, Xbox Live and Windows Phone 7 into a single platform, and do it now. Release a kick-ass smartphone with Zune and Xbox integration and a ready to go app store this year, before the holiday shopping season. And make it pretty. Oh, so pretty. They can’t compete with Google on price, so they have to compete with Apple on user experience and integration.

(Now might be a good time to sell those shares of MSFT you’re still hanging on to.)

Pick your ecosystem carefully

There are shaping up to be four big ecosystems in computing. As all four diversify into the categories below, I’m noticing that a lot of users are standardizing on using everything from a single vendor, a siloing of the market rather than embracing variety. You can do nearly everything you need to do with offerings from any one of them, and they tend to work better if you don’t mix and match. But is it really possible to put all your eggs in one basket?

Microsoft

Operating System

Windows

Web Browser

Internet Explorer

Email

Microsoft Outlook/Live Mail

Instant Messaging

Live Messenger

Photo Albums

Live Photo Albums

Search Engine

Live Search

Office Suite

Microsoft Office

Synchronization/Cloud Storage

Live Mesh/Live Sync

Blogging

Live Writer

Home Theater

Windows Media Center

Phone Platform

Windows Mobile

Portable Media

Zune

Media Management

Windows Media/Zune

Console Gaming

Xbox

Microsoft has, by far, the best selection of the bunch, with every single category I could think of covered. They have gone out of their way to provide solutions for the office, living room and on the go. Some of the options here aren’t best-in-class (though I’d say the Zune is better than the iPod classic and IE 8 can give Firefox and Chrome a run for their money if you give it chance), but they all work. And more importantly, they all work together. If you use the software and services listed above, they interoperate cleanly and efficiently, exactly the way conventional wisdom says Microsoft doesn’t do. The biggest problem Microsoft has is the snarky haters who have their minds made up and won’t give them a break.

Google

Operating System

 

Web Browser

Google Chrome

Email

Gmail

Instant Messaging

Google Talk

Photo Albums

Picasa

Search Engine

Google

Office Suite

Google Docs

Synchronization/Cloud Storage

Google Docs

Blogging

Blogger

Home Theater

 

Phone Platform

Android

Portable Media

 

Media Management

 

Console Gaming

 

Google has a lot of gaps in their ecosystem offerings, but they make up for it with even better integration than Microsoft. Once you start using one Google product (Gmail seems to be the most popular "gateway drug" aside from search itself), it’s all too easy to start using the rest. But where Google wins in interoperability, they lose in power. Google Docs, for example, is fine for light use, but most users wouldn’t think of using it to completely replace a more powerful desktop office suite. Google also lacks an OS and virtually any entertainment options. Even Google’s Android platform offers only the most basic media playback.

Apple

Operating System

OS/X

Web Browser

Safari

Email

Mail.app

Instant Messaging

iChat

Photo Albums

iPhoto

Search Engine

 

Office Suite

iWork

Synchronization/Cloud Storage

MobileMe

Blogging

 

Home Theater

Apple TV

Phone Platform

iPhone

Portable Media

iPod

Media Management

iTunes

Console Gaming

 

For Apple, interoperability is king, but it comes at the cost of choice. Apple’s offerings work seamlessly together, often appearing to be one organic system, but heaven help you if you need to replace one of them because it doesn’t entirely meet your needs. Their gaps are fairly minor, and the lock-in provided by iTunes over portable media and home theater offerings keeps a lot of users in their camp.

Linux/Open Source

Operating System

Linux

Web Browser

Mozilla Firefox

Email

Mozilla Thunderbird

Instant Messaging

Pidgin

Photo Albums

Varies by distro

Search Engine

 

Office Suite

OpenOffice/Sunbird

Synchronization/Cloud Storage

 

Blogging

WordPress

Home Theater

MythTV

Phone Platform

Linux

Portable Media

RockBox

Media Management

Mozilla Songbird

Console Gaming

 

The open source route is for the free spirits out there who so don’t want to be in thrall to one company that they’re willing to cobble together everything themselves, even when it doesn’t necessarily even try to work together. Think of these as the polar opposites to the Apple users. A lot of this stuff is build your own, but at least most of it doesn’t require you to compile it yourself anymore. It’s also so fragmented between different Linux distros (KDE and Gnome both have their own photo managers, and there are others as well if you don’t like those), that any kind of consensus-based interoperability is unlikely.

Conclusions, my ecosystem

I tried to stay within a single ecosystem, and my life would probably be easier if I did. But because of the various gaps or missing functionality, I’ve been forced to mix and match a bit, fully knowing that that would be up to me to find my own ways to makes the pieces interoperate.

Operating System

Windows Vista

Web Browser

Mozilla Firefox

Email

Microsoft Outlook

Instant Messaging

Google Talk

Photo Albums

Live Photo Album or Picasa

Search Engine

Google

Office Suite

Microsoft Office

Synchronization/Cloud Storage

Live Mesh

Blogging

OneNote/Word/Live Writer

Home Theater

Windows Media Center

Phone Platform

Windows Mobile

Portable Media

Windows Mobile

Media Management

Windows Media Player

Console Gaming

Xbox 360

Most of my ecosystem is based on Microsoft offerings, but I’ve swapped out a bit from the Google and Open Source stacks where appropriate. Firefox performs better on my netbook than IE 8, and the IE Tab plugin allows me to use the IE rendering engine when I need it. Google Talk is lighter and less noisy than Live Messenger, and I find Google’s search results a little bit more reliable than Live Search’s. My blogging solution is also a three-headed monster with some quick posts done in Live Writer but most of my blogging done in OneNote for early drafts, and then Word for posting. I’ve also bypassed Zune in favor of Windows Media Player and my Windows Mobile smartphone, but I know people that use both.

What are your choices? Do you stick mostly to a single vendor, or do you play the field?