Welcome to the Post-PC World
There were quite a few announcements this week about forthcoming operating systems from Apple and Microsoft. iOS 5 and Windows 8 have quite a few interesting aspects that show how the computing landscape is changing. This blog posting will talk about the various announcements and then provide a fair bit of personal speculation on what this means for ERP, CRM and business computing.
Apple had its WDDC 2011 conference this past week in San Francisco. At this conference they unveiled a new version of iOS, the operating system used by iPods, iPads and iPhones. They introduced a new version of Mac OS and they unveiled a new service called iCloud.
One of the key features of iOS 5/iCloud is that a PC/Mac is no longer required to operate an iPad or iPhone. You can now upgrade the operating system and sync files entirely from the cloud. You are no longer required to ever tether your device to a PC or Mac. This means you can buy and get the full functionality from these devices without owning either a PC or a Mac at all.
Is this the downfall of the PC? Is Apple sacrificing the Mac to eliminate Windows? I suspect PCs and Macs will be around for a long time to come. But if you only need to browse the Web and perform simple computing tasks, is a simple to use, inexpensive Tablet fine for you. Or can you do everything you need to do from your phone all by itself? Will many consumers and businesses just buy phones for everyone and no more PCs or Macs?
Another way to look at this is that the PC (and Mac) have been downgraded to just another device that connects to the cloud. They are now on an equal footing with tablets and phones. Now you can choose the device that is best for the tasks you want to perform. If you need a number of large screen monitors to do programming in many Windows, then a PC Workstation is best for you; but for most other uses a Tablet is better suited and much handier. Some of the advantages that Tablets have is extreme ease of use, very long battery life, light weight, and are actually useful in economy seats on airplanes.
There is a fundamental difference in how Google and Apple currently view the cloud. Apple sees it as a synchronization mechanism where the cloud is used to share your files across all the various devices you own. The main point being that the files primarily exist on the devices. Whereas Google sees your files as living in the cloud and being operated on from your devices and never really residing on your devices. I suspect over time these two approaches will become much more blended into a hybrid, since each approach has merits and not one size fits all. For instance the Apple model works even if your device is disconnected from the Internet; whereas, the Google model doesn’t have to worry about conflicts from multiple devices editing the same file locally.
This is really recognition on Microsoft’s part that they are no longer a monopoly and can no longer dictate how developers write their programs. If you are a developer that is starting to write a program today, are you really going to start from scratch and write a program that won’t run on an iPad, iPhone or Android device?
Microsoft is following IBM’s lead and concentrating on selling to IT departments of large companies. Beefing up its IT consulting wing and concentrating on out-sourcing IT datacenters with its Azure platform. Microsoft realizes that huge investments in Windows and Office are no longer worthwhile and that it needs to diversify the devices their software run on, while concentrating on the server side of things. The main problem MS has now is promoting Azure against its main competitors Google, Amazon and Rackspace which are already established and have much simpler to use offerings.
Microsoft is a huge company so there will always be exceptions, for instance at the recent E3 show, MS showed off many quite innovate improvements to the Xbox platform. But many of these are around connecting the Xbox as another device into the cloud as we’ve been talking about.
Other vendors, such as RIM and HP are trying to keep pace. At least with the WebKit browser engine which is at the core of the Safari and Chrome Browsers being open source, means that RIM and HP can incorporate this into their Playbook and TouchPad devices and play in the same clouds as all the iPads and Androids. How much room there is there is yet to be seen, but with standards based software, the key to competing is going to be hardware innovation.
Sage is a business application vendor and not a platform vendor. Sage wants to ensure that all our applications run where and when our customers need them. It isn’t in Sage’s interest to promote any given devices or platforms, it is in Sage’s interest to listen to the market and ensure all our applications can be used where they are needed by our customers.
Sage would like to play in all the platforms and cloud mentioned above. Ideally anyone should be able to access their business application from any computing device, whether to look up information or enter an order. When someone asks if they can run their CRM or ERP application in a certain context, perhaps on a Mac in their design studio, on an iPad at home or on a PC at the main office, we really hate to have to answer with no to what the customer wants to do.
People may not realize that you can run most Sage applications from an iPad already. Most Sage applications support running on Citrix and there is an iPad client for Citrix that lets you access any application on your Citrix desktop from the iPad. Solutions like this along with many new virtualization technologies are opening up standard desktop applications for use anywhere.
It’s in Sage’s interest to work for the best interests of our customers rather than the best interests of any given platform vendor. For the cloud, if say Amazon.com is the best and most cost effective platform today then we should use Amazon.com today, if it’s someone else next year then we need to ensure we have the ability to move and aren’t locked in to higher prices or lesser functionality.
Sage already has a number of cloud based applications like Sage One, SageCRM.com. AccpacOnline.com or Sage Spark. Then Sage is moving many Windows desktop applications over to being Web based and optionally cloud hosted such as Sage ERP Accpac 6.1A. The key point being that Sage is already operating in these worlds and expanding our presence there aggressively.
With Sage it’s all about freedom of choice. Freedom to deploy locally or to access via the cloud. Freedom to access your applications from anywhere on any device. Freedom to choose the best infrastructure and platform. Freedom to select databases and middleware.
As Sage moves forward we are looking to make our applications far more Service Oriented. You can access our applications through their native Forms, or you can access them through Web Services based on SData. All our Business Logic is encapsulated as a service and can be access via our forms (which use SData) or via any application anywhere utilizing our REST based web services.
Sage will still support on-premise installations for most of our applications for a long time to come. But more and more customers want to move to the cloud for the cost savings and convenience. We want to offer the choice and make the transition (in either direction) as painless as possible.
Of course things are never black or white. Sage will be offering many “connected services” which are web/cloud services that provide the benefits of the cloud to customers running on-premise applications. This way customers can pick up many of the benefits of these new cloud services without having to abandon their investment in learning and customizing their on-premise application. For instance functions that make the most sense to run on phones or tablets could move to the cloud, but still be connected to the on-premise application, syncing data via SData web services.
Welcome to the Post-PC world. I hope many people are reading this blog from an iPad or other tablet. Perhaps many are reading this from their phone. The point being that you certainly don’t need a PC to perform most computing tasks anymore and in fact there are many tasks that phones can do that PCs can’t.