In the battle of words, one Steve (Jobs) is more often right than not. The other Steve (Ballmer) is almost always wrong. He was wrong about the iPod. He was wrong about the iPhone and he is once again going to be proven wrong about Google’s Android OS. Earlier today, when speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s AllThingsD conference, Steve Ballmer — chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software company — said the following in response to a question by Walt Mossberg:
Ballmer: On the phone, Android’s a real competitor. On the larger-screen devices, who knows. I don’t know that these Android-based things will matter. But I don’t know that they won’t either…I don’t really understand why Google has to have two different operating systems…Chrome? It’s like two, two, two operating systems — but they’re not in one! You want to know about Chrome, talk to them. So why do two? Why not focus on one? Having two OSes is confusing. You need coherence.
Coherence, preaches the man whose company has nearly 18 different variations of its operating systems. But I agree, Google needs to focus on just one OS and that is Android. As Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang recently articulated, Android has a momentum that is currently unrivaled. And he was just talking about phones and tablets. The hardware industry is innovating around Android: from cars to set-top boxes to televisions to refrigerators to cars, Android is everywhere.
Let’s face it, Android has gored Microsoft’s mobile operations, leaving it with a bleeding, gaping wound that looks difficult to patch at this point. Tablets, powered by low-cost ARM-based processors and the free Android OS, are creating a new class of computing devices that will take away opportunities from Microsoft. Just as Linux took away growth opportunities from Sun Microsystems in the server arena, the Android OS (a Linux variant) will prove to be Microsoft’s Waterloo. (Good to see the company responding with new slideware, aka embedded compact Windows 7, without outlining any details.)
Ray Ozzie, the chief software architect at Microsoft, had this to say about Android and Chrome:
Ozzie: On the Android vs. Chrome issue…Android is a bet on the past; Chrome is a bet on the future. When you install an app you’re targeting a device. When you use Chrome, you’re looking at a cloud-based future.
Ozzie is right and wrong. A browser-and-cloud based future makes absolute sense and a Chrome browser running on top of Android will bring us precisely that. As for delivering HTML5-based apps via a browser — I don’t see any problems with that, though it might eventually take some time.
However, I’m a lot less dismissive of the apps than he is — I believe apps are part of a larger shift to task-based computing. It will become more obvious over the next few years — and will redefine the technology industry.