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Summary:

Steve Ballmer, the chief executive officer of Microsoft, the world’s largest software company — 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.

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.

  1. It seems no one cares that cloud computing is basically a way to start down the path of television 2.0, with controlled content and apps and widgets that act as channels.

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    1. I’d agree with that; or, another way to look at it is “mainframes.” We tried to go that route in the mid-’90s with “thin clients;” outside a handful of niche markets, it didn’t really take hold. Will we really shift everything to rented, shared corporate space (aka “the cloud”) now that “very thick clients” (new-gen mobile devices) are the access point and visual sugarcoating? What will the reaction be when a major “cloud” service suddenly goes dark or, arguably worse, reveals long after the fact that it has been cracked and customer data and personal information has been compromised?

      I don’t think we’re really mature enough, as a software industry, to have that kind of centralized, large-scale dependence by the public at large. Thirty years ago, I went around saying that we were twenty to 30 years away from having a proper engineering discipline for software, such that practitioners could develop reliable artifacts that the public at large could rely on and absorb into the infrastructure. At the rate things have been going, I think thirty years — from right now — would be a very optimistic timeframe, barring a software equivalent of the New London School fire in Texas (which gave rise to [civil] engineering as we know it today). I am of the firm opinion that we are setting ourselves up for just such a crisis today… with a society and regulatory structure far less able to deal with it effectively in the public interest.

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      1. < “What will the reaction be when a major “cloud” service suddenly goes dark or, arguably worse, reveals long after the fact that it has been cracked and customer data and personal information has been compromised?” >

        Thank you, thank you, thank you Jeff Dickey. It’s great to hear that others are as concerned as I am about the fragility and vulnerability of the “cloud” infrastructure.

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      2. RickyB, thank you very much. It’s been my observation that people who fail to see the consequences of unreliable tech getting an ever-increasing role in our lives either a) haven’t been around and paying attention long enough to have seen it happen before; b) have a strong psychological/financial/career stake in that increase, or c) both of the above. Option ‘c’ is depressingly prevalent.

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  2. I think Google may know what they are doing on this one. They’re not short-sighted, keeping their eye on two prizes seems pretty sensible to me, they can afford it.

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  3. Here’s Microsoft, a company that wouldn’t understand the concept of separating the OS from the browser, telling Google that having a Chrome browser and an Android OS is confusing for consumers and that they should be merged together.

    I gave up listening to Microsoft long ago.

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    1. “Here’s Microsoft, a company that wouldn’t understand the concept of separating the OS from the browser”

      Except they did three years ago. Do keep up.

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  4. Why Balmer hasn’t been booted by the board yet is beyond me. he has sustained years of failure.

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  5. The CEO is the #1 cheerleader for the company. Even if he agreed, he wouldn’t be able to admit they have the right strategy or that they are gaining momentum. It would appear that the beast that is Windows that brought them all their success is probably the ball and chain that has slowed down their ability to innovate. Everything had to be tied down to selling more OS licenses. Windows CE on a device? Still, you can never count out Microsoft.

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  6. Microsoft is slowly sinking into the past.

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  7. Google needs to, as much as possible, stay between people and the web. Chrome, Android, and Chrome OS all accomplish that in different ways. In the long run, I think you are right and we’ll see Chrome OS and Android converge.

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  8. Google is betting more on the chrome OS, android is just a way to stall the progress of IPhone. It is taking time to refine and deliver a near Apple like experience on the chrome OS.

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    1. Apple is clearly putting a lot of effort, into Safari & HTML5. I suspect they have all the pieces in place, to deliver a “SafariOS”, if that’s where the market goes.

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  9. Microsoft is just mad that they missed the boat and all they could come up with was a piece of shit Kin. Those phones are the most useless smartphones on the market.

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  10. Om, Ballmer is easy game. It doesn’t take a genius to call him wrong. But in this case, he needs to be given credit for his unbiased view. He agrees that android on a phone rules. He is ambivalent about android elsewhere. Any why not? There is hardly a single non-mobile phone product in the market today. And that is after 3 years of launching the android.

    Think about it – in spite of Google’s credibility + technical manna (essentially free lunch) that android is, the world has not exactly minted android products!

    Secondly, let me point out why Google should not place all its eggs in the android basket. Google makes zero money from android. Yes, I can say that again. Android will not drive traffic to Google properties as much as ChromeOS will do. In fact, I couldn’t agree more with Ray Ozzie – Android is like windows all over again (only this time on linux)- it is about apps, apps and more apps. OK, this time they are delivered over the web, but they are a relic of microsoft’s hey days in all other aspects. One fine day, the world will get over the app infatuation. And then what ?

    ChromeOS is a bet on the future, app-free world. But will the world ever be app free? Given this, it makes a lot of sense for Google to spread their risks evenly. I can imagine a convergence – ChromeOS opening up to host a few apps. And the android app diarrhea coming to a stop.

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    1. Dell, Sony, and HP will all have available soon at Best Buy tablet devices running Android or WebOS. They will join Apple’s already available selling like hot cakes iPad. What was lacking with the previous OEM attempts were 1) ARM processing power (SnapDragon / Cortex being relatively new) 2) Go to Market strategy 3) a fully baked Android OS or WebOS.

      We are at an inflection point. It’s like saying in 2007 that touch screen phones had yet to really take off based on past results. All signs are pointing to a major upheaval in the OS market for 2010-2011. This was a bad time for Microsoft to ‘miss a cycle’. If I was them, I would get ahead on the TV OS market before it’s too late.

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  11. I agree with a previous comment. It is very depressing and surprising to see Ballmer continuing in the position as CEO. The list of his failures and long and unending…
    a) Vista
    b) MS Online
    c) MS Windows Mobile
    d) Surface (perhaps the first legit tablet)
    e) Tablet
    f) CRM (salesforce.com ate their lunch)

    Misrosoft Board should be penalized for continuing to put up with such destruction of shareholder value.

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