Roddenberry and his crew(s) knew more than many of us realized...

In about 10 years, the question of “Mac or PC” won’t matter.  Our days of competing operating systems are nearing their end.

Every now and again I’m asked to help a friend or family member on a new computer purchase.  I’ll tell them what I’ll tell you right now…I’m biased.  I’m a Mac guy, and have been since the 80s.  I’m very competent on the Windows side of things, and have been using PCs since before Windows (which, by the way, was the virus Jeff Goldblum uploaded to kill the aliens in Independence Day).  So when someone asks me about whether they should buy a Mac or a PC, I usually steer them toward a Mac.  And now that our world is about to change again, I’m more confident than ever in this suggestion.

Original Star Trek Communicator (circa 1968). Looks much like my first flip phone!

OS decisions (the Mac/Windows decisions) aren’t going to matter much longer.  We’re about a decade from the end of OS battles entirely.

Let’s look at the following:

  • I-pads and knockoffs: If the i-Pad wasn’t such a game-changer, everyone else wouldn’t have taken a run at their own knock-offs.  Regardless of how the market flushes itself out, a significant number of users are already doing most of their computing on some sort of “pad,” and we’re only a couple of years into the run.

    Star Trek (The Next Generation) Communicator Badge (circa 1988)

  • Smartphones: These are much more like mini “i-Pads” than they are like actual phones.  Add to this the number of people (including me) who no longer have land lines…hmmmm.
  • Cloud computing: This is a another game-changer, and it is moving fast.  The “cloud” is already replacing a significant percentage of your hard drive’s functionality, and we’re only just beginning.  Oddly enough, Microsoft envisioned this reality years ago as it made Windows more and more net-savvy.  I recall a close friend who works in the industry saying to me one day after an MS certification exam, “It’s Microsoft’s vision to be the first thing you see in the morning, and the last thing you see before you go to sleep at night.”  They almost did it too.  Then the open-source revolution happened, and much of what we used to purchase from Microsoft we could now get on the web.
  • Server-side applications: We already see this happening with things like Google Docs, Apache (which runs much of the web), Word Press, Joomla, Drupal, (3 popular web-based content management systems), and things like Drop Box.  The market is changing, and you’re only going to make it if you learn to play well with others.
  • Local and web-based network lines are blurring (much like our work and personal life): There is a whole market of “get to your work computer from home” applications like “Go to My PC,” insuring your capacity to lose all separation between your personal life and your work.
  • Everyting has to play nicely on the web: I’ll admit to stealing the “play nice with others” metaphor from my brother, who administered a two-platform network for years.  Apple and Windows, from all accounts, don’t play nicely with one another (who’da thunk it???).  Apple has already realized that it can’t ever find a way to trust Microsoft enough to play together, so it’s moved on, and most of its small technology syncs with Macs and PCs equally well.  It is building all its new technology to live mostly on the web.   Microsoft is realizing the same thing, slowly, and will eventually end up figuring out that the whole world doesn’t want to have the Microsoft logo tatooed to their forehead.  (Drop Box is a perfect example of this mentality.) If Microsoft decides to wake up and smell the new paradigm, they can become a powerhouse once again.  If they don’t, we’ll watch one of the more impressive bankruptcies in the modern era.
So, what’s next?
The future is here…and just around the corner

A play on the Star Trek (Next Generation - 80s) Console

I love the iPad, although I can’t justify the purchase for myself just yet.  However, in 10 years we’ll all be working with something that functions very similarly to the iPad, and it will integrate with something as small as today’s bluetooth.  Together, the kit will probably solve most of our technology and communications needs.  While I don’t think we’ll end up with the little triangular communicators from Star Trek, we’re not that far from it.

iPad 1 as presented at MacWord. Funny...you can see the top of Steve Jobs' head!

My nephew begins college in a month, and he’s going up with an iPad and a Windows laptop.  The laptop is for school, and the college gave it to him.  One of the rules is that he can’t use the laptop for any money-making enterprise.  (A strange request of business majors, but whatever.)  He shopped, and picked up the iPad for his personal needs. He’s got a small stock portfolio he manages, and he uses his iPad to do it.

Yes, I believe we’re seeing the “next generation” born right now.  Sure, there is an entire cross-section of our economy dedicated to the production of operating systems and the applications that run on them.  But, more and more the younger generation (and some smart older folks like me) are realizing that items like Office are less a necessity and more of an old-fashioned “racket.”  Programmers are moving to open-source platforms, and selling the items that represent true creativity and singularity of purpose.  The “genie” of the OS has been out of the bottle for quite some time now, and there is no getting her back in.