In early January, more than a dozen friends and blog readers forwarded me a link to a commentary by Mike on Why Microsoft Should Fear Bandwidth. While I did a brief blog post on it, the article and the ensuing discussion that followed is very relevant for the future direction of computing, especially in the context of emerging markets. This is one perspective that has not really come out in the discussion not surprising that most of us are top of the pyramid users. My interest has been in envisioning and constructing solutions for the next billion users. So, while the issues raised by Mike are very relevant, some additional points need to be considered in the context of todays non-consumers of computing tomorrows markets.
Let us start with Mikes post and consider the key points that he makes. Mike discusses centralised computing and remote applications [ASPs: application service providers] in a world awash in bandwidth. Users would like this because it frees them up from having to become administrators of their own machines. In this world, the brand of the operating system does not matter, and there is no lock-in on Windows. This causes Microsoft to lose its monopoly.
This is what Mike wrote:
At present, we find ourselves in a situation unprecedented in all history the average person, in charge of a machine of such complexity that it can calculate anything he or she would want to know in mere seconds. This is almost an untenable situation; this average person often has no idea how to fix the computer when it breaks, and no idea even how to perform the most basic maintenance on it to prevent such breakage. Its also vulnerable to hackers, phishing schemes, and hosts of other plagues.
With caching, smart usage of bandwidth, latency reduction strategies, etc., most users would hardly notice the difference between an application being provided remotely over a high-bandwidth connection and being provided locally by a spyware- and virus-infested home PC with inadequate memory.
In a world of unlimited bandwidth and remote applications, the operating system doesnt matter, and theres no lock-in. In such a world, Microsoft loses its monopoly, and the consumer wins. This is why bandwidth should scare Microsoft more than any other foe out there right now for once bandwidth increases beyond a certain level, remote application provision is inevitable, and then Microsoft is on very shaky ground, indeed.
Mike added: The network is the computer was a false start because the bandwidth was not there. Now, it is getting to be there — and with spyware, adware, malware of all stripes dominating the news, and the average users computer, people will be much more inclined now and in the near future to use an ASP model. Its not for everyone, but for the 80% of users who do little more than surf, check their e-mail, and check the odd stock quote, the ASP model makes a great deal of sense.
A subsequent post by Mike summarized his key points:
1) Many people have no desire to administer their machines and for them, a PC is nothing but a source of frustration. Judging from my user base at work, this is probably 80% of users.
2) As bandwidth increases, remote application provision and remote administration will become increasingly attractive to this segment of the market.
3) This breach with the Windows upgrade hamster wheel gives the companies doing the ASP providing and the administration freedom to use whatever technology best suits the task, and to switch users all at once to a better/different platform at any time much more easily.
4) This is an opportunity for free and open source software to step in and prove its mettle.
Tomorrow: Mike on Microsoft (continued)