27Dinner strategising

At the geek 27Dinner event, we got the opportunity to see a demo model of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab – one of the tablet devices that will take on the Apple iPad.

It has a nice look and feel, and runs on the Android operating system which, to me, means a more open platform. To get more information and comparisons, see these TechRadar and Engadget articles, and CNN’s analysis of Sumsung vs. Apple.

Seeing the Galaxy Tab led to a discussion at my table about open vs. proprietary tablets – in other words, others vs the Apple iPad. Apple has history of bringing out proprietary devices and getting huge kudos and attention, together with early profits, only to be overtaken by a device with similar capabilities that runs on an industry-standard platform. The first case was the original Apple computer which was overtaken by the PC, the second one was the graphical user interface on the Macintosh which was surpassed by Windows. Will the same happen with the iPad?

During the dinner, we heard the news that Microsoft would hand over its Windows Live Spaces blog platform to WordPress.com. When we tried to figure out how what the upside was for Microsoft,  Doug Vining of the FutureWorld think tank, commented that perhaps Microsoft would now develop a means for WordPress.org to be run better on the Windows platform (currently the preferred platform is Apache on Linux), this would provide pull-through for sales of more Windows platforms.

That led to a discussion on why companies should be prepared to cannibalise their own products in order to take advantage of new technology innovations and developments. Specifically, we wondered should Microsoft make Windows free, or almost free? The reasoning behind this is that the general device world (mobile + tablets + Netbooks + PCs) is an area in which Microsoft is losing its marketshare rapidly. The only way for Microsoft to get back into the game would be to make its operating system cheaply and easily available to device makers and so provide a viable alternative to Android and Linux. Making Windows free or very cheap would obviously affect Microsoft’s bottom-line in the short-term, but this would likely make Windows a standard and Microsoft could continue to get revenue from the Office product line. In a world where the personal device (tablet or phone) will become the de facto computing hardware, rather than a Windows-based laptop, Microsoft needs a basis on which to ensure ongoing revenue.

The reason many companies fail to adapt to technology change after dominating an area (e.g., IBM and computing, Sony and the Walkman) is that they believe that they have control. As Doug pointed out, in the 21st century, control is an illusion. Companies that institute IT standards for controlling Internet and social media access believe they can control how their staff access the Internet, forgetting that employess will use their mobile phones. In the brand arena, companies that think they control their brands are mistaken; it is the public that determines how the brand is communicated. For countries, a number have learned that it is practically impossible and hugely expensive to try and control their currencies.

A few of the points Doug raised I have blogged about already when commenting on Don Dodge’s new platform post. The concept of making Windows free is radical, however. It would require a lot of courage and commitment from Microsoft, as well as a major organisational change project. Do you think Microsoft needs to do it, or has the capacity to accept such a proposition? On the issue of devices, could Apple’s proprietary stance lose out to the other tablet manufacturers using Android? Lastly, will businesses ever be able to accept that they do not have control, but should rather focus on trust?