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The End of an Era..?

With Bill gone, and speculation about Steve’s health, does the industry know where it’s gonna go..?

I’ve been giving this one a lot of thought, and I’m certain that I’m gonna tweak the heck out of this article before the final version is posted; but I have to ask the question: with Bill gone last week and Steve’s health in question, does the computer and computing industry know where it’s going?  I’m not entirely certain.  What’s worse is I think many of us are afraid to find out…

I’m 42 years old (meaning I was born in 1965). I have grown up in the computer era.  We’ve gone from punch cards to reel tape, main frames to minis, and Commodore/Atari to today’s desktop PC’s, all in the span of my life time.  Kids…?  That really isn’t a lot of time to have come as far as we have.  What’s even more interesting, we have just a handful of people to thank for the drive and innovation that got us here.  Two of them are Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

I’m not going to go through what each man has accomplished in the course of their careers.  If you want to see stuff like that, take a trip to C-Net or ZDNet, and then come back. I’m certain they have articles that do that kind of chronological dance down memory lane. We’re going to see articles like that ad-nauseam.  What I’m more interested in and concerned about is the future of computing now that the Era is ending.

Before I get going, I want to answer (what may be) a begged question: No. I don’t know Steve Jobs personally; and I haven’t had the opportunity to interview him.  If I did, I certainly wouldn’t air his personal laundry by relating the state of his health. That’s HIS business. He’ll share that if and when he decides to share it.

Now, with that out of the way, I’m going to go with the speculation that his retirement, for what ever reason, is on the radar screen. If you go there, coupled with Bill’s recent exit, things get very interesting; and a bit worrisome.

The state of computing for years has been Windows and Office for mainstream, corporate business, and OSX for Graphic Arts and Multimedia (let’s face it; the Mac has got this OWNED. WMC is a distant 2nd to what Apple can do with a video and a CD…). Bill had the drive and vision to get Corporate America, and eventually the rest of the world basically unified on one enterprise platform. After nearly 20 years in Corporate America, I have yet to find a company, let alone work for one, that ran anything but a Microsoft OS on the desktop or in their data center.  I also only know of one guy that does any kind of SERIOUS, professional graphics work on a Windows box. (You can see Ryan’s work at Digital Blasphemy.)

If you do any kind of professional multimedia work, from graphics, to video to audio, it’s likely you have at least 1 Mac somewhere in your arsenal. With both company’s success so closely tied to the vision of a single individual, I can’t be the only person with a feeling of dread about the next few years AB/AS (After Bill/After Steve).

I’m not entirely certain that any one individual’s vision has been completely disclosed to the obviously curious MS consumer.  Does Steve Ballmer have the vision? Does he know where he would like to take Corporate America’s computing?  How will we get past the "WindowsME-like" feel that Vista currently has?  Will Windows 7 and subsequent versions have the purposeful direction that Windows 98 and XP had; or are we going to continue to fling noodles against the wall and hope they stick? We need clear, solid, directed life cycles here, or NO ONE is going to let go of XP any time soon. I think Ballmer knows where he wants to take Microsoft as a company, as a business; but I’m not certain if he’s the Chief Software Architect type, do you?

Who’s going to be the new Captain Kirk at Microsoft??  I don’t see anyone rising to the task yet…and Bill’s GONE, kids. If someone has an idea or a clue here, if I’ve missed an announcement or two here, PLEASE let me in on it. I don’t think I’m the only one wondering about those things…

While things at Apple aren’t as dire (Steve hasn’t announced his retirement, and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, anytime soon), health issues have a nasty tendency to rear their ugly heads when you least expect them.  If Steve is sick again, and he has to either take a back seat or completely retire for health reasons, who is going to take over at Apple for him?  I don’t know if anyone’s even thought about THAT succession yet; and again, that bother’s me.

More and more people are moving to Macs. People are dumping Windows for OSX.  The Mac is entering the mainstream.  The iPhone is entering the Enterprise. Some girl saved Christmas by simply plugging a camera into a Mac… (Dogs and cats… living together..!  Mass hysteria!!  Sorry… GhostBusters) You get the picture…

The Apple Experience has got HUGE momentum!  All of that is due to Steve’s singular vision and direction.  The big question here is if he is sick, who shares that vision to see it through?  The last thing that Apple needs is to flounder when things are really, truly starting to pick up for them. Again, I don’t see a clear succession candidate or vision post-Jobs.

So now that the stage is set and I’ve relayed the issues as I see them, the big question is, now what?  I mean, we knew this was going to happen some day. No one thought either of these guys would be around forever…  I honestly don’t see anyone at either company taking the lead to fill the gap. I also really don’t see either company rushing to fill the void, either.  So..? How much time do they really have to figure this out? Good question…

I think they have 1 major OS release (however long that is) each.  For Microsoft, that’s Windows 7. I think they have to have a clear vision for Win7 and beyond before Windows 7 hits Beta 1, documented, publicized, communicated, etc. or they’re gonna flounder. They also really need to invest in the marketing of a new front guy, or face of Microsoft; and Ballmer ain’t the guy in my opinion. He’s been at the helm for about 10 years or so, but doesn’t have the glitz and show that Jobs has; and isn’t geeky or eclectic enough to be cute (not that I think Bill is cute; but you know…)

Apple has a bit more time, I think. Steve hasn’t announced any retirement plans; and Snow Leopard is really nothing more than a maintenance release (so far, anyway). However, if Steve does have to take a back seat or step down due to health reasons, they better have those plans ready to go; and have a groomed replacement ready to take the helm.  If Apple is smart (and Steve really IS sick) they’ll have already started this process so that the new guy can simply step in and take over. I also think it would be a very good idea if Steve introduced him through a cool marketing/TV campaign and did the whole changing of the guard thing; but again, that’s just me…

Any way you cut it, both Bill and Steve have shaped computing for the entire world during the last 20-30 years and loss of either of them is going to send a lot of people into "what-if mode."  The best thing that both companies can do for the corporate world is to tell us what they are doing to insure that its business as usual and that they have a clear eye on the future and KNOW where computing (and not just their business) is going to go. 

The last thing we need is another TI-Pro that runs WindowsME… 

Please join us in the discussion area and give us your thoughts. I’d love to hear if I’m the only guy out there thinking this stuff, if I’m close, or right on the money.

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