The relationship between client devices and cloud services

In my latest post, The new rules in the client device market, i wrote about the new rules and the impressive expansion of  the Android share  in the client device market. I also mentioned that nowadays users demand freedom of choice in devices, making open standards required in order to offer compatible services to current and future devices while users expect the same from public cloud services like Facebook and Linkedin. The subject of this post is the relationship between client devices and cloud services.

To explain this relationship  i will tell you a little story about what recently happened to me when i got an HTC Android phone from a friend of mine as a present to thank me for designing his multimedia infrastructure of which i will tell you more about in one of my next posts. So the first thing i started with is to connect my new phone to all kinds of public cloud services like Hotmail, Facebook and Twitter with the native (HTC) apps. The next thing i did is connect my device to other well-known cloud services like WordPress(!), Skype, Youtube  and WhatsApp for which i had to download additional apps in the Google Market and then the inevitable happened.

I had to create a GMail account….

You should know that I have used a Hotmail account for about twelve years (changed it to a few years ago) and i try to keep the number of email addresses as low as possible but in this case i made a quick exception because i wanted to enhance the functionality of my device by installing applications. Of course it’s Google’s perfect right to demand you to log on to their cloud services using a single GMail account. Managing an identity store holding 193.3 million identities (as of November 2010, src: Wikipedia) is no sinecure and it is also pretty convenient from an end-user perspective to remember one set of credentials for all Google’s cloud services for now and in the future. So i obediently created a GMail account to enter Google’s Market Place and started downloading apps for all the formerly mentioned services. My GMail account integrated seamlessly with my PDA and then all kinds of strange things happened to me…..

The native mail client is not required to receive GMail. Your phone just tells you that you received a new message from GMail which came as a surprise because i never told my phone to configure the GMail client. By entering the Google Market Place with my newly acquired credentials, I apparently configured my phone to use this Google account for other Google apps as well. After i started the YouTube app, my YouTube account was instantly changed to my new GMail credentials (you cannot configure a YouTube account separately). Automatically receiving GMail was not even so bad after all because the first message i received was a message from Google to ask me if i knew that i was sharing my location by Google Latitude. I remembered that i started the app a few days before and i pushed a few buttons but I didn’t know that the application was still  running in the background (and restarted after reboots) and  was sharing my location with Google, so this was obviously quite new to me. I remembered that the application asked me if i wanted to share my location and i initially said yes. So now i have just switched it off and that was that (Latitude cannot be uninstalled).

I think it is also pretty remarkable that the phone knows it’s geographical location by WiFi and mobile networks. I did not have to use the GPS component of the device to acquire my geographical location data which i consider impressive by itself. Most people switch off the GPS component when they don’t need it because it consumes a lot of battery power which makes the generated location data less consistent. So Google apparently has a database with the position of large numbers of GSM antennas and WiFi access points (which they probably collect while photographing the world to fill the Google Earth Street View database) and by this information they can send your location data to your phone with a remarkable accuracy. The decision to share your location is actually yours and the fact that they send me an email to tell me that i am sharing my location can at least be considered decently.

The next application that i installed was Google+ which is still in Beta for now and you can only enter it by invitation of another member which of course made it even more interesting to me. So i got myself an invitation from one of my colleagues at Capgemini to find out more about the presumed ‘Facebook Killer’ and eventually found out a pretty interesting feature. In Google+ you can share your updates (tweets) with people in your circles (followers) but you can also send and receive public updates from people near you. This actually comes closer to the metaphor of a large flock of communicating birds which Twitter tries to achieve because by this method you can get insight in the thoughts and considerations  of people around you without knowing who is who (unless you both want to). From my point of view, people share more information with each other by the internet than they do in real life. When people travel by public transport it is like an unwritten law that you do not talk to people you don’t know. So for the young generation the most obvious thing to do is take out your phone and start communicating with your friends by Twitter, WhatsApp or any other instant messaging service. Google+ brings both worlds together by making people’s messages publicly available to other people near them. Of course Google+ needs your location data to make this work but then again: It’s your own choice to join or leave or join without using this feature. Another interesting thing i discovered is that by default (again they ask you if you want to enable this feature) each picture you take is instantly uploaded to your Picasa web album where you can share them with others if you want to. I did not even know that i had a Picase web album! It apparently came with my new GMail account.

The most remarkable thing about it all is that it is all for free. If Google was not suited for the violation of patent rights, device vendors could have used the Android operating system without paying any money for it. If you buy an Android phone  it holds a lot of free native apps which are instantly configured with your free GMail account and give you access to all kinds of free Google services like: Google Talk, Picasa, Latitude (works with Maps), Maps (with Street View), Google+, Google Docs and Youtube.

So Google gives consumers a free operating system, free cloud services, free apps and when you buy an android device you almost instantly become part of the world of Google. Google is photographing every city in the world by driving through every road on the planet with advanced camera cars to offer you Street View and you do not have to pay any money for it. They want you to help them with that to create a digital world which contains as much information as possible from the original physical world.
What they are trying to achieve with this data gathering strategy is another subject and is specific for Google and it goes beyond the boundaries of today’s topic.
In my former post ‘the new rules in the client device market’ i told about how Microsoft was taking competitive advantage of the knowledge of their proprietary operating system Windows 95 while developing new services and applications build on proprietary standards. This situation is again quite similar only this time they already have control over applications which get installed through their proprietary market places. This time it is you they are after! You and all the information you are generating through cell phones, mobile devices and social communities. You are free in choosing a device but once you have bought the device the owner of the operating system becomes the owner of your information and data (after nicely asking for your permission). The next generation of mobile devices will only hold cached content (if needed) while the web holds the rest for you.This video shows you how this works.
I do not have experience with the latest Windows Mobile phones but i may assume that you can only use all of the features of these devices with a Windows Live account so Microsoft is probably not any better than Google from that perspective, but i am not convinced that Microsoft is after your information or data. Their primary focus is to obtain a large market share. Apple binds their users to iTunes and the AppStore and has recently introduced iCloud to take this to the next level but is in my opinion the most liberate device from an cloud service perspective. Apple does not want you or your data. They want to sell you content like apps, music and videos.

The new rules in the client device market

In my recent post, A retrospective on trends in operating systems and the similarities with current trends in the mobile device market, I compared the historical success of Windows 95 in the desktop market with the success of Google’s Android in the mobile device market and the similarities in tendencies. Before Microsoft Introduced Windows 95 as a desktop operating system, other ISVs were mainstream vendors in other areas. WordPerfect is a word processing application and was the de-facto standard until their sales numbers were surpassed by Microsoft Word in the early nineties (with the introduction of Windows 3.1).  Lotus 123 was widely accepted as the de-facto standard in spreadsheet applications and was surpassed by Microsoft Excel in about the same period resulting in the Microsoft Office suite, making PowerPoint the current standard for presentations while Netscape’s market share was thoroughly eliminated by Internet Explorer. Novell Directory Services was, with the introduction of Active Directory, widely accepted as an enterprise directory service (and still is on another area) but after that, many organizations moved to Active Directory because of the lower costs and the various integration advantages with Windows 2000 clients. Version 5.5 of Exchange was the last version which held it’s own directory database allowing it to integrate with other directory services as well but was dependent entirely on Active Directory in the following versions. So Exchange followed soon as the standard in enterprise messaging service making Outlook (formerly called Exchange Client) an obvious choice as a mail client. So apparently, the company that owns the most successful operating system can be successful in other IT related areas as well by taking competitive advantage of the knowledge of their proprietary operating system while developing new services and applications build on proprietary standards. The same tendency should be noticeable in the mobile device market and it is more or less with the iPhone users, but this time the rules have been changed and the control of the market has been shifted to the most appropriate group for this job: end-users!

Corporate IT has been providing services to managed devices for many years. If a device was not managed by Corporate IT, it was not trusted and in some scenarios even banned from the corporate network. Users could use their personal devices from their homes to access corporate websites, webmail and in some cases, a corporate desktop hosted on a terminal server farm at a trusted datacenter to support the New Way of Work. Today users bring their own personal devices to the office and expect that they can have access to corporate IT services with these devices as well, and believe me when I say: this time they can! The concept is collect BYO (bring your own) and has changed the perspective on corporate IT services permanently. Devices should not only be trusted when managed by corporate IT but should also be trusted by simply confirming that the device is secure and owned by one of the authorized users.

Corporate devices were selected by IT departments based on rational and technical requirements (functionality, cost, compatibility, manageability) following a “one size fits all” principle to achieve standardization while personal devices are selected based on the user’s individual requirements which are partly rational (i.e. functionality, cost, user experience) and partly emotional (visual appearance, identification with brand) but  hardly ever explicitly technical. They heavily depend on the responsibility of technology vendors to provide a product which they can use to get access to corporate IT services where until recently corporate IT was responsible for both services and devices.

So when IT departments have to provide corporate services to all kinds of unknown and unmanaged access devices (even future devices), open standards are the only certainty one can have. These open standards need to be both adopted and enhanced by software vendors in favor of the user’s freedom of choice in devices and that is an area where neither Microsoft nor Apple showed superiority in the last 20 years. In fact, both their technologies thrive on proprietary standards and both organizations have been throwing patent related law suits at each other for many years while the same law had to force them to cooperate, providing organizations and users, freedom of choice.

The difference this time is that users buy their own personal devices and these devices are primarily connected to the internet instead of to the corporate network like a regular desktop. When users require access to corporate services, these services initially have to be published both on the corporate network and on the internet. When the device is connected to the internet, other (public) services, like Hotmail and Gmail are directly available for the user as well. In fact, these public services are the reason why the user bought the device in the first place. So would the mobile device market be so successful without the abundance of public cloud services? Or visa versa? I don’t think so…

So the new rules for IT departments are:

Rule # 1: Users buy a device, not explicitly an operating system.

Rule # 2: Users buy their devices primarily to use public cloud services (functionality).

Rule # 3: Users want to use their personal devices to use corporate services as well.

Rule # 4: Corporate services must be published securely on the internet by Corporate IT

Rule # 5: Corporate IT has to provide corporate services to all kinds of access devices, both managed and unmanaged (changing to trusted and untrusted).

Rule # 6: IT departments will have to provide corporate services to devices which will be released in the next few years.

In my next post I will go into more detail about the the impact of these new rules and their relationship with cloud services.

A retrospective on trends in operating systems and the similarities with current trends in the mobile device market

It’s almost sixteen years ago that Microsoft succeeded in bringing a standard operating system to market which could easily be installed and configured by non-technical consumers on x86 based personal computers. The success of Windows 95 was primarily related to the intuitive user interface but the plug and play features and the ability to download and install applications by simply clicking next, next and finish made this platform easily adopted by many users worldwide. Hardware vendors focused on the development of the required drivers for their devices, making operating system and hardware independent. Personal Computers became relatively cheap for the simple reason that there was a lot of competition between hardware vendors. Even nowadays, personal computers are cheaper as they were in 1995 where almost everything else in the world became more expensive.

Another result of the success of Windows 95 is that software vendors introduced substantial amounts of applications for this platform with the upcoming internet as a distribution channel. For the first time, users with limited technical knowledge were in control of the capabilities of the device. Terms as freeware and shareware were introduced and this kind of software was (and still is) widely exploited. Microsoft emphasized on the intuitive user interface with the start button on the left bottom and running multiple programs at the same time (playing the Rolling Stones Song ‘Start me Up’ with the introduction of Windows 95 to the world).

Nevertheless were the automated installation capabilities also making Windows a vulnerable object for malicious software, introducing the terms spyware and malware as well. Microsoft also heavily depended on the responsibility of hardware vendor in developing drivers without compromising the stability of the platform in general. Innumerable times users got confronted with the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) which is in fact a stop error and was mainly caused by bugs in third party hardware drivers, making them lose valuable work time. One year later Microsoft introduced Windows NT4 which adopted the interface of Windows 95 to offer users the same familiar user interface both at home and at work. Windows NT4 also introduced the administrators group on the workstation platform to limit the rights and permissions for standard users and NTFS became the preferred file system from a security perspective.  This wasn’t really appreciated by end-users but the  result was that Windows NT4 was, compared to Windows 95,  a far more stable platform which made Windows NT4 the preferred operating system on professional workstations.

In fact, the intuitive user interface of Windows based workstations showed quite some similarities with the user interface of Mac Workstations. At that time i worked as an infrastructure engineer for a company which was specialized in the development of multimedia content for both the commercial and the educational market. In this company, Mac OS was traditionally the standard operating system for  development workstations which was at that time already neither required from a functional perspective nor advisable from a cost perspective. The main reason was that at that time, Adobe products were the de facto standard for the graphical industry and were primarily written for Mac OS which made Apple preferred from a performance perspective.

The fact that Apple’s Mac OS is developed solely for Apple devices  made them in control in the development of the devices, the (limited amount of) device drivers and the operating system which was beneficial for stability. The relatively high costs involved with Mac workstations made them in most cases not preferred as a standard operating system for a wide range of users, but the user friendly interface and the stability of the system made them appreciated by many.

Trends in the Mobile Device Market

The same pattern is currently followed in the mobile operating system market. The acclaimed intuitive user interface of the iPhone was highly appreciated by consumers and the market share of Apple in the mobile device market became quickly substantial. As a result of the success of the iPhone, software vendors started developing massive amounts of applications for this platform, with the AppStore as a distribution channel. Apparently, an intuitive user interface and the ability to install applications by end users with limited technical experience are keys for success in this market. The only problem is….. they’re a little expensive for the regular consumer.

So the user interface of Windows Mobile shows obviously quite some similarities with the acclaimed iPhone interface and is available on devices of multiple vendors. Windows Mobile is currently available on HTC and Samsung devices and Nokia even adopted Windows Mobile as there standard operating system for mobile devices. So Symbian OS is the first to disappear from the arena. The problem is that there’s currently no market place similar to Apple’s AppStore and that there are a few new kids on the block.

An Operating System with a quite loyal user group has recently been extended by a vast amount of new young users who highly utilize the advantages of a specific application which is the reason they bought the device in the first place. This Operating System is RIM’s Blackberry OS and the application is called PING. The amount of available applications for this OS is limited and it is only available on Blackberry Devices. The loyalty of Blackberry users and the dependence on Ping to call your friends allows RIM to keep a consistent share in the mobile market.

Google introduced Android which is currently available on devices of 37 different manufacturers with an interface which also shows suspiciously much similarity with the iPhone interface and it has a marketplace. So in my opinion, Android is holds all the requirements to be the new Windows 95 and apparently Microsoft is not happy with that for several reasons on which I will elaborate more in my next post.

to be continued….