One reason small companies opt for cloud computing is because it means they can drop the pain of owning and maintaining servers and other IT infrastructure.
Once there, they often discover an even bigger advantage: they no longer need to worry much about desktop hardware.
Most office workers use a limited set of applications. Mail, word processing, spreadsheets and, perhaps, web browsing, cover most everyday tasks. You may also need accounts, CRM or a vertical application to run the business. Cloud services can deliver all of these functions - in almost every case the cloud is more efficient than running desktop applications.
Power moves off the desktop
This means companies moving to the cloud don’t need to give most workers powerful desktop machines. In some cases older hardware will do the trick, in other cases tablets or inexpensive desktops are more than enough. At a pinch a smartphone will do.
This is a return to what, in the late 1990s, we referred to as a thin client. Thin as in “thin on computer power”, physically they were big devices with bulky CRT displays and came with little or no local storage. One advantage of their design was that they could be made inherently more secure than desktops.
Early thin clients were low powered PCs and dumb terminals hooked up to servers. They were cheap to buy and even cheaper to run.
Tablets like the iPad make even better thin clients. They’re even less expensive than cheap business PCs, require little support and are easy to use. They also have the advantage of being physically thin and light, which makes them portable.
Retailers are already listing Microsoft’s Surface Pro which officially goes on sale in New Zealand on May 30. The 64GB model costs $1350, while the 128GB model is $1500. You need to budget an extra $150 for a keyboard-cover.
Allowing for GST, these prices are roughly in line with those overseas. That’s a good thing.
Strictly speaking the Surface Pro is a tablet. Add the keyboard case and you effectively have a touch screen laptop – comparable with a Ultrabook. It’s thin and light with the power of a conventional laptop computer and a similar battery life at four to six hours.
Inevitably people will make comparisons with the iPad – which is cheaper, has a better screen and longer battery life.
Surface Pro is interesting because it shows off Microsoft’s vision of where personal computing is heading. It combines some of the best elements of the PC era in post-PC mobile device.
My concern is I can’t work out who Microsoft expects to buy the device. Presumably people who want the power and applications they can find on conventional computers packaged in a touch screen tablet.
Is that even a market? We’ll know soon enough.
Microsoft Windows 8 tablet sales off to a flying start
Windows 8 is barely taxiing on the runway as a PC operating system, but Microsoft has already made a splash in the tablet market. Figures from Strategy Analytics show the operating system had a 7.4% share of the global tablet market in the first three months of 2013.
Apple remains the dominant player with a 48.2% share, down from 63.1% a year earlier. Android’s share increased from 34.2% to 43.4%.
I discussed this last night on the NZ Tech Podcast with Paul Spain, who made an interesting point. There are no cheap Windows 8 tablets and Microsoft has yet to deliver a version that works with a seven-inch screen. So Windows 8 only plays in the top end of the market.
Smaller tablets – which are also cheaper tablets – make up roughly half the total market. So that means Microsoft’s share of the full-size tablet market is closer to 15%.
Strategic Analytics also points to the limited distribution, a shortage of apps and market confusion all holding back Windows 8 in the tablet market.
In other words, there could be more to come.
Microsoft’s relatively early success is great news for everyone; having three strong players makes for a vibrant market and means tablet makers will need to keep innovating to stay in the game. Without Microsoft we could see a split between Apple at the luxury end and Android as the commodity player.
Although Apple’s stock iPad mail app is perfectly adequate and does a good job handling Gmail, Google created its own Gmail iPad app. This makes sense to people committed to Google’s mail service and wider technology stack.
It works fine for dealing with text mail messages, but fails badly when people send messages laid out using tools like HTML or, worse, text embedded in images. The mail body appears to the right of the message list – as shown in the picture above.
Often the text is tiny – in some cases in 4 or 5 point size – making it unreadable. You can, of course, zoom the message pane, but it’s clumsy when line lengths don’t readjust.
There are two lessons from this:
Why bother with a separate Gmail app when it does the job less well than the standard iPad mail app?
The problem underlines why you should stick with plain text in mail messages. Save the fancy stuff for web sites.
As seen in a two dollar shop? Not quite, but cheap enough to sell in bulk
There are lots of things to like about Windows 8 tablets, price isn’t one of them.
Prices for the first crop of tablets running Microsoft’s latest operating system typically cost as much as iPads and quickly rising to more expensive than Ultrabooks. Android tablets often cost less than half the price.
Given Apple’s market leadership and the cachet attached to the iPad brand, this makes life hard for people selling Windows 8 tablets.
Admittedly Windows 8 tablets target a different market. People don’t buy them for the same tasks as Apple or Android tablets. Nevertheless, the price difference is extreme, so many potential Windows 8 tablet buyers are going elsewhere for their hardware.
Relief could soon be on its way from Intel. Last week the chip-maker said a new generation of processors is on the way which could see tablet prices drop to as low as US$200. After allowing for currency, the usual technology price-gouging and GST that should see devices land in New Zealand for around $300.
That price is likely to kick-start sales and grab market share away from Android and possibly even Apple. Of course, it won’t do anything to help slumping PC sales.
Incidentally, that price is less than consumers were expected to pay for Windows software upgrades a decade ago.
Update: Owen Williams makes a good point here on Twitter. We’ve heard similar promises of this nature which have come to nothing.
GigaOM notes Google is adding tablet-like features to the next version of Chrome OS. From there it is a short step to deducing the company plans to build a Chrome OS tablet.
The story is just speculation. There were earlier rumours of a Chrome OS tablet – nothing appeared. And this time last year Google told journalists it wasn’t working on a Chrome tablet.
Google has constantly evolving strategy, so the idea that the company make alter course and build a tablet around its web browser-based operating system is plausible. At least from a technical point of view.
What’s less likely is that Google would compete with its Android OS which is slowly gaining traction in the tablet market. And hurting Android in the tablet market wouldn’t help its long-term prospects on smartphones.
A more plausible deduction is that over time Chrome and Android will converge.