In the presidential race the pundits are going crazy offering advice for the Obama campaign. Much of it is to ignore Palin and concentrate on McCain. The conventional wisdom is that attacking her would drive independents and women to the Republican ticket, thereby ensuring McCain’s victory.
What if Google had taken such advice about its assault on Microsoft’s domination of the computer industry? Conventional wisdom was that Office was impregnable, that an on-demand version with minimal functionality could not stand up to the suite’s IT stranglehold in the corporate environment. And conventional wisdom is right from a conventional perspective: Office continues to own more than 90% of Windows desktops and a healthy share of the Mac.
But the next generation of users that’s coming on line, namely my 7 and 14 year olds, know from nothing about Windows or Office. Even though their grandparents bought the older daughter a PC, she borrowed my old MacBook and never went back. The other night she thought she briefly lost some homework she was typing into Blogger, and I walked her through reopening the post which was tucked safely away through the program’s auto-save function. Her generation feels more comfortable knowing the data is stored in the cloud than on the hard drive where she’s already lost 100 iTunes downloads when it crashed.
And that’s just Office. Next up is Windows, which Google is undermining first with Firefox, next with Chrome, and finally with Gears on top of browser apps like WordPress. When that works – and it makes no difference whether it’s Chrome, Safari, or Firefox the plug-in edition – then the browser becomes a read/write system and Office is really dead. Remember that Ajax was Microsoft’s last-ditch ploy to dumb down the browser and cripple the IE ActiveX control to reject text entry.
Conventional wisdom was that rich internet applications required offline support before they would be free of the Windows stranglehold, but the iPhone proved that always-on trumped rich and streaming beats DRM. The conventional wisdom is now shifting from moving files around to moving pointers to the location in the file that needs to be displayed around. When Gears develops caching smarts and tools for adding that functionality to third party applications like Twitter and other activity streams, the concept of web site is flipped on its head to a series of pointers to media that is predictively streamed ahead based on social graph behavioral data.
Conventional wisdom is nonetheless valuable, especially in its utility as a predictive indicator of the real trend it hides from. Google knew there was no clock to run out in the battle with Microsoft, so instead Brin and Page went into a 2 minute offense at the start of the game. Microsoft has plenty of strength on the bench, but it needs to understand the conventional wisdom and then call the audible at the line of scrimmage. Obama should appoint Ray Ozzie as Secretary of Swarming before it’s too late.