Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Netbooks and the cloud

Dana Blankenhorn at ZDNet posted an interesting analysis of Google's Chrome OS announcement. The basic premise is that Google as a cloud information provider can subsidize a Netbook since it will get it back in cloud service revenue and a higher intangible value to its core business of collecting and characterizing customer behavior.

This is much like the telecom business or the game console business, and I have heard that same story from the reps at Samsung, Nokia, Asus, and Sony. It is just that Google has a big head start in the intangible value department.

But buried in this article is the core observation in my mind why the boxed world of software is transitioning to the cloud: security and cost.

"The problem is that Netbooks are cheap and, while they will gain in power they will stay cheap. I spent $270 on my HP Mini and that’s about right.

Microsoft has reportedly cut the price of Windows to $3 to capture Netbook OEMs, and it’s offering a cut-rate price on Office, too.

But when you consider the $50/year price to license an anti-viral, the $30/year to license a malware program and the additional $30/year you need for a registry cleaner, the software price of a Netbook gets completely out of line with its hardware cost."

This is the same observation that can be used for any boxed software. The cost of the underlying hardware platform has shrunk in the past 20 years, but the software cost hasn't kept pace. 20 years ago a workstation cost $75k so a $75k piece of software was reasonable. The cost of a workstation is now $2k, but the software is still $75k. The productivity improvement that I need to get from the software to justify the cost is too high and thus that type of cost can only be carried by a business model that has significant intangible value. And that value isn't present in the consumer and/or SMB market.

The smart phone started this trend and the netbook will accelerate it: the bulk of the market will be delivered services through subsidized hardware and software and it is the service providers that call the shots. Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Sony are already transitioning into these roles and since they have a connection with the bottom of the market pyramid, they will attract so much money that they will quickly roll over the Adobes, Oracles and SAPs of the world.

Many independent software vendors will clamor on the infrastructures of Google, Amazon, and Apple, and intangible value will be created. The enterprise market, of all markets, can't be isolated from the bulk of the money and they will need to adapt to the system where the information resides: and that will be the cloud.

No comments: