Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Computer Whiz, a Bunch of Guys in Blue Suits, and an Apple, and Why They Don’t Get Along

Imagine being rushed to the hospital with a major gash in your arm. Blood is pouring out, to say you’re in a lot of pain doesn’t even come close to reality.

Upon arriving in the emergency room, nurses and doctors rush too your aid. They prop you up, take a look at you, and then inform you they can’t help.

“We’re sorry, you’re just not compatible with our medical practices,” the lead doctor informs you. “You’ll just have to go elsewhere.”

Although slightly exaggerated, that is exactly how the big computer companies treat us when we use “the other guy’s” products and services.

At work, I’ve been asked to find a way to see if I can get a Microsoft Word document to be linked to a Lotus Notes email. Lotus Notes (made by IBM) doesn’t work well with Microsoft-made Word. To complicate matters, my suggesting of having a link to the document stored on a network drive fell flat, because we are moving towards a Microsoft-based SharePoint server (essentially a web portal for data collaboration). We’re trying to move away from using the shared network drives, to encourage use of the web-based SharePoint sites.
SharePoint and Word function like two peas in a pod – they better, they are both made by Microsoft.

Lotus Notes on the other hand, isn’t very SharePoint-friendly – it’s a product from “big blue” IBM.

Ever since ex-Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates (he retired recently) left IBM to start his own company, the two haven’t seen eye-to-eye.

Can’t argue with Bill Gates, he originally was hired by IBM to create an operating system for their personal computers. He invented the IBM Disk Operating System (IBM-DOS), a revolutionary piece of software at the time, but the conservative blue suits at IBM didn’t like it at all.

As the legend goes, they told Bill to get lost.

So he did what any barely twenty-something computer genius would do. He stormed off, creating Microsoft, and used his cool software, wildly engaging intellect, and hatred for everything IBM to destroy any hopes of those suits and ties of having a successful career.

Oh IBM did put up a fight, first using Bill’s IBM-DOS until they came up with their own operating system in the early 1990’s called OS/2 Warp.

But by then it was too late, the real battle lines were being drawn between two completely different platforms – Apple and Microsoft-based Personal Computers. IBM wasn’t even in the game.

OS/2 Warp faded out of existence, much as most of IBM’s products for the home market did. All they really have out in the home market these days are Lexmark Printers – but that’s probably because few know Lexmark is owned by IBM.

These days, Microsoft owns the corporate and home computing markets, as 95 percent of the world’s computers run on the company’s Windows operating system.

Still, the big computer giants use us mere consumers as pawns in their battles for supremacy in the computer world. Apple, IBM and Microsoft products rarely work well – if at all -- with each other.

A friend got a new Apple iPod not all that long ago. Excited, she brought it over to my place to show it off. She plugged it into my computer, where it immediately warned that it was previously used on an Apple Mac-based computer (she’s a ‘Mac-head’), in order to use it on my Microsoft Windows-based computer it would have to be “initialized” (“formatted” in Apple lingo) and her all data would be lost!

Computer music and video files have been interchangeable on both Apple Mac and Windows-PC systems for decades. An MP3 music file on my Microsoft Windows-based PC will play exactly the same as it will on an Apple Mac-based computer.

Not so if you’re using an Apple iPod. The cute multi-colored devices will plug into a PC or a Mac – but you can’t go from one to the other without losing your music, video and other data files.

It’s like our example at the start – you are bleeding to death, but if you’re a PC and you go to a Mac hospital you’ll probably die because they won’t help you.

When will the big computer companies realize the lost revenues they could be earning by working together towards more compatible – not less – technologies?

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