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Random ramblings of a tech enthusiast
This week has been pretty crazy in big tech news. Monday morning started off with the early announcement by Google that it was going to acquire Motorola Mobility. On Thursday afternoon HP announced it was discontinuing their WebOS hardware for the time being and getting out of the PC market.
Google to Buy Motorola Mobility
This was personally shocking to me, and probably to most as well. Google, a software company, was buying a hardware company! The motivations behind this move are not completely revealed. On the investor conference call Monday morning, Google was not shy about talking up the patent portfolio of Motorola Mobility but would not comment on their entire strategy. They said they would keep Motorola running as a separate company, even having them compete with other OEM’s in their Nexus phone program. So that would mean Google wanted the patents to protect Android, and would just get Motorola Mobility as a side business. Seems cheery and the best defensive stand for Android.
There has also been talk about Google buying Motorola and their patents to protect Android from partners suing each other. Motorola was threatening to sue other manufacturers of Android devices, such as HTC and Samsung. This would be disastrous for Android as a complete system. This would also point out problems with the open source nature of Android where the manufacturers carry more of the patent burden than Google. This is in contrast where Microsoft licenses Windows Phone 7 at a price because it has the patents to back it up. (Apple doesn’t license their software to other companies, but has plenty of their own patents).
So what now for Google and Motorola? I wouldn’t mind a sweet Google TV box with their Motorola set-top box business. Or how about more plain Android devices instead of skinned phones everywhere? (Is it that difficult to ask for a pure Google experience on Verizon?) Google could also be aggressive with the patent portfolio and begin suing the likes of Apple and Microsoft instead of maintaining a purely defensive strategy, but I don’t see that being a popular option.
The HP Bombshell
Thursday afternoon I started seeing alerts about HP spinning off its PC business. Then a little bit later it was revealed they would be discontinuing their WebOS hardware. Nothing really shocking there. The TouchPad wasn’t selling well, nor were the WebOS phones. The only shocking thing was that this came a little bit over a year after HP bought Palm for over a billion dollars in July 2010.
The real bombshell in my opinion was the fact that HP was getting out of the PC market. The number one PC manufacturer was throwing in the towel saying the tablet effect on PC sales is real. Instead, HP will be focusing on the enterprise and business side of things. This is more profitable for the company and they are trying to drive more value for the shareholders. They also announced a purchase of a British software services company to move more in to the higher profit margin services market.
Google buying a hardware manufacturer for patents, and maybe more. HP moves out of the consumer space and more into enterprise and software services. I don’t know many who would have guessed that for this week in August. I’m sure things will calm down a bit, at least until next month. Until then, try to digest the magnitudes of these two announcements.
There are theories in this world that seem to be a perfect system on paper but the real world application proves to not be perfect. Government systems such as communism and democracy can both be ideal solutions on paper but might not work in real life. The reason things like this happen is mainly because no one can think of every variance or fork in the road possible.
This applies to the tech industry and openness of products. The idea of an open product or software is that everyone can contribute and not be controlled by a closed door corporation. Also, loopholes and flaws in the code can be analyzed by anyone, which gives a power in numbers approach to fixing problems.
In reality things don’t work that perfectly. Corporations like to lock software down for many reasons: user experience, security, revenue protection, and various other reasons.
A company selling a handset typically provides a level of customer support for problems, thus locking down unauthorized changes reduces that monetary cost of support.
Carrier revenues are also protected by locking down the software. Certain features of phones are billed based on system settings that are locked down so that you are properly paying for usage. With unlocking software it may be possible to circumvent said lock downs. Also, carriers and phone manufacturers make deals to pre-load software on phones. Yes, someone is making a lot of money to have Bing as the default search engine instead of Google on an Android phone. A lot of times these software additions are locked down so you can’t uninstall them without voiding a warranty.
Finally, the thought of more security through locking down a system or having open source to fix a problem.
Open source does provide a way for the good people to fix problems, but it provides the source to the criminals too. No software is perfect, thus it is a race to see who will find the flaw first. The other school of thought is to not release source code. This does not mean a system is more secure. Microsoft Windows has a closed source approach but has security flaws, as does Apple Mac OSX.
With the argument over mobile platforms being open and closed, there is no clear answer on what is better. Engineers and business leaders make decisions on what they think is best for their purposes and so should consumers. Apple locking down the iPhone and Appstore while pushing for an open HTML5 standard, and Google claiming to be open while working with carriers to lock down the software; keep in mind that there are not black and white sides to “open.”
Any solution, tech or otherwise, is not perfect but the solution used must be a compromise for all involved. Corporations are in business to make money and consumers want some freedom in their products that they spend the money on.
[Edited 2/4/2011 to add printing comments]