John Carroll and I both have tunnel vision. Mine is my blind support for Open Source Software, while Mr Carroll’s Microsoft’s Software.
The issue of contention this time, is ad-supported Microsoft Software. In John Carroll’s original post, the discussion seems to center on Microsoft Office. In Mr Carroll’s response to Phil Wainewright comments, the notion of Ad-support also encompass Microsoft Windows.
I certainly like to see more exploration in ad-supported software. John Carroll is right. The key with ad-supported software is that a way must be found to balance the need of consumers and advertisers. Ad-supported software’s potential is still be fully understood and largely untapped. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s track-record shows that it has so far failed to get it right: Just compare how intrusive the advertisement in Hotmail is compared to Google Mail (Gmail). Also compare how many unnecessary ad-sponsored pages you have to click through before setting up your new Hotmail account.
So far, all successful ad-supported software model concentrates on web-enabled software applications, like Opera Software, Google Software and Microsoft Live. This is the fatal flaw for ad-supported software: the need for the computers to be on-line. If being on-line is a requirement for ad-supported software, it will be very constraining. Even if the computers need not be online every time the ad-supported software is used, the need to be online periodically is still a constrain. I know because I do not have a online connection at home and do not want it, despite the fact that I live in a developed country and it is dirt easy to get access.
It is difficult to see how the ad money can be used to support off-line computers. However, Microsoft is one of the technology-savvy companies with very acute business sense. If anyone can come out with a workable model, I will put my money on Microsoft.
It is true that ad-support can reduce cost to the user. However, I do not agree with John Carroll that Microsoft can “retake” the low cost high ground in the developing world. As long as a company’s software cannot be distributed for “free” and used perpetually, it will cede the low cost high ground to open source software. As I said, existing ad-supported models require on-line connection, partly to “refresh” the advertisements. Online connections cost money, even in developing world and this is assuming that online connection is available. Hence, either a benevolent benefactor have to be found to foot the online bill, or the user have to cough up the money. For underdeveloped countries where people live hand-to-mouth, they simply cannot afford it. If a completely offline solution is found, it is likely that an advertiser (or a group of advertisers) must be found to sponsor the software upfront, as the adverts cannot be “refresh”ed. To achieve the “advertising” effect the sponsored software will have to reach a sizable number of people. This is difficult to achieve. In his reply to Mr Wainewright, he acknowledge that third world advertisers is needed to serve the third world computer user. The amount of money needed for sponsorship of offline solution probably put it out-of-reach of the majority of these advertisers. The amount can of course be lowered if the offline ad-supported software model relies on having an expire date on the software. This introduce the problem of maintenance, chiefly in the form of obtaining new copy of the software when it expires. and create uncertainty for the computer user on whether his access to the ad-supported software can be cut short by Microsoft’s inability to find a substitute sponsorship when current sponsorship expires.
Contrast this with open source software where the software can be preloaded for no cost and will work for as long as the computer is functioning. Open source software has other advantages, but however, since Mr Carroll concentrates on the cost component, I will reciprocate by restrict discussion here to cost.
Moreover, ad-supported software assumes that there is a market big enough to make it worthwhile for Microsoft (or other companies for that matter) to offer their software to advertisers. Without naming names, this is certainly not the case for a number of very underdeveloped countries. Who is then going to serve the needs of these people?
While John Carroll is rubbishing OpenOffice competition, the fact that he mention it in both his blog entries make me think I detect some hint that he is troubled. Before OpenOffice 2.0 I would agree with Mr Carroll that it is not a serious competitor. With the arrival of OpenOffice 2.0, I put my neck out and say that it is ready to replace Microsoft Office for at least 80% of users and I am one of them. In fact, despite the fact that I can get Microsoft Office Professional for less than GBP50 through University Licensing Agreement with Microsoft, my next computer will be devoid of Microsoft Office in favour of OpenOffice 2.0. Having only OpenOffice on my computer is no longer a problem.
One problem with John Carroll’s tunnel vision is that his view is too Microsoft centric that it is often easy to see how Microsoft benefits but difficult to see how the customer benefits. It is easy to see how Microsoft benefits from making their software ad-supported but how do consumers and advertisers benefits from it is far from clear. This is effectively Mr Wainewright’s central point in his article. My tunnel vision is that I do not care about companies and is only interested to see how consumer benefits from software. Both of us need to move to a more central ground by considering the other side. I am trying very hard to do this. Mr Carroll is certainly doing the same. His arguments on ad-support softwares and his calling a storage device a substitute for computer shows that he is trying hard.