Back in the late 70s folks got excited about the idea of tying applications together. Why have two applications: a word process and a spread sheet why not have one unified application? Lots of people tried building these grand unified apps. Lotus 123, Symphony, ThinkTank, ClarisWorks, and today Office are example in that design space – but there are a lot of others.
One reason this idea is compelling, for the vendor, is that he gets positive network effects across the suite of functions. The UI is similar, the data formats are similar. Possibly most importantly is that he needs only one sales channel and he needs to close only one sale.
A delightful side effect, for the app. vendor, is that this denies your competing app-vendors turf where they might create a competing product. For example at one point in the evolution of the desk top applications business a new catagory of applications suddenly emerged and a number of really nice products appeared. Microsoft then entered that market with a weak offering, but since it was tied to office it slowly drove off all the competing products. For old farts like me we still remember wonderful features that the old products had that Power Point still doesn’t have.
These unified applications were a huge threat to the platform vendors. One key
goal for a platform vendor is to be sure that a rich population of complementary
products forms around your platform. That makes your platform attractive. You
want these products to compete with each other so you get lots of innovation
and cool stuff happening – that makes your platform exciting. What you don’t want is for a complementary product to emerge that has such huge market share that they are tempted to just swallow the operating system.
As the unified applications started to emerge the platform vendors reacted in two ways. Microsoft slowly decided that they would just go into the business
and the result was office. That’s the pattern they followed when Netscape
began to look like a similar threat – i.e. when Netscape started to get between
them and their users for too many hours per day.
Apple’s attempt to solve this problem was OpenDoc. They attempted to create
a framework that would allow the users to have the experiance of an integrated
application but to enable the individual elements of that to be minature applications. This of course threatened the business models of all the successful
software developers around their platform. That make it way hard for them
to get much adoption. But to be clear, when things fail there are many reasons.
These industry issues don’t go away, but these days it looks like the inter-machine issues are more important than the intra-machine ones. Particularly with the confusion created on two fronts: dedicated purpose devices (appliances, phones, routers), and the internet/telecom network of pervasive computing.