"A computer on every desk and in every home" was incredible foresight for 1977. It carried Microsoft for 25 years of growth. But once that goal was achieved, I don't think they knew where to go. They were like the dog that caught the car. They spent a lot of time and energy on TV. Not just with Xbox, which is alive and well today (albeit not a significant source of income), but with other ideas that did not pan out, like "media center PCs" and the joint ownership of "MSNBC", which was originally imagined as a sort of cable news network, website, dessert, and floor wax rolled into one.
No surprise: Gruber writes about Microsoft as well as he does about Apple.
It may have been the most momentous purchase of a magazine in the history of the Out of Town News stand in Harvard Square. Paul Allen, a college dropout from Seattle, wandered into the cluttered kiosk one snowy day in December 1974 and saw that the new issue of Popular Electronics featured a home computer for hobbyists, called the Altair, that was just coming on the market. He was both exhilarated and dismayed. Although thrilled that the era of the "personal" computer seemed to have arrived, he was afraid that he was going to miss the party. Slapping down 75 cents, he grabbed the issue and trotted through the slush to the Currier House room of Bill Gates, a Harvard sophomore and fellow computer fanatic from Lakeside High School in Seattle, who had convinced Allen to drop out of college and move to Cambridge. "Hey, this thing is happening without us," Allen declared. Gates began to rock back and forth, as he often did during moments of intensity. When he finished the article, he realized that Allen was right. For the next eight weeks, the two of them embarked on a frenzy of code writing that would change the nature of the computer business.
What Gates and Allen set out to do, during the Christmas break of 1974 and the subsequent January reading period when Gates was supposed to be studying for exams, was to create the software for personal computers. "When Paul showed me that magazine, there was no such thing as a software industry," Gates recalled. "We had the insight that you could create one. And we did." Years later, reflecting on his innovations, he said, "That was the most important idea that I ever had."
And here perhaps is the worst idea Gates ever had:
So this is fun. Back in February 2000, I wrote a post about Amazon being awarded a patent for their affiliates program. In it, I wondered about a world where Apple was the largest company in the world:
And that brings us to Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft is perhaps the largest target of this sort of "boycott", organized or otherwise. People hate Microsoft. Companies hate Microsoft. It's the company you love to hate. Apple, on the other hand, is one of the most beloved companies in the world. People love Apple.
But what if Apple were Microsoft? What if Apple had won the battle of the PC and was the largest company in the world? People would hate them. Why? Because they would be using the same tactics as Microsoft to stay ahead and keep every bit of that advantage in anyway that they could. Apple is the way it is because they are the underdog.
I'll even argue that life would be worse under Apple's rein. Apple controls the OS *and* the hardware: if we were under Apple's boot instead of Microsoft's, we'd be paying too much for hardware as well as the software.
Nailed it! Or not. That third paragraph is pretty wrong...one of the things that contributed greatly to Apple's rise is their commitment to pricing their products competitively. And software is cheap.
As for Apple being the underdog, I've always thought one of the interesting things about Daring Fireball, even from the beginning, is that John Gruber never treated Apple as an underdog. In his esteem, Apple was the best company making the best software and hardware, and the DF attitude with respect to Microsoft was very much like that of Jon Lovitz's Michael Dukakis in a debate with Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush on SNL: "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy". Gruber proved correct...what looked like an underdog proved to be a powerhouse in the making. (thx, greg & andy)
The Microsoft brand is about much more than logos or product names. We are lucky to play a role in the lives of more than a billion people every day. The ways people experience our products are our most important "brand impressions". That's why the new Microsoft logo takes its inspiration from our product design principles while drawing upon the heritage of our brand values, fonts and colors.
It's funny. Or sad. Or predictable. It's predictably sadly funny that many tech media outlets are saying that Apple's iPad finally has a bonafide competitor in the Microsoft Surface. Set aside for now that Surface does look genuinely interesting, that the price hasn't been set, and the thing isn't even out yet. For a piece of portable networking technology like a smartphone or tablet to be successful on the scale at which Apple operates, you need to have an ecosystem, a network of interacting devices, software, products, and services that work together...hardware + software is not enough. Apple, Google (and partners), Amazon, and possibly Microsoft are the only companies with the expertise and pockets deep enough to build their own ecosystems. Ok, maybe Facebook in a couple years or if Nokia can dig themselves out of their current hole, but that's really about it.
The current parts of the phone/tablet/media ecosystem are as follows:
1. A piece of hardware at a price that compares favorably to its quality and features. Apple sells premium hardware with great features at a premium-but-still-reasonable price. Google and their partners offer a range of devices at different prices corresponding to different levels of quality and features offered. Amazon offers low-price hardware with a relatively limited but appropriate set of features. Microsoft looks to have a nice piece of hardware with promising features but the price point is pending.
2. An OS that takes proper advantage of the hardware capabilities with features in line with the price of the device. Apple has iOS, with most of its devices running the same version. Google and their partners have many different versions of Android, most of which are not the most recent version. Amazon runs a customized Android OS for the Kindle Fire and a modified version of Linux for the non-Fire Kindles. Microsoft has Windows 8, which will eventually run, in different configurations, on lots of different kinds of hardware, from desktop computers to phones.
3. An app store stocked with the applications that smartphone and tablet owners want to use. Apple has the comprehensive App Store. Google, etc. have Google Play (née Android Market), Amazon's Appstore for Android, and other stores, on which you can get most of the most popular apps. Amazon has their Appstore for Android for the Kindle Fire. Microsoft has the Windows Phone Marketplace for the Windows Phone with a more limited selection than the other stores...it's unclear what their plans are for a Windows 8 app store.
4. A media store with books, movies, and TV shows. Apple has the iTunes store (as well as iBooks, Newstand, etc.). Android has Google Play. Amazon has the Kindle store and Amazon Instant Video. Will Microsoft offer a way to purchase media across their Windows 8 platform? Does Windows Media Player do this?
5. A digital media hub for managing media, apps, software updates, etc. This part is a bit more optional than the others since media management is moving to the device and the cloud, but still. Apple has iTunes. Android has a variety of possible desktop managers and management happens on the device or through the cloud? You manage the Kindle stuff through Amazon's site and on the device. Microsoft will probably go cloud/device-based at this point?
6. An integrated cloud solution for syncing apps, media, and documents across devices. Again, this isn't crucial but will likely become so over time. Apple has iCloud. Android has Google's suite of apps (Gmail, calendar, Google docs, Google Drive, etc.). Amazon uses Whispernet and is leveraging AWS in various ways (e.g. Cloud Drive). Will Microsoft leverage SkyDrive for their tablets and phones?
7. Sister devices. Apple has the iPhone, iPad, iPod touches, Apple TV, and their full line of OS X-powered computers. Android runs on phones and tablets, but can also run on an increasing number of other devices (Google TV, etc.). And maybe ChromeOS devices? Amazon doesn't really have an interacting network of devices. Microsoft will have phones, the Surface, billions of desktop computers running Windows 8, and, dare I even say it, the Xbox.
You don't need to have every single part of the ecosystem for it to thrive but the more the better. Again, Surface does look genuinely interesting (as do the Windows phones from Nokia), Windows 8 and the Metro interface look promising, and Microsoft has deep pockets but all the pieces aren't quite there yet for them. Microsoft's real opportunity here is the Xbox. If they can properly leverage and integrate the Xbox's growing status as a home media hub (Xbox Live), they can fill in a lot of the holes in their fledgling ecosystem, provide people with compelling devices & media experiences, and give Apple, Google, and Amazon a real run for their (and our) money.
Since the introduction of the iPhone, Apple has ruled the December holidays. Under the tree, by the menorah, and around the Festivus pole has appeared a steady stream of iPods, iPhones, iTunes gift cards, iPod touches, and even MacBooks. Apple has sold tons of devices in the final quarter of the last three years and, with the iPad added to the lineup, will likely do so again this year.
But I think two companies who will do even better than Apple in December this year.
The first is Amazon**. The cheapest Kindle is now only $139 (and the one with free 3G is $50 more). They are going to sell a metric crapload of these things this Christmas. And even if they don't, they're going to sell 50 million metric shitloads of Kindle books because you don't even need a Kindle to read Kindle books...Amazon has readers for the iPad (which is way better than Apple's iBooks app IMO), iPhone, Android devices, Blackberry, WinPhone 7, Windows, and OS X. I never would have predicted it, but I am a firm convert to Kindle books...and I don't even have a Kindle. The killer feature here is Amazon's multi-platform support. I *love* reading books on the iPad at home but when I'm out and about, if I've got my iPhone in my pocket, I can read a book. The best book is the one that's always with you.
This one is more of a guess, but the other company that will do well this holiday season is Microsoft. I know, right? But have you seen this Kinect thing? It's an add-on for Xbox 360 that takes everything people loved about the Wii and Wii Fit and makes it easier, more natural, and more powerful. Basically you hook this bar up to your Xbox 360 and it tracks your motion around the room. You're the controller. Here's a snippet from David Pogue's positive review:
The Wii, by tracking the position of its remote control, was amazing for its time (2006). It's a natural for games in which you swing one hand -- bowling, tennis, golf. But the Kinect blows open a whole universe of new, whole-body simulations -- volleyball, obstacle courses, dancing, flying.
It doesn't merely recognize that someone is there; it recognizes your face and body. In some games, you can jump in to take a buddy's place; the game instantly notices the change and signs you in under your own name. If you leave the room, it pauses the game automatically.
There's a crazy, magical, omigosh rush the first time you try the Kinect. It's an experience you've never had before.
If the Mac was so great, why did it lose? Cost, again Microsoft concentrated on the software business and unleashed a swarm of cheap component suppliers on Apple hardware. It did not help either that suits took over during a critical period. (And it hasn't lost yet. If Apple were to grow the iPod into a cell phone with a web browser, Microsoft would be in big trouble.)
Then again, a few footnotes later Graham writes:
Since the Windows 95 launch, Microsoft's stock has only (only!) quadrupled in value while Apple's stock has increased by more than 24 times. 24 times! That kind of growth is remarkable for a company that had already been public for 15 years and, everyone assumed, had already been through their boom time. Of course, what goes up can easily come down...
I stuck Google in there for good measure. It doesn't show as much growth as you'd think because GOOG's IPO-day closing price made it a very large company from the start...the chart hides Google's pre-IPO growth in value. But still, look at how much Apple's stock price has grown in comparison to Google's since the latter's IPO. (For fun, add Yahoo into the mix and dial the graph back to 1996.)
But, wait... Two-thousand was -- the last time the Yankees managed to win a championship. And it was awfully close to the last time that that Microsoft managed to produce a version of Windows that anybody cared about. And, hey, both the Yankees and Microsoft have long histories of dominating their professions, and of using that dominance to run up huge payrolls with -- let's be honest here -- a near-decade of lackluster results.
Google | 262,946 | 93.8%
MS Live | 4,307 | 1.5%
Yahoo | 4,036 | 1.4%
MSN | 2,796 | 1.0%
It's a small sample and doesn't match up with Comscore's numbers (Google: 64.2%, Yahoo: 20.4%, MS: 8.2%), but wow. As a comparison, the numbers for a year ago for kottke.org had Google at 91%, Yahoo at 4.9%, and Live at 0.7%.
Songsmith is a piece of software by Microsoft Research that automatically creates a musical accompaniment to a singer's voice. (The intro video is priceless.) A MetaFilter member took David Lee Roth's vocal track from Runnin' With The Devil and put it through Songsmith...the results are pretty great. (thx, shay)
After a couple of teasers starring Jerry Seinfeld, Microsoft is airingsome new ads that take Apple's "I'm a PC" out into the real world. So instead of John Hodgman's dorky PC character (who is parodied in one of the new ads), they've got all sorts of people -- basketball players, actresses, scientists, fashion designers, etc. -- proudly declaring "I'm a PC". As Michael Sippey mentions, the ads do communicate a "message of joy and abundance and widespread use of Personal Computing", but they're not "great".
I briefly worked for a design firm in the late 90s that did a lot of advertising work. One of the hard and fast rules in the office -- which was taken from a book written by a successful ad man whose name I cannot recall -- was that if a company was #1 in a certain space, their advertising should never ever mention the competition, not even in an oblique fashion. And even if a company was #2, they should do the same and act as if they were #1.
That's the problem with Microsoft's ads. They're still #1 and the bigger company, but by referencing Apple's successful ad campaign, they're acting like Apple is #1. (John Gruber made this same point the other day.) The ads fail because they serve to remind people that Apple comes up with good ideas that Microsoft then takes and shapes into something that so-called "normal people" can use or understand. Except that this isn't 1993. With the iPod, iPhone, iMac, OS X, the Apple Stores, and the iTunes Store, Apple has their finger firmly on the pulse of what normal people want and Microsoft's recent attempts (the Zune, Vista) to keep up by emulating Apple have failed. If MS had created the "I'm a PC" message on their own, the ads would be great, but these copy-and-paste ads lack soul and are merely "eh".
What's interesting is that with the I'm a Mac/I'm a PC ads, Apple mentions Microsoft explicitly, over and over, proving the old adage that rules are made to be broken. What works in Apple's favor is that they are the #2 company and were clever about how they attacked #1. Microsoft's hamfisted ads are almost saying to Apple, "nuh-uh, my mom thinks I'm cool" while the image of Hodgman's frumpy PC is hard to shake and makes Windows seem lame without being overly insulting about it.
Present for the reunion was office manager Miriam Lubow (center of new picture), who missed the original sitting due to a snowstorm. (When Lubow, now retired, first met Gates, she couldn't believe that disheveled kid was the president.) Absent for the reshoot was Bob Wallace (top center), who died in 2002; after leaving Microsoft in 1983, he pioneered the idea of shareware.
The big tech/business news of the day is Yahoo's stock "plunge" following the withdrawl of Microsoft's takeover offer. I'm sure plunge headlines sell newspapers and all, but the more long-term story is more interesting.
On Jan 31, the day before Microsoft offered $31/share for Yahoo, YHOO was at $19.18/share (market cap: $26.4 billion) and MSFT was at $32.60/share (market cap: $303.6 billion). At the close of trading today, YHOO closed at $24.37/share (market cap: $33.5 billion) and MSFT was at $29.08/share (market cap: $270.8 billion). In other words, the Microsoft offer increased the value of Yahoo! Inc. by more than $7 billion and decreased the value of Microsoft Corporation by almost $33 billion. In still other words, in attempting to take Yahoo by force, they let an amount equal to Yahoo slip through their fingers. Why isn't anyone writing about Yahoo's amazing stock gains and Microsoft's plunge?
You know what's dumb about the "SoAndSo Company is the Next Google" headlines. But do you know what's *really* dumb about the "SoAndSo Company is the Next Google" headlines? Before Google became the company whose success everyone was chasing, it was Microsoft. Before that, it was IBM. That's it, three companies since 1960. What are the chances it's going to happen again anytime soon? (Nothing against Etsy, but this is the one that set me off.)
If you believe that software made for a mass market audience that costs $129 (or even $259), does just about anything you want the instant you specify, and runs on mass-produced hardware that fits comfortably in a small backpack will always perform flawlessly, you're deluded. If you believe any advertising or marketing to the contrary, you're twice deluded, once by yourself and once by someone else. You want 100% reliability for cheap? Buy a calculator. But don't expect anything more than arithmetic.
A rerun, because it came up at dinner the other night: EPIC 2014, the recent history of technology and the media as told from the vantage point of 7 years in the future. "2008 sees the alliance that will challenge Microsoft's ambitions. Google and Amazon join forces to form Googlezon. Google supplies the Google Grid and unparalled search technology. Amazon supplies the social recommendation engine and its huge commercial infrastructure."
A short remembrance of what it was like to work for Bill Gates at Microsoft in the early 90s. "Even in conversation, btw, people at Microsoft were known by their email names. I didn't report directly to billg; but, during much of the time I was there, I worked for mikemap (Mike Maples), who reported to billg, had responsibility for all the products, and was part of the boop. Boop stood for billg plus the office of the president (real presidents didn't last very long there). The oop consisted of steveb (Steve Ballmer) and mikemap. Major decisions were sometimes made by the boop." Boop. Boop!
On Thursday, Google, the Internet search giant, will unveil a package of communications and productivity software aimed at businesses, which overwhelmingly rely on Microsoft products for those functions.
The package, called Google Apps, combines two sets of previously available software bundles. One included programs for e-mail, instant messaging, calendars and Web page creation; the other, called Docs and Spreadsheets, included programs to read and edit documents created with Microsoft Word and Excel, the mainstays of Microsoft Office, an $11 billion annual franchise.
Google isn't worried about Yahoo! or Microsoft's search efforts...although the media's focus on that is probably to their advantage. Their real target is Windows. Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world's fastest computer running the smartest operating system? Mobile devices don't need big, bloated OSes...they'll be perfect platforms for accessing the GooOS. Using Gnome and Linux as a starting point, Google should design an OS for desktop computers that's modified to use the GooOS and sell it right alongside Windows ($200) at CompUSA for $10/apiece (available free online of course). Google Office (Goffice?) will be built in, with all your data stored locally, backed up remotely, and available to whomever it needs to be (SubEthaEdit-style collaboration on Word/Excel/PowerPoint-esque documents is only the beginning). Email, shopping, games, music, news, personal publishing, etc.; all the stuff that people use their computers for, it's all there.
When you swing a hammer in the vicinity of so many nails, you're bound to hit one on the head every once in awhile. Well, I got it in the general area of the nail, anyway.
The change takes effect this year -- on March 11 -- and it has angered airlines, delighted candy makers and sent thousands of technicians scrambling to make sure countless automated systems switch their clocks at the right moment. Unless changed by one method or another, many systems will remain programmed to read the calendar and start daylight saving time on its old date in April, not its new one in March.
The article mentions that older Microsoft products like Windows XP SP1 and Windows NT4 might require manual updates and Daring Fireball has had a few updates about how the switch effects Mac users, including this piece at TidBITS. But what about everything else? Is the version of Movable Type I'm using going to make the adjustment? What about Wordpress? Perl? Ruby? PHP? Java? Linux? I'm sure the current versions of all these programs and languages address the issue, but are there fixes and patches for those running old versions of Perl on their server?
If you've got any information about programs, applications, and languages affected by the change and how to address the problem, leave a comment on this thread. I'll update the post as information comes in.
Church of the Customer takes a look at how a Northern California restaurant called Cyrus competes with The French Laundry in attracting local customers, particularly those from wineries with big expense accounts for entertaining clients:
1. Match your competitor's exceptional quality. The food at both restaurants was cooked perfectly and beautifully presented. Both delivered flawless service. By matching the quality of its better-known competitor, Cyrus removes the primary barriers of opposition.
2. Allow your customers to customize. The French Laundry offers three prix-fixe menus of nine courses each. Cyrus allows its customers to choose their number of courses and the dishes.
Local competition still matters. You usually think of restaurants like The French Laundry as competing on a national or international level. Over the years, Keller's flagship has made several short lists of the best restaurants in the world. But as this article demonstrates, having to compete for the same pool of local customers can drive competitors to achieve a high level of excellence, higher perhaps than they would have achieved without that competition, and that excellence could lead to wider recognition. Even companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Amazon who compete on a global level and don't interact with their customers face-to-face still have to vie with each other for local resources, particularly employees.
Shareholder activists said Google's charitable commitment raises questions about whether this is an appropriate use of company cash or whether company founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page ought to make donations to their favorite causes personally. The foundation of Bill Gates, the founder and chairman of Microsoft Corp. and the nation's richest person according to Forbes, gave away more than a billion dollars last year to fight poverty, hunger and disease around the world. But Gates donates through a personal foundation, rather than through Microsoft itself.
"The board of directors should make it clear to the company's founders what should be personal and what should be corporate," said Patrick S. McGurn, special counsel to Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. "Google is spending shareholders' money, and it raises questions if there is not a valid corporate purpose."
Shareholder activists? You've got to be kidding me. You'd think that stock shareholders are a bunch of babies that need their noses wiped and hands held to go potty or something. If you don't want to support Google's philanthropic efforts and think that they're throwing your money away by doing so, there's an easy way to opt out: DON'T BUY GOOGLE STOCK. It's a free country and open market...vote with your money on what you think is a "valid corporate purpose". There are thousands of other companies to invest in that are doing other things, many of which operate exactly the same...nice and safe and by the book. The information on what these companies are doing with their shareholders' money is freely available...get informed about what you're buying. Given their P/E ratio, unique corporate approach, and incredible rate of growth, Google might just be the riskiest large-cap stock opportunity out there, but the potential upside (as well as the downside) is a lot greater than all of those companies playing it safe. As long as it's stated (and I believe Google certainly has made their views very clear), risk isn't something from which shareholders should be warned away.
Ning is a platform on which you can build your own social software...your own craigslist or del.icio.us. We were just talking about something like this the other day at Eyebeam, a MMORPG in which you write applications to adventure together or fight each other in a world instead of characters. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft should be kicking themselves that they didn't think of this...this is the perfect WebOS app, like Dashboard, Konfabulator, and Desktop, but multi-user and on the web. (via waxy)
Google and NASA have announced plans to collaborate on projects like "large-scale data management, massively distributed computing, bio-info-nano convergence, and encouragement of the entrepreneurial space industry". In 6 months, Yahoo will announce a collaboration with the Russian Space Agency to launch original content into space. Microsoft will announce in a year that they've had space travel capabilities built into Office for years now but no one uses it...in two years time, they'll completely reorg around manned missions to Mars.
Is PowerPoint responsible for the woes of the Space Shuttle? Well, no, but it's not helping any. "The deeper problem with the PowerPointing of America -- the PowerPointing of the planet, actually -- is that the program tends to flatten the most complex, subtle, even beautiful, ideas into tedious, bullet-pointed bureaucratese."
Robert Cringely: Google may have peaked ("What if search and PageRank and AdSense are Google's corporate apex?") and Microsoft may have more to worry about from Apple if they start distributing older versions of OSX (the Intel version) for free on iPods.
An update on Google Browser, GooOS and Google Desktop
A platform that everyone can stand on and why Apple, Microsoft, and, yes, even Google will have to change their ways to be a part of it
The next killer app: desktop Web servers
Does the Mozilla Foundation have the vision to make Firefox the most important piece of software of this decade?
Finally, the end of Microsoft's operating system dominance
Now that your hyperbole meter has pegged a few times, hopefully the rest of this will seem tame in comparison. (And apologies for the length...I got rolling and, oops, 2500 words. But many of them are small so...)
I've had this post about Adam Bosworth, Alchemy and the Google browser sitting around for months now and it is driving me crazy, because I want all the credit for guessing this before it happens. So, for the record, if Google is making a browser, and if it is going to be successful, it will be because there is a sophisticated local caching framework included, and Google will provide the reference apps (replying to emails on Gmail or posting messages to Google groups while on the plane).
A couple weeks later, Google introduced the first iteration of their Desktop Search. To me, the least interesting thing about GDS was the search mechanism. Google finally had an application that installed on the desktop and, even better, it was a little Web server that could insert data from your local machine into pages you were browsing on google.com. That was a new experience: using a plain old Web browser to run applications locally and on the Web at the same time.
The Web browser (along with other browser-ish applications like Konfabulator) becomes the primary application interface through which the user views content, performs services, and manages data on their local machine and on the Web, often without even knowing the difference. Something like Firefox, Safari, or IE...ideally browser agnostic.
Web applications of the sort we're all familiar with: Gmail, Flickr, and Bloglines, as well as other applications that are making the Web an ever richer environment for getting stuff done. (And ideally all Ajaxed up to provide an experience closer to that of traditional desktop apps.)
A local Web server to handle the data delivery and content display from the local machine to the browser. This local server will likely be highly optimized for its task, but would be capable of running locally installed Web applications (e.g. a local copy of Gmail and all its associated data).
That's it. Aside from the browser and the Web server, applications will be written for the WebOS and won't be specific to Windows, OS X, or Linux. This is also completely feasible, I think, for organizations like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, or the Mozilla Foundation to make happen (more on this below).
Compared to "standalone" Web apps and desktop apps, applications developed for this hypothetical platform have some powerful advantages. Because they run in a Web browser, these applications are cross platform (assuming that whoever develops such a system develops the local Web server part of it for Windows, OS X, Linux, your mobile phone, etc.), just like Web apps such as Gmail, Basecamp, and Salesforce.com. You don't need to be on a specific machine with a specific OS...you just need a browser + local Web server to access your favorite data and apps.
You also get the advantages of locally run applications. You can use them when you're not connected to the Internet. There could be an icon in the Dock that fires up Gmail in your favorite browser. For applications using larger files like images, video, and audio, those files could be stored and manipulated locally instead of waiting for transfer over the Internet.
One thing that might deter you from writing Web-based applications is the lameness of Web pages as a UI. That is a problem, I admit. There were a few things we would have really liked to add to HTML and HTTP. What matters, though, is that Web pages are just good enough.
Web pages weren't designed to be a UI for applications, but they're just good enough. And for a significant number of users, software that you can use from any browser will be enough of a win in itself to outweigh any awkwardness in the UI. Maybe you can't write the best-looking spreadsheet using HTML, but you can write a spreadsheet that several people can use simultaneously from different locations without special client software, or that can incorporate live data feeds, or that can page you when certain conditions are triggered. More importantly, you can write new kinds of applications that don't even have names yet.
And how about these new kinds of applications? Here's how I would envision a few apps working on the WebOS:
Gmail. While online, you read your mail at gmail.com, but it also caches your mail locally so when you disconnect, you can still read it. Then when you connect again, it sends any replies you wrote offline, just like Mail.app or Outlook does. Many people already use Gmail (or Yahoo Mail) as their only email client...imagine if it worked offline as well.
A Web version of iTunes. Just like the desktop version of iTunes, except in the browser. Manages/plays audio files stored locally, with an option to back them up on the server (using .Mac or similar) as well. iTunes already utilizes information from the Internet so well (Web radio, podcasting iTMS, CDDB, etc.) that it's easy to imagine it as a Web app. (And why stop at audio...video would work equally as well.)
Newsreader. Read sites while offline (I bet this is #1 on any Bloglines user's wish list). Access your reading list from any computer with a browser (I bet this is #1 on any standalone newsreader user's wish list).
File backup. A little WebOS app that helps you back up your files to Apple's .Mac service, your ISP, or someone like Google. You'll specify what you want backed up and when through the browser and the backup program will take care of the rest.
I'm looking at the rest of the most commonly used apps on my Powerbook and there's not too many of them that absolutely need to be standalone desktop applications. Text editor, IM, Word, Excel, FTP, iCal, address book...I could imagine versions of these running in a browser.
Google. If Google is not thinking in terms of the above, I will eat danah's furriest hat. They've already shifted the focus of Google Desktop with the addition of Sidebar and changing the name of the application (it used to be called Google Desktop Search...and the tagline changed from "Search your own computer" to the more general "Info when you want it, right on your desktop"). To do it properly, I think they need their own browser (with bundled Web server, of course) and they need to start writing their applications to work on OS X and Linux (Google is still a Windows company). Many of the moves they've made in the last two years have been to outflank Microsoft, and if they don't use Google Desktop's "insert local code into remote sites" trick to make whatever OS comes with people's computers increasingly irrelevant, they're stupid, stupid, stupid. Baby step: make Gmail readable offline.
Yahoo. I'm pretty sure Yahoo is thinking in these terms as well. That's why they bought Konfabulator: desktop presence. And Yahoo has tons of content and apps that that would like to offer on a WebOS-like platform: mail, IM, news, Yahoo360, etc. Challenge for Yahoo: widgets aren't enough...many of these applications are going to need to run in Web browsers. Advantages: Yahoo seems to be more aggressive in opening up APIs than Google...chances are if Yahoo develops a WebOS platform, we'll all get to play.
Microsoft. They're going to build a WebOS right into their operating system...it's likely that with Vista, you sometimes won't be able to tell when you're using desktop applications or when you're at msn.com. They'll never develop anything for OS X or for Linux (or for browsers other than IE), so its impact will be limited. (Well, limited to most of the personal computers in the world, but still.)
Apple. Apple has all the makings of a WebOS system right now. They've got the browser, a Web server that's installed on every machine with OS X, Dashboard, iTMS, .Mac, Spotlight, etc. All they're missing is the applications (aside from the Dashboard widgets). But like Microsoft, it's unlikely that they'll write anything for Windows or Linux, although if OS X is going to run on cheapo Intel boxes, their market share may be heading in a positive direction soon.
So yeah, that's the idea of the WebOS (as I see it developing) in a gigantic nutshell. The reality of it will probably be a lot messier and take a lot longer than most would like. If someone ends up doing it, it will probably not be as open as it could be and there will likely be competing Web platforms just as there are now competing search engines, portals, widget applications (Konfabulator, Dashboard, Google Desktop Sidebar), etc., but hopefully not. There's lots more to discuss, but I'm going to stop here before this post gets even more ridiculously long. My thanks if you even made this far.
 Actually, the biggest potential problems with all this are the massive security concerns (a Web browser that has access to data on your local hard drive?!!!??) and managing user expectations (desktop/web app hybrids will likely be very confusing for a lot of users). Significant worries to be sure, but I believe the advantages will motivate the folks developing the platform and the applications to work through these concerns.
 Rumor has it that Google is releasing an IM client soon (more here). I'll be pretty surprised if it's not significantly Web-based. As Hotmail proved for email, there's no reason that IM has to happen in a desktop app (although the alerting is problematic).
 Maybe Google thinks they can't compete with Apple's current offerings (Spotlight, Dashboard, Safari, iPhoto) on their own platform, but that's not a good way of thinking about it. Support as many people as you can on as many different architectures as you can, that's the advantage of a Web-based OS. Microsoft certainly hasn't thought of Apple as a serious competitor in the OS space for a long time...until Web applications started coming of age recently, Microsoft's sole competitor has been Microsoft.
You can now post from Microsoft Word to your Blogger blog. More interesting to me is how former Pyra folks remember this old idea. Matt says it was "something we talked about building back when the blogger api was brand new" and that Anil Dash, then a Blogger enthusiast, knocked up a working prototype (which I also remember). Ev says it's "a product that I first thought about five years ago". Both accounts are no doubt accurate, but how they're remembered is interesting.
Cello is a graphical WWW browser like Mosaic. "Cello runs under Microsoft Windows on any IBM PC with a 386SX chip or better. While we have run Cello with only 2MB of RAM on a 386SX-16 machine, we think you'll like it better on a machine with more memory and a faster chip."