Post-Jobs Apple, Microsoft’s Garage Games, and the End of Laptops on Planes

Last week was disappointing. I was expecting, as were others, much more out of Apple at its developer’s conference, where the subtext was that with Steve Jobs not looking so well and with a lot of executives in his age group stepping down, is it time to imagine an Apple without him?

Going beyond disappointing to scary, folks flying out of London were not allowed any carry-on luggage. Electronic gear appears to have been expressly called out. I’ve been worried that this overconcern with terrorists — coupled with a spate of exploding laptops — might, at some point, result in the banning of laptop computers from planes. In that case, I’ve been working with others to come up with alternatives and contingency plans.

On the other hand, this week is starting out strong with an offering from Microsoft that may do for video game development what Garage Band did for music. It showcases strategic thinking unlike any we’ve seen from the Redmond giant in a while, and it may indicate the company is getting its groove back.

Post-Jobs Apple

With Bill Gates and Scott McNealy stepping down earlier this year from Microsoft and Sun Microsystems respectively — following Andy Grove’s departure from Intel by several years — those of us covering technology are being asked both to anticipate the next set of retirees and to help with the writing of obituaries. This is incredibly depressing, because so many of these folks brought color and excitement to an industry that desperately needs both today.

Two companies that seem to be getting the most attention right now are Oracle and Apple. This is because, unlike firms such as IBM and HP, where there are deep benches, or Google, where the CEO is largely irrelevant, Apple and Oracle are their CEOs.

Oracle’s Larry Ellison, who has been on a quest for immortality for some time, doesn’t appear to be going anyplace, naturally. Maybe he became an android some time ago.

However, at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, Jobs didn’t look so good, which has a number of us wondering whether Apple is in good enough shape to survive his departure, regardless of the reason.

Now the Mac faithful appear to feel, as is always the case, that Steve is perfect, will never leave, and/or has a plan to deal with the company’s problems. However, there is no proof of any plan and his personality should lead you down another thought path. Jobs historically has not shared power well. He was fired from Apple once before and attempted two coups, with only one being successful. I think he would be more concerned that someone groomed to take his job might try the coup thing with him. He is hardly the most trusting, or trustworthy, person in the industry.

No One’s Indispensible

The fact of the matter is that no one is irreplaceable. Apple might actually become more powerful after Jobs leaves. For instance, look what happened to AMD after Jerry Sanders left that company. AMD is now a real power in Intel’s space. While Sanders was clearly more charismatic than Hector Ruiz, AMD’s current CEO, it is Ruiz who has taken AMD to a level of competition that Sanders just couldn’t seem to reach.

Without Jobs at the helm, Apple’s CEO post probably wouldn’t have the star power it currently has, but the firm’s image might improve if it were to become more open with partners, developers and customers. I can’t imagine it being less open than it is now. It would likely become more willing to share road maps. Its reluctance to do so now is keeping it pretty much locked out of the large business and institutional markets.

As we saw with Carly Fiorina vs. Mark Hurd at Hewlett-Packard, star power has a number of disadvantages. Sometimes an executive with a solid operations background can make a massive, positive difference in how a firm actually performs. Right now, HP is more than a match for IBM and Dell — something it probably never would have been under Fiorina, had she stuck around.

My end take on all this is that while I hope Jobs remains in place for awhile and that his health is better than it currently appears to be, it only seems like he’s critical to Apple’s success. The truth is, Apple can continue without him and might actually be better for the change. There are a lot of things to worry about; I just don’t see this as one of them.

Air Travel Without Laptops

The ban on carry-on luggage at London airports, however, has me very worried. On top of the never-ending security lines passengers must endure, the idea of traveling on a plane for most of a day without a laptop would probably keep me from traveling as much as I now do. A laptop has become more than just a tool to me; it is my primary form of entertainment. I watch movies and TV shows on it, do work, listen to music, and even play video games on it.

While some of the newer jets have incredibly robust entertainment systems, these planes don’t seem to fly to Europe from the U.S., and the entertainment available on an old 747 just won’t cut it. My other big concern with putting my beloved laptop into a luggage compartment is that when I arrive at my destination, I’ll either have a bunch of laptop parts or a space in my luggage where the laptop used to be. A laptop is a valuable item, and luggage isn’t handled delicately. Also, luggage theft is relatively high. For many, the loss of a laptop requires a press release and a public report concerning lost data.

Since this is likely to get worse before it gets better, here are a couple of suggestions:

  • If you have to pack your laptop, think about shipping it overnight instead in a shock-protected case — with insurance. There is a better chance it will get there when you arrive, and you’ll have one less thing to worry about on the trip.
  • Remove the hard drive and carry that with you. The laptop can be replaced, but the data can’t. As noted above, losing that data can be a material problem for your company.
  • Think about using a product like the Route1 MobiKey or Migo USB mobile client. You can carry these in your pocket, and they provide secure access. The Migo creates a mirror of your desktop securely on virtually any PC and works offline, while the MobiKey is even more comprehensive, because it connects to your remote desktop securely but only works well if you are on a strong network. Both will allow you to get back to work quickly even if your laptop doesn’t make it to the other end of a trip, and if you use them properly, there should be no company data on the laptop to steal.
  • Consider using a more advanced form of laptop security like the Phoenix TCSubscribe offering I mentioned a few weeks ago.
  • Finally, I really think it is time to consider not traveling on commercial planes at all. It may be time to rethink the corporate jet fleet, or think about advanced video conferencing solutions like the HP Halo product we covered back in June to avoid flying at all.

Change is in the wind. I think we really need to consider changing how we do things, so both our data and our existence are better assured.

Microsoft Does Garage Development

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