Biculturalism Extended: Palm vs. Pocket PC

A blog entry flitted across my browser, which I occaisoned to read. It’s one of those “Dammit, I wish I’d written that myself!” things. The basic gist is that Windows and UNIX are so different because they value different things. Windows is all about being useful to the end user, and UNIX is all about being useful to programmers. These values spring directly from the circumstances of their birth. See, when UNIX was created, end users and programmers were synonymous; and Windows’ goal of being on every machine in the world mean that end users where everybody else.

I’ve been saying this sort of thing for years.

When I was at Avanade, my old Palm device died, so I took the plunge and bought a PocketPC. I hated it and sent it back. The reason? It made a great PC in my pocket, but I didn’t want a PC in my pocket. I wanted a PDA. I wanted fast, intuitive access to my calendar, to-dos, and address book; and Pocket Outlook (or whatever that trash was called) was abysmal. Palm, however, has that down pat! Why? Because of their starting points. Palm started with the primary goals of being a digital address book in your pocket. Pocket PC wants to do everything your laptop does, except smaller.

Like the Palm and Pocket PC, UNIX and Windows are both good at where they started. UNIX makes a better server environment because it began as a server. Windows makes a better desktop because it began as a desktop. And now they are struggling to reach the other’s end of the spectrum. Neither will ever be as good as the other at their core competency, but they both continue to improve.

Now, from a business perspective, it seems that Windows holds the upper hand in the server battle: Mindshare wins over technical merit. If the guy who writes the checks knows about Windows, he is more likely to make an uninformed mandate to choose it over its UNIX counterpart. Additionally, as more and more Average Joes want to set up some sort of server, an familiar-and-easy-to-use-but-not-technically-best server will probably win over unfamiliar-and-esoteric-ass-kicking-server-of-death. It’s kinda like Apple’s attempt to win over the minds of my generation by selling Apple IIs to every elementary school in the nation at a super-low cost. If we all grow up using Apple computers in school, so the theory goes, then we’re more likely to buy an Apple when we get older. Unfortunately for Apple, it didn’t seem to work out that way. (Why is another interesting topic all its own.)

And yes, I did take a lot of shit from my co-workers at Avanade for buying a Palm.