Is the "killer app" argument dead?

Is the "killer app" argument dead?

Summary: The other day I was talking with a bunch of other tech heads about the ongoing Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux market share war and why, from a stats point of view, that Mac and Linux were still trailing far behind Windows.


The other day I was talking with a bunch of other tech heads about the ongoing Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux market share war and why, from a stats point of view, that Mac and Linux were still trailing far behind Windows.

"It all revolves around killer apps," pipes up one of the tech heads. "The problem with both Apple and Linux is that neither OS has a compelling killer app driving the user base."

The conversation then went off on to discuss apps such as Photoshop and AutoCAD and how with Windows you have a single unified platform that'll run almost any professional grade package that you can think of, while with Mac and Linux your choices are restricted.


Now, I will accept that at least part of the Windows market share is down to pro-grade apps. Certainly Microsoft Office was a great driver of Windows, especially a few years ago where there was no free alternative (OpenOffice). And then there's how the gaming industry embraced Windows while giving other platforms the cold shoulder. That helped a lot. But the problem with the "killer app" argument is that in the last few years it has worn thin. Let's face it, if you piled up all the world's Photoshop and AutoCAD users (and by users I mean people who have bought a license for it, rather than having pirated it) then you have a pretty small user base. Your average user isn't likely to have Photoshop installed, and is less likely to have AutoCAD or LightWave. What's more, many home PCs nowadays don't even ship with a cut-down version of Office or even Works. Even gaming has lost significant ground to cheap, powerful and easy-to-use gaming consoles.

What's the single application that you're most likely to see open on a consumer PC nowadays? It's the web browser. I'm staggered by how much people get done through their web browser nowadays. Email, organizing and displaying photos, staying in touch with others, banking, casual gaming and a lot more. While there are some users (take me for example) who feel that each of the above tasks needs a specific application installed, there are an increasing number of people who consider the web browser to be the killer app installed on their system which gives them access to a vast (and constantly increasing) number of web services that are replacing the installed application. Most of these web services are free and most happily cater to the needs of a good 80% of the users.

Let me offer a case in point. Photoshop. I have Photoshop CS3 installed on my main system. It's a hell of a program, but the truth is that it's much more of a photo editing program than I will ever need. I know I should learn what each and every button does, but given that I've been a Photoshop user for quite a few years now and I haven't, it's a fair bet to assume that I'm not going to. Truth is, it's a far bigger application than I really need. Same goes with Office. I have the full Office 2007 installed (Ultimate edition I think it was called) and I don't think I've ever fired up Access, Publisher, InfoPath or Groove, and I've had PowerPoint open no more than a couple of times (I hate PowerPoints ...). Yes, I do use Word, Excel and Outlook a lot (my life is contained within Outlook) but I know I could free up a lot of disk space and simplify things a lot by uninstalling all the stuff I don't use. But I don't, instead choosing to keep it on there because "it might come in useful one day ..." Oh, and I installed all of Office because I paid for it.

I know that I could be doing a lot more work through the browser than I do (for example, I'm typing this blog post in BlogJet rather than using the online interface ... I've been doing things this way for years and I'm loathed to change) but even I'm feeling the influence that Firefox is having on standardizing the web browsing experience across Windows, Mac and Linux.

Thoughts? Is the browser your killer app or do you rely on other killer apps?

Topics: Collaboration, Apple, Software, Operating Systems, Open Source, Microsoft, Linux, Hardware, Browser, Windows

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  • Great blog.

    It is about the browser nowadays. The age of convoluted proprietary lock-ins is going going but not quite gone .....

    An awful lot of devs are now building web based sharing tools, and any IE only dev, if it still goes on, is by the last few flailing dinosaurs.

    The noise coming out about the "mesh" strategy from our favourite FUD meisters is akin to the "we want people to look at it as the Microsoft network" fluff in the early days of the internet.

    There will remain the army of mouse wielding monkeys, blindly leading their companies through a couple more cycles of wastage and frustration because of their lack of knowledge.

    But we're on an unstoppable march.

    The knowledge economy is well and truly started. MS will wake up to the reality that all of the bluster in the world does not make them the knowledge economy.

    Their history of lies, illegal practices and customer abuse will not be forgotten.
    • Wow, I'm impressed...

      You've managed to turn a post from how Adrian's blog was great about the browser to being a Microsoft bash.

      You went six words as positive before becoming completely negative.

      I think that may be a world record!
      • Now that is funny! - LOL nt

    • Wrong again

      Its another "I love the dead" post claiming that online services will soon be ruling the world. That might happen one day, one day quite far off in the future where computing has already gone through some fundamental changes, but thats not tomorrow, next week, next year or anything remotely close to that.

      This has been discussed to death and quite frankly operating entirely online is still to risky a business for the vast majority. Something cuts your internet connection and you lose all contact with your applications? Bad enough to go without internet for a few hours in the business world. Try having a loss of all functional applications as well and you might just as well send everyone home if its already getting later in the day.

      And while online applications sounds nice and all, when the concept is fully fleshed out for the average home user they almost always remain of the opinion that there are still a bunch of applications they want sitting right there on their desktop ready to go, so no takeover of online applications in the near future.

      As far as the killer application issue goes, the argument in the article is a little skewed from the reality of the effect of not having a "KILLER" application.

      For example, it doesn't matter what one is purchasing, if you are generally happy with what you have then the opposing product at lease needs some "KILLER" feature for you to make the switch. In the case of computer OS's, having a killer application would be a very compelling feature to make the switch.

      The fact that Windows doesn't necessarily have a killer application either obviously doesn't do it much harm if the other OS's do not because people are using Windows mostly to begin with. When people are generally happy with Windows, the competing OS's really do need that killer application to get people to make the switch.

      Some might argue that Linux is its own killer application itself because its free, the non existent price puts it into a category of its own that no other OS can touch. Thats very unique and highly useful. The fact that even that is clearly not enough for most to make a switch says something about peoples thoughts on Linux generally, at least unless you are ready to concede that Windows is just so great even a free OS doesn't look good next to it, and I doubt that.
      • Not as wrong as you are.

        The one true KILLER app was VisiCalc way back when.

        There was no reason for a business of any size to use a desktop computer until that started to come bundled with the Apple II.

        That's what got IBM into the game of desktop computers, no matter how reluctantly.

        That's what led to giving Microsoft the leg up to where it is today.

        Next, and last, in the realm of killer apps was Lotus 1-2-3 which legitimized PC desktops in business.

        Not even Windows counts, quite honestly, unless in the case of serious Apple envy and the stupidity of Apple in not licensing their OS to other platforms.

        Certainly Office doesn't because integrated office packages were available in the DOS days and simply migrated to Windows.

        And Office may not have had it their own way if Lotus and Wordperfect hadn't been distracted by OS/2 and had launched their Windows based office packages in the first year MS Office existed.

        (It was bloatware even then, and didn't work nearly as well as it does now.)

        As for Windows being "so great" give your head a shake.

        And don't forget that in the history of desktop computing so the cloud, like it or not, is a whole lot closer than you think.

        Oh, and Windows does suck, most users know it but inertia is a powerful force. Another screw up like Vista may just break that force, though.


        • Windows not a killer app?

          When it killed every other OS in terms of usage?

          Sleeper Service
          • No it wasn't..

            As I said in the post Windows attained it's position in large part because of the hubris and stupidity of Apple.

            And you forget how long it took Windows to actually supplant DOS in many places from the home to the small business sector to the enterprise.

            In PC terms it killed DOS.

            OS/2 as a GUI desktop was still vapourware when Win 3.1 appeared so it can't be said to have killed that.

            As for the please you ask me for a killer app changes the landscape.

            Apple did that already with the Lisa and the Mac and blew it.

            Nor did Windows kill the Mac OS.

            Jobs did that all by himself for his own reasons when OSX appeared.

            Computers were already widespread in the enterprise pre Windows so there's a teeny tiny argument to be made that DOS could be a killer app but that doesn't really hold water any more than your argument that Windows was and is.

            As I said VisiCalc, the PC itself and Lotus 1-2-3 were the killer apps that changed the world.

            Microsoft went along for the ride understanding, where IBM didn't that it was software that was important not hardware.

            And, for goodness sake, until XP Windows was a fancy task switcher that crashed and burned on a daily basis.

            If a version of Windows cleared the deck, for a very short time, it was XP not what came before it.

            Now, go back to sleep.


          • Fact Check

            IBM is the second largest software company in the world.

            Its a bit misleading to say that IBM is focused on hardware....
        • Which integrated Office Apps were available

          in DOS days?
          • There were two I recall

            Lotus had one and there were "integrated" apps out there that were not built from what began as discrete stand alone packages, as was MS Office. (Smart Suite comes to mind for some reason.)

            Remember too that it was until 1999 or thereabouts that even MS Office attained most of the "integration" it has now.

            Most of that initially was getting the icons to launch the right program and keep context in place as well as seamless copy, paste from one app to another. Hence, OLE.

            Add very early VBA which appeared about then and now you have what we now know as an integrated office suite.

            Of course from there to such things as Office 2007 and 3.x (just out) is like going from a cave to an air conditioned room.

            The point is that there was really nothing all that new or innovative about what Microsoft did with Office. They got there first and did it better.

            Helped, rumour has it, by the old game MS played with others and still plays, that only the Office team had access to some Windows APIs that were denied to others.

            Innovation isn't always getting there first. In fact it often isn't. It's about doing things better or at least giving the appearance and marketing muscle to convince people you do it better.


          • Smartsuite wasn't a DOS app

            It was written for Windows 3.1 that ran on top of DOS. However, Windows 3.1 was a hybrid since much of its functionality bypassed DOS and accessed the hardware functionality directly. DOS was limited by being a real mode app, so Windows had to directly access the hardware to run in enhanced mode which allowed it to use a flat memory model. Under DOS if you wanted to access memory above 1M, you had to switch 64K chunks of code or data in and out of memory. Basically, until there was a desktop manager like Windows for DOS, it was impractical to have integrated Office suites. Basically, a DOS program was limited in theory to 640K of memory (most of the time you were fortunate if you get over 550K since the DOS command shell and drivers also resided in the 640K space along with any other TSR programs). Your program had to be able to load and run in under 640K and it could only access memory above the 1M by switching modules of the program between the lower memory and extended memory. It wasn't until you had a true 32 bit OS like OS2 or Win NT or a hybrid 32/16 bit desktop manager/OS like Win 3.0/9x that you could access memory above 1M efficiently enough to allow for Office app integration. I don't remember seeing any Office suites until the early 1990s after Win 3.1 was released.
          • You may be right...

            Though my memory tells me something else.

            I haven't the time to dig through all my old stuff to check on whether or not my memory is all that faulty though I do remember some things that existed pre Windows.

            As for the memory issue there were ways around that which were part of programs such as 1-2-3 as well as add-ons to DOS 4 (shudder) and 5 that enabled you to get beyond the 640K limit.

            Perhaps not efficiently but you could do it.

            My basic point remains the same as far as Windows being a killer app go in that until XP ( NT in different clothing) that one got really efficient addressing above 640K.

            Keeping in mind that until XP Windows was a pretty face on top of DOS as you reminded us all.

            Until then it was a task switcher. Prettier than DesqView and often not as good but it took off with 3.1.

            Killer app no.

            World beater with Win95 and then XP yes. For better or worse, that's true.


          • Answer

            MS Works for DOS, of course!
    • Missed the Point

      While I like Linux and use it all the time, this story has nothing to do with why you should or shouldn't use a particular OS. It's more about being able to use your browser in whatever OS to do the work you need to do. I may not like IE but I use it everyday at work and don't have a problem doing so, I can't see any advantage to our company switching to Linux except that we might have a more stable network, but again, that has nothing to do with the article, which I do applaud, while your comments I rate as pointless, and does nothing to support your views of whatever OS you are using.
    • What the heck is your problem? <NT>

  • Browser, e-mail client, word processor, spreadsheet app

    Those are 99 % of the apps I use 99 % of the time. These apps I use cross-platform.

    I should say that I'm not a gamer, except for online chess at Yahoo Games. 3D Games are the last compelling reason for desktop home users, to stay with Windows. Or at least to have it around in a dual boot system.

    The current monoculture has more to do with market inertia, created by obligatory preinstalled Windows on most computers. Brilliant move by Microsoft, that.
    • With better execution envirnoments and offline capabilities, even word

      processing, spreadsheets, will move to the browser for most. They are free, require no installation, updating, patching, or backup.
      • Great Point

        With things like Google Docs, ThinkFree, etc., becoming more robust and user friendly, it is only a matter of time before these become the standard. Yes, some people will still want their desktop apps (I count myself among these people) because they will want to be able to do stuff "offline"; however, I think web-based apps are making pretty significan strides.
        • By the way, Google writer does now work offline, though with reduced

          functionality (no import / export for example). And you can view your spreadsheets offline. As offline support gets better and is fully functional, you still might eventually be tempted! Though you can not do document import / export with Java Script. We need a better execution engine (Java).
    • Browser, e-mail client, word processor, spreadsheet app

      Yes, indeed, pjotr123. Those free apps are the genesis of Microsoft's success. In the early days when Word Perfect was king, Microsoft was all but giving away Word. (Plus, Microsoft controlled the platform, and WP, it was argued, wasn't privy to the secrets and inner workings of that platform.) Then when Netscape was king, Microsoft gave away Internet Explorer. Who is going to buy a browser when you can get one free? Now, of course, not only does Word and its office suite cost loads of $$$, but Microsoft now insists that it monitor the contents of your computer via WGA to ensure that you haven't pirated anything.

      I just purchased a Mac. If it wasn't for the fact that Microsoft has the best office suite, I'd never buy another Microsoft product.