The problem with computers, and operating systems, is that they do too much. Of course, that’s also what’s great about them for people who write code and make applications or Web sites. For 95% of users, the computer does much more than they would ever need or use. This seems like a classic market opportunity, but more than one ship has been wrecked on these rocks.
Microsoft and Apple will both have to face this problem. Apple has been better about creating an OS that users want to use — and therefore more of the system gets exercised. But even with a Macintosh, only a small percentage of the capabilities of the machine are used. Apple realized fairly early that people don’t want to do “computer things.” They simply do things like listen to music, watch and make movies, take and store photos, etc. If a computer can make those things better, then it will get used.
The economic question is whether a very low-cost network computer could take the large part of the market that needs very little from a computer. The speculation is that Google will enter the fray with a Webtop, Full Linux Distro, or a Light-Weight Linux Distro. The basic applications are already there. Google Docs is already better than MS Word for most users. And for collaborative document creation it may be the best solution in the market — even better than Wiki-type solutions. The missing piece for Google is the desktop that brings all these apps together. And maybe the interaction metaphor is a desktop, or maybe it’s something new. The landscape is poised for radical change.