Monday, January 29, 2018

Why making your own hardware sucks...

In the computer industry you have companies that create their own hardware and software.  In some ways that can be beneficial in other ways it sucks.  Back in the 80's and early 90's it was pretty much a norm to do so.  That was because peripheral makers were few and far between, IBM pretty much threatened to sue anyone who made peripherals.  So while the IBM systems were open they were more of a look dont touch.  Enter the clone market.  The clone market existed basically to circumvent IBM's hold on the market and allowed the proliferation of peripherals and expansion we see today.  But, you had different companies such as Apple, SGI, Commodore and Sun who made their own systems.  Yes NeXT too but more on NeXT later.  The issues with all those companies is that they also created the software and expansion makers seriously didnt want to support every machine out there because the Operating System, the software that made all those systems work, were so different.  Commodore with Amiga and SGI with Irix were considered high performance and thus creating their own hardware was beneficial to them.  They could control the machines capabilities, it saved them time on writing device drivers, and it gave customers that coveted one throat to choke if anything went wrong.

Apple on the other hand didnt really offer anything compelling power wise that they couldnt offer on Intel based systems except for the user interface which was extremely popular at the time.  They got into the clone market a little too late and suffered for it.  They teamed up with Novell and IBM to port MacOS to the Intel platform but even then it was a little too late.  Microsoft had come out with NT and pretty much ruled the x86 world.  Steve Jobs with NeXT developed their own hardware but quit, then trying to sell the OS.  Steve Jobs quipped at times there was no money in selling software because NeXT sold software and didnt make any money.  Well no shit Sherlock.  NeXT 486 cost $995.00 and Windows NT Workstation cost $64.95 at the time.  There was no justification for customers unless they were married to  NeXT's technology to buy it.  Web Objects was $10,000 dollars a copy and this was back in the 90's.  So NeXT was a no go for users just entering the market and NT was low cost enough that the emerging IT departments in companies could justify purchasing it.  Small businesses were happy with the Mac or with Windows 3.x and Windows 9.x.

Microsoft, Digital Research and SCO (as my buddy Simon says legit SCO not sleazy SCO) had an insight.  They figured out that they made more money selling software.  They figured out "Hey we can sell a million copies of our OS to OEM's for 33 bucks a copy rather than sell a thousand units for $3,000 a piece.  SCO with OpenDesktop and Microsoft with MS-DOS, OS/2 and later NT and DRI with CP/M, Concurrent DOS, and FlexOS while not open software in itself allowed peripheral makers to have copies of the OS and allowed device drivers to be made where as Commodore Amiga, Apple, SGI, SUN never understood or got the #4 rule of business.  The more money we have to spend the more money we have to charge.  So while peripheral companies got MS-DOS and Windows for free they could afford to sell devices cheaper.  People who were around back then can remember that we could buy a modem for a PC for 25 to 30 bucks but a modem for a Mac was 150 to 200 bucks.  It wasnt until the late 90's with the invent of USB and Firewire that devices were no longer dependent on the hardware platform.  The USB and Firewire frameworks were free and you only had to produce code for the framework rather than the hardware.  Sure in terms of wireless, ethernet and modems you had to produce drivers but you only had to produce drivers for the chipset rather than the device itself because at that point the most grueling part of it was covered under the different frameworks.

In 2018 does it make sense to make ones own hardware?  In some cases yes, in most cases no.  Apple and Microsoft do it because A) Apple wants to control the experience and Steve Jobs hubris still lives within the company.  Apple thinks it can get away with selling overpriced and underpowered hardware and their customers will continue to chew on the bones Apple throws them.  Right now Apple is a brand its not the hardware and its not the software B) Microsoft is doing it for a totally different reason and it makes much more sense.  Microsoft sells 99% of its Surface line to companies and governments.  Their primary customers want that one throat to choke they want to get their hardware and software from one place; not pay Lenovo for hardware support and then pay Microsoft for software support.   Both of those reasons are practical.  Outside of those reasons there really is no compelling reason.  Outside of government or corporate sales you cannot spend the money on components and sufficiently be compensated without charging an arm and a leg.

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