Small Businesses and The Dark Ages

Gene Marks over at Forbes just published an article today on the Quicker Better Tech column. The piece, Google Buys Motorola Mobility… And So Begins The Dark Ages is an interesting take. While most people have focused on what that merger means for the current patent wars, the future of Android, mobile devices and so on, Gene focused on a totally different angle: what this might mean for Small Businesses.

In a nutshell, Gene is arguing that this purchase is not going to be good for small businesses:

But will this news help my small business?  Unfortunately, no.  The empire is breaking up.  Chaos is approaching.  Life, particularly for my business, is about to become more complicated. 

The overall point that Gene makes is that “Pax Microsoft” (the peaceful period during which Microsoft used to dominate) was good for small businesses because it brought stability for software vendors, who would focus just on creating software on top of the platform, so things “just worked” and were “inexpensive”. Gene also has some other concerns. For example: what platform should his business standardize on? How can he make sure that he is able to export data from one system to another, and finally, integration between apps.

While Gene acknowledges “the cloud”, I don’t think he really realizes the impact this will have on businesses like his (according to his profile he owns a 10-person consulting firm).  
But lets leave the benefits of the cloud itself aside for a second, and focus on some of the other points.

Mobile is just a front-end for business apps. Sure, you access your CRM data through a native App, but the difference between most consumer apps/games and business applications on a mobile device, is that while consumer apps/games have a significant amount of “intelligence” built into the mobile app, business apps are different. For almost all business apps, the logic, the core of the app, resides in some server in the cloud. The mobile device is just a convenient front-end to it that takes advantage of some hardware features (i.e. GPS/camera) or enables off-line. 

Besides, mobile business apps are primarily intended for secondary, on-the-go use (this is true especially for mobile phones). The main use will remain in the desktop/laptop factor and in the iPad factor (there’s no such thing as a tablet – only iPads!). And in that case, I think most of it will happen through the iPad’s browser. Which leads me to the next point…

You can always use the browser
. Mobile Apps are certainly nice and useful. We have released a handful of them ourselves lately (for both iPhone and Android). But I think Gene stresses too much about choosing a platform. Most vendors will support both iOS and Android for the foreseeable future. The particular app you want right now is not available in your platform ? Well you can always use the mobile browsers and use the mobile version.

Commitment is not as serious this time around
. In the “PAX Microsoft” era customers had to make a very serious commitment to a platform: Windows or Linux; Oracle or SQLServer, .NET or Java… etc. Once those decisions were made, well, you as a business were literally stuck with it for years (or decades) to come. And the cost of switching was very high. In the Android vs. iOS question… well that’s another story. If you decide to go with the other platform, it just takes a couple hundred bucks and you’ve switched. It’s really not that bad as it used to be.

Open Data. Most people will agree that, for the most part, cloud providers have a pretty good track record of making it clear that the data belongs to the user and it is up to her to take it whenever she wants. That is certainly the case with us at Zoho, but most of our competitors and other people in our space also operate under this principle. As with everything, there are exceptions, and no business in their right mind should use one of those services!

. My favorite point. I argue, Gene, that you and your business are better off nowadays than years before, especially with regards to integration. At Zoho we’ve made it one of our priorities to provide contextually integrated applications that help you. We have not only integrated our Zoho CRM with Zoho Mail, but also Zoho CRM with Zoho Projects, and Zoho Projects with Zoho Invoice, and the list goes on. But that’s not all… there are also multiple integrations with third parties. For example, we integrate heavily with Google Apps, and just recently we integrated Zoho BugTracker with GitHub and there are even some third-party hook-ups with other third-party services, like the recent one that Cazoomi did for tying up Zoho CRM and ExactTarget

Sure, fragmentation sucks for us, but it is just the cost of doing business in the technology world. And if we look at it from another perspective, fragmentation has been already here for a while. It started with Firefox eating IE’s lunch, and now Chrome.

The bottom line is that Google purchasing Motorola Mobile really doesn’t mean much for the small business sector. Sure, the mobile OS wars will only continue to escalate, there’s uncertainty about the future of Windows, Macs (as in desktop, not iOS) ar
e on the rise again… but as long as businesses stick to the cloud, they will be fine.



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