% fortune -ae paul murphy

Embedded: Unix vs Windows

My family and I had breakfast, just recently, at a place called Biscuits in Portland. The food was great: in my case real bacon and three eggs that came from a chicken rather than a factory. Afterwards I got asked why, for very nearly the same money, Biscuits can provide first class fare while a much larger chain like Denny's is down to stuff I think tastes like plasticized filler -and the answer bears on Apple's iPhone and the dominance of Unix over Windows in embedded markets.

The reason is this: a small chain like Biscuits, which I think has five outlets, is owner managed; and owners tend to manage to the product - while a national chain like Denny's is professionally managed, and professionals manage to the bottom line.

Thus a cheaper egg is, for a chain whose national presence and advertising guarantees a steady customer stream, a direct contribution to the bottom line rather than what it is for Biscuits: a reduction in quality.

The same logic holds for telcos and others struggling to adapt to change in the communications markets. To a product designer minimalism makes sense: generally choosing the simplest OSes consistent with product requirements - everything from JavaOS for a billion cell phones to Vx or a Linux micro-kernel for mid range devices and the full Darwin/BSD core for tomorrow's converged device: the pocket Mac or iPhone.

Professional managers, on the other hand, react to different pressures: to them Microsoft's checkbook and marketing reputation outweigh product issues. As a result they form partnerships in which what they describe as "business issues" trump product requirements to sell CE or other "Microsoft enabled" handheld gear.

One of the key success drivers at professionally managed chain stores like MacDonald's is that the product isn't actually bad, it's just that quality becomes an irrelevant concept in the presence of national advertising and brand power. That's exactly where telco and other large sales organizations managing to the bottom line want to drive the convergent device market - and therefore why "Microsoft enabled" handhelds aren't actively bad and even attract enthusiastic support from customers projecting themselves into the seller's relationship with Microsoft.

This has an interesting corollary in terms of explaining the world around us because it suggests that Microsoft should capture the mass market in areas where brand power trumps functionality, and continue to lose to Unix everywhere else.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.