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The Great Divide is Getting Wider

There was a time not so long ago where you could use the term computer and everyone in the room knew you were talking about something running Microsoft Windows. That is, assuming you avoided the digital arts & music industries, coffee shops and California. You could send someone a file and be fairly certain they had the ability to open it. Those were good times indeed.

But everything changes. Today, especially with tablets being the fastest growing computer platform, the only thing you can assume for sure is there is a good chance the person at the other end will be using something different, incompatible with everything else. The tide has been turning in the consumer world for some time, and now with BYOD becoming ever more popular, it’s working its way into the business world. Using multiple versions of the same platform is fragmentation enough. Throw in multiple platforms on top of that and you have chaos.

Gone are the days of sending a business associate a docx (or doc) file and assuming they could open it. Might as well upload it to SkyDrive and provide a PDF (thank goodness for that) tutorial on how to open and edit said file using Microsoft’s online Office tools. And as, in my estimation more than 80% of all computer users are noobs (or boobs, whatever), expect that follow-up phone call to walk said user through accessing/editing the file. Ultimately, you will probably settle for faxing it and then doing the edits yourself when you get the marked up copy back. My how we have progressed.

When Microsoft ruled the roost, things were easier. Backward compatibility was king. Hard drives could accept any file. You could load any program on any PC. And memory cards or USB thumb drives could move anything from “any” device to “any” device. As it should be. Today, the Internet rules computers (assuming tablets are actually computers). Why should you need the ability to download anything to a computer if you can access it online. Provided of course, you are connected 24/7, and don’t mind waiting, and waiting, and…..

Part of this is because Microsoft is doing all they can to protect their assets, limiting accessibility to their applications, or severely curtailing their capabilities when used on other platforms. Likewise, the wannabe platforms are trying to differentiate themselves, so as to create their own little niche. The well-oiled machine is getting squeaky. One step forward, two steps back.

Case in point. I work for a small company that does in-home sales. We have sales reps who sit down at your kitchen table and do a presentation, using their device of (not my) choice. I modified our Power Point presentation, incorporating a bunch of graphical elements, animated gifs, imbedded videos, and hot links throughout so the sales rep could jump around depending on the prospects interest. It works with Power Point 2010 or Power Point Viewer 2010. Just the kind of presentation you would expect to see in 2013. But forget about trying to use this with an iPad or Android tablet, Not happening. Sure, you may be able to get the file loaded, but all the extra stuff is inoperative, or uncooperative. Instead reps resort to using a PDF version of the presentation, jumping in and out to fire up videos and clicking through irrelevant pages. It’s just a bloody mess.

And another. As a part of the presentation, the sales reps run the prospect through a savings calculator. This is currently done by hand with a carbonless form, but involves a lot of calculations and “what if” scenarios. Being pretty handy with Microsoft Access (been developing for 15+ years) I was tasked with creating a standalone application that could be loaded onto a sales reps (Windows) computer. After a couple days I had a finished product, along with a bunch of other add-ins as I started thinking outside the box of how I could help the reps tackle other challenges while in-home. Microsoft has a great free product called Access Runtime which allows you to install Access on any Windows PC. You can’t develop with it, but you can use a custom application uninhibited. This project got me really excited as I thought about where I could go with it.

Then the first rep came in, with I believe an 8″ Galaxy Tab. GM: “Load than new calculator on Dave’s tablet”. Me: “Sorry boss, no can do. Access Runtime can only be installed on a Windows PC”. GM: “Nonsense. Dave just checked Google Play and there are a bunch of Access downloads”. As I busily do a Bing search on my PC, Me: “No, those are all Access tutorials. As I said, you can’t install Access on any non-Windows device”. GM: “Oh, then can you create the same thing in Excel?”. Me: “The same thing? Not likely, but I will do the best I can.” There goes my dream of creating this sophisticated suite of tools for the reps to access (no pun intended) from a single location. Yeah, after 7 or 8 hours I got the Excel version to look a lot like the Access version. Even got all the calculations to work. But it does lack some features and functionality. Dave’s loss, not mine. Whether or not these graphically complex Excel worksheets will actually display and work properly on an Android tablet using third party software is anybody’s guess. But after some preliminary testing, I’m not so sure.

Yes, I know. Something like SharePoint would be a perfect solution for my scenario. I have already investigated the possibilities of creating Access forms that could be fed through a browser. Actually used SharePoint back in 2005 with shared One Note notebooks. Worked really well. But having an always connected, always available, feed to the Web is costly for these commission only reps, and could be troublesome in some homes. Might as well buy a $299 Windows tablet or $269 Windows PC instead and let me do what I planned in the first place.

I am no great prophet with infinite wisdom, but predict that as each day passes the great divide will grow wider, making what were once easy tasks, infinitely more complex. Unless of course, you stick with Windows based PCs and tablets (sorry RT, not today). Fragmentation of the computing industry is upon us. And it’s not a good thing.