Mossberg: Apple’s end-to-end model beats Microsoft’s component model in post-PC era

“For many years, there have been two models of how to make computers and other digital devices. One is the component model, championed by Microsoft. The other is the end-to-end model, championed by Apple,” Walter S. Mossberg writes for The Wall Street Journal. “In the component model, many companies make hardware and software that run on a standard platform, creating inexpensive commodity devices that don’t always work perfectly together, but get the job done. In the end-to-end model, one company designs both the hardware and software, which work smoothly together, but the products cost more and limit choice.”

“In the first war between these models, the war for dominance of the personal-computer market, Microsoft’s approach won decisively. Aided by efficient assemblers like Dell, and by corporate IT departments employed to integrate the components, Microsoft’s component-based Windows platform crushed Apple’s end-to-end Macintosh platform,” Mossberg writes. “But in the post-PC era we’re in today, where the focus is on things like music players, game consoles and cellphones, the end-to-end model is the early winner. Tightly linking hardware, software and Web services propelled Apple to a huge success with its iPod. Microsoft, meanwhile, has struggled to make its component model work on these devices and, in a telling sign, is using the Apple end-to-end model itself in its Xbox game-console business. Now, Apple is working on other projects built on the same end-to-end model as the iPod: a media-playing cellphone and a home-media hub.”

“Even the Mac isn’t as closed as its critics charge. It’s still designed to work with Apple’s own operating system and software. But it can handle all the common files Windows uses, can network with Windows machines, and can use all of the common Windows printers, scanners, keyboards and mice. The Mac gives you the same access to the Internet as Windows. Heck, the newest Macs can even run Windows itself,” Mossberg writes. “You do get a choice of more software with Windows. And that’s great for hard-core gamers and users of corporate, or niche, software. But for mainstream users doing typical tasks, the Windows choice advantage is illusory. Mac users can choose among thousands of third-party programs, including multiple Web browsers, word processors and email programs. They can run Mac versions of popular software like Microsoft Office and the Firefox browser. How much more choice do you need? Microsoft is hedging its bets. It has, in effect, created a little Apple inside Microsoft with the Xbox group. The Xbox team shunned Windows and wrote its own operating system and user interface, and built its own hardware. (The new Xbox was even developed using Macintosh computers.)”

Full article here.

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Related article:
Apple was right all along: vertical market quality trumps horizontal market woes – April 30, 2006

46 Comments

  1. Not entirely correct, Mossberg. Apple’s model may provide them with some limited strategic advantage, but this is not prima fascia evidence that Microsoft’s model is fundamentally flawed. If Microsoft had effective leadership, there is no reason not to suppose that Microsoft could produce certain innovative and elegant software. Mossberg fails to understand that the human mind and imagination, commitment to excellence, and hard work determine success more than simple theoretical constructs of corporate taxonomy. Seriously, if Microsoft had genuinely devoted itself to the purpose and the mission of developing the best OS in the world there is no reason it couldn’t happen. Unfortunately, internal bias, ineptitude, intransigence, and negligence got in the way.

    Do you disagree? Consider this, everything remains the same at Apple Computer except Gates and Ballmer are now running the company. Do you honestly think that Apple would thrive under the auspices and direction of these two?

  2. maczealot — You sort of countered your own point.

    In a cutting-edge, truly innovative business sector, you need someone leading a company who is . . . cutting-edge and truly innovative.

    Jobs is that person. Gates and Ballmer never were.

    They were in fact never anything more than above-average businessmen, whilst those individuals in charge of Apple at the time (Jobs wasn’t there) . . . weren’t.

  3. Funky Dunky:

    Read my post again, I think that your comprehension is wanting. I specifically argued that effective leadership is more important a factor in determining the fate and success of companies than organizational structures. How could I have made this more simple for you to understand?

  4. Does anyone remember the halcyon days of Apple Computer after John Scully manned the helm and Steve jobs was unceremoniously shown the door in 1985? I don’t. I think that most would agree that a lot has changed at Apple since 1997 when Jobs returned.

    It’s intuitively obvious, effective leadership is fundamental to innovation and product development. Apple doesn’t have a birth right to success and never did. It takes insight, perception, hard work, and commitment to the consumer to achieve and maintain excellence and commercial relevance. Fortunately for Apple and the rest of us Mac users, Jobs was savvy enough not to allow Microsoft’s failures to dull the competitive and inquisitive spirit in Cupertino.

  5. The Stock Market is fsuked up. It’s the Market that has driven up the cost of crude oil for instance, based on what! Greed I say! Some commodities should not be left to the vagaries of the Market. Two base emotions govern the Market, greed and fear. Humanity at its best. (sarcasm intended)

  6. Maczealot – Full of yourself much?

    I think the point being made by the poster was that at the time BOTH Apple and Microsoft had what could kindly and somewhat objectively be called sub-par “leadership”, yet Microsoft still bested Apple in the computer/OS market space. This therefore proves that — depending on your competitor — sub-par can still be “good enough”.

    But just saying that if Microsoft “genuinely devoted itself” that it too could have produced the “best OS” (a subjective assessment) in the world or “certain” innovative software is not an argument based on logic. The odds, in fact, would almost always have been against it. This is a datapoint correlated with statistical probability analysis and said metric for success has almost never been in favor of an organization as multi-tentacled and corpulent as Microsoft had quickly become.

    Of course, through the cloud of egotism emanating from your cranium it’s not surprising that you missed this since the information wasn’t of a sufficiently prima facie nature.

  7. MacZealot

    Let’s see, Mossberg says: “In the component model, many companies make hardware and software…that don’t always work perfectly together, but get the job done. In the end-to-end model, one company designs both the hardware and software, which work smoothly together….”

    component model vs end-to-end model

    Mossberg also says: “But in the post-PC era we’re in today, where the focus is on things like music players, game consoles and cellphones, the end-to-end model is the early winner. Tightly linking hardware, software and Web services propelled Apple to a huge success with its iPod.”

    post-PC era = digital appliances

    So the component model isn’t good at making digital appliances.

    Then Mosberg goes on to suggest the Mac works well as a digital PC appliance: “But for mainstream users doing typical tasks, the Windows choice advantage is illusory.” “How much more choice do you need?” In other words, a Mac, out of the box, with iLife, iWork and .Mac is almost the perfect digital PC appliance for the average user.

    You say: “if Microsoft had genuinely devoted itself to the purpose and the mission of developing the best OS in the world there is no reason it couldn’t happen.”

    True, they might have made the best OS, but they wouldn’t have made the best digital PC appliance as they don’t make the hardware and don’t control the .Mac equivalent web services in the component model.

    Switching management teams is an interesting, but useless mind game. Gates/Balmer are the proponents for the component model and would introduce 4 versions of OS X, a Performa fog of Mac computers, and license OS X to Dell. Gates/Balmer would turn Apple in to Microsoft. They would destroy the “simple theoretical constructs of corporate taxonomy” or the end-to-end model that actually exists at Apple.

    I’d say that using the component model for digital PC appliances is a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. There are simply too many people and conflicting agendas within the Microsoft & Partners System to be effective in the post-PC/digital appliance era.

    Both Microsoft and Apple have emloyees that exhibit “human mind and imagination, commitment to excellence, and hard work.” In the component model, you can’t use these admirable qualities to produce an excellent digital appliance since you’re just a component. In the end-to-end model, you do it all and produce an Xbox or an iPod.

    No management team pushing the component model would succeed at Apple or in the digital appliance business.

    The personal management failings you mention – “internal bias, ineptitude, intransigence, and negligence” – can just as easily be applied to Jobs – the one button mouse, the Cube, the quest for cool products or else, AppleWorks.

    The business model makes a difference. Ordering from a vast selection of books at Amazon works. Ordering your routine groceries over the internet from a local store doesn’t work so well.

  8. Mossberg spends most of his time pulling his pud. I bet most people in this forum could write more insightful articles than him, and that’s really saying something.

    I personally don’t buy the fact that one company’s going to make the greatest digital camera and the best piece of wordprocessing software and the best image editing application and the best scanner and the best digital media hub and the best home finance app and the best cellphone and the best pda and the best (insert whatever app and peripipheral you’d like here)in the universe.

    A company can be good at a great many things, but not EVERYTHING. So in the end the model of multiple innovators working on a common platform is going to win out.

  9. >No management team pushing the component model would succeed at Apple or in the digital appliance business.

    Right that’s why most of American homes have combined HDTV screen-VCR-5.1 Sound system-game console-PC-DVR-CD-DVD Player-Cable Boxes in their living rooms rather then separate components.

    Hang on a minute, now I write it out, that sounds exactly the opposite of how things really work.

  10. Did Mossberg just call the user of a Mac a mediocre and non-professional user?

    “You do get a choice of more software with Windows. And that’s great for hard-core gamers and users of corporate, or niche, software

    OK, hard-core gamers prefer PCs for now. Upgradability does play a role there, as well as availability on day 1 when a new game comes out.

    But for the rest a Mac is just as productive as any Windows PC, ain’t it?

  11. Post PC era? That’s rich. Last I checked, PCs are aren’t at an end of any kind of “era”. And Apple software suffers the same symptoms as Microsoft, or any other developer. How quickly we forget OS X 10.0-1, or Aperture 1.0.

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