For the past 20 years, the world has experienced computing through an IBM invention called Personal Computer through the user experience controlled by Microsoft. A generation of users have come to expect to see the world through the Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office interface. Microsoft has reaped the benefits by becoming world’s largest technology company, making Bill Gates world’s richest person (second richest as of March 10, 2010) and creating an ecosystem of tens of thousands of technology companies. Today, May 26 2010 marks a very important event in the history of technology. Today Apple has surpassed Microsoft in its market valuation and has become the largest technology company in the world and the second largest company in the United States. This is important news on many levels. First, this marks the most remarkable transformation in the modern business with Apple coming back from a brink of extinction in 1996 with the help from Microsoft.

What is startling is the shear magnitude of the gains that Apple has made when compared to Microsoft.

Comparison of Jobs vs. Balmer contributions to the market cap of Apple and Microsoft
Jobs vs. Balmer contributions to the market cap

. This chart (courtesy of The New York Times) illustrates just how far Apple has come under the leadership of Steve Jobs. Also interesting is the erosion of market cap for Microsoft since Steve Balmer took the rains from Bill Gates.

The second point that this represents is that simplicity wins over complexity every time and that people appreciate and are willing to pay for simplicity much more than they are prepared to pay for function. How else can one explain paying about 10x for a an iPod over competing MP3 players.

The third, and most important point, this represents is a recognition that the PC experience created by IBM and Microsoft and delivered on our desks is on the way out. To be replaced by the small devices we put in to our pockets. No, PC is not dead; nothing in our industry ever dies but from now on, it will be recognized as a vestige of the years past as something that “has been” but never again will drive and control the industry as it has in the past.

For those of us in the IT industry who deal with data, it marks a point where we can no longer ignore the fact that the source of the data and destination for the information we produce has changed. What is important to note that the shape and form of the data and the APIs will have to change as well. It is inevitable. Yesterday I blogged about importance of location based data and with the proliferation of GPS-enabled mobile devices I expect that location-supplemented data will be the norm, not an exception. Just as many of the digital cameras are now marking with location information on every picture that is taken, I expect many data collecting applications will do the same. I think the more profound effects will be in the data access APIs. Windows brought us ODBC, an almost ubiquitous interface to data from applications large and small. And ODBC spawned creation of many similar SQL-based APIs (e.g. JDBC). This will change sooner rather than later. Today’s web applications and disconnected devices don’t talk ODBC and never will. Instead, many applications rely on RESTfull APIs for data delivery. I know it sounds like blasphemy,  but data access is moving away from connection oriented, SQL-based APIs to the stateless HTTP-based delivery models with 4 very simple GET, PUT, POST, DELETE primitives.

I think this is a great time to be in the data business. Frankly, the last 10 years things have been getting a bit stale. Since I don’t enjoy a slow and steady descent to the bottom of the technology pile, I am clearing up my bookshelf of the old ODBC, JDBC, OLE DB books and getting myself a whole new set of tools and information. I suggest you do the same.

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