The rising importance of cross-platform apps

Proliferating devices and the Web are changing consumer expectations, making a cross-platform OS strategy increasingly important for application developers.

Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day when we would "transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood." In the technology world, perhaps that notion might be applicable to the dream of a day when we'd get beyond incompatible operating systems to have a truly interoperable software application industry.

Slowly, but surely, we're getting there...on both counts.

Sorry, IE: Windows just isn't enough anymore
It's getting harder to live on Windows Island. And, as cool as you might think you are to have an "exclusive" berth on the Mac's Love Boat, it's hard to live exclusively within the confines of OS X, too.

The need for heterogeneity has always existed, but it's becoming more pronounced as devices proliferate, devices that run diverse operating systems, especially Linux.

Last night I fired up my Ubuntu-based Netbook. It would have been an uncomfortable experience, given that I'm used to working on my Mac, except that several of my favorite applications were already there: Firefox, Zimbra, and Thunderbird. Between those three, I had access to all the other applications (Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, etc.) that I use on my Mac.

You may not have a device running Ubuntu/Linux today, but tomorrow it's very likely that you're going to have to get out of your Windows/Mac comfort zone. Perhaps it's that new Android-based phone you've been eying. Or maybe that Netbook AT&T and Verizon want to give you.

Somewhere, at some point, you're going to have to confront a new operating system. When you do, you're going to appreciate the comfort of cross-platform applications (a fact not lost on the Ubuntu folks, who are trying to ensure popular but proprietary applications run on the open-source operating system).

Firefox is likely to be the Big Kahuna among them, as it's the application that launches you into the Web, that wonderful world that (mostly) doesn't care whether you're a Mac/Windows/Linux person, and just delivers great applications.

But despite Google's HTML5 protestations to the contrary , we don't live in a Web-only world just yet, and probably won't for a long time. We're going to need client-side applications for the foreseeable future (remember Apple's ill-fated attempt to relegate us to browser-only iPhone applications?), and the winning applications are going to be those grown-ups that span multiple operating systems.

Sure, it's more work for Mozilla to ensure Firefox works on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux, in addition to a growing array of mobile operating systems, but it's that work that keeps many of us devoted to Firefox.

It's no longer sufficient to fixate on one platform, no matter how popular. Hardware devices are quickly expanding, running less and less Windows and Mac, and running a wider variety of Linux distributions.

In addition, the Web is changing expectations. Just as we expect CNN.com to work, no matter our underlying OS, so, too, will we come to expect our applications to follow us, no matter our choice of platform.

Zimbra gets this. Mozilla and Google do, too. Do you?

About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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