This post is about what you need to do to prepare for their possible demise. It gives a summary of why Microsoft and Apple's futures look iffy. Then it shows you reasons you need to care about this immediately. And finally, it will give pointers to alternative platforms for you to explore.
So why am I saying Microsoft and Apple are dying?
In Microsoft's case, it has been a long slow process, which came to a head at this week's Intel Developers Forum.
In Apple's case, they just had their most boring, least innovative product launch ever.
If you want more details of Microsoft and Apple failing, you can find plenty in this blog, just put "Apple" or "Microsoft" in the search box at the top left of the page.
Why you need to care about this immediately:
Well, if you've upgraded office recently, or tried to purchase it new, you will know that Microsoft is doing its best to force you to use Office 365. Regardless of how you get it, it is more expensive than Office ever was before. Can you name any other non-Microsoft software product that has gone up in price recently? What will you do if Microsoft raises the price of Office 365 next year by 20%? Companies are known to "milk" locked-in customers as they fade. Microsoft is already doing this.
Now for Apple... consider these quotes from Apple's iTunes agreement:
(v) You shall not be entitled to burn video iTunes Products or tone iTunes Products.
Apple reserves the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the iTunes Service (or any part or content thereof) at any time with or without notice to you, and Apple will not be liable to you or to any third party should it exercise such rights.
Notwithstanding any other provision of this Agreement, Apple and its licensors reserve the right to change, suspend, remove, or disable access to any iTunes Products, content, or other materials comprising a part of the iTunes Service at any time without notice. In no event will Apple be liable for making these changes. Apple may also impose limits on the use of or access to certain features or portions of the iTunes Service, in any case and without notice or liability.
Notwithstanding any other provision of this Agreement, Apple and its principals reserve the right to change, suspend, remove, or disable access to any App and Book Products, content, or other materials comprising a part of the App and Book Services at any time without notice. In no event will Apple be liable for making these changes. Apple may also impose limits on the use of or access to certain features or portions of the App and Book Services, in any case and without notice or liability.
What you need to do now:
Well, the first thing to do is reduce your dependence on Apple and Microsoft. You should stop using Microsoft Office (or Apple's iWork) to the extent possible. In personal life this is usually very easy, but in a business you will need to take into account businesses that you have to exchange documents with. For example, my business uses LibreOffice and Google Docs for everything. The documents we share with others need only be read only, so we send them PDF versions. Talk with the businesses you exchange documents with... they may be fed up with Microsoft's pricing too. I recommend the combination of LibreOffice, Google Docs and QuickOffice (mobile) that best matches your needs. There are however, many other options available. I use some of these in addition to the products listed previously:
LibreOffice is absolutely free. It is an open source product. Recent reviews are saying that it has excellent Microsoft Office compatibility.
The second thing you need to do is review your media files that are trapped inside iTunes. What can you move and which ones are stuck? Consider writing to your representatives in Congress describing the unfairness of this digital rights management lock-in. It should be legal for you to access that content, regardless of what Apple wishes (or cannot provide because it is bankrupt). And indeed, your access should not be limited to only those platforms that Apple supports. (Again, let me say this should be true for Amazon, Google and others as well.) Finally, plan your future purchases with this problem in mind.
What you need to start thinking of doing:
First, don't try switching everything all at once. Get rid of Microsoft Office, then slowly change where and how you are computing.
If you are using MacOS, then you have a reasonable platform to be using, even if Apple went under. You may want to start using Firefox or Chrome as a browser (if you haven't already). Windows is more difficult. I'm sure you've heard all sorts of horror stories about Windows 8 (which, alas, are largely true). That having been said, it is possible to use Windows 8 in a Windows XP/7 fashion. See this article for more information:
Remember that should either firm go under or become (more) obnoxious in their pricing, you need a plan for migration from the platform. Again, the first step here is to move away from Microsoft Office.
Now let's turn to alternative computing platforms.
The first two (and most promising) platforms are sponsored by Google. Worried about using Google? I mean couldn't they become like Apple and Microsoft? Well yes, but both of these platforms are open source. If Google gets obnoxious, a competitor based on the same code would quickly become available.
Chromebooks and Chromeboxes
Next, look at Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. These are laptops and mini-pcs that exist purely to run the Chrome browser. They are extremely secure and easy to maintain. I do about 80% of my work on Chromebooks (including writing this post). That percentage has steadily increased. I expect I may be able to reach 95% in about a year. Because I'm a software developer, it's possible I'll never be able to reach 100%, but one can get very close.
Recently, Google added a feature, originally called "Chrome Packaged Apps", but now called "Chrome Apps" that give Chromebooks "native" apps. These are simply web apps that run in their own windows independently of the browser. They have a permissions model that allow these apps to do more than what is normally allowed in a web app. These permissions work similarly to those used in Android. By the end of this year, I expect a significant number of these to be available. By the end of 2014, I expect you will be able to find nearly anything you want. Long term, I think these will be your best/easiest bet for replacing Windows and MacOS.
Unsurprisingly, Google Docs works very well with Chromebooks. But others do too and QuickOffice is supposed to have a Chrome App soon. You can even use Microsoft's Office 365 from one... very useful if you are in a situation where you have no choice but to use Office.
An exciting number of new Chrome devices will become available this holiday season. This blog is a reasonable source for news about Chrome devices.
Your iOS devices can easily be replaced by Android. Android is still mildly weak in tablet apps, but this is changing very rapidly. By the end of the year, the lag in tablet apps is likely to have been corrected. Android devices are generally cheaper than iOS devices and come in a much greater variety.
Android is different from iOS in that it has good keyboard and mouse support. This holiday season will have a number of Android laptops/desktops/hybrids available. It will likely take six months or so for software to adapt in significant quantities, but Android could possibly become yet another route for replacing Windows and MacOS.
If you are a technical person or you are a power user that is not afraid of a bit of a learning curve, this platform is very much worth exploring. It can be configured to look almost exactly like Windows XP. In fact, I often get my Linux Mint boxes confused with Windows... it looks more like "Windows" than Windows 8 does. Warning, it can be very hard to get Linux Mint to run on laptops. Problems with unsupported devices and/or power management are common. You can buy Linux specific laptops but these tend to be clunky and expensive. I am hoping that the coming round of "Bay Trail"-based laptops will run Linux Mint well. This platform is not currently useful for phones or tablets. I use Linux Mint on old Macs and in virtual machines daily. Beginning documentation can be found here.
Firefox OS and Tizen
These two are just now becoming available. Unless you like being on the bleeding edge of things, I'd wait a while before looking into these. Firefox OS is likely to be ready for prime time by the end of the year. Tizen is something of an unknown still.
Firefox OS is based on the Firefox browser and is currently made for smartphones, so it is kind of like both Chrome OS and Android combined. Programming is similar to Chrome OS and in fact, Firefox OS has a competitor to Chrome Apps called Open Web Apps.
Both of these platforms could eventually become options for replacing Windows, MacOS and iOS.