Video, Video, Video

It has become clear that we are entering an age of ubiquitous video content. we want our content everywhere, anywhere, we want it now, and we want in entertaining.  If you think about where we have come from on the internet it is a natural evolution.  We started with rather static content which was just a fancy word document with pictures.  Then we started incorporating basic display ads, followed by more lively content that eventually led us to YouTube.  Now that same YouTube content is available everywhere – I could be on Facebook, iPad, iPhone you name it, it will be shared and made available.  Now we are entering the Netflix era. We are no longer viewing just uploaded content but live streaming of content.  To be clear this has not been new this year, we have been doing it for a while we view our news outlets online, like MSNBC.

Going back in time I remember 10 years ago I tried to view a live concert from New York at my office in Redmond.  It was Madonna doing some party in New York.  I tried and it was awful.  It was hard to connect and when it did, it streamed for a few seconds before it cut out.  It was a very frustrating experience and I am not even a Madonna fan.   Around th e same time iw as working with a ISP in Green Bay, WI doing a test with voice over IP (VOIP) with streaming video.  Again an awful experience and I realized to do any quality video you basically had to own your own studio. But that was 10 years ago and how far we have come.

Today we get video through a number of sources and in different formats.  With the release of the iPhone 4 we now have the ability to do voice and video phone calls.  The idea of a mobile device, be it an Android, iPhone or iPad without an available Netflix application is a non starter for the device that does not have it.  Netflix is becoming the prime example of making high-end video content (movies, television shows etc..) available  whenever you want it and now it ois going global.  The market believes as well as at last glance Netflix (NFLX ) is trading at over $196 – to think that a year ago it was under a $100.

There are issues that are starting to come to the forefront.  When the internet first came of age we had a number of companies laying a lot of fiber in the ground.  Most of it was not used.  It just sat there idle.  We referred to it as dark fiber.  However that was because what we were sending over the net was small files and video was not really that big at the time.  Today we actually are sending large files (not entirely true as streaming technologies take video files and break them down into small chunks..but as a whole the file is large).  We are also streaming live content so you start to see a web with constant and massive traffic flows.

With the rise of mobility and content on the go we are now entering the last great phase and the holy grail of device interaction: the television.  In recent years television has  undergone, popular, but what I view as small steps as we transition to something far greater.  many people have either a LCD or Plasma flat screen TV.  A Tivo device connected for recording.  A lot of road warriors had sling boxes enabling them to view there local Seattle programs while in Orlando, As has been mentioned we can stream movies via Netflix or the xFinity services from Comcast.  Our televisions are becoming more interactive.  The game consoles we connect to our TV are becoming media hubs, the best example being the XBox.  With what they can do with Wii or Kinect they will become home fitness devices. There has been a recent slew of new products around TV.  Both Google and Apple have announced appliances for the television.  Microsoft has been trying to tackle this game for nearly 20 years.  It’s an exciting time.

There will be challenges moving forward.  Mainly from the incumbant service providers either cable companies like Comcast, Cablevision, Cox Communications or the traditional telco’s AT&T and Verizon.  They have one asset cherished above all…the last mile.  That is literally the cable or phone line that runs from the curb into your house.  It’s how we get access to the internet through DSL or Cable Modem.  It’s how all those great services mentioned earlier are delivered into our home.  It is the holy grail. When companies devise plans to sidestep them they fight back.  In the market place, but more importantly on Capital Hill.  They are in the offices of your congressperson or Senator.  They bring in their heavy hitters to do the work:  Lobbyists and executives.  I witnessed this first hand on a trip to DC as a bus was loaded and paraded around the hill, clearly labeled “Comcast Executives”.  They were not there for consumer benefit, though they would say they are.

If one thing is certain, the future will come.  There will be those who try to stop it.  However with the advancements made in wireless bandwidth with 4G and then 5g coming down the road in the next 5-7 years things will start to change very quickly.  We are now seeing satellite services propping up again.  The last mile will die and we will be temporarily free.  We will get our content and human interaction wherever we want it when we want it.  It’s a very exciting time in the industry as things only dreamed of 15 years ago are now on the verge of becoming reality.  Just think on some Saturday morning on my 40″ LCD I will be able to view all my favorite soccer games with my 3 boys in my pajamas at once while having my morning coffee, now for me that will be heaven.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann November 30, 2010

Mobility, Search and Social Networking….the future as it will be

I was fascinated by a recent presentation I viewed off of TechCrunch as it epitomized to me what I call the velocity of business.  It was done by an analyst at Morgan-Stanley, Mary Meeker.  She titled it “Ten Questions Internet Execs should ask and answer”.  My only comment is why stop at “internet execs” – any executive with an internet business at all should be asking and looking at these questions.  We have been seeing some emerging trends – that have been around for a while but are now accelerating, creating new market dynamics and new business opportunities.  There are three core areas that Mary Meeker brings up as the current and future business drivers on the internet: Mobility, Search and Social Networking

The area of mobility is interesting and if you believe the slides will deliver a world where most internet browsing is done via a mobile device and not the traditional PC.  I don’t find this hard to believe at all  One of the first points made is around “globility” – in some countries there are trends that compete against yours, either directly or perhaps in a way similar but new.  It would be easy to say in the US PC’s are used in one way while in India they are used in another.  However that is an apple to apples comparison.  The difference being one is Gala and the other a Honey Crisp.  The reality in many countries is mobility has changed the landscape of how people live and communicate in dramatic ways..  Microsoft tried for years to create a model in conjunction with country specific banks to create a model to finance the purchase of PC’s.  While all that was going on the local communities were finding internet access a different way – via their mobile phone.    With the launch of the iPhone and its unique web browsing capability that trend has come to the US.  By that I mean more and more Americans are browsing the web from their mobile phones.   It’s hard for Americans to believe innovative trends can happen outside our borders, but they do.  And in today’s world of connectivity it is happening with more frequency.  A poll was done several years back asking, “where will the next Bill Gates comes from?”  Not surprisingly the majority answered India.   It is both exciting and will be challenging, but it’s the way things will be.

With Search we are in an area that is evolving quickly before us, even though it may not be as sexy as mobility or social networking.  Google continues to lead in this space and with both Android and Chrome are utilizing search to change the traditional industry landscape.  Though we know that the key to Google’s success was being able to monetize advertising online there is still a lot of innovation to come, beyond just recognizing revenue by keyword searches.  Traditional print and video adverting may be disappearing from our papers or minimized on our television, but they are not going away they are just morphing before our eyes and going online.  With Android Google is really looking to monetize on trend one: Mobility.  Based on the rapid increase in market share for Android based phones they are well on there way to succeeding.  On the Social Networking front they are more obsessed with the big Competitive threat: Facebook.

Finally there is Social Networking.  The hottest tech company on the planet is Facebook, followed by Twitter.  As the presentation points out what is impressive about Facebook and its counterpart in China, Tencent is that they each have over 600 million users.  The ability to market and sell to those companies is enormous.  The fact that so much time is open at these locations with friends communicating together creates unique market dynamics and the opportunity to up sell those participants to other services.  Like Search you can see Social Networking using it’s core business to fund other revenue opportunities.  Facebook’s recent plan around email seems to be a good start.  I seem to remember a company called Netscape tried a similar method as it branched out into “big” corporate email plans as an off shoot to its browser business.

As the title says…the future as it will be.  One thing is guaranteed that the future I write about will come to fruition sooner than we expect and it will come to pass that I will write another article with the same title talking about a different set of technologies, probably different companies that will be shaping the future.  Trends and outlooks that once took decades will come much faster as technology evolves.   That is just the velocity of business we operate in today.  That part of my technology predictions you can take to the bank.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann November 22, 2010

Life of the Political Lobbyist – Part 1

One of the things I was most proud of during my time at Microsoft was my involvement with the Microsoft Political Action Committee (MSPAC).  I know that there are many, if not most people in the United States who cringe at the very idea of being associated withe a PAC.  It connotates some type of sleazy late night political meeting that is somehow illegal.  It means dollars spent to buy off politicians.  It means high-priced entertainment to buy and bribe people of influence.  It’s a Hollywood love story.  Though I am sure some of that goes on in reality it is not quite that sexy, but it’s not far from the truth. so read on and enjoy.

It started with a simple enough event.  Patrick Kennedy was coming to campus and being someone who is interested in politics it seemed like a fun thing to do during lunch.  I mean he’s a Kennedy!!?  Plus for those who do not know I am a huge Robert F Kennedy fan so that chance to see and hear someone who is related to him was too much to pass up.  the event was at the conference center on Microsoft’s campus and was sparsely attended.  Less than 50 people came.  I have to admit Patrick was less than impressive.  He started off fine.  He was here to listen and learn, but then he went off on the Republican led Congress in a very partisan manner.  Don’t get me wrong I tend to lean left in a lot of my views however at the end of the day I want members of both aisles to come together and develop solutions to the nations problems.  Unfortunately we get stuck with ideology. 

As I got more involved I actually got to meet members of government rather than just listen to them.  One of the first was the dynamic couple James Carville and Mary Matalin.   One of the oddest couples in US Political history.  She an advisor to George Bush Sr and Jr as well as Vice President Dick Cheney.  He the architect of Bill Clinton’s 1992 successful campaign.  They have a typical little spiel they do.  She gets up and talks politics while taking heavy hit sat her husband and his “bizarre” rock star status (very funny stuff).  Het get sup and tells you about his views and mentions at least ten times he is a Cajun from Louisiana.  After they spoke some of the elite members of the MSPAC got the opportunity to meet them.  We went up some stairs to what is more or less a loft and waited for them.  As they came up the stairs it became very apparent we had a fashion train wreck.  When they spoke in the conference center you did not notice because they were separate on stage.  However walking up the stair she was in a nice light soft green dress with elegant jewelry.  James however was in khaki’s, with a white shirt, a dark forest green blazer and a loud plaid tie with bright yellow and green highlights.  Mary as she approached the top just looked at everyone and said “Do we clash?  I think we clash?”.  Yes you did.  We had a chance to chat with them a nd get photo’s.  They were both very nice.  At eth time James was interested in what was (or was not) happening with Gary Locke.  Mary mentioned that Bill Maher was “not all there”.  I only mention that because when I met them again a couple of years later she brought that up again.   Next time I meet her I intend to ask her why she says thinks he has a potential mental stability issue.

In 2004 as she was trying to gain re-election to the Senate, Patti Murray.  It is interesting as I remember Patty Murray when she first  ran for office in 1992 as “the mom in sneakers” campaign.  It seemed unlikely at the time she would be a 4 term Senator.  But persevered she has.  I think there is an appeal with non-traditional backgrounds (Dave Reichert – the sheriff in the congressional 8th district is another good example).  Like this past election the 2004 campaign was a Republican year and the Democrats were playing defense across the country.  It was time to bring in the heavy hitters to help the campaign.   At that time one of the big political rock stars was Hilary Clinton.  When she attended the room was packed to capacity. She entered complete with secret service and lot s of applause.   She went onto speak for  over 30 minutes.  Primarily about the Iraq war.  The common theme by Democrats at the time was the other side of the aisle did not listen. Don Rumsfeld (quoting Don, “We know what we know, we don’t know what we don’t know, we know we don’t know”) does not tell the whole truth and deflects at every turn.  Finally she concluded about the situation in Iraq, “We started it, we own it”.  The thing about Hilary Clinton is everyone has an opinion.  Some love her, some hate her.  But there is a reason she ran for President, she is damn smart.

Her opponent at the time was Congressman George Neathercutt.  His claim to fame is in 1994 he upset then speaker of the house Tom Foley in the congressional 5th district in the  slaughter of the Democrats that mid-term elections..  He was going to try to do it again by taking on Senator Murray.  He came to campus and the room may have had 50-75 people.  It was in my opinion one of the oddest talks I heard during my time with the PAC.  At the time one of the news stories was a clip from capitol hill with out other Senator, Maria Cantwell having a spat with Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (whom Neathercutt used to work for). Neathercutt talked a lot about his previous work with Senator Stevens.  How he would mend fences etc…What I thought odd was though Senator Stevens may have been popular with hard-core republicans, however  I don’t think overall he was that popular in Washington state as he was the old-time politician in the pocket of big oil that people despised.  Not to mention every moment wasted on this topic was a free day for Senator Murray to focus on issues that mattered.  Neathercutt was also an eastern Washington guy, which is tough in a state dominated by the west side of the Cascades.  In the end Murray won re-election easily in what was otherwise a big season for Republicans.

There is a lot more to say on this era of my life, but I leave at this today as there are a few more chapters to go.

Good Night and Good Luck.

Hans Henrik Hoffmann November 16th, 2010

I bought an iPhone…how could I!?!

It is one of those things that there was a time when the idea of getting any non-Microsoft product was just not part of the equation.  I was there for 18 years during the good and the bad, we had a pretty deep relationship.  But on the very day that Microsoft launched its evolutionary Windows Phone 7, I walked into my local AT&T store and purchased my first Apple product ever.   Even though the store had a nice display and the AT&T rep even gave me a quick walk through of the Windows Phone 7 (and some slick Android devices), my mind was set.  I was breaking ranks.  I was on a mission.

How does such a loyal soldier become a deserter?  I mean have I really lost all my faculties?  Living a life on the run cannot be all that much fun.  Well to those who question my motives I shall take you to task with but one statement…mid-life crisis.  I am over 40, rapidly heading towards the middle part of that decade. I mean it has to be,  doesn’t it?  Luckily there are more factors to consider.  Some obvious.  Lingering bitterness over how my time at Microsoft ended? Sure, I would be a liar if I did  not allow my stubborn pride to show through just a little bit.  A desire to step  out of my skin and do things differently?  You bet, but that is also my nature to want to experience new things so it’s not much of a stretch.  If I have a flaw it is a desire to want to see, learn and experience too much in life.  It’s a flaw I am willing to live with.  Getting back to my midlife crisis, just because I am getting older it does not mean I have lost my desire to be hip or cool.  But getting back to my iPhone decision let us move forward.

Kevin Turner, Microsoft COO, would often get asked by internal employees, “Why can’t Microsoft be cool like Apple?”. He would always reply, “I would rather have 90% market share than be cool”.  All I can say is its dangerous to use the past to justify the future.  It has been an interesting twist of events to get to this point and by all accounts great product execution by the folks at Apple.  It shows a certain innocent stupidity on Microsoft’s part to not realize the necessity of making technology make people  feel good about themselves.  When people feel cool they tend to feel good about themselves.  The second mistake made by Microsoft was not realizing the power of the younger generation.  They completely ignored them, and they made the worst criminal offense, they did not listen.

A few comments regarding my iPhone.  I have the 3g with the new 4.01 OS.  Since I was really going to the store to add  minutes to my plan and since I could get  the “honor” of extending my contract I could get the phone for $99 (A 4g would have cost $199).  As far as the phone goes I shall make this not so much a review as most people either have or used the iPhone.  The brilliance of the iPhone is an idiot could use it.  The user interface is colorful and intuitive.  Finally and probably most importantly is, it is fun.  Since fun is a form of addiction in the sales and marketing world, that is a good thing…for Apple.

Moving forward with my technology purchases I can’t say what my next thing I need will be ( will be a 42″ Flat Screen…don’t tell my wife).  Do I feel bad about moving away from my Windows Mobile Phone after having had every iteration there was through v6.5?  Not really, they were not all that good.  Have I left the Microsoft mother ship, no, but it’s not my mother either. I am just trying to get by and enjoy life and in the end isn’t that what matters?  Even if Apple does profit off of it.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann Nov 9, 2010

Looking back upon a year gone from Microsoft

It came so quickly when it all happened.  A calendar request from my manager the night before just saying we need to have a meeting at 9am the next morning to discuss organizational changes.  Considering my manager lived in Delaware and having read a lot about Stalin’s purges in 1927-28 and then again in 1936-37 I understand the meaning of short and unexpected requests.  Funny how Kevin Turner kind of looks like Stalin, but that’s another blog ( I promise not to throw anyone else under the bus during this blog, but for the record I enjoyed that jab).

When I got to the office I knew it was coming.  I was pulled into the conference room my manager was there and a woman from human resources.  It was short and sweet.  My manager said next to nothing.  The HR person just issued directives. Here is your paper work please read and get back to us.  Now go home.  It was November 4th, 2009 and at 9:15 my 18 year career at Microsoft was over.  I started at Microsoft on November 4th 1991, the irony.

With the sad and cold part of the blog over let the light begin to let light shine once again.  How Microsoft handles letting people go is very gracious.  You get a severance package that takes into account your years of service.  They get you set up with an employment councilor.  Get you on COBRA for health care coverage for a specified amount of time.  And for the first time in my life I started collecting unemployment.  It was a lot of paper work, but all in all it went pretty smoothly. 

Probably the most asked question for me since I departed is “What is life like outside of Microsoft?”.  It is a fair question after so many years inside Microsoft’s walled garden.  At Microsoft your are indoctrinated into Microsoft’s view-point of the world of technology.  Especially early on when the vision was sound and the direction clear.  The last 8 years I cannot say the same.  There are significant cracks in that wall.  When I left on the corporate network there were 7000 iPhones and finding people who owned and used a Zune was difficult.   As I have said before in a technology company having technical visionaries is important.  There are lots of them outside of Microsoft – in fact I rarely here any type of visionary statement from Microsoft.  The exception being Ray Ozzie, but he is leaving.

Are there jobs?  Yes.  There are a lot of companies hiring.  Locally Amazon is big however I have yet to talk to anyone who likes working there.  Other companies of note are SalesForce.Com, VMWare, Google, Facebook etc..Then there is the contractor route.  Many former colleagues have gone back in this capacity but I never considered it an option.  However it is a good deal.  You get better pay for jobs with less stress.  Not challenging work but a good lifestyle change.

Another benefit was I had was the 7 months where I did not work and I loved every moment of it.  I walked my kids to school everyday. I got involved in their school.  I visited my mom a lot (she has Alzheimer’s, but time well spent).  I worked out a lot and got in good shape,  I even did some of the classes available at my local YMCA.  I started this blog, which I continue to enjoy writing to this day.  I got caught up on a lot of reading.  Visited with friends over coffee.  I took my youngest son with me to Denmark with stops in Iceland and Sweden.   I got my Soccer National “D” Coaching License.  Life was great.

Is there a downside?  One word…healthcare.  If you have not followed the healthcare debates in this country when you leave Microsoft you will understand far better the sheltered life you have been living.  For 18 years as both a single individual and married with children I simply provided the hospital my card and was pretty much done.  I did not have huge premiums come out of my paycheck.  It was simple and I and my family were taken care of.  Once you are gone you have to pay.  My Cobra payment had I had to pay everything out of my own pocket (MS and the government were helpful here) would have been $1700 per month.  Today I pay about $450 a month out of my paycheck and the coverage is not nearly as good.  I have talked to others who have thrown out numbers as high as $750 per month per paycheck.  If I made 40k per month I would have to pay at least 10%-15% of my paycheck for healthcare.  Cost will continue to rise and the percentage of our paychecks will either go more towards healthcare or we will have to accept less.  There is no end in sight.  We live in a country where healthcare is not a right, but simply a fear to feed our nightmares.

I cannot tell you what my post Microsoft life holds for me, even though I am a year removed from it, but lifes adventures move me forward.  After 18 years at Microsoft I knew what each day would hold, despite its fast pace, when game changing events occurred there was a certain formula behind how to react to it. Having been gone a while I am enlightened by day-to-day life’s challenges and emboldened and inspired by the people doing the simple things in life but enjoying them immensely.    Maybe that is what life is about, not the protection of the big corporate walls, but living and exploring the uncertainty of it day-to-day.  Just try to enjoy the ride and take it all in.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann Nov 4, 2010