The Post-PC Era Revisited

I wrote about this first a year ago.  It is one of those terms we have been hearing for several years now, but I am of the opinion that we have turned the corner and it is now more than just an accepted term.  In my current role I am learning a lot about what VMware and its entire virtualization product set.  In their certification training the “post PC era” is mentioned several times.  Ironic since the current CEO of VMware Paul Maritz, played a major part in creating the PC era, while he was at Microsoft.  On the consumer side we have seen the rapid rise of consumer driven smart devices, like the iPhone and iPad.  People want small intelligent, fun mobile devices. It seems almost hard to accept as the PC era has not really been with us that long.  But technology moves fast and it seems self-evident that what VMware, Google, Apple  and others are touting is all but too true.

We have seen a lot of change over the past couple of hundred year.  We had the agrarian age, where much of work and wealth was tied to the care of the land and feeding of society.  Then we moved to the industrial age, where man’s technological advancements started to foster new industries such as train travel, the manufacturing of cars, the necessity of steel, and the birth of the oil industry.  A hundred years later, give or take a few years, the rise of the PC and the information age began to take hold.  It was not long before the dream of a PC on very desktop and every home moved from fantasy to reality.  The one thing that is evident is the we will not have to wait a hundred years for the birth of a new economic revolution.  The tech industry is transforming rapidly and will not last as long as the industrial revolution and before long we will move to the age of robotics.  The age of Nano tech.  The age of new energy.  In a presentation I heard Newt Gingrich say, “In the new century we will surpass all the advancements of the 20th century in the first 25 years”.  It may seem bold, but is realistic and in the end will be true.

When you think about desktops and laptops it may make you think we have returned to mainframes with dumb terminals. To a certain degree it has.  But I was listening to CNBC one morning and they were talking about Generation Y (those born 1980 or later) and how they use or do not use technology. This generation is the Tablet, Laptop and Mobile phone group. The idea of a desktop is not their thing.  They are also the generation that will feel more comfortable with using cloud based services.  In addition many things that were thought to be only available using the power of the PC are now readily available in the cloud and can be viewed through a web browser.  Think if all the mapping technologies we have available to us today.  We take for granted that all of that is being provided to us remotely and we are just consuming a  service.  We need a user interface to consume services but where those services reside is not relevant to the majority the world’s population.

The Roomba is an interesting device.  A device that vacuums the house for you.  It is a robot made and manufactured bu iRobot.  My niece has one.  I saw one once in an office space.  They sell well.  Are they pervasive in society?  No, not yet.  The people who own them are what we call in marketing terms, early adopters.  What does this have to with the post-PC era?  Well a large part of PC’s is the software that drives them.  In the early days of the tech industry the role of software was relinquished to the PC.  But as we moved into the new century and what Bill Gates called the “software decade”, he failed to see in its entire what that meant.  Software was going to increasingly be deployed in hardware devices, not called a PC.  These new emerging fields of Robotics and renewable energies would not be tied to the desktop.  Simple robotic devices like the Roomba, start to demonstrate what the power of software will be and what it can and is going to be.  It also shows a future with devices beyond simple information devices, but true productivity devices in a manual labor sense.

The latest stats for this years PC market show another year of sub 2% growth.  Some due to the slower than normal global economy, but most is due to what I believe is consumers choosing to buy a tablet or smartphone and forgoing the cost of a new PC.  Do not get me wrong the PC will live for the rest of the 21st Century.  But what these buying trends show is that there is a world out there does not live in spreadsheets.  That do not build databases.  Who may not even use a word processor.  A lot of those people bought a PC with Microsoft Office on it so they could access the wonders of the world-wide web.  Now they have an alternative choice.  A choice that is simpler and in some cases cheaper.    I think sometimes in certain areas of the technology industry we became a bit silo-ed in our views.  To think one view of the world will live forever is a recipe for long-term failure. Bill Gates thought the PC would be the center of the universe and it still may be, but it’s share of the overall pie is shrinking as many people move away from the PC as their primary device.  Looking for the elusive mobile lifestyle.

The coming six month are reason for a lot of excitement that will test these views.  We have Windows 8 coming to market and this will test the one OS to rule them all theory from the one and only company that can drive this vision, Microsoft.  We will also have the iPhone5 coming for the holidays.  Both these releases are guaranteed successes.  These will test two fundamentally different vision from two giants in the industry.  Microsoft still owns the desktop and Apple owns the consumer.  In the background you have Google pitching a different a vision with its Android mobile OS and Chrome based laptops.  Where will Facebook play?  Are they just Social Networking?  They have API’s so where there is a API there is a developer play.  We are entering the post-PC era,  that is almost for certain at this point.  There are likely devices we have not even thought of, it could be the next great leap in robotics that creates the next break through or simply a prettier, friendlier personal device.  In the end the only thing that is forever is change

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann August 28, 2012

Categories Uncategorized

Goodbye Hotmail, Hello Outlook

Seems odd to say since I have been on every version of Outlook since version 1.0. That was back before calendaring and email were integrated. For scheduling you had a little software program called schedule +. You could always tell old timers at Microsoft because when you were talking to someone about setting up a potential meeting they would always say “Sched + me”. Now Microsoft has finally decided to replace Hotmail by renaming it and updating it to Outlook. I have had my Hotmail account for over ten years and during that time it has become old and outdated and frankly really hard to manage. I also have a gMail account which I do not use very much so this is a chance to stat anew and see if I will stay with Outlook or start migrating to gMail. Lets take a look at the new “cloud” based email service from Microsoft, both mostly good and some, in my view, iffy decisions.

First off the UI is cleaned up immensely.  I should say that I don’t mean its brand new in its layout, but it is softer in its appearance and simplified.  The thing about UI’s are it’s not necessarily about being bold it’s a fine art.  Google Search is a good example of something simple and appealing to the eye.  At the same token I will say gMail will look busy and cluttered compared  to Outlook.  One thing I really liked was deleting email.  In Hotmail I always found myself scrolling up or down to delete an email or series of emails.  With Outlook delete is only on top and only appears when I check a box (when I check a box all my options appear reply, delete, junk, etc..).  A very simple and elegant way of cleaning up the user interface.  I also like when I mouse over an email it provides a delete bucket icon so if I know it’s just an email I will never read I can easily delete.  It also (like gMail) has consolidated  conversation threads, which was a must and a welcome change.  This is one feature I will add “it is about time!!”.  I really like it but did it take so long?  In any case glad to have it.

When I go to People I am first greeted with the now standard do you want to pull all your Facebook Friend, Twitter Followers, LinkedIn contacts to Outlook.  I have to admit maybe there is an advantage to this but the way I interact with Social Networking, to me at least, highlights the advantage of the modern browser and multi-tab browsing.  I also do not want 500+ FB contacts and 800+ Linked in contacts imported into People and then synched to my iPhone..However it does do some integration by default and like the inbox the contact info is very clean and non-intrusive.  The basic integration with Facebook is nice in that it does not clutter my interface.  Even though I may not use it it’s done in a way that is again very clean in its approach.  Next to email, People is the most important thing I access and manage on a regular basis.  The name change?  I am OK with it, however when asked I will still say “let me look at my contacts”, I do not foresee someone asking me, “Can you find Joe’s phone number”.  I respond with, “Let me look it up in my people”.  Sounds weird.  But if Microsoft wants to replace contacts with people, I can live with that.

The calendar is not much different from its predecessor.  When you think of calendars either in digital or print has the basic form changed much in the last 500 years?  That being said it was the one area I felt that I was no longer in Outlook but back in Hotmail. The look and feel are not what I experience in the rest of Outlook but brings me back to where I came from.  It almost makes me think did they run out of time to meet a deadline?  My hope is this gets cleaned up to look more like the rest of Outlook as so far I like what I have seen in the rest of Outlook.  there are thousands of calendar templates on the market I would think they could have found and licensed one that was better than what they ended up with.

Then there is the name.  There is no question new and young users seem attracted to and attached to gMail and that Hotmail had become old and outdated.  If I have been critical of Microsoft about one thing it would have to be their mismanaged sales and marketing efforts.  As I said about the Nokia Lumia adds and the effort to tie in Office with Windows Mobile, no kid wants a phone they can do homework on.  With the name Outlook we are now tying my internet email with my corporate email.  As I said at the start I have had and loved every version of Outlook since v1.0.  However if you want to attract new and younger users, well image is everything.  That being said there were three options:

  1. Keep Hotmail (or MSN)
  2. Use Outlook and its established reputation
  3. New name

If I had to decide I probably would have stuck with Hotmail.  As I think a new name would have been just another brand for Microsoft to manage.  Maybe Bing Mail?  No easy answers on this one, I am just a bit leery of using Outlook as the brand, especially if you are trying to attract a younger audience.

So what is my overall verdict?  Overall I really like the new Outlook.  I could go to gMail but why?  Compared to Outlook gMail looks cluttered and old.  I think they did a great job in simplifying the UI for email and people.  The calendar is in need of a  makeover, but top be  honest I do not use that feature too much.  I liked the new Contacts set up and overall I find the experience enjoyable.  I will say in composing anew email moving the To:, CC, and BCC, to the left pane is taking some getting used to but not really a big deal.  In the end too much headache to move and I find Outlook a better experience anyway.  I am and will remain a Microsoft internet mail user.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann August 7, 2012

Categories Uncategorized