The end of the DUI

On April 4, 2013 Morgan Frick Williams left her home in Seattle and drove her car to her office in downtown Bellevue.  Normally Morgan took the bus across the 520 bridge, but on that day she was going to drive to Bellingham after work to visit an old high school friend who was in a hospice.   However in the pre-dawn morning just before she reached the bridge Morgan’s car was met head on by an SUV driving in the wrong direction.  Morgan never made it to work, nor will she ever again as the accident took her life.  Another victim in a preventable crime that takes nearly 10,000 American lives per year.  To put that in perspective, on average every night of the year on 27 occasions across the country a police officer notifies someone with words such as “I am sorry sir, your son is dead”.

I remember the morning of the accident.  Turning on King 5 news that morning and being greeted by live footage at the crime scene.  Knowing the bridge well it was evident without hesitation that it was a drunk driving accident.  The fact that the bridge was closed east bound meant a fatality had occurred.  It seemed senseless. Like all drunk driving incidents it seems like it should be preventable.  The only problem is to prevent these tragic deaths we have one factor to consider..we are human.  We are  prone to making poor decisions. Susceptible to addictions.  Emotionless at times to the lives of others.  Then when all is said and done we have emotions left to live with such as guilt, remorse, regret. depression and pain for those who commit the crime. Those who lose loved ones they live with something far worse, emptiness.  Then once they emerge anger and hate, man kinds worst level of emotion.

On the horizon however there is hope.  Technology is making breakthroughs that in time will enable those leaving a friend’s party, a dive bar. a corporate Christmas party, in fact name the event, but those that are either mildly intoxicated or severely will get into a car and say”Drive me home”.  It will remove the greatest risk, the human risk. Sound far-fetched?  Not really, most  of the technology exists today.  How many people reading this blog use their smartphone Maps application to navigate unfamiliar roads?  For years there has been a robotics auto races.  The Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA) has sponsored the “Grand  Challenge” since 2004.  It has since changed into other challenges, the next events scheduled here in 2013.  It has morphed into an event that will not require vehicles as that domain is conquered.  It will actually be what was once fictional, humanoid robots.  The reason being the easy piece, car navigation has become boring.

It is a change that will happen in society and a change, I believe, that is inevitable.   There will be many hurdles to overcome.  the first being legal.  Most states today don’t yet have laws in place that encompass robotic vehicles.  As this technology rolls out there will be the trial and error effect.  It will lead to lawsuits, which will be nice for a lot of “starving” lawyers, who are a beastly bunch.  But the upside to our country will be immense.  Both our aging auto industry and are nascent technology sector are behind these efforts.  The car is changing.  As Bill Ford said it is becoming a platform.  Like an iPhone (and with an iPhone in the car) you are seeing apps being built with a car in a mind.

As a society we are almost all using a GPS service, either on our iPhone or Android device.  They are not perfect but can get us to our destination without fail over ninety percent of the time.  In a robotics world they will occasionally deliver us to the wrong destination. But as with all technology the rough curves will be smoothed out until it ceases to be an issue.  Like the dawn of the POC age a car will improve and increase its onboard processing capabilities in time.  I stated with 4mb RAM and a 40mb hard disk.  Just twenty tears later we talk in gigs of memory and are now seeing terabytes of hard disk space.  The robotic car will follow this same path as it matures over time.

Bill Gates is one of the most optimistic people, when it comes to technology, that I have ever heard and I have no doubt he would echo my positive sentiment on this one.  The downside is, before this change takes place, there will be not just one or two more Morgan Frick William’s incidents, there will likely be tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of cases just like what we saw and read about on the 520 bridge,  In the time since I started writing this blog entry hundreds of lives have been lost.  Robotics is set to become a gigantic part of our present.  With it many lives will be saved as we will have a means for the drunk driver to not drive, to take away the human element of these travesties

We live in a world where we are almost numb to disturbing,  violent and often tragic news.  It could be the latest terrorist attack, gun shootings, rape,. pick your poison it is likely to be a daily news story.  But in many instances we have one of the greatest human conditions at work; hope.  There is around the corner advancements taking place that could one day reduce (not eradicate) a tragedy that has been on place since Henry Ford created the automotive assembly line.  The robotics revolution is upon us and it will enable people like Morgan Frick Williams to have a boring drive to work and except for those that know her, we will not know her name.  And society will be better for it.  More importantly her family and the tens of thousands of lives saved will be better for it.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 24, 2013

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The Death of the Windows Operating System

I wrote this nearly 3 years ago…with today’s poor PC Shipment numbers I thought it was interesting to read what I though and where we are.  This was well before Windows 8.

I am sure a lot of my former Microsoft colleagues will look on this title with horror and possibly even shame and anger towards Hans Hoffmann. Everything Microsoft has accomplished over its 30+ years existence can be traced back to the vision and success of the Windows Operating System. On top of this all Microsoft has just released the best operating system in its history, Windows 7. The most recent Microsoft earnings reports, though dismal on some front, shows that Windows 7 has been a huge success. I will be forthright, I run Windows 7 and it is rock solid. I have been a very happy user of the OS, but it has raised some questions in my mind. In particular the role that the operating system will play in our lives moving forward.

I guess the first question I had when I finished booting my Windows 7 operating system was how simple the user interface was, there was not much there. It did however offer quick access to the browser. There are some cool features, like when I hover over the browser it shows me all the windows that are currently open. But in the end it was very basic, the user interface was not very busy. In fact I would say it was very clean. For many years some of the most valuable real estate in the PC industry was the Windows User Interface. Because no matter what you wanted to do on your PC you had to launch Windows first.

There had been many efforts to try to drive revenue by leveraging the Windows UI. After the launch of Windows 95 and the birth of the web, it was felt that Microsoft needed to have an offering for ISP’s where they could put their logo on the Windows UI and customers then could sign up for their online offering. Microsoft would then get a fee for every user that signed into the ISP’s monthly service. The initial ISP’s selected were AOL, Earthlink and Prodigy. For a while in my career at Microsoft I managed the Prodigy relationship, with the primary responsibility of collecting the money. They paid us about $600k per year, not bad revenue. Later on with Vista there would be the ill-fated attempt at gadgets. A memory hog and not something I was going to pay for. This has all changed in today’s world as most users boot a OS and launch right into the browser. The most valuable real estate today is on the web, not the desktop. The desktop more or less is a system I boot to get to my browser.

This brings us back to the simplicity of Windows 7. The competition is taking notice and trying to restructure the playing field and doing in at different levels. At the base level (or consumer level) we have what Google is trying to do with Chrome. And at the enterprise level you have two things occurring, virtualization and what VMWare is pursuing and then the cloud efforts which pretty much everyone is doing.

For over three decades now the world of the personal computer has played by the same rules. You have a microprocessor, a basic input output system (BIOS) and an operating system that handles the interaction between software and hardware. Every 3-4 years we either buy a new PC with a new OS or just buy the software and upgrade the existing OS. Certain technical limitations have facilitated that model, however that model is under threat with increasingly powerful hardware now providing the mainframe of yesteryear now in a small laptop and allowing us to be where we want to be. In addition the power of the web seems to grow exponentially every year.

Things are changing in the industry towards this traditional view of computing. In a recent interview on CNet, former Microsoft GM and now Google VP, Vic Gudotra talked about his time at Microsoft and the belief during those days that there were certain things that only the PC could do and that the web would not be able to replicate. In particular he mentioned a partner, KeyHole which had created a cool PC based app that was a prime example of an application that could exist only on the desktop. Not long after KeyHole was acquired by Google. Today that application is known as Google Earth. The main point, which I agree with is never underestimate what can be done on the web.

When I think what VMware is doing with virtualization and the cloud it’s hard not to think back to Microsoft’s introduction of .NET. One of the key architects and brains behind .NET was then Group President, Paul Maritz. In an industry trade rag article written around that time it was suggested that Microsoft was trying to decouple the .NET framework from the underlying OS thus reducing the dependency of the Windows operating system. I can not validate the truth of this, I was not in the room when those types of discussions took place, but it would make sense for Microsoft to look towards the future and discuss the role of the operating system of the future. This much I do know is if those discussions took place Paul Maritz would have been involved and a primary driver of any strategic and technical thought process. Today Paul Maritz is CEO of VMWare. Look at what they are doing and do the math.

The Microsoft OEM channel is not immune to these changes either as some of the major Microsoft partners are starting to experiment with OS’ that are not Windows. This is not a new phenomena, as during the dotcom revolution Dell toyed with OEM versions of Linux, but eventually dropped as a desktop OS. However the world has changed very quickly on the last 10 years. The net is no longer new but an established part of our everyday life and available everywhere in the world. The world of mobile computing has taken off as Laptops are cheap and replacing the traditional home computer. All schools in the US have some type of laptop program for students. The thin device called a netbook has found place for many users in daily life. Finally mobile computing within the phone has increased drastically, in large part due to the iPhone phenomena. Recently HP acquired Palm, which has its own Mobile OS, which I am sure could be extended to a Tablet. Acer is also in the process of launching a Netbook based on Google’s Android OS. Given the rise of Android as a mobile computing platform I think the chances of success are pretty good this time around.

Another issue is the rise of office productivity applications, that are not Microsoft Office. One of the key drivers for the success of Windows has been the success and innovation that has been a cornerstone of the Microsoft Office Platform. Though not universal yet it is not uncommon these days to find PC’s running OpenOffice or Google Docs. These applications are tightly aligned with the browser and can run across multiple platforms, thus rendering the underlying OS not as relevant. Though still a small percentage of the overall market they are gaining traction. Even if they only got 10% of the market in the next 3 years it would be a significant financial blow to Microsoft.

Part of the dilemma in this rapidly advancing world of technology for Microsoft is how do you embrace this new world without cannibalizing $20 billion in revenue? I think in general that is the challenge for any company with a large cash cow. In technology when change starts to happen it happens with tremendous velocity and cannot be contained. It is the nature of the industry and also what makes the tech sector one of the most exciting places to work. The impact of technology is felt in everyday life and in every industry. For many years Microsoft was able to see these changes and envision where it would play when those changes took place, of course Microsoft’s place in those tidal shifts was at the top of the industry. We are now at a shift which could fundamentally alter how traditional computing has been viewed. It will affect what we purchase, where we purchase and whom we purchase from. If the operating systems as we know it starts to lose value as other alternatives become available, what then for Microsoft? With tremendous change comes tremendous opportunity, but when something is so core to your identity it is hard to make the change as it is as much cultural as financial. The risk of course is the tremendous opportunity will happen it will just go elsewhere. As I said earlier the computing model for the operating system has not changed a whole lot in 30 years, but today that transition is happening off of the PC operating system. What was once the sole domain of the PC is now part of the universal domain of the web. It’s been a great ride but now it’s on to the future, may the desktop OS rest in peace.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann June, 1 2010

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