Windows 95 – 20 yr anniversary

With the launch of Windows 95 celebrating 20 yrs I thought I would re-post my blog from 6 yrs ago.  Posted on my 43rd BDay – enjoy!!

The biggest event in Microsoft history was the launch of Windows 95. Make no mistake about it. I don’t care what Ballmer, Sinofsky, Turner or whatever other exec you want to parade out and say xyz product was bigger. I don’t care that Microsoft says Windows 7 is the best OS they have ever made (they would be correct on that point). Windows 95 was huge. To put it all into perspective before we get to the launch event itself we should understand where the industry was at the time before Windows 95.

From a OS perspective one needs to remember that even though Windows 3.0 and Windows 3.1 had been huge successes there were essentially two things that limited it, primarily visa vi when you were comparing to a Mac.

Windows 3.1 and earlier all had one thing in common, they were built on top of and dependent on DOS. Memory Management which was so critical in those days was controlled by the Mac killer — DOS. I will say this over and over again. You can love your Mac it’s great stuff, but to lose to DOS, from a technical perspective, is shameful. Don’t tell me Microsoft was stupid when Apple had it burnt in their forehead.
Windows to this point was a 16 bit OS. The Mac was 32 bit which meant theoretically the Mac should be much faster than a Windows-based system. Windows 95 was going to a be a 32 bit OS. For the non-technical folk the easiest way to think of this is a 2 lane highway versus a 4 lane highway.
The PC at the time of launch was really starting to take its place in day-to-day like. The vision of a PC on every desktop and in every home was starting to come into view. People in general were getting used to and excited about technology. To work at Microsoft at this time was like being a rock star. Did not matter what you did at Microsoft, you were there. You were at the cutting edge. The nineties was the golden age of the geek.

Windows 95 was code-named “Chicago” in beta. We had played around with it in my group. It was cool. The UI was radically different from Windows for Workgroups 3.11, which we were all running at the time. It really took the graphical user interface to the next level at Microsoft. It really has not changed a whole lot since that release. The best story from the beta was in Chicago, when BillG had his demo guy, Chris Capposella launch the demo only to have the “big” crash occur. Chris has gone on to become a successful exec at Microsoft, but that was his shining moment of fame.  Funny that his shining moment was a failed moment.

Two of the primary drivers behind Windows 95 were Brad Silverberg and Brad Chase. When they stood onstage earlier that summer in Toronto for the Microsoft Global Sales Summit (I was not there but I saw the video), they received the loudest and longest standing ovation from the Microsoft sales force I had ever heard. I realized watching that neither would likely ever accomplish something so huge again in their life. Both have since left Microsoft, Brad Silverberg launched a venture capital firm. He leads a cushy life from what I understand.  The VC made money but has not done anything great.  Brad Chase has entered the world of, “where is he now”?

One of the key new features to Windows 95, which remains in the OS to this day was the “Start” button (they tried to kill it with Windows 8, but were crucified for their efforts). Leading up to launch Microsoft needed to do advertising. As the story goes BillG was at an event where also in the crowd was Mick Jagger (I have yet to be to such a party). Bill liked the idea of using the Rolling Stones classic “Start Me Up” for the ad blitz so he asked Mick, “How much would it cost?”. Keep in mind today we take these type of Rock Star meets corporate America for granted. In those days it was not quite so common (not to say it did not exist – Michael Jackson and Pepsi had been around for years).

The launch day that August was truly amazing. Starting at midnight with crowds lined up all over the country the amount of media buzz was overwhelming. Granted I was local, so in the Seattle area the coverage was over the top. Every TV station was covering the event and the soccer fields at Microsoft had been transformed into a circus seen complete with a big top tent. The event had a host, none other than Jay Leno. The Stones, “Start me up” was blaring everywhere and all the time. Helicopters were flying overhead all day long. It turned into a complete frenzy as radio reports stated to say that Keith Richards had been sighted at the airport (this proved to be false), which just added to the hysteria. Outside the tent were booths set up for Microsoft partners to show off demo’s of their Windows 95 products. Billg was on TV from that morning until the evening, doing interview after interview. There was food for everyone. It was just a huge party.

Compare all this with the Windows 7 launch, it was just a different ball game. I also think the metrics of success have changed. When I watched Steve Ballmer on the today show at the launch of Windows 7. Matt Lauer asked him, “So why should I buy Windows 7, I mean what is so great?” Without hesitation Steve responded “Faster boot time”. As I get older perhaps I get jaded, but that was not exactly the most exciting or interesting of answers. I honestly do not get that excited about OS upgrades anymore. At the end of the day the OS needs to support my devices and run my apps. Beyond that there is not a whole lot of excitement in an operating system. But when the industry was younger and before the internet the OS was a really big deal.

The Windows 95 launch was one of those events that will likely not happen in the industry again. That same month a IPO would launch for a small company called Netscape. The dawning of internet time was upon Microsoft and the industry would march toward overdrive, but that is the next blog. Have a great weekend:-)

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 12, 2009

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Alphabet – The new Google

It was a big announcement. Larry Page and Sergey Bryn have decided to create a holding company called Alphabet, which will house a slimmed down Google and other companies.  Larry and Sergey will run the new company and hand over the CEO title of Google to Sundar Pichai.  Should we be shocked by this announcement? Maybe.  To be honest it is the kind of big thinking we have grown used to with  Sergey and Larry.  Google has always been about pushing boundaries.   They created the search engine business model that would rule all others.  Beyond search they bet early on video and bought Youtube.  They developed Android and Chrome. They thought mapping would be interesting and have grown the business to where it is on almost every smart phone on the planet.  They have used Project Moonshot to explore new businesses like driver less vehicles.  They have smart glasses and watches, though not huge success they continue to drive interest.  Now they are thinking, “we are a $50 billion business how do we invest and invent the next great business, but not get bogged down by our own size”?  There is debate on is this a bold move or not.  I would not categorize this as bold, but I think it is smart The first question is what does this mean to Google’s business?

One thing Wall Street has been clambering for is better transparency into Google’s different business units, in particular those “project moonshot” spin offs. A team like Google Fiber will now report earnings and what and why it did things the way they did. NEST will be broken out as separate entity, Life Sciences,  Calico, Investment arm of Google and Project X.   It’s smart as it gives investors visibility into different groups.  The core components of Search, Android, Chrome, YouTube etc..will remain as part of Google.  By creating these financial boundaries Google can create smaller nimbler divisions that can focus on big ideas, big visions, big opportunities.  It is important that they retain the entrepreneurial flare that has guided them to great success thus far and can keep them relevant for the future.  In the end it is one of those games companies hate to play, but have to play once they are a publicly traded company.  they have to make investors happy.

There are numerous examples of companies in tech that lost their way.  When I started in the industry IBM was at the forefront of companies that had been a leader only to lose their way in an ever changing tech landscape and at that time it was the idea of a personal computer.  They spent years trying to be better than Microsoft, before realizing under Lou Gerstner that they were IBM.  IBM had become an old stale company, grappling with its size and reach.  It was a legend in corporate America.  However Larry and Sergey were not afraid of be becoming IBM.  If you ask me who I think Larry and Sergey are afraid of becoming, it is my old company: Microsoft.  A company that defined the industry in the early days, but went from cool to being the new IBM. I remember quite well as the dotcom era created a booming economy that a challenge that was surfacing at Microsoft was growth.  When Steve Ballmer took over one of his priorities was to successfully manage that growth   He turned to the dean of the business world to find his answers and create his plan, Jack Welch.  The result was less than stellar as Microsoft became slow and monolithic.  The ability to lead seemed to disappear which led to failed projects like MySpace (A Facebook attempt), Soapbox ( a YouTube attempt), Zune (a iPod attempt) and a host of others. I don’t blame Ballmer too much for this because at the time Microsoft was the first of these young and new tech companies to experience this challenge of “hyper” growth.  Steve looked to existing business leaders of big legendary American companies. The big problem from my standpoint was those “other’ companies operated in a different landscape than Microsoft, with roots set before Microsoft even existed.  Though there was some good learning a lot did not transfer so well to a technology company.  Microsoft’s failure would be learning for those to come.

Many have said this move by Google is bold, amazing, giant, etc..I really do not fall in to that camp.  In many ways I think Google is tackling the biggest challenge with growth, which is, “How do you stay relevant?”.  It is ironic that the best quote, to paraphrase, comes from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, “This industry does not respect history, it only respect innovation”.  It is a true statement and the answer to the question of relevance. In 2013, Larry Page said”If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.”  Though many of Google’s ideas are out there in the wilderness, it will just take one or two to take off to drive the next $20 billion industry.  Some of Google’s ideas are obvious – driver less cars will happen.  The fact that Google was in early will help it immensely moving forward.  Life Sciences, the only thing I know is health care is at the dawn of a new revolution.  Fiber?  All tech companies hate the fact that they have to work with monolithic telecom carriers.  The challenge will be what kind if investment is involved to replace them?  In telecommunications the one guaranteed thing is every year will require billions of investment in the network.

In my final view I believe Google is doing the right thing.  Trying to create a smaller nimbler environment so that they can continue to innovate and take big risks.  The GE idea has proven to not work at a high level, operationally it has possibilities, but in tech you have to be bold as you move towards the future.  Google I think will try to balance the middle and appease the Wall Street dweebs, while continually investing in crazy ideas that could yield the next big industry shift.  In technology if  you view your business by where it is today it will not be long before you belong to yesterday. Googles move to Alphabet is an opportunity to invest in the businesses of tomorrow, it could fail miserably, however if they stay where they are today their failure will be all but guaranteed.  In technology nothing lives forever as the landscape is ever evolving.  You have to make bets on what you see the future to be like in five or ten years, it is the only way to ensure survival.


Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann August 14, 2015

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A Microsoft Mobile Disaster

Sometimes it is fun to look back on posts I did – this is five years old and dare I say still as relevant today as it was then in light of recent announcements…

As I said when I started my blog this was not just going to be a Microsoft love fest and now we enter an area where I was probably the most disappointed in the company. With the announcement of Windows Phone 7 it may be a good time to look back at Microsoft’s entry into the mobile phone business. It has been a rough ride of late for the mobile business at Microsoft. I will admit even when they thought they were doing well I was never that impressed with the products they were delivering. I may be a “non” Microsoftee on this analysis, but it is how I saw things and though I never worked directly in the group I sat in the building (Building 117) with them for several years and saw how they went about their business. I also covered some of the accounts that they called into; ATT Wireless, Western Wireless and T-Mobile.

The first time I ever saw a Microsoft phone was around 1999 at a Microsoft Telecom Service providers event in downtown Seattle. At the time it was a project code-named “Stingray” or “Stinger”. It was as expected a brick, but it was the first step. For Microsoft it made sense to go into the Mobile space, simply for one reason: During the 90’s the mobile phone had gone beyond being just a phone, it now had a user Interface (UI) which you could do things with, like texting. If there was a UI then there was an opportunity for Microsoft to play, in fact it was so ingrained into Microsoft’s DNA that it had to play and it had to be the leader.

Early on Microsoft tapped a former exec of Symbian, the OS used in most mobile phones at the time, he was a Dane (so naturally I thought that was cool) named Juha Christiansen. Later on they would call back from Asia, Pieter Knook to act as Senior VP reporting straight to Ballmer. They decided early on that Microsoft’s strategy would be to take down Research in Motion (RIM) with their cool Blackberry device. Microsoft wanted to focus on business professionals and the smartphone market. I think this strategy was significant as it meant that Microsoft would not provide consumers with an offering for mobile phones. Second I will add I am not a big fan of the term “smartphone”. To me all that means is feature creep, as phones get more powerful they add more features and before you know it all phones are “smartphones”, but I guess marketing people like these kind of things to show they are monitoring something important, no matter how obvious it is.

A second thing that Microsoft was thinking was the role of software with the phone. Microsoft viewed hardware and software as two different things and were still under the guise of Bill Gates who said “you are either a hardware vendor or software vendor but not both”. Microsoft thought it could sell the software separately from the phone, so if you bought a mobile phone and an update came out for Windows Mobile, you could purchase for $5-$10 off of a website and upgrade your phone. Then and today it is still amazing to me how Microsoft was so not in tune with the end-user. Microsoft also wanted to replicate the OEM channel like it had with the PC by getting Motorola, Samsung, LG, Ericsson, and all the big mobile phone providers, minus Nokia to act as a channel. The problem here is unlike the PC, which was virgin territory and created companies like Dell, Compaq, and Gateway, Microsoft was dealing with mature established companies. These companies did not need to be educated about the mobile market place.

A third area was Microsoft did not get SMS (texting). Texting had become a global phenomena, driven by the younger audience. It is a crude technology as you have a limit of 160 characters (140 bytes). It looks like a mobile version of DOS. But it is useful. I asked one of my nieces once why she liked it (we shall call her the Russian Princess) and the Russian princess relied, “A lot of times I just have a question I need answered and I do not want the formality of a phone call”. Smart girl. I can only guess here what the discussions were at Microsoft but based on the actions of the Bus Development folks, I think Microsoft looked at SMS as old, simple and stupid. Why not use a rich email client to do the same thing? Microsoft Outlook offered way more for the end-user than a text message. Two reasons why that did not really work: 1) consumers wanted light and simple (outlook is feature rich and big) 2) Telecom carriers make a huge amount of money per text and what Microsoft was offering was part of a flat rate data plan. Telling Fortune 1000 companies to cannibalize their revenue stream was not a smart idea. Today over 2 trillion text message are sent annually around the globe, which in monetary terms equals billions of dollars of profit to telecommunications carriers.

The first task for Microsoft Mobile was to get a carrier to resell the Microsoft phone and that duty fell onto my client ATT Wireless. The hardware manufacturer was a Taiwanese company, HTC. The first phone cannot be called elegant. It was not great, but it was the first and soon thereafter a lot of people on the Microsoft campus had them. It was a significant change as now as an employee you get your email anywhere (at Microsoft email is king). Microsoft was on its way. Pieter Knook had laid out a plan to ship 1 billion phones with Microsoft software in 5 years.

As time went by the phones went global and more manufacturers came on board Motorola and Samsung released Windows Mobile phones and through time I would own about 10 different phones. Some good, some bad none were great. My issues with the Microsoft Mobile offering were more corporate. For starters corporate marketing required that the phone experience be in line with the Windows OS, so the look and feel was Windows. It had a start button. The browser experience was usually not good and sometimes just plain awful. It really highlighted to me a lack of the fundamental understanding of the end-user experience.

A second issue that cane to light was internal politics. As the realm of mobile applications became larger it was natural that other groups within Microsoft would have their own mobile offering. There was CRM ERP and MSN offerings. The problem was from the Mobile team not all offerings were Windows Mobile specific. The MSN team could not limit themselves to Windows Mobile phones since that covered less than 20 percent of the market place. However the bus development folks would make a point of trying to keep them out of accounts. I can certainly understand a passion for your product, I know the people in Windows Mobile worked hard, but at the same time I felt arrogance got in the way of reality. To say you needed to limit MSN offerings like Hotmail to Windows Mobile would cede the market to the main competition at the time: Yahoo and AOL.

Despite all the issues with Windows Mobile through the first part of the decade they did pretty well as they saw global market share increase, but as in many things you do not know reality until you look under the covers. The core code was fragmented and it seemed like rather than innovating new features Windows Mobile was just trying to replicate what others were doing in the market. This would all catch up to Microsoft on June 21, 2007, that was the day that ATT launched the Apple iPhone. It was hilarious in an infuriating way how the Windows Mobile team tried to downplay this launch and provide info on all the things the iPhone could not do. For example it could not copy and paste. Funny I did not know Windows Mobile could do that, but then I have never used Pocket Word to write an essay. How stupid could I be. When Bill Gates saw the iPhone he said, “Microsoft did not set the bar high enough”.

I think Apple hit a home run in several areas. First and foremost was the touch screen which remains to this day the best I have seen and used. It enables everything from there. When I clicked on apps it was responsive. By being so responsive it created the apps for the iPhone phenomena. Finally the browse experience was the best I have seen. It is easy, useful and responsive. In short Apple controlled the whole experience.

It raises significant questions about business models. Apple’s experience is contained in one form factor (there is only one Apple hardware/software experience). RIM does this to a certain extent but has more form factors. Microsoft and Google Android chose to distribute to any hardware vendor who is interested. Microsoft was really big into choice. I always thought this was a big mistake and frankly positioned very poorly. First off consumers always had choice. It was not like Microsoft invented it. You walk into any ATT or Verizon Wireless store you have wall to wall choices in phones. Microsoft does not enable choice the carrier does. Second user experience is very personal and it is based on the hardware and software experience. I met a sharp girl in San Francisco once at a Microsoft dinner. She had a Motorola Razor. Why? She liked the color (Pink) and it was so slim she could put it in her back pocket, without a bulge. Girls do not like to look fat. If Microsoft could develop Mobile software for that, well then they would be on to something.

When I left Microsoft there were 7000 iPhones on the Microsoft network. Certain groups (XBox and Zune) encouraged employees to get an iPhone as a challenge to the Windows Mobile team. They even embarked ona “skunk’ works project to develop a Zune phone. One of the last executives I ever saw talk was Scott Guthrie, VP of development Tools. He had a iPhone and mapped out what was happening. The kernel code for Windows Mobile had to be scrapped and they needed to start over. Andy Lees, VP of Windows Mobile was brought over to revamp the team (Pieter Knook had left and taken a job with Vodafone). Andy did not want the job, but when SteveB tells you this is what you will be doing it is not a negotiation. the few times I have seen Andy speak he has not looked comfortable. I think he realizes that mobile software and the mobile industry in general require sex and sizzle. Andy is a very smart guy but he has no sex and sizzle.

With Ballmer’s recent announcement of the launch of Windows Phone 7 for the holidays (which is 9 months from now) it will challenge the Microsoft partner model. All I can say is every phone I have had though they have the same look the experience is greatly different. The market is also getting very crowded (Apple, RIM, Nokia, Google, Palm, Samsung, LG, Motorola etc..). Form factors are also getting more plentiful as the world of mobility expands. You have Laptops, Tablets, Netbooks, PDA’s, Smartphones etc..It is a very exciting time in the world of mobility but the question will be what is Microsoft’s role?

Good night and good luck.

Hans Hoffmann

February 24th , 2010 (Happy B-day to me eldest son)

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