Windows 8

Why do I feel like I have been here before?  Probably because I was when Microsoft launched Windows 95 16 years ago.  It was the biggest release of an operating system ever.  It was really the first technology release with a massive amount of hype prior to its release to the public.  It ushered in the famous “Start” button, that is still with us today.  Has it been there that long?  Hard to believe how time flies.  Now 16 years later Microsoft is ushering in a new era of Windows with the developer release of Windows 8 at the Microsoft Build Conference in Anaheim this past week.  So far the reviews have been very positive, yes some concerns, but overall it sounds like Microsoft is getting the picture.  Windows 8 uses the Metro interface, found today on the Windows Phone.  But more importantly it’s about touch and enabling a better user experience across multiple device from factors.  Lets take a look at the good and the bad.

What I found interesting and exciting was what they were able to do with new hardware designs that include the ARM chip and stateless hard drives.  It was noticeable with faster boot times, which for Windows in particular has been a holy grail.  And though Steve Ballmer claimed Windows 7 did this, Windows 7 did not deliver.  It’s a simple request (though not trivial to build) that had to be done.  It’s amazing what the push of a button can do to your market share.  The other area is power consumption, who is not tired of a 2-3 hour battery life?  Though battery technology has not yet solved this problem, changes in the hardware that make up your PC have improved that allow us to reducing the amount of moving parts hidden in your PC thus reducing the heat omitted from your PC or Tablet.  We have not reached paradise for battery life and power consumption but we are getting closer.

Back to my opening comment the user interface has been completely revamped adopting the Metro interface, from Windows Phone 7.  My one dig at MS is having basically the same UI for over 15 years is rather unacceptable.  We have had the same Start button all these years.  But this is a more than welcome change.  The Metro interface provides the “touch” experience with its sexy panels.  It is very important with the rise of the tablet.  The explosion of new and exciting designs in hardware coupled with the need to have a great touch experience will make Windows 8 competitive in the space currently being owned by the iPad and Android.  It will be new for developers, in particular those targeting ARM, as it’s required.

Another positive is it may make Google and Apple pause and look at what Microsoft is doing.  I know that may sound odd, but right now in the area of mobility Microsoft is non – existent.  With Windows 8 it gives Microsoft a chance to be relevant and feared once again.  To date Apple and Google have not really paid much attention to Microsoft as Microsoft has been viewed as yesterday’s news and a company that lacks imagination.  The reinvention of Windows and the fact that it is able to go across device form factors will be a huge plus for Microsoft and help it gain traction in the tablet space.  Tablets will not be as easy to gain market share as Netbooks, beyond technology it will take a strong marketing campaign to reach the appeal level that Apple and to a lesser extent that Android has.

There will be challenges.  One I thought of right off the bat as I read Jay Greene’s live blog was that the Build  event lasted over 2 hrs was there is so much new stuff in Windows 8.  This goes to a Microsoft issue, which they cannot not adhere to the old grade school acronym KISS (Keep it simple stupid).  They put so much stuff in the product that they overwhelm developers and consumers as they simply cannot consume all that is being given to them.  We buy technology products that makes us happy and improve our lives, we do not want them to confuse and frustrate us.  But over the years Microsoft has developed a habit of trying to show cool features, no matter how geeky they may be.

Another challenge is legacy.  Microsoft and the Windows empire has been a partner driven model  throughout its entire existence.  The partner model has created over thousands of peripheral devices from printers to scanners to mice.  You have tp go back a certain amount of years to make sure all those investments by consumers and businesses are protected.  This is no small task.  There is also the question of the user interface, which they did show at the conference, but you just can’t tell everyone that Metro is the new UI.  So you build in a mode that allows you to switch to the old interface (this was showed at Build).  This to me, takes away some of the sexiness that Metro provides.  Rather than saying we are new.  You end up saying we are old and new.  A subtle but big difference

Then another negative was Steve Ballmer.  On day two of the conference he made a surprise guest appearance.  Unfortunately he for got what decade it was.  He went on and on about how many desktops were deployed and going to be deployed with Windows 8 and that developers should all write applications for Windows 8.  It would have sounded great in 1995.  The problem is it made it sound like he is not following what’s going on in the world.  That developer are not writing desktop based applications, pretty much everything is being written to the internet and it needs to support Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Chrome.  This is not new news.  I was having drinks with the Microsoft C++ Program Manger a few years ago in San Jose and he brought up a statistic that stated 75% of all app development today is done on the web.  Maybe Steve should talk to him.  I heard from several people his keynote was a negative on the week.  He even went so far as to ask developers to “stay with us”.  Apparently there is  concern they may be going somewhere else.

Steve did talk about re imaging Microsoft,  I find this both a negative and a plus.  It’s a negative because you have to do it.  It’s a positive because you are doing it.  To change the image of a company is not easy.  Especially one that has had the impact on society both economically and culturally like Microsoft.  But there is no question it needs to be done and the changes and progress that have been made with Windows 8 offer up a great time to do that.  It is all about execution now and delivering Windows 8 before the holidays in 2012.  In addition the right “buzz” is going to need to be generated, coming off of Build a good start was made.

Over the next 12 months it should be a very exciting and stressful time in Redmond.  The pending launch and release of Windows 8 can be and will be one of those defining moments in technology.  Not just for Microsoft but the industry.  We have grown up in a Windows world where over 90% of all PC’s, Laptops, and Netbooks were Windows-based.  However withe rapid evolution of new form factors like the tablet this world is increasingly under a dark cloud as the storm is upon us.  With the possibilities in emerging markets, it does not seem clear that they will follow or want to follow the same path of North America or Europe.  Nor will they have to as it’s apparent they will have alternate choices.  With the increased competition in the global market for technology a resurgent Microsoft can only benefit the competitive landscape, but we will have to wait until Windows 8.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann Sept 20, 2011

The App Store Craze

I was at a family event and all my nieces had a iTouch. I had never played withe the iPhone or iTouch at this point so when handed one I gave it a drive. First I ran some YouTube videos. A soccer clip of at the time Manchester United player Christiano Ronaldo. Connected to the house wi-fi it performed really well, which was an eye opener compared to previous experiences on my Windows Mobile phones, which frankly you just did not try. then with the wave of my fingers I cruised around the iTouch software. Soon I landed on what I viewed as a boring feature “The App store”, then with a simple touch if my finger a new world was opened up.  At first I could not believe how fast I was moved from one screen to the next and then all the options available to me, either for free or for purchase.  The categories available, the large number of apps available was all very impressive and very different from my previous experiences with mobile applications.

Prior to the app store developing apps for mobile devices was painful and not very profitable.  The first problem was which mobile phone did you write to?  Symbian, RIM, Microsoft, etc..Then their was the carrier issue as each carrier wanted to own the ecosystem.  I had to choose between Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint etc..it was a real pain in the ass.  Not to mention that by the time you broke it all down there was not much of a market to go after.  Then ever if you did write the app the user experience of finding the app and loading it was long and painful.  Lastly the applications you downloaded were not very good or enjoyable, largely because there were not that many available.  It led to one conclusion writing, selling and running mobile applications was for the world of mobile geeks, other than that don’t bother.  Apple solved all three problems by owning the ecosystems, providing lots of applications and making it easy for everyone to get access, find and download what they wanted to.

Now it seems everyone is playing catch up with Apple – Apple has over 500,000 applications, Google has 200,000 – 300,000 and beyond that not a whole lot of applications or excitement for the other players in the space;  Microsoft, RIM, Nokia etc..Microsoft is already discussing Windows 8 and including an app store for the OS.  One  question is how many successful markets will there be?  It’s apparent for the foreseeable future there will be two but a third?  I will be interested to see what a Windows 8 store means.  We are talking about the desktop after all and will it mimic the Android or iPhone app store with a bunch of free and low-priced apps?  This would mark a paradigm shift for the desktop as traditionally you bought apps that costs into the hundreds of dollars.    What will the Windows 8 tablet look like and will it be successful?  Another burning question are Windows developers like their counterparts in the Apple and Google world. interested in low-priced slash high volume sales?  The one thing I think Windows 8 does have riding for it, is it can be different, since it’s legacy is the desktop.  For RIM it’s harder as they are targeting just a mobile platform and thus cannot differentiate.  For RIM the future I believe is only a painful one.  Then there is Nokia.  I have yet to see or hear what their plans are – will they just consume off of the Windows 8 app store, thus ceding the whole app store revenue stream to Microsoft? It seems there can be only one here.  But that it the downside of Nokia letting Microsoft be their primary partner for the mobile OS will deprive Nokia ownership of the ecosystem.  Nokia can claim what it wants but its survival is dependent on Microsoft’s ability to deliver in spades.  More so from a sales and marketing front than a technology front.

Is there another paradigm to be explored?  Something around the corner we have not seen yet?  Without question there is, but I think sometimes we think it is something not invented yet, when many times it is something from the past yet re-hashed and improved.  The mobility phenomena will continue to evolve. We are always connected but the experience will continue ti improve as 4G technology becomes more prevalent.  Before you know it we will be up to 5G and 6G (if it is still called that).  The traditional software pricing structure of 90% margins is being torn down and that will continue as new indirect revenue models take its place.  It is just beginning in the area of mobility.  Soon you will hear of huge revenues from mobile advertising used to subsidize software development.  Ray Ozzie at Microsoft discussed this in his first memo at Microsoft.   For some it is just hard to take the plunge.

The App Store craze is here for now and how long it will be is hard to say, but how we acquire our digital delights will move away from packaged software, similar to how we download music today or stream movies.  The winners will be those who committed and as we see in Apple’s earnings calls probably has already been determined.  The key to success will be creating an experience that us simple and useful.  There still is opportunity in the areas of the cloud, in particular in small and midsize business and the enterprise.  There are companies making their imprints, such as Salesforce.Com, Amazon and Rackspace, but the game is still wide open.  It’s interesting to note in the last decade how the cutting edge of technology has moved from the ivory towers to the hands of our teenage kids and the impact it’s had on traditional tech powers.  The days of home desktop productivity software at $500 are over as the app store has created a mass market shift in how we consume our software and how we expect it perform.  There are those who can choose to take the plunge into the deep or perish in the tidal waves that follow.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann August 23, 2011

Apple vs Android

I guess it’s time I offer up my comments on these two  behemoths battling it out. Right now Apple is king. It’s market share continues to rise, the number of apps available continues to grow at what at times seems an exponential pace, it is no longer confined to just ATT’s network. It’s a fast paced enjoyable story. On the other side you have Google’s “open source” OS Android. The one the press is hailing will  be king. It has developer panache. It’s market share continues to grow at a very impressive rate.  If you look at one of the latest surveys, Android in Q2 of 2011 amassed a startling 43.4 % market share in the smart phone markets .  On top of all this Google just decided to acquire  Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. Who will win?  Will there be a winner?  Does there need to be a winner?  Will others challenge the two dominant players? Each phone has advantages and disadvantages.

Nothing revolutionized mobility like the iPhone.  It was a titanic shift in how we use and interact with technology on a day-to-day basis. Within a short time frame it seemed everyone in the streets, in the mall, at sports events were doing something more than talking and texting on their phone.   They even got ATT to join in the fun , all 300,000 employees.  Then they did the double “whammy”.  They got people excited about the web on mobile devices and applications.  Before you knew it the mass audience of the whisper campaign was the mass audience of consumers.  Thanks to the iPhone and also Google, the idea of a Garmin GPS was pretty much thrown out the door.  Apple did not change phones, they changed mobility.  Phones were merely a by-product of their success.  The latest estimates for the iPhone 5 is total shipments of iPhones will hit 95 million by the end of 2011.  This would be cause for concern for some of the also ran’s, like RIM, Nokia and Microsoft.  At some point in time the gap between competition becomes so great that the bottom feeders will never catch up.  The success of Apple launched Apple into some new territory, namely with the success of applications on the iPhone, Apple was suddenly more attractive to developers on a large-scale.  As I have stated before  it goes to show all this talk of open versus closed environment’s is a load of crap.  Developers go where the market goes.  Like so many things it’s all about market opportunity and money.

It was not long after the release of the iPhone that rumblings in the valley started murmuring about a phone from Google. It was a smart campaign as it was decided early on that Android would be released on the web as an open source project.  If you are going to create an effective “whisper” campaign one thing that is a must is mass.  Google did something a bit different is that they really got developers on board in their campaign, initially not as consumer driven as Apple.  But what it did was through developers get the consumer base listening.  Since it was open source anyone who wanted to build a phone could participate.  Pretty soon you had Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola etc all lined up to deliver their first Android phone.  Being open source it provided the hand set manufacturers a better ability to tweak and tune the mobile OS to the handset’s.  This enable Google to scale the available marketing budgets as the handset manufacturers had a stake in the game and were clamoring for something to compete against Apple.

New to this is the Google decision to acquire Motorola Mobility, which to me is simply about two thins: Patent protection and owning the user experience, head to toe.  Patents are the legal area, nit my core, but I do understand in technology you want to have a fairly large patent library to protect yourself from lawsuits.  From that standpoint I get why Google is doing this.  From the other side I understand the attraction of owning the hardware soup to nuts, but I don’t understand why Google is doing this.  The side I don’t understand is to date Google has pursued more of a Microsoft Partner model in getting companies to use their Android OS, with this acquisition they are now saying they will compete against them.  This does open an opportunity to the other provider of mobile OS software, Microsoft. My one piece of advice to my old friends is give the software away, there never was nor will there be a huge market for operating systems in the mobile space.  The real money will be in mobile advertising.  Maybe a light bulb will go off over in Microsoft mobility, it would go something like, “Bing”.  Maybe.

There has been talk among the smaller players about a third eco system.  It has not been very well vocalized, but rather just drowned out as a bunch of noise from “wannabe’s”.  A third way is nice but you have to create excitement.  The mobile space at its core is about lifestyles, about making people feel good about themselves.  It’s about handling an important call or email and then getting back to your beautiful view of the Grand Teton’s.  It is there to make us happy.  When potential competitors dumb it down to features, killers applications, etc..they are missing the point.  make no mistake it’s a very big hill they have to climb, and as I pointed out with the Google – Motorola acquisition it may take one of the big two to make a mistake.  Apple, for certain has made those mistakes before and as long as they continue to pay attention to history I do not see that happening in the imminent future.  Google at this point depends on how head to head they want to go with Apple.  If the Motorola acquisition is about patents, they should be fine.  As far as I am concerned the third eco system is more a “niche” play then about gaining significant market share.  Some circles discuss Microsoft buying RIM or Nokia.  If that is what it takes to get market share I think it will end up being a colossal waste of money.  Don’t buy market share, innovate.

In the foreseeable future we are going to see the battle taking place on two fronts – the iOS versus Android.  It’s not a battle of phones, it’s a battle for the soul of mobility.  The next innovations will remove us further from our dependency on hardware while making our devices seem more productive, like our old desktops, without the handcuff’s.  Don’t get me wrong I enjoy sitting down and typing these blog entries, and I do not do it on my tablet..yet.  It will change and it will change soon.  Just don’t thin of it as a physical keyboard.  To break the dominance of Apple and Android it will require yet another big breakthrough, like the one’s the iPhone introduced.  These type of titanic shifts do not happen that often – it could be in an area not related to software. such as alternative energies and longer battery life (I think we are all hoping for that one), or new virtual experiences.  In the meantime we can enjoy the battle as it is leading to new innovative technology and form factors that will enhance our life experiences.  At the end of the day we are human and we are designed to live.  Today that living is being done in two worlds, which is about all I can handle.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann August 16, 2011

Harnessing the Power of the Web

It was often said at Microsoft and highlighted in the industry trade rags that one of the great strengths Microsoft had been its legion of developers. To be successful in technology it has always been paramount to court the developers, help developers make money and continue to innovate so they stay loyal to you.   To be stagnant is to die.  I was thinking about this as I read about Google’s new technology SPDY (pronounced speedy).  It is a technology designed to help load web pages faster, thus improving web site performance.  If web site performance is better customers, users etc..are likely to stay on the page longer.  It is a win-win for everyone involved.  What I found most interesting is that once it has matured enough Google plans to give it to the open-source community.  It is a strategy that has worked before for Google so I see the appeal. Where is the largest community of developers on the planet?  They are on the web.  So what does the future hold for the developer and how technology goes from inception to reality?

As I have written before the Open Source developer community at its core is that heavenly place on virtual earth that they can come closest to their god…one’s and zero’s ( for assembly developers that one is for you..for the rest just read on).  It is the wild west where everything is available for free, so they can download and get to the actual code of whatever they are working on.  Could be writing and compiling code.  Getting access to the kernel code of the latest Linux OS.  Asking questions to the community about scripting tools like Ruby or Java Script.  Developers love a challenge and the open source community is great for asking questions, getting answers and learning about the next great challenge.  I equate Open Source with “the Borg” from Star Trek – The Next Generation (ok I have crossed over into “über” geekdom, but it was the best analogy I could think of – next blog: “The life of Giorgio Armani”, how’s that for recovery?).  But open source does provide for a network of a broad and collective minds and tapping into those minds and getting them excited is a way to tap into a huge potential financial windfall.  The support of the developer community is the quickest way to start generating “buzz” and once that starts others quickly come on board to try to get on the wave early before it crests,

Sales and Marketing is one of those things the open source community equated with the ills of a capitalist society and was and sometimes still is frowned upon.  I can see the appeal of the net to bypass this need for sales and marketing but even the internet has evolved.  Despite the appeals by some to minimize this skill set it will always be necessary to some degree as they are the ones that develop and deliver the message you are trying to convey.  Open source started as a grass-roots movement but as it has matured corporations have started to be more willing to embrace.  There a multitude of services behind it, could be ad driven models or service driven all requiring the S&M (oddly appropriate) folks to get involved.  In terms of generating “buzz” they were core in getting Google’s Android off of the ground and into the minds of developers.

Moving forward it is  also important to developers that whatever platform they are writing software for, that the company they stand behind is perceived as a leader towards the future.  Developers have responsibilities to and want to make sure they see bright employment horizons beyond the current year.  Apple, which is anything but open source has been able to get developers revved up for its platform by being perceived as a market leader and innovator with a strong grasp of what the future will hold in terms of opportunity. They also do a great job of sales and marketing with the Apple logo and tens of thousands of websites, TV personalities saying ” go to www… and download your iPad app”, not to mention the many websites I visit with the download your Apple app, “click here”.  The flip side is Google’s Android, which shows the velocity one can generate through the web.  Apple had jumped out to a considerable lead.  Had Google opted for a apple’s to Apple’s approach, I don’t think they ever would have caught Apple.  It is already projected that Google will catch Apple and exceed Apple in market share and applications.  By engaging and embracing the open source community, Google was very quickly able to generate excitement and mass in its platform.  It engaged the open source community and the “buzz” generated spread like wild-fire.  If they had tried to build their own more closed community it would have taken years to be successful.

It has  become apparent that to generate mass quickly that you have to consider trying to harness the power of the web communities to gain access to your ultimate customer – the consumers who use the web.  In an ever increasing competitive environment to reach existing and new audiences the internet is the fastest way to success.  That of course does not just mean put it in the web and you will be successful.  It does take some skill and experience.  However if you can excite the army it is a very large army you will have at your disposal.  Everyone wants an army of support.  It’s in intimidating and historically successful and right now, and for the foreseeable future, the largest army is on the web.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann June 29th, 2011

Mango

I was watching the other morning the announcement by Microsoft of its new update to Windows Phone 7 called , “Mango”. On air was Windows Phone Czar, Andy Lee’s. As I listened to him fumble through a series of questions about what makes “Mango” so cool it took me back to my early years in the industry. I was listening to a program manager talk about the exciting new release of C/C++ 7.0 (put your pants back on I can tell you are getting excited already). He equated a C/C++ presentation to “watching paint dry”. I think I have made my point regarding Andy’s oratory skills.  Phone’s are a sexy device so if you are going to talk about a new phone update with over 500 new features it had better have some sizzle. Why not have some dancers?  Give the public some entertainment value.  Make them think they are having fun!  With my pontificating coming to a close, there were good things that came from this weeks announcement and a lot of things that made me worried for the future.

If you are going to pre-announce a new phone that will not be available for 6 months it had best generate some excitement, because what you are trying to do is tell the market place is, “hey wait…be patient because in 6 months we are going to have something for you that is really cool”.    I don’t think that was accomplished.  For starters this announcement did not have much of a whisper campaign leading up to it.  I first started hearing rumblings about a week ago.  In Microsoft’s defense it’s different when they leak to the press and Apple leaks to the press about a new iPhone, the market dictates and right now in terms of market share Apple is grossly superior.  There was a time in Windows 95 days that Microsoft was the king of the whisper campaign.  But to generate such a campaign there needs to be something in the new product to get people excited.  I heard a lot of feature discussions but nothing I would deem break through. Maybe it’s just me but I do like the name”Mango”.

Second competing on features is a zero sum game.  There are so many mobile apps available in the market place today and your phone form factors are pretty  well-defined, that there is not a lot of wiggle room to create the game changing feature that will change how people use their mobile phones.  The real game changer these days is to change the user experience, which Mango sounds like it is trying to do (or at least market), but it will not happen until the release in fall, just in time for the holidays.  The end users will decide.  However between now and then a whole host of new features will be provided across multiple devices.  Thus cluttering the market place even more.

Partnerships can be a blessing and a burden. The partnership with Nokia has a lot of great potential.  Nokia has invested heavily in emerging markets such as China and India.  Two countries with huge upside.  The downside is the company recently received an internal memo from CEO Stephen Elop that Nokia is a “burning platform”.  Not the kind of motivational speech I am sure Nokia employees were hoping for. A huge part of Mango’s success or failure will hinge on Nokia.  A company that is desperate and making its last stand.  That is not the ideal place to be if you are trying to recapture past glory, but due to a series of missteps Nokia and Microsoft find themselves on the same boat trying to plug the same hole before the ship slips below the surface seeking the depths of the abyss.

Microsoft, despite all the brain drain that has occurred, still have a lot of people who care deeply about the ability of the Windows Phone business to succeed.  Despite Andy Lee’s monotone delivery style he has a brilliant and successful track record at Microsoft, he is not a dumb guy by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes a legacy of success can lead you down a road of false belief.  The Microsoft mobile group was on a path to success and just got side swiped by Apple, who had a grander vision for mobility.  But maybe that’s the point..it’s about mobility and not the phone.  As long as the game is about developing the next great phone, than an opportunity is lost as easily as it is gained.

Now it’s about sustainment for the next 6 months as Microsoft will need to keep the name “Mango” on people’s lips.  There will be significant hurdles as between now and then there will be updates from Android, called “Honeycomb” and the release of the iPbone 5.  It will be imperative to continue to re-iterate the new features coming in “Mango” and get people to wait.  But Microsoft is a big company with a lot of different big initiatives and what is hot one day and considered a company directive is gone the next as XBOX, Bing, Office, Windows all vie for the publics attention and affection.  That to me is the big question over the coming months leading up the official launch.  Can Microsoft maintain the initial momentum garnered from this weeks big press release in New York, can a whisper campaign be sustained end elevated. Whispers can grow to a Lions roar, causing excitement, angst, a multitude of emotions or they can just blow away silently with the wind, all but forgotten.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 26, 2011