Microsoft’s ultimate threat – Google

When I first joined Microsoft in 1991 we were a company rapidly ascending to the top of the mountain.  We were a company trying to fulfill our destiny, “A PC on every desktop and in every home”.  To climb that mountain required laser focus.  To have people day in and day out committed to accomplishing that goal.  To do this required Microsoft to build a  great set of products.  It also required focus on what was happening  in the industry.  We needed to know at all times what our competition was doing and how it was impacting the market. The potential threat to the Microsoft bottom line.  This was driven into every employee  from the top, from the top man, the founder and chairman, Bill Gates.  Time and time again he would hammer home his fear that a company that was younger and hungrier would come along and clean Microsoft’s clock.  That Microsoft would fall behind in the game.  Every employee understood that and worked hard to prevent it.  But time and growth can be cruel lessons of missed opportunities and so what Bill feared has happened.  It did not happen overnight, but slowly and surely it happened.  A silicon valley sweet heart, named Google came along and slowly they have increasingly encroached on everything Microsoft thought was their birthright.

When Novell CEO Eric Schmidt announced he was leaving his post in Provo, UT.  It was in many ways welcomed.  Eric was well known from his days at Sun Microsystems.  Eric was highly regarded, it was actually more  surprising he took the helm at Novell to begin with as they were rapidly sinking at the time he took over. During a meeting with Bill Gates, while he was commenting on Novell, he felt they were in very capable hands with Eric at the helm.  Google was known, but nowhere near where it has ended up.    In tech circles it was viewed as a interesting and exciting move.  Schmidt was a talented guy who was leaving a dying company to go somewhere where their was a future.  It was good to see him land somewhere worthy of his talents.  He would also serve as a capable mentor to Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. There were a lot of search engine players in those days (Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos etc..).

Google would rise as they changed the computing paradigm with the web search engine.  It was this new business revenue model Ray Ozzie would reference in his landmark memo while he was at Microsoft.  Google was using their incredible ad revenues from search to fuel software development in other areas, among them Google Docs.  This should have served as a great warning to Microsoft executives, but instead they seemed to just read the search revenue piece and seemed to miss what else was going on and focused on the obvious.  They focused on search, not heeding Ray’s words about the funding “other stuff”.  Those being Google Maps, Android, Google Docs, Google Cloud, Robotics, Google Glass  etc..In the end what we  got was Bing.  Google has used search to be a disruptive technology company, one that changes the playing field and in doing so change the balance of power. To simply follow their lead is to risk certain death.

Microsoft has released with some success their cloud based version of Microsoft Office with Office 365 .  In the meantime Google Docs has slowly plodded along improving its feature sets and capturing the low hanging fruit. start ups who do not want to pay a few for Microsoft Office.  They are also starting to make headway into larger enterprise accounts.  With a simple flat fee structure of $50 per desktop, enterprises are talking notice and either considering Google Docs or going to Google Docs.  Companies like Office Depot, Roche and Dillards have already signed on.  Keep in mind if Google takes 10% market share that is over $1 billion to Microsoft bottom line that they lose.  It is no wonder Kevin Turner issued a ultimatum of no losing to Google Docs.  It will be interesting to see how that goes.  Corporate CIO’s would be foolish not to consider Google Docs.  It is the first true contender to Microsoft with a sales force and money to back product development.  Worst case for a CIO is they knock the price of MS Office down.  I cannot think of an instance these days where a CIO is not being asked to do more with less.

The Chrome book has been an interesting development.  It really takes us back to the early days of the internet and what Netscape founder Marc Andreessen said about Windows, “Netscape will soon reduce Windows to a poorly debugged set of device drivers”.  The problem was at the time was not the vision necessarily, but launching an attack against a competitor who had billions when Netscape only had millions.  A second point was ubiquitous bandwidth was not available yet.  Most people at the time did not have DSL services let alone wi-fi in their house.    It was still  28.8kb modem.  Fast forward to today and a couple of developments have changed that has created a new landscape.  The first is we are always connected.  It does not matter if we are in our favorite cafe, at home, at work or at the beach.  We can access the web, we can call our friends, text them, post what we are doing to Facebook, tell people what we are thinking via Twitter.  What device do we use?  Laptop? Tablet? Smartphone? Chromebook?  It is about price and convenience.  The second is Microsoft has decided to compete against its traditional OEM partners with the  launch of SurfaceRT and SurfacePro lines of hardware.  One thing Netscape struggled with in their day was access to Microsoft’s OEM channel.  Give these recent strategic decisions by Microsoft, Google will not find it as hard to gain access to this channel.  They will arrive in a much stronger negotiating position.

Android which is a huge success poses two problems: 1) The mobile OS 2) The developer.  On the first front projections are that in 2013 800 million devices will ship with Android.  How many will ship with Windows 8?  Microsoft will not catch this juggernaut anytime soon.  The mistakes made by Microsoft are many in mobility.  They got hit by Apple’s iPhone, were slow to react, watched as Google ran past them, and fundamentally did not understand what was happening in the market place.  Google in the meantime has been laser focused on building a Android ecosystem that rivals that of Apple.  They have more importantly focused on consumers mobile lifestyles,  To the point, as far as competition goes in the mobility space consumers and industry analysts do not think about Microsoft.  I sometimes wonder if my old friends in Redmond realize what an insult that last statement was.  There was a time everybody thought of Microsoft when competing in a market.  Now Microsoft is just trying to get noticed.  The biggest announcement over the past couple of years has been their exclusive partnership with Nokia, another fading star.  As Google Exec, Vic Gudotra said when this partnership was announced, “Two turkeys does not make an eagle”.  It kind of sums up Microsoft mobility.

On the developer front, Google is a huge hit with the dev community.  Google’s premier dev conference, Google I/O sold out in under an hour this year.  Last year it was twenty minutes.  As I wrote in last July’s blog post “Google I/O and the giveaways“, Google knows how to treat developers.  Like royalty.  They have the advantage of being an internet company who knows that the internet is the development platform.  That sounds obvious but it seems some are slow to learn. Microsoft is still intent on promoting and protecting its “Windows Paradise”.  That was the refrain used back in the day when Microsoft was competing against Netscape, but tat world no longer exists.  The numbers I have heard around applications written for Windows 8 for that launch are horrifying – less than 5000.  The events Microsoft holds for developer are designed to reduce costs and treat developers more like welfare recipients.  As noted Google treats developers with all the care and feeding they could possibly want and it is noticed in the community.

Then there is the area of taking risks.  Despite the billions of dollars spent by Microsoft on Research and Development, there seems little to show for it.  In a group that is funded to take risks it seems little are being taken.  Google seems to be doing nutty kinds of thing all over the place.  At South by Southwest they showed a prototype of the digital shoe.  Their Google Glass, though expensive seems to be getting lots of press.  In the bay area you can see Google’s experiments with robotic vehicles.  Google has ventured into the world of wi-fi attempting to connect cities via wi-fi service, in such cities as Kansas City.  Will any of these tie into Google’s revenue model?  As long as each has internet access you can bet that Google will figure out how to monetize.  A lot of Microsoft’s struggles in this area is cultural as it looks to protect today’s revenues while forfeiting the futures.  Steve Ballmer’s love of the Jack Welch GE model, though a legendary business lesson, does not play so well in the world of innovation.  It has become a quagmire, sort of Steve’s personally built Vietnam. Google at the same time despite their growing size, seem to have remained nimble and agile in how they go about their business.

Finally there is User Interface Design.  Yes the ever present UI – how we interact with the world of technology.  Google’s search engine has been applauded for the simplicity and elegance of its search interface.  For a long time it seemed Microsoft owned the ideas of interaction with the device.  But Microsoft became complacent and did not seem to update or change basic user functions.  With the launch of Windows 8 Microsoft finally killed the Windows 95 interface.  In the meantime we saw not only Google, but Apple and Facebook present us with much more elegant and friendly user interfaces.  Once you lose the advantage it has hard to catch up and in this case the defeat is generational.

Technology is in the end about survival.  To foresee the future and not just react to it, but shape and create the future.  The ability to stay relevant.  To push the boundaries of what is possible.  The easiest way to lose focus on what made you relevant.  Microsoft seemingly has tried to be everything to everyone over the past 15 years.  In the meantime those small start-ups who are young and crave success day in and day out have emerged.  Google seems to have the vision for what the future will be and their role that they will play in it.  Microsoft unfortunately treats Google as one of many competitors.  Google meantime has kept their eye on the prize…Microsoft billions in unchallenged revenue..Windows and Office.  Microsoft now finds itself in the precarious position of having to defend those empires.  More importantly since Ballmer has taken over the reigns from Bill Gates the desire to innovate has been lost and replaced with a culture of old school corporate politics. More concerned with maintaining existing empires rather than creating new ones.

Microsoft needs to refocus, starting by turning its sights to its most immediate threat: Google.  It needs Google more than it realizes.  It needs them to help focus the company.  To energize the companies employees, to rally them from product development to sales behind a common cause.  That was the way it was in the early days.  In those days the companies who lacked resolve faded quickly as Microsoft always looked 3-5 years out.  Companies like Lotus 123, WordPerfect, Borland, Novell etc..Microsoft was thinking ahead of the game visa vi the competition. But maybe I am asking too much of today’s Microsoft.  Maybe I am harping back to a day and a time that will never return again. Just maybe Microsoft is about to become another celebrated company that is more a part of history, rather than making history.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 25, 2013

Microsoft – Threats and Opportunities

It is an industry legend and the company, along with Apple that started the PC revolution.  It brought technology to our desks and to our homes. It created a lot of young millionaires.  It was a shining star in the technology industry.  That was now what seems a long time ago. The Microsoft of today is one  that is a lot different from the one I joined in 1991 as a young, wide-eyed, fresh out of college customer service representative.  Then everything was new as PC’s were just starting to take off.  We were wiping out the typewriter.  In those days we were still talking about our different lines of business at Microsoft in terms of making our first billion.  Today Microsoft has annual revenues in excess of 70 billion.  Despite this growth, at times Microsoft can appear like an old and tired company.  One longing for a past glory, a glory that likely will never come again.  When you look to the horizon there are storm clouds gathering that could lead to catastrophe, but at the same time there are opportunities that could lead to greater horizons. Let’s have a look at what those different threats and opportunities are.

Google:  No company has the potential to hurt Microsoft more than Google.  They are threat numero Uno.  Ray Ozzie addressed  this in one of his first memo’s at Microsoft.  Google was using its ad revenues derived from search to fund software development projects, like business productivity applications.  Google  was changing the playing field and redefining the competitive landscape.  Google’s bet is pretty simple.  We live in a connected world, a world that is getting evermore connected with each passing minute.  If we assume we will have ubiquitous connectivity 24/7, whenever and wherever we want we need a simple device that can connect us, ala a Chrome Book (kills Windows).  Then you just need some cloud based applications for business productivity like Google Docs (kills Office).  Then you have just shaved off $25 billion in Microsoft’s earnings.  Not to mention ISV’s would flock to Google and the city of Redmond would file for bankruptcy similar to Detroit.  I assume someone in Redmond has figured this out, but these days when Microsoft is competing on so many fronts it seems hard for Redmond to prioritize.

Three Screen:  One of those great ideas that at a high level made and still makes sense.  Who can provide an experience for the PC – Phone – Television and it is all integrated?  Microsoft has the teams and technology to do it.  When this was first discussed it was around 2007.  The problem?  The TV platform was still nascent and Windows Phone 6.0 was a piece of junk.   Microsoft has since then released a new user experience in Windows 8, added a compelling tablet, and now have a competitive smart phone.  What is missing is TV, the holy grail of user experiences.  The three big companies – Microsoft, Google and Apple are all trying to create an experience that changes the consumer paradigm.  This is a big bet by all involved but the rewards could be immense.  If one figures out the TV experience and then can seamlessly integrate with other devices, well then the world will be their oyster.

Apple:  The obvious villain.  Microsoft versus Apple.  Gates versus Jobs.  Despite all its recent success I think Microsoft’s failing here happened because of one single reason:  Microsoft was not focused on the consumer.  They became like the Republican party and did not understand basic demographics.  While Microsoft was focused on the enterprise a new generation of consumers was being born and raised, with technology present from the first day they opened their eyes.  In the old days the belief was you were a software company or a hardware company.  Apple changed that school of thought and created a new market, an experience company.  Though I maintain Google is the biggest competitive threat, I think what Apple did really hurt Microsoft as a company. Not just financially but psychologically   It seemed every time Microsoft tried to say anything negative about Apple they looked foolish.  The “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ad campaign was so dead on and the response from Microsoft was so minimal.  Apple humbled Microsoft and remains a significant threat to their future.

Enterprise Customers: If you can think of one major impact Steve Ballmer had on Microsoft it was the transformation of the company from a consumer company to an enterprise company.  It made sense from a Steve standpoint.  Enterprises sign large deals to long-term commitments and provide a stable cash flow.  They are predictable.  Consumers are fickle and change directions quickly, loyalty is earned, but never guaranteed.  So the enterprise business has grown to tens of billions o f dollars.  That being said there still is room to grow in the enterprise.  Sharepoint became a billion dollar business and Lync looks like a sure bet to join that crowd as well. The Microsoft Azure Cloud offering could turn the corner and potentially be the largest new business.  An interesting area is consulting services.  Efforts have been made in the past to make this more of an IBM global services model.  This would go against Microsoft’s partner driven model, but these days that seems under threat anyway.  If they did do this I have no doubt this could be a multi-billion dollar business.  If Microsoft decided to focus on the enterprise excessively that would be a successful venture.  The risk of course if Microsoft ignored consumers they would be at risk, since so much of enterprise IT is being driven by consumers.

Xbox:  Whenever the subject of Microsoft futures comes up people inevitably say the Xbox is the future direction Microsoft.  Probably because it is the one group that has a cool factor associated with it unlike the other door knobs, called Product Groups at Microsoft.  With that being said if Microsoft wants to revitalize and market its three screen vision Xbox has inadvertently taken the lead as the platform to bring all three screens together.  Xbox rose at Microsoft because it operated outside the corporate structure.  They were not part of Windows or Office’s legacy.  They were new, fresh and exciting.  In my view they should own all things consumer.  However the rumblings I hear over in Redmond is they are being brought more into the legacy corporate fold.  If I knew what the grand vision.of doing this was I may support it, but since I don’t all I can say is “leave well enough alone”. I would have expanded their playground rather than constrict it.  I would brand as much stuff “x” as I could; Xphobe, XMusic, Xwhatever..would have used the logo, but that is an opportunity I think Microsoft will bypass.

Focus or lack there of:  One thing that I think kills Microsoft and maybe the biggest threat is just what seems to be a lack of focus and cohesive message from the company.  I remember in one week they had a big Windows Phone launch followed by the Xbox Kinect.  The Windows Phone got absolutely no momentum out of the launch.  If a kid hears you launch a cool new phone followed by a big announcement around Windows Server what are they supposed to think?  The marketing folk at Microsoft view this as two different audiences so they don’t intersect, but in the end they do.  IBM does not have this problem because everything they do is targeted towards the enterprise.  Could they split the company into a consumer entity and a enterprise entity and create a wholly owned subsidiary…called Xbox?  Retain ownership while spurring creativity? Increasing overall revenues with a new focused approach? Just a thought.

There you have it, in many ways it’s the “is the glass half full or half empty” argument  In many ways a threat is an opportunity it is just a question of how you attack it.  Could Microsoft do to its competitors what they are doing to it?  Sun Tzu, the Chinese author if the “The Art of War”., written around the 500BC period., wrote “when confronted by superior forces one must change the battlefield”.  This is what Ray Ozzie wrote about when talking about Google using ad driven revenues to fund software development.  Microsoft needs to do two things: Seize the opportunities and take the leadership position and embrace the threats to provide for a brighter future.  Another option would be for Microsoft to read about history because they are history.  Your call Microsoft.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 30th 2013

Technology History Mistakes and Opportunities

In 20 years in the technology sector I have seen a lot of both good and bad strategic decisions. At Microsoft I was with a company that was on the good side and then was on the bad side. I saw many competitors make what were poor strategic decisions. Decisions that in the end would either sink them or put them in a place of constant struggle for success or viability.  I thought it would be good to look back on some of my favorite “stupid” decisions made by companies in the industry.

Lets head to Utah for bad decision number one: WordPerfect.  This was a company that when the personal computer first came onto the scene quickly became the number one player in Word Processing.  Competing against other notable companies like Wordstar, Wang, and Microsoft Word.  If one thing killed them off quickly it can be summed up in the acronym GUI (Graphical User Interface).  When Apple launched the Mac, Microsoft used it as an opportunity to learn about creating software for the GUI.  WordPerfect on the other hand dipped their toes in the water and when they did not see the sales they wanted on the Mac, killed it.  As Microsoft became more enamored with something called Windows, WordPerfect dug their heels in and supported DOS, where they were a leader.  The problem being Microsoft owned both DOS and Windows and had more or less stated Windows was the future.  Towards the end the only thing WordPerfect had going for it was free technical support.  Sounds nice from a  customer perspective, but if you looked at the costs, not sustainable.  WordPerfect over time just seemed to disappear.

Apple actually makes the list.  During the period where there was no Steve Jobs.  Early learning here is Steve Jobs killed  himself off when he hired Pepsi executive, John Sculley.  Steve’s pitch to John was, “Do you want to change the world or sell sugared water”.  As Steve learned people who sell sugared water don’t change the world.  However they are master politicians which led to Steve’s ouster.  Apple would go through several CEO’s  before Steve returned.  Some like, Micheal Spindler would start to pursue a OEM model where they license the software, like Microsoft.  A nice form of flattery, but not in the Apple DNA.  Steve would come back, kill this plan, and we know the rest.

Next up we return to Utah and Novell Netware.  When the computer network first became popular, Novell was the dominant player for our file and print services.  However one stupid decision killed the company.  Why just a file and print server and not a app server to?  I remember I was in a meeting with Bill Gates and he went off about why Novell did not do this.  He was stunned that they did not have the foresight to see what was coming in the industry. In his view had they just added application services, Windows Server would never have garnered the market share it did.  A second more technical item was Novell had a proprietary protocol called IPX/SPX.  They did not support the dominant internet standard called TCP/IP. Eric Schmidt, when he was at Novell worked on fixing this, but then this startup called Google came knocking and he left for greener pastures (much greener as it turned out). As I am sure you all know this internet thing became rather large and Novell played themselves out of the market.  Oops.

As we entered a new millennium things would change.  My old company, Microsoft, which seemed to do no wrong would make plenty of mistakes in the new century’s beginning.  They might say search was a big mistake, but as I have said they never would have figured it out.  Google developed a new software business model.  They did a classic Sun Tzu, when faced with greater numbers change the playing field.  Probably the first blunder was the mobile phone space.  Though they might say they were successful prior to the iPhone I never saw it that way.  THe Microsoft strategy was a smartphone was a business phone and they went head on after RIM.  I never saw it that way.  I saw smartphone’s just a natural evolution of mobile phones and as more intelligence was put in the phone, the smartphone would be a consumer phone.  Then the iPhone launched and that was the end of the Microsoft mobile story.  I know they have this Nokia thing going on, but as good as the phone is, everything I am reading is it is too late.

Going back to search the big loser was Yahoo.  Jerry Yang had a dotcom success story, but was really just pushed aside by a competitor with a better search engine and a better business model.  Google ate everybody up in this space.  They proved the age-old business adage, revenue is king.  It was not long before Yahoo was on the defensive in everything they did.  Google was the tech darling and Yahoo had fallen into the worst place in the industry:  Yesterdays News.  Even when they got a get out of jail free card in the form of a massive Microsoft takeover offer they blew it.  Jerry Yang managed to convince everyone they had a future.  With the recent news of a massive layoff and reorganization, all is but lost. Jerry Yang will be a case study in graduate school, and it will not be flattering.  It will be along the lines on increasing shareholder value.  But then Mr. Yang is an engineer not a finance guy.

Amazon was not a likely candidate to be the early leader in cloud computing.  Next thing you know everyone was left standing with their pants of the ground.  Some rode the wave very well, companies like VMWare.  But across the lake the from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters a  Redmond based power was scrambling.  Google was also behind in this space.  When I look at Cloud based posting these days I see many references for people with experience in Amazon Web Services.  I am not sure I have seen one for Azure (Microsoft’s cloud service). VMWare is always in the conversation with its virtualization software, it is always a good place to be, “in the conversation”.  Most companies building out cloud services usually have either Amazon or VMWare, if not both, as part of their cloud offering

Finally there was the tablet phenom.  When Apple founder Steve Jobs announced Apples plans to make and sell the iPad, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying, “They will never sell those things”.  As it turns out they can sell those tablets.  In the last quarter they sold over 15 million of these items Steve said they could not sell.  In the meantime a slew of Android based tablets have hit the market and as for Microsoft, we wait for Windows 8.  Why do I feel like this will be the Windows Phone all over again?  When the new tablets hit the market will it be revolutionary or just another Tablet?  The market is already 3 years down the road and the company that changed people’s lives sitting on the couch and watching TV was Apple.  That is what technology has always been about, changing people’s lives.

In all the examples I have given one thing is clear.  To create these industry and societal changes it takes a leader who see’s beyond today and looks to tomorrow.  When we look at what I provided in each case we have visionaries that we all know Gates, Jobs, Bezos, Maritz, to name but a few.  In the also ran category you see companies always flat-footed and never embracing the future, but reacting to a race that has already began.  If you are racing Usain Bolt and you are slow off the starting blocks do you think you will win?  Even if you were that fast and physically fit you cannot make up a half a second in a sprint.  That is how today’s tech sector works.  Even if you were to catch up the industry has moved on to a new race.  To win you need to jump the gun otherwise you will be but a  distant reflection in the rear view mirror.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 9, 2012

Google – threats and opportunities for the Future

I was having coffee with a contract recruiter for Microsoft recently and he mentioned he had just been in New York meeting with some of the Microsoft Advertising folks. He mentioned they were kind of down as when they went looking for business (I can only assume for Bing), things were not going so well. As it turns out the ad agencies only wanted to talk with one company: Facebook.  It makes total sense.  If I were wanting to place ads I would much prefer Facebook to search providers such as Google or Microsoft.  The reason being simple, unlike a search engine where I do my search and click my link.  In Facebook I log on and stay.  And judging by some of my friends they are on Facebook a whole lot.  This is a big threat to both Google and Microsoft, but primarily Google.  Microsoft has a lot of other business groups that generate revenue (Windows, Office, Server and Tools etc..), and Bing frankly has been a cost sink hole.  However for Google the avenues are not as plentiful. Facebook poses a challenge to the future of the company, that is well worth getting excited about.

There is no doubt the traditional Google business is under threat.  The very business landscape that Google pioneered is shifting as companies look to spend their ad dollars in places where the perceived monetary return is greater than ad words.  Facebook will be a big test to that business, as will Twitter.  Don’t get me wrong Google has been nothing short of amazing.  It’s end of year statement in December showed a company with over $37 billion in revenue.    This from a company that was incorporated in 1998.  When I started at Microsoft it was already 16 years old and talking of its business units in terms of its first billion.  The fear for Google, from the start has been, is Google a one trick pony?  Can it take sits enormous revenues and invest those in other web-based services to generate new streams of revenue.  There is some hope on the horizon in this area.

The good news for Google lies in the success of its mobile platform, namely Android and the mobile search business.  In our increasingly on the go and mobile society the opportunity for new revenue streams in the mobile search business is immense.  If you go by one Gartner report mobile search revenue will grow worldwide to over $20 billion by 2015.  Based on last years earnings Google already generates $2.5 billion in mobile ad revenue.  Google has been very successful in getting mobile handset providers to adopt their Android platform as the mobile OS.  Premier providers like HTC and Samsung have been major advocates of Android both for the smartphone, and in the case of Samsung its tablet offering.  If there is one note of fear, it is the amount of mobile ad revenue generated from Apple’s iOS platform.  Apple and Google are direct competitors in the handset space, so how long Apple chooses to ship Google’s search as a part of its standard offering of apps with both the phone and tablet is open to debate.  I am sure Microsoft just waits in the wings waiting to provide Bing as the default search offering for the iPhone.

The other bets will be the continued growth of Chrome as a browser and internet platform.  Chrome continues to increase market share ( Use Chrome as my default browser).  This is significant as the browser war is the battle fr the internet OS.  Today we have four to five players: Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Opera.  In my view it will come down to three as we are already seeing Mozilla people leave the Firefox camp and Opera is still very small in market share.  The other three combined have close to $200 billion in the bank, so I feel safe in choosing them to fight the last battle.  This is an area where I feel Google is well positioned as they don’t have a PC OS.  Apple has its MacOS and Microsoft Windows.   It can be a big advantage to not have a legacy mindset in the industry.  Hardware manufacturers have introduced a “PC” without Microsoft Windows.  A Chrome Netbook was released.  The reviews were mixed as it is a bit different to have a Netbook with no hard drive.  Thus your experience is dependent upon connectivity.  It is too soon for this device, but if you envision a world where we have ubiquitous connectivity you can see the writing on the wall.

As you see, primarily, Apple has taken the lion share of the tablet market place a new thing is happening.  The Windows growth rate over in Redmond is slowing and in some quarters shrinking.  The big concern here is not just Windows, but down the road Microsoft Office.  Luckily for Google they have been investing in the desktop productivity space with Google Docs.  It is not a bad bet on their part as when you are competing against a product with 90 percent market share the only way is up.  Given the large cash hoard that Google has they can commit to this space for the long-term and with the rise of tablets and, if we believe, the disk less netbook then the outlook for Google Docs long-term is fairly bright (I wrote about Google Docs in a previous post).  They can charge far less than Microsoft and still make billions.  It will not be an easy task however we can see the paradigms for the  future of how we consume technology changing.  One thing for certain in the information age is nothing is forever.

This is the new paradigm we have entered into as the web seems to build up companies overnight into social phenomena’s.  Especially with web-based services like a Google, Facebook, Twitter or Groupon where nothing is manufactured.  There is no physical output.  No handheld device.  No PC.  Just a bunch of services out in cyber space.  The fact that Google has become a $37 billion business in a little over 13 years is truly amazing.  Facebook pre-IPO already is generating $3.7 billion in revenue.  The internet is creating a velocity of business we have not seen before.  The ability to communicate and spread the word of whatever is new and cool is what makes the technology space the most exciting industry on the planet.  For a company like Google to continue its path of success it will constantly have to adjust and seek new business opportunities.  As long as you have smart people envisioning the future, you can determine your own destiny.  Ball is in your court Google.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 20, 2012

Facebook IPO – The new tech bubble…not quite

With the hype leading up to the Facebook IPO there is the beginning of a lot of discussion around a new Dotcom boom and bust. Just like we had back in the late nineties. Though I can see the similarities I don’t think this is going to be like the last tech boom. I believe we have come along way since the bubble and I view this upcoming tech bubble with a lot of optimism and I think with good measure.  But Wall Street, like any other media outlet love,s a good story and history always provides us a window into the future. But in the end there are a lot of reasons for my optimism around this new tech boom.  But before we move forward Let’s  consult history and what it taught us.

In the tech boom and bust there were a lot of things that went wrong, but maybe most notably was a loss of common sense.  A lot of discussion was around new business models and throwing away the old all due to the internet.  Though this was most certainly true it did not mean we replaced balance sheets, income statements and cash flow.  Second, as exciting as the internet was, the infrastructure was simply not in place to support some of the grand ideas.  Yes we were laying down fiber that would cir cum navigate the globe many times over, but most people were still connecting via a 28.8 modem with ungodly slow connection speeds.  The initial Application Service Provider (ASP) model was a precursor to Software as a Service (Saas) or what we refer to as the cloud today.  Your Facebook experience would have been very different and don’t even think if adding photos.  Another thing that was interesting was many companies you could not figure out what they did, it was like Wang computers all over again.  The classic was the Razorfish founders being interviewed on 60 minutes, nit being able to answer the question, “What is it you do?”  It was like asking Bob Dole, “Why do you want to be President”.  Just think Mark Cuban made billions all because he wanted to stream Indiana Hoosier basketball over the internet.  The sucker there was Yahoo, who bought a pile of nothing.

I am optimistic this time around.  Exactly for the two reasons I outlined above.  Today we have a viable and always improving infrastructure for the internet.  Not just via lanline support but wireless connectivity has improved in leaps and bounds beyond what we could have anticipated.  We can thank the iPhone for making the wireless internet an enjoyable experience.  We can now view so many applications and services wherever whenever we want.  Services like Netflix, which will destroy the need for a DVD player in time.  New services are springing up all the time to further improve and enhance our online experience.  Though a lot of videos I stream through YouTube still need to be viewed in the Flash player within the browser, more and more video contents is being done in HD and allowing me to view full screen.  Within the next five years that will simply be the norm.

More importantly many of the IPO’s filed of late have business models and real revenues.  It’s not a promise of a better future, because the future is now.  The idea that old business models are, well old is not exactly true.  A solid income statement and strong balance sheet still matter.  In the case of Facebook they are starting to capitalize on their status as a “place to hang out” on the net.  The filing with the SEC already shows a company that makes $3.7 billion a year.  In a recent coffee I had, someone had met with the Microsoft Advertising team in New York.  the word in the street was that companies looking to spend online ad dollars wanted to deal with Facebook.  Back in the dot-com days you did not hear stories like that and certainly did not see revenue like that in the SEC filing.  It was always just a promise of a brighter future.  With Facebook the word one the street is they are set to grow and grow fast.  When you consider how much time people spend on Facebook versus Google or Bing there is more than just hope.  Advertisers want to spend with Facebook.  Facebook just needs to execute.

Many of the companies pre-Facebook have been impressive LinkedIn, Pandora, Zynga, and Zillow.  Are they Facebook?  No but with such a huge captive audience who is.  They are, however, companies with existing business revenues and opportunities to build on what they have.  This then just becomes a question of vision and execution.  It is by no means guaranteed.  Some I am not sure they are thinking big enough and attracting the audiences they have.  Pandora, as much as I love, needs to think of themselves as digital entertainment and not just music.  But the opportunities are there as we have come a long way since the original dotcom boom days, where we had grand idea just not the infrastructure or platform to execute those ideas.  We have those now.

There will be challenges along the way and as I have said before when America gets excited it starts to see riches, and a bubble will be born.  Our gold rush mentality makes it so.  We will over value companies and do so until basic economics takes us back to earth.  There will be those who time the market and capitalize on its excesses.  We call them Mark Cuban,the numbers of what happened in that transaction for a pile of nothing are staggering.  Mr. Cuban’s company Broadcast.com, generated $13.9 million in revenues in 1999.  It was sold in 1999 to Yahoo for $5.9 billion.  I don’t think this time around well see those type of valuations as business fundamentals will rule during this go around.  But the opportunities to cash in for a great profit will be there again.  Hopefully most will have learned this time around when to cash in.  Only god knows how many paper millionaires we had the first go around.  I met many of them and saw their egos rise and then fall back to earth.  The thud was rather distinct.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann February, 7 2012

Apple, Apple, Apple…

Though Steve Jobs has left us and leaves a tremendous legacy and hole to fill, he obviously left a great pipeline of products in place for Apple. Earnings for the quarter at Apple blew past every analysts expectations.  They just seem to keep coming with quarters that seem beyond belief.  As reported on Cnet, during the period, Apple posted $46.33 billion in revenue and a record profit of $13.06 billion. iPhone sales jumped 128 percent year over year to settle at 37.04 million units, while iPad sales rose 111 percent to 15.43 million units. Apple’s Macs got into the mix, too, soaring 26 percent to 5.2 million units sold.  Those are huge numbers and daunting for anyone competing against Apple.  If we break them down one by one it’s interesting to see the challenges for those competing and what to expect and do next.

Looking at the iPhone sales the number is staggering.  They sold 37 million units of primarily the Apple 4s, not 5 but 4s.  The 4s was what we used to refer to as a “dot” release, not a major release. Just a release with minor enhancements like Siri.  To put in perspective Nokia has announced they have 1 million Nokia Lumia 710 in the channel.  That is not in consumer hands but just to resellers.  Apples number reflects units in people’s hands.  The other thing is due to Apple’s channel that is pure money back to Apple.  With Nokia they get most and pay back a small percentage to Microsoft for the OS.  Then there is Google with Android, which is an indirect model as the hand set manufacturers keep the money and Google looks to make money via apps and mobile search.  The units of Android phone is impressive but to date it doe snot have the bottom line impact of Apple’s iPhone.  That could change as the mobile web grows and mobile ads increase the revenue to Google’s bottom line.  Though Microsoft Bing is challenging traditional search, Google seems light years ahead in mobile search.  With a major release from Apple due in 2012 with the iPhone5 could they beat 37 million?  One can only wonder.

Tablets are the fashionable device of the moment.  They have been since Apple made them so.  Steve Ballmer said “they will never sell those things”.   They sold over 15 million units in the quarter.  Though there are Android tablets I have not seen the excitement for Android Tablets like I do for Apple’s iPad.  The iPad seems to be playing its own game, in the short-term that could change with newer revs of Amazons Kindle Fire and further down the road with Windows 8 tablets.  The challenge for the competition is they may be talking about exciting new releases but no one I know of is putting their purchase decision on hold to wait for an Android or Windows 8 tablet.  I expect for the next 2-3 quarters that Apple to rule this domain, unchallenged.  The question will be how far in front they will be when a competitive alternative enters the market.  We will likely see a iPad3 this year, probably before Windows 8 Tablets hit the market, no one is waiting.

An interesting area of growth for Apple is its “old” business of Macs.  They sold 5.2 million units in the quarter an increase of 26%.  That is at the expense of Microsoft Windows.  Apple with around 10% market share is in an enviable position as they are not the leader and can only grow their market share.  As Microsoft Windows Revenue has flat lined (it’s still in the billions in terms of revenue) and Apple is enticing more and more developers to its platform you are seeing the first significant threat to the Microsoft crown jewel in over twenty years.  It’s interesting that it is coming from a competitor whose environment is considered very closed.  I think many people felt the most likely threat to Windows was going to come from the Open Source community in some variant of Linux.  But with Apple’s success in Smartphones and Tablets I can see the traditional Mac business was going to follow and it has.

With all this success it has led to that great American problem.  What do you do with $98 billion sitting in the bank?  When I was ta Microsoft we had (and they still do) usually upwards of $30-$40 billion in cash.  It would seem with Apples cash they could do almost anything they want, but in actuality it is a bit of a capitalist’s dilemma.  The obvious thing to do is return money to shareholders in either a quarterly dividend or one time payment.  They could also do a stock buy back, with  a market cap over $400 billion this could further drive the stock up benefiting shareholders.  They could do acquisitions, but Apple has never done the big multi-billion dollar purchases of tech companies.  I am not a big fan of these anyway as in the short run they slow progress down and when complete the industry has moved on.  It takes a couple of years for full integration, look at Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype for $8 billion and we have yet to see the fruits of this hit the bottom line.  It’s not a bad problem to have but the one thing that is for sure is they will have to do something as sitting in all that money does not seem a viable option, nor will shareholders allow for it.

Apple is truly in a state of grace.  It seems even when they do wrong, as in the previous quarter, they rebound.  It would be easy to see a future where we all are using Apple products, luckily tech and society do not work that way.  There will come a time when younger generations will not think Apple s cool as their parents think it is.  We are in a time when tech trends start with the teenagers and young adults.  Do I see a time when younger generations say “wow Microsoft or Dell is cool”.  Right now I am having a hard time believing that scenario will ever happen.  More likely it will be a young fresh start-up similar to a Facebook or Twitter.  When will this happen?  All I can say for sure is the next 2-3 years it is not likely to happen and the Apple strength will continue.  There are exciting horizons with iCloud and AppleTV.  But as I am fond of quoting Bill Baker, “The future comes slowly, change happens quickly”.  This will be the case with Apple as well but in the meantime let us just enjoy being, “Wowed!”.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 30, 2012

CES 2012

Well this has been the week of the big Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the glamorous city of Las Vegas.  It is a show, sad to say, I have never been to but would love to go someday.  Still with today’s interactive technologies it is pretty easy to follow from far away.  The great thing about CES is that it gives consumers a window n how they might spend their money in the upcoming year.  Or not.  Last year was a big year for 3-D TV’s, but I don’t think consumers were ready to give up their new LCD or Plasma screens just yet to experience 3-D at home.  This year promises a whole host of new gadgets and who knows what will be the biggest.  But it is always fun to hear what the big industry players are planning.  Even more exciting can be the young start-ups.

This year, as always, CES started with the keynote from Steve Ballmer, the loud and proud CEO of Microsoft.  Of course the big news had already broke, this would be Microsoft’s last CES.  This was the last chance to see Steve.  It was a draw and then Steve went on to present, uh, well, nothing really at all.  Most of which he talked about had already been announced in previous talks about Windows 8 and Windows Phone.  The biggest announcement was really that Nokia was coming back to America with the Lumia 900.  It is sad to see Microsoft leave the event.  I am not thrilled that they have chosen to do big releases via internal style events and over the web.  My preference is in person events but I may be a bit old school in that thinking.  The problem I have with over the web is it usually means at a desk at work where there are many distractions.  Such as Bob’s vacation or Steve i snot happy at work or..well you get the picture. You may see higher numbers but how many people are really engaged in what they are hearing and seeing?  In any case we bid Microsoft a fond farewell.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt participated in a “pseudo” panel.  Not sure what kind of panel this was intended to be as it sounded like a group of Google partners just nodding their heads to everything Eric said.  But there were some valid discussion points, mainly the idea of ubiquity between connected devices.  Just think of it this way..walk around your home and see how many devices, appliances etc have digital displays.  You would find dishwashers, washer and dryer, clocks, stereo’s, etc..They should all be talking to one another and to the cloud.  And according to Eric they should be built on a foundations of, drum roll please…Android.  To be clear this idea is nothing new.  Microsoft had this idea of Microsoft @Home over ten years ago.  Novell had its embedded systems technology(NEST).  But like so many things in technology it is not predicting the future, it is timing the future.  As Eric points out with mobility and wireless pretty much everywhere making this “connected” home is much closer to reality.  Google is taking the lead.  Lets see how soon others begin to follow.

The term Gorilla Glass was new to me but it made a splash as Sony showed a Viao made out of Gorilla Glass v2.  First question o I want a laptop made of glass?  It will be a little bit heavier, but the environmentalist in me asks the second question: Is it recyclable?  IN any case they did show hat this glass could withstand 120 pounds of pressure making it fairly durable.  Given how often I drop things this is a good thing.  From a pure aesthetics standpoint it would seem you would be able to do some pretty fancy stuff with color.  I think more than anything this highlights advances being made in the materials that make up our technology toys.  A good thing and though not “sexy” now it will be in the future.

When we look at the best in show winners there, as usual is some interesting stuff.  Kudos to Nokia for coming through with the best smartphone of the show the Nokia Lumia 900.  The Asus Memo 370T Tablet running Android and priced for $250.  It has 16bg storage, oh how far we have come.   The features are nice and with those low price points it makes total sense.  I found the best software app, Bluestack interesting.  It brings all 400,000 Android apps to Windows 8.  It used to be the other way around, with competing platforms looking to run Windows Apps.  Remember Apple had dual OS capabilities.  If you want to be a real old-timer who remembers IBM OS/2 v2.0 with the Windows Subsystem?  To be fair these type of subsystems traditionally ran slow and were painful.  I would hope that Bluestack brings something new to the table and is…fast.  Which it should be ok at since Android Apps for phones and Tablets are not like running Microsoft Office.  Size matters.  One thing to note Bluestack is not yet in beta.  Murmur.

My summary of what I have read and followed about CES is there was a lot of focus on Tablets.  A lot of new and upcoming releases tied to Windows 8 and Android.  The one thing I am interested to see when Windows 8 Tablets roll out is cost.  It seems like Apple has staked out the high ground and Android the low ground, and both have lots of applications.  Is the middle ground a viable place to be? On the TV front I think we are waiting for the next big revolution.  Google did some talk about interactive television, however we are not there yet.  Apple has been strangely silent of lat  in this topic.   But I expect them to bet big on Television.  I do expect in the next 2-3 years for this to be a huge focus of CES.  The interesting question and one of great anticipation is who will lead.  Overall though this was not a great year at CES as there was no break through announcements.  No technology that came out and said this is what will be big in 2012, right or wrong (think 3-D TV).  Looking at the products it was more claims of, “This will be a big improvement on what currently exists”.  Take your pick, Tablets, Smartphones, mobile gaming etc…Next year will be bigger with Windows 8, though I don’t hear of anything ground breaking coming from Redmond…yet.  But what we want from CES is not an upgrade but something that changes how we experience life.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 13, 2012