The Rise of of Google Chrome

It is one of those questions I pondered recently as I saw via the media that according to NetMarket Share that Google Chrome was now the most popular browser in the world having surpassed Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  How did this happen?  It seemed for a while that Microsoft would own the browser world, this despite the DOJ trial and its efforts to placate Jim Barksdale at Netscape.  Microsoft had owned this for over a decade.  As is so often the case in technology you can be out in front or get left behind.  This is a subject near and dear to my heart and it is a story of failed vision and failed opportunities on the one hand and a successful vision and realized opportunities on the other.

In 1995 I was working at Microsoft and we as a company were gearing up for the launch of Windows 95.  I was working in a inside pre-technical sales team, called the Developer Solutions Team (DST).  We were always loading software in beta form from Microsoft and toying around and with this thing called the internet were now being let out of our cages to surf the web.  Of course to do this we needed a browser and there were a few out on the market, but the best was Netscape Navigator.  A few smart folks realized early on that these “newbies” were the enemy.  Something about Marc Andreeson’s quote “we will reduce Windows to a buggy set of device drivers”. Anyone who dared criticize Windows in those days was asking for a beating.  Next thing you know is Bill Gates does a speech in December 7, 1995 saying everything we do at Microsoft moving forward will be about the internet.  Bil Gates had said often through the years he feared a smaller nimbler company coming up and displacing Microsoft. From that point on enemy number one was tiny Netscape Communications.

A little over a year later myself and three others in inside sales were moved to a pilot group focused on calling down on every ISP in North America.  I got the Central Region and Canada.  It turned out to be a really fun job as it was high impact and high visibility. The primary focus was getting ISP’s to use the Internet Explorer Administration kit (IEAK) versus using Netscape Navigator.  The IEAK allowed ISP’s to brand IE, Netscape did not.  The IEAK was free, while Netscape, still trying to figure out a business model, was around fifty bucks.  In addition to the browser wars we started to hear and learn about Linux and Open Source.  To host web sites the name Apache came up a lot. At this point in time the LAMP stack was still not there as did not hear much at the time abut MySQL and PHP.  We were a team promoting Microsoft technology and capturing a lot of valuable intelligence.  It was really the latter that brought to attention the new technology landscape that was starting to blossom.  As a company it would take many years before we fully grasped Open Source.

As we turned to the end of the century Microsoft made some simple decisions. Jim Allchin head of Windows wrote a memo saying we should just bundle IE with Windows. At the time a smart decision.  However as we marched on it would come back to haunt Microsoft.  It was becoming increasingly clear that we were improving our browser with IE v3.0 and starting to take market share.  We were making headway and Netscape was floundering.  They decided to make a big bet on corporate email, after much fan fare it had a hard time getting off the ground and in my opinion was a bad choice.  They were going head to head with Microsoft and IBM.  One thing Netscape was doing was a lot of PR around how many hits to their homepage, millions.  What if they had done search instead of corporate email?  Just saying, things could have been much different.

The DOJ trial hit but Microsoft ability to take more market share did not stop.  Within 5 years Microsoft’s Internet Explorer had become the dominant browser.  Really no Safari, Opera, etc.. Then a interesting thing happened, Microsoft released Internet Explorer 6 on August 27, 2001. It was well received and continued Microsoft’s browser dominance.  Then Microsoft just kind of stopped.  The next release would not come out for over 5 years, in technology terms a life time.  At the time Microsoft was operating on a outdated model, believing maintaining Windows market share was all important and in the short term the revenue numbers would support that, but in the long term it would harm innovation and access to new markets.

In the interim a non-profit open source project got underway and launched the Firefox web browser.  It would develop a cult following and offer new things that Internet Explorer 6 did not, the big one being multi-tab browsing.  By the time Internet Explorer 7 came the market was set to go significant change, primarily due to search and mobile. By October of 2006 Google had developed a business model around their search engine that was generating billions in revenues with huge upside.  A little less than a year after the release of Internet Explorer 7, Apple would launch the iPhone with Google as its search partner. Mobile browsing would be done in Safari.  The rest is history.

In September 2008 without a whole lot of fan fare, Google would release the initial version of its web browser, Chrome.  I remember the day it came out a person next to my cubicle at Microsoft had loaded and we were playing around with it.  What it had from a UI perspective was typical Google simplicity, not a lot of clutter.  Simple Google search box and off you go.  When I left Microsoft a year later it was time to try non-Microsoft things, so I bought a iPhone and used Chrome as my default browser.  The UI was a bit more elegant than IE.  I also loaded Firefox, but I think because it is an open source project it has a lot of techie bells and whistles I do not need.  Over time Chrome has become my default web browser.  The speed of the browser and simplicity of the UI were attractive and after a while it becomes a learned behavior.  Start PC, click on browser.

Chrome did a lot of things correctly. Getting developers to write extensions. Using it to help maintain their share of search revenues.  Always focusing on performance enhancements.  They have now created Chromebooks, which have yet to seriously take off, but are gaining some traction. Google has lots of money so they can fund this PC displacement effort in the short run for revenue gains in the long tun, it is still a bet at this point.  Google has been pushing the browser and web-based technologies.  Google is the one browser that has a Chromecast option that allows me to stream content to my TV, provided I have a Chromecast device (I do) Since more and more content is video this is a handy feature.

A lot of the reasons Chrome has succeeded is the simple understanding of the evolving world and the important role a browser plays in it.  While Microsoft was focused on the next version of Windows they were failing to understand that life was in the browser, not the OS.  Google realized in order to have more understanding and influence with customers they were going to need something more than a search engine.  The browser was the obvious choice as it has become our window to the world in which we live.

Microsoft has in recent months re-engaged in the browser war, but in my view it has backfired.   The marketing folks believed the Internet Explorer name was old and tired and replaced it with “Edge” and it ships with Windows 10 and is only available in Windows 32 bit or 64 bit versions.  There is no support for Android or iOS, which is a bit surprising given the change in views about competing OS’ at Microsoft.  So much I feel of what goes wrong is not so much technology but marketing.  I think Microsoft is so broad in its efforts that it struggles to maintain and sales and marketing momentum behind any particular product.

I was on a team that worked hard to build the identity and market share of Internet Explorer, but probably because it was free it was devalued at Microsoft. But I ask is anyone not on the internet? social media? following the stock market? Latest Football score? Streaming video via Netflix?  In all cases you need a window to get there, and no it’s not Windows, it’s the web browser.  In the digital economy it is very valuable real-estate.  We have gotten so tied to it, from a business perspective we may forget its value. Through Chrome, Google will set its business agenda.  If Microsoft is to realize its dreams in the cloud, Internet Explorer will be a very important component of that vision.  I really enjoyed those early days of the web, it was innocent.  Those days are gone replaced by extreme sophistication.   No need for a telesales team of 4, but glad I had the opportunity.

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 9, 2016

 

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The Shanty Towns of Seattle

It seems as if it is one of those things that has been around forever in Seattle and in all of America,seemingly ignored but always in front of us; the plight of the homeless. But in recent years the issue has grown in visibility throughout my home town of Seattle. This despite a booming economy that has been a developers dream. Has led to a huge influx of new people to the city (Seattle is now in the top ten cities in America in terms of population density).  It has created the cyber center of the digital universe in Amazon. We are calling ourselves “The Cloud” capital of the technology sector.  It has a vibrant start-up community.  Real estate values through the roof, back to where we were before the financial meltdown.  The median price of a house in Seattle is at $533,000 and not going down anytime soon. Seattle is a billionaire playground of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen etc..Yet despite all this new wealth when I drive down I-5 and look to the divide between the freeways I see small enclaves of tents, accompanied with a lot of filth strewn around the encampment.  Even as our city grows with new development, hand in hand it seems the number of impoverished tent communities has increased as well. Littering any empty available space and creating a new open wound on the city, maybe bringing us back to earth from our lofty heights.

You see the homeless faces at every freeway off ramp.  In ragged clothing, usually looking as if bathing is a foreign concept.  Many times nearby is in encampment.  They have some creative signs, some not so creative.  All asking for any money you may have. From a drivers perspective as you pull off the freeway and up to the stop light you make a conscious effort to not make eye contact.  Sometimes you see the same face often enough you begin to recognize them, though never on a personal level. There are gimmicks, like the wheel chair.  The I ran out of gas idea has been tried and proven. Homeless veteran is used so often I am not so sure that any are veterans, but then I feel guilty for thinking that, as some surely are.  In the end you just become numb to their existence.  Man kinds worst problems are the ones you grow accustomed to.

As you drive north or south along I-5 you see on the side of the freeway, in between the freeway and under the freeway a lot of encampments.  Tents clumped together, clothing hanging out on shrubs and small trees.  There is garbage everywhere around them.  For as clean a city as Seattle tries to be there are these pockets of filth all over the city.  The worst part is there seems no solution in sight.  The numbers seemingly just increase. The reasons unknown.  Some of these shanty’s have names, like “The Jungle”,  There are always people there loitering around.  Seattle’s drug problems are not hidden, but out in the open.  It is like Switzerland’s failed attempt of creating a needle park in Zurich (Platspitz Park), minus the clean needles.  The only difference is no vote was taken and no government official endorsed it.  But with a blind eye we all accept it.

Seattle has the fourth largest homeless population in the US, behind New York, LA and Las Vegas.  The first two not surprising given just their sheer size. I would guess as a percentage of population Seattle is far greater.  It seems weekly in our local news there is discussion and debate about these tent cities.  The number if homelessness is increasing rapidly.  In a count recently the number of people sleeping outside has risen 19% year over year to 2,942 (luckily the winters have been fairly mind the last several years).  Many claim a local zip code as their last address (recent survey had 84%, but 30% refused to respond). We have tent cities that have sprung up throughout the town.  These ten cities pop up in church parking lots where they will stay for three months, call these people urban Bedouins.  Moving from parking lot to parking lot, from Seattle neighborhood to neighborhood.  In almost all instance sparking an outcry from local inhabitants. Seattle Mayor Murray announced a state of emergency for the homeless.  He designated three locations for  homeless housing, they are not really houses but shacks made by the same company you would by a shed for your backyard.

The areas designated are in three distinct areas of Seattle: Ballard, Interbay and the Rainier Valley.  It seems an effort to centralize our homeless problem, while providing shelter for those in need.  Visiting the encampment at Interbay, you first notice that is hidden from view down a side street.  It sits in a vacant lot in the middle of an industrial area.  It does not have any structures, but is a cramped mass of tents and blue tarps. There are people mulling about in the camp, but it seems calm (I was there at around noon).  It seemed I think many people would like it to be, you do not know it is there.  In contrast the location in Ballard is right on Market Street, the main drag in the community.  Better yet it is right next to the Old Sloop Tavern.  Convenient?  The encampment had several sheds that were tall and narrow along with tents and tarps. Signs were hung on the fence surrounding the shelter saying “Velkommen til Ballards”, a tribute to Ballard’s Scandinavian heritage and “Nickels-ville”a tribute to our former mayor.  The activity here was not as encouraging.  A man walking in the middle of the street.  Another group of three with one rolling around on the ground, pants half down, drunk.  A group mulling around the entrance of a small market store. all in all not a very pleasing social scene. The third encampment is in south Seattle, near the Othello transit station.  Like the others it was a vacant lot and the city provided some basic shelter.  One nice thing is all the shelter were painted in soft tones, color can enhance anything. The light blues, reds and yellows made it seem more livable.  Like the first one in Interbay you did not notice a lot of activity.

Next to my house not 200 feet away we had a tent city at the local church.  We were told just a few weeks before it was due to arrive in the fall of 2015.  We were invited to the church to hear from the church leaders, a community rep for tent city, and the citizens of this tent city.  The one we had was a smaller tent city with less than 30 inhabitants. We met at the church one evening and were greeted by the pastor. The a man who worked in helping locate and set up tent cities.  There were rules, you paid $1 per day to stay in tent city.  Daily cleanup around tent city, so local residents did not notice accumulation of garbage on the streets.  In short it was run like a commune. Some of the residents spoke and they seemed nice enough and willing to talk with us.  One was Filipino who had served in the Gulf War and said when he got back things did not work out so well and life just fell off the rails.   They were designated to be there for three months with an option for four.  Time passed quickly.  We did have one family, it looked like a father with two young children .  He would walk them to school each day we would see them as we walked our youngest to school as well.  And then one day they were all packed up and gone.

With all these efforts to provide housing what has not come to the forefront is how do we provide help to those in need and not just a handout, but actual help.  These can cover a lot of categories.  Some have serious substance abuse issues, others suffer from mental issues, and then there are those where life simply fell off the rails and need help getting back on their feet, some job training or educational opportunities.    What originally welfare was intended to do.  Get people back on their feet.  It is complicated as some of these discussions go beyond homelessness.  Mental illness seems to find its way into gun rights issues and rightfully so when you consider the number of mass shootings that have taken place in the United States. Homelessness was also due to the financial crisis we weathered, as people bet beyond their means.

I have grown up in the Seattle area and I have seen prosperity that is the envy of the world.  We have 4 people listed in the top fifty wealthiest in the world, with a combined net worth of around $160 billion.  One of the highlights of the holiday season was all the Christmas lights on all the building cranes downtown, and there were many.  Yet despite all these indicators of success we are a city with a wounded soul, as in our good intent we have seemingly failed those at the bottom of societies hierarchy.  We have worked to provide shelter, one of Maslow’s basic hierarchy of needs, but much more is needed if we are to make our city whole again.  I know we will never fully solve the problem, the sad reality is that some of the homeless are simply beyond help, but even for them we need to provide some level of comfort. To make existence tolerable.  Global warming has made for mild winters and therefore we have not heard of people freezing to death.  We have a gaping wound in our city that we have been slow to bandage, we have taken action but only time will tell if it is enough.  In the meantime we shall watch our wounds grow and all be lesser for it.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 29, 2016

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Yahoo!

Well Yahoo is at it again. Of course not in a positive light. The news is not good, missed earnings, layoffs and lawsuits…oh my! It does not seem that long ago they were high flyers in tech (I am showing my age it was 15 years ago). I would see employees on planes…I could tell as they wore their badges. I was at Microsoft and the blue badge had lost its bluster. Not that I ever wore it on a plane.  But Yahoo at the time, like many companies in the Silicon Valley, was a high flyer and a recognized name in the industry. Their CEO and founder Jerry Yang was one of the many “new” Bill Gates wannabe’s, Steve Jobs re-emergence was still several years off.  As has been taught over and over again in this industry business models change and the wheels can come off very quickly. Yahoo has tried to maintain some level of luster, but in technology when the glory is gone, it seems never to come back.

Like many companies in the industry you can have tremendous value and sometimes a bigger opportunity lies just in front of you within your grasp, only to be missed and sadly slip from your hands.  In the case of Yahoo it was search.  Back in the dotcom boom everyone monitored their website traffic.  Claiming millions of views.  Bragging of the number of unique visitors.  The problem was no one had figured out how to monetize it.  There were a lot of search engines such as Yahoo, Lycos, Alta Vista etc..but then came Google and the whole game changed.  Jerry Yang was irrelevant before he knew it, but it took a long while for him to figure it out (still not sure he has).  The new kings were Larry Paige and Sergey Brin.

Microsoft has lost its luster and though they were tinkering and perfecting their existing revenue streams (Windows, office, Server software etc..) They were looking for the next big bang.  Ballmer and Gates admitted they blew it on search.  I have not always been nice to them on this point, they never would have figured this out.  Advertising revenues were a foreign concept to Microsoft.  They had no experts in the subject in-house so they had to build from the ground up.  They went through MSN Search, Live, AdCenter etc..Each came and went with a failing grade.  In the mean time Google just churned out more and more revenue.  In the end Microsoft got a bit desperate and offered Yahoo a whopping $44.6 billion for the company.

Enter Jerry Yang, seemingly back from the dead and horrified by Steve Ballmer’s proposal.  He fought tooth and nail against the buyout.  He was not going to let his baby fall into the hands of the evil empire.  he fought for pride and ego and not for business. In the end Jerry would prevail and will go down in history and in MBA courses as an idiot.  Not realizing that the battle for internet supremacy had been lost, there would be no tomorrow for Yahoo.  In the end Yahoo would do a deal with Microsoft where it would use Microsoft’s back-end technology for search,thus lowering costs.  Jerry Yang would step down as CEO, replaced by Carol Bartz.  By 2012 Jerry would resign from the board and have no activity with Yahoo. In the end he left on a downward spiral but his current net worth is $1.5 billion, so no tears shall be shed for Jerry.

The saga would continue as on 2012 Yahoo would snatch Google exec and starlet Marissa Mayer.  I do not know the details but I would hope Marissa would have consulted with Google God Eric Schmidt on what to expect when taking over a techno loser.  if you remember between Sun Microsystems and Google, Eric was CEO of Novell Networks.  A true techno  loser.  They had it all before Windows Server and the Internet killed them off.  Marissa came with excellent credentials having lead various search businesses at Google, but the trapping of power have a away of corroding all and in 2012 she was recruited to take over struggling Yahoo.

Yahoo under Marissa would try to re position itself and make itself relevant again. Through a series of acquisition and partnerships it seemed to want to redefine itself, but in the end it seemed to resemble nothing more than a web portal, a term more associated with the dotcom boom.  Not to say it was bad, I actually use it every day, but it was nothing really cutting edge.  It almost plays more like an internet gossip column, the People magazine of the web.  That is not a bad thing unless you are trying to position yourself, because of your legacy, as some type of leader in the industry,  There is a perception difference between the New York Times and the Enquirer.  In the end corporate executives are competitive and cannot refuse a challenge.  It can lull you to sleep and see and believe things that are not there which is what happened to Marissa.  Yahoo was dying before Microsoft made a bid and nothing really changed afterwards.

As of Yahoo’s last earning it seems the wheels are starting to come off, thought Marissa managed to bring the stock back up to previous high’s in the end it does not seem enough.  In my view Yahoo! struggled with its identity.  They had to compete against Google, but it never seemed their heart was in it.  They did “trending now” but that was more of Twitters area.  They were more or less forced into a partnership with Microsoft, lest they look like complete fools for not accepting Microsoft’s buyout offer (which in the end they did).  They created a nice web-portal, but that was out of style.  Failed to capitalize on mobility.  Yahoo is still alive but down the road will we see them in the morgue of missed opportunities like so many other tech companies who road the technology shooting star. Only time will tell,but it seems as if it is just that a matter of time.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 16, 2016

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Twitter

It seems like Twitter is getting hammered of late, ok may be not of late but ever since it went public. I have to admit, though I have had a Twitter account for years, it really is only over the past couple of years I have used Twitter.  That being said I actually use it quite a bit as my Social Media hub, even more so than Facebook.  A big reason is news. Twitter aggregates the news sources I want to view with out the opinion of  my acquaintances on Facebook , which in many instance I find offer opinions that I can either “Like”or not like (no button yet for this).   I really just want news so I can make my own opinion.  Twitter has become part of the internet dialog.  It seems all people of celebrity status, business, politics, and every day people have Twitter accounts and are tweeting.  With its troubles you would think they are like Yahoo even though as a daily activity they resemble Facebook.  At one time Twitter was feared and possibly is still feared by Google.  With its trending now service, Twitter was the pulse of the internet.   The question is why all the troubles, why all the worry?

It is easy to compare Twitter to Facebook.  Both are giants of Social Media and yet while Facebook has a good habit of continually blowing out earnings and capturing the hearts of Wall Street, Twitter has not enjoyed that same success.  Facebook has over 1 billion “users”, how active they are is another question but overall there are many people who are very active.  What this has translated to is Facebook has been very successful in monetizing the very large user base.  Twitter has “only” 320 million unique users and gets criticized for not growing fast enough.  I think there are a lot of companies on the planet who would like this problem.  Where Twitter has failed is not being able to monetize those users.  Where Facebook routinely beats Wall Streets expectations, Twitter seems to struggle to keep pace.

Another difference starts at the top.  Jack Dorsey left Twitter and then was forced to come back.  He also is CEO and Founder of Square, a mobile payments company.  The guy is an entrepreneur and a successful one.  However as companies grow and go public some needs change.  The startup mentality has to be replaced with a  sense of maturity tempered with a driving passion for the company you lead.  With Jack coming back we are waiting for the latter two.  Contrast this with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ,, who has stayed true to Facebook.  It went through a rough first year on Wall Street.  the initial IPO was mishandled, but through the process we saw Mark mature and maintained his belief in the company.  The results have been staggering.  Listening to Mark Zuckerberg he reminds me quite a lot of a maturing Bill Gates.  Bill could be very hostile to the media, but when talking to employees he was always very calm and certain of the direction of both the company and the industry.  He could inspire.  Mark seems to have that same demeanor, minus the ridicule of the press.  The question for Twitter has Jack Dorsey returned to be a Steve J0bs type of figure or will he look to hand the reigns over to someone else.

Twitter has very much become a part of the internet’s social dialog.  I cannot watch a television show, whether it be “Men in Blazers” or CNBC or my favorite soccer team without following them on Twitter or having them direct me to their Twitter account.  It is a good problem to have. This is why they are not Yahoo, which is a company that is struggling to survive.  Why Jerry Yang fought the Microsoft takeover will live as one of the dumb egotistical moves of business history.  Twitter just needs to become more professional and more disciplined.  the audience is there before them, they just need to develop a business model and fine tune it to monetize that user base.  Twitter needs to understand its users better.  Facebook has done a phenomenal job in doing this and the results show it, in amazing fashion.  This to me is job number one and then take that understanding and start generating ad revenues to match its user base.

An area where Twitter has stagnated is innovation.  Twitter has not gone on a grand buying spree or provided regular updates and new features to its service.  Where as their competitors have made big bets and thrown out some pie in the sky ideas, we have yet to see that from Twitter.  A large part of that is the instability in senior leadership.  I think if Jack Dorsey can provide some focus, Twitter can attract some talent.  Once that is done then the hope would be we would stat thinking a bit outside of the box.  There is a lot happening in the industry.  Big Data seems easy for Twitter to capitalize on as they house a lot of data.  Can it be analyzed and action taken upon that analysis?  Where will Twitter fit in AI, Robotics, IoT etc..These are all areas where there is potential for Twitter to play, we just need them to stabilize and deliver.

Twitter so far is a failure not because they are a bad service, quite the contrary in Social Media circles they remain a relevant and great service.  However they frustrate as they seem incapable of seizing a unique opportunity.  In many ways you hope a more mature organization like Google or Facebook would buy them out.  Twitter should succeed.  They have mind share.  Most young people are using Twitter today.  However these windows of opportunity only stay open so long.  We remember MySpace and now most people do not remember them.  they are one of technologies historical artifacts.  I will continue to pay attention to cable news and other media outlets to see if they still reference their Twitter accounts, are using hash tags.  It is time for this company to start executing upon its potential.  Otherwise they can join along list of companies in the technology cemetery.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 29, 2016

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The Great Convergence

We live in a time where technology seems to have reached hyper drive or warp speed, which ever sci-fi genre you like will work. It seems as if we have a series of mega-trends before us ranging from Cloud to Big Data to Robotics, to name but a few.  Every major tech company seems to be hopping aboard.  The technology sector is notorious for creating these type of panics, god forbid we miss the next over-hyped trend.  In some instances the big players seems to want to tackle them all, be it Microsoft, Google, Facebook or Amazon.  At other points in time it is a Billionaires men’s club with Jeff Bezos or Paul Allen funding some pie in the sky idea.  But maybe it is bigger than they all think and as complex as it all seems maybe it is being made too complex.  We have before us a lot of “big things” – we have the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Cloud, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence etc.. All these trends driving tremendous change in society, in how we will live our day-to-day lives.  Is it wise to focus on one or will we need to focus on all.  From a company perspective it may be wise to place bets with just one or two of the big emerging trends, for the larger players they will, and may have to, tackle them all.  One thing is clear in my mind and that is they are all converging into one it what will be called, “The Great Convergence”.

Convergence is one of those industry overused terms.  Not long ago we talked about digital convergence.  First our music went digital with the advent of the compact disc.  Our computer networks were already digital.  Than communications went digital as we moved from analog to new services like Voice over IP.  In addition to voice we had SMS, email and a host of other forms of digital communications.  We had debates in the halls of congress as our television went digital.  How would we support all those old televisions?  As is almost always the case the advances in technology moved so fast it just swept over all of us like a tidal pool.   These debates and changes, which in reality were not that long ago, now seem like ancient history.  We now take these things for granted as we use services like Skype, WeChat and Netflix.  Like so many things in technology they just burst upon us and before we know it, the terms surrounding them and their use become part of our day-to-day living.  Think back to the washing machine, there was a world before the washing machine.  Hundreds of years went by with women washing clothes in a river or a tub.  Now no more.  However with tech it no longer can be measure in decades or years, the change happens very quickly and then in some instances it is gone (think of the FAX machine).

If we look at the emerging trends, the best way to visualize them is as a bunch of tributaries all feeding into a massive river like the Mississippi River (I purposely avoided the term Amazon river for obvious reasons).  One small river would be IoT, which would capture data from every device on the planet and feed into a mega data repository.  This “Big Data” would be centralized in a distributed database in the Cloud, from which we would perform complex analytics.  Other tributaries would be robotics, which would spawn more data.  Drones capturing data from the sky.  Vehicles capturing data from the road.  More humanoid devices wandering the streets and buildings capturing more data, perhaps observing human behavior and uploading that data.  As AI improves, these bots would start making decisions and based on the results if the decision uploading that data.  All converging and feeding Mark Twain’s, mighty Mississippi.

The days of gigabytes and petabytes are behind us we pass through exabyte and zettabytes and move right into a yottabyte.  As quantum computing takes off we can analyze data that used to take years down into minutes or even seconds.  A new form of computing will have emerged making our lives easier and yet more complex within the wink of an eye.  Algorithms that once took decades to solve not solved in minutes.  Predictive modeling will become more sophisticated.  We already live in an environment where online shopping s constantly analyzing our buying habits and trying to make recommendations based these habits.  The immense amount of data once utilized will change how we live.  Capturing data has become routine, the ability to analyze that data and act upon it will fundamentally alter our lives.

At times we may squirm hearing all this, but technology is like a tidal wave, once it has garnered momentum it is just a matter of time before it comes crashing down on those in its wake.  We fret over security and privacy even as we willingly give it up to have our iPhone locate us wherever we may be.  You may not want people knowing where you are but once captured that data is stored somewhere.   It can all seem so overwhelming but than what did you think self and immediate gratification would be?  Despite what biblical scholars may debate, paradise was never going to be free.  There are major positives coming through, in particular in health care as there may be alight at the end of the tunnel.  In the coming decades we may cure cancer.  We will have a greater ability to monitor our own health.  We will have our current state of life measured in real-time. We will be a part of the network, not separated physically but willingly opting into the digital world.  All you will have to do is hit the “OK”button.

The doomsayers now have a voice that only grows louder by the day.  They have been around for a while, as in humanities entire existence.  However now some of the areas traditionally reserved for science fiction novels and films.  As devices become more intelligent and AI improves the question of humanities future existence will become more pervasive.  In education we push for more STEM funding seeing that as the future of our economy while deriding the humanities as less important.  Part of it is simply our competitive nature in the US as we cannot fathom the idea of some other nation doing things better than us.  We make sacrifices rather easy in order to push ourselves to the forefront.  The Great Convergence is upon us.  Like it or not we have opted in. We will move forward regardless of the consequences.  In great part because we cannot help ourselves.  We more or less created the oil industry and all its environmental catastrophes.  As our nation grew so did our appetite for energy.  Now that the demand price for oil has taken a downturn we see the impact in our 401k plan as so much of our economy is based on energy.  The 20th century created that much like the 21st century.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 26, 2016

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Is the PC finally dead?

It has been an interesting week. On the one hand Windows 10 has surpassed 200 million in terms of installed base. On the flip side at this years Consumer Electronics(CES) show in Las Vegas the reports are there is next to zero presence by hardware vendors and next generation PC’s.  Microsoft has scaled back. Dell has scaled back.  HP has scaled back.  It’s as if no one cares anymore. There has been discussion of the demise of the PC for years now and many times I think it is misunderstood.  It is not like the PC is going away, it has just become a commodity.  I need it like I need tires for my car.  This does not however mean there is no future for the PC, it just means the sex appeal of the PC is kind of dead, actually it is really dead.  Is the future, one of death for the PC?  Can it be resurrected?  Is technology transforming so fast that the PC will fade into memory?  All valid questions, but maybe a bit to doom and gloom for me.  There is a place for the PC, it just may not be as central as it once was.

There are still a lot of companies out in the world who rely on PC’s to drive growth – still a lot of the big names out there that includes Acer, Toshiba, Lenovo, HP Consumer, Dell etc..All good companies with good products, but in an age defined by Apple and Google in the consumer space they have all found it hard to stay relevant.  This does  not mean the PC is dead, we just need to reassess where it fits into our lives.  Is it cutting edge or has it become more like my refrigerator? Maybe a better question is my household appliance becoming more like my PC?  If we look at some of the big announcements at CES a fair amount were around old household appliances like the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator which has three camera inside and you can connect via a Mobile app so when you are at the store you can check if you may have forgotten anything.  It also has a screen on it with the possibility of streaming video content to the fridge.  It was cool this year but I think it will be even bigger next year.  For hardware manufacturers they need to figure how they co-exist in this new world.  More importantly how do they offer value to anew tech consumer market that will be much larger than their traditional market .

What does this have to do with PC sales?  The way to look at with each new IoT device a piece of functionality of the PC is being distributed so I do not need to stop and sit down on the couch and boot to perform a task or view content. When I stream content to my TV I use Google Chromecast and my iPhone as I can get all content via the iPhone almost immediately.  Where time is spent then over time it is usually monetized.  With the rules changing minute by minute and the traditional tech experience being transported across every item ever created by mankind our reliance of a confined experience is dissipating.  Samsung and Google are leading the way.  Samsung does everything from phones to PC’s to kitchen appliances.  Showing and understanding that these are all in some way connected.  Google via its acquisition if NeST is connecting the home and allowing you to control your home environment anywhere at anytime.

A question is where does this leave Microsoft? Where does the Windows experience go from here?  A company that laid the ground work for where we are today needs to recreate its identity or more importantly recreate the user experiences.  We are continually being given new ways of interacting with technology.  New home heating systems we tap into via an app and wi-fi connection. Home security systems we can view from our mobile device our laptop..  The challenge for many of these new Internet of Things scenarios is that they don’t need all the functionality and overhead that Windows provides but a very specialized subset, more suited for a OS like Linux.  That being said it makes sense for Microsoft, given its history, to be a major player in this space. It will have to make significant changes in how it thinks about an operating system.

For all the strides we have made I still find at times the PC an extremely frustrating piece of technology.  It still can lock up on me.  Provide me the blue-wheel of death. The mouse touch=pads at times can be way to sensitive this causing mysterious things to happen.  Boot times have improved but are no where close to what I have on my tablet.  These distributed tasks to new devices and form factors are welcome, as they are simplified and available immediately upon request.  My technology horizons are expanding as every day technology touches something new in my life, down to the clothes I wear.  As is so often the case with gadgets they always seem to get smaller and brighter.

Where does this then leave the PC?  The PC had been around for over thirty years now and has lost its glamorous sex appeal.  It is not the center of the technology world anymore, nor has it been for a long time.  Will we not need them?  Absolutely not as certain task are still best designed for a PC.  The need to have a keyboard.  But as noted earlier the big change is the need to actually sit down and use a PC is not as great and more scenarios will crop up that further distribute our use of technology beyond the PC.  The PC has become more of a commodity for the general user.  I believe that I will have a PC until I leave this earth, however my time spent with it will continue to diminish, never to zero, but even less than it is today.  I do not foresee the PC ever gaining its former glamour and luster, at least not in the current from factors.  However the offspring to the PC shall lead us into a brighter future.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans  Henrik Hoffmann January 12, 2016

 

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Waiting for the Next Big Thing

With the release of the latest Star Wars I have thought a lot about the basic concept of impact. The film genre of science fiction had been around since the film industry had started but all of a sudden one film caused our expectations of what science fiction film should be had been changed.  I have been around technology for 25 years and seen a lot of great things happen in that time. Some of the simple things are amazing to me like PC’s with terabyte hard drives, memory in terms of gigabytes,flat screens, tablets that are useful, the list could get rather long. But things are happening in corporate america, the start-up community, venture capital, research labs etc..that will shake the very foundation the industry has been built upon over the last half century.  In a lot of ways these change agents are interlinked.  Terms we hear a lot of today in the industry: robotics, big data,artificial intelligence, cloud services,..these are all linked together as they share information between one another.  But when size-mic shifts happen they cause everyone in the industry to change focus.

We have been through a couple big changes in the industry.  The birth of the consumer internet.  It was unique in that the internet had been around a long time, but was really restricted to academics.  With the Netscape IPO in 1995 this all changed as all of a sudden every company and every person needed to be connected.   Companies panicked.  People were excited. We tolerated painful access and download speeds.  Video was not coming and where it existed was choppy and poor quality.  But the seeds had been sewed and the internet has changed how we interact on nearly every level of society.  The one problem we had with the internet was early on we were locked to our desktop.  Always needing to be connected to a power outlet.  Even laptops only took us so far.  Needing wi-fi access with limited battery life.  That all changed in June 2007 when Apple launched the iPhone.  It gave remote internet access a new meaning.  Our browsing experience was changed on a mobile device and more importantly we had apps to make the mobile web more accessible.  Touch screen was flawless.  We could stream video.  It changed the industry once again as all of a sudden every company needed a mobile app developer.

It has been a while since the iPhone and the last major technological impact.  Not to say nothing has happened.  A lot has happened.  In terms of the next great impact I do not think it will be “a single event” this time that transforms us overnight, but a broad brush stroke of multiple events happening in rather quick succession. The velocity at which technology is changing is driving fast changes in how society operates.  As I mentioned earlier we have Cloud, Big Data Robotics etc..On the horizon there are a lot of people making big bets with big money.  Elon Musk predicts they will have a fully self driving car within two years.  This seems ambitious and I am not sure it will happen but the sheer audacity of predicting something like this and believing in it is amazing and Elon Musk has a pretty good track record of delivery.  We have a space race going on, but this time it is not the Soviet Union versus the United States. A space race not funded by the public sector (NASA) but the private sector.  It is happening in the private sector as billionaires are building new rockets that can return to earth. Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin,Paul Allen with Stratolaunch, Elon Musk with SpaceX, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Even discussions of a mission to Mars and a Martian colony.  Other areas will be impacted as well.  As I am going through the wonderful process of choosing a healthcare provider I begin to think of my own mortality and my bodies limitations as my fiftieth year looms large, but the future will be bright for healthcare.  There is talk of 3D printed organs.  No need for a kidney donor, we will take your DNA and print a new kidney.   This year as part of his New Year’s resolution Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook wants to create a virtual assistant with AI,  Seems like the film ex-Machina is progressing quicker from fantasy to reality than anticipated.

All these great things seem to be converging upon us at the same time driving innovation further and faster.  The demand for engineers across disciplines has never been higher.  Great design will be ever more important to take form the simple engineering mind and making cutting ideas usable (sorry I have been around enough useless geeky presentations to slightly slam them).  There will be new opportunities as well  s displacement.  Every technological change in human existence has been met with trepidation and fear.  There have been protest already against a robotic future. Based on Mark Zuckerberg’s New Years resolution I am sure executive assistance may be worried.  Many companies are racing to buy AI startups, robotics companies etc..as the race heats up it will only intensify.  It is what we will call the Internet of Things world.

The impact of all these converging technologies will change the face of mankind in a way we have not seen before.  In part because it will happen very fast and challenge basic concepts of humanity.  How we exist, how we work, play communicate, entertain, it may even beg the question of should human race even exist?  Large questions to ponder and at this point cannot be answered.  Can we pull back?  I am afraid not.  the train has left the station and is only accelerating.  It is part of the human race to move forward quickly and in search of a greater future, not willing to recognize the consequences.  The next big thing is coming quickly and by the time it comes we will look back upon its rise before we know what has happened.  As I have quoted before and I shall quote Bill Baker again “The future comes slowly, change happens quickly”..

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 7. 2016

 

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