Presidential Campaign 2016

Well it is that wonderful time in American politics where the drums begin to beat and the voices raise to a fever pitch as we march towards November 2016 and the next presidential election.  The candidates are lining up, though one sides line seems longer than the other.  They are making their pitch to the American people as to why they have a direction on where  to take the country, that is better than the opposing candidates.  They are making early gaffes that are pure joy to late night television.  Everyone claims to be better than President Obama.  How will all this play out?  What drama can we expect? Is the democratic candidate a foregone conclusion to be Hilary Clinton?  Is there another candidate that could emerge and surprise?  Who will emerge from a crowded and yet to be finalized Republican field? In fact, how large will the Republican field become?  It is a very important time in our democracy, and when it is all over we are all exhausted.  The 2016 campaign at first seems to be shaping up to be rather dull, but we have along way to go.  A lot of excitement on the horizon.  A new generation of voters.  Another generation dying off.  The 2016 campaign has started and it is running, lets enjoy the ride.

As Karl Rove said, “Campaigns are a marathon, not a sprint”.  Despite early gaffes by candidates like Jeb Bush’s handing of the question “If you knew then what we know now would you have gone to war in Iraq”.  They are only relative for the moment, not the duration.  I honestly think the question is rather useless and only aimed at getting news, but Jeb struggled in his answers and the press sensed an opportunity.  Hilary will see the same with Benghazi and her email server.  I think the latter is more concerning than the former.  Benghazi was a bad situation that occurred in a very unstable region of the world, but I don’t see this  as a campaign issue that people will base their vote on.  The email server issue on the other hand will raise the issue of, “Are the Clinton’s telling us everything?”.  It seems to have been with them since Whitewater (read James Stewarts “Blood Sport).  Little things are not issues in Presidential campaign’s until they become trends.  We are over a year away from deciding who the next President will be, but we are in for a thrilling, and yes, very annoying and frustrating ride.

As people start picking their candidate, one thing to keep in mind as you choose is the United States is made up of fifty states.  We all know to run a campaign the first thing you need is a lot of money, but beyond the money you need coverage in all fifty states.  Every election there is always several candidates who says they will run, win a few states and build momentum.  The reality is this very rarely happens.  The exception being Barack Obama. If you read his political strategist David Plouffe’s book, “The Audacity to Win”, you realize how much effort was put into Iowa to start the momentum. In most cases these desires tend to tire before they ever get started.  There are always Candidates people want to get in, only to watch them falter. Wesley Clark?  Fred Thompson?  Candidates who were urged to run but did not last long.  Wesley Clark did win Oklahoma.  Some candidates are desired but never throw their hat in the ring, Colin Powell?  Mario Cuomo?  Then there are candidates who have built the machine and win their party’s nomination despite being not wildly supported.  John Kerry?  John McCain?…Both these candidates had the political machine.  With the machine you can cover fifty states and raise money.  Money wins in the United States.  You always have the issue candidates, there to pander to the extreme left or extreme right a few who come to mind are Dennis Kucinech,  Rick Santorum, Ralph Nader, Mike Huckabee, Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson etc…They have an impact in the Primaries, but rarely win the race.  The last time I can think of is 1964 election, where possibly the father of the modern-day conservative movement , Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination, and was crushed by incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson.  All was not lost as 16 years later his disciple Ronald Reagan would win the election.

Looking at the current crop of candidates many are forecasting a Hillary – Jeb battle.  The reason is simple.  Each candidate already has fifty state coverage and they have money, and big political names.  To set up national coverage can and will be done, like any startup you are building an organization.  They are big names in a crowded field, well at least for Republicans.  Consider them the Rock Stars of the emerging campaign battle. They are experienced and known.  However campaigns are long drawn out affairs.  One thing that seems to happen from time to time in elections is the demographics change and you witness generational shifts.  We saw this happen in 1992 when Bill Clinton defeated the incumbent President George Bush .  Prior to that every President had for the previous 50 years, ties to the second World War.  We may be in a new shift as Vietnam ended over 40 years ago and a new generation springs forward steeped in the history of the cold war, but also having lived nearly 25 years without the cold war.  The current generation is not as passionate about the different economic “ism’s” (Capitalism, Socialism, Communism. Fascism etc..).  In my opinion this shift will hurt Jeb Bush more than Hillary.  Jeb represents a political family and a political establishment.  He is older and his past is well-known.  The Republican party is still steeped in free-market economics.  He also has the  challenge of carving out an identity for himself.  His salvation may be his ties to the Hispanic community, a powerful voting block.  Everything I said about Jeb you could say about Hillary, the one difference is she is a woman.  Say what you want but in politics you use what you have to your advantage.  The country is ready for a female President.  I think it is way too early to say that Hilary versus Jeb will the final battle, but with money you are much better positioned to run a marathon.

We have already had plenty of stumbles.  Chris Christie had bridgegate, Hilary has an email server scandal, Donald Trump does not like Mexico, Jeb struggled with the , “knowing what you know now, would you go to war question, Hilary had Benghazi, Rick Santorum cannot believe there are gay people, Donald Trunp gets fired for his comments by MSNBC, Ted Cruz has Karl Rove and the entire Bush family livid with him over his negative comments in his book about George Bush, #41.  It seems like of late we can not blink our eyes without some issue taking front and center, nearly all of it negative.  But than negativity is a big part of campaigns (Thank You Lee Atwater).With big money and Super PAC’s this election will only build on the previous elections.  Though I will say that as the negativity builds I think the impact begins to lessen and people begin to tune out what is being spoon fed to them.  Modern elections are a bit overwhelming partly because there are so many different avenues we now receive information. Every time a candidate stumbles, their opponents will jump with negative ads immediately.  If it gives them a bump they will keep doing it until it no longer provides the needed returns.  It will cost lots of money and none of it will be pretty, but it is the world we live in until, we the voters, say we have had enough.

Issues are now coming at us right and left.  The Supreme Court upheld Obamacare and gave LGBT couple s the right to marry in all fifty states.  These two rulings tend to divide people along party lines.  For the Democrats this represents a huge victory, for Republicans it is a big setback.  It is clear in 2016 the Democrats will highlight these two landmark cases, a chance to pat themselves on the shoulders and tell America we were right and the Supreme Court back us.  For Republicans the question will be are these two issues we want to campaign against?  On Obamacare the argument will be less government bureaucracy,  but it i s not enough to say we will repeal Obamacare.  Republicans have to offer something to replace it and not just a free market hope and a prayer.  The challenge for Republicans on these two ruling is that they are popular with the American public.  They go against the DNA of the GOP.  They will be a part of mainstream America for the foreseeable future and GOP candidates would be wise to not campaign against them as it will distract from central issues, like immigration reform, a strong economy. social security, etc…

I probably have been a bit skewed so far in my analysis as I believe the GOP is struggling with the rapid changes happening in American society.  The Democrats will have challenges.  Though there are r candidates in the field so far in reality there are only two: Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  Mr. Sanders is a Left Wing issue candidate, not really a serious contender.  Jim Webb, who joined the race literally while I was writing this blog, could be a contender.  He is articulate and a dynamic speaker, my big concern is, will the American people rally to anther old aged, white guy? Which leaves Hilary.  A clear path to the White House for some.  But I am leery of anointing someone to America’s highest office.  I want a strong GOP candidate because I believe our democracy is entitled to a vigorous debate.  It benefits from such debate.  It lets us learn about ourselves and it lets us learn about each other, where we are weak and where we ares strong.  I don’t see it from the existing GOP field, though Donald Trump would be very entertaining in a live debate format.

We are over a year away but as we enter into 2016 , the momentum will start to shift drastically.  We will see highs and lows.  Early surges and late surges.  Someone will falter mightily at one point is the campaign, remember Gary Hart?  There will be a defining moment, like Michael Dukakis in the army tank.  Attack an opponents strength, Swift Boat?.  There will be lies and in the age of video everywhere someone will have their Mitt Romney moment.  All I can tell any candidate is you represent the United States of America and it’s over 310 million citizens.  Neglect one group and you neglect them all(Donald Trump has been very successful here).  Remember who you are and what you stand for.  Do it with conviction, not all people will like you for it but they will respect you for it  It’s too early to predict a winner but the race has started and we have yet to enter the first turn, but as the race progresses it will only get faster.  Lets enjoy the debate, lets enjoy our democracy.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann July 6, 2015

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Technology Tidal Wave’s

It seems about every 10-12 years an event happens in the technology industry that shakes the foundation and causes the industry to have to change direction. They change the way society lives and interacts. The companies that are on top of what is happening tend to come out ahead in the end.  Positioned for growth and to be one of the industry influencers.  The companies that fail to grasp the degree or significance of change, tend to fall behind.  To be sucked under by the undertow of the retreating waves.  These shifts tend to be big, launching new companies  or making existing ones bigger than could have been imagined.  In my lifetime I have seen four tidal shifts.  Each was different, each was important.  Each had its time and place and is cemented in technology history as a defining moment.

The first big moment happened on one of the greatest of American holidays, Super Bowl Sunday.  It was January 22, 1984 and pitted the Los Angeles Raiders versus the Washington Redskins.  The game was over by halftime, but the biggest of moments came during the legendary Super Bowl ads, where Apple Computer ran an ad directed by famed Hollywood Director, Ridley Scott.  It was a play on George Orwell’s classic novel, “1984”.  Pitting a young, and in color, female runner versus a mammoth screen with a blue colored “Big Brother”.  In those days, that meant IBM, who up until than had defined the computing landscape.  Apple was going to break the control of the menace known as “Big Blue”.  Most people are familiar with the ad, but it’s impact at the time was that it was the dawn of a new era.  Prior to 1984 the personal computer industry was still very young and trying to find an identity and a market.  The Apple ad basically opened up to America and the world the idea that anyone can own a personal computer.  This was not a hobby industry or an enterprise industry, this would evolve to be a consumer industry.  Prior to this the standard quote was from IBM, “Why would anyone want a computer in their house?”  But they operated in the world of Mainframes, which were the size of a living room.  The PC could fit on your desktop.  The race was on and a lot of new companies were created and entered the market, companies like Dell, Compaq, Gateway, etc..in the background a small company called Microsoft was biding its time.

The second big moment would take almost 11 years to occur.  During that time period one company stood out above all others; Microsoft.  Microsoft had been clever with its licensing model realizing to sell computers at $4000 though cheap was out of the price range of most people.  Licensing first Microsoft DOS and then Windows to any PC manufacturer that was interested.   It was Bill Gates Thomas Edison moment.  Edison was not the first to create the light bulb, he was the one who created the channels to deliver to the masses.  Bil Gates did a similar thing by licensing the software to drive the PC industry forward and deliver the computing experience to the masses.  This occurred through the next decade, but it was with the launch of Windows 95 that the industry to the masses finally to a great leap forward.  though the OS was a great leap forward from its predecessors, it was the launch that set it aside. The campaign began in earnest over a year before the launch.  The name had been announced, Windows 95, but time was running short. When the product launched on August 24, 1995 the media coverage was larger than anyone or any company had ever seen in the industry before.   The party on campus was over the top.  The lines at the stores were long.  Skylines in New York decorated.  It was what Bill Gates had envisioned, personal computing to the masses.  The general public was excited about technology and the possibilities.  The future was starting to move much faster.

The technology industry is a funny place, you can be great one day, forgotten the next.  The year 1995 was a pretty defining year in the industry.  It would be a year where not one, but two tidal wave moments would hit the industry.  It remarkably happened before the launch of Windows 95, but its impact remains with us today.  On August 9, 1995 a mere two weeks before the launch of Windows 95 a small company called Netscape IPO’d on the NASDAQ.  They had created a web browser for the internet.  You could now search and find all sorts of interesting things on the world-wide web. Maybe cooler is these websites were colorful and contained graphics.  The internet had been a round a long time but until than was really used predominately by academics.  Once Netscape was launched and everyone knew about their browser, Navigator, every person and company became interested on the internet.  Within months everyone wanted a website.  Customers and corporation started talking about how they could use the web to sell products.  The web would be what we generically refer to today as a disruptive technology.  Either hop on board quickly or be gone quicker.  As big a tidal wave that Windows 95 was, the craze launched by Netscape was far bigger.   Windows 95 fulfilled a promise laid out by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, A PC on every desktop and in every home”, the internet delivered the future.  Luckily for Microsoft Bill Gates was at his peak and was quick to recognize what was happening and on December 7, 1995 delivered a key speech telling Microsoft we had better jump on or be lost to history.  Netscape never had a chance, they were destroyed but their legacy lives on as does their impact.

We would not see another tidal wave until June of 2007.  This was when Apple Computer, resurrected from the dead launched the iPhone .  The iPhone was a new kind of Smartphone.  Prior to the iPhone, the Smartphone market was targeted at enterprises and the two companies fighting for command were RIM with their Blackberry and Microsoft with their Windows Mobile Phone.  Apple had seen an opportunity and seized it.  The iPhone was light years ahead of RIM and Microsoft.  The touch screen was better than the qwerty keyboard and stylus offerings.  The ability to browse the internet was unusable in Microsoft and RIM’s smartphones.  The iPhone made this easy.  And the apps?  Apple had thought through the developer story much better than Microsoft or RIM.  All of a sudden their were hundreds of thousands of apps for the phone and they were usually free or dirt cheap.  In addition Apple had struck a deal with AT&T that they essentially dictated terms.  That had not happened before.  Usually the carrier dictated the terms. All app revenue was Apple revenue.  Within a year Microsoft and RIM were done and they have never recovered.  The one competitor left standing was a new entrant, Google with its Android platform. Microsoft never seemed in that era to understand what was happening in popular culture. Before the iPhone smartphones were for business people. After the iPhone launch it was hard to find anyone who did not have a smartphone.

It has been 8 years since the launch of the iPhone.  I feel the surf beginning to swell and something big is looming on the horizon.  What will it be? Could it be wearable technology or robotics? Perhaps IoT? Big Data? Virtual Reality? Who knows, but everything just mentioned is still early.  Waiting for  a breakthrough to bring it to the masses.  This is what drives technology more than anything, that ability to change lives within moments.  So much of what is routine today seemed a distant future not so long ago.  When I was at Microsoft early on, the discussion was about Information at your fingertips, this was before the internet became huge and mobile devices were not envisioned as they are today.  Now that dream exits, I can be anywhere and if needed get info immediately via my iPhone.  I can get directions to where I need to go in seconds.  Entirely due to the four tidal waves I mentioned earlier.  I am excited for the next tidal wave, it is building as we speak and the question will be as it crests and the wave comes crashing down upon us, are we ready?

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann June 26, 1015

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Waiting for the American Soccer Mesiah

I was first introduced to the game in 1974 by my father. Seattle had introduced a new sports franchise that year in what was a relatively new sport to the United States, soccer. The team was the Seattle Sounders and that year in particular started a city-wide love affair that endures to this day.  During that time the sport has evolved both at the youth level and the professional level.  It has spawned the term, “Soccer Mom”.  Created for many parents an endless summer of driving and flying to local, national and international soccer tournaments.  The MLS is growing and being followed by a new generation of sports fans, do I dare say it is being successful.    The World Cup is more popular than ever.  Every Saturday and Sunday morning I wake to the EPL and SPL games.  I see the best teams in the world: Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona etc..  I see the best players in the world:  Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Edin Hazzard, Neymar, etc..  However one thing is missing from all these great events, games and players, there are no great American players.  We have come a long way but we still don’t have a great messiah of the world’s game and consequently don’t have the world’s respect.

When I first started watching and following soccer back in the seventies there were very few American professional players.  The NASL had a rule – you had to have two Americans on the field, later changed to three.  Trouble was finding 2-3 American  players who were any good.  When you did find one, well thanks to American marketing know how, you made him a star.  Our first start was a Texan named Kyle Rote jr.  I am not sure he was great but he did in his first few seasons score goals, which was something new to American players.  He played for the Dallas Tornados and the crowds in those days were small, usually under ten thousand.  But for those of us who followed soccer he was the best we had.  He can say he played against greats such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Johan Cruyff, but all these legends were past their prime.  Kyle Rote Jr. would disappear from the sport and is now a businessman in Memphis.

Things would not change much in US Soccer until Paul Caliguiri would score his epic goal against Trinidad & Tobago to send the US to the 1990 World Cup in Italy.  People would call it the shot heard around the world.  I think they had their planets mixed up.  It was a big moment in US Soccer history, for sure, but how many noticed I suspect is few.  The US was going to the biggest stage on earth.  There were no real star on the team, the oldest player was 27, most played their full-time soccer on teams that would qualify them as semi-professional.  A few of the players would have fairly successful careers, players like John  Harkes, Tab Ramos, Eric Wynalda, and Kasey Kellar.  However on the international stage none would be considered great.  In fact you would have to be a USA soccer follower to know who they were.  The good news was the 1990 World Cup was the stat of what s now seven consecutive World Cup appearances.

The next big soccer moment was the 2002 World Cup jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan.  The US had improved.  We had our own professional soccer league, the MLS.  We had some exciting young players in Landon Donovan, Clint Mathis and Demarcus Beasley.  We had players who had played professionally in leagues outside the US.  We started with a major upset defeating Portugal 3-2.  A goal from John O’Brien was key and he would be an example of what could have been.  He was on par with america’s other starlet Landon Donovan.  He had grown through the famed Ajax youth system in the Amsterdam.  Unfortunately the Portugal game was the last we would see of him as injuries derailed his career.  The US would defeat  our arch-rival Mexico 2-1 in the round of 16 and make into the quarterfinals.  A tough 1-0 loss to eventual finalist Germany wold end up being the best the United States has ever done at the World Cup.  However we had something new in US Soccer, hope.

Landon Donovan would emerge from the World Cup as the new star of US Soccer and maybe for the first time the US finally had a recognizable star, that even non-Soccer people would know.  Landon would endure great success in the ever improving MLS.  Winning titles in San Jose and LA.  But he is almost as well know for his failures in Europe.  In a lot of ways Landon was an enigma, who seemed the consummate brooding star.  When he was not happy, it seemed to show it self as a sulking child on the field.  When happy he would light up the soccer field with his speed and quickness, at times playing at a different level than the rest of the players on the field.  His moodiness would hurt him when leading up to the World Cup he decided he needed a sabbatical from soccer.  It ended for him when he was dropped from the World Cup roster in 2014 in Brazil.

The other star to emerge was Clint Dempsey.  Who may be even more recognized than Landon Donovan due to his success in the English Premier league.    Dempsey was maybe the classic inspiration growing up in a trailer park in Texas and working his way up the youth and professional soccer system.  He would spend six years in England playing predominately for Fulham and ending with Tottenham.  In his time we would score 57 goals, some of them world class like the one he scored against Italian power Juventus in the Europa Cup.  A good career. He has also scored 40 goals for the US and is the only player to have scored in 3 successive World Cups.  His career falls short of being a messiah because he  played in tier 2 clubs in the EPL.  However he did reach levels no other US field player has reached in world soccer

What will it take for an American player to be the great soccer messiah?  The game in the United States has improved greatly over the last 40 years. The level of training and commitment at the youth level is far more than I ever could have dreamed of when I was a kid.  When I look at what my three sons have accomplished they have had far better access to training and games than I ever did.  However we still lack representation at the top-level.  The big clubs as mentioned earlier.  The Manchester United’s, Barcelona’s, Real Madrid’s, etc..We do not even have good representation in the top leagues,  There are no US players playing in the Spanish Premier League.  Despite the great strides made by the MLS, it is still a long way from being a top-tier league.  Right now our domestic league is still a vacation destination for older players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Kaka, to name but a few.  Some in better shape than others.  We have had hype, who can forget Freddy Adu, the child prodigy.  Where is he now? In Finland, a league beneath Sweden, Norway and Denmark

I do believe in the next 10 -15 yrs we will have that great player, as we do have Americans playing in great soccer academies across Europe.  We do have great soccer coaches, programs and professional academies in the United States.  Maybe more importantly the american soccer fan is hungry for greatness.  We have been creating a soccer culture in the United States. Every year there are more and more American players coming through the ranks and making an immediate impact at their respective clubs.  The game is growing. I have been waiting for over forty years for a player from Seattle, Springfield or wherever in the USA, to light up the world stage,  I can wait a few more.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 22, 2015

Windows 10…looking forward

I have been around Windows launches since 1991 and the launch of Windows 3.1. I have seen Windows upgrades succeed and I have seen them fail. I have seen Windows reach the pinnacle of the industry and I have seen it try to stay relevant. It has driven an empire and it has driven an industry. More than anything Bill Gates created Windows and Windows created Bill Gates. Bill Gates created Windows developer momentum and then watched developers flee as Steve Ballmer begged them to stay. Now we are on the verge of the launch of Windows 10 and Microsoft is once again trying to build momentum to prepare the world for the next great release of the flagship Windows Operating System.  As I listen to the Microsoft BUILD conference I cannot help but feel a bit tired from it all, is it really any different?  What is there to get excited about (there actually are a few things)?  What would I like to see a OS become?   There were some exciting discussions and announcements that were cutting edge.  Maybe Windows 10 is helping Microsoft stage a comeback.

The Microsoft BUILD conference is really about one thing: Developers.  The one thing consistent throughout its history is Windows is only as good as the applications that are developed for the platform.  Without developer support the influence of Windows begins to decrease.  Currently the biggest challenge Windows faces is the web.  If I am going to start a business I don’t start with a Windows App, I start with a website.  If I am going to sell something I will need e-commerce as part of my website.   The only thing I need Windows for is to launch my browser.  That is a big challenge for Microsoft.  There is the idea of the offline experience.  I will need something to cling to when the network is down and will need offline versions of Office to survive, but that in my view is short-sighted.  With each year connectivity improves in terms of reliability and in speed.  Eventually this will hit the Lanline phone experience of five nine’s.

The Microsoft Holo-Lens has generated some buzz in the industry.  I find that exciting as I remember in my last job at Microsoft one of our metrics, if you can call it that, was to generate industry “buzz” .   I took a beehive and threw it into a room of developers, it worked fairly well (the author is making a false claim).  I cannot say I am a huge Tom Cruise fan, but his film, “Minority Report” touched a lot of technologist fantasies and remains a significant influence and benchmark for many in the industry.  Especially the ability to manipulate holographic screens via touch.  What we saw at BUILD does not quite get us there, but it does give us a glimpse of the future and where we are headed.  If Microsoft is able to capitalize and grow this as a development platform, they will have made a significant contribution to the technology industry and alter how we interact with one another as a species.

An operating system in reality is pretty simplistic in what it is supposed to do and its function in the computing world. The primary responsibility for a OS is to take the end users commands and display them on a monitor. Essentially bring the PC/Tablet/Smartphone to life.  As Bill Gates loves to say, “Software is where the magic happens”.  That traditional experience is being challenged by newer technologies like the Smartphone OS and the emergence of browser-based devices, such as Google’s Chromebooks.  The idea of the Windows OS as the center of the software development universe has long since passed  and some question do I need be concerned about Windows at all?  Windows still has a place just by the fact that to this day they remain 90% of the desktop/laptop computing space.  However the market has expanded well beyond into the mobile space where Apple iOS and Google’s Android are the dominant players

The only thing for certain in the future is change will happen.  The industry will continue to evolve with new form factors and as the holo-lens leads us to, it may not be a handheld device.  The computing experience in the next ten years will transform again and become more transparent.  As the Internet of Things, Big Data, Cloud mature they will take us into new areas where direct interaction between human and device may not be as evident as it currently exists.  It will likely engage other human senses beyond touch and look to voice (sounds), human emotions, sight, and taste.  It will touch all man-made objects and living organism’s.  I think we will see the computing experience leave the device.  No longer tied to a monitor and a keyboard.  We have watched an industry go from mainframe to smartphone.  In the next decade we will start to leave that all behind.  Reality will look much different.

Will this be a big launch?  Will Windows 10 be on a billion devices by 2010?  Is this the last big Windows release?  I think the realization is setting in at Microsoft, and has for some time, that there will not be another Windows 95 launch.  Despite all the enthusiastic talk, the audience has grown weary and are looking for new emerging fields of technology.  This is probably why the Holo-lens has been greeted with enthusiasm as it demonstrates possibilities for a yet to be realized future.. This is probably the key point, that the technology industry is built around Windows of the future, not reflecting on Windows of the past  Even Satya Nadella said in his opening memo to Microsoft employees “Our industry does not respect tradition, it only respects innovation”.  This is a critical time for Microsoft. Am I excited about a new OS? No I cannot say I am.  Am I excited about a new future?  Without question I am.

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 15, 2015

 

 

 

The Internet of Things

As is typical in the tech industry, much is built around hype and blowing up things very big before they are ready or even real.  My experience during the dotcom boom and bust was very much around this reality.  We had the creation of Application Service Providers, who provided applications that resided in a data center and not on premise.  It was an early version of what we today call the cloud. It was early and there were a lot of things not ready for prime time. What the dotcom boom did do was lay the infrastructure for today’s world-wide web experiences.  We were laying down fiber all over the planet and coming up with new ways of accessing content on the web via technologies like DSL and the cable modem.  Prior to that we were all dialing in via a modem and waiting for content as it slowly made its way to our PC or laptop.  As Tom Friedman stated in “The World is Flat” we created an infrastructure where everyone could ride for free.  We did have mobile phones that could access the web, but these experience via a Windows Phone or RIM Blackberry would be best stated as painful in a comical sort of way.  However do to the “pain” we suffered we laid the foundation for today’s mobile society and providing our services in the cloud .

The tech industry is an industry that never sleeps, it always moves forward rarely reflective of its past.  Now we are hearing a new buzzword called, “the internet of things”. Companies are lining up and starting to talk about this new movement in the economy.  Noted author and futurist, Jeremy Rifkin,  discusses it prominently  in his recent book, “The Zero Margin Cost Society”.  The concept of IoT ties nicely into another current trend, Big Data.  So what is it?  For a long time now our computing experience has been tied to our devices, the PC, Laptop, Tablet and the Smartphone.  What we are discussing now is all the other devices on the planet that we can build and deploy software on so they can communicate and provide us data.  It can and will be everything from your household appliances and furniture.  If it is man-made it can be tied into the Internet. the most important thing being is we have the ability to connect everything.  And for everything we connect we have but one simple question, “what is it doing”.

If you think about this for a moment you can quickly surmise that every man-made and living thing is a container of information.  The walls of your house have frames built with wood or metal.  They have measurements.   Some use screws some use nails.  What type of nails? What type of screws?  They may have plumbing or electrical wiring.  Are you running a network through the wall? Phone lines? Cable?  If a rat chews through your cable how will you know? Through the magic of software that will all be known.  Through Big Data it will be analyzed.  What is analyzed can be acted upon.  It is pretty powerful stuff. The internet just passed a yottabyte of data, but when you think of the billions of devices the amount of data will grow 2 fold? 10 fold?  We will be know so many things about everything around us in ways we have never known as possible before.  We may even answer the age-old question,”if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around does it make a sound?”

A good example of IoT will be the advent of driver-less cars.  This has been changing for a long time now as the car moves from being a vehicle to a digital platform.  However it is becoming clear that the network will move from fiber to pavement.  Our roads will be a giant network topology, capturing data from everyone and everything that decided to move across the paved network.  If you think about maps in general they are simply network diagrams, you just have to rethink what you know as physical and start thinking of it as digital.  The network will monitor car speeds and keep speeds within legal limits.  No more police officers to stop you for speeding.  No more photo tickets, since none of us will be technically driving the vehicle as it will simply be a programmed and connected platform, part of the great paved network.  Beyond IoT, who knows, maybe we will not even need pavement anymore.

As robotics improves and it makes all these devices mobile, we will be able to collect data from these new robotic devices, like a lawnmower and learn where we are working well and where we are falling short.   It will give us the ability to modify and improve mobile machines in ways that traditionally required us to go to the nearest repair shops and pick up in two weeks.  Machine Learning will take on a whole new meaning in IoT.  It will replace mundane day t day tasks and displace low-end workers from their jobs as they will no longer be needed.  For all the high school kids looking for summer jobs mowing lawns, you will need to find a new source of income (asking mom or dad for money is not allowed).  If all motion devices become connected and are robotic how much data will be collected and acted upon?  The scenarios are to plentiful to consider here, but with little imagination we can all begin to sense the IoT future

In the end the Internet of Things and Big Data are the same thing.  Via IoT we will collect information from every man-made device and every living organism.  The data collected will be sliced and diced and turned into something actionable. We will be able to this with speed and decision-making time will be reduced.  The world will evolve quicker and the benefit to the human race will be greater.  Such power comes with enormous responsibility.  When we have these big shifts it creates new opportunities both for the good seminarian and the common criminal.   With each wave the wave seems to become bigger, leading to bigger shifts in how mankind lives and operates,  Before we had little Tidal waves now we will move to enormous tidal waves.  The wave will either lift us to new highs or crush us with an enormous crash delivering us from earth to a non-existent life.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 8, 2015

Microsoft at 40

A lot of articles have been written lately about the 40th anniversary of Microsoft and so far they have been written by industry observers, who have covered but never worked at Microsoft.  An outsiders view. A lot has transpired since Paul Allen convinced Bill Gates to drop out of Harvard and run off to Albuquerque, New Mexico and write programs for the Altair. The growth and changes are not just a refection of the company but the industry and maybe most importantly, society.  It has been a long journey and I certainly remember those Microsoft offices that sat right off of 520 heading into Seattle in the late seventies.  The first time I remember using Microsoft software was when my friend Jon got an Apple II and in order to start it you had to insert the DOS 1.0 5.25 floppy boot disk.  Later I would walk the halls in Redmond delivering mail to anyone and everyone at Microsoft, including Bill Gates. It never occurred to me at that time that I wanted to or had a desire to work at Microsoft.  I would learn a lot about tech, the industry and business during my 18 years at Microsoft.  However Microsoft is much like me now: middle-aged.  It has, like me, seen its shares of ups and downs in life.  Microsoft has its own mid-life crisis to go through.

If we spend a quick moment we can look back at Microsoft in its late teens and early twenties, when it was naively conquering the world one desktop at a time.  It was a young dynamic company that was really the first of its kind. Passion and ideas were valued over experience.  It was viewed as a young mans company (I do not say this disrespectfully to women, but this was 1991).  There was no dress code.  It was more or less an extension of college where you were paid.  Employees hung out together after work.  There was usually beer at work.  Pop was free. These seem trivial now but at the time it was a new idea.  You had a stock price that was going always up and everyone was vesting via a generous stock option program.  The company had a vibe about it.  No matter what your job you were committed and felt important.  the line between work and play was blurred, in a very good and powerful way.  As we have learned time is a cruel vice.

Today Microsoft seems like a slightly thicker, out of shape middle-aged guy.  There is a lot that is still the same, but so much has changed. Microsoft is no longer the epicenter of the tech industry as many upstart and strong competitors have grown up around it. Recently I had lunch with a friend in building 18.  Part of the complex which includes one of many old buildings I sat in, building 16.  They had completely updated the building.  The lobby had wavy, very colorful couches with backs that were not attached.  Behind me were strands of glittering lights, that reminded me of the beaded doorways of the sixties, but were now modernized.  The halls were open and conference rooms were spacious and cool in both look and feel.  A lot of the halls were covered with nice maple colored wood paneling.  I think Google or Facebook would approve of these spaces.  The problem was the only ones enjoying this modern high-tech spaces were a bunch of middle-aged, grey haired developers.  In many ways this is an observation that highlights Microsoft’s challenges.  A simple thing called age.

What is the biggest change?  Well that has been going on for a long time.  It really stated when Steve Ballmer took over.  No it is not that he missed the mobile boat.  It really came out of the landmark DOJ case that Microsoft was involved in.  While everyone was focused on its eventual outcome another thing was happening at Microsoft.  The company was getting bigger, much bigger.  It had to manage that growth and figure that out quickly.  Jack Welch was the idol of every corporate CEO at the time and Steve was no exception to this idol worship.  One of Ballmer’s first initiatives was reading and learning all he could from Jack Welch.  I remember vividly that we needed some type of direction to manage this growth, the problem with the Welch model it was very structured and structure equals processes, which slows the pace of a company.  We became what Bill had so often feared, a company being attacked by smaller, more nimble, impassioned companies.  In the meantime Microsoft continued to grow, and as if this writing iv over 200,000 employees when you include vendors.

Part of the change at Microsoft had to do with just life in general as people grew older, got married, had kids, created debts, had divorces, more medical issues, etc..These are things that naturally suck the focus out of a company, but really are not a corporate lesson but life’s lessons.  When I joined Microsoft in 1991 the average age of an employee was less than 27 years old.  Today the average age is 38.7 years.  It may seem insignificant, but you certainly notice when you walk the halls of Microsoft.  Conversations filled with a lot of discussion about life outside of work.  A loss of people screaming about the intricacies of memory management.  The correct strategy to defeat WordPerfect. It is a natural evolution.  Thomas Jefferson recognized the passions of those under the age of 25, he did not seem to comment on those over the age of 45.  I can only hope it is wisdom.

Finally as mentioned earlier there is just the question of age and the passage of time.  In technology you can walk through the doors of any company and you can feel a certain vibe.  A level of excitement.  A movement that the company is going somewhere.  That vibe start sup at the top.  When Bill Gates led Microsoft he set the tempo for the day-to-day effort that went into every product.  When he spoke at internal events he had a way of speaking that made the future seem predictable.  And then the question to everyone was, “Do you want to be a part of defining this future?”.  After Bill departed this reverence and fear of the future slowly dissipated.  Replaced by corporate politics. With that transition a lot of talent and “vibe” went with it.

The good news for Microsoft is the industry is once again going through one of its great transitional phases.  Looking beyond mobility.  Microsoft has new leadership and it is trying to recapture some of that swagger that made it the envy of the corporate world.  It seems to be making a genuine effort to try to get out in front of industry trends.  Bill Gates is now dedicating more time back with the company.  He still makes great observations, but with only 30% of his time dedicated one can only hope it is a significant 30%.  He is there to help Satya Nadella, and though it is still early there is a sense that Satya gets it, he seems to understand the industry and where it is headed.  It’s a critical thing to the success of a technology company to know where it is headed rather than try to steer a rudderless ship. As we move from packaged products to cloud and services, it is a critical moment in time for the company.    Time is not Microsoft’s friend at the moment, but then it never seems to be when you are getting older.  As Satya has stated, in tech you cannot live in your past glories.  Microsoft is positioning itself to make a move, to perhaps wake from what has seemed a long winter slumber.  Middle age can be harsh on the body, but the experience of the mind can be very beneficial.  It may seem like a long time, 4o years, but in the grand scheme of things it is but an instant.  I look forward to the next 40 years.

 

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 13, 2015

 

Categories Uncategorized

The Dangerous Road of Tech Legacies

Tim Cook was recently quoted on CNet about what separates Apple from Microsoft and he said, “I think it’s different. Part of the reason Microsoft ran into an issue was that they didn’t want to walk away from legacy stuff.” It is an interesting and insightful comment and having lived through much of it, not an inaccurate comment.  The article goes on to highlight many of the geniuses of Steve Jobs.  My favorite goes back to Walter Isaacson’s fantastic biography (apparently Apple does not think so) of Steve Jobs where he said, “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will”.  In the existing technology landscape you cannot expect a cash cow to go on forever.  If you do in all likelihood you are doomed.  The problem with cash cows is they are hard-core drugs, very hard to ween yourself off of.  It’s a problem with technology, which is based on developer code, this is not Coca-Cola and a secret formula.  Technology moves quickly and so do the business models that support it.  By nature it is a disruptive force.  If you live in your history you are doomed to become a part of its history.

There are numerous companies that serve as examples of either dead or dying entities as they struggle to reinvent themselves.  Since he spoke of them, lets talk about Microsoft. Microsoft is and always will be an industry legend, and deservedly so.  Bill Gates saw the value of software long before anyone else did, including Steve Jobs (as acknowledged by Jobs, in Walt Mossberg’s legendary interview of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates).  The problem came when Steve Ballmer tried to extend Microsoft’s legacy with the same tried and true formula of Windows and Office. However the computing experience was moving and changing quickly .  What Microsoft failed to understand was the computing experience was shrinking and becoming more fashionable.  It went from a big Personal Computer tethered to the wall with a power cord and network cable, to a smaller and more nimble laptop.  But it did not stop there.  When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 the ability to be free from your office and your keyboard was significantly altered.  Microsoft desperately wanted that mobile experience to be a Windows experience, but the list of reasons as to why that has not happened are numerous and in the aftermath Microsoft is left trying to re-establish its relevance in mobility.  In the tech industry size-mic shifts happen and you can either embrace them and move forward or hang on to what you know and lag behind

Microsoft’s success initially came at the expense of another competitor, IBM. There was a time in history where IBM defined everything in technology.  They essentially created the standards that everyone followed, until a ill-fated meeting with Bill Gates where they gifted Microsoft the rights to the software in the PC.  What seemed like a new beginning for IBM with the PC ended rather quickly.  IBM became rather confused as it tried to compete with Microsoft,  when Microsoft split from IBM over OS/2 and decided that Windows was the future, they decided to go with OS/2 and make a run at Microsoft’s growing empire.  It ended almost before it had begun.  The new PC’s with OS/2 loaded never really went anywhere and IBM’s status as a leader in technology was significantly wounded.  In this case IBM would recover and focus on what it was good at by going after the enterprise.  It had to realize that it was an enterprise consulting company.  In this case IBM moved to a differnet playingfield, one that they understood

Sun Microsystems was interesting.  During the early part of the dotcom boom they raged supreme.  They had a lot of great talent.   They were vocal in the industry to the point of extreme arrogance (which often is not a bad thing in the industry).  They hated Microsoft, which was becoming fashionable. They were a company that did a lot of things.  They made hardware.  They had their own microprocessor, SUN Sparc chip, their own OS, Solaris, their own programming language, Java.  They were cheaper than their UNIX competitors primarily IBM AIX and HP UX.  With Java and J2EE they had a solution that corporate customers loved and needed.  They were am alternative to the almighty Microsoft.  Only problem with all this focus is that they were not paying attention to another rising force: Open Source.  As big a threat as Open Source was to Microsoft’s business model, the immediate threat was to the UNIX incumbents.  When the dotcom boom went bust, SUN Microsystems went with it.  SUN was a shooting star, it rose with Java but before they had much of a legacy they were gone, gobbled up for cheap by Oracle.  SUN was successful but failed to realize it had chosen the wrong battle.

What is always of interest to me, simply because I called on them as a sales rep at Microsoft and I worked for one, AT&T, for a year is the role of the telco’s.  These ancient dinosaurs born out of the mind of Alexander Graham Bell, do not fit the mold or mindset of tech giants.  And yet they have been indispensable in the creation of the digital highway.   through the traditional world of Lanline and more modern era of wireless, their role has been huge.  Yet after having spend a year I realize that they are thoroughly confused as to what to do next.  The traditional world of  digital pipes is being squeezed.  In the world of wireless, this last year, we saw Google steal the Starbuck’s account from AT&T, using their typical disruptive ad model to say to Starbuck’s, “Don’t pay us, we will pay you”.  I can only imagine at Starbuck’s the only discussion was around making sure Google was not screwing them by taking too much money.  It’s tricky when you have a cash cow to devise a plan to let it die while you focus on new and more lucrative services.  The biggest problem is risk.  Telco’s are in trouble as risk is not in their nature.  As we transmit more and more data through the air and no longer rely on fiber under ground it will be cheaper (still very expensive) for new entrants with new business models to enter the market  that was once exclusive to Ma Bell’s domain.

The times are changing quickly and companies that were once defined in nice little bucks as energy companies or consumer staples and did not overlap cannot feel so safe anymore.  Apple already has changed the music industry. When I look at Amazon I see a company that will tear down Wal-Mart and Target.  I see Netflix altering the Hollywood Studios machine.  The legacies are no longer limited to those companies we directly associate with technology, but those that operate outside and have grand traditions of their own in American history.  It will impact every industry from automotive’s to oil and gas to your day-to-day household items.  We are entering a time of robotics, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), drones, big data, renewable energies all interconnected all digitally enabled.  The big change is just the velocity of business as empires rise and fall quicker than before. Woolworth’s created the modern department store, but towards the middle of the 20th century was already fading and now are but a footnote in history . Bill Gates created the modern technology company and many seem lie streamlined imitations of what Microsoft created.  In all instance though  the speed of change does not allow time to reflect on a glorious history, because if you do you will be gone.

 

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 6, 2015