There was a time when Route 128 right here in Greater Boston was the hub, so to speak, of the technology industry. Before any number of areas with the name "Silicon" in them popped up in a significant way and pushed Massachusetts aside, Boston was the place where technology originated and lived.
Many of technology's greatest innovations and most significant ideas came to life here, and behind many of them was Ken Olsen, cofounder of Digital Equipment Corp. (Yes, we know --"digital" spelled it with a small "d.") Olsen died this week at age 84 and left behind a legacy as one of the great entrepreneurs in American history. (Incidentally, he was a tremendous supporter of Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., which is the fine alma mater of your editor's lovely wife.)
Olsen envisioned the incredible shrinking computer when most machines still filled entire rooms and required experts to run them. Digital's minicomputer revolution put computing in the hands of regular workers, not just technical experts, and cleared a backlog for what we would call IT departments these days.
Olsen, of course, was known for saying that there was no reason for an individual to have a computer in his home -- a quote taken badly out of context, given that Olsen was talking about a "computer" in the room-filling machine sense and not in the PC sense. If Digital missed the PC revolution, it wasn't because Olsen didn't see it coming. Quite the contrary -- he played an enormous role in creating it. We can thank Olsen for much of the "personal" computing we do today.
Almost as a metaphor for the industry as a whole, Digital slowly declined in the '90s as it did struggle to crack the PC market, and its remnants moved west -- first, when Compaq bought the company and then when HP bought Compaq a few years later. Like the days of computing dominance on Route 128, Digital's influence is only historic now, but in an industry that always looks forward it's worth looking back on one of the great stories of success and innovation in American business and one of the executives who did the most to change people's lives in a positive way. Ken Olsen will be missed.
Posted by Lee Pender on February 09, 2011 at 11:57 AM2 comments
First and foremost, many thanks to Scott Bekker and Jeff Schwartz for writing this newsletter last week while your editor was tied up with other things. Bekker and Schwartz were also tied up with other things, but they stepped up in your editor's time of need.
We'd love to start this entry with some sort of Super Bowl reference...but we really just don't have one. So, uh, congratulations to the Packers...and people of Wisconsin. Hopefully this will make up for your state university's loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl.(Yes, your editor is still giddy about that.)
So, in a post-Super Bowl world, where the snowy plains of winter stretch to the horizon and the sun hides behind a murky haze, there is news from not-so-sunny Finland, home of Nokia. Old Microsoft pal Stephen Elop, a major honcho in Redmond before he left to take over Nokia, is looking at teaming up with his old crew.
Extremely specific rumor has it that Nokia and Microsoft will announce this week a Windows Phone 7 partnership. This is a tale of three ships adrift on the sea of the mobile device market. Apparently Nokia, now a shadow of the powerful brand it once was, is looking to cut back considerably on its use of the flagging Symbian operating system in favor of the fledgling Windows 7. No question there as to who got that deal started.
There are lots of other questions, though. Is Windows Phone 7 ready for prime time? The answer is maybe, which is better than the answer we would have given to the same question a few months ago -- definitely not. Is Windows Phone 7 strong enough to lift Nokia out of smartphone mediocrity? That seems kind of unlikely, but who knows? Android was once a silly little competitor to the iPhone; Symbian used to own the mobile-OS market, and BlackBerry was once synonymous with a phone that had Internet capabilities. This market isn't closed yet.
In fact, rather than take our usual tack of bashing Microsoft's mobile strategy, we've decided here at RCPU to be bullish in this (possible) deal. We're not saying that Apple or RIM should be shaking in their boots necessarily, but Microsoft and Nokia aren't bit players in the industry. If they can focus on innovation rather than feature bloat, and if they can listen to customers rather than arbitrarily trying to please all of the people all of the time, they've got a shot to be a contender.
Remember, the Packers had two 1-4 stretches during the season and even lost to Detroit. And look where they ended up…
What's your take on a Microsoft-Nokia mobile partnership? Send it to email@example.com.
Posted by Lee Pender on February 07, 2011 at 11:57 AM5 comments
Huh. We could have sworn that Windows Phone 7 was going to be another Microsoft laughing stock following in the rich tradition of Vista and the Kin phone. We might have even mentioned something to that effect in this space once or twice.
Well, as it turns out, we were wrong. No, really! Microsoft doesn't exactly have an iPhone rival yet, but it did ship 2 million units last quarter. Hey, that's not bad at all, even though units shipped doesn't necessarily mean units sold.
Still, people like Windows Phone 7. Customer satisfaction is way up, and the mobile operating system looks like a legitimate alternative to the iPhone and Android--even though Windows Phone 7 is still way behind them in sales and probably in functionality as well.
Everything considered, this is a bright spot for Microsoft, a giant that has let categories such as mobile phone and tablet computers slip away to competitors in recent years. Yeah, OK, the bar was low here to begin with. But given that the Kin might have had a sales number in the single digits without the word "million" (or even "thousand"...or "hundred?") attached to it, Windows 7 is an unexpected and welcome success.
Have you used a Windows Phone 7 device? What do you think of it? Sound off at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Lee Pender on January 27, 2011 at 11:57 AM3 comments
You know that famous photo of the Microsoft staff from 1978? Well, somebody (not for the first time--but it's still interesting) caught up with all the folks in that photo and provided updates on what they're up to
these days. Some are millionaires, some less so--and only one is no longer with us. One is even a cattle rancher, which we find very cool. Plus, there's '70s hair and clothing to be re-admired. That alone made the story worthwhile to us.
Posted by Lee Pender on January 27, 2011 at 11:57 AM0 comments
When your editor first read this
, he thought it said "Online Services Support Lifestyle Policy." Turns out it says "lifecycle," which makes more sense but seems far less intriguing somehow.
Posted by Lee Pender on January 27, 2011 at 11:57 AM0 comments
OK, we'll admit it -- we like the Bing ads where people shout random things at some poor person who just wants an answer to a simple question. If only Bing were that much better than Google search, we'd be devotees of Microsoft's engine. But we really don't see that big of a difference between the two, other than the pretty pictures Bing has in the background of its start page.
That's OK, though, because Microsoft is getting ready to woo us with a Bing cool offensive, which includes deals with rapper Jay-Z (who, if he was still cool, probably isn't anymore) and destroyer of college football ESPN. Of course, Microsoft isn't cool and never will be, so this campaign will likely be a mitigated success at best. Bing's market share is growing, though, so maybe something in the scatter-shooting of advertising and marketing Microsoft is doing is working.
Posted by Lee Pender on January 26, 2011 at 11:57 AM4 comments
The doomsday forces are out again. Microsoft is in peril, trouble, turmoil, danger...and this time, the threat is the beloved iPad.
Yes, the iPad is invading the enterprise, or so worries Microsoft. To her credit, Mary Jo Foley posted an internal Microsoft slide show about the iPad without predicting impending doom in Redmond. The Microsoft presentation is aimed at partners and is intended to show them how to compete against the dreaded interloper from Apple that is suddenly moving from living rooms into cubicles.
Other observers have not been so staid in their reactions to Microsoft's slide deck. Hints at the iPad ripping enterprise market share away from Window are dropping like gentle snowflakes now, but we have to wonder whether there's a blizzard to come.
There's one thing the pundits are consistently getting right: Microsoft has a lousy (read: no) tablet strategy. And positioning the complexity of Windows against the simplicity of the iPad -- one of Microsoft's tactics -- is a bad idea and shows how far Microsoft has to go before it begins to understand the appeal of the tablet. To be fair, we at RCPU also have a ways to go on that front -- we're still not convinced that tablets are anything special. But people seem to like the look and simplicity of them, two factors that Windows just can't deliver on a tablet right now.
So, the iPad is here to stay. It's grabbing consumer market share, and folks are starting to bring it to zwork, thereby planting seeds for it in the enterprise. But the notion that the iPad is on its way to forcing PCs out the office door is premature at best. Observers keep asking whether companies and users will still need PCs once they have the supposed beauty and simplicity of the iPad at their fingertips.
The answer is of course they will -- at least for now. The iPad is not a full enterprise machine. It's not meant to be. Maybe it will be someday, but for now it's still (for instance) immensely easier to type this document on your editor's Windows XP netbook than it would be on an iPad. Oh, we know, there are keyboards for the iPad and what not, but it's still not ready for the enterprise prime time. It's a machine for consumption and display more than for production.
That's not to say that Microsoft can sit around and continue to blow hot air about tablets without producing anything useful. It's obvious that for whatever reason, people love the iPad and the tablet concept in general. This has caught Microsoft totally off guard -- although how, we don't know. Even as tablet skeptics, we could see the popularity of these things coming just from the hype they generated.
Redmond needs to come up with a product -- not slides -- that can take on the iPad among consumers and in the enterprise. And it needs to do better than it did with, say, the Zune. Something closer to the Xbox would be nice. But the time frame for battling the iPad isn't quite as tight as some in the pundisphere would suggest -- Windows, even Windows XP, has quite a while longer to live in the enterprise.
Do you use an iPad for work? Could you replace your full-featured PC or laptop with it? How and why? Answer at email@example.com.
Posted by Lee Pender on January 26, 2011 at 11:57 AM1 comments
And back in the world of boring but really important stuff, Amazon has launched a cloud-based bulk e-mail service called SES. What's that? SES reminds you of that old Abba song "SOS," too? Well, you read our minds. (Be patient through the brief advertisement. The '70s camera effects in this video are well worth the wait. As are those Swedish harmonies...although it's pretty clear that this video came out before the era of cosmetic dental surgery.) You're welcome.
Posted by Lee Pender on January 26, 2011 at 11:57 AM0 comments
The big news late last week, of course, was that Eric Schmidt will soon step down as CEO of Google and turn the company back over to company cofounder Larry Page.
As news goes, though, that story was a little bit boring. The whole thing seemed pretty friendly -- Schmidt will stay on as an adviser and as executive chairman and will no doubt continue raking in loads of cash. Everybody wins.
That's not so much the case in Redmond these days, where the Execudus that has seen the departure of Bob Muglia, Robbie Bach, Jeff Raikes, Ray Ozzie and a bunch of other honchos added another name to its list last week.
This time, it's Brad Brooks, a key Windows 7 marketing figure, who is leaving for Juniper Networks. On top of that, a former 'Softie is headed for one of the company's biggest rivals: Matt Miszewski, a former Microsoft general manager and government strategist, is on his way to Salesforce.com.
There's some debate as to how valuable highly paid executives really are. In Microsoft's case, we're about to find out -- just not at Microsoft. No, instead we'll find out how much these guys are worth based on their performances at other companies, most of which compete with Microsoft. Of course, there will be a reciprocal effect in Redmond unless Steve Ballmer either does some stunning recruitment or gets really good at doing a bunch of different jobs himself.
It can take years, we figure, for these sorts of things to pan out. But if in 2015 or so Microsoft begins to really struggle, we'll have to look back at the Execudus of the last few years as a possible cause for the company's stagnation. And if it doesn't, well, we've probably written all of these hand-wringing blog entries for nothing. Stay tuned...
How much will the departures of big-name executives affect Microsoft? Sound off at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Lee Pender on January 24, 2011 at 11:57 AM0 comments
There's a whole "Hu's on First," Abbot-and-Costello-style routine to be written about Chinese President Hu Jintao, but since your editor isn't a comedy writer he'll (mercifully) leave that to someone else. In the meantime, Hu had a heck of a week in the U.S. last week, including some less-than-friendly (although totally appropriate -- even necessary) comments from Steve Ballmer about how the software piracy rate in China is 90 percent.
OK, OK, we can't resist just a little tidbit:
Hu's the president of China.
I don't know. Who's the president of China?
Yes, you do know. That's right. Hu's the president of China.
No, I don't know. Who's the president of China?
I don't know who!
Of course you do. Hu's the president of China.
I don't know. Who's the president of China?
Oh, it's just not as good in writing. Try your hand at a Hu bit and send it to email@example.com.
Posted by Lee Pender on January 24, 2011 at 11:57 AM2 comments