Whitey Bulger went down this week. After years of searching for him (with various levels of effort, evidently), the FBI finally caught one of Boston's most notorious gangsters. Just a week after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup (yes, we found another reason to mention it), the city is abuzz again.
At this point, let's be clear: We're not comparing Nokia to Whitey Bulger. Not at all. Not in any way. All we're saying is that it's always a shock when a big name goes down -- a name that seemed forever immune from whatever might cause its demise. We've seen this in the technology industry: Wang, Digital, Compaq (among others). At one time or another, they were all powerhouses, seemingly untouchable. Until they weren't.
This brings us to Nokia, the once-powerful handset maker that used to sponsor the Sugar Bowl and seemed unassailable only a decade ago, maybe even more recently than that. Nokia, now under the direction, of course, of former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop, is struggling -- so much so, in fact, that pundits are predicting its demise at an increasingly rapid rate. How Nokia got where it is today is a story too long for us to research and tell here, but let's just agree that the company is in trouble. It is.
This week, Yahoo Finance (yes, the irony is glaring) became the latest source to forecast the end of Nokia, saying in this case that the Finnish company will be finished by the end of 2012. Now, Yahoo's clairvoyance is questionable, to say the least. In a similar article last year, Yahoo Finance predicted the imminent death of T-Mobile, which will indeed become part of AT&T and effectively disappear if AT&T's proposed buyout of T-Mobile meets regulatory approval.
Yahoo Finance also said that Blockbuster would go away, and while the brand does very much still exist -- notably as an apparently undeletable and incredibly annoying app on your editor's Android phone -- the company did declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy and eventually sell to Dish Network. But other Yahoo targets, including Kia and BP, are alive and kicking.
Regardless, the author of the Yahoo Finance article had his reasons for predicting Nokia's end; specifically, he mentioned the company's falling market share and the fact that Nokia still runs the Symbian operating system and is just now transitioning to...yes, you know, Windows Phone 7 (ignominiously called "Windows mobile" in the article). Details of Nokia's first WP7 phone leaked this week (video below).
Here's the thing about Windows Phone 7. As we've said before, it actually looks pretty cool, particularly with the forthcoming Mango update. But its success is far from guaranteed, and Microsoft, at this point, has undoubtedly hitched its mobile OS wagon to a horse that could very soon founder. And that's kind of a shame.
Windows Phone 7 might survive the death of Nokia, should Nokia actually cease to be. But Microsoft is getting a seriously delayed start in the mobile OS game, and it doesn't seem as though other manufacturers are falling all over themselves to get WP7 on their devices. Nokia is probably WP7's best hope for success and probably provides Microsoft's best chance to establish a foothold in the mobile OS market.
But WP7 is almost assuredly Nokia's only hope for survival, and there's a big difference there. Microsoft would be able to absorb even the total failure of WP7, although not easily. Nokia likely would not. What that leaves us with is a struggling company betting its existence on an OS that's behind its competitors, relatively untested and thus far actually pretty unpopular. Somehow -- and this is kind of a non sequitur -- the image of two drunks trying to help each other home after a long night at the bar springs to mind. Eventually, they're both going to take a tumble. Neither is strong enough to hold the other upright.
Unfortunately, Nokia might not get back up. For the sake of WP7, and for the good of Microsoft and its partners, we'd like to see Microsoft rely less on Nokia and make every effort it can to get its OS on other handsets as well -- and we're sure this is happening. But for now, we just don't see WP7 being strong enough to keep Nokia afloat, and that means that Microsoft will have to start over at some point with some other "reference" handset maker.
As incredible as it might seem, once-mighty Nokia really does appear headed for the dustbin of history. Then again, we're continually shocked that Corel still exists, so you never know.
How long does Nokia have to live? Would you buy a WP7 Nokia phone? Send your thoughts to email@example.com or leave a comment below.
Posted by Lee Pender on June 24, 2011 at 2:13 PM3 comments
It has been a big week for the FBI. For one thing, the bureau finally nabbed Whitey Bulger. But also this week, in a story probably more relevant to most people, the FBI broke up two huge alleged "scareware" rings.
You know what scareware is, of course, and if you know anybody who has fallen victim to it, you know what an expensive menace it can be. So, we were very pleased this week to hear that some Latvians will probably be coming to the United States for a little unplanned vacation. Hopefully they'll stay for a while.
Posted by Lee Pender on June 23, 2011 at 1:37 PM0 comments
Yes, we're fully aware of the irony here -- or, at least, we think we are. Google Apps has unseated Microsoft's productivity suite at a company with about 8,500 employees, in part because the firm in question, McClatchy Newspapers, found that Microsoft's BPOS was, indeed, a POS. (Office 365, we suppose, never had a chance.)
So, that's one fairly large customer -- by cloud-suite standards -- that has made the relatively cutting-edge decision to move its operations to Google Apps, a new and arguably disruptive technology floating in the cloud. And that customer is...yes, a newspaper chain.
There's something deliciously ironic about that, isn't there? Or are we employing the extremely loose Alanis Morissette definition of irony here? (Don't click the link unless you actually want to hear her sing about rain on your wedding day. We at RCPU didn't watch the video.) The modern equivalent of a buggy-whip maker, a newspaper chain, is saving money by moving to a fairly avant-garde, Web-hosted set of applications. McClatchy is embracing the very technology that is killing its most prominent product.
OK, we don't actually know how McClatchy is doing financially, and we're sure the company has more than just print properties in its portfolio. (We're frankly not interested enough to actually look all of this stuff up right now.) But it's kind of funny that an organization that still puts ink on paper (as we do at Redmond Media Group, but not every day) and has the word "Newspapers" in its name is making a fairly revolutionary move in its in-house technology selection.
This could turn out to be a really weird reference customer for Google, the company many media firms have cited as destroying the media business. But, hey, a win's a win, right?
Posted by Lee Pender on June 22, 2011 at 6:10 PM1 comments
Ah, Skype is learning from Microsoft already. The company, based in one of the smallest countries in the world (Luxembourg), reportedly axed a bunch of executives this week.
Why? Because by doing so, Skype can get rid of these folks before its buyout deal with Microsoft closes and therefore avoid paying the execs money they might have received in stock options after the deal closed.
All of this makes us at RCPU think that if we ever do leave to go to a startup (not likely, by the way), we're going to ask for compensation in bags of cash with unmarked bills. Any other form of payment just seems too risky.
Posted by Lee Pender on June 21, 2011 at 1:35 PM1 comments
Everything to everybody -- that's what Windows just about has to be. Or, at least, that's the way Microsoft sees its flagship operating system. But if information that's leaking about the forthcoming Windows 8 is any indication, the "everybody" Microsoft is trying to attract now is more likely to use a tablet than a PC. Unfortunately, the software monolith would still like for users to employ the same OS on both types of devices.
We've already said here that Windows 8 looks like a great OS for tablets but doesn't seem so hot for PCs. New details leaked about the OS seem to reinforce that take. Windows 8 will evidently include a virtual keyboard (one that works by touch, not by mouse clicks as the current Windows virtual keyboard does), as well as SMS support. Could the OS be more tablet-focused?
Actually, yes, it could. There might be an app store included in the forthcoming software, and there might also be something along the lines of per-feature licensing, which would let users buy a scaled-down version of Windows 8 and then pay for features as they want or need to use them. You know, sort of like...paying for apps on a mobile device (or tablet). Interesting model. Wonder if it'll work. (Just kidding.)
In a different twist, Redmond magazine columnist Mary Jo Foley is reporting that Windows 8 will ship with a hypervisor for virtualization. While that sounds like a great idea, we're starting to wonder again whether Microsoft is going to bloat this thing out of being useful on a tablet. It all depends on the architecture, we suppose, but light works better for tablets than feature-rich (remember that old software descriptor?), and having a virtual keyboard with SMS support and hypervisor in the same OS starts to sound like a bit of overload. Maybe not -- we'll see how Microsoft handles all this.
Regardless, we're sticking by our view that Windows 8 should be a tablet offering and not a PC offering -- and that the OS that runs on tablets shouldn't try to have all the bloat an OS for PCs has to have. Like Windows Phone 7 Mango, Windows 8 does have the potential to be a fantastic OS for mobile devices, specifically tablets. It's up to Microsoft, though, to not think of Windows as a monolithic OS that can fully support a number of form factors. Microsoft should keep Windows 8 light for tablets, and we'll keep using Windows 7 (and XP) on PCs. Unfortunately, though, it doesn't look as though Microsoft is going in that direction.
Posted by Lee Pender on June 20, 2011 at 5:49 PM3 comments
First, a non sequitur, but there's no way we're not going to mention your editor's favorite professional sports franchise, the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, today. This party was 39 years in the making, and it's going to rage for a while. (Vancouver, on the other hand, needs to cool it.)
Anyway, while we're discussing winners, let's talk about Windows Phone 7. See? We told you it was a non sequitur. Well, that's not entirely true. WP7 is not a winner. It's very much a loser for the time being. But that might not always be the case.
IDC certainly believes in it, and, much more importantly, so does RCP Editor in Chief Scott Bekker, who makes a very solid case for why the Mango update to WP7 will set the mobile operating system on its way to greatness. If there's anybody we at RCPU trust almost as much as we trust Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, it's Scott Bekker.
Having seen Mango demoed at Tech-Ed, your editor is a fan of the new OS -- just not enough of a fan to actually go out and buy a device that runs it. (How many people will fall into that category?) And therein we find the problem for Microsoft and its snazzy new mobile OS: There's a lot more to succeeding in what is essentially a consumer market than just coming up with a good product. In fact, the sizzle is usually just as important as the steak, and Microsoft doesn't tend to sizzle.
The way we see it, WP7 could eventually be a serious competitor to Google's Android OS and Apple's iOS. But it's going to have to get past some big obstacles first, and four of them are these:
- Retail indifference. Evidently, there are some serious issues with retailers not selling Windows Phones, or with them steering customers toward Android or iPhone. Why that's happening, we're not sure, but we wonder whether Microsoft or its hardware partners need to come up with some sort of incentive plan. A great product nobody sees will never make it off the shelves.
- As with any consumer product, marketing and branding will be huge in this race. More than huge -- absolutely critical. Microsoft is way behind Apple and Google in that area and has frankly never been all that good at advertising for consumers. A phone can have loads of features and apps, but if it looks uncool in the office or at a party, there's a large swath of people who won't buy it.
We at RCPU believe that one of the things that makes iOS such a strong competitor with Android is the cool factor. The iPhone is a great device, but it's limited by the fact that it's an Apple device, as all Apple devices are. (Oh, go ahead and get mad. You know it's true. Apple makes great stuff, but open it is not.) The difference in apps is not that great these days (and getting smaller all the time), and Android is available with much better deals from a larger number of carriers on a wider range of devices. Android itself isn't uncool, but it's no iPhone. The iPhone is still the standard. There are still some consumers who use "iPhone" the way they use "Google."
Will Windows Phone 7 ever approach that level of brand recognition? Microsoft hasn't been able to do that in arguably 20 years now. Nothing about WP7's current campaign suggests that it will anytime soon.
- IDC's prediction of huge market share for WP7 is predicated mainly on the idea that the OS will have huge uptake in places where the iPhone and Android don't already dominate -- largely in the developing world. It's our take that people have overestimated markets in developing countries for years.
China and India, for instance, deliver a huge chunk of users these days, but they still don't deliver the market power a lot of analysts and firms thought they would by now (from what we can tell). Change is slow in places where many people are still relatively poor by Western standards.
- Radical departure doesn't always work. WP7 looks nothing like iOS or Android; the latter two systems basically look like each other. There's a lot to the WP7 interface that's extremely appealing and will get better with the Mango release. But how conditioned are consumers to think that iOS and Android are just what phones look like?
Sometimes, radical departure from the norm -- think of the Wii, or even Kinect, here -- is a blockbuster. Sometimes it's a flop. As a kid, your editor had a video game system called Intellivision. Its graphics were far superior to those of the super-popular Atari system; its games were more sophisticated, and it delivered an experience that was arguably well ahead of its time. But there was one problem (in your editor's view, anyway): It didn't use a joystick.
Players controlled Intellivision games with a sort of remote control that featured a wheel not unlike the one on the original iPod. It was, frankly, a little hard to get used to, but with some practice it delivered more accuracy and subtlety than a joystick, which was Atari's default controller.
The problem was that for gamers of the day, particularly casual gamers, the joystick was just how people played games. Sure, the wheel thing might have been a better controller on a better system (we said might have), but it wasn't normal. It wasn't familiar. The joystick was.
Both Atari and Intellivision eventually tanked, of course, but Atari outlasted its competitor and (we feel pretty sure, without actually looking it up) outsold it, too. WP7 could face the same kind of problem: The more people get used to the icon interface on their phones (and tablets), the more that interface will just simply be the way phones work. WP7 might actually offer a better experience, but if it's not familiar -- and, let's face it, Microsoft has a way to go in catching up to its competitors in terms of market share -- users won't feel comfortable with it. WP7 could end up being the Intellivision of smartphone OSes.
Your editor became a die-hard Bruins fan in 1993 after visiting Boston for the first time. In the years that followed, the franchise declined steadily before flat-lining a few years later as the worst team in the NHL. Microsoft is far from flat-lining (very, very far), but it is arguably in decline. But like the Bruins, Microsoft can still pick itself up in the mobile market and make itself a winner again.
Whether the obstacles it'll face will prove to be as tough as the Montreal Canadiens, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Vancouver Canucks remains to be seen. And whether Microsoft can overcome its four obstacles the way the Bruins fought through the playoffs is another question altogether. Really, though, the takeaway from this entry is that the Boston Bruins are 2011 Stanley Cup champions. That's the important thing here.
Posted by Lee Pender on June 16, 2011 at 3:29 PM15 comments
There is hardly a more tangled web anywhere in business than the one that industry analysts weave in the technology market. Yes, they're smart. (Well, most of them are, anyway. We won't tell you which ones probably aren't.) Yes, they do their research. Sure, companies put a lot of faith (and money) into their predictions.
But if there's one thing industry analysts undoubtedly are, it's conflicted (and we're not the first to notice this by any stretch). The very companies they comment on in the press and whose performances they routinely predict are the same companies that give them boatloads of money for advice and, well, analysis and predictions, we suppose. So, there's a conflict of interest built into every statement an industry analyst makes, although we at RCPU do believe that the overwhelming majority of them do all they can to be objective and credible. It's in their interest, after all, not to show bias. We think.
Still, as independent journalists whom Microsoft doesn't pay for consultations (aside from occasionally buying us lunch), your editor and some of his colleagues do have to wonder where some of the analysts get their crystal balls -- and who's paying for them. Again, last week, IDC said that Microsoft and Windows Phone 7 will surpass Apple and iOS in market share for mobile operating systems by sometime in 2015. We say "again" because IDC made a similar prediction back in March. (To be fair, IDC sees Android as the overwhelming market leader by that time.)
With WP7's market share actually falling since Microsoft replaced the old Windows Mobile with Windows Phone, where on earth is such rapid growth -- at the expense of iOS, which is currently battling Android tooth and nail for top spot -- going to come from? From Nokia, and from the developing world (as opposed to, say, the U.S. and Europe), IDC figures. Struggling Nokia certainly hopes that it comes from somewhere, as former Microsoft executive and current Nokia CEO Stephen Elop seems to be betting big time on his former company's mobile OS. (Meanwhile, some reporting suggests that WP7 literally has no chance against its competitors in the U.S.)
Maybe this developing-nation scenario will happen. It's plausible, we suppose. Plus, the Windows Phone 7 Mango update really does look very impressive. But IDC's numbers seem so far-fetched compared to the current state of the market that they're just kind of hard to believe. And why did IDC feel the need to broadcast these predictions, which are awfully similar to each other, twice in the space of a few months? We're not suggesting any sort of impropriety here, but IDC's insistence that Windows Phone 7 will crush iOS in the space of four years just seems random beyond even the parameters of industry analysts, who can come up with some off-the-wall stuff.
The real issue here, of course, is that nobody really checks up much on these predictions. We remember an article from some years ago (we're talking 15 or so) in one of the trendy mags of the time (Fast Company?) that tracked these predictions over several years and -- to our memory, anyway -- showed a fair number of them to be bogus. Still, will anybody remember in 2015 what IDC said about WP7, whether it's swamping iOS or languishing in third place (or worse)? Probably not. But partners, IT pros and corporate investors are supposed to have enough faith in what IDC is saying to put some sort of money on the firm's predictions. That's kind of strange, isn't it?
One quick analysis of the analysts we found from 2010 showed that they -- particularly IDC and Garter -- actually did pretty well in 2009 with their predictions for the year. Fair enough. But even in that article, there's a big logo on top of the page that says "Content by IDG." An InfoWorld writer typed the piece. IDG is the parent company of IDC. See what we mean about the tangled web? We're not saying it's not on the up and up -- it probably is. But there's always that sliver of doubt. (And, yes, we recognize that doubt exists with regular old journalists and bloggers, too, but your editor doesn't even know who advertises in Redmond or on RCPmag.com -- seriously -- and has certainly never sat down with a vendor to talk about advertising. That's the major difference here. Analysts advise vendors all the time on the very stuff they later make predictions on or write about.)
Another reporter, this one from Fortune, tracked analysts' predictions compared to bloggers' prognostications for one of Apple's recent fiscal quarters, and found that the bloggers blew the analysts away. Now, to be fair, that piece tracked Wall Street financial analysts, not tech-industry firms like IDC. But while Wall Street analysts have plenty of conflicts of their own, your editor has always thought that they'd be less likely than industry analysts to fudge predictions because their compensation comes a little less directly from technology vendors than does the payment that industry analysts receive from tech companies. In any case, these highly paid professionals, for whatever reason, and in one particular quarter, got their Excel spreadsheets handed to them by mostly unheralded bloggers.
Of course, we'll have to wait until 2015 -- when the tech landscape will likely be unrecognizable compared to today (where were tablets and the cloud in 2007?) -- to see just how right or wrong IDC was. And it's highly likely that by then, particularly at the pace at which it's going now, IDC will have released a bunch more predictions on mobile-OS market share. So, what should we make today of IDC's bold prediction that WP7 will crush iOS within four years? Make of it what you want -- but we know where we're filing it.
Do you listen to industry analysts? Do you trust them? How much? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Posted by Lee Pender on June 13, 2011 at 3:53 PM8 comments
Yes, we still do this. People still e-mail your editor, and he still runs their e-mails in newsletter entries and blog posts. Oh, sure, folks can post comments directly on the blog site (which is great) or Tweet with abandon (if they must), but old-school e-mail and traditional reader feedback live on.
We start this edition with thoughts on Windows 8, which we at RPCU think looks great for tablets but not so appropriate for PCs. To our great surprise, several readers wrote to...agree! Writes Glen:
"I'm with you! I certainly don't want to have to bathe my laptop screen several times a day to get the food particles and fingerprints off. I stayed with XP until last year when I bought a new laptop with [Windows] 7 64 installed by Toshiba. I still have to deal with XP on my other two machines that are too old for W7, but that's not often. I doubt that I'll even consider W8; I'll wait for W9 or whatever. I don't need to be the first tester for MS!"
Glen, we're still on XP here at RCPU, but it does what we need it to do. It might for a while to come. And the whole idea of touchscreen computing on a non-mobile device (specifically on a PC) is, well, just kind of weird.
Michael chimes in:
"You are on point. Let us digest Win 7 on the PC while Microsoft captures tablet and phone market share with Windows 8. This would be a great strategic move without blurring the parameters of PC computing."
Yes, blurring the parameters -- that seems to be what Microsoft is doing, and while we kind of get the idea behind that, the execution is poor thus far. Plus, we're not sure we want our parameters blurred. Let tablets be tablets and PCs be PCs. And we do think that Windows 8 has chance to capture a chunk of the tablet market.
And then there's Thomas, who wraps up this whole issue with such gusto that we don't really feel the need to add a comment to what he has to say:
"To those who think the same interface will work with both mouse-keyboard and finger tips: Look at your fingers. Now look at your mouse pointer. THEY AREN'T THE SAME. And a user interface designed for one will NOT work well with the other. (Try doing an 'expand' with your mouse, or clicking a checkbox [or inserting a cursor between two letters] with your finger).
"Furthermore, the last thing I want on my PC is a 'desktop' that I have to use like the one on my Windows Phone -- I almost never even look at my XP desktop -- not to mention the god-awful Windows Phone 7 emphasis on things like requiring on-line syncing to get anything done.
"I want a PC OS able to run multiple large apps simultaneously, using a mouse and full-size keyboard, optimized for use with multiple multi-terabyte HDs, a graphics card with several hundred processors and a GB or so of RAM on-board, dual or triple 10-bit-per-color monitors, etc. -- not something that a typical iPad-style tablet will have. And I want the user interface to support that, too. Conversely, I need my tablet OS to be optimized for that smaller single-monitor, smaller-SSD, longer-battery-life hardware, and with a user interface to match -- e.g., with touchscreen support. This one-OS-fits-all idea, like all those previous 'write once, run everywhere' marketing-gimmick ideas, just never works. Hope someone bursts this Microsoft bubble before it gets foisted on us users and pops in our faces."
Of course, we're going to add to this comment, anyway, but only by saying that we're right with you, Thomas. You said in a couple hundred words what we tried to say in closer to 1,000. Well done.
Also recently, we explored the notion of Microsoft becoming cool, which we believe to be a possibility if Redmond plays its underdog cards correctly. Richard writes to remind us that if Microsoft does manage to achieve coolness, it won't be for the first time:
"In the fuzzy rush of technology chasing itself pell mell to nobody knows where, it is sometimes hard to dredge up those old memories from the world before the World Wide Web changed everything. There was a time, way back there sometime around 1980 or thereabouts, when Microsoft WAS cool, the little scrappy company taking on the kings of computing technology and winning. Remember DOS? That little company invented it out of a purchased piece of code and delivered a product to the giant of the computing world, upstaging Digital Research (where is CPM when you really need it?) and leapfrogging Apple and Radio Shack and Osborne Computer and, well, everybody. And what is Windows, anyway? As I recall, it was a shot across the bow of the IBM supertanker when the Big Blue folks wanted to forge ahead on their own with (we strain to remember it) a new operating system for their personal computer. So where is OS-2 now?
"Yeah, those were the good old days before Microsoft almost missed the boat completely on the World Wide Web, and then crashed the party by actually giving away Internet Explorer in order to compete with that other darling of a company who basically stole the Web browser idea from the University of Chicago and had the temerity to sell Web browsers to unsuspecting corporate users. Speaking of giving away product, wasn't it Apple that essentially gave away computers to schools across the country, knowing that if they got the kids they would have the adults?
"Way back there, AOL was king of the connected world (well, at least after they purchased Compuserve) and made money by -- get this -- selling ad space on their network that barely let users out of the box to visit the Web. So how did Google come up with that idea to finance their search portal, anyway?
"Is Apple cool today because they were so good, or because Microsoft kept them afloat with a massive infusion of cash when they were about to go belly-up? Is Google cool today because they are straining mightily to convince us all the world really does belong in the cloud, or is that just a reflection of their revenue stream? I wonder."
Richard, we like this comment a lot for a lot of reasons. First of all, we're history buffs here at RCPU. Beyond that, though, you bring up a lot of good points about who should and shouldn't be cool. There's only one problem, though: Cool makes no sense. It never has. It's easy to identify but very difficult to define. And it often defies rational thinking. Unfortunately, it matters in the consumer world.
Remember how the Fonz from "Happy Days" was cool in the '70s? A '50s do-gooder in a leather jacket with over-coiffed hair (played by a guy who was about 60 at the time, or so it now seems) was cool during the "me decade," when experimentation and rebellion were the hallmarks of the post-Vietnam era. How on earth did that happen? Was there some sort of reverse irony there? It makes no sense at all. The Fonz and David Bowie were cool during the same decade, maybe even among some of the same people. Weird.
Anyway, we digress, but the point is this: Cool makes no sense. Apple is a big, powerful corporation with a not-so-great record for being "green" (or so we've heard) and a CEO who might be a genius but is also, we think, a bit of a megalomaniac. It's kind of like GE with a neat logo. Yet, among the hipsters and the arbiters of tech taste, Apple is cool.
Then there's Microsoft, which, as you mentioned, toppled the power structure of computing in the '80s and steamrolled everybody in its path. That would make a great character in a video game (probably -- we don't play video games), but Microsoft is roundly uncool. Go figure. And, no, we haven't forgotten that Microsoft saved Apple's bacon (now we're getting hungry) back in the '90s. We at RCPU are still fans of Pirates of Silicon Valley (yet another reason why we're uncool, too).
Have anything to add to the discussion? Send it to email@example.com.
Posted by Lee Pender on June 08, 2011 at 2:17 PM1 comments
Apple is cool. Do we have to try and quantify that? Nah. You don't have to be cool to know who's cool. Were you one of the cool kids in high school? If not, did you know who was? Well, that's our point. We at RCPU are not cool, but we know that Apple is cool, and maybe Google is, too.
Microsoft is not. Never has been, really. One reason is that Microsoft has long been a bully, a company perceived (and probably not inaccurately) to have ripped off a lot of other vendors in its quest to dominate the technology industry. People still love to read about this stuff. The bitterness toward Microsoft is still strong. Doug Barney's recent Redmondmag.com story on the "10 Technologies Microsoft 'Borrowed'" has racked up an enormous number of hits (not to give away our trade secrets or anything).
Bullies are feared, maybe even respected -- but they're not cool. And cool matters in the consumer-heavy world of smartphones and tablets Microsoft so desperately wants to crack. Logos and labels are critical in that world, and Microsoft's is more likely to elicit a roll of the eyes from the in-crowd than it is a nod of respect. Apple's apple, on the other hand, is the gold standard of techie smugness and self-satisfaction.
Things might be changing, though, slowly, bit by bit. While digging around for articles to link to for another entry, we ran across this post from TechCrunch and couldn't help but notice what one of the user commenters had to say: "I strangely find myself rooting for Microsoft. They are the good guys now. Go Microsoft! You can do it!"
That sentiment got 99 "likes" on Facebook (at last count) and a couple of comments in support. It offers a tiny glimpse into how the least-cool vendor since IBM in the '80s (also a victim of Apple's swagger -- partially) can reposition itself in the consumer mind. Microsoft is the underdog now, at least in the kingdom of tablets and phones over which Apple and Google are currently fighting for control. And underdogs are almost always cool.
Think about it. Apple isn't the scrappy little guy anymore. It's not Avis or the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox. It is, in fact, more like the post-2004 Boston Red Sox, just another wealthy franchise that crushes competitors under its cleats and elicits relatively little sympathy from neutrals. Steve Jobs is brilliant but as a public figure is pretty difficult to like. Apple's hipster image can be overbearing, to say the least.
Plus (and this is very important), Apple is bigger than Microsoft now. Steve (Jobs) got the loot after all, and it doesn't really matter how much market share Mac has compared to Windows when the world has moved on to obsessing over smaller devices -- markets in which Apple is either the clear leader (tablets) or a major contender (smartphone operating systems). Those brilliant Mac Guy ads from a few years ago would seem awkward and incongruous now. The tables have turned.
Then there's Google, which is kind of mysterious and creepy. Is Google cool? Well, Android-based phones certainly sell well, but that might have something to do with their broad-based availability and the ability of carriers to offer them with reasonably priced plans. (Full disclosure: Your editor has an Android phone and really likes it.) Other than that, though, Google is kind of utilitarian, synonymous with search and big in the cloud but not necessarily cool.
IBM is the antithesis of cool, but it was briefly bigger that Microsoft recently (and might be again), which only helps the case for cool in Redmond. Sure, Microsoft has been a bully over the years. Yeah, Windows was and probably still is the cheese quesadilla appetizer to Mac's foie gras on toast points. But in this new world of little devices and touchscreens, Microsoft is the underdog. In fact, it's way, way behind its competitors. And in the technology industry, Microsoft isn't the alpha dog anymore. It's the beta, or maybe even the, um, third (our Greek is bad -- gamma?) dog. Microsoft should remind people of that every chance it gets.
Yes, that's right. Microsoft should go against every instinct its executives seem to have and every impression it has ever tried to deliver and make itself into the blue-collar, hard-working scrapper just trying to get a foothold among the evil giants of the handheld game. It has happened before. Let's stick with sports here: The Dallas Cowboys in the early '90s, the Boston Celtics a few years ago, even the hated (and evil) New York Yankees back in the mid-'90s reinvented themselves not so much as empires reborn but as interlopers into games somebody else was dominating at the time. They all came to dominate eventually (and once again engender tons of hatred, but that's the price of being on top, where everybody wants to be). Can Microsoft do the same? Maybe not, but it can and should try.
The message is this: If you're sitting in a coffee shop with a Microsoft Windows Phone 7 phone or Windows 8 tablet (as soon as there's a Windows 8 tablet to sit with), you're not a bandwagon fan surrendering to a nasty corporate force and falling in with the broad swath of sheep-like consumers. Oh, no. You're a rebel, part of the resistance, a game changer and a trendsetter. You're daring to shun Steve Jobs and Google for something new, something really different, something not everybody has the guts to buy.
You're not a PC. You're a Windows handheld device. You're a little out there, a little mysterious without being creepy. The iPad minions and Android lemmings are the sheeple. You're...cool. People want to be like you. You know it, and they know it. Will Microsoft ever know it? We kind of doubt it, but we also kind of hope so.
Can Microsoft be cool? Does it matter? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Posted by Lee Pender on June 06, 2011 at 11:23 AM5 comments
There's a dog pile, and I'm about to jump on top of it. (Yes, I'm also dropping RCPU's trademark obnoxious royal "we" for this entry, as I'm going to be dishing some opinions that are more personal than usual. Be ready.)
Remember dog piles, by the way? How much fun was that, as a kid, to be playing football on the playground or in the backyard and have some kid yell "dog pile!" at which time all the kids would jump on each other until somebody suffered a collapsed lung? Good times. It's no wonder I enjoyed playing rugby so much when I lived in Europe (as an adult).
But back to today's dog pile. It's a collapsed scrum of tech pundits this time, all pretty much saying the same thing about Windows 8, which Microsoft showed off at D9 yesterday: It looks great, but should it be a PC operating system as well as an OS for tablets? Probably not. (As always, some have taken this opportunity to tear into Microsoft, but we're not on that dog pile.)
The interface of Windows 8 -- as does that of Windows Phone 7, frankly -- looks elegant, easy to use and downright pretty. In the RCPmag.com link posted above (here it is again), there's a short video demo from Microsoft of the new OS. (Note to Microsoft, by the way: A little sound editing goes a long way. We don't want to hear Windows 8 demoed in a fish bowl.)
[Click on image for larger view.]
|The Windows 8 start screen. Courtesy: Microsoft|
The sliding, touchscreen tiles are attractive, the colors vibrant; the whole setup looks perfect for a tablet. It's a clean break from both iOS and Android, which are actually pretty similar in look and feel. There's only one problem. The demonstrator is using Windows 8 on a PC with a monitor. Here's where we turn into Lumbergh from Office Space
: Ahh, yeah, Microsoft. So, I guess we should go ahead and have a little talk, hmm?
No, it's not about putting cover sheets on TPS reports. It's about touching my computer screen: I don't want to. Yes, I love the touchscreen on my phone. I'd love one if I had a tablet. Those are tactile devices, small and physically approachable. But personally, I use a netbook connected to a pretty large monitor in my home office and an ancient laptop at work (thanks, 1105 Media). I don't want to lean over my desk and touch my monitor. I don't want to touch my laptop screen and get it all greasy from the residue a Whole Foods burrito left on my fingers. I'm fine using keyboard and mouse the way I have for I don't know how many years now. Heck, as other members of the dog pile point out, even Mac users, as cool as they are, use keyboard and mouse. I don't need a revolution in PC computing interfaces.
In fact, I don't need anything from Windows 8 at all on the PC. I don't even need Windows 8. Like many PC users, I'm still on XP. Why? Because it does what I need it to do -- boot, run with acceptable speed and not crash too often -- and nothing more. I don't want my PC OS to be gorgeous. I don't want it to be elegant. I don't even want to know it's there. (That's one reason I've never bought another Mac, although I loved the old bubble-back iMac I had years ago.)
Sure, IT administrators and other pros love Windows 7. That's cool. I get that. But as a consumer and a low-level office (and Office) user, all I want from an OS is pretty much what I want from other people's kids: to be seen and not heard, and preferably to not be seen all that much, either. Just leave me alone. I have a feeling that most consumers -- and, really, we're all consumers on some level -- feel the way I do.
Now, on my tablet (if I had one) and on my phone, I want to goof around with sliding apps here and there and finding contacts and such with my fingers. I can hold those little computers in my hand; it feels right and makes sense for me to let my fingers do the walking on them. When they get a little smeared, I rub them on my shirt or on the sofa and clean off the glass a bit. Windows 8 looks great for all that -- maybe great enough that if I ever did buy a tablet, I'd consider a Windows 8 device as opposed to the iPad (as long as the Windows device had enough apps; tablet and smartphone computing are all about apps).
But on a laptop or on a monitor, I just want the same simplicity I've had for a couple of decades now. There's no reason to go changing that. I don't want to have to use glass cleaner on my screen every few hours. (Hey, I like the occasional finger food, OK?) Windows 8, unfortunately, is designed to be everything for everybody -- touchscreen tablet interface and full-fledged PC OS with all the trimmings. It needs to be just the former. Let XP or Windows 7 or some forthcoming version of the OS handle the PC stuff. Windows 8 is great, Microsoft, for what it needs to be: your weapon against the iPad juggernaut. That's the word from the top of the dog pile.
What do you want out of Windows 8? Are you interested in having a touch-screen interface for your PC? Sound off at email@example.com.
Posted by Lee Pender on June 02, 2011 at 3:47 PM12 comments
Microsoft is in a funk, a rut, a down period with no real end in sight. Heck, even IBM blew past Microsoft in value last week.
IBM! IBM rising to the No. 2 spot in the industry, behind Apple, feels kind of like Grand Funk Railroad or Air Supply racing up the pop charts in 2011, if pop charts still exist. (OK, so here's your obligatory Grand Funk YouTube link. Beware of considerable '70s shirtlessness. We'll spare you the Air Supply link.)
Of course, Microsoft isn't exactly...um, we're having trouble coming up with a pop star here to complete our metaphor...would Beyonce work? Let's just go with her. Microsoft isn't exactly Beyonce, or whoever is on top of the pop charts these days.
In fact, it's starting to feel like a '90s band that's been around too long and is just trying to hang on to a shred of popularity. Can we think of an example? No, we cannot. (Our pop-culture references are getting a bit moldy, as you might have noticed. You might say that we've become the Microsoft of pop-culture knowledge.) But you get the point -- we hope.
While Apple is unquestionably cool and Google is kind of enterprise cool these days, Microsoft, while still plenty big and powerful, seems to lag behind its competitors in hot technology categories such as tablets and mobile operating systems. (And we do mean way behind.)
And now even IBM, the company Microsoft crushed in the enterprise as well as in the American home office a couple of decades ago, has emerged to take its long-sought revenge -- at least for a while, depending on how the market plays out in the days to come. Microsoft, meanwhile, remains stagnant, stuck in neutral.
So, what does Microsoft need to get itself going again? The end of the world. Or at least something like it. (Yes, we have the REM video, too.)
You know those people who said the apocalypse was going to hit last Saturday? Their prediction might have been a bit off (or maybe not -- take a look around and see who's not in the office today), but could you possibly ignore them over the last week or so? We couldn't. We only wish the earthquake had arrived before the Boston Bruins blew a three-goal lead in their playoff game Saturday against Tampa Bay. Alas.
We weren't seeking out news on this tiny group of unconventional folks, but they were everywhere, unavoidable, literally making news all over the world with a few billboards, some vans, a collection of way-up-the-dial radio stations...and a claim that they knew exactly when the world was going to end.
They're not exactly the first people to make that claim, of course, which makes their staggering publicity all the more remarkable. Lots of major corporations would have killed for press coverage like that, no matter how mocking most of it was.
It there's no such thing as bad publicity -- and we believe that to almost always be true, major oil spills and nuclear meltdowns being the possible exceptions -- then this Harold Camping fellow really did do something exceptional in what he apparently thought would be his final days on this planet. He captured the world's attention. He got people talking. So, they made fun of him. So what? We all know who he is now and what his message is, or was. Again, that's the kind of attention companies crave.
Maybe that's what Microsoft needs -- some sort of apocalypse. Oh, it doesn't have to be an actual one (only Steve Jobs has the power to pull that off, as far as we know...just kidding, God), but some sort of shocking prediction might give Microsoft the perception jolt (and maybe the actual jolt) it needs.
Just what that would be, we're not sure. Predicting the end of the world is so last week. That's not going to work. And it has to be something weird, something Microsoft couldn't actually control or do on its own.
Maybe a company spokesperson could say this week that at the Worldwide Partner Conference in July, Steve Ballmer will explode into 10,000 tiny Steve Ballmers who will then infiltrate Apple's headquarters armed only with electric-blue shirts and boundless enthusiasm. It could be a kind of Apple-calypse prediction.
Or maybe Microsoft could play off of Camping's prediction and say that on some particular date, maybe July 1 to kick off the company's fiscal year, Planet Earth and all of its physical properties will suddenly blue screen and require a massive celestial reboot. Those still running IE 6 on XP will be left behind.
If none of that works, maybe Microsoft could put a firm date on when it'll have a tablet device capable of competing with the iPad. Nah, never mind -- the crazy proclamation has to be at least somewhat plausible.
The whole point is to get lots of people thinking about Microsoft again, even if folks are just making fun of the company. Get back in the news in some remarkable way, and maybe Microsoft can then follow up with, "While you're mocking our outrageous predictions, how about having a look at Windows Phone 7?" (The Mango update really does look pretty good.)
Harold Camping's failed rapture has left the door wide open for the creative marketing minds in Redmond. They need to jump on the apocalyptic bandwagon before it empties out and get people talking about Microsoft again. Of course, if that doesn't happen, it won't be the end of the world...or will it?
What kind of apocalyptic prediction would you have Microsoft come up with? Send your best suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Posted by Lee Pender on May 23, 2011 at 1:59 PM12 comments
Just a few years ago, Microsoft was building massive datacenters, complete with water-powered cooling systems and enormous generators. Those days are gone.
Wednesday at Tech-Ed in Atlanta, Rick Bakken, senior director of datacenter evangelism at Microsoft, revealed during a breakout session that the next generation of Microsoft datacenters will be smaller, air-cooled facilities that will use less power and cost less to operate.
Microsoft's Chicago datacenter, now about 4 years old, is a staggeringly large facility, with two separate power supplies for redundancy and a massive water-based cooling system. The colossus is one of a group of large datacenters Microsoft has built around the world in recent years. But the next generation of Microsoft datacenters will look very different, Bakken said.
"We're not doing this again," Bakken said, noting that much of the cost of building the facility went into "cement, copper and steel," rather than into actual technology, such as servers. Microsoft won't close its big datacenters, Bakken said, but it will begin building what he called "edge nodes" -- smaller, cheaper datacenters that will use less power and can even be relocated if necessary.
"We're still going to have our large datacenters," Bakken said. But he explained that edge nodes "are not billion-dollar datacenters. I can build these a lot faster and a lot cheaper. If you make a mistake, you can pick it up and move it," Bakken said.
Microsoft's construction of massive datacenters might have gotten a bit out of control, Bakken said. "The amount of usage of the failover systems in most of our datacenters is .001 percent of the time, and the majority of that is testing," he said. "The fact that we have 12 diesel generators running behind that is probably overkill."
Edge nodes, on the other hand, will reside in what Bakken called IT-preassembled components, or ITPACs. Modular buildings much smaller than Microsoft's current enormous datacenters will house Microsoft's servers, which the company will cool not exclusively with pumped water but with a system called adiabatic cooling. Essentially, outside air will cool the facilities, and hot or cold water will regulate the indoor temperature only when the temperature outside becomes unacceptably hot or cold.
Microsoft used the adiabatic model for its recently completed Dublin datacenter, Bakken said. Letting in outside air rather than exclusively using water to cool datacenters can reduce operating expenses for the facilities significantly, he said.
"We built a fully redundant datacenter in Dublin," Bakken said. "We run 365 days a year on outside air. [We're] not pumping water through for cooling. If you can take advantage of outside air, you don't have to put massive infrastructure in place. If you're not playing around with a bunch of environments, your operating expenses go down 60 percent."
Also during his talk, Bakken rattled off a couple of startling facts about Microsoft's datacenter infrastructure: "We buy between 2 and 5 percent of the servers manufactured in the world every quarter," he said. "If we were an ISP, we'd be the fifth-largest provider in the world."
More Tech-Ed Analysis:
Posted by Lee Pender on May 19, 2011 at 8:25 AM0 comments