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Windows Phone 7 Needs To Get Down to Business

Back in 2008, your editor was chatting with one of his wife's academic friends, a pretty well-known expert in politics. (Yes, your editor does sometimes take a break from talking sports to have a halfway substantive discussion about something important. But not often.) We were talking about the upcoming presidential election and discussing the fact that Barack Obama had endured a fairly bad month of August.

"Doesn't matter," this wise gentleman said. "Nobody remembers what happens in August."

Of course, he was right; the events of August turned out to be mostly inconsequential come November. It seems as though August is almost always inconsequential, though. Most of the continent of Europe takes vacation throughout most of the month of August -- an entirely sensible plan, in our view. Here in the United States, August isn't bad, if you don't mind brain-melting heat, television that's even more awful than usual and arguably the most boring period on the sporting calendar.

It's still better than, say, March, we'd contend, but August is mostly 31 forgettable, if not entirely unpleasant, days. September is when we get down to business again. School starts. Conferences kick back in. Discussions get serious at companies about budgets for the next year. Football cranks back up, and baseball actually becomes mildly interesting. September is memorable. September matters. September is real life.

WP7 start screen

Windows Phone 7 needs to be less August and more September. Yes, there is a point to this post, and this is it: There's nothing fundamentally wrong with Windows Phone 7; it's just that it doesn't matter. Nobody remembers it. Nobody thinks about it. Even the ditching of Windows Mobile for the new WP7 brand hasn't helped Microsoft's mobile operating system gain any sort of traction. Neither have multiple updates.

By most accounts, Microsoft's mobile fortunes are sinking, not rising. Last week's news that Windows Phone 7 had made just $613 million, and probably even less, in revenue for fiscal 2011 (that's a whole year) was another blow to the forlorn OS. Down in California, Apple was raking in $13.3 billion from the iPhone -- in a single quarter. And Android still owns mobile OS market share.

It actually gets worse. WP7's market share is 8 percent in the United States, and apparently much, much lower than that worldwide. And Microsoft's supposed saving grace, its deal with Nokia? Well, that's starting to look like two rocks trying to save each other from sinking in a pond. The picture is bleak.

Thus far, Microsoft has tried to take on iPhone and Android with a consumer pitch. After all, the company ultimately broke into the business of gaming systems in a serious way with the Xbox, which was once the object of cynicism and scorn (sometimes even here in this space). Why shouldn't Microsoft, with enough time and investment, be able to do the same thing with Windows Phone 7?

Honestly, we're not sure, except that Windows Phone 7, as we've said here before (see "4 Obstacles Windows Phone 7 Mango Must Overcome To Succeed"), is a pretty major departure from the iOS and Android interfaces. And as much as people who actually buy WP7 seem to like it, it's going to continue to be hard to convince the average smartphone buyer that WP7 really is a legitimate OS despite the fact that it looks very little like the other platforms everybody already knows. Retailer apathy and lukewarm marketing certainly haven't helped WP7, either. It's time for a change.

Nobody -- not Google and certainly not Apple -- does business applications like Microsoft. Nobody serves the enterprise the way Microsoft does. Nobody owns the enterprise the way Microsoft does. It's time, then, to move WP7 from being a lazy, forgettable August OS to being a down-to-business September platform. It's time for Microsoft to stop trying to be cool, stop trying to appeal to the youthful masses and go squarely for the business market it already owns with Windows and Office.

RIM's BlackBerry OS seems to be flailing and has left, we think, a gaping hole in the market for a serious mobile OS for business. Oh, sure, people can use their iPhones and Android devices for work, and they do (your editor certainly does). They work fine for business. But what if Microsoft started talking about how the iPhone is really just an expensive toy and how the Android phone is also a toy, but with more problems with malware than the iPhone has?

Don Draper -- so sorely missed this summer with "Mad Men" in a production delay -- likes to say something along the lines of, "If you don't like what people are saying about you, change the conversation." Right now, outside of the mocking trade press and a few industry bloggers, nobody is saying much of anything about WP7, and what a few select people are saying doesn't tend to be positive. Microsoft needs to change the conversation.

iPhone is neat-o for playing Angry Birds. Android is super cool for playing Angry Birds while inadvertently downloading a virus. BlackBerry is so 2006. Windows Phone 7 is the new standard for serious phone users, the sales road warriors, home-office workers and traveling executives who want to skip the kids' stuff and get down to business with a clean, simple, completely revolutionary interface. And it's from Microsoft, the enterprise software company, not from some goofy California hippies.

Keep in mind that the preceding paragraph doesn't actually reflect how we at RCPU -- happy Android and iPhone users, as far as your editor knows -- feel about WP7 or the other OSes. It's just the message we think Microsoft should send about WP7. Yes, it's early days for Microsoft's mobile OS (sort of). Let's not forget that Windows Mobile had been around for a while before Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone. But when the launch of a major new product actually sends market share reeling backward and draws embarrassingly little revenue, it's time to rethink marketing strategy, if not the product itself.

In this case, the product actually seems fine. It's the message that needs to change. Microsoft has to move Windows Phone 7 out of the hazy heat of August and into the back-to-business atmosphere of September. Of course, the funny thing about all this is that since we're posting this entry in August, it's unlikely that we or anybody else will actually remember it a month from now. Maybe, for Microsoft's benefit, we should run it again after Labor Day. Because nobody remembers what happens in August.

Do you think Microsoft needs to change is messaging for Windows Phone 7? If so, what would you do differently? Leave a comment below or send your thoughts to lpender@rcpmag.com

Related:

Posted by Lee Pender on August 04, 2011 at 11:57 AM16 comments


Looking for IT Heroes

IT pros, have you caught a rogue employee stealing from the company, divulging competitive secrets or engaging in some other form of malfeasance? Have you been able to use your IT skills to sniff out and put a stop to sketchy activity inside your company? If so, I'd like to hear from you. I'm doing a story for our sister publication, Redmond magazine, on IT heroes -- folks who have used their tech savvy to bust wrongdoers. If you're one of those people or know a good story about one, please contact me at lpender@rcpmag.com or leave a comment below (we won't reveal your e-mail address; confidentiality absolutely guaranteed, as always).

Posted by Lee Pender on August 01, 2011 at 11:57 AM0 comments


Google+, the Social Network for the Rest of Us

Most of us remember Frank Costanza's greatest creation: Festivus, the holiday "for the rest of us." Festivus was for folks who were tired of the traditional December rat race and wanted to do something different, something...less joyful.

But why are we mentioning Festivus in July? Well, because we're in the Festivus spirit thanks to Google+, the social network "for the rest of us." What follows is my own take on why Google+ might be a social network I actually stick with, so I won't be using the obnoxious royal "we" to refer to myself in this post. And, as Frank Costanza would have wanted, I'm giving this entry a Festivus theme.

Break Out the Festivus Pole!
I won't go into too much detail about how Google+ works, but if you want too much detail, check out this article. It answers just about every question you could ever have about Google+ and many you probably wouldn't have thought to ask.

Google+

Simply put, as everybody knows by now, Google+ is a social network along the lines of Facebook and Twitter. It has a sort of news feed like Facebook, and it kind of combines the "friend" function of Facebook with the "follow" model of Twitter. (Again, if you're confused, go back to that article above. Seriously.)

Now, I've been on Facebook for a few years and on the horrible Twitter for maybe a couple. I've gone into great detail here about why I hate Twitter and won't put you through that again. Needless to say, everything I said back in March still stands, despite how influential Twitter has apparently become.

Facebook, on the other hand, just faded for me. I got into it at first, for a while...but then I gradually realized that it was just kind of boring and actually a little bit soul-crushing. It's mainly a bunch of people -- many of them my good friends, but still -- screaming "look at me!" And that makes me sad for some reason. Let's all try to develop some self-assurance without craving the approval of our online "friends," shall we? Just a thought.

I'm still on Facebook, and I look at it now and then, but I only really post on it when one of my favorite sports teams (like the Rose Bowl champion TCU Horned Frogs or Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins) wins a title. Yes, I just worked more Rose Bowl and Stanley Cup references into RCPU.  

It was with some hesitation, then, and very low expectations, that I decided to jump into Google+. So far, though, I like it. It's less chummy and mundane than Facebook but also less hipster and pretentious than Twitter. Supposedly, it already has 10 million users, although it still feels kind of empty. But I hope it sticks around because there are a lot of reasons to like it.

In true Festivus spirit, though, let's talk first about what I don't like about it. (I have downloaded the Android app, but I haven't played with it much, so I'm mostly going to talk about the standard browser interface here.)

Airing of the Grievances
Not that it really matters that much, but the default interface is a little stark. It's nice that it's not too busy, but it's also not much to look at. (I actually like the colors on Twitter.) I also find the posts and comments a bit hard to read for some reason, and I haven't yet figured how to collapse a section of comments after I've expanded it. (There must be a way.)

For instance, I just read some of the 150 or so comments on a post by Robert Scoble (who seems to be way into Google+, and any tech thing he's into I should probably be into as well), so I've now got a post with a really long comments section open that I can't figure out how to close without going to a whole different page and then coming back. The comments are taking up a lot of screen space, and I have to scroll a long way to get below it to see older posts. I'm probably missing something obvious -- but it's not that obvious if I'm missing it...is it?

Parts of the interface are also a touch wonky. The Sparks feature, for example, is supposed to aggregate news headlines about particular interests -- say, college football or the NHL -- but it took me a few minutes of playing around to figure out how to make Sparks work in a way that was useful to me. It turns out to be not that hard to use, but there's kind of a learning curve to it.

Google+ Sparks
Screenshot of the Google+ Sparks feature.

If there's one recurring grievance about Google+, it's that it doesn't have the most intuitive interface I've ever seen. It's not head-slappingly obvious how everything works, and I really like for things to be super, super obvious online. I haven't even begun to tackle the Hangout video-conferencing function yet. Still, I figure Google will address all this stuff in due time.

Feats of Strength
I can live with a clunky interface if I have what I want most from a social network: control. I have that in spades with Google+. The settings on Facebook have always been a little ambiguous to me; the privacy settings have always seemed vague and any control I might have over my friends list isn't glaringly obvious.

Google+ remedies all of this. One word separates Google+ from its counterpart: circles! Yes, it deserves an exclamation point. I can drag and drop my friends into circles of my own creation and control the groups with a very simple -- and, in this case, head-slappingly obvious -- interface. I have a Friends circle, a Family circle, a Work circle, even a Who? circle for random strangers who friend (plus?) me.

If I want to send a photo from a night out with friends, I can send it to the Friend circle and not worry that a professional acquaintance is going to see it (not that I do much that I wouldn't want other people to see). I can follow Robert Scoble in my Following circle and not have to wonder whether he's going to get status posts from me bragging about, say, the Bruins (he doesn't know me and probably wouldn't care to read my thoughts on hockey).

Google+ Circle
Screenshot of the Google+ Circle editor.

With Facebook and Twitter, I'm never totally sure what's going where, who's seeing what and whom I might be inadvertently pestering. I guess there are ways to control that sort of thing on those networks, but they don't jump out at me. The very core of Google+ is its circles concept, which means the whole thing is built on the premise of control. I like that a lot. Plus, privacy and security controls are super obvious and easy to use, and I can easily look at my profile the way a random Internet viewer would see it. Steve Jobs might say that it all just works.

And then there's the integration with everything else Google. I love this. Although I have largely abandoned writing for the four personal blogs I started over the last couple of years, they're all based on Google's Blogger platform. And I use Google News to write this newsletter and have for years. Now, in the Blogger site, or in Google News or Gmail (or Google Docs, which I also use here at work), I have the Google+ toolbar always with me at the top of the screen. (And this is in Firefox, not Chrome.) It not a browser toolbar, though, so it respectfully disappears if I go to a non-Google site, leaving me plenty of screen real estate.

The Google+ toolbar (if that's even what it's called) is useful without being intrusive. I don't have to surf over to a different site, such as Facebook or Twitter, or use some goofy aggregator to see my social stuff. It's right there in the native Google interface, and when I'm done with Google+ I'm just one click away from Google News or whatever other Google product I need to use.

All of this makes me sound like a Google fanboy, but I really don't think of myself as one. (And I'm definitely not a Google "fanboi," whatever that is.) There are just some things that Google has gotten right, and finally, after multiple failures, social networking is one of them. The beauty of Google is that its products are easy to use (ahem, Microsoft) and yet they're open enough so that I don't have to commit my first born to a single vendor (Apple). That works for me.

It's a Festivus Miracle
As you probably have, I've read lately that Microsoft is considering launching a social network of its own, which hopefully won't have the ridiculous name it currently (or allegedly) bears. (Tulalip? Isn't that where Elvis Presley was born? Or is it some sort of mouth condition?) I have no idea what Microsoft is trying to do with social networking, but I would almost put money on the effort being cringe-worthy on a Zune level. Maybe not. We'll see.

In any case, Frank Costanza, were he real, would love Google+. It's the social network for the rest of us. Facebook is now the sad domain of the mundane inanities of yapping teenagers and every boring person I ever went to high school with (although if you're reading this and I went to high school with you, I'm obviously not talking about you).

Twitter is way too hipster for an un-cool guy like me and lacks depth with its infuriating character limit. It also makes people think they're witty when they're really not. Just because you can say it in 140 characters or fewer, doesn't make it a pithy comment. It just makes it short, and I generally dislike brevity (obviously).

LinkedIn is dull and stuffy -- and, although it's supposed to be like that, that's no fun. MySpace, Friendster and a bunch of other sites have gone the way of Pets.com, mostly. But Google+ is dressed-up enough to be businesslike and yet down-to-earth enough to be fun. It's all about control, easy control, which is great. It's not cool, but it's not glaringly un-cool. It's not super-professional, but it's not Facebook-casual, either. It's just right for those of us who never really fit in anywhere else. At least until the masses find it and ruin it.

Tell me what you think of Google+ in the comments below, at lpender@rcpmag.com, at +Lee Pender (I think that's how it's noted) or, if you don't want me to actually read what you write, at @leepender on Twitter.

Posted by Lee Pender on July 21, 2011 at 11:57 AM6 comments


Office 365 vs. Google Apps vs. Apathy and Fear

So, Microsoft threw down the gauntlet this week, challenging Google Apps for real this time with Office 365, an online, hosted version of the omnipresent Office productivity suite. What will follow will be a battle royale for...what, exactly?

That's the real question here. Before we ask who will win the hosted-applications war between Microsoft and Google, we have to determine exactly what the spoils will be for the victor. We're not convinced at this point that hosted applications have won enough people or businesses over for the battle between 365 and Apps to be for much more than bragging rights at this point.

That will change at some point, of course -- probably. We're big believers in the cloud here at RCPU and have been for a long time. We can see the end of client software on the horizon. We can see everything running on a mobile device of some sort (something between a tablet and a phone) in either app form or in a browser. And we can see a day when workers will use that technology for almost everything they do and businesses will run on it.

But we're not there yet. Sure, lots of people have smartphones and tablets now that they use for work, and some folks use those devices almost exclusively. It's certainly possible to do most of what an office (small "o") worker does using just a portable device and maybe a wireless keyboard. It's very possible to do everything in the cloud. And both Microsoft and Google have been trumpeting big cloud wins of late.

Go into most offices, though, and you'll still see laptop and even desktop computers, most of them running some version of Windows and Office. That's how most folks who work with computers every day get their work done, using a PC of some sort and software running on the client. OK, so maybe that model isn't growing the way it once did (why would it?), but it's still dominant.

Besides that, a lot of partners and IT professionals still don't trust the cloud. Not really. Not for running their or their clients' businesses. (A lot of partners are still wondering how they're going to make money off of it, too.) It's not hard to see why. High-profile outages are still pretty common among most of the big vendors, and despite the promise of cost savings, questions remain about how secure and private data is resting in the cloud rather than sitting on a server in some company's own building.

Plus, is anybody ready to ditch versions of Office that run on PCs? Really ditch them and do everything in the cloud, where network lag time and other only marginally controllable factors can screw up everything from data archiving to sending a simple e-mail? Are we really ready to surrender everything we do every day to the whims of the Internet? Even as a big believer in the cloud, your editor is typing this right now in old-school Microsoft Word and will send it via e-mail to RCPU editors in California. That's still the way a lot of -- probably most -- work gets done in offices around the world.  

Right now, it's not Microsoft or Google that needs to win the battle, it's the cloud itself. That means that both vendors need to provide useful, trustworthy services that offer not only cost savings but also functionality that's realistic for everyday office use. They need to keep those services up and running and avoid the kinds of outages that do nothing but fuel skeptics' arguments and give the naysayers a legitimate chance to spread their anti-cloud rhetoric. The number one thing the cloud has to fear is fear itself.  

And if Microsoft and Google can manage to pull all that off (which they haven't yet, really), they'll still need to take on the "we've-always-done-it-this-way" syndrome that permeates corporate America and much of the corporate world. Step outside the technology industry and look at how many companies still run not just Windows XP but Windows 2000. They're out there. (Many of you partners know what we mean here.) If this cloud model is going to take off in a serious way, at least some of those Luddites are going to have to convert from on-premises software to the cloud. Early adopters alone won't keep the model afloat forever.

Then again, Microsoft makes so much money off of old-school Office that it might not be in too much of a rush to kill the on-premises model. That's another post for another time, though. For now, as they fight with each other for cloud supremacy, Google and Microsoft need to make sure they're winning the war for the cloud and not just taking shots at each other in a battle with low stakes and few rewards.

Have you considered moving to Office 365 or Google Apps? Why or why not? Send your thoughts to lpender@rcpmag.com or leave a comment below.

Related:

Posted by Lee Pender on June 28, 2011 at 11:57 AM5 comments


Nokia's Last Stand

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 lpender@rcpmag.com or leave a comment below.

Related:

Posted by Lee Pender on June 24, 2011 at 11:57 AM3 comments


FBI Busts Scareware Ring

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 11:57 AM0 comments


Google Apps Displaces Microsoft at Newspaper Chain

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 11:57 AM1 comments


Skype Ices Execs To Avoid Payouts

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.

Related:

Posted by Lee Pender on June 21, 2011 at 11:57 AM1 comments


New Windows 8 Leaks Show Focus on Tablets

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 11:57 AM3 comments


4 Obstacles Windows Phone 7 Mango Must Overcome To Succeed

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 11:57 AM15 comments


IDC Just Can't Stop Predicting Good Things for Windows Phone 7

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 lpender@rcpmag.com or leave a comment below.

Related:

Posted by Lee Pender on June 13, 2011 at 11:57 AM8 comments


Readers on Windows 8 and Microsoft's Quest for Cool

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 lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on June 08, 2011 at 11:57 AM1 comments