Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) is a popular component of a very popular management suite, and it would take a brave third-party vendor to try to compete with it.
Idera is that vendor. In announcing this week at Tech-Ed SharePoint diagnostic manager v2.5, Idera is ramping up its battle with Microsoft in the market for SharePoint administration tools. But while SCOM and Idera's diagnostic manager are competitive products, they're not necessarily aimed at the same audience.
"SCOM tends to go to larger IT groups," said Marcus Erickson, director of engineering at Idera, this week at Tech-Ed in Atlanta. "They have the CIO saying, 'I want the solution for everything.' We're selling mainly to SharePoint administrators." Erickson adds that SCOM can be "intimidating" for SharePoint admins but that Idera's product is designed to be targeted and easy to use.
For instance, Erickson said, SCOM offers a large number of options for SQL database best practices to users, but Idera's tool identifies just the top 10 settings admins should set up in their SQL databases for running SharePoint. "We show the 10 you need to care about," Erickson said.
Priced at $995 per server, SharePoint diagnostic manager is also considerably cheaper than SCOM. It's not always a competitor, either. Erickson says that Idera often sells the product as a complement to Microsoft's management tool. And while the company targets customers in a broad range of sizes, small and medium-sized businesses tend to be particular fans of diagnostic manager.
"The small and medium [businesses] are just looking for tools that are reasonably priced that they can buy," Erickson said.
Also this week, Idera released SQL doctor 2.0, which helps database administrators tune SQL server performance.
More Tech-Ed Analysis:
Posted by Lee Pender on May 18, 2011 at 8:27 AM0 comments
The old-fashioned operating system doesn't get the hype it used to. Here at Tech-Ed in Atlanta, all the talk is about mobile operating systems, virtualization and the cloud. And Windows XP continues to cling stubbornly to a ridiculous level of market share for a decade-old OS.
But many, probably most, companies are going to move to Windows 7 eventually, and when they do they'll have plenty of help if they want it. Aaron Suzuki's company, Prowess, makes applications that deploy what some might consider more old-school OSes, from Windows 7 to Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1. And ChangeBASE tests for application compatibility and remedies potential app problems with OS migrations. The companies' products might not be the sexiest stuff at Tech-Ed, but they're still the bread and butter of corporate IT infrastructures (and they actually seem pretty darn useful).
Here for the Long Haul
It's neither unusual nor misguided now to ask how long the fat-client, desktop OS as we know it has to live. Virtualization and cloud computing, along with the appearance of lightweight OSes such as Google's Chrome OS, seem to have Windows down for the count. Chances are, though, it'll be a long count.
It's true that Suzuki doesn't see clients lining up to move to Windows 7. Many will stick with XP, he says, and just pay extra for support when Microsoft finally kills XP support for good in 2014. "I don't think it makes Microsoft very happy or comfortable," Suzuki said at Tech-Ed this week, "but that's the client mentality. People don't have a reason not to deploy [Windows 7], but there are also some barriers. It's not about the software costs. It's about running their business. You don't buy Windows just to be able to have Windows."
The next question is whether companies will buy Windows again at all, but Suzuki suspects that they will -- in time. And, he figures, they'll keep buying it for a while to come. Even hypervisors still rest on a traditional OS, he opines.
"We are very bullish on desktop virtualization," Suzuki told RCP. But he added, "Something has to get a hypervisor there. It's like a key. It has to fit properly for the operating environment to land on whatever it's landing on. The ability to move operating systems from environment to environment [is critical]. I don't know anyone who is in a homogenous environment."
The desktop OS, he figures, isn't going away anytime soon. "That no-operating-system thing is a 30- to 50-year proposition," he said. "Even in that picture of a highly virtualized desktop, that virtual machine has to get from place to place and the hypervisor on the workstation is probably not going to be identical to the hypervisor in your datacenter."
Prowess this week announced enhancements to its flagship SmartDeploy product.
Moving Apps Forward
If the old-school OS is going to continue to exist, then applications are going to have to move in the migration from one version to another. ChangeBASE has users covered there. The U.K. vendor has developed a system for identifying and remedying potential problems with applications in OS migrations.
ChangeBASE's software looks not so much at what applications do as at how they behave with an OS and with each other. Using a knowledge base developed through years of experience, ChangeBASE can reduce the process of testing for and fixing application-compatibility issues from days or weeks to minutes, said Greg Lambert, the company's chief technical architect, at Tech-Ed this week.
"We deal with classes of problems," Lambert said. "We don't deal with applications. [We] ignore the application and look at behaviors. Is this application trying to install to this directory, yes or no? It's like an anti-virus model. There are new updates available."
Solving problems with application compatibility could be a critical step in helping companies move from XP to Windows 7. Lambert says he's seeing movement already, primarily from the companies with the most money and the most risk inherent in their businesses, such as banks. He says he's also seeing a geographical track for Windows 7, starting in the U.K. financial sector and moving to the financial sector on the U.S. east coast, then to the U.S. west coast, Asia and Europe.
"I'm actually seeing the dawn of Windows 7 move across the world," Lambert said.
ChangeBASE announced this week enhancements to its free AOKLite v2.0 product.
More Tech-Ed Analysis:
Posted by Lee Pender on May 18, 2011 at 8:25 AM0 comments
Tuesday wasn't the best day for HP, which took a stock-price hit after a profit warning. But there was a little bit of good news from Tech-Ed in Atlanta.
HP's thin-client business, long a steady grower, is gaining interest among customers thanks to enhanced virtualization technologies from Microsoft, Citrix and VMware, as well as the current cloud computing craze.
Allen Tiffany, thin client manager at HP, said Tuesday that the long-trusted thin-client model is getting a boost -- at least in terms of mindshare -- as a result of companies' willingness to look at what have, until now, been nontraditional computing models.
Thin-client computing has long offered cost savings and increased efficiency, and it no longer seems as risky or unusual as it once might have now that companies are embracing the idea of lighter computing. At Tech-Ed this week, HP announced performance enhancements to its thin-client offerings. So there has been some good news from the venerable vendor recently.
More Tech-Ed Analysis:
Posted by Lee Pender on May 17, 2011 at 8:24 AM0 comments
Pretty much everybody attending Tech-Ed this week was expecting Microsoft to drape the show in Azure and heavily tout its cloud platform. That didn't happen -- at least not the way most observers expected that it would.
Windows Phone 7 and Visual Studio got most of the stage time at this morning's keynote, and Azure didn't get anything like a starring role. But that's not to say that the nascent platform was absent. In fact, it was everywhere -- but always as a component of something else.
A demo during this morning's keynote involving the forthcoming System Center 2012, due in the second half of this year, showed how IT pros can use the suite to manage both public and private clouds and move applications from one cloud to the other. That capability includes managing Azure components, and System Center 2012 gives users a single, consolidated view for managing all cloud elements. It's the "single pane of glass," as Microsoft folks like to say.
"We saw cloud all morning [at the Tech-Ed keynote] if you think about it in that lens," said Ryan O'Hara, senior director of the Management and Security Division at Microsoft, in an interview. "Once we had control of those [cloud] resources, it became management as usual. Here's a familiar context, but you have completely unfamiliar capabilities."
Microsoft also talked today about an Azure toolkit for Windows Phone 7 and about cloud application development using Visual Studio and Azure. O'Hara says that Azure won't necessarily garner a lot of attention by itself anymore, but it'll be a key component of just about everything Microsoft does for the enterprise.
"We went through a definitional phase as an industry, and now we are in an embrace or integration phase where the cloud style of computing is now intertwined with our application development experiences, our virtualization experiences, our application management experiences, and even our productivity experiences," O'Hara said.
In other words, Azure might not make headlines anymore, but it'll be part of just about every story Microsoft tells. Of course, not everything with Azure is going smoothly. Many observers expected Microsoft to discuss at Tech-Ed long-awaited and still forthcoming Azure appliances, but company officials have not said a word about them thus far. Still, although it's hard to notice Azure here at Tech-Ed, it's even harder to escape it.
More Tech-Ed Analysis:
Posted by Lee Pender on May 16, 2011 at 8:26 AM0 comments
Something or someone called the Glitch Mob opened for the Microsoft keynote at Tech-Ed this morning. Aside from having what seems like a very unfortunate name for a group performing at a tech conference, the Glitch Mob wasn't Microsoft's typical pre-keynote fare.
In the past, Microsoft has blasted early-morning attendees with musicians banging on drums and dancers descending from the ceiling on wires. But today, the Glitch Mob just kind of grooved, offering some sort of dance music and generally hanging in the background.
That set the tone for a keynote that featured a couple of relatively unknown Redmondians, Robert Wahbe and Jason Zander, both corporate vice presidents and neither with the energy of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer who, if he's here, didn't show up to say a few words this morning.
|Robert Wahbe, corporate vice president, Server and Tools Marketing Group at Microsoft Corp., delivers the keynote speech at Tech-Ed North America 2011. May 16, Redmond, Wash. Source: Microsoft Corp.
Wahbe and Zander gave over to lots of demos -- more than we usually see at a Microsoft event, it seemed -- and didn't offer too much in the way of long-term vision. Zander's explanation of Visual Studio vNext, which is supposed to bring non-developer types into the Visual Studio mix, was worth hearing but seemed to lose much of the audience about halfway though.
Still, vNext could be a huge product for Microsoft if it really can tie "application stakeholders," as the company calls them, along with a broad base of IT professionals, into the development circle. vNext could take Visual Studio from a popular development tool to something closer to an application design and execution platform. That's a broad vision for an application that still resides mostly in the hard-core dev realm at this point.
Likewise, the improvements coming in Mango, the next version of Windows Phone 7, looked impressive on the big screen at Tech-Ed and could make the mobile OS a much more serious player in the market. Integration with Lync Server, which is clearly a big corporate priority at Microsoft (see the Skype acquisition), will be huge for Mango's usefulness in the enterprise.
Could Mango, and by extension Windows Phone 7, be the next BlackBerry, the mobile OS for the serious businessperson? It looks as though Microsoft might be setting it up to be just that. Windows Phone 7 might never have the hipster appeal of the iPhone or the wide-open charm of Android, but it has a clean interface and looks pretty useful, and native integration with much-used Microsoft technologies can only help its prospects.
So Tech-Ed didn't blow the roof off the cavernous Georgia World Conference Center here in Atlanta, but its highlights represent important steps forward for major Microsoft properties. There has been other news, too -- enhanced virtualization capabilities for Exchange, for instance -- which has fit into the same category, not headline-grabbing but certainly of interest to the audience that has made the trip to the American South and probably to a lot of other partners and Microsoft IT professionals, as well.
More Tech-Ed Analysis:
Posted by Lee Pender on May 16, 2011 at 8:27 AM0 comments
Back in 1987, SMU lost its football program for a season after the NCAA -- the governing body of collegiate athletics here in the United States, for those who might not know -- handed the school the infamous "death penalty" for repeated rules violations.
The school chose to cancel the 1988 season and therefore went two years without football, which in Texas is kind of like going without air or water for two years. Needless to say, the scandal rocked the state and, among college football fans, the nation. (One of ESPN's "30 for 30" documentaries, Pony Excess, did a mostly marvelous job last year of recounting the whole sordid episode.)
In the early 1980s, when the payroll was huge and talents such as Eric Dickerson and Craig James were sporting the famous Mustang logo (yes, Ford named the car after the SMU Mustangs -- true story), SMU, a relatively small school with a mixed history in football, was good. Really good -- arguably the best team in college football in the early 1980s. But SMU cheated (a lot) and the NCAA finally put a stop to it. Never mind that other schools, which we won't name, cheated rampantly for years and never got any punishment that even approached the severity of the death penalty. That's another rant for another blog.
The point here is that the death penalty -- administered only once -- was harsh. So harsh, in fact, that it did effectively kill SMU's program for more than two decades. Only in the last couple of years and after considerable turmoil have the Mustangs begun to pull themselves out of the mire and become competitive again. Pretty much any observer of college football who knows the SMU story will say that the NCAA will never hand down the death penalty again -- and, in fact, it could have by now to several other schools but hasn't. It was just too much, too harsh, too severe. And it certainly didn't curtail cheating in college football as a whole, which remains common, if a little more stealth these days (although the program at Rose Bowl champion TCU is, of course, completely clean -- seriously).
Anyway, the parallels between SMU's death penalty and the U.S. government's antitrust oversight of Microsoft, which ends this week after a decade, aren't especially strong, except for one thing: It's doubtful that we'll ever see anything like either one of them again. Back in the late-'90s, the panic about Microsoft's dominance in the operating system market and its supposed execution-style killing of the Netscape browser were such that a U.S. District Court judge -- Thomas Penfield Jackson, you remember him -- ordered the software giant broken in two. Microsoft appealed and stayed intact, but the government watched it like a hawk for the following decade. And many industry firms lined up to make to make Microsoft look only slightly more dominant and suffocating with power than Genghis Khan.
Your editor was a teenager in Texas during the SMU scandal and was a reporter for a fairly well-known trade magazine during the original Microsoft lawsuit; he remembers them both well and actually covered the lawsuit in some depth. With the benefit of hindsight, the prevailing feeling now is that both episodes were a little ridiculous. The death penalty and its excessiveness we've already discussed, but the Microsoft "remedy" now looks pretty silly as well. Microsoft, after all, remained one company, but it didn't continue to crush the rest of the industry.
In fact, these days, despite still owning a huge portion of the market share for PC operating systems, Microsoft finds itself well behind some of its competitors in other key -- arguably much more important -- areas. Some observers posit that open source is what made the Microsoft antitrust scare -- and for those who don't remember, there was very real panic and hand-wringing about it on all sides -- ultimately irrelevant. And we think there's a lot of credence to that.
But we look at the withering of Microsoft from terrifying titan to mere giant from a broader perspective. The reason Microsoft isn't an antitrust threat anymore is because other companies have out-innovated the folks in Redmond, and the 'Softies, by contrast, have under-innovated in recent years. We haven't forgotten, as many seem to have, that Microsoft bailed out Apple financially in 1997 when the hipster company was on the brink of extinction. But Apple made the most of the lifeline, eventually creating the iEverything line of products that now dominates consumer electronics and is rapidly moving into the enterprise with the iPhone and iPad.
And then there's Google, which wasn't even on the radar screen in 1997 (remember using search engines like HotBot and Lycos?) but has emerged as the locked-in No. 1 firm in consumer search and has also taken over, with Apple, the ever-expanding market for mobile operating systems. Google was born out of an era in which the government was watching supposedly dangerous and competition-quashing Microsoft, and yet Google managed to grow right under Microsoft's nose and steal from the folks in Redmond markets they would love to dominate but now likely never will. Let's also not forget Amazon, which went from quaint online bookseller to major enterprise technology provider during the big, bad Microsoft era, and companies like Salesforce.com, which used the cloud and SaaS to get a jump on bigger competitors, including Microsoft.
Did the government help Apple, Google and the others by "watching" Microsoft and making sure it didn't step out of line? Probably not (although Microsoft's investment in Apple was a move to fend off the feds). Those companies succeeded because they either forged or beat the competition (namely Microsoft) to new markets and out-smarted and out-innovated a company in Redmond that had become a bit complacent. Your editor said in 1997 -- and we've always said in this space -- that the "remedy" for "monopolies" isn't the government coming down hard on one big, dominant company but instead other players in the market figuring out how to slay the beast. That's exactly why the notion of Microsoft as dangerous monopolist is laughable these days -- because competitors have beaten it to the punch in market after market and turned it into a desperate also-ran in lots of key areas. That was the market's doing, not the government's.
And that's why, we're saying here, we'll never see another government crackdown in the technology industry like the one we saw with Microsoft for the last decade-and-a-half -- and we shouldn't. Technology is not a commodity industry. Microsoft was never Standard Oil. Technology is an innovation industry, and innovation can come from anywhere and out of nowhere. Just when one player looks unbeatable, another can come along with a new product or even a whole new concept and knock it off its perch. Apple's reign as undisputed king of the mobile phone OS didn't last long once Google got Android rolling. Will Google always be the No. 1 search provider? Maybe, but we can't know for sure. Somebody out there might have a better idea and might find a way to get it implemented.
If there's any lesson we've learned from the U.S. government's ultimately pointless hounding of Microsoft, it's that nothing is a sure thing in the technology industry. Nobody stays on top forever -- not IBM, not Microsoft, probably not even Apple or Google. So it seems kind of ridiculous for the government and industry players to freak out and call for penalties and oversight for dominant or "monopolist" companies in the tech industry. The Microsoft case has proven that sort of excessive oversight to be silly and unnecessary (and even a bit embarrassing), and like SMU's death penalty, we think and hope that we'll never see anything like it again.
How much of a role should the government play in regulating the technology industry? How much of a monopolist does Microsoft look like to you these days? Leave a comment below or send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Lee Pender on May 12, 2011 at 1:43 PM0 comments
In a flurry of late-night bill paying, your editor happened to notice that the Wall Street Journal reported Monday night that Microsoft would announce the acquisition of Skype this morning. Microsoft is splashing out somewhere in the neighborhood of $8.5 billion for the video chat service, which makes this buy the biggest in Microsoft's history.
It's probably a good one. After all, more than 600 million users know that Skype works -- it almost has Kleenex status in terms of brand recognition -- and the technology Microsoft is buying should fit in very well with the software giant's significant push into unified communications. This buy also snatches Skype away from Google, which had been sniffing around, as had Facebook, although, the WSJ says, maybe not to the extent that some pundits suggested.
Of course, this isn't Skype's first rodeo in terms of being acquired. eBay (the other reason your editor was online late last night) wrangled the company six years ago and ended up having to dump it at a loss, so Skype's history as an acquisition target is a bit speckled. Plus, $8 billion-plus is a big outlay. Last time Microsoft spent that kind of money, it bought advertising firm aQuantive in 2007 and did what, exactly, with it? Worked it into Bing or something? We're really not sure, but we're thinking that the accountants in Redmond would be hard-pressed to quantify the value of that purchase.
Still, this is the type of purchase that should be right in Microsoft's wheelhouse, whatever a wheelhouse is. What was eBay ever going to do with Skype, anyway? Were eBay users supposed to video chat with the person behind bostonsportsjerseys2003 (not a real eBay name, as far as we know) when purchasing a New England Patriots throwback jersey? Your editor will settle for decent photos and good user reviews, thanks.
On the other hand, the enterprise usefulness of Skype is obvious, and it should serve as a major component in Microsoft's ambitious (and potentially very lucrative) attempt to connect everybody all the time in every way possible, otherwise known as its unified communications effort. There are probably many more uses for Skype than just UC, but that's the one that jumps out immediately as the real dealmaker.
And as for that $8.5 billion, well, it's a lot of money, but that's about what Oracle spends on acquisitions in any given quarter (just kidding...we think -- but Oracle does buy a lot of companies). Microsoft might be smaller than Apple these days and less of a titan than it used to be, but it's still a massive company with huge sums of cash in the bank. Spending $8 billion-plus isn't even all that big of a risk for a company the size of Microsoft.
Besides, it's about time Microsoft became proactive again, fending off competitors for a prize catch and acting like the king of the software jungle it once was and really should still be. Even if this acquisition doesn't work -- and we at RCPU believe that it will -- it's at least a welcome sign of life from a company that had begun to look like the clichéd deer in the headlights. Plus, we love the angle that this is a purchase that could translate directly into profits for Microsoft's enterprise partners, who might feel a bit left out these days with the company chasing its tail trying to catch its rivals in more consumer-oriented spaces. This is good news, then, and a strong move for a company that needed a boost and went out and got it the old-fashioned way, by spending a huge sum of money to get it.
What's your take on Microsoft buying Skype? Send it to email@example.com.
Posted by Lee Pender on May 10, 2011 at 1:21 PM3 comments
Somebody go tell Steve Ballmer that Palm is off the table before Microsoft tries to partner with the washed-up mobile pioneer that's now part of HP.
Apparently, Microsoft is in full Morris Buttermaker mode, putting together a rag-tag group of cast-offs to take on the mighty leaders of the mobile world. Of course, you know who Morris Buttermaker was. He was Walter Matthau's character in The Bad News Bears, perhaps the greatest team-sport underdog movie of all time -- which, incidentally, came out the same year as Rocky, the greatest sports underdog movie of all time.
That year was 1976, and not to give away 35-year-old movie plots (spoiler alert!) but both the Bears and Rocky lose (gloriously, of course) at the ends of their respective tales. What does that tell us about the America of the 1970s? If we were in a college class, your editor would be assigning an essay right now. (Instead, he's writing one. Is it too late to get that PhD?) And please do not insult us by mentioning the alleged 2005 remake of The Bad News Bears, which, as far as we're concerned, never happened. It never happened.
This week, Microsoft, a mobile has-been that might lack Buttermaker's gruff charm but certainly carries his washed-up status, continued putting together the Bad News Bears of the mobile industry. First (a while back), relic Nokia -- "Finnish" in more ways than one, some might say -- now led by old buddy Stephen Elop, came on board. Then, on Tuesday, Microsoft added Research in Motion -- RIM, the maker of the BlackBerry -- to its lineup. Microsoft's Bing search engine (see, we really are talking about losers here) will be the default search and maps provider for BlackBerry phones and other RIM devices, just in case anybody actually buys one of them in the future.
Now, to be fair, not everybody thinks that RIM is Bears material, but it's certainly showing signs of wear, and at least a few observers figure that the one-time high-flyer is headed for the scrapheap of technology history. With Apple and Google -- who together sort of form the Yankees, the Bears' bitter but far superior rival -- slashing and burning everything in their mobile paths, Microsoft's motley collection of mobile partners is starting to look distinctly early-2000s. And that's just kind of embarrassing (and certainly not appealing), no matter what RIM and Nokia might actually have to offer.
Now, in The Bad News Bears, the Yankees are over-competitive, abrasive and wildly successful super-jerks, which sounds about right as a metaphor for Apple and maybe even for Google as well -- but especially for Apple. The Bears, on the other hand, are charming misfits, with the cute but conflicted Amanda Whurlitzer, the rogue Kelly Leak and the rotund Engelberg rounding out a cast of fairly loveable characters.
There, of course, is where the similarities between Microsoft's gang and the Bears end. There's not much charming or loveable about Microsoft, Nokia and RIM. There's not a lot of underdog spirit there. In fact, if anything, Team Microsoft Mobile's spirit seems pretty broken, and Microsoft's efforts to reclaim relevance in the mobile market smack of desperation. The Bad News Bears was a great idea for a movie in the down-and-out '70s, but it's probably going to make for a pretty weak mobile partnership in the 2010s.
Plus, The Bad News Bears was fiction, and Microsoft's mobile plight is sad reality. The company, once a leader in the field, bumbled its way to near extinction and is now just trying to rise from laughing stock to third-place also-ran, something it might be able to do on the strength of what does look like a decent platform in Windows Phone 7. But highly publicized hookups with the likes of RIM and Nokia aren't helping the laughing-stock part very much -- and let's not even get into the whole tablet situation. There was a time when Microsoft could crush its competition almost at will in almost any space, but the Yankees of yesterday have become the Bad News Bears of today. It's almost as sad as watching Willie Mays try to play for the Mets (or so we've heard).
Morris Buttermaker nearly turned his team into champions; we're guessing Steve Ballmer won't have nearly as much success. The question now is: Which has-been will Microsoft reach out to in the mobile space next? Does Chico's Bail Bonds produce mobile devices or make a mobile OS? If so, expect an announcement soon.
What's your take on the future of RIM and of Microsoft in the mobile space? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. And thanks to RCP Executive Editor Jeff Schwartz for digging up a couple of the links we used in this entry.
Posted by Lee Pender on May 03, 2011 at 1:30 PM3 comments
There was only one big loser from yesterday's announcement that U.S. Navy Seals took out Osama bin Laden, and that was Osama himself. Given that we all agree that he was due for a big defeat, we can feel grateful (as always) for the brave members of our armed services and satisfied that we as a nation finally brought this evil mastermind to justice.
Last night's news was good news, and we don't intend to cheapen it or minimize it with what we're about to do here. Every big story, though, has byproducts and subtexts, and last night's late-night news explosion was certainly no exception. So, given that this is a tech-focused media outlet, after all, we thought we'd look at the early returns on which tech companies came out as winners in last night's media coverage and which didn't fare so well.
Just to legitimize this whole thing a bit, let's not forget that technology plays a major role in pretty much every news story these days, as it does in the events that actually make the news. Social media played a major, and arguably unprecedented, part in the dissemination and consumption of last night's news worldwide, and from what we at RCPU have read, Osama's lack of connectedness -- as we all know now, he had no phone or Internet in that weird bunker thing he was living in -- might have made him easier to catch, not more difficult.
So, with a baseline established, let's look at your editor's exclusive declarations of who won and lost in the tech world during the first few hours of Osama coverage last night. This little survey is based on your editor's own viewing of a scattering of networks -- primarily CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox -- from about 11:30 to 2:30 am last night. (Keep in mind that writing this is taking your editor away from watching more news coverage, and that lots of new details might have surfaced by the time you stumble across this entry. So, go easy if some of this stuff seems dated only a few hours after these pixels hit the Web. Thanks.) Please feel free to send your own list of winners and losers to email@example.com or start a discussion in the comments section.
This is the one part of last night's story that's making your editor miserable, but credit where credit's due -- Twitter reached a new level of influence last night (barf). Not only did Twitter users leak the news of bin Laden's death before President Obama had a chance to announce it, but some Twitter user apparently (and unwittingly, we think) live blogged the actual raid on Osama's compound as it was happening. That kind of live "reporting" of a secret military strike in progress seems not only unprecedented but really pretty darn incredible to us at RCPU. And it makes whatever live blogging we might do from Tech-Ed later this month seem pretty lame by comparison.
Over and over last night, your editor heard about people all over the country -- particularly those in Washington, New York and at that great Mets-Phillies game in Philadelphia (let's go, Mets) -- checking their iPhones and iPads for news about bin Laden. The iPad in particular reached Kleenex-level brand recognition last night. Not once did your editor hear a newsreader say the words "tablet device." Nope, it was all about the iPad, with the iPhone along for the ride. Plus, even though it was dying down, anyway, Apple's privacy mini-scandal is officially over now.
Seriously, though, did you see CNN's Google Earth renderings of Abbottabad and Osama's compound? How incredible was that? The world's most wanted criminal was just shot by Navy Seals in his massively fortified compound in Pakistan -- oh, and by the way, here's an actual close-up photo of the bunker taken from a helicopter (or plane, or some sort of aircraft), courtesy of Google. Sure, the news networks have since gone in and gotten pictures of the haven of evil, but Google was showing us where it was and pretty much what it looked like within minutes of the president's speech. Wow.
OK, so this was a minor win, but at one point last night a CNN reporter in New York was interviewing a woman on the street who was recalling, with great emotion and in great detail, how she and other telecommunications workers witnessed the destruction of Sept. 11 first hand because they were in charge of trying to get computer and phone connections up and running again after the attacks. Unless your editor was hearing things, she mentioned that it was her job as a Verizon employee to get things back on order. The timing and setting of the interview were fortuitous for Verizon, although your editor feels a bit cynical for remembering that one little bit of an otherwise moving recounting of that horrible day.
Oh, don't get us wrong; we're sure that, like many other sites, Facebook got plenty of traffic last night. But your editor is not the only one to notice -- or comment, in some public forum or another -- that not everybody on Facebook is particularly bright or interested in the news. We've already read some comments on various message boards about odd or random things "friends" said about bin Laden's death. We hate to say this, but Twitter had much better content on the story, and it generally just blew Facebook away in terms of content and timeliness. Darn it.
OK, so maybe it's harsh to call Microsoft a loser, given that it's just one of many tech companies that remained pretty much entirely unmentioned throughout the evening's coverage. But with Google and Apple scoring major points, Microsoft was almost conspicuously absent. Not only was every tablet and cell phone mentioned either running an Apple or a Google (mostly Apple) OS, but at no point did we see anything -- not a graphic, not a computer simulation, nothing -- overtly running on Windows. Remember when Microsoft used to be a major player in consumer technology? It still wants to be.
This is a stretch, and Google's Earth win certainly outweighs it from a corporate perspective. And, granted, we know that YouTube is more directed at hosting videos of animals peeing on themselves or '70s TV commercials than it is at being a news site. But with video of Obama's speech available at pretty much every media outlet in the country online within an hour or so of it happening, and with CNN and the other networks rocking compelling video of crowds gathering in Washington and New York and pulling off one of the more impressive expert roundups ever conducted after 11 p.m. on a Sunday night, nobody was thinking about watching anything on YouTube. Not to worry, though -- the site will obviously survive. Those animals aren't going anywhere.
Posted by Lee Pender on May 02, 2011 at 1:32 PM0 comments
Stand up if you care about privacy. Great, thanks. Now, if you have one of those discount cards from your grocery store or drugstore, sit down. If you've ever submitted a credit report for pretty much anything, don't remain standing. If you've ever just clicked "I agree" without reading one of those terms-and-conditions documents, have a seat. (And if you managed to get through South Park's "Apple Human CentiPad" episode last night, bless you. Your editor watched primarily out of a sense of professional obligation, but that was some nasty stuff.)
If you have an iPhone, watch your next move -- Steve Jobs can see you right now. OK, not really. Well, maybe he can, but he's probably too busy looking in a mirror or checking his stock portfolio to notice you sitting there in the coffee shop with your hipster iWhatever sipping something bitter and foamy. (Speaking of bitter, somebody needs to name a coffee after Paul Allen. But we digress.) Still, you're worried about what Steve, or Google, or even Microsoft with Windows Phone 7 might know about you, right?
The recent brouhaha (there are simply not enough occasions to use that word) about privacy and the tracking capabilities of the iPhone, Android OS and even Windows Phone 7 has users, advocate types and all sorts of people in the punditsphere bemoaning the loss and lack of privacy in our super-connected society. Really, though, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Let's establish right off the bat that most technology vendors care more about how you use their products than about whether you sneak off to the doughnut shop every morning after politely picking at your Cheerios in front of your wife and kids. And when research does go beyond the vendor norm, some of what the snoopers are doing with our cell phone records really is amazing -- sometimes in a good way. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required, maybe; we keep getting different results on that) had a good article about cell-snooping stuff recently. Our only criticism of it is this: Robert Lee Hotz, the article's author, really needs to go by Bobby Lee Hotz so that his name will make him sound either like a small-time blues musician or like a guy who would have pitched middle relief for the Texas Rangers in the '70s -- or both.
Anyway, regardless of who knows what about us, it's pretty clear that most of us only pay lip service to caring about privacy. The fact is that we happily give up privacy all the time in exchange for convenience and other perks. Those customer-loyalty cards we get at the supermarket? They're surely tracking at the very least what we buy at the store and how much we spend, which isn't information we might want just anybody to know. But if we can get 10 percent off every tenth purchase or whatever, hey, that seems fair.
Credit reports? Do you ever seriously look at these things? You probably do, but only to make sure that everything on them is correct. Never mind how many contract-based service providers of all kinds (and, increasingly, prospective employers) absolutely have to see our credit histories in order to sign us up for, say, satellite TV or a cell phone contract (the latter of which will just expose us further, anyway). Showing a credit report for a mortgage or a car loan makes sense, but for, say, cable Internet service? Just let us pay the bills and cut us off if we don't. We're not talking about a long-term commitment or a major financial outlay here. And, yet, everybody has to be all up in our business, quite literally.
At this point, maybe you're thinking that at least the supermarkets and satellite TV providers are up-front about which of your personal details they're going to track or peruse. And maybe you're thinking that Apple, Google and Microsoft aren't quite so honest in disclosing what they plan to know about you. But that (along with last night's South Park) begs the question: Are you sure? Granted, those terms-and-conditions documents every possible vendor, retailer and Web site bombards us with are nearly unreadable. And granted, there's not a lot we can do if we don't actually agree with them, other than effectively turn down a service we obviously want (and usually the sooner, the better) or we wouldn't have all that legal barf staring us in the face in the first place.
The bottom line is, though, that we agree to things all the time without having any idea what it is we're actually accepting. (Sure, your editor is speaking in generalities here, but think about your own experience with clicking "I agree," for instance.) And do you know the real reason why we don't bother to read those things? Do you know why there has never been real public outcry about how difficult they are to navigate? Because we don't care. For one thing, we don't care about details. Millions of Americans didn't start asking for simplified credit card conditions or easier-to-understand mortgage agreements until gross misuse and misappropriation of credit essentially wrecked our economy. So, yeah, we're not big readers of the fine print. In fact, we'd rather not actually know what it says and just cross our fingers and hope everything works out OK.
More than that, though, we don't care about privacy. We'll happily sacrifice it -- or potentially sacrifice it, neither knowing nor caring whether we are or not -- in exchange for some sort of reward. Just check Apple's next earnings report to see how many people really did ditch their iPhones as a result of this privacy mini-scandal. Look at whether Android's market share plummets or whether Windows Phone 7...actually, let's just stick with iOS and Android here.
The point is that while we might not like how much the creators of these operating systems know about us, we're not going to ditch all those cool apps and all that nifty functionality just because we're worried that Apple might be able to track us stopping by the bar on the way home from work when we're supposed to be rushing home to meet the in-laws. Most of the outrage we're hearing about privacy right now is just empty ranting. If the rubber ever meets the road and we start abandoning our smartphones by the millions, refusing en masse to click "I agree" when a spew of legalese pops up online and telling the folks down at the drug store that maybe they should give us discounts just for being good customers, then we'll prove how much we care about privacy. Until then, we're all talk and no action -- because we like it that way. It's easy. It's convenient.
And let's not even get into all the things smartphones can do because they track us, how much faster and easier to use they are than they would be if we were cloaked in anonymity. Trade privacy for a half-second faster Internet download? Heck, yeah, we will! Besides, if social media has taught us anything, it's that we crave exposure, not privacy. We're very happy to turn over a ridiculous number of personal details to Facebook, LinkedIn and even the infernal Twitter just so that we can tell people we went to high school with and haven't seen in 20 years that, yes, we are having meat loaf for dinner, or that some politician from the other party really is a gosh-darn scoundrel.
There are people out there who put their money where their mouths are, so to speak, when it comes to maintaining privacy. Some of them live and walk among the rest of us; others live in cabins in remote areas and haven't paid income taxes in 40 years. But most of us are happy to be tracked, traced and trolled because it's just easier that way and because the more privacy we surrender, the cooler electronic things seem to get. And that's worth it...right?
What are you doing to protect your privacy? How concerned are you about what vendors and other interlopers know about you? Have you ever sacrificed anything in the name of privacy? Have your say at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the comments section below.
Posted by Lee Pender on April 28, 2011 at 4:54 PM6 comments
We introduce this topic here today not to dig up a tired reference from a mediocre movie that's nearly 15 years old but instead to discuss a topic of interest to everybody in the Microsoft "ecosystem": how much Microsoft employees get paid.
Why, you might ask, should that matter to you, the partner? Well, as we've written in this space before, and as readers have told us many times over the years, Microsoft is not the destination company it used to be. The phrase that's floating around now is that Microsoft is a place to have worked rather than a place to be. The company's recent and ongoing execudus seems to support that line of thinking.
Part of the reason why Microsoft is old news is that it's just plain old. In a market in which even Google is starting to look long in the tooth, Microsoft is rapidly drifting past cougar phase and becoming a spinster. There's more to Microsoft's recruiting and retention struggles than just avant-garde technology and hipster street cred, though. There's another issue in play: money.
For years, Microsoft offered the promise of stock options constantly poised to explode in value. Base compensation was OK, but Microsoft stock was the real draw for many recruits. Well, the problem there is that Microsoft's stock price has basically been stagnant for the last two years (and really for about the last five, at least). So, those stock options aren't very attractive anymore, and base pay isn't that great, either. Better for young minds to run to Facebook, for instance, and get in on the ground (or maybe second or third) floor or something that's both cool and still poised to pop financially in years to come.
There's an argument that Microsoft has missed some big changes in technology because it hasn't had the talent to develop, say, a great tablet or a competitive mobile operating system, or find a way to really harness social networking. Redmond churns and churns and ends up spinning out mediocrity -- or, in the case of tablets for consumers, nothing -- because it just doesn't have the people to keep up with its rivals, or so the story goes. Granted, Microsoft has never been much of a leader -- more of a follower-then-conqueror -- in the industry, but Redmond's silence or disappointing efforts on several key technology fronts continues to be unusual and disappointing.
Finally, Steve Ballmer and his leadership team (no one can charge them with not being deliberate) are looking to reverse that trend. They might not be able to make Microsoft cool again, but they can make working there more lucrative. They announced this week that they're planning on raising pay at the company, specifically for employees working in fast-moving areas of technology (sorry, Dynamics team). Microsoft is also going to increase performance-based incentives.
But here's the real kicker: Microsoft is going to start paying employees more in cash and less in stock options. The company is taking a positive step to remove one of the least appealing aspects of working there. That's good news for partners and any other creatures in Microsoft's "ecosystem" who desperately want the company to catch up to some of its more technologically progressive rivals.
Of course, dumping stock for cash won't solve Microsoft's coolness problem or make it a more attractive employment destination than some sexy start-up. But doling out money -- real money -- is never a bad way to attract talent. Plus, this seems like some sort of tacit admission on Microsoft's part that it really does have a problem with trying to increase its stock price and its value to shareholders.
This kind of self-awareness is rare in Redmond these days; Microsoft has become in many ways a delusional company full of people who still think that just because Microsoft introduces something, whatever that thing is will come to dominate the market eventually. Clearly, that's not the case anymore. The '90s are over. There's a whole generation that barely remembers where the phrase "show me the money" came from. Maybe an infusion of young talent armed with bigger paychecks will provide some fresh perspective and create some better products in Redmond. And then maybe those stock options will end up being really valuable again.
How attractive do you think Microsoft is as a place to work compared to other companies in the industry? Send your thoughts to email@example.com.
Posted by Lee Pender on April 21, 2011 at 3:05 PM1 comments
There was a time when everybody knew that Microsoft would arrive late to a new-technology party, and everybody waited for it to get there. After all, Microsoft was eventually going to crush or subsume all of the companies that had been responsible for the breakthrough, so it made no sense to be an early adopter with the specter of Redmond constantly looming on the horizon.
Well, as Mary Jo Foley so articulately states in this month's Redmond magazine, those days are over. Tablets, portable music players, a mobile platform -- all those trains have left the station, and Microsoft either missed them entirely or is desperately hanging on to its cabooses. (Yes, cabooses. Try to find another tech blog that uses that word.)
Apple, Google and RIM (to name a few) are not Netscape, Corel and Novell. They're big vendors with big leads over Microsoft in key areas, perfectly capable of taking care of themselves and fending off the poodle from the Pacific Northwest nipping at their heels. A Microsoft tablet? Who cares? It's as relevant as the Zune was in the face of the mighty iPod. Windows Phone 7? It might not be a bad mobile OS, but there's no reason at this point for iPhone or Android users to wonder whether they've made a horrible mistake by signing on to some other platform before Redmond had its say.
They haven't. What's stunning, though -- and this is really Mary Jo's point -- is that Microsoft doesn't seem to care. The attitude in Redmond seems to be one straight out of the '90s, maybe even the '80s: "Hey, we'll get to these new markets when we get to them, and when we do we'll clean everybody's clock. This is Windows versus OS2 all over again."
Hey, Microsoft: Not anymore. You're slow and bloated, and your competitors have no reason to fear you anymore. Heed Mary Jo's word -- she probably knows more about your company than you do, after all.
Posted by Lee Pender on April 13, 2011 at 3:11 PM6 comments