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Zune, We Hardly Knew Ye

Actually, we did know ye pretty well, and ye were pretty lame. It looks as though Microsoft might be (wisely) dumping the Zune name, thereby erasing from its portfolio a brand moniker that might as well have been spelled F-A-I-L. It's not that the Zune was such a bad device, really -- it's just that it was never close to competing with the iPod on any level that mattered (read: design and coolness).

The Zune always reminded us of the kid on "Beavis and Butthead" who wore a Winger shirt while the protagonists of the series were rocking shirts from legit hard-rock bands AC/DC and Metallica. Just weak. And that's your high-culture reference for the week.  

Posted by Lee Pender on February 17, 2011 at 11:57 AM12 comments


Microsoft-Nokia Deal Continues to Take a Beating

Note: Apparently, Nokia's rogue shareholders gave up trying to kill the Windows 7 deal after just one day. (We usually write RCPU about a day in advance, and this story broke after we filed yesterday.) Nevertheless, this thing remains pretty unpopular.

We're getting a bit tired of writing about this, but it just keeps dragging on. Now it's not just shareholders but also unions that are bashing Nokia for hooking up with Microsoft. Talk about trying to kill this horse before it ever leaves the gate. This all seems a little ridiculous.

However, former Microsoft honcho and new Nokia CEO Stephen Elop's presentation of his old friends' technology to the Nokia board did feel a bit like a fait accompli, and that's not cool. Check out what one Nokia exec told Bloomberg:

"We had presented three scenarios: continue with the current plan of record, a Google option and a Microsoft option but the recommendation that we made to them was the Microsoft option so that's what they approved."

We're sure that all three options got a fair presentation, though...and the Kansas City Royals have a real shot at winning the World Series this year.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 16, 2011 at 11:57 AM2 comments


Apple Now Much Bigger than Microsoft -- and Google's Gaining

The world turned upside-down some months ago when Apple became bigger than Microsoft, thereby rendering obsolete -- or, at least, purely historical -- Bill Gates' declaration to Steve Jobs in the epic film Pirates of Silicon Valley that, "I got the loot!" It's about 7:40 here if you want to see it again.

Billions of dollars in sales of iPhones, iPads and just plain ol' Macs later, Apple isn't just bigger than Microsoft -- it's way bigger. In fact, it's $100 billion in market cap larger than any other company in the technology industry. (Yes, that's billion with a "b.") That's some pwnage, as we understand the kids call it these days, right there.

But look out, Microsoft. Your grip on the No. 2 spot is slipping. Rushing up behind you is Google, which is within striking distance of taking the runner-up spot. Apple and Google are growing explosively, and Microsoft is, well, not. So, what does all of this mean for the former king of the software hill?

We at RCPU actually interpret it as mostly good news. Microsoft's slow growth is bad news for partners, but its loss of the top spot in the technology industry (by a huge margin) shouldn't really matter that much. In fact, as we've said here before, it should encourage Microsoft to stop chasing Apple in the consumer market and focus instead on holding its enterprise ground -- which is where partners derive most of their revenues, anyway.

In the Pirates of Silicon Valley clip, somebody who works for Apple tries to convince Jobs that it's Microsoft, not IBM, that is the company's mortal enemy. Microsoft could take a similar lesson here: It's Google, not Apple, that Redmond should watch out for. Sure, the iPad is cutting into PC sales. But Google's cloud-based business offerings cut to the very core of Microsoft's most profitable and stable enterprise offerings.

And we're not talking about search here, either. Bing is actually making inroads against Google, but Microsoft has to focus on protecting its enterprise market. Azure and the cloud strategy will be key to that, and so will making sure physical servers stay relevant in an era of expanding cloud infrastructure. All of that means competing against Google, not Apple.

Bill Gates, to his immense credit, is busy giving his loot away these days. Back in the rat race, it's Steve Jobs, not Steve Ballmer, who has it now. Microsoft should just let that go, as difficult as that will be at a company that is used to ruling the roost. Better to hang on to second place than to slip behind another competitor that could do some serious damage.

What's your take on Microsoft's standing in the software industry? Send it to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 16, 2011 at 11:57 AM4 comments


How JC Penney Gamed Google

From the in-case-you-missed-it file, here's that New York Times article about how JC Penney magically turned up for a while as the top Google search term for everything even remotely related to retail. An interesting read, to say the least.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 16, 2011 at 11:57 AM2 comments


HP Moving Away from Windows

One battle Windows Phone 7 has definitely lost is the fight to keep huge Microsoft partner HP interested. It looks as though HP is pretty much ditching Windows on mobile phones and tablets and even de-emphasizing it on PCs. HP is running with its WebOS platform, no more a guaranteed winner than Windows Phone 7 but a somewhat more tested platform since HP did, after all buy it from Palm. First Intel, now HP. Microsoft's traditional partnerships seem to be atrophying all the time. But, hey, there's always Nokia.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 14, 2011 at 11:57 AM5 comments


IBM Computer To Take on Champions on Jeopardy!

If you have nothing better to do (or nothing worse, depending on your perspective) on Valentine's Day, check out Watson, IBM's computer, taking on the legendary Ken Jennings and some other guy tonight on Jeopardy! By the way, it's not that we're so excited about this news—it's just that, as far as we know, the name Jeopardy! has an exclamation point in it. Of course, we've never respected that with Yahoo, but we kind of don't want to cross Alex Trebek. Powerful Canadians intimidate us. We will post this stupendous picture of Mr. Trebek, though, and we'll leave it to you to search and find your favorite Saturday Night Live Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch. We love them all equally.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 14, 2011 at 11:57 AM1 comments


Microsoft-Nokia Love Fest Gets Mixed Reviews

Who's the hottest celebrity couple this Valentine's Day? We have no idea, actually, given that most of our knowledge of popular culture comes to a screeching halt around the year 1992 or so. But one couple that's getting a lot of celebrity-style press is Microsoft and Nokia.

Steve Ballmer and Stephen Elop -- the former Microsoft executive who recently left to run Nokia -- consummated their deal with one of the dorkiest handshakes ever late last week, and Elop is talking about Windows Phone 7 being worth billions of dollars to his company.

We here at RCPU are modestly bullish on the hook-up ourselves, and validating our take a bit (not that we need validation...ahem) is at least one pundit who thinks that the deal will work out well -- for Microsoft, anyway.

So, everything's fine, right? Microsoft and Nokia, with their various synergies and what not, are preparing to carve out a respectable niche in the smartphone market. Well, maybe...or maybe not. There's one constituency that's not chuffed about this deal, and it's a pretty important (and often self-predicting one): Wall Street.

Investors have been, at the time of this writing, pounding Nokia stock and basically sending the message that the Microsoft-Nokia love story will end in tears. We wonder to what extent is this a self-fulfilling prophecy; Windows Phone 7 is still fairly new, and Elop just took over at Nokia. Could everybody have a few months, maybe, before Wall Street types brand this love-in a complete disaster? After all, folks in lower Manhattan have been wrong about stuff before…

We'll visit this topic later in the week with some reader comments. If you want to chime in, send your thoughts to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 14, 2011 at 11:57 AM5 comments


Microsoft To Trot out IE9 Release Candidate

It could be available by the time you read this -- but, as your editor is writing this on Wednesday afternoon (yes, the magic happens a day early around here), we can't be sure. Anyway, IE9 is getting closer to being reality...for those who aren't still on XP, of course (as we are here). And check out what Redmond magazine readers had to say about IE9 before you download the RC.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 10, 2011 at 11:57 AM0 comments


Redmond Allegedly Tries To Hook Google with Antitrust

Oh, Microsoft, does it really have to be this way? Just because your enemies once tried (and failed) to bring you down via the courts, do you really have to turn around and start crying antitrust yourself? OK, so maybe Microsoft is innocent here -- the complaining all seems to be coming from Google -- but we hate to see companies try to compete in court rather than in the marketplace. Hopefully Microsoft isn't involved in anything like that.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 10, 2011 at 11:57 AM2 comments


Microsoft Server and Tools: Nadella Takes Command

First off, let's make one thing perfectly clear: All the talk about an executive shakeup at Microsoft is media-driven; it's not actually coming from Microsoft.

Sure, changes are happening, but our take yesterday that suggested that Steve Ballmer is failing as a spin doctor was off -- Microsoft, in fact, isn't really saying anything at all about its executive shuffle. (Literally, spokespeople won't make an official statement on it. Yes, we called and checked.) There's no spin coming from the Greater Seattle area, then. So, shame on us for becoming part of the media frenzy. We usually like to avoid things like that.

Nevertheless, we stand by our take that Microsoft has never really replaced Bill Gates and won't be able to. Again, that doesn't mean that the company is down for the count -- that's not the case at all. But what we've seen these last couple of weeks with a major change in the company's executive ranks illustrates what we're talking about.

Microsoft this week divulged the promotion of Satya Nadella to president of its Server and Tools Business. This was a great choice. Your editor remembers Nadella from a few Convergence shows a few years back; the Microsoft executive used to head the company's Dynamics enterprise-software business.

Nadella is an extremely capable executive who has done what few people at Microsoft have had to do in recent decades: He has fought from behind in markets dominated by other companies. He helped turn Dynamics into a legitimate alternative to long-entrenched offerings from Oracle, SAP and Sage. And he has managed to put Bing on the map -- while it hasn't caught Google, the Microsoft search engine is a bigger success than many pundits (we're looking at ourselves here...) thought it would be.

The only slightly odd thing here is that Nadella is a 19-year Microsoft veteran, meaning he's not exactly going to be a revolutionary in Redmond. That's probably not a bad thing, as outsiders (see Ozzie, Ray) don't always fit in well at Microsoft. But what does Nadella have that Bob Muglia, his ousted predecessor, didn't have? We're not sure. Steve Ballmer must know (hopefully), but we don't.

(What we do know is that Nadella has a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin, and that permits us once again to post something related to TCU's victory in the 2011 Rose Bowl. It's just the gift that keeps on giving -- and it's only February, folks. Football season doesn't start again until September...)

Then there's the consequence of Ballmer's decision to promote Nadella, namely the departure of Amitabh Srivastava, a senior vice president in Server and Tools. Now, obviously, Ballmer made a calculated move in choosing Nadella, and we'd like to think that he knew that Nadella's promotion would lead to Srivastava's departure. Such is the nature of the corporate game.

But while we're huge Nadella fans here at RCPU, we're still not sure how much of this move was cold calculation on the part of Ballmer and how much of it was floundering. In this case, Ballmer dismissed Muglia, so he seems to be in control of this situation. But what about some of the other recent executive departures, notably that of Ray Ozzie? How much control did Ballmer have over those, and how many of his subsequent executive moves have been a sort of assertion of power and compensation for the exits of Ozzie and other execs Ballmer might like to have kept around?

Ballmer might be getting everything right. Or he might, as we suggested yesterday, be trying to create an executive elixir -- with what ingredients are left in Redmond -- in a futile attempt to rekindle the magic of the Bill Gates good ol' days. If the former is the case, great. If it's the latter, however, there's going to be a lot of frustration ahead for Microsoft and its partners. Is this Steve Ballmer, leader, moving his company in a positive direction? Or is it Steve Ballmer, abandoned CEO, trying to make a difficult situation look better than it really is? We'll find out eventually.

What are your thoughts on Steve Ballmer's executive moves? Send them to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 10, 2011 at 11:57 AM2 comments


Oracle Releases File System for Cloud

This is all about private clouds again, which still seems almost like an oxymoron to us...but whatever. This time, it's Oracle that's trotting out new software for private clouds.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 09, 2011 at 11:57 AM0 comments


DEC Founder Ken Olsen Dies at 84

There was a time when Route 128 right here in Greater Boston was the hub, so to speak, of the technology industry. Before any number of areas with the name "Silicon" in them popped up in a significant way and pushed Massachusetts aside, Boston was the place where technology originated and lived.

Many of technology's greatest innovations and most significant ideas came to life here, and behind many of them was Ken Olsen, cofounder of Digital Equipment Corp. (Yes, we know --"digital" spelled it with a small "d.") Olsen died this week at age 84 and left behind a legacy as one of the great entrepreneurs in American history. (Incidentally, he was a tremendous supporter of Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., which is the fine alma mater of your editor's lovely wife.)

Olsen envisioned the incredible shrinking computer when most machines still filled entire rooms and required experts to run them. Digital's minicomputer revolution put computing in the hands of regular workers, not just technical experts, and cleared a backlog for what we would call IT departments these days.

Olsen, of course, was known for saying that there was no reason for an individual to have a computer in his home -- a quote taken badly out of context, given that Olsen was talking about a "computer" in the room-filling machine sense and not in the PC sense. If Digital missed the PC revolution, it wasn't because Olsen didn't see it coming. Quite the contrary -- he played an enormous role in creating it. We can thank Olsen for much of the "personal" computing we do today.

Almost as a metaphor for the industry as a whole, Digital slowly declined in the '90s as it did struggle to crack the PC market, and its remnants moved west -- first, when Compaq bought the company and then when HP bought Compaq a few years later. Like the days of computing dominance on Route 128, Digital's influence is only historic now, but in an industry that always looks forward it's worth looking back on one of the great stories of success and innovation in American business and one of the executives who did the most to change people's lives in a positive way. Ken Olsen will be missed.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 09, 2011 at 11:57 AM2 comments