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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


Executive Shakeup at Microsoft: Didn't That Already Happen?

If this is Steve Ballmer's version of spin, then Microsoft needs to put a merry-go-round on its Redmond campus. Because Steve's spinning so slowly and poorly that he's actually standing still, not unlike Microsoft's stock price.

Strong rumors this week have it that there's an executive shakeup on the way at Microsoft. Oh, really? There's one on the way? So the fairly recent departures -- for various reasons -- of, say, Ray Ozzie, Jeff Raikes, Stephen Elop, Robbie Bach and Bob Muglia didn't count as a shakeup? Ballmer released Bach and Muglia, and just kind of let Ozzie depart, but the shakeup is apparently still to come. Oh, do tell.

What Bloomberg is reporting in the story linked above is that Ballmer wants to put engineering types in charge of various Microsoft divisions and get the more business-minded folks out of the executive suites. That doesn't really explain why Ozzie and Muglia (among others) are gone, given that they fell much more on the engineering than on the business side of the spectrum.

The most revealing paragraph in the Bloomberg story, though, is this one:

"'You see the engineering team ascending because Steve is realizing that there is a need to execute on a vision and in order to do that you have to actually understand how software is built,' said Wes Miller, an analyst at the Kirkland, Washington-based research firm Directions on Microsoft. 'It's a whole other thing to be able to say, "I've been at Microsoft, I understand software, and what you are saying will or will not work."'"

Hmm, understand how software is built...decide what will or won't work...execute on a vision... You know who did that? You know who was maybe the best ever at doing all that, who made billions doing it? You know. It was Bill Gates. Yeah, there were anomalies, but for the most part Gates' sniff test of product suggestions was the best in the industry, and his scathing reviews of employees' ideas were as legendary as they were critical to Microsoft's success.

The truth is that Microsoft has never replaced Bill Gates successfully. Oh, sure, the company still makes billions of dollars. It's doing fine. Most of its partners are doing fine. But in terms of vision, even innovation -- and certainly in terms of market and business savvy -- nobody has stepped into Gates' shoes.

Ray Ozzie couldn't do it; he wasn't that type of executive. Ballmer has never done it. He has plenty of enthusiasm (and money) but lacks Gates' cunning in dominating markets and taking down competitors. Now Ballmer, who has made Microsoft very much his company in recent years, is trying to recapture the Gates magic with an only somewhat voluntary reshuffling of names on the company org chart.

It's not going to happen. Ballmer might succeed, and his rumored shakeup might be positive for Microsoft in the long run. But Microsoft is a different company operating in a different world now compared to what it was in the 1980s and '90s, and nobody there has thus far really shown the leadership to become the next Bill Gates. That's because there won't be a next Bill Gates. There was only one.

The really odd thing about Ballmer's alleged shakeup talk (remember, this is all still hearsay at this point) is that as part of his consolidation of power, he has made Microsoft a somewhat leaner, much more cost-focused company. Everybody in Redmond now works under the steely gaze of powerful COO Kevin Turner, who not only isn't an engineer but actually came to Microsoft from Walmart. He's not even a technology guy.

Together, Ballmer and Turner have slashed experimental projects (as well as jobs) and have cracked down on spending on anything that doesn't look like an absolutely guaranteed winner. If anything, there is less innovation at Microsoft now than there was 10 years ago -- or, at least, the atmosphere there is less amenable to new ideas and off-the-wall thinking.

All of the talk, then, about Ballmer wanting a more engineering-focused company with less influence from business types seems a bit odd, to say the least, given the power afforded the business-oriented Turner. And it also seems odd for Microsoft to be talking about an executive shakeup (although, to be fair, Microsoft has said nothing on the issue so far -- only "sources" have talked) given that most of the recently departed executives did the shaking themselves.

So goes life on the post-Gates Microsoft leadership merry-go-round. Round and around it goes, but where it stops—well, you get the idea.

What's your take on the leadership situation at Microsoft? Send it to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on February 09, 2011 at 11:57 AM7 comments