With RIM Deal, Microsoft Creates the Bad News Bears of the Mobile Market

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 [email protected]. 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, 20113 comments

Tech Winners and Losers from Media Coverage of bin Laden's Death

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 protected] or start a discussion in the comments section.


Twitter. 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.

Apple. 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.

Google. 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.

Verizon. 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.


Facebook. 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.

Microsoft. 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.

YouTube. 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, 20110 comments

Why We Don't Want Privacy

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 [email protected] or at the comments section below.

Posted by Lee Pender on April 28, 20116 comments

Microsoft To Show Employees the Money (Not the Stock)

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 protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on April 21, 20111 comments

Microsoft Isn't Worth Waiting for Anymore

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, 20116 comments

Microsoft Suddenly Wants To Host Dynamics ERP

Microsoft's Convergence conference is taking place this week in Atlanta, but don't feel bad if you've forgotten all about it. Convergence has been a pretty forgettable event over the last couple of years, with news being relatively light and keynotes a tad on the drab side.

Not this year, though. While your editor is not actually in Atlanta, the peachy state of Georgia is nevertheless on his mind, at least in a virtual sense. And we at RPCU were surprised to hear that Microsoft decided to make a little news down south this year at its annual ERP get-together.

We were really surprised, though, by what the news turned out to be: Microsoft is going to host Dynamics ERP. That shouldn't seem strange, should it, what with Microsoft "all in" for the cloud and all that? It's just another cloud announcement, right? Actually, no -- this is strange.

Here's why: As recently as two years ago, Microsoft officials were telling your editor that Microsoft might just think about hosting Dynamics, oh, maybe half-a-decade down the road, maybe longer. (The exact quote was "five to 10 years," which is tech-industry diplomacy for, "We're really just not planning on doing this, so stop asking.") There was certainly no rush, and there really wasn't even very much interest in getting Dynamics into Microsoft's datacenters and out to customers via the cloud. Partners were hosting the ERP suites without all that much interest from customers, and Microsoft's attitude toward doing its own hosting floated somewhere between being cavalier and being utterly indifferent, borderline contemptuous. That was the party line, anyway. And that was that.

Until it wasn't. In the last two years, something changed -- quickly. Microsoft this week unveiled its vague plans to do its own hosting of the Dynamics suites after all. Steve Ballmer -- who, as far as we can tell, hasn't spoken at Convergence since finishing the show in front of a mostly empty convention hall in San Diego in 2008 -- actually showed up to give part of the keynote in Atlanta. Convergence made news. Convergence was a big deal. Microsoft was giving Dynamics some primetime treatment.

All of that kind of came out of the blue. Unless Microsoft was sandbagging big time -- and over a period of years, given that the whole no-hosting thing was also the company's stance at Convergence back in 2008 -- somebody in Redmond had a change of heart about hosting Dynamics sometime in the last 24 months or so. We're guessing that the conversion happened even more recently than that, probably in the last year. Given the lack of specificity in the announcement itself, this whole idea could be no more than six or eight months old.

So, why? Why now? Why the change of heart? Who knows. Maybe cloud ERP players NetSuite and Plex started bumping Dynamics out of smaller businesses. (Actually, Plex has been doing that for years.) Maybe Oracle, which has also mostly shrugged at a hosted ERP model, or SAP, which totally bombed trying to create one a few years back, has plans of its own brewing. Maybe Dynamics CRM Online -- just released in January -- is taking off like a rocket. Or maybe this is a move tinged with a bit of desperation, possibly even panic. Is Dynamics not raking in the revenue Microsoft expected it to? Are the suites the company bought to create the product line not looking like good investments anymore? We don't know because Microsoft doesn't really break out Dynamics revenue, so we have to engage in a bit of conjecture.

One thing is for certain, though: "Five to 10 years" sure did pass quickly. Microsoft's 180-degree turn on hosted ERP has been swift and stunning, like a teenager hitting puberty. All of a sudden, things that weren't interesting at all not long ago are now really interesting and must be addressed with urgency -- if not with a lot of knowledge of details or specifics of how this sort of thing is supposed to work.

For Microsoft, hosted ERP will probably be a good thing, an attractive option for companies that aren't quite ready to sign on to the full Dynamics experience yet. For hosting partners, Microsoft's move is likely bad news. But for the bulk of Dynamics partners, depending on how Microsoft compensates the channel for bringing in cloud customers and how much customization work there is left to be done in the cloud model, hosted Dynamics could pose an excellent revenue opportunity. If nothing else, it'll raise a few eyebrows, and it managed to get Ballmer back to Convergence and make the show interesting again. So, that's something.

What's your take on Microsoft hosing Dynamics? What do you think caused such a quick turnaround? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on April 12, 20110 comments

Why Is Paul Allen So Bitter?

There exists a story, supposedly true, about George Best, the late and legendary Northern Irish soccer player whose wild nights and hard living might have made even Charlie Sheen blush. It's a story about how the Irish have a certain contempt for, or maybe shame about, success -- especially among their own. (Don't ask us whether or not that contempt really exists; we're just retelling the story here.)

Anyway, it seems as though ol' George was in a hotel room in Dublin when he called room service. An Irish busboy rushed up to the room, only to find Best, um, relaxing with what we'd now call a supermodel, rolling around in a pile of money and swilling champagne. The busboy, rather than expressing delight over his countryman's obvious glee, simply dropped his head and said, "Oh, Georgie, where did it all go wrong?"

The story isn't exactly the same -- in fact, it's pretty different -- but the busboy's line was the first thing that came to mind when we read this week of Paul Allen's memoir, which apparently takes some nasty swipes at Bill Gates and even Steve Ballmer.

Allen left Microsoft in 1983 and then proceeded to collect massive bank, amassing enough money to allow him to buy the Seattle Seahawks, start a bunch of companies that mostly flopped and generally be a gentleman about town in the Pacific Northwest. Allen rolled in Microsoft money while Gates, Ballmer and those who didn't bail out early had to survive the (literal) trials of the turbulent 1990s and 2000s. Gates has largely redeemed himself with his awesome charity work, but there was a time when his name and Ballmer's were synonymous with evil among many in the business community and in the culture at large. (Here at RCPU, we've always been fans...but we digress.)

Paul Allen did what most of us wish we could do: get in on the ground floor of something and then parachute out before the really rough stuff kicks in. So, why is Allen so bitter? He's tried a couple of times now to sue pretty much the entire technology industry for patent violations, and now he's naming and shaming (or trying to, anyway) his former sugar daddies in some new book. Seriously, what's the deal, Mr. Allen? You've had 30 years to basically goof off, to start ventures -- none of which, from what we can remember, has been particularly successful -- with no real fear of risk or failure, and to live the life of a guy who cashed in on the American dream while frankly doing a fraction of the work that his former friends did to make Microsoft what it is today.

This sniping and backbiting is very unbecoming. Bill Gates is saving the world, Steve Ballmer is trying to save Microsoft, and you're wading in three decades later to tell us what bad dudes they really are? Paul, you're incredibly wealthy. You won at the game of life, at least from a financial perspective. How about a little more decorum? Seriously, Paulie, where did it all go wrong? We'd love to have problems like yours.

Posted by Lee Pender on April 01, 20114 comments

Microsoft's Craig Mundie Might Be Right about Tablets

The fangs of the punditsphere are out today, this time thirsting for the blood of Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft. Mundie said in Australia this week that the tablet market might not be around forever.

Most outlets have reported that he said that tablets are, or might be, a fad. Whether he used that word or not, we're not sure -- we haven't read the whole text of his speech (hey, it's a busy week). But here's what he definitely did say:

"I think that the phone -- the smartphone -- as it emerges more, will become your most personal computer. There's also going to be an obvious place that sort of today is where the laptop lives, that I call the 'portable desk.' And I think there's an important distinction -- and frankly one we didn't jump on at Microsoft fast enough -- between mobile and portable, where 'mobile' is something that you want to use while you're moving, and 'portable' is something you move and then use.

"And so there's -- these are going to bump into one another a little bit. And so today you can see tablets and pads and other things that are starting to live in the space in between. Personally, I don't know whether I believe that that space will be a persistent one or not."

That last sentence is the money phrase; that's where the "fad" talk is coming from. But read Mundie's comments closely. He's not necessarily saying that tablets will go away, only that they might (and probably will) evolve into something different from what they are today. We at RCPU see what he means by this.

We've often wondered for how long the tablet and the smartphone will coexist. How many people carry both an iPhone and an iPad now? How many will in a couple of years? Functionally, technically and even in terms of size, the two form factors are coming together all the time. Tablets are better at multimedia and productivity; they're also bigger and more conducive to typing with an add-on keyboard. Smartphones, though, are generally better at...well, at making phone calls, and they're more portable than tablets and more suited for travel.

We don't mean to put words in Mundie's mouth here, but he seems to be saying that some sort of tablet-smartphone love child is going to emerge at some point. Along with it will exist the PC in some sort of less portable, more powerful laptop form. So, today's tablet might not look like tomorrow's tablet, and today's smartphone might not look like tomorrow's smartphone. They might actually be the same device at some point, with elements of both form factors included. Therefore, the current "tablet" market, per se, might not exist for much longer. That's a totally reasonable perspective.

Consider the netbook, which your editor is using to type this right now. How much of a netbook "market" is there now compared to, say, in 2009? The buzz over netbooks has certainly faded, due in part to the rise of tablets, but look at the laptop market overall. Standard laptops are smaller and cheaper than they used to be. Why? In part, it's because netbooks changed the laptop market by forcing manufacturers to make regular old laptops more portable and less expensive.

Mundie's talking about evolution here, if we're reading his comments correctly, not about fads. Now, does that mean that Microsoft is well-positioned to take advantage of the evolution of the tablet-smartphone device? Oh, absolutely not. As far as we can tell, despite literally years of talk about tablets, Microsoft is as unprepared to release a serious competitor to the iPad as it has ever been. But that's another RCPU entry altogether -- one that justifies getting the fangs out.

What do you think the future will hold for the tablet? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on March 31, 20110 comments

Somebody Else Hates Twitter, Too

Go figure. Nearly five years into writing RCPU, and probably my most popular entry ever is a raging rant about Twitter. Well, if all I have to do here is moan about things I don't like and then rake in the hits, you haven't seen anything yet.

First, though, let's get to a couple of e-mails from fellow Twitter-haters, who, along with many of the good folks who have commented on the blog entry, have made your editor feel a lot less alone in the world on this topic.

Writes Jeremy:

"Amen to your Twitter rant on RCP! I can't often express how much I dislike Twitter.

"Being a senior architect at my company (and I'm not old), I'm sure the younger engineers think Twitter is great to exchange high school giggles when I'm not around because of my refusal to use Twitter. I'm sorry you have to use it. It's a sad commentary on where our society is heading that people think that someone cares about most of the thoughts that come out of their heads, and that these thoughts make it onto their Twitter pages. Most people's check-out stations (you know, the booth in your head that checks your thoughts at the door to your mouth) are broken these days as it is. Apparently, there is no such biological function between our minds and our Twitter accounts.

"I'm sure someone (Library of Congress) is archiving all that drivel so when the cockroaches take over the planet they will laugh at us and decide that Twitter and other careless uses of our technological capabilities were our downfall.

"</rant> Thanks, I feel better now. That's a lot of pent up frustration I've had to keep to myself for a while due to everyone else's seemingly high opinion of Twitter!"

I feel better, too, Jeremy. You've come to the right place for Twitter bashing. You seem to get what I was saying: It's the whole concept of Twitter that I don't like. People keep telling me that I can filter this or block that, but that's not the point. The whole idea just irritates me.

Adds Tony from the United Kingdom:

"Your rant about Twitter was absolutely perfect and I think you're quite right.

"As a 63-year-old electronics engineer, now Wi-Fi specialist, I completely abhor what is going on. I was explaining to a sociologist the other day that the Internet was designed and built by engineers as a technical challenge, as were the PC and the Mac. We gave the world the 'library' with shelves and left them to 'fill it with books' whilst we found new toys to play with.

"Twitter reminded me of all the fun we had when we first got Telex and tried to abbreviate everything. Did we pay per character? I can't remember, but I do remember having to get permission from the divisional manager before we could make one. Having built a better system than Telex, why do we have to go back to it?


"English is the language that built the Internet and controls the world now; it is the most beautiful language when used and written well. Let's not lose it or get on to the subject of punctuation. Perhaps I am now too old."

Nah, Tony, it's not an age thing. You're just a clear-thinking person. And I love your library metaphor. What are we filling the Internet library with? Lots of stuff, I suppose, but the most popular "books" checked out seem to be the least edifying. Alas, we seem to be fighting a losing battle here, but at least we're on the side of good and righteousness. Thanks to you and Jeremy for your e-mails.

If you want to keep the Twitter rants or praises going or just comment about whatever comes to mind, e-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on March 24, 20112 comments

5 Reasons Why I Hate Twitter

I'm going first-person in this entry because this is a personal rant that I don't want ascribed to any of my RCPU colleagues. So, there will be none of the obnoxious royal "we" I so love to use in this space. Just so you know.

Twitter, the infernal social networking site, apparently turns 5 years old this week, an age that seems to match the emotional maturity of many of its frequent users. Now, recently, Twitter and Facebook, its far more tolerable cousin, have gotten a lot of credit for enabling protesters in places like Libya to, well, protest. If folks are using Twitter to advance the will of the people in a climate of repression, then good for them and good for Twitter. More power to them. I still wish they would find some other way to do it, though.

Personally, I hate Twitter. Anybody who has ever read anything about Twitter in this newsletter knows that. Of course, I have three Twitter accounts, one for this newsletter (@leepender) and two for personal blogs I write on soccer (which I will not promote here). Those are all unwanted necessities -- no matter how much I dislike Twitter, other folks seem to like it, so I kind of have to use it in order to get people to read my stuff. Or so everybody tells me.

But let's get back to me hating Twitter. In "honor" of Twitter's 5th birthday, I offer five reasons why I hate Twitter:

  1. The whole concept of limiting Tweets to 140 characters is obnoxious. I usually don't care about what my "friends" on Facebook are doing, but I really don't care what somebody is doing if that activity can be expressed in 140 characters or fewer. While people can actually get into some relatively substantive discussions on Facebook or on blogs or message boards, Twitter is designed only to accommodate off-the-cuff comments, which usually are either poorly considered or so heavily abbreviated that they're impossible to comprehend (or both). We've already lost thoughtful debate in the Western world to the insidious and intentionally controversial sound bite; we don't need a popular Web site that not only encourages sound-bite "discussions" but actually excludes all other form of communication.

    Now, I don't follow that many people on Twitter, and some who Tweet often (analyst Ray Wang comes to mind) are actually worth following, even if I still hate the format. But most of what's on Twitter, even in my limited feed, is drivel -- and, yes, that generally includes the stuff I post, too. Oh, and if you haven't noticed, I'm long-winded, so that's another thing that drives me nuts about the character limit.

  2. There are too many weird symbols and abbreviations in Tweets. I'm not even talking about abbreviated words here, but I'll get to that in a minute. Something like "RT @leepender hates #Twitter #rant #moron" just looks like a jumble to me, but that's the way most Tweets look. Hash tags are bad enough, but now there are incomprehensible abbreviated hash tags (like #FF, which apparently means "follow Friday" -- oh, of course). The long-forgotten "at" sign made a stunning comeback about 20 years or so ago thanks to e-mail, but now it preens around all over Twitter as if it has been one of our favorite punctuation marks for generations.

    And hash, don't even get me started on you. You were just a button on a telephone before Twitter came along. Even the Associated Press requires reporters to use "No." instead of the hash sign. (As in, "TCU was ranked No. 2 in the country in football but should have been No. 1." Yup, still talking about it.) Oh, and some of the "trending" hash tags are real gems. As I'm writing this, "#100factsaboutme" and "#icantdateagirl" are "trends" on Twitter. Oh, do tell me more!

  3. Twitter and texting are killing the English language. English is a beautiful and complex language -- maybe someday even I'll learn to use it beautifully -- but our quick-hit communication culture is turning the language of Shakespeare (as the French call it) into a bunch of random symbols. I'm not concerned about kids not being able to spell or whatever; we have spell check on just about every device now. But when there's more value in knowing how to shorten words to the greatest extent possible than in knowing how to skillfully string them together, that's a bad sign for a language. And, yes, I did watch Idiocracy recently.

  4. This is more of a complaint about social media in general, but it certainly applies to Twitter: I don't want to have to get messages from 800 different places. There used to be this wonderful thing called e-mail where people could communicate in writing, and it was possible to receive and send messages in one place and through one interface. I used to hear people complain about colleagues who only used e-mail and wouldn't pick up the phone. If only we could limit ourselves to e-mail and the phone now.

    These days, people can contact me on Facebook (both on my "wall" and via Facebook's messaging client) or on Twitter (through both Tweets and private messages), among many other options. I hate that. Just e-mail me. Seriously. I hate breathless e-mails or even voice mails about whether I got someone's message on Twitter or, even worse, saw someone's Tweet. Seeing someone's Tweet sounds like something that would have been really exciting in junior high, but it's not such a thrill now. Yeah, I know, there are aggregators for all this, and I can have Twitter e-mail me when somebody sends me a Tweet or a private message. But it's just another source of communication to have to worry about. All of a sudden, preferring e-mail over anything else makes me the Luddite. It used to make me cool.

  5. Maybe this isn't such a big problem anymore, but for a while there was some question as to who was actually who on Twitter. Some enterprising or possibly trouble-making person would go register on Twitter under a celebrity's name and start posting as that celebrity. Then, the real celebrity would come along and start posting under the name "TheREAL(celebrity)." Of course, I don't follow any of those people, so it doesn't really matter that much to me. But the notion that the person I believe to be Tweeting might actually be somebody else altogether really bothers me.

Well , I've managed to go on for more than 1,000 words about this now, so for those who have actually made it this far (or just skipped past the list), I want to hear from you. What do you like about Twitter? What do you hate about it? What do you like or hate about RCPU? E-mail me at [email protected] or comment on this blog entry on the Web site...but please, if you re-Tweet this, don't ask me later on whether or not I saw it on Twitter.

Posted by Lee Pender on March 21, 201143 comments

Nokia to Microsoft: Oh, Did You Think That WP7 Deal Was for Tablets, Too?

Oh, wow, this is awkward. Yeah, Microsoft, about that deal to run Windows Phone 7 on Nokia phones? You know -- the one between two companies going absolutely nowhere in the mobile space? Well, we kind of hope that you didn't think that deal was for Nokia tablets, too. Because it's probably not, if the sources who talk to Reuters are correct in their assessment. So, yeah...apparently, pretty much nobody wants to have anything to do with you when it comes to tablets, Microsoft.

Oh, but you want to have something to do with them, don't you? Evidently, given that you've filed a patent lawsuit against Barnes & Noble and a couple of makers of Android-based tablets. It's a case of if you can't beat 'em (or even begin to compete with 'em), sue 'em, huh? You used to be on the other end of those lawsuits, Microsoft. Give that some thought. 

Posted by Lee Pender on March 20, 20115 comments

Going Green: Four Irish Tech Gurus for St. Patrick's Day

Everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day, but only the lucky few are Irish all year round.

And now is a good time to be Irish in the technology industry. Despite a struggling economy, the Emerald Isle's technology sector is booming, particularly for a country its size. And just this week, a small Irish company got a big injection of green when Google bought video-technology firm Green Parrot.

In honor of the greenest day of the year, we thought we'd look at four Irish luminaries (think of them as leaves on a lucky four-leaf clover) who've made names for themselves in the tech world.

Now, "Irish" is a word with quite a lot of weight behind it. Setting aside the obvious squabbles on the island itself, "Irish" can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To college football fans, it's the nickname of a Notre Dame team that didn't win the 2011 Rose Bowl. (Which your author's alma mater, TCU, did. Just saying...again.)

Here in Boston, plenty of folks are "Irish" without being Irish-born. Given that millions of Americans (including your author) have some sort of Irish heritage, we decided to stick to writing about folks who were actually born in Ireland. There's no doubt that Irish-Americans have contributed immensely to the technology world, but we're limiting the scope here so as to avoid taking up too much Internet space and developing carpal-tunnel syndrome.

So, on St. Paddy's Day, raise a glass to these fair-haired lads.

Denis O'Brien
Hailing from County Cork and with an MBA from Boston College on his CV, O'Brien made millions -- check that, billions -- as founder and part owner of the telecom company Esat Digiphone in the 1990s.

O'Brien has really made his name, though, not just as a mobile mogul but also as a billionaire with a heart. After amassing a fortune in Europe, O'Brien moved into other telecom markets that weren't even markets when he arrived (and arguably still aren't). His company, Digicel, now has millions of customers in places like Haiti, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

But O'Brien isn't the type of executive to strip the mostly poor natives of those nations of their last pennies via big phone bills. Quite the contrary; O'Brien and his company provide an affordable and critical service to people who wouldn't have it at all otherwise.

And the Irishman is serious about his mission in the nations he serves. He's made 20 trips to Haiti since the country suffered a massive earthquake last year and is building 50 schools there, according to Forbes.com. O'Brien told Forbes earlier this month that he's trying to break into the market in Libya -- unsuccessfully thus far, having failed to acquire a license to do business in the troubled nation -- in order to further Internet penetration there, which could provide fuel for opponents of the country's ruling regime.

Sean Gallagher
Nearly blind as a child, Gallagher has achieved an impressive vision that will help build Ireland's economy for years to come.

The young man who started as a farmer in rural Cavan has become a media sensation as well as a consumer-technology mogul. The company he co-founded, Smarthomes, revolutionized homebuilding in Ireland by baking the basic internal infrastructure of consumer technology into houses as they were being built. The company is now working on technology that lets homeowners control their heating systems by mobile phone.

A networking guru, Gallagher has connected countless Irish entrepreneurs to important business contacts via BNI Tara, which is part of the Business Networking International organization. And in Ireland, Gallagher is best known as host of "Dragons Den," a reality TV program that features entrepreneurs and their ideas for start-up businesses.

John Ryan
Ryan might not be such a hero for some observers, but he's an Irish tech success story nonetheless. Founder of Macrovision Solutions Corp. (now known as Rovi Corp.), Ryan is largely responsible for technology that prevents consumers from copying music and DVDs illegally.

It's a long way from Tipperary to California. But Ryan made the journey, and he eventually pioneered Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology in 1983. Macrovision's technology made its way into VCRs and DVD players and, of course, onto the Internet.

The owner of more than 70 patents, Ryan has likely saved the entertainment industry billions of dollars by protecting intellectual property. Having moved on from Macrovision, Ryan is currently director of Command Audio Corporation, a patent-licensing company in the media industry.

Johnny Gilmore
A native of Warrenpoint in County Down, Gilmore is one of the forces behind one of the coolest inventions of recent years: the Slingbox. The TV-anywhere device delivers live TV to all sorts of formats, including mobile phones and tablet computers.

Gilmore was COO of Sling Media, the company that made Slingbox, for four years and helped engineer its sale to EchoStar Corp. in 2007. Gilmore also has management experience at tech firms Handspring, Palm and Iomega. He began his career at Accenture in England.

Gilmore is a major player in the Irish Technology Leadership Group, which links individuals and companies in the American and Irish tech industries.  

We've surely missed some great Irish tech moguls, so please send us more names and stories at [email protected]. And happy St. Patrick's Day!

Lee Pender is editor of the Redmond Channel Partner Update newsletter. He can trace nearly 900 years of Irish ancestry on his mother's side of the family. His roots go back to the FitzGeralds of County Kilkenny, who were proprietors of the still-standing Burnchurch Castle.  

Posted by Lee Pender on March 17, 20110 comments