JCL Blog

Microsoft's Number 3

I remember Microsoft's 25th anniversary vividly because we were struggling to maintain the culture we wanted and Microsoft, even after a quarter of a century and over 50,000 employees, seemed to have sustained an incredible culture.

We saw this first hand because Microsoft was our customer and every day we would meet Microsofties who would make great decisions for their company.  Decisions that were driven by the truth in the data.  From time to time those decisions were not in the decision maker’s personal best interest – but the right decision was made anyway.  It was impressive, awe inspiring even.

Unfortunately, that culture of company first, we are building something great faded after that.  Some people blame Steve Ballmer, and indeed he was on the scene at the time.  In his defense, Microsoft had started bringing in big company talent and simply could not separate the talent from the big company cultural virus attached.   I am not sure anyone could have preserved the culture as the incoming tide of IBM and Walmart drowned Microsoft.

In this next decade, many great things were accomplished even with a me first, lick the cookie, don’t touch my stuff culture.  From our vantage point outside the company, it sure seemed like every year the amount of effort required to accomplish the same result increased and the fun factor was clearly suffering.  Microsoft went from the place everyone wanted to work to the place people came from.

Next year Microsoft will turn 40 and a new CEO will be at the helm.  I don’t know Satya Nadella personally, but I am encouraged by Microsoft’s selection for several reasons. 

Enterprise is the Engine:  Microsoft is amazing at selling its products and services to businesses.  Mr. Nadella knows that business.  The board must have picked him with that at least partially in mind.  I don’t know what the future holds, but the future is not the iPhone – that was yesterday’s future.  Microsoft has to build from a position of strength and it has amazingly strong relationships with businesses.

Inspired, Purpose Driven, and Meaningful:  Mr. Nadella’s first day email hit the sweet spot.  To me it said:  hey, let’s stop chasing our tails and do what we do best: make people more productive.  His language rang true.  One can feel a new brand promise is being formed and it will be true.  People and Microsoft will not be wasting their time fighting on the playground, they will be inspired to do great things.

Why Not Us?  True, this was not one of the questions in his email.  It is also true that this is the moto of another local hero, the Seahawk's Number 3, Russell Wilson.  Passed down from his father who inspired him to ask:  Why not me?  Microsoft is an awesome company with amazing people.  Great things can be expected from them.  Microsoft's third CEO could be just as inspiring as the man from the Seahawks that wears number 3.

Go Microsoft!

Cool or Fool?

Some time ago I wrote a post about the Apple Brand Promise where I proposed that the magic of Steve Jobs was making his customers feel cool for buying his products.  I still think people buy Apple products because of the way it changes how others view them.  People feel cool when holding an Apple device and not because it makes them more productive or smarter and clearly not richer, but because the Apple brand promise says cool people buy Apple devices.

Cool is almost impossible to fake, and there is no formula for becoming cool.  Just ask any rock band, super model, or San Francisco restaurant owner -- cool is as impossible to predict as stock price.  

Cool is also impossible to copy.  Fake Rolex watches will never be cool.  No one is going to remember the band that tried to be like A Flock of Seagulls.

Those who have been touched by the ferry godmother of cool all know down deep that the chances of becoming cool are about the same as winning the lottery.  Feel lucky if you win, but don't start thinking it was because you deserved it.

Which brings us to Microsoft.  Microsoft makes people productive and enables them to keep more of their money in their pockets.  It is rare that one feels cool with a Microsoft product, but who cares!  I will take smart over cool any day.  Smart matters, smart is lasting, people who are smart got there on more than the luck of the draw.  The Microsoft brand promise should be associated with smart -- not cool.

I think many of us have lost track of what the Microsoft Brand Promise is.  If you know, feel free to post a reply.  

When using W8 the other day (I mostly use W7), I did not feel smart or cool!



Good for Ford, Bad for Microsoft

When the rental car web site says Ford Taurus or equivalent I just groan.  Anyone who has done any traveling at all knows the feeling.  Just as fun as finding out your hotel room is next to the elevator winch room, or that your toothpaste blew up in your bag.  

Ford has been making a big push into the tech business.  Advertising on all of the geek sites and pulling out all of the stops at CES.  The revival of the Mustang has been well executed too.  I have rented a few Mustang convertibles while on vacation and really loved them.

Getting your product in front of potential new customers in a real life trial is risky because it produces both potential new customers but if the product is not well matched to the customer, it can easily eliminate potential customers.

In the last two weeks I have been dealt the Taurus card twice and I have to say they have been great.  What a surprise!  Stylish, well put together, and fun to drive.  The rental introduction certainly worked for me with Ford.

Not so lucky with Microsoft and Sync.  I was eager to try out Sync and it is a disaster.  I got it to connect to my phone by bluetooth, but it would sometimes work and other times not work.  The user interface is not intuitive and any of the voice activation stuff will require half a day spent with the manual.  

This is just one more situation where Microsoft shows up on the consumer radar as a company that just cannot make products that work -- let alone that are fashionable.  Lucky for Ford, I have not found other auto computer systems to be all that easy to use either.  So maybe Microsoft Sync will not prevent people from buying Fords.  But Microsoft Sync will turn people off to other Microsoft products.

The Surface - The Second Day

Yesterday I brought my new Windows RT Surface into the office and the whole world changed.  In 5 minutes, my IT guys had it set up to use Remote Desktop Connection and presto - every app that I can run at the office now runs on my Surface.  

Now those are apps that count!

The entire Adobe suite, Quickbooks, Visio, Access, SQL Server... this wipes out just about all of the list of not so good things I said after day 1 and puts this machine so far ahead of my iPad that there is no comparison.  

I would go on and on about this but I have work to get done and I am doing it on...my Windows RT Surface. 

Yow, I am sounding like I have lost my objectivity.

The Surface – One Day In

Yesterday I attended the Seattle Interactive conference which gave me a great real world testing scenario for the Surface.  Here is my current thinking about this device:

My Favorite Parts:

  1. Instant On:  Just as good as the iPad and clearly the killer feature.  Nothing keeps me from my Windows 7 machine like slow boot up time and its inability to handle sleep mode.  This machine comes on with a swipe and when done you just put it down. 
  2. Battery Life:  Also amazing.  I used it for ten hours yesterday and still had 26% left.
  3. Windows RT:  Not so hard to get used to.  Access to the desktop is easy.  The fact that I could get to the control panel was a pleasant surprise.  Connecting to wifi networks and other machine administration tasks was easy and familiar. 
  4. Office Aps:  I did not try PowerPoint, but Word, Excel, and OneNote all work great.  Integration with Skydrive was easy and I used it right from the start.
  5. Mail:  The new mail app is clean and works pretty well. 

Not So Good Parts:

  1. IE:  The browser was the hardest app to get used to.  I struggled with the tabs and the back button, it just seemed to be a bit off.  Some sites just don’t work well with the browser and I really wished I had another browser – even if just to see if the problem was with the site I was viewing or with my browser.  This needs work.
  2. Apps:  The WSJ, NY Times, Netflix, and Evernote apps were fine right out of the box.  I was surprised that there was no Twitter app, I also wished for apps from The Economist and Bloomberg Businessweek.  IMDB would be good too and I am sure there are a handful more that I will miss today.  I know the apps are on the way and so I am really not hung up about this too much.
  3. Mail:  I mentioned above that the mail app works fine, but I miss outlook.  Don’t get me wrong, there are parts about Outlook, and frankly email in general, that I would gladly do without.  But I depend on Outlook to get me through my emails and when it is time to sit down and really crank through my inbox the lack of Outlook is going to push me back to my full PC. 
  4. Stability: My Surface has crashed a couple of times.  I am pretty sure the crashes were due to up and down connectivity at the conference and either the log in process with the browser, or the mail app’s connection to our exchange server.  Once the device froze up, I did not really know what to do.  So I held down that button on the top and just hoped for the best.  It seemed to work, but I am not so sure I actually re-booted.  So that is going to take some getting used to.

All around I am excited about the Surface.  It is a big step forward for Microsoft.  We are not going to know how big or how far forward for at least six months, maybe a year. The Apps will tell the story.

Getting to the Future

Last year the Microsoft Office team produced a video showing their vision for the future.  It is pretty cool.

Technology companies produce mountains of these aspirational works -- probably mostly to inspire their own people to get motivated and build the stuff.  I still remember this video Apple showed in the 90s.

Dr. Francis Colins said:  

The First Law of Technology says we invariably overestimate the short-term impact of a truly transformational discovery, while underestimating its longer-term effects. 

At the time he was talking about he the human genome sequencing project, but it applies to all technological advances.  We always want the future to get here sooner and we often are dejected, or at least frustrated, by the time it actually arrives.  But arrive it finally does and we only have to look at the amazing things around us to confirm Dr. Collins' first law.

The buzz about the Internet of Things is roaring and we are not so much talking about how refrigerators are going to be on the internet, but an avalanche of billions and billions of sensors reporting everything from the proximity of cars to each other to advances in industrial automation.

China is doing its top down thing in an effort to lead in the industry.  They just concluded their third Internet of Things Conference this last weekend.  The EU has gotten underway with an initiative to establish standards and information sharing with their own IOT web site.

Here in the US it does not appear that there is a governmental initiative, but plenty of companies are working on building the tools we will need to make the most of the concept.  IBM was probably first with its Smarter Planet initiative, now in its 4th year.  Microsoft has StreamInsight, Oracle has its initiative, and there are many others.

It took the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 before people could visualize a world with billions of little computers in people's pockets.  There had been smart phones before, there had been PDAs, but for some reason the iPhone showed us the way.

What is going to be the thing or event that breaks through and enables everyone to visualize the Internet of Things revolution?

What is going to get us to that future?


The Microsoft Effect

The Hawthorne Effect famously demonstrated the changes to worker productivity resulting from changes in work environment.  Like many studies the key learning turned out to be somewhat different than anticipated.  Initially intended to figure out if lighting levels or other environmental factors impacted productivity the result turned out to be that workers did better when working together to improve the conditions.  The improvements were not dependent on the changes but on the process of working together to make the changes.

I have to wonder if the same thing is happening in the Microsoft/Google/Apple race for the hearts and minds of the workers.  Each is courting the users with new and improved ways to be productive.   Microsoft has of course dominated the worker productivity area with the Office suite and the addition over the years of Outlook, Access, Visio, and OneNote. Google helps workers find stuff and has innovated around the edges with priority inbox in gmail and better spam filtering and Google docs and drive. Apple has turned the world mobile, brought about the app revolution, and companies now shower iPhones and iPads on their employees like they used to do with sales trips to Hawaii.

I am 24 hours into using my new Windows RT Surface and all I can think about is how much work I could do on the thing.  It has been 90 years since Elton Mayo did his study in Hawthore, IL, maybe it is time for a new study.  We could call the key learnings the Microsoft Effect.

Partners Will Embrace the Surface

Well MS has launched the Surface running Windows RT and it is a pretty cool machine.  There has been a bunch of noise about how Microsoft is sticking it to its partners by jumping into the hardware business. I think this is another case of the media inventing a fight because it is good for the media.  

In two and a half years Apple has sold 100M iPads.  In the same amount of time Microsoft has grown the Windows 7 user base to more than 600M -- just about all of those were sales of new machines.  It is just about impossible for anyone to imagine the MS Surface outselling the iPad.  It is not hard to imagine the Windows 8 user base to grow at 300M units per year.  

In other words, there is plenty of room in the market for everybody.  Microsoft's partners are going to sell hundreds of millions of Windows tablets in the years ahead.

Microsoft and its partners, that number in the hundreds of thousands, solve business problems for their customers.  Armed with the Surface, Windows 8 RT, Windows 8, and every shape and size of hardware imagineable from a legion of capable hardware makers, these partners are going to have so much to offer their customers that it is going to take years for the market to absorb it all.

Next week we get the new Windows 8 Phone.  Partners are going to embrace that new device too.

Technology That Changes The Game

It was a relatively short time ago that computers were produced in the dozens, cost millions of dollars, and were run by the phone company, the government, and a few very big businesses.  The most technological thing that a small business had was a cash register.

In an office environment like a law firm or an accounting firm, there were typists, and a copy machine, and the only cloud application was the connection to AT&Ts big computer (the phone).  In some cases professionals had specialized tools -- I for example had my HP12C programmable calculator.  I never programmed it to do anything though.  Amazingly, HP still sells that very calculator - 30 years later.

Then came the PC and voicemail and email and mobile phones and well, we all became computer operators plus whatever our jobs had been before that.  Now we spend so much time staring at the screen that we feel like computer operators all of the time -- so it is no wonder that we sometimes forget that we have actual jobs to do.  Facebook even relieves us from having to pull away from the computer to waste time at the water cooler.  

We have become much more productive despite the time we have to spend getting our machines to work for us.  Since the introduction of the PC, GDP per capita in the US has grown from $27,000 to $47,000 per year.  And that is the average for the entire country.

Keep in mind that workers that use PCs have done much better than the rest of the population, so the productivity has more than doubled for PC users. Advances in technology drive our economy and our ever improving quality of life.  This is an easy argument to make when you consider that penecilin was an advancement in technology.  A bit harder in the context of nuclear weapons. 

These advances in technology have provided for us so much extra time and money that we don't know what to do with it all.  Most of us have more than one computer plus a phone with computer like computing power plus maybe a tablet too.  

There are two types of advances in technology: incremental things and game changers. New computing capacity that reduces the time to run a report from a giant database is incremental.  New sensors that report every person's location, everything they purchase, and many of the things that they think and say into a giant database is a game changer.

The incremental things we get from technology are gains in efficiency that make one business more productive than another.  Game changers are new capabilities that just could not be done before and that completely change the business environment.

As the cost of compute cycles comes down the incremental functions will blend into the background and deliver less and less profit to their makers -- so look out HP and Dell.  Game changers will become the whole game and command more and more of the profits.  And as always the pace of change will be accelerating.  Very few companies have the will to change their own game.  Apple did it with the iPhone and now generates half of their revenues from a product they introduced only 5 years ago.  Google did it to the advertising industry -- but it remains to be seen if they can do it to themselves.  Microsoft is in the process of trying to change their game with Windows 8.  Will they be able to do it?  



Advertisers Trade Digital Dimes for Mobile Pennies

Tomorrow is the big Windows 8 / Surface Launch, so I will continue on with the Microsoft vs. Google vs. Apple thinking from yesterday.  

Henry Ford is credited with the famous line:  "I know that fifty percent of my advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half."  I wrote a post about this a few years back and also dug into the idea that Google is trading analog dollars for digital dimes.  Which turns out to be easier for Google, the company that gets the dimes, than for other advertising providers that are losing the dollars.  The advertising dime migration is fueling a whole bunch of creative destruction in the advertising business.

It is going to get much worse.  Every day advertising gets more measurable and it might just turn out that the non productive half of the advertising business is in fact bigger than half.  In an anemic growth environment, or worse yet another recession, companies might just find a better use for a big part of the $600B presently spent on advertising.

If so, what happens to all of the technology companies that have placed their bets on making advertisers their customers?  What if the digital dimes get traded for mobile advert pennies?  Google was perfectly happy getting new revenue away from the newspapers -- so they did not care that their prices were a tenth of the market.  But if Google has to trade its own dimes of revenue for pennies -- it is going to hurt.

All the while Microsoft soldiers on making businesses productive.

Business Runs on Microsoft Software. Period.

It is insteresting and instructive to take a step back from the big ecosystem builders and think about who their customers are and what they are selling.  Just so we all start from the same point on the map, I am going to clarify that customers are the people that pay and they pay for whatever a vendor is selling.


This is a big week for Microsoft with the long anticipated Windows 8 launch.  Even though I am very much looking forward to getting my MS Surface (hardware) this week, Microsoft is still the maker of software and its customers paid $16 B in the most recent quarter and generated $5.3B in profits including for operating system software ($3.2B revenue /$1.6B profit), servers and dev tools ($4.5B/$1.7B), and productivity and business software ($5.5B/$3.6B).  This is highly profitable business with one half of all revenue returned in profits.  You will notice that a bit over $2B is missing from this revenue analysis - because that is the amount MS generates from XBox -- without generating any profit.  Ouch!

Simply, customers pay Microsoft for the software they need to be productive.  Anyone who has tried to be productive on an iPad knows what I am talking about.  Producers need Microsoft's products to produce.


Apple quite famously makes more revenue and profit on the iPhone than all of Microsoft combined.  In its most recent quarter it generated $16.2 B of a total of $35B from the iPhone at 43% margins.  Any company that can grow from zero in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced to over $60B in annual revenue from a single new product line - deserves to be the worlds most valuable company.  Even more impressive is the $9.2B in iPad revenue last quarter from a product just 30 months in the market.  However, as Apple is demonstrating with the change of the standard cable plug on the latest version of the iPhone - it is selling devices that are driven by their popularity, not by business acceptance.

So, customers pay Apple for fashionable gadgets and Apple cranks out fashionable gadgets like no one else.


Google has revenues about the same size as Microsoft's.  The most recent quarter concluded with $14.1B in revenue and $7.45B in profits. 75% of Google's revenue comes from advertising.  Advertising was 97% before the acquisition of Motorola -- and Motorola now makes up 19% of Google's revenue.  Google makes all kinds of software (gmail, Google docs...) but most users get those services for free -- and the customers are the companies that pay to place their advertisements where those users can see them.

So customers pay Google for advertising.  Google dominates the search market with 65% of all internet search traffic.

When analyzed from the perspective of the paying customer it is almost hard to believe that these three companies are fierce competitors.  No one buys Microsoft products to be seen with them in the first class lounge at the airport.  Almost no one pays Microsoft for advertising.  Just about everyone pays Microsoft to make their businesses run.


What is CRN Smoking?

CRN ran a story this morning about how Microsoft is like Philip Morris.  I know that expecting web sites to avoid link bait is like expecting candidates running for the oval office to tell the truth.  Even so, this one is over the top.  There are many companies with comparable growth rates to Microsoft.  Picking the one that sells an addictive product that causes cancer and that spent decades undermining efforts to understand the effects of cigarette smoke -- is poor form.

The article did make one good point though:  when channel partners pick the vendors they partner with, they are making investments.  In fact, they are making very big investments.  

CRN says that channel partners should partner with Apple, Cognizant, Google, Rackspace, and Salesforce.com instead of Microsoft because those companies are growing faster. Really?!?

Let's take this apart company by company:

Apple:  Apple is in fact starting a partner program.  Apple however does not have a single enterprise software app.  It can offer a desktop operating system, and a productivity suite, but Microsoft has hundreds of products -- and most of them solve very real enterprise computing problems.  

Cognizant:  Most people have never heard of this company.  It is in fact a $6 billion dollar company, but it is a consulting and outsourcing firm -- a competitor to most channel partners.  I bet it is a very big Microsoft partner.  So there really is no reason a solution partner would partner with this organization instead of Microsoft.

Google:  Google is kicking everyone's behind in search.  True.  But I can't think of how it would make sense as a channel partner to give up Microsoft's partner program in exchange for Google.  Google offers no side by side go to market capabilities to support partners.  Even if we were to humor CRN and think for 10 more seconds about this one - how can a partner make any money deploying Google Docs?  This is one of those cases where Google takes a dollar someone else is making and turns it into a dime of advertising for itself.  So Google can take revenue away from Microsoft, but it does not have that dollar to share with its channel partners.

Rackspace:  Rackspace is not even a software company.  

Salesforce.com:  Salesforce.com, like Oracle (where Benioff came from) has a nasty habit of eating its own young.  A few companies have made a living working with Salesforce.com, but most get run over by their scorched earth sales team.  And all of that to partner with a company that has one product.  Oh sorry, two products if you count Chatter as a seperate product.

Microsoft has made its way in the world by working side by side with its hundreds of thousands of partners worldwide.  There are some companies that are growing faster, but none that comes anywhere close to supporting a partner ecosystem like Microsoft does.

It is hard to imagine what CRN was smoking when they proposed that Microsoft was like Philip Morris!

Licking the Cookie

Fortune Magazine and an unfortunate number of other publications have reported on phenomenon called "Licking the Cookie" at Microsoft.  You know, practice of claiming ownership of a project and therefore preventing anyone else from actually working on it.  Just like when you were a kid and your younger sister licked the last cookie on the plate to keep you from eating it.

The image is hard to get out of my head and now I see the same phenomenon everywhere.  What is it that compels people to get in the way of a problem, just so that one day, if they ever get around to it, they could take a swing at solving it?  Owning unsolved perpetual problems does not seem like the most logical way to advance or otherwise gain job security.

This dynamic does enter the logical universe when the cookie licker also owns whatever would be replaced when the problem is solved.  The guy in charge of a multi-year CRM implementation would most certainly throw sand in the gears of any conversation with Salesforce.com.  Better yet, he could lick the Salesforce.com cookie and make sure its evaluation never ever sees the light of day.

Entrenched interests are doing this everywhere.  Most visible to me is the movie industry trying to prevent a free and open internet and drafting behind them are the television and cable people.  Every once in a while a bright light shines out from one of the big auto makers, but for the most part they are sitting heavily on alternative fuel vehicles.

We are very lucky here in the US because we have a vibrant start up ecosystem that will gladly run around the ends of the big fat cookie lickers.  Not so much in other economies.  So thank you Google for turning the newspaper industry up side down and go Tesla!


Apple is Just Another Tech Company

This year for my birthday I bought myself a MacBook Air (11 in).  It is a cool machine, but the best thing I got out of it was an increased appreciation for the quality of Microsoft's Windows operating system.  Two months later and I find myself reaching for my old Win 7 machine most of the time.  

I suppose I like the Mac best when I am not using it.  It is beautiful, light, and technically, its best feature is the speed at which it stops and starts.  When I am done, I just close it.  When I want to use it -- I just open it.  My Windows machines have never been able to do that.  If I close my Windows machine without completely shutting down, it fights with itself while in my briefcase until it runs out of battery.  Then when I go to open it -- no juice left.  Not only that, but then I boot to the black screen that asks if I want to repair my machine.  Anyone who has ever gotten sucked into that option knows it is like heading out on a trip from Seattle to New York and deciding to stop by Moscow on the way.  Definately not the fastest route to productivily using the machine.

One of the new features on the Mac that I was looking forward to was the thunderbolt to HDMI connection for an external monitor.  It works, but in typical Apple style, they have decided a few too many things for me.  For instance, if I expand an app to full screen on the external monitor, it banks out the laptop monitor.  What on earth are they thinking?  In fact, I have yet to find an app that expands to full screen in the way that I would want.  Pages just blacks out the left and right of the screen and the doc is small in the middle.  Crazy!

The final blow is the speed of Chrome.  Google's Chrome browser screams on my windows machine but crawls on the Mac.  It is so slow that I have to think that Apple is somehow throwing sand in its gears -- just to get back at the competition.  I do find myself using Safari more often as a result, but it is the biggest reason I don't reach for the machine at all.

Most people are not crazy enough to use two or three machines at a time - so I suspect that my side by side comparison is not typical.  Even novices will notice how slow Chrome runs though.

So I have concluded that Apple, like all of the other tech companies, is using its moment in the sun to cast the biggest possible shadow on its competitors.  Could it be that they realize that they do not have the vison that Steve brought to the company and they have decided to hang on as tight as possible to the lead they have?  Boy would that be sad.

After all of this, Time Magazine will probably name Apple the "person" of the year -- which will further seal its fate.

My Biggest Summer Vacation Cost Was Bandwidth

We have an old tug boat and every year we take it to Canada for vacation.  We go to a somewhat remote area where there are not many opportunities to spend money.  So we bring fuel, food, and most of the other items we need with us.

Despite this, we do find ways to spend money at a small local grocery store.  We buy fresh produce, fishing licenses, bait, and hamburgers at the hamburger stand.  In the three weeks of our trip this year, we spent up to a few hundred dollars on each of these categories.

None of them compare to our spending on bandwidth however.  While in Canada we roam onto the Rogers network and our international data plan from Verizon delivers data bandwidth at a price of $25 for each 100 MB.  A movie download from iTunes is usually about 1.7 GB -- so at Verizon's price it would cost $425 -- so movies are not on the approved list!  Audiobooks are about 300 MB or $75 -- so no audiobooks either.  A song on iTunes is 10 MB -- so if you buy a song you pay iTunes $.99 and Rogers/Verizon $2.50.

I am sure many of you think this is a one off thing, but I bet many people found themselves in my position this summer.  The MiFi is awesome, but it you take it to a foreign country - watch out!  Now that we just expect to have data access all of the time we have forgotten that bandwidth costs money.  All it takes is one of these experiences and you start to think about how much bandwidth metering by the mobile carriers could dampen eCommerce.  

In the end we paid $1,150 for bandwidth over 3 weeks, or about $55 per day.  Some of this came from one computer that had automatic updates turned on and downloaded 500 MB of windows updates before I turned it off.  Yow!  Windows update cost me $125!  


Marissa’s Brains and Steve’s Brute Force

I have never been pregnant so I am not going to comment on Marissa Mayer's condition or how it relates to her new job at Yahoo.  I have never been CEO of a multi billion dollar company either, but that is not going to stop me from commenting on what I am sure is going to be one of the most interesting meetings in the near future -- between Marissa Mayer and Steve Ballmer.

Microsoft and Yahoo have a complicated past and a complicated present and likely a complicated future.  This first meeting is going to be interesting for a number of reasons not the least of which is the way that Ballmer has targeted Google so intensely and for so long.  Now he is going to be sitting across the table from the devil herself, and she is exactly what he needs -- a smart experienced person with design sensibility and vision.

While he is realizing how she could help him, she is probably doing the same.  I don’t know anything about her willingness or ability to use brute force to crash through barriers, but Ballmer’s tendency to do so could be quite useful to her.

And they both have the same problem -- their own companies.  They each have an opportunity to use the strength of the other to influence their own teams.  Marissa can get Steve to beat her cranky board members into submission and Steve can get Marissa to get his team to stop fighting with each other and focus on the challenge at hand.

Solving the Tablet Puzzle

When I was a kid my mom taught me how to solve puzzles.  She said to find the corners first, then the edge pieces, then assemble the frame, then sort the pieces by color...  It was a sound process and surely was easier than randomly picking one of the 500 pieces out of the box and trying to figure out where it went.  From that experience I learned that solving the puzzle depended heavily on the sequence.

It is interesting to see how the four big players in tablets computers:  Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are each approaching their complex puzzles.  Just like doing puzzles with my mom, the sequence is everything.

The first entrant into the market was Microsoft - over a decade ago.  Bill Gates was correct that tablets were going to be big.  We now know that his vision was extraordinary.  Unfortunately, he was pulling one piece out of the box and there was really no hope of fitting it in with the other pieces.

Meanwhile, Steve Jobs was laying down the corners and the frame of his puzzle with the iPod.  It was a simple but amazing device that enabled users to do one thing:  carry 1,000 songs in their pocket.  At the time the next best solution held only 10 songs.  Then the iPod lead to the iPhone, the iPod Touch, all those apps and app developers, and finally the iPad.  That final puzzle piece was easy to place in the picture because so many other pieces were in place already.

At the same time, Amazon was creating an amazing shopping experience for books and everything else in the universe on its web site.  By the time it introduced the Kindle (same time as the iPhone in 2007) its puzzle was pretty well formed too.  The Kindle put hundreds of books in your pocket and there really was not another alternative.

Just after that, in 2008, Google introduced its Android Operating System and the Chrome Browser.  This story is a bit more complicated because Android was started outside of Google in 2003 and acquired by Google in 2005.  Either way, the Google puzzle was being assembled well before the Samsung Galaxy Tab was introduced in late 2010.  Add the proliferation of Android devices, 400,000 apps, and by the time we arrive at yesterday's announcement of the Nexus 7 a great deal of the Google tablet puzzle had been filled in.

It is true that there were a billion personal computers already running Microsoft operating systems when Bill Gates introduced his tablet in 2002.  Surely that would form up the Microsoft puzzle. Right? So why does it seem like Microsoft is just now pulling out the first puzzle piece with the Surface and holding it over a blank table?  Because Microsoft is trying to start a whole new consumer puzzle -- and all of its existing puzzle pieces make up an enterprise picture.  Yes we use the Windows OS at home -- but it has not created any more of an ecosystem than Phoenix BIOS -- which we all run at home too.

It is going to be tough for Microsoft to complete its consumer tablet puzzle.  The Surface may end up being a great device, it may get a great response from Microsoft's enterprise customers.  But it is going to be hard to put the pieces together for consumers.




Microsoft's New Partners

Lost in the fracus about Microsoft and its relationship with its partners is the new partner relationships that invariably are going to emerge.  Microsoft has always been a partner focused company and will always be.  But the partners do change quite a bit.  Some people think that the partner ecosystem has a churn rate of as much as 30% per year.

Long time partners of Microsoft including HP and Acer have been quoted recently saying that were mystified about the move by Microsoft to develop the Surface and not consult them first.  Many have predicted, including me, that partners will ultimately produce most of the Surface devices.  The partners just may not be the ones that we think.

Apple did not start cold with the iPad.  First came the iPhone and more importantly, the iPod Touch.  In fact, according to the account in Isaacson's book, the iPad idea came before the iPod Touch and the work done on the iPod Touch was necessary to prove that the iPad idea was even viable, and of course to ensure that the product was insanely great.

Microsoft's OEMs might be frustrated with Microsoft's moves on the Surface, but they really should be looking at Samsung and HTC and maybe even Nokia.  They are the ones with the expertise to build a Windows 8 tablet that could compete with the iPad.

PC Mag reported this week that Samsung may be working on its own operating system just in case it needs it to compete with Microsoft and Google in the tablet market.  That is crazy talk.  

Oracle and IBM: Making Tracks in the Enterprise Market

The papers love to report on the consumer end of the tech industry.  All the while, a great deal of business is being done on the enterprise side.  Admitedly, the consumer angle is tough to resist because if I had put Apple on this chart it would be up 373% in this same time period.  So it is easy to see how journalists get drawn to Apple and the consumer business.  

This chart shows how the big enterprise players have performed over the past 5 years:

(click on the chart to go to Google Finance for a larger view)

Microsoft and HP, the two companies that are drawn to the consumer flame but also have a majority of their business in enterprise computing, have not done as well as Oracle and IBM -- who are completely focussed on winning the enterprise marketplace.   Microsoft just acquired Yammer - which shows a focus on business computing, but they also introduced the Surface, which is aimed back at the consumer.  

Now would be a good time to show the focus that Oracle and IBM have shown.  


This Just In: Microsoft Screws Its Partners (or so the media says)

The media loves a fight and the media is quite good at making sure there are plenty of fights to report on.  It is true that Microsoft could have done a better job of getting its partners onto the Surface bus before it left the station, but it would certainly have sacrificed the secret, and the surprise.  And the media also loves a good surprise.

Ordinarily I would put links here to articles supporting my thesis that the media is itching for a MS vs Partners fight, but there are so many articles I could not pick.  Just search for "Microsoft Partners Surface" and you will see what I am talking about.

By the time Surface gets to market in the fall, this will all be forgotten.  Here are some more specific predictions:

Will Microsoft let partners sell the Surface?  Right now it is being reported that the device will only be available in Microsoft stores and on the Microsoft web site.  I find it hard to believe that Microsoft will prevent its partners from selling the device.  So I predict, that if MS can make enough of them, partners will be able to sell them too.  Who knows, maybe MS is in the middle of big deal negotiaitons with Best Buy, or even Verizon, and so they cannot announce the distribution deals yet.

Does Microsoft want other great Win 8 tablets on the market?  Microsoft did not refer to the Surface as a reference design, but I think it is a reference design.  If the product is a hit, Microsoft will not be able to make enough of them.  If it is a dud, no one will care.  So Microsoft must want other PC makers to enter the market.  In fact there is nothing Microsoft can do to prevent it.

Will this put Win 8 at the front of the line?  To date the predictions in the business market have been pointing to wide adoption of Windows 7, and not so much for Windows 8.  I do not think this will change that.  Windows 7 is a great product and businesses are not going to jump to Windows 8 for this.  It will be a great addition to the windows line, and now a business can give an exec a Surface running Windows 8 instead of an iPad.  The billion or so installed PCs currently running earlier versions of windows, including 200 million still running XP, will be upgraded to Windows 7 (if possible) or not upgraded at all.  

All around, great job Microsoft.  You have introduced a credible competitor to the iPad.  Microsoft Partners are better off today than they were a week ago -- and I am sure the partners know it.