JCL Blog

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.  

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.  

Year 11 of the Tablet Wars

USA Today has this good piece on Microsoft's complicated history with tablet computing.  Just goes to show that having the idea is not enough -- even when you are Bill Gates!  

Microsoft has been doing the tablet thing since at least 2002 and with its announcement this week of the new Surface, has a credible competitor to the iPad.  Here is a pretty good treatment on Engadget covering the launch event.  It is hard to get too excited without a deliver date or price.  And when Steve Sinofski had to trade out his frozen Surface for a new one -- the pain was palpable.  

Despite the long drawn out history and the incredible lead Apple has already established, this is going to be a very intereting fight.  There are two contrasting views that I can think of:  Consolidate or Extend.

Apple Wins if it Continues to Extend

Apple has done an amazing job of getting customers to extend their personal computing infrastructure to yet another device.  We have all walked down the isle of the plan and seen an iPad at every other seat -- and practically every seat in first class.  We know however that while many of these people may no longer travel with their PCs, they still own them.  If Apple can continue to extend to the iPad -- Apple wins.

Microsoft Wins if Consolidation Happens

Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system, that hits the market in the fall, will be optimized for tablet devices -- including the new Surface, to be built and sold by Microsoft itself.  Clearly Microsoft is positioning this device to be both the tablet and the PC.  To the extent that Microsoft can consolidate the market back from PC + iPad to a Win 8 PC only --  Microsoft wins. 

Either way, this will be very interesting to watch.

A Tale of Two Restores

About a week ago I had been playing with the passcode lock settings on my iPad -- and the thing stopped putting itself to sleep.  So if I left it overnight it would be 100% dead in the AM.  I worked to change the setting back, searched online, but could not figure out what to do about it.  

So I clicked restore and just like that, Apple rebuilt my iPad in about half an hour.  Asside from a few minor issues where I had to download apps over again -- it worked like a charm.  My email set up was undisturbed, my paid apps were all there.  

About every quarter or so I completely rebuild my Windows 7 machine.  I have set the machine up to make this as easy as possible -- with two partitions on the SSD drive, one for my data and one for the OS.  This way I can re-format the OS partition, reinstall Windows 7 and all of my programs (I keep an external hard drive with a folder I call program installers just for this purpose).  Each time I get 10 GB of disk space back -- and on a 36GB SSD that is a big deal.  Each time the machine runs like a dream afterwards.  The only problem is it takes me about 10 days to really get back to a place where everything I need is installed on the computer.  Not 10 days of non stop work, but 15 minutes here and there when I find a program that I need for the first time and have to find its installer, install it, update it...  I am sure you have been there too.

Luckily I have an older Vista machine that I can work on while the restore is going on.  Also luckily, more and more of my work is being done using online services like Socialtext, Evernote, Squarespace, LinkedIn, and Twitter -- so it doesn't matter all that much that my Windows 7 machine is sidelined for a while.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that each time I go through this, I have a reason to migrate more of my work to the cloud.  

I wonder if anyone at Microsoft is working on this problem.  I would love to have a restore button that works like the restore button on my iPad.

Wait!  Before you post a comment saying that Microsoft already has restore points built into Windows 7, here are a few questions:

  • Has going back to a restore point ever actually worked for you?
  • Did it give you back space on your hard drive?
  • Did it accurately create restore points per its design (before each install or dll change)?

Unfortunately, like the comical troubleshoot window that offers to help fix problems but never can, Microsoft has over promised and under delivered in this area.

I will wait eagerly for someone to close the gap between these two restore experiences.

The Secret to the iPad is iTunes

The best thing about the iPad is iTunes.  There have been many reports of people walking out of the Apple store with their shiny new iPad, sitting down on the curb, only to find that the thing will not work until it is connected to iTunes on a Mac or a PC.  The Apple store will actually do this for you in the store if you want.  Many people have called this a shortfall of the product, but I propose the connection to iTunes is one of the things I like the most about both my iPod Touch and my iPad.  Here are the reasons:

  1. Nothing to Lose:  Since the iPad is just showing me the things it got on the last sync up from iTunes -- my stuff is always backed up.  No worries -- I could run the thing over with the car and be out the iPad, but not my data or apps.
  2. Easy Restore: Reinstalling an operating system on a PC is a week long exercise.  Sure I can wipe and reinstall the OS in a matter of a few hours, but then it takes me a week to find all of the other applications and files.  And I remember each application just when I need it and don't have time to install it.  I can wipe and restore my iPad with one button push and about an hour.  
  3. Online or Offline:  The above listed backup and restore benefits sound a lot like the thin client benefits that have been championed for over a decade.  The difference is that once synced, the iPad can work connected or not connected to the network.  A thin client or a web OS type machine could not do that.
  4. Lower Expectations:  Sure there are many things my desktop or laptop computers can do that my iPad cannot do.  But I never expected the iPad to do those things.  Steve has made the iPad do the things it does very well, which also means that the things not well suited for the device are not even attempted.  This is a much better user experience.

PC makers could apply some of these lessons and create a much better PC experience. Did Steve say that Apple was working on reducing the iPad's dependency on iTunes?  I think that would be a mistake.


My iPad is Just a Toy

There was a time that I worked hard to improve my golf game – as if a steadily declining score would justify the time I was spending.  I found I enjoyed the experience much more when I started thinking of it as a walk with friends through a manicured park interrupted by the occasional swinging of a club.

I have had the chance now to get used to my iPad and to show it to interested onlookers.  Even though no one has yet asked me directly if this is a device for serious work; it does seem to be on the minds of the curious.  So my intro now goes like this:  It is an amazing piece of technology that is a delight to use – but in the end it is a toy.  It is not going to replace any of my other devices and it will travel with me from time to time, but mostly it is a device that lives at home.  This may seem like a denigration, but it is not intended as such.  I think I will be much happier with my purchase when I consider my iPad ancillary to the technology tools I use for work.  I will never be a pro golfer and the iPad will never be a professional work device.

Yes there are the work use cases with the external keyboard and the productivity apps, but I doubt anyone really thinks work can be done on the machine.  Even someone who’s job is just reading the newspaper will find themselves sitting in front of their PC or laptop.  The mind is a nimble thing, and when I pick up the iPad, mine already separates activities into iPad friendly and not – and I don’t even try to do the unfriendly ones anymore.  Here is a list of things I do and don’t do on my iPad:

  • Do:  Read the paper:  I read the NY Times and Wall Street Journal on the iPad because I can bring the thing with me to the kitchen and sit with my kids.  I do not use the Apps – the NY Times Editor’s Edition is inferior to the NY Times web page and a big step down from the Times Reader on my PC.  I did not even try the Wall Street Journal app.  Who would pay more for the app than the online version – don’t know what they were thinking there!
  • Do:  Check the weather:  I Installed The Weather Channel app TWC Max+.  It is OK, but not as good as the native weather app in my iPod Touch.  Half the time I go to my favorite local weather web page instead. 
  • Do:  Check the stock market:  I installed iStockManager but again, it is not as good as the native iPod Touch app.  But if I am on the iPad at the time I use that.
  • Do:  Tweet:  I do post from the TweetDeck app, but it is a strain to copy and paste links, and believe it or not while reading tweets on TweetDeck, you cannot click on the links – weird.
  • Do:  Maps:  I do look stuff up on the native maps app.  It is pretty cool, but it does not show traffic, so for that – back to Safari.  One amazing thing however is location based services without GPS.  I use both my iPad and my Touch with a Verizon MyFi device.  With that connection, the maps application and pinpoint my location to within about 100 yards – incredible.  I guess we know how the cops find the bad guys these days.
  • Do:  Read email.  I think the native email app is good enough for reading and I can reply from time to time, but typing on the Touch is considerably easier than the iPad – and you don’t look so stupid.  Same goes for notes.
  • Don’t: Google Reader:  I am a big Google Reader user and the Google App for the iPad is not very good.  The Touch one is better, but not enough.  So I read my RSS feeds at my desk.
  • Don’t: Work:  Craft documents, emails, spreadsheets, reference databases…  no point in even trying.  Why spend twice the time and burn cycles on work arounds when you can save up that stuff for later and spend half the time.
  • Don’t: Watch Video:  I tried to watch a movie and that was a joke.  I am just glad no one could see me holding the thing awkwardly in my lap.  Home video – which I thought would be the killer app is still something I cannot figure out how to do. 

So I do like the iPad a great deal.  Mostly because I have accepted it’s place in my computing life and I don’t try to make it something it is not.  

Death by Home Video

The iPad has been praised for its handling of video including comparisons of the iPad screen at arms length to a giant TV across the room.  I agree Netflix does look great and you can watch YouTube and TV on the iPad.  

However, like everyone else with an iPad, I had created use cases in my mind prior to purchase that were just fantasies.  The one I was really hoping for was the ability to watch home videos easily.  I am not sure why I was thinking this because the rockiest parts of my relationship with Apple have been over video.  I have never really understood Quicktime, and the codecs are a mystery to me.  In fact, after a full switch over to Apple at home a few years ago, it was video that sent me back to the Windows platform.  The final straw was the leap to iMovie 08 from iMovie 6 where Apple just said -- we are starting over and so are you.  I said forget it.

Do I have a synapse missing that makes it impossible for me to decipher home video in the land of Steve?  Does everyone else do this easily and I just don't get it?  

If I am not alone  -- then home video could be the thing that breaks down a wall of Steve's garden.  It does seem like video is getting bigger and soon may be too big for Apple to force into their little box.

Couldn't Resist

Well I held out for four days, but yesterday the hype won out and I got my iPad.  Maybe it was the combination of being in New York, and going past the amazing 5th Avenue store, or the endless articles and coverage.  That store is open 24 hours a day and is swarming with knowledgeable and efficient staff -- I was in and out in 10 minutes despite the fact that the store was packed.

Daniel Lyons summed it up well in his piece in Newsweek:  "Buy into the World According to Steve, and you're making a Faustian bargain -- you sacrifice freedom for the sake of a lovely device that (mostly) works just the way it's supposed to, eliminating the headaches and confusion that most tech products bring with them."  He goes on to list all of the things the iPad will not do (like flash).

Steve Jobs has done it again and he should get most of the credit -- but the conditions that serve as the backdrop for his success were not created by Steve, but by the rest of the industry.


A League All His Own

The iPad mania is accelerating to a level that will make the Hollywood PR industry envious.  Steve Jobs has left the rest of the tech industry in the dust and is playing on a stage others don't even know how to get to.  Show biz was at this game 100 years before the PC was created so tech has got some catching up to do.

I have already said I am waiting until later to get the iPad.  My definition of later is getting modified every day.  This Elements ap is not only enough to get me to eat my words, but now I want to go back and take 9th grade chemistry again!

 Any remaining space in the hype-o-sphere that could have been left for the rest of the industry was mopped up by Jobs with his masterful Apple vs Google fight.  

I suppose the rest of us should just take the month off.

Cool vs. Fool: The Apple Brand Promise

Steve Jobs does bring a great deal of value to Apple.  He sees into the future with binoculars while we have a hand over one eye.  He sticks to his plan while others cast about.  He has no problem implementing unbelievable measures to keep things secret.  He is an inspiration to his employees and no doubt his enemies.

I submit that above all of these things his greatest value is delivered as the keeper of the Apple Brand Promise.  

As the importance of the salesperson is displaced by a customer's interaction with the social graph, the Brand Promise is more important than ever.  The Brand Promise is the context within which the community talks about a product.  A well established Brand Promise erects boundaries beyond which even detractors cannot go.

What do you think the Apple Brand Promise is?  For a long time it was that Apple products were easy to use.  I do not think that is it anymore.  

I propose this:  You will always be cool with an Apple product in your hand, in your bag, or on your desk.  Steve Jobs upholds his promise that you will not feel a fool for buying his creations.

How else could he convince everyone to pre-order iPads -- a first generation product that no one has even seen!

Love him or otherwise, that Steve Jobs is doing it again.