December 12, 2013 12:29 PM
Posted by: Ron Miller
It’s been over 18 years since the launch of Windows 95. Maybe it’s time to move on.
This week a few rumors surfaced about Microsoft. On one hand, they were supposedly bringing back the traditional Start button in the next version of Windows for the desktop whenever that comes along. On the other was an idea was being floated that Microsoft could open source its Windows phone OS in order to compete with Android. If these rumors are true, and it’s hard to know, it suggests that Microsofts lacks a coherent OS strategy –and moving forward it absolutely needs one to stay competitive.
It seems to me that Microsoft was on the right track when it announced what was called Metro. It was going to have one tiled interface to rule them all regardless of device. Whatever you think of Windows 8, and apparently a lot of people don’t like it, Microsoft came up with a semi-coherent strategy for dealing with life on multiple devices.
Of course it didn’t align perfectly. Windows Phone wasn’t quite the same as Windows desktop and there was the whole Windows RT thing on their tablet, which caused confusion in the marketplace, but the idea was to offer an OS with the same look and feel regardless of device.
Are you with me so far?
But what has happened over time is people have complained. First they didn’t like tiles on the desktop without the familiar Start button that has been there since 1995. And Microsoft put one back, but without a Start menu, which kind of defeated the purpose and probably pissed a few people off. Regardless, Microsoft has begun chipping away at this original strategy.
But should they be listening to the unwashed masess…er I mean their long time customers or should they be bold and drag their loyal customers kicking and screaming with them into the future?
I think it has to be the latter. I understand that Microsoft is walking a fine line here, but at some point they have to just trust that the vision they have set forth is the proper one and having a single view (and I mean a single view) across three screens is the way to go
Don’t start giving into the whining now, just rip off the band-aid and eventually the customers will move forward.
Some people have suggested that PC sales are dropping because of Windows 8. Nothing could be further from the truth of course. People haven’t stopped buying PCs in the same numbers as in the past because they don’t like Windows 8. They simply like smartphones and tablets better because these devices are sufficient or better at some tasks than what we used to use a PC for because there wasn’t a better alternative.
It doesn’t help matters that Microsoft lacks leadership at the top as they go through the transition from Steve Ballmer to whomever comes next. They need to fill that void and I hope they get someone with a bold vision and a strong sense of purpose.
What Microsoft can’t afford to do is float around and further confuse the marketplace. We know that there are going to multiple screens for the foreseeable future. Microsoft is clearly on the right track here, whatever you think of the current implementation. They may need to adapt the vision to work better for users, but they can’t go back to Windows 95 because some users can’t evolve.
Photo Credit: Marcin Wichary on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.
November 27, 2013 9:12 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
In spite of BYOD, you still people carrying two phones.
Last week I was at conference when I spied a young woman sitting with two phones in front of her. One was an older BlackBerry and the other was an iPhone. This was a 20-something professional and it seemed an incongruent picture –but the fact is that the two phone strategy still persists, even in the age of BYOD.
I had to ask why she carried two phones and she said it was really about a work/life separation for her. The BlackBerry went into her purse on Friday afternoon and it didn’t come out until the Monday morning commute. This was a young person without children who was drawing a clear bright line between work and her non-work life.
She’s not the only person I’ve heard about who still uses two phones. A friend who worked for a large bank told me he used two phones because he didn’t want the bank to have access to his private information, and the desire for privacy outweighed the inconvenience of carrying two phones.
A third person I met on a plane on a trip to Germany earlier this year. He told me he carried a BlackBerry and an iPhone because his employer, a German financial company wouldn’t allow BYOD and they still used older BlackBerry phones. He carried the iPhone for personal use because he preferred it over the BlackBerry.
As surprised as I was about the two phone approach, what was perhaps even more surprising was the fact that the work phone was still a BlackBerry. As you are no doubt aware, BlackBerry has seen its marketshare plunge over the last 4 years and it has culminated this year in the CEO stepping down, senior executives being let go and the company being put up for sale.
It obviously hasn’t been a happy time for the company, but I still see these stubborn pockets of BlackBerry use in the United States and Europe. So how do we account for this seeming incongruity? On one hand, we see BlackBerry phones, yet they are in dire financial straits.
Partly I think it’s because companies stopped buying BlackBerry phones in large numbers. Most users appear to have older models and without a steady market to lift it up, BlackBerry continues to fall back in the face of stiff, insurmountable competition from iOS and Android devices.
So the BlackBerries we see might be an illusion of marketshare, which measures current sales not how many are still in operation from previous ones. In its latest US marketshare numbers, comScore had BlackBerry at just 3.8 percent.
Yet there are folks like that young woman who continue to use one in spite of the trends to carry a single device that’s not a BlackBerry. You have to wonder as these older BlackBerry phones inevitably break down (as all older electronics do), what people who still use them will get as a replacement, and if that two-phone system will still persist –because for now at least, for many people out there, it still does.
November 25, 2013 6:37 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
Wouldn’t it be great if you only needed one device?
Since the day I purchased my first smartphone, I’ve thought of it as the internet in my pocket, but when you think about it, it’s really a computer in your pocket. But what if your phone were actually your computer and you could use it as a phone or a desktop computer.
We’ve heard a lot about the death of the PC lately, which has resulted in some passionate responses from people who think if you don’t have a traditional PC or laptop you simply can’t do real work. I’ve maintained that I’ve created content on smartphones and tablets so I know it can be done, but I acknowledge there are scenarios that require a keyboard and mouse.
I don’t think we necessarily have to live with a Windows/Office dominated world view forever, but I recognize that there are workers who will need PCs long into the future, no matter how much PC sales go down. There will still be usage scenarios that require one, just as there are still organizations out there using mainframe computers. A technology can diminish without going away completely.
The question is will we still need a beige box on our desks with a monitor, keyboard and mouse all hard wired to it?
I’m beginning to think not.
Last week, I was chatting with Scott Megill, who is president and CEO at Coriell Life Sciences. And he pulled out his iPhone 5s and speculated that Apple was missing an opportunity here. He said when you look at the guts of this phone, it has a 64-bit A7 chip under the hood. It’s certainly powerful enough to run many PC-style applications.
Megill wondered why Apple hadn’t figured out a way to harness all that power. He speculated if he had a docking station with a keyboard and decent monitor, the potential was there with the power of that processor to use it as his primary computer –in his pocket on the move and in the docking station when he was in the office.
One simple device to do all his computing. There are probably limitations with iOS, but there are iOS office productivity apps today, even though Microsoft still hasn’t put Office on iOS yet. But if this kind of scenario were to come to pass –and I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t –it would seem if Microsoft wants a piece of this action, it would need to get Office on iOS as quickly as possible.
It’s worth noting that Benjamin Robbins, co-founder at Palador, a mobile consulting firm decided to try this and used a mobile device exclusively for an entire year, but this was more an experiment or proof of concept. And he didn’t use a docking station either. He just used the mobile device.
In Megill’s scenario, he would use the phone most of the time, but it would be connected to a monitor and keyboard/mouse when he had to do work that required input. He reported that at home he uses an iPad and that takes care of most of his computing needs in the house and he doesn’t really need a keyboard. There are only limited times now in his computing life when he needs that PC experience.
Wouldn’t it be great if his phone could give it to him?
(c) Can Stock Photo
November 18, 2013 8:42 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
Even the desktop is moving to the cloud and Google and Amazon are undercutting Microsoft at its own game.
We’ve seen all kinds of movement to the cloud in recent years, but the one that could have the most impact is the desktop in the cloud, as Google and now Amazon are trying to give you a complete desktop in the cloud.
Sure, we’ve seen servers and storage in the cloud and we’ve seen business software in the cloud. We’ve seen developers get in on the action with platforms in the cloud, but it was only recently we started to see the desktop in the cloud.
And what’s funny is that Microsoft, the company that lays claim to the desktop in business with the Office/Windows franchise is getting left behind by the likes of Google and Amazon.
Microsoft should be by all rights be taking over this market, but Amazon announced a new product last week that will actually challenge Microsoft in its own backyard. Microsoft hasn’t ignored the cloud of course. They have Azure and Office 365 and they purchased Yammer, a cloud-based company, but they haven’t taken the cloud by storm.
Now Amazon is undercutting them at their own game with their own products. The latest Amazon trojan horse is called WorksSpaces, which runs…wait for it…Windows 7, Office and Internet Explorer –all in a convenient and low-priced cloud package. Somehow Amazon is beating Microsoft at its own game by doing what it does best, and undercutting the competition in terms of price.
As though that isn’t enough for Microsoft to worry about, there’s also ChromeOS, which is kicking butt and taking names in laptop sales. In fact, if you take a look at Amazon, the number 2 and number 4 laptops for 2013 are Chromebooks running ChromeOS.
What Amazon and Google have in common of course is that they are major cloud players, and even as Microsoft tries to play catch-up in cloud and mobile, it is forever being pressured by companies born in the cloud and have a leg up on them because of that.
Microsoft can produce cloud products, but its bread and butter has always been the desktop and when customers go looking for cloud products, they look at cheaper alternatives from vendors that understand the cloud. They don’t go looking to Microsoft (even when it involves Windows and Office) and that has to be terribly frustrating for Microsoft, and could even be a reason why Steve Ballmer has had enough as CEO and is stepping down.
I wrote last week about how the cloud changed procurement and that it isn’t going back to the old way where IT controlled everything. This ability to launch the entire desktop in the cloud is just another step in the cloud evolution.
Some IT pros see this as a positive. Others see it as a attack on security and even their very livelihoods, but as companies look for ways to reduce the overall cost of doing business, it only makes sense that going to the cloud and getting desktop services far cheaper than you can from Microsoft is the way companies are going to go.
As I’ve written here before, Microsoft recognizes this shift of course and they are doing everything in their power to combat it, but so far, they have not made any significant gains and this latest move by Amazon could really hurt them.
What’s clear is the cloud has changed the way we think about computing services, and the ease of deployment, the low cost and the convenience could change the way we think of desktop computing moving forward, just as it changed servers, software and development environments.
Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo
November 15, 2013 11:21 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
This is how we used to ask IT for hardware and software.
In the old days, if you wanted a server, you groveled to your IT department and asked for one. “Oh sure,” they would say. “We’ll get on that and after we put an image on there and rack it and stack it and do our IT magic, we’ll give you access to it –in 60-90 days.”
Fast forward to today when infrastructure as a service providers such as Amazon Web Services offer infrastructure that’s cheap and instantaneous. Instead of 60-90 days, you can have a server cluster up and running in 90 seconds.
Well, bust my buttons that’s a horse of a different color.
And that was the message Stephen O’Grady from Red Monk was delivering in a session called Shadow IT: Protagonist, Antagonist, or Neither at the Alfresco Summit in Boston this week. This ability to self procure hardware, software and services has forever shifted the balance of power between IT and end users.
They no longer have to ask. They don’t have to wait and they don’t even have to pay a lot because many cloud services are free or very low cost.
In fact to illustrate his point, O’Grady put up a slide with the following quote from Flip Kromer:
“[Amazon] EC2 means anyone with a $10 bill can rent a 10-machine cluster with 1TB of distributed storage for 8 hours.”
That very notion has changed everything, but it’s not just the infrastructure. The tools are free or low cost. There’s open source and cloud services galore with everything one could need to do a job and IT is just sort of sitting there a little shell shocked wondering what their role is now in this newly disrupted environment.
And it’s worth noting that Amazon made an announcement this week that could kick up the stakes just a little bit higher. It announced a new virtual desktop in the cloud that could change the way companies provision desktop computing in the same way it changed the way they provision servers.
The new tools include a standard type of computing environment and are available at a variety of price points. According to a blog post from Amazon, the tools will include “Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash, Firefox, Internet Explorer 9, 7-Zip, the Java Runtime Environment (JRE), and other utilities. The Standard and Performance Plus bundles also include Microsoft Office Professional and Trend Micro Worry-Free Business Security Services,” according to the blog post.
The price range is $35 to $75 per month, depending on the CPU, memory and storage options you select. Regardless of the price point, Amazon gives you access to these services from any device with an internet connection.
That means that anyone can provision a fully functional business desktop for a very low price and have access to their materials on any device, anytime anywhere.
As O’Grady pointed out these types of changes have had a profound impact on the balance of power in organizations because individual users can get the services they need without the help of IT. The desktop is just another step towards that total business provisioning in the cloud, one that can completely bypass IT if users were so inclined.
And of course, it would be a mistake to think it’s just Amazon that is leading here. They are just one example.
O’Grady said this ability, like bacteria, is neither positive nor negative. It just is and as IT pros you have to understand this changing environment and their role in it because as O’Grady pointed out, “The way we do procurement has to shift due to the availability, accessibility and lack of cost [of all these cloud services].”
And there’s no denying that or the role the cloud has played in that change.
Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo
November 7, 2013 12:13 PM
Posted by: Ron Miller
We are starting to see the massive impact of mobile disruption on traditional PC hardware and software companies and older phone manufacturers.
In Clayton Christensen’s seminal book on disruption, Innovator’s Dilemma he points to the mid-1980s when most of the mini computer companies –DEC, Prime, Nixdorf, Wang, et. al –went from vibrant companies to the scrap heap in a matter of years after the introduction of the desktop PC.
We are seeing a similar dynamic play out in 2013 as mobile disruption from smartphones, particularly iOS and Android, is driving many traditional PC players and older phone manufacturers from the stage.
In a single year, we have seen the CEOs of Microsoft, Blackberry, Acer and Nokia lose their jobs. As Horace Dediu of Asymco pointed out on Twitter the CEO of HTC is teetering on the edge of the abyss. So what the heck is happening?
It’s disruption plain and simple. And get ready for plenty more of it as familiar brands bite the dust or the CEOs walk the plank in some kind of desperate hope that changing leaders will change the outcome. It won’t.
That’s because we are seeing the Innovator’s Dilemma play out in front of us across the technology industry.
Just as the Mini disrupted the mainframe and the PC disrupted the Mini; we are seeing mobile devices disrupt the PC and smartphones disrupt feature phones –and these companies are struggling to find ways to stay relevant to their base while attempting to build devices that appeal to the newer touch-enabled markets.
It’s interesting to see Nokia and Blackberry on this list because they are two companies that were on top of the world before iPhone and Android came along, but neither company has been able to adjust to the changing markets.
Blackberry eventually came out with a touch-enabled smartphone, but it was too little, too late, didn’t work very well and alienated its long time user base that actually liked a physical keyboard. They were torn between two worlds and reacted very slowly.
Nokia also had an extremely lucrative feature phone market. It seemed counter-productive to alienate that market and they only dabbled in the smartphone market. Their early entrees were actually quite good, but they didn’t go all in and ceded the market to cheaper touch-enabled Androids. By the time they realized what was happening and switched to Windows 8, it was far too late. iOS and Android already had complete control of the market and Nokia could only pick up the scraps left by the fading Blackberry.
Then we have Microsoft and Acer. I’ve written before about the struggles Microsoft faces as it tries to transition from a PC-based Windows/Office software model to one based on the cloud and designed for a smartphone/tablet model. It’s torn between the two and as I’ve written it’s almost impossible to serve two masters: the cloud and the desktop –another innovator’s dilemma playing out before us.
And finally we have Acer, the PC/laptop maker. As we’ve watched PC sales level off worldwide and we’ve seen tablets and smartphones pass the PC in a big way, it only makes sense that a PC maker would be a victims of this shift and sure enough we see the Acer CEO falling on his sword this week.
As Microsoft struggles, it would follow that the OEMs who sell PCs and laptops would face a similar issue. We have seen it with HP and Dell as well and we will watch these companies continue to fade, just as surely as we watched the mini computer ones fall in the 80s.
Christensen built the model, and today what we’re seeing it play out at an even faster rate than we ever thought possible. And this is only the start of a massive shift that will impact not only technology, but every industry.
Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo
October 25, 2013 10:49 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
The other day at the Apple press event announcing a slew of new products, services and pricing schemes, Apple officials took a few not-so-subtle swipes at Microsoft without naming names. They couched it in terms like “our competition.”
Tim Cook used the product announcement this week as a forum to attack competitors.
Here’s a good example of one of Tim Cook’s barbs:
“Our competition is different: They’re confused. They chased after netbooks. Now they’re trying to make PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs. Who knows what they’ll do next? I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you that we’re focused.”
Instead of ignoring such obvious trolling, Microsoft took the bait and shouted back. Of course they did. Because they don’t when to shut up and let their products and services speak for themselves. The trouble with Microsoft is every time they open their mouths, they show how little they know about mobile.
Microsoft’s response according to VentureBeat was that iPad’s not a real work machine and iWork is “watered” down, the implication being that Office is the only true office productivity app and you can’t do real work on a tablet without strapping on a keyboard. There might have been some statements about Tim Cook’s mother, something about army boots, a statement or two about the Apple executives dressing funny, and perhaps even a poopy head thrown in, but that couldn’t be confirmed at press time.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has had it up to here with Apple’s comments.
In fact, Jeff Rutherford, a PR Consultant who works with digital and tech companies believes Microsoft made a big mistake in how they handled the response. “I just think it’s tacky. I guess they felt obligated to respond since Tim Cook mentioned competitors on stage. Frankly, I think that was a mistake. Let yourself shine – don’t worry or even mention competitors,” he told me.
He’s right when you answer that kind of statement, you just look petty. And if you do answer certainly don’t do it by putting the other guy down too, especially when they didn’t even name you outright. Just be cool about your own products and services and be done with it.
Rutherford believes that Apple handled the situation well. They outflanked Microsoft by giving away their own operating system and office productivity package for free, and threw in a couple of well-placed barbs while they were at it.
“And, frankly, I thought Apple’s moves of giving away iWork [and Mavericks] for free was brilliant. Between Apple and Chromebooks and all the various Android mobile devices, Microsoft knows their PC hegemony is never returning, and they’re basically screwed unless they really do some dramatic retooling or make some acquisitions in the mobile space,” he said.
So what could Microsoft have done to salvage the situation? Rutherford says he would have recommended they take the focus away from Apple and put it on their own products. “If I were advising them on PR strategy, I would tell them to take the high road if called by reporters. “Apple is a smart and talented technology company as their latest iPad announcement shows. At Microsoft, we’re working hard to build the mobile Microsoft of tomorrow. Let me tell you about the new Surfaces we’ve announced . . .”
But of course they didn’t do that and Rutherford says that points to the flaws in their overall mobile strategy even more, a point on which I have to agree.
“Microsoft’s mobile/tablet struggles aren’t a PR issue,” he said. “They are a profound business and strategic error.”
Rutherford is right, there is a fundamental problem with their mobile strategy and this continued emphasis on the keyboard and Office as the primary tools for work is going to continue to be a major problem for the company. They need to find a way to define a better mobile strategy and forget about answering catcalls from Apple. That’s just distracting them from building their mobile marketshare.
Tim Cook Photo Credit: deerkoski on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.
Steve Ballmer Photo Credit: aanjhan on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.
October 15, 2013 9:12 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
Yesterday, the always insightful Monday Note blog had an interesting post about the dilemma faced by the next Microsoft CEO. In summary, Microsoft finds itself very much between a rock and a hard place when it comes to its strategy moving forward and whoever takes over is going to face a huge challenge guiding the company through this.
The rock you see is the still-lucrative but ultimately fading PC software business. Microsoft still makes the bulk of its money from Windows and Office. So what’s the problem? There are still plenty of PCs. Walk into any business in the world and you’re likely to find oodles of them, most running some version of Windows and office.
The problem is that this isn’t a sustainable model long-term. If you doubt me (and I’m sure many of you do), then click through to this screenshot from Asymco and see what has happened to PC sales since the launch of the iPad in 2010. I’ll wait.
As you can clearly see if you clicked through, it’s not a pretty sight for a company focused on the desktop. No matter how many PCs there may be in your company today, the numbers show that the PC business has been in steady decline and that’s not likely to change any time soon.
Microsoft is caught between, well, you know.
So where is all that PC business going? It’s moving to mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. As that has happened, Microsoft has not stood stone still of course. It has recognized this fundamental shift just like the rest of us and while it took some time, it has begun to build its mobile and cloud business over the last several years.
Which brings us the hard place, the cloud.
And the goal now says Steve Ballmer, is to be a devices and services company instead of what it has always been, a desktop software company. It’s a worthy and sensible goal in today’s market reality, but it’s one thing to recognize that the market is shifting and another to ignore that cash cow that is Windows and Office.
As the Monday Note post points out, “Microsoft can’t abandon its current model entirely, it can’t stop selling software licenses to hardware makers. But the company realizes that it also has to get serious about making its own hardware if it wants to stay in the tablets and smartphone race.”
So how do you keep these two seemingly disconnected strategies going while finding a way to push the company forward. It’s going to be a monumental challenge for the next CEO, and what’s worse is as the market has shifted, the dollars have shifted away from Microsoft.
Make no mistake, Microsoft is still a substantial company, but it’s basically making money with an old playbook while trying to transition to a new one and they often conflict.
Trying to decide how to divvy the resources, while keeping internal factions from killing each other and stockholders from all-out rebellion is going to take stout leadership, creativity and political savvy, and it’s going to be a tremendous business challenge to find the right balance among all these conflicting needs, while guiding the company out the other side to whatever it is to become next.
Good luck with that.
Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo
October 4, 2013 9:39 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
Danny and the Juniors once sang Rock and Roll is here to stay. Just like rock, the cloud isn’t going anywhere.
Last week I read a piece quoting Steve Wozniak that maybe the cloud wasn’t so bad. In fact he’s a fan of the cloud now. Wonderful, but it actually doesn’t matter what Woz or anyone else thinks, because just like rock and roll, the cloud is here to stay.
Cuz I don’t care what people say, Rock and Roll is here to stay…
I know the NSA can spy on us through the cloud, or apparently just about anywhere they choose, but it doesn’t matter. Cloud computing has become entrenched in the way so many of us do business. It’s so ubiquitous now that we don’t even think about it as the cloud. It’s just computing and that’s as it should be.
So let’s just end the discussion now. Repeat after me, “The Cloud Isn’t Going Anywhere.”
Rock ‘n roll will always be our ticket to the end
It will go down in history, just you wait, my friend
It’s just not. Many thought Rock was a fad. It wasn’t. More than 50 years later it’s still here and moving forward so will the cloud.
That’s because we have grown accustomed to the idea of accessing our apps and content on any device, anywhere, anytime and we aren’t going to back to carrying 3.5 inch floppy disks, a thumb drives or even emailing content to ourselves to move our stuff from device to device.
In an age when many of us have multiple devices including like a smartphone and a PC or laptop and likely a tablet too, we are used to accessing our stuff on multiple devices. And since my phone doesn’t have a 3.5 inch floppy drive or even a USB one, the cloud is the best way to access my content anywhere on any device.
Perhaps you have an issue with the name “The Cloud.” Get over it. It’s just a name. Sure it’s been abused my marketers and misused and misunderstood by many, but it’s just a term, a common lexicon. You don’t have to like the term, but it is what it is and that’s it.
If you don’t like rock ‘n roll, think what you’ve been missin’
But if you like to bop and strawl, come on down and listen
What the cloud comes down to is convenience and ease of use. The NSA? It’s a red herring. Even if you have a private cloud, chances are you’re accessing the internet to share your data and content. If you’re using the public pipes anywhere along the line, we know they’re listening to everything that flows through it. It doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant to the discussion.
This blog has been first and foremost always about the beauty of the cloud-mobile connection. And while there’s been tons of noise around the cloud about security and reliability and even the name itself, the fact is it works the way it’s supposed to work most of the time.
So, no, the cloud isn’t going anywhere. Let’s just move now, shall we.
Photo Credit: Ben Sutherland on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.
Lyrics from Rock and Roll is Here to Stay by Dave White as recorded by Danny and the Juniors