October 31, 2012 8:26 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
Microsoft’s new look Windows 8 and Office integration is designed to do what it always has: lock users in to an all-Microsoft product approach.
Microsoft has certainly has an exciting few days. Last Thursday it was Windows 8, Friday it was the Surface with Windows RT and this week, it was the Windows 8 phone. It’s actually a bit overwhelming to have all these product announcements on top of each other like this, but it reveals Microsoft’s mobile and cloud strategy quite clearly — and surprisingly it looks quite familiar.
On the surface (if you’ll pardon the expression), it appears, this is a company that has seen the light. They have bought into Ray Ozzie’s whole Dawn of a New Day post-PC rhetoric, and they are all in on the cloud and mobile. They have designed a hybrid operating system to work on mobile or the desktop. They’ve created their own tablets along with those from partners, and they have a new line of phones coming from OEMs in time for the holidays. They also have the cloud services in place.
Everything looks right. They seem to understand the cloud-mobile connection they have been missing for so long, but there’s one slight problem. They can’t seem to let go of the past. For all these years, Microsoft has been mostly a software company that made lots of money locking in customers on high margin items like Windows and Office and it was great — until it wasn’t anymore.
Then Microsoft had an identity crisis, and it took some time and decided it wanted to be a cloud and mobile vendor — but it wanted to operate the way it always has by locking people into a Microsoft system where you use Microsoft products all the time — still making Windows and Office the center of everyone’s world. Brilliant, right? It combines the old with the new, but it fails to take into account a couple of key changes to the world.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer put it this way in a Wall Street Journal interview this week when he was asked to define the Microsoft vision today: “We talk internally about enabling people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential. Whether that’s sexy or not, putting you in control of your world, and letting you do things you weren’t able to do before, that’s what we’re about for people and for businesses.”
Essentially Ballmer’s company view comes down to this: Tablets and phones and desktop computers all integrate in an all-Microsoft vision where you can access Office on the desktop or in the cloud and it’s all held together by Windows 8 across devices. You see, it’s the same old all-Microsoft strategy in a cloud and mobile package and this time they even can sell their own hardware. Sounds pretty great — for them.
Sure, Microsoft saw the cloud and mobile trends, probably before it was too late, but the world wasn’t standing still while they came to their senses. People have been choosing their own devices for some time now, and just maybe people don’t love Microsoft all that much to want a Windows phone and a Window tablet to go with their Windows desktop/laptop. Maybe they want variety. Perhaps they want and a Samsung Galaxy S3 or an iPhone. Maybe they want Nexus 7 or an iPad mini. They may very well want a Window device too, but all Windows? That’s just not likely, not when there are so many other options out there.
And while the whole software strategy of going to the cloud with Azure and Office 365 and so forth all plays into this, it’s not realistic to believe that everyone is going to choose the Microsoft cloud product — not when there are so many enterprise-friendly consumer-like alternatives out there now.
The thing is, if this were three years ago and companies were still handing out Blackberries and an IBM ThinkPad, and everyone had a beige box under their desk running Office and Windows, the strategy might have worked just fine, but the world shifted under Microsoft’s feet even while it was trying so hard to adjust.
Microsoft did get part of the story right, and they deserve a great deal of credit for it, but maybe they just couldn’t or didn’t want to see the BYOD piece. The fact is that when you peel back all the hardware and software, and get to the core of it, this strategy is the same one they have been delivering for the last 20 years. It’s just baked into the company DNA to design their offerings this way and they don’t seem to know how to do it any other way.
The problem isn’t what Microsoft has delivered, it’s that it took so long, and there are just so many alternatives out there now. Microsoft doesn’t have the field to itself anymore and no matter how well designed the phones and the tablets and the operating system and the cloud services may be; there are others that are just as good and maybe better — and everyone gets to choose now.
Photo Credit: Microsoft
October 23, 2012 7:59 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
Users don’t care if the service that went down was hosted in the cloud or you data center. An outage is an outage.
Yesterday, social networks, those that were still up, that is, lit up with complaints about Amazon going down and taking down many useful services with it. As someone who writes frequently about the cloud, and as a user, I understand the frustration people feel when a service is down, but I’m wondering how many Exchange servers went down yesterday and we didn’t hear a word.
The thing is when Amazon goes down it’s very public. When you’re an IT pro and you get called from your kid’s soccer game because one of your crucial systems has gone down, you and your colleagues aren’t likely yacking about it on Twitter: “Oh man, the Exchange Server at Acme Widgets” went down. Bill Smith in IT is is in deep doo-doo.” Not likely to see a tweet like that.
Now think about the likes of Foursquare, Pinterest, Reddit, Flipboard, Heroku, Airbnb and lots of others and no wonder it felt like the Internet was broken yesterday. As an article on The Next Web pointed out, the last major Amazon outage was in June when an electrical storm was the root of the problem. If you had 4 months between issues in your data center, and the last was due to natural causes, I’m guessing you would be happy with that.
That’s because things go wrong in private data centers all the time. Ask anyone who’s on call in IT and they’ll tell you some stories. The difference is when a public cloud platform goes down, it has a much greater impact and much more public view. You can’t hide when Twitter is blowing up about your company being down, and all those major properties are affected, yet the result is pretty much the same. Your customers are dead in the water.
When you think about the difference between a public cloud and a private one, the public one serves many different companies, while you’re private one serves your internal customers. Each one is offering a set of services. From the user perspective, if you’re down it doesn’t matter who’s running the data center. The bottom line is that you can’t do you work.
The New York Times reported that the issue was at the Northern Virginia data center, but it was still not clear what happened as of last night, and may take several days for Amazon to sort it out. It appears that everyone is back up and running this morning, so whatever it was has been resolved.
All Things Digital recently reported on a Forrester survey that suggested that people aren’t using the Internet as much as they used to, but the survey architects themselves said this might be a perception problem. Forrester analyst Gina Sverdlov told All Things Digital, “Despite the fact that they always have connected devices and are always online, they don’t really realize they’re online.”
And the same dynamic is likely in play in your data center. Most employees don’t know the source of their application, and don’t really care if it’s hosted in your data center or in the cloud, but they will care if they can’t do their work for whatever the reason because in the end an outage is an outage. The only difference is who’s getting paid to fix the problem.
Photo Credit | Nature’s Images on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.
October 22, 2012 7:07 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
With so many tablets, consumers could be faced with too many choices.
We’ve got big tablets and small ones. We’ve got iOS, Android and Windows. We’ve got so many choices from so many manufacturers, it’s hard to keep up with the bevy of announcements. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a bit confused by the choices and I’m sure I’m not alone.
And it looks like by the end of this week, we are going to have a couple of more tablet entries to think about. It appears we will finally see the long-rumored 7 inch iPad announced tomorrow and Microsoft is having its Microsoft Surface with Windows RT coming out party on Friday. Meanwhile, there are rumors of a 10 inch Google Nexus tablet by the end of the month.
It’s enough to make your head spin, and I’m a journalist paid to keep up with all of this. I can only imagine how consumers must feel right about now.
Let’s start with Apple. We aren’t even sure that there is going to be an iPad Mini (or whatever Apple calls it) tomorrow, but it sure looks like it. And if it happens, it will finally put an end to months of speculation that Apple has been working on a smaller iPad or a larger iPod Touch (depending on how you look at it).
The irony of Apple making a 7 inch tablet is clear. As Charles Arthur points out in the Guardian, Steve Jobs trashed the idea of smaller tablets during a 2010 earnings call. That Apple is making one now could mean it recognizes a market opportunity when it sees it, or without Jobs’ council or browbeating, it is listening to the marketing department instead of engineering.
Then we have Google’s march into the hardware market. I’ve made it clear in this space in the past that I don’t think highly of this approach. That’s because I believe Google succeeds when it spreads its software to as many devices as possible, and when it sells hardware it undercuts its resellers. That said, I’ve looked at the Nexus 7 tablet and I enjoyed using it for the short time I played with it at my local Staples, but I’m not convinced that Google should be pushing the Android brand with its own Google-branded hardware.
Which brings us to Microsoft, which takes its long awaited stab at the tablet market starting later this week. Of course, we’ve been hearing about this thing for months too, and this week, Microsoft finally becomes a player in this space for better or worse. Much like Google, I don’t think Microsoft necessarily should be selling Microsoft-branded tablets and undercutting their resellers, but they are and they are yet another choice on the shelf.
For the record, Microsoft Surface with Windows RT doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and I can’t be the only one confounded by this Windows RT branding. Why have a pro and consumer version? The confusion only grows because apparently you can’t use Office on Windows RT tablets. While Microsoft may want emulate Apple by selling hardware, it hasn’t followed Apple’s lead when it comes to keeping the product line streamlined and clear.
I haven’t even mentioned Amazon, but mostly because I don’t truly see consumers bringing Amazon devices into the enterprise for work.
Regardless, the tablets are coming and there is little we can do, but sit back and wait for the dust to settle. Before you get too excited though, think back a year or so to when RIM released the PlayBook and HP released the TouchPad, both to a similar level of hype and fanfare we are seeing now. Then think about what happened to them. Which company will join them? Time to place your bets and mine sticks firmly with the market leader until somebody proves otherwise.
Photo Credit: morrissey on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.
October 4, 2012 11:47 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
As Oracle and Salesforce wrestle with one another, both companies are struggling to deal with a changing market.
Salesforce and Oracle both recently completed their user conferences in San Francisco. They were both splashy, well-attended affairs with 50,000 attendees at Oracle Open World and 90,000 at Dreamforce, but both companies showed signs that with great size, it becomes harder to maneuver quickly in a changing market.
If you want to go by pure numbers, then Salesforce won that game at their conference, but it’s not that simple of course.
Make no mistake, these are both big, successful companies, but they each have flaws and reacting to change is one of them. Due to their sheer size, it makes it all that much harder to make adjustments to changing markets and trends.
Let’s look first at Oracle, which made its mark in the age of large, complex enterprise software packages. It used its wealth to buy up a variety of software niches including content management, CRM and enterprise search (to name but a few), using its riches to check all the necessary boxes. But what it didn’t anticipate is the company down the street that was building its own empire in the cloud where it was less complex and easier to manage.
It took a long time for Oracle to see the light because after all going to the cloud was completely against the entire focus of the company. They wanted to own the data center, but were wise enough to realize that for many companies, the data center was beginning to shrink because they were moving at least some of the operations to the cloud.
Oracle may be stubborn, but it’s not stupid and starting a few years ago began offering the first cloud services. They have recognized they need to offer services in the cloud, but what’s not clear is if they can create cloud products that their market wants while still trying to protect their core enterprise software business.
It’s a dilemma that many disrupted companies face as they try to live between two worlds and don’t really grasp the new one very well, while the old one is diminishing in market importance creating a strategic dilemma.
Salesforce has played the role of great disruptor, but as we have seen this year with Craigslist, as the original disruptors go mainstream, they too can be disrupted and become just as slow to react to changes around them as Oracle has been.
And so we have Marc Benioff at the recent Dreamforce conference talking about “discovering” the value of social in the enterprise, and how for him, the light just went on even though social has been in the enterprise for years now. The problem isn’t that Benioff hasn’t understood the value of social. His company has been making purchases of its own including tools like Buddy Media and Radian6 for social media monitoring, but Salesforce has been late to social, just as Oracle was late to the cloud.
As these two giants face off against each other, I wonder if each of them can be flexible enough to keep their core businesses intact while reacting to the changes around them. It’s going to be a huge challenge for each of them and it should be fun to watch.
Photo by emdot. Used under Creative Commons License.
September 27, 2012 11:29 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
While Apple takes hit after hit in the press for the iPhone 5, it doesn’t seem to have any impact on sales.
Man, lot of anti-Apple talk this week. Less than a week after Apple began distributing the first iPhone 5s to throngs of waiting customers, the press has been less than flattering banging on a variety of issues.
An Op-Ed columnist in the New York Times wondered if Apple had peaked. The Guardian did a feature on prominent Apple mistakes throughout history. Tristan Louis on TNL.net. asked if Apple was transforming into Microsoft, another once-dominant company that lost its edge.
For all of that, Apple had a pretty nice weekend. According to multiple reports the company sold more than 5 million phones in just the first weekend. To put that into perspective, that figure exceeded the most iPhones ever sold in the first weekend by more than a million phones. The only thing that held them back from selling more appears to be supply issues (which if you recall they also experienced with the iPhone 4). I went into my local AT&T store the other day and was told to expect a three-four week late.
It’s hard to see those numbers as anything but positive, yet BusinessWeek reported that indeed some analysts were “unhappy” with the numbers because they didn’t meet whatever lofty estimates they had made. Meanwhile stock prices fell on iPhone supply issues.
I can tell you right now that there isn’t a smartphone manufacture on the planet that wouldn’t have been thrilled with those numbers for a quarter, never mind a weekend. It’s completely ridiculous to me that stock prices would drop after a performance like that.
But that’s not the entire story. First, there were reports of chipping on the black iPhone 5 — not quite on par with antenna-gate on the iPhone 4 — but a big deal to people who dished out big bucks for their iPhones. And Apple SVP Phil Schiller’s response that the chipping was normal was not exactly comforting or in line with Jony Ivey’s video of how carefully the iPhone 5 was supposedly manufactured.
Then of course, there’s the whole fiasco that is Apple Maps. Apple Maps by all reports is not remotely ready for prime time. A Mobile Industry Review blog post found the maps program defies the notion that Apple products just work. Meanwhile, Wayne Rash at eWeek found the mistakes in Apple Maps to be almost comical (unless you really needed the directions to actually get somewhere) and David Gewirtz at ZDNet wondered if Apple Maps was so bad it might actually result in someone getting killed as a result of the bad directions — calling the mapping program an “epic failure.”
He wasn’t alone. Writers were running out of adjectives to describe how bad this program was. But lest we forget, Google Maps isn’t perfect either folks. Anyone who has ever used it knows this, as this classic, xkcd cartoon nicely illustrates.
That said, it’s not my job to defend Apple, but it seems that for all the ink being spilled over the iPhone 5, the only aspect of all this that ultimately matters is if it affects the bottom line, and until we see some righteous anger from consumers, it’s nice fodder for discussion, but it doesn’t seem to have much impact on Apple itself. And until it does, all the fuming in the world, whether justified or not, isn’t going to matter.
Photo by thetechbuzz on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.
September 20, 2012 2:44 PM
Posted by: Ron Miller
After all these years as one of the premiere cloud vendors, Salesforce.com finally gets the enterprise cloud-mobile-social connection.
The primary focus of this blog has always been the link between mobile and cloud and to a lesser extent, social — the idea that you can get your content anywhere regardless of your location or the device you are using. As one of the original cloud vendors, you would think Salesforce.com would understand this at a fundamental level, but until recently, they have only begun to understand the mobile and social components.
Salesforce began building the social components over the last couple of years with purchases of Buddy Media in June and Radian6 last year. As Cathy McNight of Digital Clarity Group told FierceContentManagement at the time, “Salesforce.com’s acquisition of Buddy Media puts them in a leader’s position in the quest to bridge the social-enterprise divide.”
Then came Chatter of course, the SDFC socal component. In August, SFDC announced Chatter Communities and last week Benioff let the cat out of the bag at TechCrunch Disrupt that SFDC was about to launch a Box file sharing and collaboration tool competitor called Chatterbox.
And if you doubt the company’s commitment to the cloud-mobile-social connection, consider SFDC’s other services, Do.com and Work.com, which also make it easier to share and gather project information in the cloud and across mobile devices. That they lacked a dedicated file sharing program at this point, was actually quite a surprise, but it was also a surprise that while praising Box at TechCrunch Disrupt, Benioff revealed his company would now be competing with it.
In his keynote address at Dreamforce this week, the massive SFDC partner and user conference, Benioff addressed the idea of the cloud-mobile-social connection as though it were something that Salesforce just discovered and that nobody else had thought of it yet.
You expect high-sounding rhetoric at a conference address like this one, but the fact is that there have been plenty of companies making that same connection for a long time. In fact, I launched this blog in December of 2010 with a post about that year’s Dreamforce conference as an example of the quintessential cloud company — which I still believe to be the case.
But I assure you that I didn’t invent the mobile-cloud idea at the end of 2010 either. It was something that had been stirring for quite some time, and it was precisely because of the trend that TechTarget asked me to start a blog about it.
Salesforce simply recognized what has been obvious to any of us cover this space, that companies need a number of tools to operate in today’s mobile world. They need smartphones and tablets and they need apps that run on those tablets and give them access to enterprise content wherever they may be, and finally they need to be able to share and collaborate in the cloud. The cloud is the glue that holds this all together. You can’t be mobile or social if you’re not in the cloud — at least not effectively.
Salesforce has finally seen the light. Chances other vendors — large and small — won’t be far behind.
Photo by piyush.k on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.
September 13, 2012 6:41 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
, smart phones
, Windows Phone 7
The iPhone announcement was just one of many recent smartphone launches. Photo courtesy of Apple
Over the last several weeks, we have had our share of major smartphone announcements from Samsung, Nokia, Google and Apple. What we’ve learned I think is that the smartphone market is sufficiently mature, that these announcements have lost their ability to dazzle us.
Part of the problem is that most of these phones are so similar at this point that what we are left with is minor design differences, specification lists and operating system religious battles. If you doubt this, have a look at this picture on Mashable with the 4 phones side by side. You can also scroll down to see the specifications lined up side by side, for whatever that’s worth.
The thing is, I think the buying public and especially those of us in the tech press want to be blown away. We want to believe that these announcements matter, but as much as we want that, they have lost their luster because there’s not much these phones can do to differentiate themselves from one another.
We’ve seen this summer Apple fighting Samsung in court over basic smartphone design issues and winning. Regardless of which side you supported in this battle — whether you believe that we should agree on some basic smartphone design principles or you are convinced that someone can patent those elements — if you’re honest, what we’ve learned from these announcements is that these phones lack sufficient differences to excite us, especially when they come tumbling along one after the other, as these have.
When Apple first announced the iPhone in 2007, it was special because it represented a revolutionary shift in phone design from the shape to the touch screen to the lack of a hard phone number pad; this was something different. A year later, Apple announced the App Store and suddenly we had an internet device in our pockets with mini software packages we could download to our phones.
Today’s announcements can’t possibly compete with the excitement we felt in the early days of smartphones, whether it was the early iPhones or the first Androids. They were distinctive because they were different, but as markets develop, it becomes much more difficult to generate that kind of thrill because there simply aren’t any major changes to these devices at this point.
My colleague Wayne Rash writing on eWeek called the iPhone announcement incremental. I disagreed with this description at first, but after thinking about it, what else could this announcement be? What could any of these announcements be — but exercises in highlighting the minor changes to the basic design we all know all too well?
Word came out this morning that HTC and Samsung were planning to sue Apple over the iPhone 5 design. This is funny on a certain level, but it also illustrates beautifully where we are in the smartphone market evolution. We have a bunch of similar phones with different labels fighting tooth and nail in court and in the marketplace to get our attention.
We can all sit back and watch this drama continue to play out, but don’t expect to be dazzled anymore by smartphone announcements, because in the words of BB King, “The thrill is gone.”
September 5, 2012 12:10 PM
Posted by: Ron Miller
The new colorful line of Nokia Lumia phones. Photo courtesy of Nokia.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the shiny new phones that Nokia trotted out this morning. Leaving aside we weren’t given a price or availability of these phones or that the next generation iPhone will be released next week, on their face, these look great and have lots of nifty features. The trouble is that Nokia needed more than it could ever offer to get Microsoft and Nokia where they want to go.
I know I keep beating the same drum in this blog, but it’s not as though I relish the thought of Microsoft and Nokia failing. It’s quite the opposite. I’ve acknowledged many times, the market needs someone to take on Google and Apple, but these two platforms have become so powerful, it’s going to be almost impossible to stop them on pure momentum alone.
That said, not everyone feels that way. In fact, my colleague Wayne Rash, writing in eWeek saw this announcement as a real opportunity for the Microsoft platform due to the copyright litigation dance going on with Apple, Google and Samsung, which he believes could leave Microsoft with an opening. It’s possible, but as I’ve written I don’t think most consumers pay the least bit of attention to patent litigation.
As usual, you have your share of tech journalists gushing over the phone, and yes, it’s a nice phone, but as I wrote in a recent post, when you start as low on the marketshare totem pole as Microsoft, it’s going to take some serious traction to move up the ladder — even a little bit.
And, let’s face it, the first generation of Lumia phones were pretty nice too, but they didn’t do much. According to the latest comScore numbers for July, 2012, Microsoft dipped from 4.0 percent in the April report to 3.6 percent for July. If you trust these numbers (and I don’t see any reason not to trust comScore), in spite of the huge push from AT&T, Microsoft and Nokia; the Microsoft platform actually lost ground.
What’s different this time?
Don’t get me wrong, there is some cool technology here, and the phones have interesting colors, a big screen, a powerful camera and intriguing wireless recharging. (I’m curious to find out how and how well that works.) But you can’t escape the fact, no matter how fancy these phones may be that Apple’s market share increased 2 percent according to that same comScore report topping off at 33.4 percent for July.
And it’s not as though Apple is standing still. In a week, when the next generation iPhones come out, what do you suppose everyone will be talking about and the marketshare numbers will likely rise accordingly.
I don’t mean to leave out Google here because Android marketshare was up 1.4 percent to 52.2 percent of the US market in July. Look for yourselves. As the saying goes, read ‘em and weep.
The latest comScore marketshare numbers don’t paint a pretty picture for the Microsoft platform.
Chart courtesy of comScore.
As Preston Gralla wrote on Computerworld today, it’s a nice enough phone, but it’s not a game changer. And that’s the problem because it’s not about the phone or the features. When people walk into the store to buy a new phone, they aren’t choosing Microsoft. They are going with Android or Apple, and with a new iPhone coming, chances are the story is not going to change unless Nokia and Microsoft come up with Star Trek-like transporter technology for the phone.
That might turn some heads. Otherwise, as the headlines fade, look for the same old story: Microsoft mobile platform struggles to gain traction. Story at 11.
August 30, 2012 2:06 PM
Posted by: Ron Miller
Microsoft has started so far back in the smartphone marketshare pack, that it’s going to be to be long road trying to make gains from Google and Apple.
Some have suggested that last week’s ruling against Samsung might have created an opening for Microsoft as phone manufacturers seek a safer haven than Android might appear to be at the moment. Regardless of what happens, Microsoft still faces a long, slow climb from oblivion to relevance.
Whether Android is any more or less safe than it was last Friday when the verdict was handed down against Samsung, is debatable, I suppose, but it certainly gives fuel for the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) generators out there — and perhaps that was Apple’s goal all along. For now though at least, rest assured that Android isn’t going anywhere.
Consumers won’t give a hoot about lawsuits and as long as the manufacturers create nice phones, consumers will still push Android marketshare to its lofty heights at the top of the smarphone market, where it continues to control more than 50 percent of US smartphone sales (according to the May comScore figures) — and I doubt very much manufacturers will be cowed in the short term. All indicators point to Samsung fighting this verdict. Don’t expect anyone to roll over for Apple here.
That same comScore report showed Microsoft with just 4 percent of overall US smartphone marketshare in May. When you start that low, it’s like the old Richard Farina book, “Been down so long, it looks like up to me.” How do you climb out of a hole like that? It’s very difficult to move the needle when you are fighting two such dominant players.
Even with the launch of Windows 8 phones, looming on the horizon, it’s tough to gain marketshare under current market conditions. Google and Apple account for for more than 80 percent of US smartphone marketshare. Lowly RIM accounts for another 13.4 percent, and although that goes down with each passing report, the majority of the lost share seems to be going to Apple and Google — not to Microsoft.
In what might not be a coincidence, just this morning, Samsung announced its first Windows 8 phone, beating Nokia to the punch. Nokia is expected to make a big push with Windows 8 phones later this year, presumably in time for the holiday shopping season. If there is a moment for Microsoft to make some gains, it would seem to be right now.
The market has been screaming for a third option, even before the court rulings muddied the waters a bit. RIM hopes that it next generation phones will stop the bleeding. While Microsoft is clearly appears to be a better option, it’s not as simple as just showing up.
Microsoft still faces huge hurdles as it attempts to make the steep climb up from the smartphone marketshare abyss — and there are no guarantees, no matter how well they play, that they will succeed, because when you started at the bottom, it’s a long climb to get out.
Photo by katsrcool on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.