Charlie Rose: How do you find a balance in all this? Father, chairman of a major company, a foundation, and then all these other ventures? How does the balance come to you?
Bill Gates: I don’t mow the lawn.
It’s like we’re twins.
But moving beyond that, I just want to use a damn printer. There is nothing about printers on the home screen. When you type in “printers” it says it can’t find anything. Awesome. So I bring up the stupid f&*king charms (because menus and ribbons and taskbars weren’t good enough ways to start programs, let’s invent a whole new system, yay), choose Settings, choose “Change PC Settings”. Oh there is nothing called “printers” in this list either. OK click on devices and you can add a device, and then it tries and tries to search for devices. Meanwhile it is showing me a crappy list of devices I do have — great I have a “HL_DT_ST BD-RE WH08LS20″ installed, that is good to know. Oh and I have devices called “Microsoft XPS Document Writer” and “Send To OneNote 2013″. Where are those on my desk? Those are so much more important to me than my damn printer.
I know it isn’t cool and strategic to print anymore. But people still need to f&*king print. I eventually found a way to add a printer but don’t ask me where the hell I found it.
Oh and the arduino software won’t install on it, apparently the arduino board is not trusted. To install it, you have to boot into the secret system setup mode which you get to deep in the control panel, and choose to turn off driver signing enforcement. Except this super secret startup mode hangs on my brand new machine and I have to power cycle. That is great, you certainly don’t want the most active community of tinkerers using your operating system.
Oh and I am using with dual monitors — one plain old monitor and one touchscreen. DON’T DO THIS. It sounded like a great idea, keep the new interface off in one screen in its little ghetto, and run all my real apps on the other screen. Except the touch interface is horribly confused now — a touch on my touch screen moves the pointer on my non-touch screen.
Yes I am doing perhaps somewhat niche-y things but Windows used to be good at that, damn it. It would run on anything and let you do anything. Now it is just an OSX/iOS wannabe and not very good at that.
Not in a good mood.
Hal presents “a reasoned and rational defense of the current state of Office on Windows RT machines”:http://hal2020.com/2012/11/07/understanding-office/. I am almost half convinced. But I do differ with Hal on some points.
* The Office and Windows businesses have always been intertwined, they owe big parts of their individual successes to each other, they are all part of the same ecosystem bet. And for the Office team to deliver such a tepid solution for the premier effort of the Windows team, well that seems like a missed opportunity.
* And it is not just that the Office team bet against Windows RT. They have continuously bet against mobile devices across the board — there is no great mobile Office solution from Microsoft for any tablet or phone You can perhaps understand the waffling on Windows RT, but to completely ignore the trend towards mobile?
* An argument is made that no one at Microsoft could have predicted how thinly supported the desktop mode would be in Windows RT. That shows a real lack of foresight, since it only took about 12 nanoseconds for speculation to start on this outside the company once Windows RT was announced.
* Office, the richest and biggest group at Microsoft, couldn’t find a way to squeeze out mobile versions of their apps? Somehow Apple has done it for Keynote and Numbers and Pages, and they have a fraction of the revenues and profits in those groups.
Obviously I am unhappy with the Office experience on my Surface, and expected Microsoft to do better. Overlaying a touch interface on an existing mouse interface simply doesn’t work very well — and it was completely knowable and should have been addressed more deeply in Microsoft’s strategy.
UPDATE: “Hal articulately explains how the Microsoft culture has changed since my tenure there in the Paleozoic era, and how the Office team had limited/no information about Windows RT”:http://hal2020.com/2012/11/07/understanding-office/#comment-3532. Hat tip to Hal, this is very edifying. Based on that, I withdraw some of my criticism of the Office team, particularly wrt Office on Windows RT — you can’t bet on something if you don’t know anything about it. I will redirect that criticism to Windows management and Microsoft management — if you are going to ship a device whose hallmark feature is Office, then you better damn well make sure you have created the environment for it to have a great version of Office.
I will still blame the Office group in part tho — they may have had no insight into Windows RT, but they certainly knew that touch devices (Win8 on Intel, iPad) were going to be important in the future, and that running “classic Office” with its mouse/kb interface on these devices was going to be a bad experience.
MSFT hasn’t explained this very well — all the first day orders are on their way, but MSFT didn’t explain the tracking process to anyone. To track your shipment, find your Microsoft Store order number (format MS1234567890), strip the MS off the front, go to fedex.com, choose “track by reference”, enter this code as a reference number along with your destination country and zip, and voila, there is your ship status.
Mine shipped the 23rd out of Suzhou, China and arrived in Seattle today. Should be delivered tomorrow.
Hat tip to @OhCompNetworks who got me started in the right direction. I tried calling the MS Store earlier in the day, that was a waste of time, they didn’t seem to have a clue.
* “ScaleXtreme Announces Support for Linux/Windows Server on Windows Azure Public Cloud IaaS”:http://www.bloomberg.com/article/2012-06-06/a.cUuxU7fDIw.html
* “Apprenda Delivers Hybrid Cloud Solution for .NET”:http://www.prweb.com/releases/privatecloud/apprendaazurerelease/prweb9577961.htm
* “AppFog to Develop Interoperability for Windows Azure Application Deployment”:http://www.marketwatch.com/story/appfog-to-develop-interoperability-for-windows-azure-application-deployment-2012-06-06
* “Opscode Announces Interoperability with Windows Azure”:http://www.bloomberg.com/article/2012-06-06/aNn0SfeJ5RnE.html
* “Windows Azure allows StorSimple to deliver a best-in-class, cloud-integrated storage solution”:http://www.meetwindowsazure.com/Stories/storsimple
Hat tip to all the companies, to Microsoft Azure team, and to @frankartale for helping to make all this happen
As part of “my Windows Phone trial”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/04/switching-to-the-nokia-lumia-900-for-a-while/, I am going to dig into the developer tools. I’ve written a little throwaway iOS app, and i’ve written one with “Parse”:https://parse.com/ (super easy!). So I’d like to understand the experience of writing a Windows Phone app.
“App Hub”:http://create.msdn.com/en-us/home/getting_started seems to be the starting place. Like a lot of marketing-driven websites, there are a lot of words up here, and indices of more words, and pointers to more words. Not a lot of help for me to actually do something — Parse is a nice constrast, sample Parse code on the landing page and a signup button right on the first page which leads to a very simple signup. You can get developing with Parse in literally a minute; not so with App Hub.
Anyway, I followed the pointers and installed the “winphone sdk”:http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=27570. There are some words up here that talk about getting a Visual Studio Express edition and I am thinking, thank goodness, because VS is kind of a beast. Well I was wrong, I seem to have gotten a pretty significant chunk of VS with templates for all kinds of code projects. It actually took me a while to figure out where the templates were for winphone projects, and I actually found several, and couldn’t figure out which was the right one to start with. (I did have a version of VS installed a year ago and uninstalled it, but perhaps it left some residue behind which made my VS Express look more complicated)
So I figure I should “sign up with apphub”:http://create.msdn.com/en-US/home/membership and get a developer account assuming there will be some guidance on what to do next. Well apparently tho that is a hard thing to do. My credit card transaction keeps getting turned down with no explanation. Munging thru forums and trading email with apphub support has revealed that this is a common issue, there is something very off with the Microsoft billing system. People wait for days to get their account approved. I’ve been told I need to use IE9 to sign up, that I have to visit 5 different subdomains and make sure my account information is 100% consistent across all those, that I may just want to give up and try again with a new account. I’ve tried everything to no avail. Oh and the billing site is incredibly slow.
So I struggle on. I have email in to several people for help. But some broad prescriptive advice for MSFT at this point: When you are 10x behind in mobile apps and mobile app developers, you should probably aspire to have tools and a developer program that are 10x easier to use. Some specific ideas:
* Fix billing. I’d argue to get rid of it all together, let any damn fool in the developer program, MSFT needs developers. The billing system has clearly been poor for years, it needs some energy applied to it.
* Radically simplify VS. If what I am seeing is what all developers see, it is too much. Too many templates, frameworks, language choices, etc.
* Make the developer website more about doing, less about telling. Developers should be developing code in seconds and minutes, not hours. They can go munge thru detailed technical material later, get them up and running in a dev environment with sample code fast.
* Melding the above two ideas, look at something like “Cloud9″:http://c9.io/. Host a dev environment right on the site, require no download or install, let people start coding in seconds. Cloud storage of code so they can pick up their coding anywhere, a cloud-based testing environment (I’m sure some of our portfolio companies like “Skytap”:www.skytap.com would be happy to help). Make it dramatically easier to get a dev and test environment set up.
* Talk with the “Parse”:http://parse.com guys, they have figured out how to make it super easy to develop mobile apps, solving a lot of the backend issues that many developers don’t need to deal with.
This is just the beginning. I am sure MSFT has plenty of smart folks who have ideas. It is not a time to hold back, I’d look hard at bold steps to really change the playing field.
UPDATE: Some nice folks at MSFT helped me get this solved, but in a nonscalable way. Appreciate the help but doesn’t solve the problem for the mass market.
“Microsoft’s biggest miss”:http://minimalmac.com/post/17758177061/microsofts-biggest-miss is a nice discussion of another issue for the company, the slippage in relevance of Office.
I can’t speak to the whole market, but my document composition has moved almost entirely to vehicles like Evernote, Dropbox-hosted apps, Google Docs, and draft emails because the absolute #1 feature I need is document availability from everywhere — work machine, home machine, iPad, phone, kiosk, etc. No other document composition feature even comes close for me, I’m happy to use simple Markdown syntax for formatting. Office has started to embrace this issue but it is a little too late, I’ve kind of moved on.
The individual Office apps are still great apps. And it is still hard to not have Office on a machine with all the inbound Excel and PPT files, so I am still an Office buyer. But it feels like this kind of buying behaviour will collapse at some point — the viewers in Mac Mail for instance aren’t terrible.
In the late 80s, IBM attempted to reassert control over the PC hardware platform with the introduction of the PS/2 and its proprietary “MicroChannel”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_Channel_architecture architecture. The cloners fought back, customers voted with their feet, the PS/2 initiative failed, and the era of open PC hardware continued and flourished. This was hugely beneficial for MSFT as a thousand PC OEMs bloomed, PC-based innovation surged and costs dropped, and MSFT software rode the wave of market expansion.
And it was great for end users. Not only because it drove system costs down, but it also created a rich market of add-on products — everyone could mix and match hardware to create their optimal system, whether they cared about cost or performance or maintainability or upgradability or whatever. Corporations could spec out and build standard low cost machines, enthusiasts could build super-tweaked machines, verticals could build out specialty machines, all on the same open hardware platform.
In the last 15 years, though, the market has shifted dramatically towards the laptop form factor. This shift has been a relative disaster for MSFT. The industry has moved away from an open hardware chassis with mix-and-match components, to closed tightly-engineered all-in-one machines. This shift has played to Apple’s strengths in design and integration and has negated many of the benefits of the PC ecosystem. The PC industry is still struggling to figure out how to regain design and profit momentum — Intel’s “Ultrabook”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultrabook effort being the latest scheme. But the Ultrabook is just a direct response to the MacBook, it does nothing to recapture the open hardware experience of the 90s.
The open hardware community still exists in various forms, but is no longer focused on the PC platform and is not much of an asset for MSFT. Enthusiasts still build PCs, mostly for gaming — “Maximum PC”:http://www.maximumpc.com/best-of-the-best for instance has a good guide to components, “Newegg”:http://www.newegg.com is the place to buy. But this isn’t mainstream any more. The “maker” community is vibrant but is focused on other platforms largely — “Arduino”:http://www.arduino.cc/, the “Kickstarter”:http://www.kickstarter.com community, etc. The vibe and energy around open hardware is great, but it is no longer tied to the PC experience and is no longer an asset for MSFT.
MSFT has always been great at chasing taillights and is hard at work supporting the Ultrabook, competing with the Apple stores at retail, pushing Windows Phone, etc. But chasing Apple’s taillights results in products that are more and more like Apple’s — fully integrated hardware/software/services, a captive retail experience. MSFT has to do all this, the mainstream of the market is here, but there is nothing distinctive about the resultant products and experience. The Ultrabook/Windows/Microsoft Store products may equal the Apple experience, and may offer users a few more choices of hardware brands (does anyone care?), but the experience won’t stand out. Necessary work but not sufficient to recapture thought leadership in the market — at the end of the day, MSFT will be able to claim parity but no more than that.
If I was in a leadership role at MSFT, I’d invest in strategies to recreate the open hardware platform dynamic around the Windows platform. It is not obvious how to do so with the laptop and tablet as the mainstream platform, but I would spend $100s of millions trying. MSFT clearly has the cash to spend on new frontiers and new adventures, a couple hundred million on an effort to change the basis of competition in the PC market seems like a wise bet, even if it fails.
How about putting a “maker’s corner” in every retail store with modified cases and modified machines, maybe even workshops? Get the energy of the PC gaming community into the store, let people see this energy. How can the laptop design be modified to support add on hardware — super high speed optical expansion busses, wireless high speed expansion busses, novel expansion chassis ideas? Sifteo cubes are kind of cool, can this idea be used to provide hardware extensions to laptops? Are there other ways to “snap on” hardware to extend the laptop or tablet, using bluetooth or induction or other mechanisms? Can MSFT seed the maker community with funds or tools? Can MSFT embrace Arduino somehow, or Kickstarter? Could the PC be the hub for thousands of Arduino-based sensors and actuators and gadgets? These ideas are all admittedly poorly thought out, and I am not sure any one idea is right, or if any will work.
But I would spend a lot of money chasing after any idea that would move away from closed all-in-one hardware designs, and I would experiment with many ways to reinject open hardware dynamics back into the PC/tablet market. Ultrabook is not this — it is a fine and adequate taillight chaser, but it won’t shift competitive balance back in MSFT’s favor.
This is not the only reason for MSFT’s stagnation in the last decade, there are many other aspects to consider, but the dwindling of the open hardware ecosystem has been a loss of MSFT. For another take on Apple’s success against MSFT in the last decade, check out “Rich’s analysis”:http://www.themarketingplaybook.com/2012/02/stocks-bonds-commodities-and-apple/ — the observations about vertical vs horizontal integration ring true.
Some interesting commentary on “Google’s business model by Gruber”:http://daringfireball.net/linked/2011/08/23/swartz-google-evil — a total Apple fan, doesn’t view ads as inherently evil, but says you need to be very respectful of your users. And referring to “an original article by Aaron Swartz”:http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/googevil who says you can’t make things worse for users just to make money.
I don’t know what evil is when applied to technology business models. I do know that I feel very comfortable with my Apple transactions — they ask me for a lot of money, in return they give me a product that is mine to own completely. They give me the option of signing up for services for more money, services where they keep data about me, but it is up to me. It feels like a transparent and respectful model. Similarly, I feel good about my Microsoft transactions — they ask me for money, in return I get a software or hardware product that is mine to do what I want with (excluding Bing which I rarely use, and excluding some of their new online service offerings).
I feel somewhat less good about my Google relationship. I do like and use their products. But the fact that they are “free” is bothering, I know that Google is making money off me somehow, but there is very little transparency around it. Who is looking at my data, what are they paying for it, are there certain things I do that are very high value, are there people using info about me that I would rather not, ?
I don’t know any of this and it makes me kind of queasy. Enough to abandon products that are actually useful? Well not yet — and for search,it is not like there are alternatives that are more respectful of me. But I can’t imagine ever having the kind of respect for and attachment to Google products that I have to products from companies with more straightforward business models.
* “iPhoneTracker”:http://petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker/. Cool toy to see where you’ve been and feed your feelings of paranoia.
* “Portal 2″:http://www.thinkwithportals.com/. Of course.
* “Qwiki”:http://www.qwiki.com/. I was kind of excited about this, but I can’t make my own Qwikis? Excitement way down.
* “Acorn”:http://www.flyingmeat.com/acorn/. Haven’t bit yet but I’d love something less obtuse than Photoshop.
* “Blogsy”:http://blogsyapp.com/. Seems like a brilliant WordPress front end.
* “Issue Bucket”:http://itunes.apple.com/ml/app/issue-bucket/id403133693?mt=8. Nice little frontend to bitbucket.
* “You Gotta See This”:http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/you-gotta-see-this/id379058646?mt=8. Stupid little stylized panorama camera app for the iphone. Fun.
* Office365 beta. The individual apps (word, xl, ppt) are nice and well done. The portal gluing them all together with email and calendar is strange and confusing — two URLs, yet another ID different than my existing ID used at all msft sites, an insistence on downloading software. Chalk it up to beta.
* “Poor Halo play prompts stabbing threat”:http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattle911/archives/231642.asp. Doesn’t seem unreasonable. I’ve heard campers threatened with worse.
* “How Secure Is My Password”:http://howsecureismypassword.net/. No idea how accurate, but fun. 17 thousand years for my typical password.
* “Rich on photobooks”:http://www.tongfamily.com/archives/2010/12/photobooks-for-christmas/. I just always use the default in Aperture but perhaps I should branch out.
* “AR.Drone”:http://www.crunchgear.com/2010/12/01/ar-drone-torn-down/. Why don’t I have one of these yet.
* “Declining energy quality as recession cause”:http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-11-declining-energy-quality-root-current.html. An interesting way to look at things. Not sure it actually makes sense tho.
* “Now you can swap useless Amex reward points for useless Zynga crap.”:http://techcrunch.com/2010/11/30/american-express-now-lets-you-swap-rewards-points-for-zyngas-purple-cows/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Techcrunch+(TechCrunch)
* “Snoopy themed Windows tablet”:http://www.crunchgear.com/2010/11/25/onkyo-announces-snoopy-themed-windows-tablet/. Take that, Apple.
* “Spiders on Drugs”:http://design-milk.com/spiders-on-drugs-by-guillaume-lehoux/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_campaign=Feed:+design-milk+(Design+Milk). We are asking for some serious payback from spider nation some day.
* “Umpteenth article on the death of cable TV”:http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/24/internet-tv-and-the-death-of-cable-tv-really/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Techcrunch+(TechCrunch), yawn. Until I can watch HD live sports without stuttering I am captive to cable/dish. Going to be a while.
* “Charles on breaking up MSFT”:http://www.platformonomics.com/2010/10/the-baby-bills-are-back/. Good as always.
* “Habitable planet found?”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/09/has-a-potentially-habitable-planet-just-been-discovered.html
* “Languages you’ve never heard of”:http://gadgetopia.com/post/7105?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+gadgetopia+(Gadgetopia). In the future, we will all have our very own programming language.
* “Topologist suggests new form of matter”:http://www.kurzweilai.net/topologist-predicts-new-form-of-matter. For most of our history we’ve used the forms of matter that nature gave us. It is interesting to observe and think about what we can create as we gain mastery over atomic organization.
* “One man’s indictment of iTunes”:http://www.xconomy.com/national/2010/09/03/the-leaning-tower-of-ping-how-itunes-could-be-apples-undoing/. The thing is a giant hairball of software.
* “Exercise and aging”:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/magazine/28athletes-t.html?_r=1&ref=homepage&src=me&adxnnlx=1290787262-FJGn2RNM8RCjxiaHpyyVDA&pagewanted=all. Crap I need to get after it.
* “Show Me What’s Wrong”:http://www.showmewhatswrong.com/. Super useful.
* “User experience of F1 telemetry”:http://www.solidstateux.com/interaction-design/the-user-experience-of-f1-telemetry/. Always impressed with the amount of money spent on racing.
* “MacPaint and MacDraw source code”:http://www.computerhistory.org/highlights/macpaint/. Nostalgia.
Apple’s quarter (NYTimes): “We’re making our most innovative products ever and our customers are responding”…”unexpectedly strong sales of Macintosh computers and a surge in iPhone purchases pushed Apple’s profit up 15 percent in the third quarter”…”PC shipments for the industry fell 3 to 5 percent over the last three months. But Apple said it sold 2.6 million Macs in the quarter, up about 18 percent from the 2.2 million it sold in the previous quarter”…”overall gross profit margin grew to 36.3 percent, from 34.8 percent in the year-ago quarter”…”Revenue rose to $8.34 billion, from $7.46 billion last year”.
MSFT’s quarter (NYTimes): “has been humbled, both by the recession and by problems of its own making”…”Year-over-year revenue and full-year sales of Microsoft’s flagship Windows software dropped for the first time”…”29 percent drop in net income”…”17 percent drop in quarterly revenue”…”warned that people should not expect a major bounce-back in technology spending when the economy recovers.”
Hmm. Apparently the economic downturn is worse among PC buyers than among non-PC buyers.
Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters: Goodbye Company Picnic. — the continuing transformation of Microsoft. Some of my fondest memories of the company are the events that allowed me to include family — the company picnic (the first one I went to in ’88 was kind of mindblowing for us), the holiday party (again mindblowing for the kids, the kids’ experience always makes me think of the donkey island bacchanalia scene from Disney’s Pinocchio), halloween. These events did as much to cement my loyalty to the company as 100 other benefits that the company did, they kept my family happy and positive about my job, despite the hours demanded of me. Quite a constrast from the more traditional work environment I came from prior to Microsoft.
Spent part of yesterday being deposed on a matter that I can’t talk about which happened during my tenure at MSFT. Hard to imagine that these issues are still dragging on, my remembrance of the events 10+ years in the past is pretty poor. It was kind of humorous to be reminded of issues that we fought like cats and dogs about — in retrospect none of them amounted to a hill of beans.
Doing my part to help Microsoft avoid more layoffs this week. Firstly, been working thru zune error code C00D12F5 – Google Search. Some DRM config problem and all the published KB articles and forum pointers failed. Finally contacted the Zune guys directly and they were super helpful, even took my machine into their labs for a while. Turns out that somehow I had mismatched DRM components, they aren’t sure why, but forcing them all to the same version worked. Hopefully they will write up a KB article on. Zune guys were great to work with, here’s hoping they have future success.
Tough observations from a MSFT insider:
Now we have this godawful concoction about experiences, be they compelling, seamless, or plain vanilla. It suffers all the flaws of the second vision, in that it is too vague and subjective, and it also throws in some buzzwords for good measure. If you dip your WTF-sized strainer in this bubbling cauldron of muck, what emerges is “create seamless experiences”. What is THAT supposed to mean? Here’s a seamless experience I just had–I put an SD card in my Vista machine to try to upload them to a website, and it completely failed to do anything at all. It did so very seamlessly, I might add. Furthermore, I was completely unable to figure out how to make it recognize the thing (a scenario which had worked the day before), so it really was a case of a sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic (and also being indistinguishable from a kick in the crotch, which may have been the forgotten coda to Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote). It was also a compelling experience, in that I briefly felt compelled to toss my computer out the window. So I was batting 1.000 on the vision, but I didn’t feel so hot about it. With this to guide us, our vision might get replaced with a future that looks like “a computer in every dumpster and a pissed-off user in every house, cursing Microsoft software”.