Tag Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft culture must change, chairman says

Microsoft culture must change, chairman says – Fortune Tech:

“I would argue that there are some attributes to Microsoft today that do look vaguely like IBM circa 1990. The Windows monopoly is in fact under attack, and therefore we’re going to have to change or think differently about the management systems and the associated culture of the company as time goes on.”

I hope this reflects Satya Nadella’s thinking too.

A Mac and iPad user’s view of the Surface Pro 2

Back in 2003, the fully-fledged Windows Tablet PC was a pretty amazing machine. You could work on it (I wrote hundreds of thousands of words on my Acer C110, with its 9in screen and tiny keyboard). You could play games on it. You could read on it. You could do everything you could on a laptop and more. It cost more than a normal laptop, and the performance tended to be lacklustre compared to laptops of the same price. But it allowed you to do things no other laptop could do, from note taking using a stylus (with handwriting recognition which put the Newton to shame) to reading nascent ebooks in a much more natural way than on any other device. It was expensive, and clunky, but it worked.

Or at least, it worked for me. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for the rest of humanity, which – despite the constant promotion of the platform by Bill Gates – took one look at Tablet PC, went “huh?” and bought normal laptops instead.

Fast-forward to 2014 and Microsoft is still trying to sell people on the concept of the one-size-fits-all combined Windows PC and tablet. The company is so convinced this is the right way to go that it’s backing its hunch by building its own hardware, the latest of which is the Surface Pro 2.

Microsoft wants you to think of Surface Pro 2 as a “no compromises” PC that’s also a tablet. This is exactly the same line which Gates span in 2003, and unfortunately for Microsoft, it looks like being about as successful as marketing spin as it was ten years ago.

I’ve spent the last few weeks using Surface Pro 2 extensively. I’ve taken it on trips, where I might otherwise have taken my iPad. I’ve used it at home, instead of my MacBook Air, for everything from playing games to social media to business with Office. Although I’ve enjoyed the experience in some respects, the compromises Microsoft has been forced to make in creating something which supposed replaces both PC and tablet are probably more than I’m willing to put up with.

By being a tablet, Surface Pro 2 is a compromised PC: compared to laptops with equivalent performance it’s expensive, especially when you factor in buying a keyboard (£100 to you, sir!). It’s high-end ultrabook territory.

Compare it, also, to Apple’s latest iPad. The iPad Air weighs half as much (1lb vs 2lbs), has longer battery life, and will cost you $200 (or $79 if you want cellular networking, something that’s not even an option on Surface Pro 2). And that 64GB Surface Pro 2 will have a lot less space remaining after Windows has eaten into it than you’ll get with the iPad.

So what, exactly, is the point of the Surface Pro 2? Continue reading

Microsoft Surface is still a failure

Jason Del Ray, writing for Re/Code on the apparently-impressive Microsoft Surface:

In its fiscal second-quarter earnings release today, Microsoft said Surface revenue was $893 million during the final quarter of calendar year 2013, up from $400 million in the preceding quarter. It didn’t, however, provide information on the number of units sold and it did cost the company $932 million to generate the Surface revenue.

Still, that’s some holly jolly holiday season news, considering the Surface’s track record. The bad news, of course, is that Microsoft’s share in the tablet market is still minuscule.

The market share is irrelevant at this point: The bad news is that Microsoft is still losing money on every Surface it sells. 

Why I fucking love Bill Gates – and you should too

Great interview with the man that too many techies think of as The Great Satan himself. Gates has now found something better to do than create second-rate software: saving the world.

And better yet, he has no time for young whipper-snappers who think all that needs to happen is connectivity for the poor:

“These days, it seems that every West Coast billionaire has a vision for how technology can make the world a better place. A central part of this new consensus is that the internet is an inevitable force for social and economic improvement; that connectivity is a social good in itself. It was a view that recently led Mark Zuckerberg to outline a plan for getting the world’s unconnected 5 billion people online, an effort the Facebook boss called “one of the greatest challenges of our generation”. But asked whether giving the planet an internet connection is more important than finding a vaccination for malaria, the co-founder of Microsoft and world’s second-richest man does not hide his irritation: “As a priority? It’s a joke.”

Then, slipping back into the sarcasm that often breaks through when he is at his most engaged, he adds: “Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I’m thinking of. Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t.””

And to those who think making new companies does more good than charity, he's equally-dismissive:

To Diamandis’s argument that there is more good to be done in the world by building new industries than by giving away money, meanwhile, he has a brisk retort: “Industries are only valuable to the degree they meet human needs. There’s not some – at least in my psyche – this notion of, oh, we need new industries. We need children not to die, we need people to have an opportunity to get a good education.”

This is why I fucking love Bill Gates. He's going to save a lot of kids lives.

 

Where next for Microsoft?

Paul Thurrott – yes, that Paul Thurrott – has written an interesting post on the quandary Microsoft finds itself in:

Windows is in trouble because people simply don’t care about it anymore. It’s not outright hostility; there’s far less of that than the anti-Microsoft crowd would like to believe. It’s ambivalence. It’s ambivalence driven by the nature of “good enough” mobile and web apps. It’s ambivalence driven by the allure of anytime/anywhere computing on tiny devices that are more cool to use and even cooler to be seen using.

Where Paul gets things right is in identifying an attack on two fronts on Windows’ relevance to developers and users. On the one hand, for most people, web apps used on a desktop browser are more than good enough: they’re often better than the huge, complicated behemoth that is Office. Yes, there are cases when only Office will do (usually when only Excel will do). But users who need Excel are now few and far between.

On the other side of the attack are tablet and phone apps. This is where all the action is. Developers are not only excited by the possibilities of newer, more interesting APIs and platforms in iOS and Android, they also sit up and take notice every time Apple puts out a press release about a new revenue record for the App Store. Yes, the overall Windows software market is a lot bigger than $10 billion; but a large chunk of that Windows software market goes to Microsoft, and Adobe, and other top-tier vendors. The chances of a break-out hit Windows app are small, unless it’s a big-budget game.

However, this raises a question: If developers are attracted to fresh APIs and to the glamour and commercial possibilities of iOS and Android, why are new applications arriving in the Mac App Store every day?

There’s several reasons. First, Apple has continued to develop and innovate in its APIs. Every recent release of OS X has seen pretty cool stuff added to it. Even “bug fix and performance” improvements like Mountain Lion added new features for developers to take advantage of.

Second, there’s the halo effect of the iPhone. Many applications are “companion apps” to releases on iOS. The text editor I’m using to write this (Writer Pro) has a Mac version which I’ll probably use to edit, polish and post. I doubt that iA would have developed it if iOS hadn’t existed.

Third, and finally, there’s the Mac App Store itself. Its existence means that if you’re developing a new application you instantly have a place you can sell your product. Yes, it’s not perfect (and the decision by some companies to remove their products from the Store shows that) but it means that companies have a shop window that a new product can be sold from.

I would go a little bit further than Paul. Devices like the iPad (and the Chromebook) have shown people that getting stuff done on a computer doesn’t have to be complicated and messy, a constant battle with the machine to not get crafted to hell. You don’t need to have to “maintain” your computer anymore – we have moved beyond that.

Except with Windows, where we haven’t moved too far beyond that. You still have to install anti-malware software, you still have to make a conscious effort to keep things up to date, every now and then you still have to nuke the machine from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure). The same is true of the Mac, but (as it’s always been), to a lesser extent.

Can Microsoft fight back against this? Yes, it can: but it has to be brave, and bold and prepared to dump compatibility with the dull Windows of old. It has to invent its own simplified operating system, capable of exciting developers in the same way that iOS and Android have, while also being easy and reliable enough to attract customers who’ve come to expect iPad/Chromebook-level ease of maintenance.

Windows RT could have been that operating system, but it seems that Microsoft would rather kill that off. There’s still time, though: but not much more time.

The 12 days of Surface Pro 2 – Day one

If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably aware that I’ve been using a Surface Pro 2 off and on for a few weeks. So far, my impressions of it haven’t exactly been positive. As a tablet, I’ve found it to be pretty woeful. As a laptop, it offers less than my MacBook Air.

However, prompted by Kevin Tofel, who’s been using his Surface Pro 2 as a kind of souped-up Chromebook, and Mary Branscombe, who’s been vociferous in her defence of the product, I’ve decided to give the Surface Pro 2 a proper go. In keeping with the time of year, I’m going to use the Surface Pro 2 as my only computer for 12 days, replacing my MacBook Air, iPad Air and Nexus 7.

Importantly – for this is a test of mobility as much as anything else – I’ll be carrying the Surface Pro 2 everywhere that I would normally carry one of my usual devices. This means it’s really got to replace the iPad as a tablet (carried everywhere), the MacBook Air as a laptop, and the Nexus 7 as a sofa-surfer and occasional book reader.

Day One

It’s not a good start. One of the uses I put tablets to often is reading books, using Amazon’s Kindle software on pretty-much every platform. Kindle is generally pretty amazing. It keeps my reading position in sync, and (on tablets) any book that I start reading is downloaded to read when offline.

Happily, there’s a Windows 8 “Metro” version of the Kindle software, which looks and acts the same as on other tablet platforms. Except that when I went to continue reading a book that I’d started earlier, Kindle told me it couldn’t: “An error occurred while loading the next page. Please try again later.” Because I wasn’t connected to the net, it wouldn’t load the rest of the book – which is different to the way Kindle behaves on other tablet platforms, where if you download the book it’s available offline.

The second somewhat jarring thing is the lack of a reminder of the battery life that’s left. In Windows 8.1, to get to the battery indicator, you need to swipe in from the right hand side. That’s fine, but at the back of my brain I’m feeling like this is a laptop (and a Windows one to boot) – I should be keeping an eye on the battery.

This is an objective thing: the Surface Pro 2 actually has pretty good battery life, according to every test I’ve seen. But it feels like a laptop, rather than a tablet, and that tells my computer-addled brain to keep an eye on battery.

One thing that I am instantly missing is my iPad Air’s built-in 4G. Yes, I could tether the Surface Pro to my phone, but I’ve always found that tethering is more of a pain than it should be.

Some positives: I’m using the Type Cover 2 rather than the lighter (but horrible) Touch Cover, and it’s a really nice keyboard to type on, at least when you’re using it at a table. In the lap, the combined depth of Type Cover, Surface, and kickstand (adjusted to “lap-friendly” angle) isn’t as comfortable as a regular laptop, and if you’re lying on a sofa it’s even less comfortable still. I certainly prefer either the MacBook Air or iPad Air (with or without Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover) when sofa-surfing.

The screen is a bit of a mixed bag. I love the resolution – it’s as good as the iPad Air – but the shape and size leave something to be desired. When you’re using it in landscape orientation, it’s great for video but actually pretty poor for reading documents. If you use the onscreen keyboard, you’re also left with only a sliver of content above it, which makes it tricky to write much. Portrait orientation is just generally a bust. It’s really clear Microsoft doesn’t expect anyone to use this much. It’s too long and thin for most web pages, and the width make books into the same experience as reading a newspaper with too-narrow columns. And the Windows button, which is fixed on to what’s normally the bottom edge, sits at precisely the point where your thumb is likely to rest if you hold the device in portrait mode.

Skydrive is a mixed bag too. There appears to be a limited range of syncing options: either you have only the files you’ve accessed recently available offline, or you have every file available. You can’t select individual folders and make everything in them available, as you can with Dropbox or Google Drive (UPDATED: Yes, you can, although it’s not obvious. And the default appears to be “keep everything in the cloud” rather than “download and sync”). Of course, I could just install Dropbox or Google Drive.

The selection of apps in the Windows App Store is also a mixed bag. There’s some good, high-quality products from small developers. But there’s also some categories where there just isn’t anything of decent quality. For example, there are plenty of Markdown editors, but all of the ones I’ve looked at are (at best) nothing out of the ordinary and at worst just crap.

Your New Quote Title

“Had Microsoft brought out a version of MS Office for iOS 7 within a year of the iPad being on the market, it would have been a big success and serious money maker for them. Now it is too late. You also can’t count out more and more people moving to Google’s productivity tools. I recently found out that a major national newspaper just moved everyone over to Google Docs and away from Office. I have heard that same thing happening at other big firms and big government accounts too.” – Tim Bajarin, ”Why Microsoft will regret not doing MS Office for iOS

Why did Microsoft buy Nokia?

Why did Microsoft buy Nokia?1 Why did the company choose to spend €5.44 billion of its cash reserves to buy a company that was already a close partner for Windows Phone, and which it had committed to pay billions in “platform support” cash2 to use its operating system?

Here's the official reasoning:

Building on the partnership with Nokia announced in February 2011 and the increasing success of Nokia’s Lumia smartphones, Microsoft aims to accelerate the growth of its share and profit in mobile devices through faster innovation, increased synergies, and unified branding and marketing. For Nokia, this transaction is expected to be significantly accretive to earnings, strengthen its financial position, and provide a solid basis for future investment in its continuing businesses.

The part about “faster innovation” is curious. Nokia never had a problem with innovation: it holds one of the largest patent portfolios in the tech industry, and collects billions of dollars per year to prove it. But what it always had was a problem with bringing that innovation to market. Nokia engineers were talking about single-button touchscreen smartphones years before the iPhone, but failed to bring their brilliant prototypes to market.

And failing to bring great concepts to market is something that Microsoft, too, has been guilty of. Potential innovations like the Courier floated around and then died. The company had prototype ereader hardware around years before the Kindle, and failed to bring it to market. In both cases, the reason for the failure to bring innovation to market was simple: protecting the Windows brand. If it doesn't run Windows (or isn't called Windows), Microsoft won't ship it – no matter how innovative it is.

What about the other reasons? Marketing, branding and advertising? What “synergies” (read: cost savings) can the two companies find there? Microsoft/Nokia might be able to drive better deals for ads and consolidate its work into a single agency, but there aren't billions of dollars of savings to be made there.

Marketing? If Microsoft wants to sell anything, it's going to have to ramp up the quality and quantity of marketing. Samsung outspends everyone else enormously when it comes to marketing, and even the cash reserves of Microsoft won't make up for a gap that big. Can Microsoft really compete with a company that spends more on marketing than Apple, HP, Dell, Microsoft and Coca Cola combined?

Maybe it could if the quality of its marketing was up to Apple's standards. But take a look at the advertising and marketing work for Surface and I you'll see why I have doubts it can deliver. When you create a tablet computer and choose to emphasis how great it works with an optional £100 keyboard, you're either trying to cover up the product's deficiencies as a tablet, or utterly missing the point.

Branding? Only if you ditch the Nokia brand. Otherwise, you have two brands, which is confusing and expensive. And given the license to “Nokia” that Microsoft has paid for, unlikely.

So if the “official” reasons make such little sense, why did Microsoft buy Nokia? Ben Thompson makes a good case that the Microsoft/Nokia deal was driven by an immanent switch to Android – or bankruptcy:

I theorize that Nokia was either going to switch to Android or was on the verge of going bankrupt. (I suspect the latter: part of the deal included €1.5 billion in financing available to Nokia immediately). And, had Nokia abandoned Windows Phone, then Windows Phone would be dead.

Which brings us back to that point about how Microsoft's failure to bring innovative products to market could be ascribed to its determination to protect Windows. Nokia was either going to go down the tubes, or admit defeat and move into the Android camp. This would have killed Windows, and condemned the Windows brand to the PC ghetto. And Windows is sacred: a few billion dollars of offshore cash (which Microsoft couldn't bring back into the US anyway without incurring lots of tax) is a small price to pay to “protect” the sacred cow of Windows.


  1. Yes, I know it's only bought the devices and services divisions and that the new/old Nokia will continue on. But to all intents and purposes, Microsoft has bought what most people think of as Nokia. 

  2. It may actually turn out that the billions in platform support would have ended up more than the amount Microsoft paid for Nokia. Looked at purely in this way, this is a good deal. 

In which Dan Lyons once again exposes his elite journalism skills

Dan Lyons, once again talking out of his ass:

This is a crushing blow to Microsoft, which has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and phony grassroots groups over the past several years hoping to land Google in hot water.

You would think from this that Google, meanwhile, hasn’t been spending money on lobbyists.

Oh no wait

In fact, as a cursory search on Opensecrets.org reveals, Google significantly outspent Microsoft on lobbying in 2012, as it had in 2011.

But hey – never let facts get in the way of a good story, Dan.

Update: I’d forgotten this great quote about Lyons from MG Siegler:

This is a pattern for Lyons. He wants to write something, so he does the minimal amount of work possible, then writes it. It leads to situations like this. Which leads to him apologizing for being wrong. Or just looking like an ass.

MG nailed Lyons far, far earlier than most of us.

Windows 8 PCs jump straight down to the bargain basement

Dell Latitude 6430u - Windows 8 launch, Pier 57

Photo by Dell’s Official Flickr Page – http://flic.kr/p/doAsyh

Joe Wilcox has been scouting his local Best Buy, and found a distinct lack of excitement over Windows 8 PCs, which are already on sale at bargain prices:

I know people shop for deals during the holidays, but if Windows 8 convertibles, touchscreens and ultrabook had big appeal wouldn’t Best Buy prominently display them? Meanwhile, at my local store, tablets dominate the main front area and boxes of cheap laptops fill the central aisle. C`mon, do you want Santa to bring shiny new laptop or tablet this year? If Windows 8 can’t generate interest in PCs during its first holiday season, what can?

I’m not surprised Windows 8 PCs aren’t inspiring a wave of demand from customers. The product just doesn’t seem to have built the excitement of Windows 7, let alone the blockbuster interest garnered by Windows 95 at its launch.

The big issue facing Microsoft is that Windows 8 isn’t designed to solve any real user needs. Instead, it’s designed to meet Microsoft’s need to head off the iPad as it starts to plunder all the enterprise gold the company has relied on for years. The biggest, and most immediate selling point – the “don’t call it Metro” interface – just looks out of place on any PC which doesn’t have a touch screen.

If you design a product to meet an internal need rather than something that customers want to do, you’re always going to be starting from the wrong point. There are several new features in Windows 8 which actually do meet user needs – for example, syncing your data to the cloud – but they’re mostly the kind of behind-the-scenes “plumbing” features that Apple puts in its odd-numbered updates like Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion.

But overall, I keep looking at Windows 8 and just thinking “Why?” Why would any consumer bother with it?