microsoft – Stay N Alive

Microsoft is Finally Achieving What it Set Out to Do With Passport – the Key is Consistency

Back in the year 2000, before “the cloud” was even a marketing term, Microsoft launched a product known as “Passport”, a product touted to be the end-all-be-all of identity services that developers could integrate into their products for identity and storage of personal information. I remember because I was a developer at that time and I recall looking into what the company I worked for at the time needed to do to integrate it into our product.

The problem at that time, however is that most people only had Desktop computers and therefore not as much a need to have a consistent identity as they do in today’s mobile-centric, “post-PC” world. The product pretty much failed, and was revived a little later as Live ID. It’s safe to say that Microsoft, like Marty of “Back to the Future” was ahead of his time. With the release of Windows 8 however, it looks like Microsoft is finally back in their own time, and the future looks sweet.

A Consistent Experience

The one word to describe Windows 8 as opposed to the former Windows is consistency. In previous versions you had Pocket PC followed by Windows Mobile followed by Windows Phone for the mobile experience. Then on the Xbox you had an entirely different experience. And on the Desktop it was just “Windows”.

Windows 8 fixes that, however. With Windows 8, now all Microsoft devices will be powered by the same operating system, same underlying architecture, same SDKs for developers to build their apps under, and even a consistent cloud architecture through Azure and SkyDrive (for users) that follows you across each device you use. Microsoft is also building apps for 3rd party devices to continue that experience there as well. The result is a brand that follows you wherever you go.

Good for Developers

Finally, developers can “build once, write everywhere”. When building apps to put in Microsoft’s new Windows Store, it takes only a few tweaks to format those apps to work on the Surface, on Windows Phone 8, as well as even Xbox and any other device that supports the Windows 8 experience.

Expect games like Halo on the Xbox 360 to have versions that work on your phone, your Surface, or your Desktop. Even the Xbox controller and Kinect SDKs are consistent, and simple to integrate for your apps across multiple devices.

A Writer’s Dream

Through Microsoft Office 365, I can now have all my books, posts, and writing sync’d across multiple devices. I get the experience that most people expect, meaning I can use the same interface my publisher wants me to use for the templates they provide for my books. Finally, I can write my books even on my phone or tablet device – that’s pretty powerful!

Passport is Back, With a Vengeance

Microsoft Passport is finally back, in this case the form is as your “Microsoft ID” or “Windows ID”. It’s accompanied by SkyDrive, and now whenever I log in with my ID, all my preferences follow me from computer to computer. This even includes authorizations I’ve given to Facebook and Google and Twitter, and all my friends in those place! My photos follow me. My lock screen will even follow me if I want it to. All my settings can follow me wherever I go.

I’m loving the new Microsoft, because it means that all of the sudden your desktop machine or phone or tablet are all just “Windows devices”. In the new Windows world it shouldn’t matter what type of device you are on – all the apps you love on Windows follow you wherever you go.

Microsoft is finally where it wants to be, and it will only get better from here.

This post was typed entirely on my Microsoft Surface – something I bought with my own money

Selling Developers Was Easy. Windows 8’s Big Challenge Will be Selling Press

Most of these “surfaces” are running OS X

When it comes to technology, I love going to developer conferences to meet people, see the people building the platforms I’m studying, and overall understand the best ways to integrate technology for the people I work with on a day-to-day basis. I actually normally attend as a developer when I go to these events, because I have full access to what the developers are seeing (I often pay my own way, as well, although as disclosure that is also comp’d at times). For the Windows Build Developer conference this year though, I came as Press because they sold out of developer passes in minutes. It was very clear that developers wanted to come to this conference (I’ll explain why in another post). I noticed some very interesting things this time though, at my very first Microsoft conference. The Press just aren’t converted yet, and despite Microsoft’s new focus on marketing as Steve Ballmer committed to today, they have some work to do.

Let’s start with the Press section at today’s Keynote. I was surrounded by Macs! Myself included. My neighbors all had iPhones. I saw iPads. I could tell this was a different culture to the Press I was surrounded with.

I’ve been at many conferences, and sat in many press rooms and sections, and I can vouch for that – the Press is part of the Mac cult. They love Mac. And if they don’t love Mac, they love their iPhone. And if they don’t love their iPhone, they love their Android device. I’d hate to say it, but Windows comes lowest on the Press totem pole.

What’s odd is that, while perhaps normal for a conference like this, the conference gives out free devices (at this one a Phone, a Surface, and SkyDrive space) to “all attendees” (the developers), but at least at this conference, the Press are excluded. In fact, as I sit in the Press room writing this I don’t see a single Surface. I don’t see a single Windows Phone. I do see a couple Windows laptops, but they’re surrounded by Macs and iPhones and other Apple devices.  In fact, I inquired about even borrowing one and was told I’d be put on “a waiting list” to even be able to spend some time with one trying it out. Yet, upstairs they’re handing them out like candy to every developer you can see.

I’m not bitter I don’t qualify for the free devices. I’ll probably just go up and buy a Surface from the company store (assuming they’re even available to me) to play with because I like trying out new stuff. I know others in the Press won’t just buy devices like this to use primarily in replacement of their other devices though. It would seem Microsoft would benefit from focusing more on ensuring every member of the press is engrossed in Windows. If I were Microsoft, each member of the Press would have a Surface, pre-populated with their favorite writing tools (something Microsoft is really good at), and they’d all have their Surfaces open writing their blog posts. I guarantee you’d see a different story in the media when that happens.

In the meantime, I sit here writing this post on my Macbook Air, on a Google product (Blogger), and will likely check for your comments on my iPhone after I hit publish. If Microsoft is going to have a stronger marketing focus, they should really start with the Press.

UPDATE: Turns out you can’t even buy a Microsoft Surface at this conference. Not even the company store will sell members of the Press a Surface.

This Isn’t the Microsoft it Used to Be – My Full Circle Journey and Why I’m Back Again

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

You may remember my scathing blog post denouncing my Xbox 360 and swearing I was leaving Microsoft.  I still feel that way about my old Xbox 360.  It was a piece of junk.  I sold it, sold all the games, and sent my Windows 7 machine with Windows Media Center on it to the scrap pile.  The fact is Microsoft used to create junky hardware and software, and being big and experiencing growing pains they got lazy and stopped competing in a lot of the consumer market.  My old Xbox 360 died 4 times and they still weren’t willing to give me something better.  Windows Vista still crashes all the time.  The old Windows Mobile was out of its time.  IE is terrible and a joke in many circles.  I hate the old Microsoft.  For the first time in my life, being the company that got me into programming, I didn’t want to go back.  I was sick of the problems and didn’t want anyone to try and fix it for me.

All that changed when my kids convinced me to try the Kinect.  Enter the new Microsoft.  Everything is new now.

The Backstory

It started when I was throwing around the idea of getting a PS3 with the Move wand and camera.  It just didn’t seem to interest my kids.  My kids, Mario Kart junkies that could care less about graphics and more about what games they can play and challenge their friends on, are happy with just having a Wii (bless their hearts).  Something was getting to them, though, as they would see commercials on TV when Microsoft’s Kinect launched of people controlling a computer screen with their hands and legs.  That looked really fun to them!  This was something, finally, for their generation!

It was when they started asking me about the Kinect and not the PS3 that I started to realize I was going to have to reconsider the Xbox again.  So I started investigating.  I also started to see a buzz that I hadn’t seen since the Wii came out.  The 250 GB bundles, the most popular bundle, were near impossible to find in stores.  Friends were starting to talk about getting them.  My parents finally bought an Xbox just for the Kinect (something I was trying to convince them for years to do).  There was something special afoot, and I needed to find out what it was.

The Purchase

So I decided to jump the gun and at least give it a try.  It turns out Microsoft has a new Xbox console.  One that’s less-prone to errors.  So I went out, got practically the last Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle in the city (at Target), and brought it home, just in time for my family to play for Thanksgiving.  You should have seen the glee on my kids’ eyes when I walked in the door with this thing they were seeing on TV and now had in their house, in real life.  This was the future!  In their home.  For them to play with.  Yeah, the thing I took away from them just a month before (that didn’t work anyway).

I hooked up the new Xbox 360 – to my surprise it was quiet!  I could barely hear it across the room!  “Finally, a machine I can play movies and not degrade the experience because of the sound of Xbox fans,” I thought to myself.

The Kinect

Then we hooked up the Kinect.

“Simply Amazing” are the best words I can use to describe it.  I’ve never experienced anything like it.  Just ask my wife – I told her I never wanted to buy another game that requires a controller again.  We started by playing “Kinect Adventures”, which comes with the unit.  Immediately it recognized without any tuning that my daughter was a girl, and that me and my sons were boys.  It would immediately recognize when there was a second player and let them play against the current player.  We were very quickly, without prompting, playing as a family, together, laughing and enjoying ourselves.

The Kinect comes with a camera.  During the games, the camera takes pictures of you, just like those little photos amusement park rides take of you at your most embarrassing moments.  The cool part is you can share these to Facebook and Twitter though.  The games also replay the pictures at the end so you get to re-live the fun you just had during the game you just played.  Simply amazing.

The Experience

But the coolest part is not the games – it’s the overall experience the Kinect gives you on the Xbox.  By just waving my hand when I turn on my Xbox 360, it immediately recognizes me, identifies me through facial recognition, and logs me in.  No longer do I need to search for the controller to log into games – Kinect does this for you on compatible titles.  In addition, because the new Xbox 360 comes with ESPN 360, I get to watch all my favorite football games (especially cool since BYU Football, one of my favorites, will have an exclusive partnership with ESPN next year), pick the winning team and get Xbox points if they win, but challenge my friends as well and see how many of them voted for which teams.  Even cooler though, with the wave of a hand and some Jedi mind tricks (Jedi mind tricks unnecessary) I can pause, rewind, and fast forward my games, or choose a new game.  No remote necessary.

The new Xbox comes with all the old stuff – Facebook, Twitter, integration, and integrates really well with Windows Media Center on any Windows 7 machine.  Of course, this got me to kill my cable and turn on my Windows 7 Media Center box again.  Add to that services like Hulu integration into services like PlayOn, I’ve got everything I need for the full entertainment experience.  Microsoft has me in their clutches.

Because of Microsoft (with some help from my Apple and Google TV devices, which I’ll talk about another time), I disconnected my Blu-Ray player, and took back my Comcast Cable boxes.  Microsoft is back in the game!

The Change

Microsoft has changed my mind with the new Xbox so completely, that they are now one company, as Holden Page said earlier today, that I’m investing in for the year 2011.  In fact I predict their stock price will hit $100 per share in 2011.  I’m confident in that.  With the advent of the Windows Phone 7 (which I have many “normal world” friends looking already to convert), integration with the Xbox and games for the Xbox, with them showing they “get” the living room experience, Microsoft is finally about to hit a Nirvana stage where they have full control of the living room experience.

I’m a Linux geek.  I’m not supposed to like Microsoft.  But I like this Microsoft.  It’s a new Microsoft with a new attitude towards competition, and a new wave of modern technology, standards compatibility, and willingness to listen.  It brings me back to the Microsoft I loved when I started programming – one that was on the cusp of new technology, a leader, not a follower, and one that developers could feel comfortable innovating under.

I hope Microsoft can convince others that they’ve disappointed in the past as I’ve accidentally been able to discover that they’re a new company now – it’s a new brand.  Microsoft has some wounds they need to heal with their loyal customers first.  Assuming they’re able to do so, if I were Google I wouldn’t be looking at Apple as my primary competition – I’d be looking at Microsoft. In my opinion, Microsoft is the biggest threat to Google in 2011.  They owe that to the living room experience of which they have already begun to take ownership, and to being the only other major vendor to be focusing on software, not hardware for phones and succeeding at being innovative in doing so.  Google – don’t get distracted.  This is your real competition.  If you’re a blogger – don’t get distracted.  Microsoft is the real deal this year.  Let Apples be Apples (har har).

Microsoft, I don’t know how you did it, but your technology alone has completely turned me around and made me a fan again.  I can’t wait to see what 2011 holds.

Microsoft Offering Free Windows 7 Phones for Black Friday

I’ve had my criticism of Microsoft in the past, but the new Microsoft keeps pulling me back.  Just a few minutes ago on the Windows Facebook Page Facebook announced:

“Here is a Black Friday sneak peek for our social media fans: Visit your local Microsoft Store this weekend, starting November 26, to pick up Windows Phone 7 for free! Get your choice of the HTC Surround or a LG Quantum for $0 when you renew your two-year AT&T contract. If you can’t make it to a store, don’t worry. We will have online deals for everyone starting bright and early tomorrow morning.”

Free phone? If you’re not in San Francisco you probably don’t hate AT&T so this sounds like a pretty good deal!  I wonder if I can go back and forth between my iPhone SIM card for this – I’d love to just try it out!

Now, Utah has a Microsoft Research Office – is there a Microsoft Store somewhere?  If the new Windows 7 phone experience is anything like my Kinect experience (more on that later) I’d say Microsoft could be making their way back into the game.  Google, Apple – any matching offers from you?

Apple is Creating a "Social Network" the Right Way

Today Apple did one of the most powerful things they have done since the launch of the iPod.  Notice that I didn’t say “revolutionary”.  There’s nothing new about it.  Note that I didn’t say “innovative”.  There’s nothing unique about it.  Today Apple launched, quite simply, a “Social Network for Music”.  What’s so powerful is that they’re not really trying to create a social network at all.  Apple realizes the Social Graph is just a complement to something bigger.  Instead, Apple focused on one of the biggest strengths they have – their music, and made it social.  I think this is powerful, and here’s why:

I think Dave Winer got it right earlier today – this is only the beginning for Apple.  You see, the secret to a successful anything on the web (not just “social”) is to focus on what you do best, and revolve around that.  Google’s strength was search.  Microsoft’s strength was the consumer OS that could be installed on almost any affordable PC, and has since become Exchange and Outlook and Enterprise apps.  Oracle’s strength is the database.  Facebook’s is the Social Graph.  No one does these things better than these guys, and it has been their focus that has made them big.  The moment they lose that focus is the moment they start to fizzle.

That’s why I question when I hear people saying “we’re creating another Social Network.”  Or, “so and so is competing against Facebook” (even though I did say earlier today this is a threat to Facebook – I’ll explain that in a second).  The minute I hear that I immediately tune out.  The age of “Social Networks” is gone.  Social has become ubiquitous, or at least it should be with all the tools available to us now.  It’s time to focus on your core, and Apple has done that brilliantly with this new Ping launch.  They will sell boat-loads of music from this because now rather than trying to find new music through search, people are going to be finding new music through the things their friends are interested in, an even more powerful factor in the purchasing process.  That’s just the start.

As Dave Winer implied, this social experience will eventually expand across every service Apple operates.  Apple is only building the Social Graph right now.  You’ll build your list of friends to learn of their music, even import your Facebook friends in the process to help port that Social Graph over to Apple, and you’ll start to build conversations and spend time in iTunes in multiple environments.  It won’t be long before you see Apple bringing your friends into the entire iTunes experience, showing Apps as well as music, along with, right next to Albums you want to purchase, other friends that have liked or purchased those Albums.  Soon Apple will let you take those friends into Mobile Me to share photos with each other.  They’ll let you take those friends into your contact lists on your iPhone.  They’ll build it into the camera app on the iPhone and iPod devices.  You’ll be able to see what your friends are watching on your AppleTV and you’ll be able to pull that entire experience into the operating system – both OS X and iOS.  All of these elements will go into the Ping experience, and I bet that eventually branches out into the browser.  Keep in mind these aren’t just anonymous friends – these are real-life connections.  My Mom uses iTunes.  I bet many of your Grandparents use iTunes.  This is perhaps bigger than Facebook (According to Wired, iTunes in just 2005 had over 200 million users – anyone have a more recent number?).

Now, for the pinnacle event – the equivalent of Facebook’s F8: the Platform.  You can count on it.  Eventually Apple will integrate these connections into the SDK and you’ll now be able to bring over your Ping friends to the applications you use and the games you play.  I think it’s no accident the ability to play against friends in the SDK was mentioned in today’s announcement.  Now Ping’s Social Graph becomes a standard, something all apps will be fighting for, and they’ve all of the sudden hit the caliber of Facebook Platform.  They’ll be able to port those connections to the web, and now Apple has just as powerful a search and recommendation algorithm as both Facebook, and perhaps more than Google currently.

Today’s move was inevitable, but genius on the part of Apple.  I’m glad they didn’t try to build an entire Social Network out of the box.  Start small, and gradually bring your users along for the ride as you expand that experience.  I think perhaps that’s where Google went wrong – where’s my news feed in Picasa?  Where can I see what things my friends are searching for and have opted me to see?  How do I port my Facebook Social Graph over to those experiences?  Google’s focusing too broadly – I think they realize that.  I hope they don’t rush to a large social network, but rather start slowly and gradually bring it all together.

I’ve talked about building on your core – your core is key.  Apple, quite literally, showed its core today as it stayed focused on one of the things they do best right now – Music.  Everything else is just a complement, and that is totally evident in Ping.  I think Apple just confirmed what we all knew up to this point – “Social” is now just a commodity.

The Art of Ignoring. Why @XboxSupport Convinced Me to Leave Microsoft.

There is such a thing as too much Social Media.  I’m talking about the art of ignoring.  We see accounts such as @comcastcares and @richardatdell and various other accounts on Twitter that do an excellent job at handling customer support and actually gaining, as well as retaining customers as a result, all while maintaining a great PR front for the company.  Such media arms require a fine art that includes customer support, PR, a little technical support, and often a little power to make decisions at the executive level.  When you create a customer support channel on Twitter you are, in essence, exposing yourself, and your customers, to the world when it comes to support.  This is a very delicate line to cross. Some times it means you have to ignore certain irate customers to maintain that brand image.  Today, the @XboxSupport team, to me, showed me how not to manage a customer support channel on Twitter.  In fact, they’ve convinced me to leave Microsoft altogether.  Let me share why.

A few days ago on Twitter I mentioned my frustration (note that TweetBoard didn’t archive that entire conversation for some reason, so some of my responses are missing), after my 4th Xbox 360 received its red ring of death, and after taking it through the Microsoft diagnosis tool, it would soon become the 4th Xbox 360 I owned to be replaced by Microsoft under my extended warranty.  4 units!  (I should note, in full disclosure, that one of those is a separate unit that my brother now owns after I replaced it once, so it would be one unit replaced once, and another replaced 3 times)  I paid full price for the unit, and full price for the extended warranty.

I loved my Xbox 360.  I was okay going through the replacement process a couple times.  It was, as I’ve said here before, my entertainment center more than anything.  No other unit, in conjunction with the Windows 7 machine that I own, can allow me to stream and record live TV in as efficient, cheap, and as powerful and flexible a manner as my Xbox 360.  Not only that but I get great games like Halo, and my kids get great family games like Viva Pinata and others that go with it.  I was getting excited for the Kinect product which had been lauded for years as the next generation controller.

Yet at some point having to replace your console over and over again for similar problems, it starts to nag on you.  It especially nags on me as all my friends are starting to buy the PS3 and are trying to convince me to switch after years of defense of the Xbox 360 by myself.  So I complained on Twitter. Sure enough, the first tweets that come in are from friends of mine, asking me if it’s time I let the 360 go.  Some mentioning the return rates of the PS3 are extremely low.


But after someone pointing them to me, in swoops @XboxSupport on Twitter, suggesting, without my asking, that I try out their diagnosis tool online that I’ve tried a million times.  I told them I wasn’t interested, in fact suggesting the only thing that could make me feel better would be a refund or one of the new Xbox 360s that is supposed to have these Red Ring of Death issues fixed, and they proceeded to argue with me.  It got to the point that I was suggesting that the Wii wasn’t giving me these issues and they were in essence saying that the Xbox produced more heat (yes, that’s the problem) which is why it was breaking and the others weren’t (duh).  In all the messaging I got from them, the message that came through to me was that I was wrong, and they were right.  All this in their public stream for all their followers to see, without me originally asking for their help.  You can see part of the conversation here (again note that a lot of it is missing):

They finally stopped the conversation and we both went on our separate ways.  In fact, I was starting to calm down a bit and was actually considering just buying the new Xbox 360 after I replaced this one and perhaps sold it on Ebay or something (or maybe just destroyed it on Youtube for everyone to see).  It was at the same time MG Siegler, of TechCrunch, was mentioning problems he was having with Xbox Live making him want to kill his Xbox 360 as well.  I pointed him to the @XboxSupport conversation I had earlier, and evidently someone else at @XboxSupport caught wind of that too.

When I woke up this morning, in swooped @XboxSupport again, thinking they could save the day, but this time the 3 tweets I received from them were accusing me of not cooperating, again, in front of all their 35,000 followers.  The latest message being, “We do understand your frustration, but for us to provide the best support possible we do need some customer cooperation”.  This after I had done all they asked in my previous conversation with them.  After that they started saying they had done all they could do “if my console was out of standard warranty”.  Again, i was wrong, they were right.  Even though I had the extended warranty they were assuming I didn’t have.  All in their public stream, to their 35,000 followers.  I then suggested they stop arguing and leave it alone, and then they proceeded to defend why they engaged customers on Twitter. 12 Tweets to their 35,000 followers later, they stopped.  At this point my entire Replies column was filled with arguments from @XboxSupport (and one person telling me the PS3 was superior):

My Replies column full of Tweets, in my perception, telling me I’m wrong

When is enough, enough?  I think when the customer tells you they don’t want to hear from you any more that should definitely tell you to just let it go.  Especially when you’re representing one of the biggest brands on the planet, and potentially damaging or hurting that customer’s reputation in front of all the other people following your brand.  When approaching customer support in a public environment, the rules change.  You absolutely cannot give any hint that your customers are ever wrong. Take it to DM.  Take it to e-mail if you want to do that.  Encourage immediately for those customers to e-mail you or call you when it comes to that.  Assumptions can never be made, because you can be held liable.

Instead, I got to tell my 26,000 followers, and now a blog post that will go out to more, how frustrated I was with Microsoft, over and over again with them only fueling my fire each and every time.  The Twitter XboxSupport account has told me, to their 35,000 followers, that I’m wrong, over and over again.  It’s lose-lose, and nobody wins.

Again, I’m wrong, even though that’s not what they were informing me considering they know I already knew.

Now I’m forced to stick to my decision.  I’ll be selling my replaced Xbox 360 on Ebay, and using the money to purchase a PS3.  Or maybe I’ll save the money and just stick with the Wii I currently own.  Microsoft has convinced me with their continual pressing that I’ll always be wrong in their opinion and because of that I can’t stick with them.  Therefore I won’t buy an Xbox 360 again.  Not only that but their other followers also see that.  Also, as a result, that Xbox 360 was the only reason I was still on Windows 7 – my Windows 7 machine was my media center, and Windows Media Center powered my entire Xbox 360-controlled media experience.  Now I don’t need that any more either.  Unfortunately in a world of interconnected devices, killing one device causes a ripple effect to the others.  All this very possibly could have been stopped by a single support person keeping their mouth shut and letting bygones be bygones.

There is a time when Social Media can be too much.  It’s important you train those representing your company on Twitter and elsewhere to realize this.  Customer Support is no longer just a support role any more.  It’s a PR role as well.  There are legal repercussions.  There are reputation repercussions.  There is much more to this position.

It’s important, as you’re approaching your customer support approach to social media that you have a way to get to the bottom of the situation as quick as possible, and preferably in private.  You should recognize the problem, contact the person individually, and determine if in the end they can ever be right.  If that’s not the case, it’s a moot point to try and convince them otherwise.  The customer is always right.  They should especially be right in public.  To this customer, unfortunately in Microsoft’s public perception, I’ll always be wrong, and that will never be deleted.  That’s just bad support, and the exact opposite of what a social media campaign should produce.  There’s an art of ignoring, and at least Microsoft’s XboxSupport team has proved to me they don’t get that art.  Goodbye Microsoft.  I hope you can sway me back.

So, who’s got a good deal on a PS3?

The Virtuous Cycle of Choice and Momentum

Here we go again.  We’ve been here before.  History always repeats itself.

In the early days of the desktop computer, it was the Wild West.  No computer was dominant because they all simply had not been around long enough.  The movie, “The Pirates of Silicon Valley”, described this era well, and was a time of company after company innovating, stealing features from their competitors that they lacked, and then their competitors innovating and doing the same.  It’s a virtuous cycle that continues to repeat itself even today, resulting in more competition and better technology as a result.  As we move from platform to platform this cycle will continue, over and over again, and consumers will always end up, as a majority, choosing the most popular player that provides “choice”, without regard to any potential benefit the less popular player may give them when it comes to a more close environment at the benefit of a better experience.

Microsoft’s Platform: Choice, at the Sacrifice of Experience

As Microsoft began to gain a handle on the market, taking the software route and letting go of the hardware market, Apple, the other consumer desktop player was trying to control the hardware experience, and Microsoft’s business took off.  Microsoft was unstoppable, momentum pushing them faster and faster to the point of almost Monopoly.  It even got to the point where markets they never even considered competing in, such as the web browser, had no chance because Microsoft had control of the operating system where those markets ran.

Microsoft’s entire platform was about choice. You chose the hardware you ran.  You chose the software you ran on it.  Heck, the hardware was open enough you could also run other operating systems such as Linux on it.  The Microsoft environment promoted this type of mentality, and, like it or not, perhaps was part of the cause and motivation towards the Free Software and Open Source Software movement that is so prevalent today.

Apple’s Platform: Closed, at the Advantage of Experience

During the entire time Microsoft was growing and booming into the company it is today, Apple maintained its consistency.  It wasn’t going to give up the tightly-integrated hardware and software experience at the risk of losing the full experience Apple was known for.  When you bought an Apple product, you knew the software on the product was going to work well with the hardware it was built on.  The software was designed specifically for that hardware.  In return the customer got an experience that made that customer the die-hard Apple fanboy you see today.  They gained a loyal, devout following as a result, “The Cult of Mac”.

The Cycle Continues

So here we are today.  It took an entirely new device to start the cycle over again – a music device, the iPod, which eventually turned into a phone and Apple was able to gain control of the music industry in the process through iTunes (which is, in essence, a cloud based product that downloads files to your computer).  This gave them the advantage they needed to innovate and bring new customers in at a faster rate than ever before.

Soon competitors emerged.  Palm released WebOS.  Google released Android.  Microsoft released the Zune and will soon be releasing Windows Phone 7.  Now we are in an exactly similar battle we saw in the early desktop days, companies fighting on choice.  Companies fighting to gain momentum.  The companies who chose choice gaining the most momentum.  The companies choosing to remain consistent losing that momentum, but maintaining a reliable reputation and great experience.

Are the Fanboys Learning?

There was a large group of people who chose the consistent, closed, better experience without ever having taste of the choice.  This group of people are now tasting that as what used to be neutral ground, Google, has built Android and entered this battle themselves on the premise of choice.  Now these users, who were users of both, are being forced to make a choice, and they’re experiencing something they’ve never experienced before: freedom.

I read fascinating posts like Louis Gray’s and his reasons for switching to Android, yet battling to leave Apple entirely, and I notice a struggle to leave that experience entirely.  He knows the good taste of the experience Apple provides.  At the same time he finally sees the choice the decoupling of software and hardware can provide.  He’s finally seeing the advantages of an Operating System embraced by the masses.  He’s not alone in this struggle.

The “Choosers” Finally Taste Experience

It goes the other way too though.  There are many out there (such as Robert Scoble), myself included somewhat, that finally realized what a beautiful thing Apple was from the iPhone.  We went with the masses over to the device and discovered what a beautiful thing having a nicely coupled experience could be.  We were brought over to Macs and iBooks and MacBooks and iPads, and were brought to wonder what in the world we were missing in our world of “choice” before.

At the same time we’ve seen the “choice” world.  We know what choice means, and we know it means more struggle.  We know it means more configuration and more bugs and more problems with the OS not always working properly with the hardware it was installed on.  We know not all the applications will have the same consistant experience we get with the Apple experience.  We haven’t given it up, but we do know which one we like better.

We’re at an interesting crossroads right now.  Right now I carry at all times in my pockets an iPhone 4 and an Android-based Evo.  My wife runs a Pre, which I also carried on my person for quite awhile.  While, as a developer and blogger, I choose all of them, I always fall back to one.  I always fall back to the one that’s most convenient.  I always fall back to the one where my applications will be most reliable.  I always fall back to the one that works best with the overall experience of technology in my home and in my life.  I fall back to the one whose batteries aren’t dead.  No matter how hard I try, the Apple experience seems to keep winning me over.

I don’t care if any company has momentum.  I’ve stopped caring about Choice.  In the end it’s about efficiency.  It’s about productivity.  It’s about what makes me the best person I can be and what I can feel most comfortable using with the least amount of effort.  It’s about “choosing” the best experience that I know will continue to be reliable over time, and has a reliable track record in doing so.  For this user, at least so far, I will continue to fall back on experience.

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Google Axing Windows Makes Total Sense (and It’s Not For Security)

Several articles have come out recently criticizing Google for their recent policy, removing the Windows Operating System from their currently approved list of OSes that employees can use.  One might expect that I would be against this move, considering the recent criticism I’ve given of Google employees deleting their Facebook accounts.  I think this situation is different though, and I actually support it.  Of all companies, I think Google is most prepared to make such a move and I think we’ll see a lot of innovation come as a result.

Companies Have Tried This Before

Several years ago I worked for as an engineer.  While there, our engineering department had a policy, making Linux and open source tools the default, while only allowing other operating systems (including Mac OS X) on an as-needed basis.  We found this saved us a ton of money, and, as engineers it made sense because we were able to completely alter the systems we were writing on as we needed.  It also made it so we could completely duplicate the server environments we were developing for on our local machines if we needed to.

We decided while there to take this to another level, and while I was there we started to push this policy throughout the company.  We got a lot of push back, and it took us, as engineers and developers, to help out the rest of the company as they adapted.  We started using Zimbra for e-mail, Bugzilla for bug tracking, and everything we could do we tried to do with open source tools.  We saved a ton of money.

There was one fatal flaw to this, though.  Where we were not an engineering-specific company (our bottom line was probably our buyers, who secured really good deals on outdoor gear, or even our customer support team, where we preached “We use the gear we sell”), we simply did not have enough resources to keep this going and be able to support it all whenever the company had a need that open source software could not solve.  The main benefit to open source software (which security is only a minor benefit) is that, as developers, you can get in and alter the software if it doesn’t meet your needs.  Then the code you altered could be shared with the rest of the world and others that also might have that need.  That’s a great benefit.

However, not having resources to constantly do that whenever there is a need means you’re always going to have weaknesses in your systems, and those systems are likely to fail.  I think that became a problem for, because I heard that shortly after I left they were forced back into a closed-source, Microsoft-backed Exchange system, which probably means back to Windows for most employees.  The simple fact is Microsoft, when it comes to Enterprise systems, can’t be beat.  Exchange is by far the best e-mail system there is out there.  Linux pales in comparison, and has always had problems competing against Exchange and the desktop.  Not to mention general user experience and understanding of the OS by a mass audience.  Most companies don’t have the time or money to devote resources towards replacing these COTS systems.

Why Google is Axing Windows

So one would think that making a similar move by Google may be prone to similar risks.  Google’s hacker culture I’m sure has developers begging to be on Linux or Mac OS X, and higher executives wondering how they’re going to get along without Windows.  There’s one thing different about Google though that completely sets them apart from any other company out there that might try such a thing: Google’s base is developers.  Not only that, but Google has a vested interest in creating an operating system that works.

My guess is that Google is using “security” as a front to put a jab up against Microsoft, hoping others might try to make the same decision.  Google is hoping that the bad stigma Microsoft has had in the past regarding security (Windows 7 is actually pretty secure) might dwell in the minds of others considering similar decisions.  However, I bet the real reason is that this will force all employees, in this hacker culture, to truly understand what they’re missing when there are no Exchange servers, when there are no Active Directory databases, and when Executives can’t use the operating system or tools all their colleagues at other companies are using.

Google wants their employees to hurt from this.  When you make a hacker culture that actually has a monetary benefit (Chrome OS) to fix problems that arise as a result, problems get solved, and people stop being lazy.  I expect that as Google makes this move we’re going to see a much higher rate of bug fixes and User Experience enhancements on Chrome OS and Linux, and possibly even Android.  I expect better user experiences on the server.  I expect finally an e-mail solution that works up to par with Microsoft Exchange, and a directory services solution that works up to par with Active Directory.

I argue Google Axing Windows as a company is a good thing!  I hope it’s only temporary, or on an “as needed” basis so employees that need to create Windows clients that interact and drivers that work together with Google devices, that the company can still understand and work with such devices.  Yet at the same time I think doing everything they can to challenge employees to truly understand the weaknesses their new operating systems and web services provide will challenge the thousands of developers working them to produce solutions.  While I think security is a lame excuse and PR ploy for Google to remove Windows from their network architecture, I still think this is one of the best things the company has done in a long time.

Google’s move here could be the best thing to happen to Linux, and the open source enterprise world, in a long, long time.

Create for a Cause

Recently here in Salt Lake City we had the opportunity to have Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google visit. While I didn’t have the chance to see it, reading about it, he seemed to talk about a common worry I hear throughout this State. Here in Salt Lake City and around the area we have a lot of successful businesses! From my Uncle’s, to Omniture, to Mozy, to Novell, Wordperfect, and many others, there’s no shortage of success in this area. It’s a hotbed of talent and technology the world doesn’t give enough credit for. The problem is that we have no Yahoos or Googles or Facebooks or Microsofts to give us credit for that success. We have no home-grown success story that didn’t eventually sell out for big bucks to one of the big West Coast companies.  I think this is a common problem for many areas.  Why is this?

Eric Schmidt tried to come up with his own reasons in response to Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who (Hatch) stated, “We get a corporation going and it has some tremendous ideas and all of the sudden someone comes up from Silicon Valley and buys it and takes it back there.” Schmidt responded, saying, “I don’t know whether [improving the situation means] globalizing the business. I don’t know whether we need more venture capitalist presence in Utah or maybe just more experience building the businesses from the startup. It’s not that businesses aren’t getting started, it’s that once started they aren’t growing the businesses fast enough.” So what is it that keeps the Googles or Microsofts from staying in Utah (and other states) rather than staying here and growing to compete with the big guys?

I’ve suggested the PR problem before. That’s just one problem Utah has – a lack of enough tech bloggers to get the word out to Silicon Valley. One other common problem I see in Utah is we get greedy. I’m not even saying that’s a bad thing. Too many Utah startups are focused on the money rather than an underlying cause that motivates their revenue stream. That’s part of the reason Utah businesses have been successful – we have some of the smartest business people in the world right here. Even Eric Schmidt confirmed that, stating that “Utah is one of the best places to do business.” We know how to make money! Unfortunately that’s what differentiates us from the West Coast companies like Google however.

I argue it all revolves around cause. Let’s look at Eric Schmidt’s company itself, Google. Everything they do centers around one central cause, “Do no evil”. It doesn’t even matter if they have purpose. Everything they do must be done “the right way”, even if they lose money from it. Some even argue this has become a PR pitch for them as well. Google is willing to lose money for their cause, yet they are also making money because of it. It’s an amazing strategy.

Facebook also does this well. I’ve done a lot of work with Facebook with 2 books on the company and several apps written around their platform. When you interact with them and their employees, you get a common theme from them: They are doing all they can to enable people to share in bigger and better ways. Their vision is to help you share without risking privacy. Everything they do revolves around that – their revenue model is built around their cause.

Twitter is building “the pulse of the internet”.  They want to enable better communication between anyone in the world. They’ve forgone revenue to ensure that takes place (yet they’ve been able to raise a ton of capital, I realize, but I argue that’s part due to their cause).

I see the same thing from company to company in the Bay Area and even up in tech hotbeds like Seattle (home of Amazon, Microsoft). These guys all drive revenue based on purpose! While there are currently a few exceptions, I don’t quite see this in Utah and other states, especially amongst the larger startups. It’s all business.

Eric Schmidt also stated that “It’s not an attitude problem, it’s an availability problem. To me, it’s recruiting new talent into the state and growing new talent. It’s really people and expertise and that’s the way to make it happen.” Guess what drives and keeps talent? Motivation. If people have cause to work for they come, and they stay, and they work hard at it.  I remember at (a Utah company), our mantra was “We use the gear we sell”.  Employees loved that because all kinds of incentives were given to get employees using their cool gear, and the employees loved that!

80% of Utah’s population is in the Salt Lake City area. Schmidt suggested this was an incredible opportunity for people to connect. I think we just need motivation to encourage that connectedness. Motivation is what makes the Googles and Facebooks and Microsofts of the world.

If you’re a startup, anywhere, what are you building on top of? Where are your foundations? Are you building for money or for purpose? I know as I build my business I’m going to be thinking much, much more about changing the world and less about the money I make as a result of that. The money will come naturally. That is how you build Google, and keep it there.

What’s your cause? What businesses do you think do this well? Please share in the comments.

EDITORS NOTE: 2 Companies in Utah that I think are doing really well at this are Phil Windley’s Kynetx and Paul Allen’s FamilyLink.  When you interact with them you can sense their cause.  It bleeds through the company.  People are sacrificing time and money just to be sure their cause is getting through.  As a result, Paul Allen’s company was recently ranked one of the fastest growing companies on COMScore, and recently, according to, surpassed his old company, in traffic.  Cause eventually pays off!  I encourage you to learn what they do – they won’t be going away any time soon.

Source of Eric Schmidt Comments:

Steve Ballmer’s CES Keynote: Microsoft’s in Trouble

Steve BallmerThis week I am at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada to see what’s happening with the latest in consumer gadgets.  The show kicked off on Wednesday, where I was just barely able to make it to the Steve Ballmer keynote, where he talked about what was supposed to be the “future” of Microsoft.  The problem was, as compared to the Bill Gates Keynotes of the past, there was little “future” about it.  Ballmer focused on previous products, some that have been out for years now, making the Keynote, as I said earlier on Twitter, well, boring.  Based on his Keynote, with all the launches Google and Apple are doing lately, I think Microsoft may really be in trouble!

A very large portion of what Ballmer talked about was focused on Windows Media Center, showing the capabilities it has in the Home Media Center.  This is something I have said before that Microsoft has long had a strength in and I wished they would focus on more.  I am thinking they’re finally realizing this and trying to get more eyes on it.  The problem is, there was no innovation in this area, making the demo a bunch of technology that I’ve been using already for 3 years now!  Perhaps I’m the only one, making this “new” to most people.

The rest of the keynote was spent demoing the already-launched Windows 7 and the various types of PCs that run it.  There were no real announcements other than the fact that Natal will be launched the end of this year (even though they had no Demo), and that there would be a new version of Halo.  Beyond that, nothing.

The Future for Microsoft

Based on the content of Ballmer’s keynote, I have to worry about the health of the software giant for the future.  Will they be able to keep up with their competitors, who are already releasing some extremely innovative technology?  Microsoft has a lot of potential – I just wonder if they’re behind on getting to that potential.

For example, one of the things they did cover in the Keynote was the capability to download Zune and Media Room videos and play them anywhere – on your TV, on your computer, or even on your phone.  I think the full experience is something Microsoft can leverage.  Being able to play this stuff anywhere (and I would argue that anywhere should also be my iPhone), is a powerful point for Microsoft!  Let’s hope they push this further – from the tablet PCs to the TVs to even the Cars with Sync and other Microsoft technologies I should be able to pass this content around (and preferably in an open manner).

What Will We See From Microsoft?

After this keynote, if I were a Microsoft investor, I would be a little worried right now.  There was very little innovation announced the other night!  Let’s hope, alongside Natal (Microsoft’s controller-less body-controlled gaming experience) and Halo, that Microsoft can fully integrate their technologies across the board into many parts of each user’s life.  Microsoft needs to start embracing their Zune brand more (which, the hardware wasn’t even mentioned during the keynote).  They need a brand new, Microsoft-branded phone that they have control over similar to the Xbox.  They need a completely brand new interface that integrates Bing, Zune Marketplace, Windows Media Center, Sync, and many other Microsoft technologies that works on Mobile.

If Microsoft can do this successfully (which they were close, but were unsuccessful at portraying during the Keynote), they would have a pretty serious product on their hand.  However, I don’t know what Ballmer was thinking during this Keynote.  Based on the content, you would think that Microsoft the company was just like the power at the beginning of the keynote – dead.