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Posts from the ‘Microsoft’ Category

Blackberry’s Impossible Mission

Today, Research in Motion Blackberry announced with great fanfare their new Blackberry 10 operating system and devices.  Unfortunately, the market has shifted so radically in the past few years, it’s not clear to me what path exists for any meaningful success for Blackberry.

Blackberry is on an impossible mission.

Why Blackberry?

I used a Blackberry for over seven years.  In fact, I didn’t move to the iPhone until the 3G came out with the native application platform.  Like many, I was addicted to the perceived and actual productivity of messaging on the Blackberry and the physical keyboard.

Like most people who make the switch, it took me a few weeks to get to be “good enough” to type and message effectively on the iPhone.  The millions who are still on the Blackberry tend to focus on exactly one issue: the Blackberry is an amazing messaging device, thanks to the keyboard & software optimization.

The Victory of the Touch Screen

I remember, in 2009, making a Blackberry my temporary “full time” mobile device for a few days.  It was amazing – in just a year, I had completely lost all the muscle memory that made me so productive on the Blackberry.  The iPhone had won.

The reason is simple: a fast, modern device that offers the full richness of the modern web, combined with a vibrant and high quality native application market dominates the marginal efficiency in messaging.  Whether you use iOS or Android, minor productivity improvements in SMS & Email are swamped by access to applications, games, web services, cloud platforms and a myriad of other capabilities.  The smartphone itself has now evolved into a variety of form factors and niches, with phablets and tablets eating an increasing share of our attention and computing.

Blackberry’s Impossible Mission

Right now, it seems like Blackberry has no viable path as a third platform.

Yes, the ardent users of the platform can buy the new devices for their hardware keyboards.  But there aren’t enough of them (h/t to Daring Fireball), and it’s hard to imagine that this market won’t get eaten by the flexibility provided by the Android platform in time.

Yes, there are IT departments that continue to have their companies locked down on the Blackberry, but it’s unlikely the the new operating system won’t create sufficient migration issues that they won’t move to either iOS, Android or both as supported platforms.

The real problem is that their touchscreen product cannot possibly provide enough unique functionality to justify the choice over the iPhone or Android at the medium to high end.  At the low end, they cannot possibly underprice the Android ecosystem.

Damned if they do, Damned if they don’t

In other words, if they abandon their customer-defined differentiator (keyboard), they’ll lose all differentiation in the market.  If they don’t, they are left with an eroding, minority share of a market that is likely insufficient in size and economics to fund their continued development and support of a competitive mobile ecosystem.  As a developer, spending precious resources on this, at best, stagnant minority pool of potential users is tough to justify.

Microsoft can play this game, for a while, because they (still) have relatively unlimited free cash flow and a desktop platform that still boasts hundreds of millions of users.  Blackberry doesn’t.

Easter Egg: The LinkedIn Wizard Goes Web-Wide

For some reason, I *love* Easter Eggs.

No, I don’t mean the candy colored eggs that people make and roll to celebrate the holiday.  Easter eggs are the playful name for hidden features, games, and funny content that software engineers embed in their products for fun.  This was extremely popular in the early days of consumer software in the 1980s (there is even a Wikipedia page dedicated to Microsoft’s early easter eggs.)

You still see easter eggs in websites from time to time.  Maybe a funny error page.  Maybe a game appears when you click the right spot on a web page.  But it’s not as common as it used to be.

The New LinkedIn Platform

Today was a huge launch for the LinkedIn Platform team.  After months of effort, the team launched an incredible new way for developers to bring powerful professional identity & insights into any web application. (If you haven’t checked out the new developer.linkedin.com, definitely go do it now.)

The LinkedIn Wizard

I am proud to reveal tonight, on my personal blog, that thanks to Jakob Heuser, there is an eighth “undocumented” professional plugin for the web.  If you want to see it, all you have to do is use the following script on your website:

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://platform.linkedin.com/in.js"></script>

<script type="IN/Wizard" size="large"></script>

 

The Wizard of In, patron of all LinkedIn Hackdays, has gone web-wide.

Source Code That Allegedly Broke the Microsoft Zune

Thanks to Lawrence, Ryan, JSTN.

while (days > 365) {
    if (IsLeapYear(year)) {
        if (days > 366) {
            days -= 366;
            year += 1;
        }
    } else {
        days -= 365;
        year += 1;
    }
}

For non-programmers out there, this is what we like to call in technical terms “an infinite loop”. This code block will never finish running because on Day 366, the loop keeps checking to see if the day is greater than 365 (it is), and then checks to see if it’s a Leap Year (it is), and then checks to see if it is greater than 366 (it isn’t). So it does nothing, and then starts all over.

Perfect way to lock up your Zune every four years on the last day of the leap year.

Not sure if this is the actual code snippet or not, but a fun exercise. I could actually see this being on an introduction to programming test at some point.

My favorite quote about this fiasco (from the San Jose Mercury News):

“I’ve never heard of a consumer electronic device fail en masse like this,” said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Seattle-based research firm that focuses on the software giant.

Does anyone doubt that “Microsoft Zune” has become the “Ford Pinto” of consumer electronics?

Should You Be Eating Your Own Dog Food?

One of the best parts of my job at LinkedIn is responsibility for a world-class User Experience & Design team.  It’s a new and rapidly growing team, and with the addition of new people and new voices, I’ve really enjoyed the thoughtful discussions and debates that have been occurring.

Recently, an article featured on the Silicon Valley Product Group site spurred quite a bit of debate internally, and I thought it would be interesting to share some of those thoughts here.   The issue, as per the title, was the merit of the old product stand-by of “eating your own dogfood”.

What does it mean?

If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, it dates back to the 1980s, and was one of the core elements of the Microsoft software development philosophy.  (How many people in Silicon Valley realize that they are espousing a Microsoft-based software principle I don’t actually know…)  It’s an oblique reference to old Alpo commercials, where Lorne Greene would say that it was so good, he feeds it to his own dogs.  You’ve likely heard hundreds of commercials that make the same equivalent endorsement.

In software, this concept served at least three purposes:

  • Convince customers that their products were good enough for general use, by providing an empirical example.  For example, “We’ve been running our operations for the past year on this software, and the results are phenomenal!”
  • Ensure that software developers and other employees “feel the pain” of their customers.  The idea is that it is easy to ignore bugs, or miss simple problems with a product if you yourself don’t feel the pain personally.  This is one the reasons, for examples, many companies actually try to use new products internally first before release.
  • Ensure that software developers build applications and software that they themselves would use.  This theory holds that if you can put yourself in the shoes of your customer, so to speak, then you’ll have more insight into the ideal features and design of your product.

The Argument

The article in SVPG aggressively staked out a position that focused on that third bullet point in particular, and several members of our design team rallied around the critique.  This paragraph summarizes the problem well:

But the real issue here is not the importance of running your own software.  The real issue is that this is just another symptom of a big problem we have in our industry, but especially here in the valley.  We tend to believe that our customers and users are much more like ourselves than they really are.

For many designers, one of the most important reminders to begin every project with is the mantra, “The user is not like me.”  For several members of our team, this reminder is crucial to great customer-centric design, because it forces you to do your homework on the actual needs and characteristics of your target user and use-cases.  Too many designers, product managers, engineers and executives take the short cut of assuming that because they personally find a feature useful or annoying, that their personal experience will map directly to their customers.

For this group, the call to “eat your own dog food” potentially exposes the team to the danger that they will mistake their own personal reactions to the software with those of their customer.  If you are immersed in LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter on your iPhone, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that most of your users, in fact, are not.  In fact, the most extreme version of this argument says that by exposing yourself to heavily, you cannot avoid personally biasing your product decisions toward your own needs rather than the needs of your customers.

For others, the importance of using your own software on a regular basis is fundamental to building great product, for many of the reasons outlined above in the three bullet points.   Needless to say, it’s a great debate if you are passionate about building customer-centric product and organization.

The Answer

Personally, I thought the SVPG piece was well balanced, but understated the reasons why companies who “eat their own dogfood” tend to outperform those that don’t over time.

It is very easy to “de-prioritize” and undervalue problems and issues that face users of your products if you don’t depend on them yourself.  It is very easy to get attached to theoretical frameworks, market research, testing, and all sorts of valid means of evaluating how things work and what gets fixed.

But if you don’t use the product every day, chances are, you will undervalue real problems that your customers have, and overvalue ones that they don’t.  More importantly, you’ll be lacking the context to see the patterns & causal factors in the research.  The biggest problem with all forms of research is the issue of differentiating correlation from causality.

In our case, LinkedIn is a site for professionals.  Every person in this company is a professional.  Are LinkedIn employees representative of the entire span of professionals, or even the majority?  No.  Are LinkedIn employees a valid subset of professionals that should be able to use LinkedIn daily?  Yes.

We are actively working to open up as many channels as possible to listen to our customers: usability, focus groups, customer service, email feedback, LinkedIn Answers, community commentary on this (and other) blogs, and of course site metrics & testing.  At the same time, we are constantly using LinkedIn internally, as we endeavor to use the site on a daily basis to make ourselves more effective professionals.

I’m committed to finding balance between the two poles.  The risks of poor product & design decisions on both ends of the spectrum are too high.

Mozilla Firefox 3 Beta 3: First Impressions

Got to be careful what I say here.  Mike Schroepfer might be reading. :)

Actually, I was reading his blog when I found out that Firefox 3 Beta 3 is out.  You can download it here.

I’m playing the naive user for now… just installed it and using it, without reading up on the specifics of the new features.  I’m trying to see what I actually notice without any prep.

First thing… it’s FAST.  Much faster than Firefox 2.  And much much more stable with lots of tabs left open, although I need to give this a bit of a test through the weekend.

One of my biggest problems with Firefox 2 has been based on my particular usage habits.  I tend to open a lot of web pages in tabs, and leave them open for days (or weeks), as reminders to either read the pages or blog about them (or both).  What I’ve noticed is that once I get a large number of open tabs (20+), Firefox starts lagging my entire machine.  I don’t have the fastest machine in the world (PowerMac G5, Dual 2.5Ghz, 2.5GB RAM), but I’m pretty sure it should be able to display 20+ webpages at one time. :)

Anyway, everything is faster with Firefox 3.  My eBay loads faster.  SYI 3 loads faster.  WordPress.com loads faster.  Email links that open URLs in Firefox open faster.  And when I launch with a dozen or more tabs, it feels much more stable, not locking up nearly the way that Firefox 2 did.

I’m noticing on Mac OS X (10.5) that the controls look a little goofy.  The small controls used on eBay now come out as Mac-like round buttons, but the font is off-center.  Also, the drop-down menus actually have their text one pixel below the end of the menu control.

This is stuff I’m sure that’ll get fixed by final release.

We’re obviously going to have get busy updating our LinkedIn toolbar – Firefox 3 informed me the current version isn’t compatible.  I use that toolbar every day, so I’m going to have to make sure that gets fixed.  :)  In fact, none of my toolbars were verified to work with Firefox 3, which is probably a good thing since I don’t use most of them anymore anyway.

I’ve been very happy with Firefox vs. Safari since I switched about two years ago.  I was debating whether Safari 3 and the rise of the iPhone meant I would eventually have to switch back to Safari as my primary browser.

It’s not final, but my first few hours on Firefox 3 has left me fairly confident that Mozilla will continue to be my browser provider of choice for the foreseeable future.

You know, I just realized that Mozilla’s success making a great web browser for the Mac proves the lie in Microsoft’s excuses for abandoning the platform.   Firefox proves:

  1. That a great web browser can be built as a stand-alone application, not as a component of the OS.
  2. That a great web browser can be built on the Mac by a company other than Apple.

These were, of course, the two nominal reasons that Microsoft gave back in 2002 for dropping Internet Explorer on the Mac.

As Apple market share continues to grow, and the concept of an all-Windows workplace fades, I have to wonder – will Microsoft ever reconsider providing IE as a cross-platform browser again?   Even if the Mac has a low (5%) market share, that doesn’t mean only 5% of companies will have Macs deployed.  It could turn out that a vast majority of companies end up with a minority share of Macs in-house.  Does Microsoft really want to cede the cross-platform web application market to Mozilla?

Somehow, I doubt this is being seriously considered in Redmond.  But it’s definitely interesting in the face of a resurgent Mac platform and a cross-platform Firefox & Safari.  Internet Explorer for the iPhone, anyone?

Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD: The Microsoft Conspiracy Theory

This article was funny enough that I had to share.

Engadget: Michael Bay’s format war conspiracy theory: it’s a Microsoft fix

Here is a tidbit:

Responding to a commenter angry over Paramount’s decision to burn Optimus and friends onto HD DVD only, Bay claims to have the inside track on the “corporate politics” at play here, suggesting that “Microsoft wants both formats to fail so they can be heroes and make the world move to digital downloads.” He goes on to claim that Redmond has only been financially backing HD DVD over “superior Blu-ray” to create “confusion in the market” until such time as high def digital downloading goes prime time.

I love it. This is fun stuff, if you are into meaningless format wars.

Truth be told, Blu-Ray should be king of the hill by now. HD-DVD was almost knocking on death’s door based on studio support, with most studios either deciding to support both or just Blu-Ray. That would have killed HD-DVD quickly, since a typical consumer would have just said, “buy the Blu-Ray, and get access to all movies”. This is on top of the fact that Blu-Ray offers higher storage capacity, and had early support from PC manufacturers like Apple. (Yes, I know the Blu-Ray players cost more, but I assume that problem gets solved quickly)

HD-DVD managed to prevent this fate this year by paying literally a $150M spiff to Paramount and Dreamworks to make their movies HD-DVD only. That pulled Shrek & Transformers into the “must have HD-DVD camp”, and thus the war rages on.

I could have some sympathy, as a result, for Bay’s theory, except for the fact that if there is any subsidy war in this market, Sony takes the cake. They are subsidizing a Blu-Ray player into every single PS3, plus some free movies, in order to get the expensive player technology into the market. That may not be $150M spiff, but it’s actually far more dollars when you assume hundreds of dollars of losses over millions of PS3 boxes.

Microsoft could have done the same with HD-DVD in the Xbox 360, but they chose not to, and made it an add-on product.

In any case, you can put me in the Blu-Ray camp. The minute the spiff runs out, Paramount & Dreamworks will rush back to Blu-Ray, and PS3 growth in 2008 should start to move the right direction. People want to buy movies, and as HD becomes the standard, they will demand high def DVD products. I wish I could promise you that iTunes will have an HD TV & Movie solution in 2008, but I think the big studios are running neck & neck with the music companies in trying to fight their customers instead of giving them what they want. (Right, NBC?)

Update (12/5/2007):  Ugh.  Engadget has an article today quoting an analyst projecting no end to the format war.  Stalemate.  Some of the comments make a case for cheap HD-DVD players and dual-disc production in China turning the war in HD-DVD favor.  I hope not.

Proof That Microsoft Did Not Copy Vista from Apple Mac OS X

Who knew David Pogue was a funny guy? This video cracked me up.

Life at Google: The Microsoftie Perspective

I, like everyone else, am enjoying reading this post of pseudo-Q&A with an engineer who worked for Microsoft, then joined a startup that got acquired by Google. Not sure how legitimate it is, but everything in it rings true. Lots of insights into the Google culture, as well as some of the innovations they have made to really prioritize employee efficiency.

Here is one of my favorites, a description of Google Tech Stops:

Google has the concept of “Tech Stops.” Each floor of each building has one. They handle all of the IT stuff for employees in the building including troubleshooting networks, machines, etc. If you’re having a problem you just walk into a Tech Stop and someone will fix it. They also have a variety of keyboards, mice, cables, etc. They’re the ones who order equipment, etc. In many ways the Tech Stop does some of what our admins do. If your laptop breaks you bring it to a Tech Stop and they fix it or give you another one (they move your data for you). If one of your test machines is old and crusty you bring it to the Tech Stop and they give you a new one. They track everything by swiping your ID when you “check out” an item. If you need more equipment than your job description allows, your manager just needs to approve the action. The Tech Stop idea is genius because:

1. You establish a relationship with your IT guy so technical problems stop being a big deal – you don’t waste a couple of hours trying to fix something before calling IT to find out it wasn’t your fault. You just drop in and say, “My network is down.”

2. Most IT problems are trivial when you’re in a room together (“oh that Ethernet cable is in the wrong port”)

3. The model of repair or replace within an hour is incredible for productivity.

4. It encourages a more flexible model for employees to define their OWN equipment needs. E.g. a “Developer” gets a workstation, a second workstation or a laptop, and a test machine. You’re free to visit the Tech Stop to swap any of the machines for any of the others in those categories. For example, I could stop by and swap my second workstation for a laptop because I’m working remotely a lot more now. In the Tech Stop system, this takes 5 minutes to walk down and tell the Tech Stop guy. If a machine is available, I get it right away. Otherwise they order it and drop it off when it arrives. In our current set up, I have to go convince my manager that I need a laptop, he needs to budget for it because it’s an additional machine, an admin has to order it, and in the end developers always end up with a growing collection of mostly useless “old” machines instead of a steady state of about 3 mostly up-to-date machines.

This struck a chord with me, particularly as I reflect on time working at two large companies (Apple, eBay), a startup (Preview Systems), and a venture capital firm (Atlas Venture). In every environment, IT was optimized not around the convenience or efficiency of the employees, but around minimizing overhead & cost, and occasionally security.

You have to wonder how expensive the overhead is for the Google Tech Stops, and how much benefit they reap from it in productivity and employee morale. I can tell you one thing, having to fuss with IT about updating hardware is one thing that can really sap the energy of an employee in seconds.

How to Mount NTFS Drives on Mac OS X with Read/Write Access

Elliot, this post is for you.

A couple of weeks ago, I got really irritated with the whole Mac/Windows thing.  I had purchased a USB hard drive with the intention of using it as a backup drive for both Mac & Windows machines.

Unfortunately, I discovered that Mac OS X cannot write to NTFS volumes – it can only read from them.  I then discovered that Windows XP has lost the ability to read or write to HFS+ drives (Windows 2000 had it).

Well, I am here to say that there is a pretty cool solution for mounting NTFS volumes on Mac OS X.  Interestingly, it comes from Google.

The MacFuse project on the Google Code site is a BSD-license open-source project that lets you use any FUSE-compatible file system on Mac OS X.  FUSE (File-system in USErspace) originated on Linux, but apparently the port to Mac OS X has been live for a while.

NTFS-3G is the open source project that implements NTFS support for FUSE.

This lovely site has packaged together DMG installer versions of each for easy installation on Mac OS X.  (Please note: only do this if you are running Mac OS 10.4 or later, and are somewhat technically savvy)

Amazing.  It just works.  In fact, I’ve only hit one glitch.  If you fail to put away your NTFS volume properly on Windows (using the Safely Remove Hardware command), NTFS can get itself all locked up, and unable to mount properly.

Now, let me give due credit to this blog post for helping me find this solution.

Also, it’s worth noting that the write performance isn’t speedy right now.   The teams contributing seem to know this, and are working the issues.  As a result, I wouldn’t use this solution to make NTFS your default volume format for files.  However, if you need simple read/write to the occassional NTFS volume, this looks like a good answer.

Why Apple can’t ship decent NTFS support for Mac OS X is beyond me.  And why Microsoft can’t support HFS+ is also beyond me.  Given that there are tens of millions of machines out there who create and use each of these volume formats, I would say that it clears the bar of “important enough” to support.

Update (6/3/2007):  A brief warning.  Apple just released a security update that is currently not fully compatible with the ntfs-3g files.  My PowerMac was unable to read UDF (video DVDs) until I removed these files.   I’m sure a fix will be out soon, but be careful.  This thread on Apple Discussions captures the solution.

What Do You Do When You Catch Mozilla & Microsoft Dancing?

OK, sensationalist title for some trivial pictures, but these were too good to pass up.  Don Dodge posted some images from the recent Mix07 conference.

Source: Don Dodge on The Next Big Thing

Pictured left to right: Sam Ramji – Microsoft, Rob Conery – SubSonic, Andi Gutmans – Zend Technologies, Mike Schroepfer – Mozilla,  Miguel de Icaza – Mono, Novell, (William) whurley – BMC Software.

OK, that’s not that exciting.  But what did crack me up was this picture of Mike Schroepfer and the rest of the panel doing a Rockettes-like dancing line:

Not sure why this cracked me up, but it did.  I’m sure the novelty factor of seeing pictures of friends will wear off… but not yet.

Mobile Search: What are People Looking For?

I feel like I’m perpetually behind with my blog lately.  This tidbit is from a few days ago, but I think interesting enough to still warrant a post.

JumpTap has a nice chart out on their breakdown of search queries from mobile phones.  Turns out 12% of the queries can be classified as “adult” in nature.

A few years ago, I worked on the Search team at eBay, specializing in popularity data.  As a result, I was able to really go through the data to see what people were searching for, and in what volume.  It’s really an amazing insight to see the aggregated searches of millions of people together, ranked.  Even on this blog, I still get a kick out of seeing what searches people use to find these articles.

In some respects, I’m a bit surprised that the number is only 12%.  I’m not sure I know whether that is low or high.  Does anyone know the rough breakdown of adult queries for major search engines like Google or Yahoo?

So, I’ll leave this one with a question to my recently acquired friends at TellMe:

When mobile search moves from text to voice, are people as comfortable making adult queries?  Is there an equivalent to these search lists in the voice search space?

Celebrating 10 Years of the Mac BU at Microsoft… in Stickies!

Sorry, one last post for the night.   This was too cool to pass up.

The Macintosh BU at Microsoft, which was formed after the 1997 Apple/Microsoft alliance, just celebrated their 10th anniversary.  Apparently, what greeted them in the morning was gorgeous pixel art:

Of course, it turned out to not be pixel art per-se, but actually 1336 carefully pasted sticky notes on the windows.

I have to hand it to Microsoft, that’s 100% pure engineering culture right there.  Glorious.  I tip my hat to the team.

The full article about how they designed the sticky note art in Excel and then finished their work is here, on the Mac Mojo blog.

Steve Jobs Drops a DRM Bomb on the Music Industry: Thoughts on Music

Who would have guessed that on a random Tuesday in February, Steve Jobs would decide to drop a bomb on the music industry. But that’s what he did today, on the Apple.com website:

Thoughts on Music: Apple.com

There are a lot of good summaries on the web already. Here is the one from Don Dodge, for example. If you are not into reading long missives, I can summarize the article, Powerpoint-style:

  • Digital Rights Management (DRM) for music doesn’t work. 97% of all music on iPods is ripped from DRM-free CDs sold every year.
  • Critics who want Apple to open up FairPlay don’t understand that if they license it, it’s likely to be cracked constantly. The only thing holding it together is that Apple controls the hardware, the software, and the music protection.
  • The only rational solution is for the music industry to stop requiring DRM on their music, and go with an open format like MP3 or AAC. Every iPod ever made supports it.

For those of you not familiar with Digital Rights Management, DRM is the software that is built to prevent people from illegally copying files, like Music. For the iTunes Store, Apple uses a DRM called FairPlay which limits the number of machines you can play the music on. Right now, there is a lot of legal controversy in Europe over the fact that this DRM also “locks” people into the Apple iPod, because once they buy music on iTunes, they can’t play it on other devices.

This missive from Steve Jobs was unexpected, largely for some pretty significant reasons:

  • Everyone expects Apple to support “closed-systems”. It’s part of the baggage from the whole Windows vs. Mac debate from the 1980s.
  • Apple has sold over 2 Billion songs on iTunes. Apple doesn’t seem to need a DRM-free world.
  • The lock-in from iTunes & the iPod seems like strategic genius, and the basis of a new monopoly. On the surface, this feels like a magnanimous gift. Selfless, even.

There have been a lot of calls in the industry to give up DRM lately, but a lot of them have to do with the fact that people don’t want to accept a world where Apple controls the entire music industry (which is where it is heading right now). Bill Gates, for example, proclaimed a while ago that he supports a DRM-free approach to music.

Personally, I thought the DRM-free approach was the only way the rest of the industry would be able to crack Apple’s stranglehold on digital music. I see DRM-free music as the natural response to a monopoly, similar to the response of Linux to Windows.

However, now that I read Steve Jobs’ note, it make sense on so many levels for Apple to issue this statement now. In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t see it sooner. By issuing this statement, either:

  • Steve knows the Music industry will not go DRM-free, so his lock-in is secure. However, by going on the record this way, he lines up a plausible defense to the legal challenges in Europe, and avoids the perception of Apple as the gluttonous monopolist. More importantly, he paints a bullseye on the real monopolists – the four big music publishing houses.
  • Steve believes that the iPod brand and product are so dominant now, that even without lock-in, they win majority marketshare in the music player market, like the Walkman before it. In fact, the lock-in is likely over-rated, since such a small percentage of music is actually locked anyway, and the margins in the music are terrible.
  • Steve is not liking the tone and progress of licensing discussions with the TV and Movie industry, and he thinks that if a precedent can be set with Music that DRM is bad, then that will open up a world of video content to Apple & iTunes.

It’s hard to imagine the music industry embracing a DRM-free world. Fundamentally, they still believe that as copyright-holders, they have the right to control distribution at a fine-grained level to maximize profits. And of course, they are correct, they do have that right.

What they didn’t predict, however, was that attempts to enforce that right would lead to a consolidation of their distribution channels, which would shift market power from them to Apple. And now, they have too choose between a rock (Apple market power) and a hard place (DRM-free music).

I’ll end here with my favorite passage from Steve Jobs’ letter:

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Bill Gates Loses His Cool

As someone who has been following the Apple/Microsoft relationship for almost twenty years, this week offered a real first for me – Bill Gates losing his cool in the face of relentless questions about Microsoft Vista vs. Apple Mac OS X.

It starts with this Newsweek interview with Bill Gates about the launch of Vista.

There is no doubt that Bill comes off suprisingly snippy and defensive, and a few blogs have picked up on this. For example, the Open Sources blog at Infoworld had a few things to say about it.

Here is an example of Bill being overly riled up about some fairly run-of-the-mill questioning:

In many of the Vista reviews, even the positive ones, people note that some Vista features are already in the Mac operating system.

You can go through and look at who showed any of these things first, if you care about the facts. If you just want to say, “Steve Jobs invented the world, and then the rest of us came along,” that’s fine. If you’re interested, [Vista development chief] Jim Allchin will be glad to educate you feature by feature what the truth is. I mean, it�s fascinating, maybe we shouldn’t have showed so publicly the stuff we were doing, because we knew how long the new security base was going to take us to get done. Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine. So, yes, it took us longer, and they had what we were doing, user interface-wise. Let’s be realistic, who came up with [the] file, edit, view, help [menu bar]? Do you want to go back to the original Mac and think about where those interface concepts came from?

Hiss.  Down Kitty. I have never seen Bill Gates lose his cool like this, certainly not in print. Maybe it’s because Microsoft has been kicked around too long about Vista, and he’s taking it personally. Maybe it’s because, after a while, you’re tired of the guy with 5% market share getting all the adulation when you’re the guy who really won the fight.

Usually, the rule of thumb for PR is to not even acknowledge the second place player. If you do, you almost want to be overly welcoming, showing that you are not threatened at all by the challenger. It’s almost like you want to treat them like a kid brother trying to challenge you to a race. You should be empathetic, just shy of condescending, as if you understand their desire to win, and you want them to be happy, but you know there is no chance of them winning.

Arnold Schwarzenegger did this exactly right during the 2006 California Gubernatorial race to Phil Angelides during the debates.

Bill is normally far more statesmanlike with the press, and measured in his responses. He normally handles Apple questions with aplomb and diplomacy.

Maybe he’s feeling the end of his life in software coming up fast (2008) as he moves to a purely philanthropic role, and he doesn’t like the tenor of the market as he exits. Maybe he genuinely wanted to go out on top, with the Xbox 360, Zune, Vista and Live growing to dominate new markets. Instead, he’s faced with the Nintendo Wii, Apple iPod, Mac OS X, and Google getting all the limelight.

Maybe he’s taking the new Apple commercials just a little too seriously?  (I personally like the new ones up on Apple’s Website.  The imposter one is just too funny.)  Maybe he’s upset because iTunes is still not Vista compatible, and people actually care?

I don’t know, but somehow it makes me feel sad.  Despite my affinity for Apple products, I have a lot of respect for Bill Gates, and somehow this type of weakness on public display is just a downer.

Microsoft Caught with a Bad Case of Mac OS Envy

There is a new blog on WordPress called Graceful Flavor, and they tend to focus on Apple news. They had a post yesterday that immediately caught my eye, entitled:

New Microsoft Email Shows Panic Over OS X Tiger Features

Now, everyone these days expects Microsoft to have iPod-envy, iTunes-envy, even iPhone-envy. But given that the OS wars were largely fought and won in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s, it’s a bit surprising to see a dominant giant like Microsoft caught with not only acknowledging the strengths of Mac OS X, but almost despairing at them.

A snippet here, from an email from Lenn Pryor, the former Director of Platform Evangelism:

Tonight I got on corpnet, hooked up Mail.app to my Exchange server and then downloaded all of my mail into the local file store. I did system wide queries against docs, contacts, apps, photos, music, and … my Microsoft email on a Mac. It was fucking amazing. It is like I just got a free pass to Longhorn land today.

What about this one?

Here’s my take on this:

  1. Big suprise, Mac OS X is a strong product.  Let’s face it – the dominance of Windows over Mac OS had everything to do with x86 and DOS compatibility, and very little to do with the overall design of the 100s of features that make up modern operating systems.    At minimum, it’s fair to say that Mac OS X is an extremely strong product in many areas, and it’s not surprising to see Microsoft clearly interested in learning from its competition.  I know that within Apple, we spent plenty of time discussing new and planned Microsoft features.
  2. Microsoft is a huge company, these quotes didn’t come from Bill Gates.  Is it really so shocking that there are Apple fans within Microsoft?  Come on.  It’s a huge company, and it’s not surprising that several people in middle management are Apple fans.  Sometimes your best people are the ones who can look outside your four walls and see the world differently.  I don’t know if these people are considered thought leaders or pariahs within Microsoft, but either way, these emails aren’t really surprising.
  3. The grass is always greener…  When I was at Apple, while most people were convinced of Apple’s superiority in design, innovation and approach, there was always an inherent sense of insecurity and envy of Microsoft’s ability to reach the broadest audience.  There was envy of their resources, their ability to fund money-losers for years on end in long term markets.  But this wasn’t unique to Apple.  Or Microsoft.  All companies who compete ferociously in technology develop an appreciation, which can quickly turn to envy, for the unique advantages of their competition.  The trick is to remember that strategy is about unique differentiation – what makes your company, your products, your services and your brand unique in the market.  Trying to match your competitors feature-for-feature is a death spiral towards commoditization and lack of identity.

No matter the bravado, I guarantee you that there are people at Apple writing memos about the inspiration they have gotten from Vista.  Sure, they’ll say, there’s a “better way” to do some of these things.  But they’ll have a note of envy for DirectX 10.  They’ll be jealous of how quickly third parties come in to fix holes in the Vista feature set.  And Mac OS 10.6 will likely end up stronger for it.

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