An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...
Ex-Microsofties: The Company Has Lost Its Way
Fortune has a fascinating if all-too-short look behind the kimono at Microsoft, and what it sees isn't pretty: Many former employees of the software giant believe that Microsoft has lost its way. Interestingly, one points to the same nadir I'd offer up—when Apple was shellacking Windows Vista with its "I'm a Mac, You're a PC" ads, ads that in many cases offered up completely bogus assertions and downright lies. Microsoft's response? To let a year go by without responding. (The software giant is reusing this same brilliant strategy with Windows Phone, with the same excellent results.) Microsoft is, in the words of former employees, "more cautious than before," with no correlation between how hard employees work and their income and other rewards. Many point the finger at CEO Steve Ballmer, who has presided over the company in a decade in which once laughable companies like Apple and Google have come to dominate it in multiple product categories. "There's this sense that under his direction, the company has really lost its way," one employee noted.
I'm obviously pretty opinionated, but I have no real handle on the Ballmer thing. He's a good guy, and a smart guy, but he's also not a technologist, and if the argument is that maybe a company like Microsoft needs a more technical figurehead, I guess I see the point. But my big issue with Microsoft, generally, is that it's typically too slow-moving. (As always, there are exceptions.) And though we can attribute this calcification to many things, I'd highlight the software giant's over-emphasis on successes of the past (Windows, Office), whose business models have never, ever—not once—translated into success in other markets (digital music and media, smartphones). The company is so single-minded about slowly building platforms and turning everything into the next Windows that it never seems to understand that other markets require different strategies, and that today's new markets are all fast-moving and ever-changing. The problem is, we're past the point at which Microsoft can simply throw products out there and see what sticks. It needs to be decisive, implement quickly, and iterate even more quickly. Some product groups get this—like Internet Explorer (IE)—but most don't. And that's my outsider-looking-in assessment, anyway.
Out of Touch or Prescient? Microsoft Exec Blasts iPad, Sort Of
Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie this week suggested that the iPad 2 and related devices could be a passing fad, akin to a high-tech Pet Rock, setting off predictable (and perhaps ironic, if not hypocritical) blogger claims that Mundie is clueless and out of touch. And although that's what it sounds like on the surface, Mundie's claims weren't as black-and-white as many have reported. Here's what he really said. "I think that the phone, the smartphone, as it emerges more, will become your most personal computer," he began, adding that there is a distinction between mobile and portable. "Mobile is something that you want to use while you're moving and portable is something you move and then use," he said. "These are going to bump into one another a little bit, and so today you can see tablets and pads and other things that are just starting to live in the space in between. Personally, I don't know whether I believe that space will be a persistent one or not."
That, of course, is where most people stopped listening and starting penning their latest anti-Microsoft screed. But Mundie continued, and as we say, he makes some good points: The smartphones of the future will have screen technology that makes it look like there's a huge screen, floating in the air in front of you. And this technology will make iPads look positively cumbersome and old fashioned by comparison. "The thing can actually beam individual rays of light into your eyes right on your retina, and you can make the screen appear to be as big as you want, so you can look at your phone and see HDTV," he said. "So, I don't know whether the big-screen tablet pad category is going to remain with us or not when you have more natural interaction."
That, folks, is a bit far off, and more than a little on the Minority Report side of the scale, but it's certainly a reasonable statement, coming from a big-picture guy like Mundie. And his comments about the iPad as a PC replacement are both more down to earth and more obviously correct too, at least for now. "Today those things are being primarily used in a consumptive model because they're not very good for creating stuff," he said. "So I don't know whether consumptive things will remain a category by themselves or not."
Pretty reasonable, actually.
IE 9 Surges with Windows 7 Users
Microsoft reports this morning that its recently released Internet Explorer (IE) 9 browser already accounts for 3.6 percent of all Windows 7 users browsing the web—not too shabby for a product that's only a few weeks old. And though some could effectively argue that Microsoft's position (posture?) here is a bit self-serving in the face of faster growth in the also recently released Firefox 4, I do find the software giant's stance on IE 9 to be both correct and overdue. And that is, rather than focusing on "the lowest common denominator" as it always does—commit to a crazy level of backward compatibility and thus impact the functionality and performance of the new product—Microsoft has instead designed IE 9 to be forward-leaning and innovative. And seriously, kudos for that. Of course, Microsoft being Microsoft, it can't win either way, so now some are complaining (whining?) that IE 9 isn't backward-compatible with Windows XP, an aging OS that should have been kicked to the curb years ago. I couldn't care less, and I think Microsoft did the right thing. I also think that IE 9 is going to kick Firefox 4's furry little behind in the months ahead, because as I've noted before, it's called "the browser wars," not "opening weekend." There's a steamroller coming, Firefox. And its name is IE.
Microsoft to Developers: You're the Reason PCs Are Insecure
Citing its ongoing research for its Security Development Lifecycle Progress Report, Microsoft this week claimed that most vulnerabilities that users experience in Windows are in fact the fault of third-party applications—not the OS itself. And the reason these applications are so vulnerable is that the developers who create them only rarely take advantage of the various security measures Microsoft has implemented over the past several years. Only 43 percent of commonly used third-party applications take advantage of the Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) technology that Microsoft introduced in Windows Vista, for example, and only 71 percent utilize Data Execution Prevention (DEP), which dates back to Windows XP with SP2. "Microsoft and the computer industry will only succeed in that world if CIOs, consumers, and everyone else see that Microsoft has created a platform for Trustworthy Computing," then-Microsoft CEO Bill Gates wrote back in 2002. If only developers had followed the words of the tech industry's Nostradamus, maybe we'd be in much better shape right now.
No Users Yet, But Windows Phone 7 Is Huge with Developers
Microsoft is conspicuously silent on the number of Windows Phone 7 users—because, as one analyst tracking such numbers notes, there aren't any—so it's been forced to make lemonade, as we say in the business, and direct the focus toward other, more positive numbers. Such as those around developers, who have downloaded the Windows Phone developer tools more than 1.5 million times, shipped more than 11,500 apps to the Windows Phone Marketplace, and are joining the Windows Phone developer program at a rate of 1,200 new developers per week. Neat! And honestly, it's positive news. But these numbers still pale in comparison with more mature and, yes, more popular mobile platforms—like the iPhone, which has more than 350,000 apps available (some of which I'm told aren't farting apps), and Android, which clocks in around 150,000 apps. Of course, my big concern about Windows Phone has nothing to do with developers—that is the one area Microsoft got decidedly right, as I've described previously—but rather with its inability to ship even the smallest of software updates to customers on a timely, efficient schedule. Microsoft has yet to apologize to me for the whole defamation thing (I won't hold my breath, don't worry), but it is at least starting to apologize to the people who really matter in all this: the Windows Phone customers who, understandably, are getting tired of the company's inability to deliver. "To date, we haven't done a great job," Windows Phone Senior Director of Developer Experience Brandon Watson said this week. "We are working like hell to make sure we are doing a better job." In the case of updates, that's a low bar, unfortunately. But good luck with that.
Crisis Expert: Microsoft Should Have Predicted, Prevented Windows Phone Update Problems
Humorously, when I first saw the headline of Greg Keizer's article, "Microsoft should have anticipated Windows Phone 7 update fiasco, crisis expert claims," I read "crisis" as "Crysis" and got a bit excited. It's still interesting though, and pretty much confirms what I said all along: After failing again and again to deliver even the simplest of software updates to its Windows Phone customers, Microsoft's response has been laughably inept, and even involved some pretty petty personal attacks on, well, me. It's prompted sort-of apologies on the company's blogs and then a very explicit all-out apology (again, not to me) to customers from Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, who oversees the design of Windows Phone. Patrick Kerley, a senior digital strategist with Levick Strategic Communications, says none of this should have happened. "The way that Microsoft has positioned itself, it's the worst of both worlds," Kerley said. "It wants to control the update process but it's trying to work across a disparate ecosystem." Worse, the people Microsoft is currently aggravating—the company can do that on a fairly reliable schedule, ironically—are the early adopters and enthusiasts the company should be trying hardest to please. "Microsoft needs to make sure its fan base sticks with it through thick and thin," Kerley said. And no, Microsoft is still not making an effort in that department at all.
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Leo and I recorded the latest episode of the Windows Weekly Thursday as usual, and the new episode should be available by the end of the weekend on iTunes, the Zune Marketplace, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.
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