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What is Microsoft good for now?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 22nd, 2015 at 12:46:29 PM EST

Microsoft is one of the most successful corporations in the world, having blazed the trail for personal computing and making its founder, Bill Gates the World's richest man. Windows has become almost ubiquitous on PCs and laptops and MS Office is the office productivity tool of choice for most business and personal users. But what has Microsoft accomplished in the last 20 years beyond leveraging its early mover advantage and dominant position in PC computing?  I would argue very little, and I would like to invite you to argue otherwise. But first a little personal personal computing history...

Back around 1990 I was given responsibility for end-user computing in part of the business I was working in, although nobody quite knew what that meant at the time. WordPerfect had just replaced Multimate as the corporate standard word processor, and Lotus 123 was replacing earlier micromodelling programmes used by accountants and other business analysts. The truly adventurous management consultant types started giving management presentations using Lotus Freelance and some had even used DBaseIII for rudimentary database applications.


I had built what I thought were some pretty sophisticated Lotus 123 models, and even written a few DBaseIII applications for analyzing Personnel records and computing the cost of various proposed pay deals because our mainframe systems were too inflexible to do "what if" analyses.

I well recall one of the older members of staff doing meticulous calculations using hugely complex paper based calculations based on long print-outs of personnel salaries and calculating the cost of an x% pay rise based on their place in the incremental scale and other allowances they might be entitled to, and resolved that this was not for me: there had to be a better way; especially as the combination of percentages for different groups kept changing during the course of a pay negotiation.

And then Windows 3.1 arrived on the scene. I had had a look at Windows 2.0 which had been bundled on some then cheepo Amstrads we had acquired, and had been utterly baffled as to what it was all about.  But somehow Windows 3.1 promised to change the game.  I was very well aware of the pain involved in learning a completely new user interface every time you used a new package, together with all the associated problems of converting data from one file format to another and connecting to printers etc.

The cost of training staff to use all these different packages was phenomenal, and the proficiency levels in any one package tended to remain low.  The license and support costs were also huge and growing. So the attraction of a new user interface using a more intuitive visual metaphor which was common across most end-user applications and which promised to make data portable between applications and end all that infernal fiddling around with printer drivers was very great indeed.

The Head Office IT Mandarins were less impressed however, and I well recall the Head of IT R&D branding Windows as just another of the various annual IT fads which would be gone and replaced with another fad within 12 months. Traditional computing was still heavily mainframe and Mini computer based and the "green screen" denizens viewed the new PC applications, and especially Windows, with extreme suspicion.

Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM and any serious programmer had to be using Oracle, if not Cobol, C,  or some other extremely abstract language.  The problem with Microsoft was that it wasn't "reassuringly expensive" and stories of the flaky stability of Windows PC's abounded.  In fairness, only a fool would have trusted a Microsoft based application with a mission critical transaction based or operational system at the time, but the systems I was interested in were more in the nature of management information, presentation and office productivity tools. The worst that could happen is that you might lose some of that report you were working on.  

And there was a business imperative.  The company had negotiated a business plan with HQ and the Unions which required dramatic improvements in productivity. The number of clerical and secretarial staff were to be slashed, and much of their work had to be automated. The explosion in functionality that could be found in Word 2.0, Excel 4 and Powerpoint finally won the day and they were gradually introduced to replace WordPerfect, Lotus 123 and Freelance after an awkward period when it was finally accepted that the Windows versions of those latter programmes didn't really work.

The other project I was working on at the time was installing a pilot DOS based email system onto the new fangled corporate network that had just been installed - primarily to connect other diverse computer systems. A key Director had voiced his objections:  why would we bother putting in an email system when we already had an internal snail mail postal system in place?  People would get, at most, one email a day, and where was the saving in that?

The pilot email project was a limited success. The mixed bag of 30 pilot users used the system more or less frequently, and there could be days when I received no emails and felt like sending out a broadcast appeal "Is there anybody out there?"

Fortunately the MD came to my rescue:  He insisted all Board members be part of the pilot, and that he, personally, would only send out key memos to them by email. You were out of the loop if you didn't log in.  Of course the most skeptical Director just had his secretary log in and print out his emails...he later conceded defeat and went on an offsite course in personal computing. As someone who had always traded on his intelligence, he couldn't be seen to be falling behind what other managers were doing.

But Microsoft also came to my rescue. The product we were using for our pilot had limited functionality and didn't really address the need for radical productivity improvements. A survey of the work done by secretarial and clerical personnel had revealed that an alarming amount of their time was spent in filing and re-filing documents, and arranging and re-arranging meetings. Were there any e-mail based productivity tools which could assist with those processes?

No significant windows based email system or diary management system was yet available but a friendly chat with Microsoft MD in Ireland, Anne Riordan, revealed that Microsoft had a system in development in Redmond, Seattle. Phase 2 of the pilot switched to using a Beta version of Microsoft Mail and an integrated diary management tool called Schedule+ which later, combined, became Outlook.

Again, a cultural shift was required.  Managers used to having a private secretary now had to type their own memos as emails or attachments, and arrange their own meetings using Schedule+.  Many were afraid to expose their diary time availability to the network enabling others to see their free/busy times and book meetings without the usual tortuous negotiations between secretaries whose job was to protect and maintain a mystique of busy-ness around their boss.  Again the MD led the way, insisting that a meeting not arranged over Schedule+ wasn't happening.

I learned an interesting lesson in project management when putting that project together. Conscious that the previous pilot had met with some opposition, and also conscious that a different DOS based e-mail system (without integrated diary management) was being used in the UK, I was anxious to bring in the project cost below IR£100K - the limit that the Dublin Board could then approve without further approval by HQ in London.  After some corner cutting and "borrowing" from other project budgets, I was extremely pleased to bring in the cost at IR£99K, with the software and some technical support being supplied for free by Microsoft. (In keeping with the need to market the project using a catchy title, that project was named OASIS - Office Automation Systems and Information Services).

Some weeks later, my manager informed me that the project had been approved: - for IR£240K! Where had that figure come from I asked, innocently. Apparently he had taken the view, unilaterally, that the Board was expecting a business wide roll-out to cost in the region of 200-300K, so why disappoint them? Furthermore, if our system was ever to have any chance of becoming a global standard, it had to have visibility at Global corporate HQ.  If they approved the project, they would have some interest in its success. That was my first lesson that production cost has no necessary relationship with sales price...which is best determined by the "market" you are trying to sell into.

The project was an outstanding success both in technical terms, and in facilitating the organizational changes we were already committed to.  So much so, that the IT Department had to impose strict limits on what attachments were allowed (no photographs!) because the network was groaning under the load of increased traffic, and strict limits in the amount of file space that could be allocated to individual users for emails, attachments, and other documents. The idea of streaming a video over the network would have practically been a sacking offense!

It is fair to say I was an enthusiastic supporter of all things Microsoft from then on.  So much so, that we later used a (still largely vapourware) Alpha version of Microsoft Access (codenamed Cirrus) to build a Human Resources Information System (Named Hermes) which enabled managers to directly run queries or reports on personnel records without having to request a print-out from the IT Department. (It was some time before the client server architecture specified as being in-built in the product actually worked so the Network manager was not amused...)  It was the first Access based application built outside Microsoft itself.

I share the above anecdotes to illustrate that, at that time, I would yield to no man in my admiration of Microsoft, and would have gladly bought shares in the company had I had spare cash at the time. It became a bit of a running joke amongst IT professionals with a far greater range of technical expertise than I could ever muster.  So what happened to my admiration of Microsoft since then?

The first problem was that Microsoft seemed to totally miss the internet boat. By the mid-1990's the internet was being used for a lot more that E-Mail, and yet Microsoft seemed to leave the leadership in that space to AltaVista, Mozilla, Netscape and, later, Google and Yahoo - perhaps seeing no obvious revenue streams there. From a general business point of view it was galling to see a new user interface standard gradually emerge - having just expensively trained all users in the Windows interface - when along came the internet with a poorly defined and continually evolving standard for how users should interact with their computers.

But the greater problem was that Microsoft never seemed to really increase its range of applications on offer. Office productivity tools can only take a business forward so far. The next wave of corporate process automation involve the automation and integration of far more complex and fundamental enterprise management processes - manufacturing process control, packaging processes, logistics, accounts payable, sales, customer contact management, procurement, and financial control. Microsoft seemed to leave that space to Oracle and SAP.

Even document management, a process that involves access control, version control, approval workflow, and publication management - and which should have been a core competency for Microsoft, was neglected. My team ended up using Lotus Notes to develop an application with the above functionality and which had to work across both PC and Apple platforms as it involved the origination, approval and management of artwork for packaging, display, and advertising.

I have now long retired from gainful employment and haven't worked in the IT space since, so I cannot really comment on what Microsoft has done since.  All I know is that as an end user, I have paid again and again for essentially the same software which does little more than the seminal versions which hit the market in the early 1990's.  If anything, despite the exponential growth in processor speeds since, my laptop is running Microsoft software more slowly than ever.  

Perhaps I am taking many incremental improvements since for granted, but I can see no step change in the range of functionality offered by Microsoft products - Nothing on a par with what Apple, Google or Facebook, never mind Oracle or SAP, have offered since.  The recent announcement of record losses following a failed takeover of a Nokia business is merely highlighting a trend:  What is Microsoft offering consumers or businesses that is dramatically better than what is available elsewhere?

But I am now very much out of touch with the tech world and hence the question mark in my title.  Perhaps you can better inform me of what Microsoft is good for now...

Display:
As a corporation they are trying to find new things to do.
Azure Cloud infrastructure services and the like.
In the meantime they are keen to keep milking the cash cows...

There's an irony, to me, in that (whatever you think of their business practices) Microsoft (as a profit machine) went off the rails when their "stated ambition" became true. There pretty much was a computer on every business desk and in every (American) home - and most of them were running Windows...

At some level they simply didn't know where to go next.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Jul 22nd, 2015 at 01:34:12 PM EST
The first problem was that Microsoft seemed to totally miss the internet boat.

No, they tried to sink and/or pirate and/or blockade the Internet boat.

By the time they realised they needed to get on board they had ceded too much ground - and they never seemed to understand the Internet anyway. Too many internal fiefdoms to protect.

Maybe this will be a reformative near-death experience like Apple's or maybe they'll fade away.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 22nd, 2015 at 01:46:58 PM EST
Maybe they are going to build a quantum computer. Although in this field they have to compete with IBM and Google.
by rz on Wed Jul 22nd, 2015 at 02:06:05 PM EST
Nokia deal flop drags Microsoft to largest loss to date

Including the writedown of its Nokia purchase and other restructuring charges, the net loss in the fourth quarter was $3.2 billion, or 40 cents a share, the company said Tuesday in a statement.

Microsoft acquired the phone unit in April 2014 for $9.5 billion, including $1.5 billion in acquired cash. The addition of the unit - a deal struck under former CEO Steve Ballmer, Mr Nadella's predecessor - was a flop, and Microsoft's smartphone business continued to lose money while gaining little ground with mobile users.

Last month, Mr Nadella unveiled the biggest management overhaul in his 18 months as CEO.

Former Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop is exiting as Microsoft's hardware chief as the company consolidates that business with its Windows division.

Three other senior leaders, including Mark Penn, a former adviser of President Bill Clinton, are also leaving the company.

Lets hope Mark Penn doesn't go back to work for Hillary Clinton. He could give her a similar kiss of death.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 22nd, 2015 at 06:05:58 PM EST
Nokia is but one number in an impressively long list of failures:

Ballmer's billion-dollar blunders: When he gambled Microsoft's money and lost * The Register

Analysis Less than two years into Satya Nadella's tenure as CEO of Microsoft, he's already had to report a lossmaking quarter. It's only the second time that's happened in the software giant's three decades as a public company, and the $8.44bn write-off Redmond posted earlier this week is the largest in its history.

Don't blame Nadella, though. He's just the janitor. The mess he's been forced to clean up was left for him by his predecessor, Steve Ballmer.

In this case, the source of the red ink was Ballmer's crash-and-burn acquisition of Nokia's phone business, which seemingly has now cost Microsoft more than it originally paid for it. It's emerging as the single most disastrous event in all of Microsoft's history. It was such a contentious move, in fact, that it reportedly destroyed Ballmer's friendship with his old college buddy, Bill Gates.

But this wasn't the first time one of Ballmer's plans cost Microsoft some serious coin. In fact, on several occasions during his tenure he bet big on the wrong idea when he probably should have known better, ultimately costing the company millions or even billions in the process.

by Bernard on Wed Aug 12th, 2015 at 09:55:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Lucy Kellaway: Microsoft boss on mission to empower planet
His was the usual mishmash of platforms, drivers, ecosystems, aligns, DNAs and going forwards - as well as some more ambitious combinations such as "extend our experience footprint".

This is what routinely passes for chief executive communication in corporate America, but what is special about this example is it came from a big leader of a big company making a big announcement. Microsoft's third chief executive was trying to convince the world that the company has a plan and to remind employees what it is, in case they had forgotten. What he came up with was unreadable, largely meaningless hyperbole - and no one turned a hair.

Many readers will have failed to get past the first word. "Team," the memo begins. Microsoft employees are not one team or, if they are, ought not to be. Studies have shown the ideal number of members of a team is four or five, not 120,000-plus.

"Every great company has an enduring mission," Mr Nadella goes on. This sounds good, but it is not true. I like to think the Financial Times is a great company; it has endured 127 years without an official mission.

With some clearing of the throat about how proud he is in announcing it, the chief executive unveils the new mission of Microsoft: "To empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more."

The first sign of trouble is the word "planet". There is a rule that says whenever this word is used as a substitute for "world", the sentence in which it appears is utter tosh. If the cosmic resonance is gratuitous, the author is writing through his hat.

Having been involved in corporate speech writing and video production, I would have been embarrassed to be associated with this thrash.  Mirosoft hasn't got a clue what it is trying to do.  The recent announcement of 7,800 job losses can only be a beginning unless they turn things around fast.. But what is it that Microsoft can now do uniquely well?

Turn stale products into cash cows?

Google Docs and Linux cannot come quickly enough into truly universal usage...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 22nd, 2015 at 06:16:22 PM EST
It's important to note that our worldview for mobile-first is not just about the mobility of devices; it's centered on the mobility of experiences that, in turn, are orchestrated by the cloud.

Someone should cut that out and put it in a museum.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jul 22nd, 2015 at 07:00:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently "the cloud" is now passé. The thing these days is "the fog".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 22nd, 2015 at 07:06:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When you're in one, every cloud looks like a fog...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 22nd, 2015 at 07:09:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Macrosquash has always been thick and wet.
by rifek on Thu Jul 30th, 2015 at 12:31:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They could put it next to "treating ink as a first class citizen", which sadly no one remembers.

What it translated to was "heck, handwriting recognition is too hard, let's just store the unreadable scribbles as is."

-----
sapere aude

by Number 6 on Fri Jul 24th, 2015 at 08:10:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Both Android and iOS outsell Windows based machine these days. I like Jobs's truck-car analogy - laptops and desktops are trucks and vans, suitable for heavy work applications. Normal people - "consumers" -  need a car or a bike, which is a tablet or a phone.

Microsoft are fading from the consumer world entirely. No one buys their phones and I've read that Apple have sold more Watches in three months with highly constrained supply than Microsoft have ever sold Surfaces.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 03:02:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Microsoft clearly missed the phone/tablet train, but that train has already ran out of steam. They could be on the right track now with their version of Convergence (called Continuum) but they must come on the market pretty fast to not loose that train too.
 

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.
by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Tue Jul 28th, 2015 at 05:46:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that sentence was doomed when they included "empower".


-----
sapere aude
by Number 6 on Fri Jul 24th, 2015 at 08:07:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To demonstrate just how flaky Microsoft could be at the time, a friend and former colleague of mine, Jon Honeyball, who was also a computer tech journalist attended the UK "launch" of Excel 4.

After a while he thought there was something strange about the presentation - which was highly impressive - but couldn't quite put his finger on it.  Then some slip by the presenter gave the game away:  What they were watching on screen wasn't actually Excel 4 in live action, but a series of screen grabs arranged to make it appear that Excel 4 was being demonstrated live.  The product wasn't ready, and was being "launched" before it was fully functional.  Microsoft, in the early days, was often a triumph of marketing hype and hope over reality.

He gave them hell, in public, and Bill Gates got to hear of it...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 04:00:07 AM EST
I can count the number of times MS has launched a product that was actually ready on the fingers of one foot.
by rifek on Thu Jul 30th, 2015 at 12:35:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Xbox Kinect is pretty fun.
by fjallstrom on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 07:48:34 AM EST
My game playing doesn't extend beyond Spider Solitaire and Microsoft have a truly horrendous version out now that takes 10 minutes to load and crashes frequently...  It is difficult to comprehend how you could re-code a legacy app like that so badly - and then entitle it "Microsoft Solitaire Collection" thus bringing the whole brand into disrepute.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 07:56:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Up to a point.

Looking back at Microsoft's long corporate career, it seems to me the most successful and reliable MS product has always been consumer outrage and frustration.

From non-compliant browsers, to email with the security and virus-resistance of a decaying mammoth corpse, to bizarre UI changes that seem designed to piss off users, to shady marketing lock-in tactics, to upgrades that break your computer, to weird non-finished non-features (like image handing in Word) and bugs with everything, to creating a games consoles that spies on its users and a cloud service that regularly forgets to cloud, the one reliable experience has been blistering user hostility.

MS is the most successful troll in all of computing history. No other company has been so consistently dedicated to crippling the productivity of its customers, wasting their time, and annoying the fuck out of them.

Other companies treat their customers like prey. MS is the only company that toys with its prey before eating it.

What's sad is that inside evil Microsoft there's an interesting non-evil company trying to get out. Kinect has some cool technology, Hololens looks promising, Xbox is fine as a console. Even Windows has become usefully stable internally, under the clown-pants UI.

But it's a small consolation.

When Nadella - who I'd guess, quite seriously, has a drug problem - writes an incoherent email about how he wants everyone to love Microsoft, the irony is almost Shakespearean.

He can't turn MS around, because there's nothing to turn around. Whatever MS does, there's always competition doing it cheaper, better, and in more loveable ways.

I'm glad I'm not Nadella because the ship will be doing down on his watch. My guess is the vaguely useful parts will be sold off, and someone - maybe IBM - will eventually buy Windows so it can be embalmed as a business OS.

Ten years from now I can't imagine MS existing in its current form. I can imagine lots of spin-offs, but so far as I can tell the dinosaur is already dead - it's just so big the message hasn't arrived at its brain yet.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 08:38:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think they are doing ok,

Plenty of cloud, quite an innovating bunch nowadays, Windows 10 is really great ( I happily went back to W7 after few months with W8/8.1, W7 felt like a breath of fresh air after this crap).Most of the losses were from impairments (nokia), they are still making plenty of good cash.Apple, Google, facebook have not done much innovation lately.

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 08:40:12 AM EST
I'm still on windows 8.1 and can't wait to get 10 because the 8.1 UI is truly pants.  I don't know why MS are screwing around with the UI, it looks like it was designed for use by 3 year olds on a phone. (I use the classic menu, but some apps like Solitaire collection insist on using the new UI).

A UI is the last thing you should be messing around with, because that is where the investment in user training and experience resides. Upgrades should be a seamless background experience rather than a stressful user experience.

ThatBritGuy is right, it may be a generational thing, but MS have been famous for pissing off users for many years.  In the 1990's you can argue that no one was doing what they did any better, so they could get away with it.

But I am amazed that people are still paying for Windows in this day and age - whatever happened to linux?  The only reason MS still exists is because no alternative OS has achieved significant market share  on PC's and laptops.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 09:33:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
A UI is the last thing you should be messing around with, because that is where the investment in user training and experience resides. Upgrades should be a seamless background experience rather than a stressful user experience.

Exactly what MS have always understood (not).

I used to be afew. I'm still not many.

by john_evans (john(dot)evans(dot)et(at)gmail(dot)com) on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 10:10:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah they messed up, but it s going to be hard not to be comfortable with W10. I am using it since November, color me impressed (logical, easy, crazy fast) ( and I usually despise Micro$oft).

Linux is still a sad mess, does not bring much on the table.

MS still exists because its products are cheap and do the job just fine, OS is very accessory nowadays.MS Office is still the best to use.

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 10:41:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Linux works, but for it to gain a sizable market share, user needs to invest in re-trainng. Users tend to invest in learning that which is already installed when they buy (or are handed) new hardware. So for Linux to gain a sizable market share, there needs to be new hardware shipped with Linux. To work it should also be a market niche where the lower price of OS should matter. And for a while there was.

In 2007-2008 Acer and Asus competed with low cost, really small laptops running Linux. And these were sold in normal stores, for a year or so. I had non-geek friends buying them, after all you could get an Asus in pink. But after that year only Acer and Asus running Windows could be found in retail (at least when I tried to buy one in 2009). They both stopped at the same time, and without any noticable price increase, so they can't have paid much for the Windows. I have always assumed that Microsoft took care of that threat.

The only reason MS still exists is because no alternative OS has achieved significant market share  on PC's and laptops.

And MS makes sure it stays that way.

by fjallstrom on Fri Jul 24th, 2015 at 05:04:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Linux is an O/S for compu-hackers, those wanting a cheap C family software development environment, and SMEs who want mid-level Enterprise scaling without paying B2B prices.  It's not a consumer level product.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Tue Aug 18th, 2015 at 10:00:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is as far from the truth as I can see it.

I will not even talk about Android, which as a Linux system has probably more users than Windows.

Not even of the thousand other applications from embedded devices to very high-end super-computing (the nerdy description is even wrong on the very limited scope that it entails).

I prefer instead to talk about my grand-parents and my parents that use Linux everyday has their consumer OS. They do not even know they use Linux. They have a system that is 100% robust (I rarely receive a call to fix anything), without virus and that allows them to do 100% of their browsing needs and 100% of their work needs and 90% of their fun needs (the odd video with a strange codec that sometimes fail). And Skype.

Linux is actually perfect to the very low tech user: very robust, and capable of handling all their needs.

by cagatacos on Wed Aug 19th, 2015 at 12:27:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Using Linux solely for running user application programs is not the same as using Linux as an Operating System.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Aug 19th, 2015 at 12:21:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
True but in that sense most people aren't using Windows as an O/S either.
by generic on Fri Aug 21st, 2015 at 04:48:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
DIT Dublin Institute of Technology - DIT honours Dubliner Finbarr Flood
Finbarr Flood joined Guinness as a messenger boy at the age of 14, while developing a parallel career as a talented footballer. His astute reading of the game of commerce and the changing technological environment saw him move up through the ranks in Guinness until in 1989 he was appointed Managing Director. . In 1994, after four decades in the company, Flood retired from Guinness but his career didn't stop there. He was appointed Deputy and later Chairman of the Labour Court, where he was associated with the resolution of many high-profile disputes. On retirement from the Court, he went on to write his auto-biography "In Full Flood" which was published in 2006. His association with football continued throughout, and in 2007 he stepped in as Chairman of Shelbourne FC when the club was in difficulty. Passionate about his native city, he was also asked to chair the Regeneration Boards at Fatima Mansions and at St. Michael's in Inchicore, and to become the first Chair of the Grangegorman `Labour and Learning Forum' recently established in Dublin 7, close to his roots in Oxmantown Road.


Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 10:44:00 AM EST
there is quite a good discussion on this diary at DKos from people with quite a wide range of business and technical experience.

My major takeaway from that discussion is that:

  1. Microsoft has moved much more extensively into the enterprise software space

  2. Must of its revenue growth is in cloud services for businesses

  3. PC operating systems and applications are largely a legacy cash cow and no longer a strategic focus for the Company

  4. My experience in Ireland in the 1990s is largely mirrored by many working in IT in the USA at that time.


Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 01:22:34 PM EST
Azure is a weird but interesting hybrid of a thing - basically servers + statistical analytics.

Bill Gates was talking about this more than ten years ago. The idea was that you could have a "digital dashboard" for management, who could see at a glance and in real time exactly how each division and department was doing.

The more modern and less crude version is finding patterns in business logic and trying to improve performance and remove inefficiencies.

It makes a lot of sense, if/when it works. But I think it's a tough sell, because MS are selling a toolkit that has to be assembled into a bespoke system/product for every customer. The benefits aren't obvious until management can see something working. Also people who know R are much harder to find and more expensive than people who know Java.

Commoditised AI will be the Next Big Thing. There are endless potential applications, but at the moment I think most people find it hard to get their heads out of the Internet's traditional technologies to understand what's going to be possible.

The concepts are far more abstract than email ("like a letter or memo, only faster") or the web ("like a brochure or form library, only faster") or Office ("like your own secretary, but you have to do all the work yourself.")

Azure isn't quite commoditised AI, but there's definitely a quiet race happening to see who can get to an affordable mass-market product first.

MS, Google, and Facebook are in the race. Apple don't seem to be. Salesforce are tinkering around the edges. Oracle and SAP seem to have no idea, and will probably get their lunch money stolen.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jul 24th, 2015 at 09:20:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Commoditised AI will be the Next Big Thing"
+++++

Microsoft makes a good effort with Cortana.

I cannot wait a Watson on mobile, taking advantage of pool of knowledge from billions of requests/Data access (Siri seems limited to our own requests, not leaning much).It s probably main capability (even if they ll have hard time monetizing it, that would kill their ads based only business model)

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Fri Jul 24th, 2015 at 09:56:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it s probably Google main capability..
by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Fri Jul 24th, 2015 at 09:56:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're going to be waiting for some time.  There are severe problems with Watson/DeepBlue.  When one of the heads of the project has conceded it may not be all that useful things aren't going well.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Tue Aug 18th, 2015 at 10:27:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I ended up doing some datawarehouse/EIS projects (as well as internet e-Commerce projects) towards the end of my career. I suppose they were the precursor to the business intelligence and AI systems you refer to.

The problem was always:

  1. Most managers are not all that computer never mind data literate

  2. The "standard reports/screens" they wanted kept changing.  The world of business is continually changing, but very few managers can even imagine beyond the current iteration.

So I doubt those projects ever realized their planned return on investment.  There is no substitute for a really smart data analyst knowing what to look at and how to format/present it so that the management team can understand and make decisions based on it.

SAP/Oracle were are? mostly focused on transaction processing.   The classic data architecture puts a data warehouse layer above and across those systems and provides tools to query, summarize, analyze and present the data according to very variable "what if" and "what is" type questions.

Somehow the human mind is still more flexible than most computers - hence the ongoing interest in neural networks and AI especially as applied to "big data".

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 24th, 2015 at 10:09:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What has Macrosquash ever been good for?  As we used to say about Works, it was the best $99 solitaire game on the market.  All those other programs didn't work on Windows because MS made sure they didn't.  If you were smart, you let them buy you out.  Otherwise they'd just destroy you through reverse engineering, IP theft, and antitrust violations.
by rifek on Thu Jul 23rd, 2015 at 09:59:18 PM EST
Very interesting!

Allow me to link, as I always do, to this:

"The Mother of All Demos" is a name given retrospectively to Douglas Engelbart's December 9, 1968, computer demonstration at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco.

The 90-minute presentation essentially demonstrated almost all the fundamental elements of modern personal computing: windows, hypertext, graphics, efficient navigation and command input, video conferencing, the computer mouse, word processing, dynamic file linking, revision control, and a collaborative real-time editor (collaborative work).

Nearly everything we have today existed in 1968. Microsoft sold it to business. Apple sold it to education and "artists". Neither "innovated" very much, except in acquisitions and marketing.

Microsoft needs to have the desktop to make it's money in the business/backoffice space. Apple have slipped the surly bounds of whatever and are now in fashion, where the religious zeal of supplicants can be fully utilised.

I guess my answer to the question is another question: "what is the good of plumbing business X?" The infrastructure is in place, now we maintain it. Want to gain market share? Run a campaign telling people either that you are experienced or that somehow, your product isn't identical to everyone else's. Want to innovate or grow dramatically? Find a different business.

Thanks again for the "rear view mirror". Your story is a few years ahead of my own career: when I started actual work no one was discussing GUIs anymore. Not everything was TCP/IP yes, I did mess up some coax cables in the 1990s.


-----
sapere aude

by Number 6 on Fri Jul 24th, 2015 at 08:05:41 AM EST
I'd echo Metatone in saying that, once Microsoft succeeded in its ambition to put Windows on every computer in every business and house, they really didn't know where to go next.

They've been pretty successful with the Xbox, and maybe this VR stuff will turn out well.  And perhaps Azure will turn out well.  

But mostly they've spent the last 10 years trying to apply the Windows model to consumer mobile vs Apple (WinMo), trying to be Apple in consumer electronics (Zune, Surface, Lumia, etc), and trying to fight Google in the data space.

I'm reminded of Jobs's old quote about skating to where the puck is going to be.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Jul 26th, 2015 at 09:38:40 AM EST
Very interesting account Frank, thanks for sharing.

I got my first computer in 1993 (if memory does not fail) with DOS 5.2 installed. Soon After came DOS 6 and Windows 3.1 (that you would have be start running an executable). I used all subsequent Windows editions up to Vista.

The first Windows I felt to be really stable and reliable was Windows 2000 (that I and many other folk used as home system). XP improved on it, but by then security was becoming a major problem, especially considering that most computers were already connected to the WWW. Vista started to tackle that particular issue, but also becoming hugely heavy (RAM, disk space, etc).

My real problems with Microsoft software come in 2004/2005 writing my MSc thesis with Word. I lost countless hours formatting and re-formatting the document that every other day Word decided to wreck. Once that experience was over I decided to abandon Microsoft software all together.

It took some time, but I eventually made it. I last used Word and Powerpoint in 2005; since then I have created all my documents with LaTeX: scientific articles, presentations, posters, reports, letters, even my CV. Excel was thrown overboard in 2007, then replaced with OpenOffice's Calc; today I mostly use R for statistical analysis and creating graphs. Luckily I never used much other Microsoft staples such as Outlook or Internet Explorer.

I bought my first laptop in 2009 and installed Ubuntu dual booting with Vista. Six months later I was hardly booting to Windows and an year later removed it altogether. This laptop is still my hardware system at home - even though after just one year with Vista was already feeling incredibly sluggish. Hardware longevity is an often unspoken benefit of Linux.

So, what is Microsoft good for at this moment? To me personally, for absolutely nothing.

However, Microsoft seems to have their sights on the right goals at the moment. Their much bashed tablet is actually the best piece of hardware of the like on the market (try it if you haven't so). It only has one problem: Windows, that is the reason why it failed commercially. Microsoft also acknowledges well the direction of personal computing towards fully mobile hardware. They have demoed their own realisation of Converge with Windows 10 (named Continuum by Microsoft) and are promising support for ARM architectures (i.e., Windows might be installable on single-board computers like the RaspberryPi). But the Convergence train might not stop twice in the same station.

Can Microsoft survive? Perhaps, but certainly not in its current form. For now they sail on the addiction many users developed on programmes like Word and Excel. But one day everyone will realise these programmes are not so great and can be easily replaced by far more productive alternatives.


You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Tue Jul 28th, 2015 at 05:39:22 AM EST
Thanks for this which largely mirrors my own experience of home computing with the exception of the fact I have never used Linux or LaTex.  But then I have been a humble end/home user for the past 12 years and for me a laptop computer is now just a tool to do some basic tasks - Word Documents, Excel models, Outlook email, internet browsing and lots of googling and blogging. Wikipedia and Google maps have been big value adders, and Facebook has its uses, as had synchronization between Android Smartphone and Google.  But otherwise my computing needs and opportunities have changed little.

In that context I am increasingly frustrated by how resource heavy and slow MS apps have become, and how often unwanted things happen for v. little apparent reason - I have developed eyesight issues in recent years which discourage further applications...  MS seem to have thrown usability testing out the window. I have no intention of learning a whole new operating system or suite of applications if I can possibly avoid it, but MS are seriously living off my past investment in training and experience.  I see no reason why new users should go down the MS route.

My kids use laptops/phones more for Amazon, Etsy, Ebay, pinterest, on-line banking, twitter, gaming, videos etc. but otherwise share most of my apps so I don't see a huge generational shift in what computing does for people. None of us view TV much if at all anymore, and (to my shame) my kids have relatively little interest in current affairs getting almost all of their news from social media. We had a counter-culture in my youth in the 1960's which created quite a divide between kids and parents.  Now I sense there is just more of a disinterest in what passes for reality amongst older people. Technology facilitates an alternative way of living your life - particularly keeping in touch with remote friends and family, but otherwise the change has been less than I would have expected 20 years ago.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 28th, 2015 at 01:30:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some info.
The have been a lot of mentions of cloud above. Not one mention of the one goliath in the cloud. Amazon. Google,Facebook,IBM have there niches in it. Amazon web services control it.
As for Azure. I have one feeling businesses will not use it much. Ms want businesses to put all their info into a system run by someone else(MS). Information is golddust. And most businesses know this.
I feel a good amount on windows hype out there, I am software engineer working in a mainly MS place. I would like to upgrade to see whats it like. But I am not willing to pay to do so. Luckily I have no need as MS are offering free upgrade from Windows 7,8,8.1. Hence i suspect the good will win10 is getting. I have an old license of windows 7 somewhere.
Here are two more reasons the world still uses windows. Bring on more anitrusts suites
o I use windows as the two times i have used vmware on linux i end up with a dead vmware as the underlying bianries unexpectedly do not update happily when i keep my suse/ubuntu up to date. Windows as the base OS sadly is solid.
o I like to sometimes use new hardware, and i like to boot more than one OS. getting say Suse and windows to play together in UEFI boot system is not fun. I want to get some work down. not curse. UEFI is Ms inspired. Microsoft does in everyday life make it hard for others to live with them. It has begun to fail as Google has enough money to lobby against it. Control t MS's desire to control every standard, and bend the standard their way.
Plus MS seem to not have  anything seriously new in Win10, seen the demos' been given the hard sell. Cortana (is good for english speakers) and appears half finished usual MS.
much of the above can be applied to Oracle too.  
Android and IOS, do seem to offer something new.

Alex

by alexc on Thu Jul 30th, 2015 at 02:14:31 PM EST
Some info.
The have been a lot of mentions of cloud above. Not one mention of the one goliath in the cloud. Amazon. Google,Facebook,IBM have there niches in it. Amazon web services control it.
As for Azure. I have one feeling businesses will not use it much. Ms want businesses to put all their info into a system run by someone else(MS). Information is golddust. And most businesses know this.
I feel a good amount on windows hype out there, I am software engineer working in a mainly MS place. I would like to upgrade to see whats it like. But I am not willing to pay to do so. Luckily I have no need as MS are offering free upgrade from Windows 7,8,8.1. Hence i suspect the good will win10 is getting. I have an old license of windows 7 somewhere.
Here are two more reasons the world still uses windows. Bring on more anitrusts suites
o I use windows as the two times i have used vmware on linux i end up with a dead vmware as the underlying bianries unexpectedly do not update happily when i keep my suse/ubuntu up to date. Windows as the base OS sadly is solid.
o I like to sometimes use new hardware, and i like to boot more than one OS. getting say Suse and windows to play together in UEFI boot system is not fun. I want to get some work down. not curse. UEFI is Ms inspired. Microsoft does in everyday life make it hard for others to live with them. It has begun to fail as Google has enough money to lobby against it. Control t MS's desire to control every standard, and bend the standard their way.
Plus MS seem to not have  anything seriously new in Win10, seen the demos' been given the hard sell. Cortana (is good for english speakers) and appears half finished usual MS.
much of the above can be applied to Oracle too.  
Android and IOS, do seem to offer something new.

Alex

by alexc on Thu Jul 30th, 2015 at 02:14:41 PM EST
For most people, like myself, a laptop is a tool to do certain simple things - browse, blog, buy, learn, view, listen, communicate, chat, analyse and create documents of various kinds.  The last thing you want to have to worry about is the stability of the operating system or the applications you use for the above.  Hence MS have a huge advantage in terms of consumer inertia.  Other suppliers have to be seriously better than the MS equivalent for users to switch to them.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 30th, 2015 at 02:28:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just came across:

Ballmer's billion-dollar blunders: When he gambled Microsoft's money and lost

Nokia is the biggest write-off yet, but it wasn't the first

.... In hindsight, however, one thing the major errors - the costly ones - have in common is that they are often the result of reactive management, where Ballmer sought to chase down one of Microsoft's competitors when it reached into a market that Redmond hadn't already conquered.

Apple makes money from iPhones? Microsoft should make its own phones. Google makes money from ads? Microsoft should be an ad business, never mind software. Apple makes iPods and iPads? Microsoft should be in media players and slabs that don't run Windows.

Barbarians Led by Bill Gates: Microsoft from the Inside (Chapter One)

David F. Marquardt [...] recalled his amazement that Microsoft was putting so little into the Net. "They weren't in Silicon Valley. When you're here you feel it all around you," he told Business Week in July 1996. He brought up the topic of the Internet at a board meeting in April 1994. Marquardt described Gates's response this way: "His view was the Internet was free. There's no money to be made there. Why is that an interesting business?"

Gates instead would rhapsodize about a world with infinite channel choices, digital art on the walls, and computerized sound, light, and temperature controls throughout the home [...]

The idea behind RIP, a concept that Netscape would later realize so beautifully, was to create a graphical user interface that would allow computer users to connect to information providers, much like today's World Wide Web. Microsoft already had an installed base of tens of millions of DOS and Windows users ready to go online. If Microsoft had simply bundled the RIP technology in the next version of its operating systems, the World Wide Web may have evolved in a very different way, leaving nothing for Netscape to create.


by das monde on Wed Aug 12th, 2015 at 11:04:32 PM EST
I've been running Windows 10 for about a week now, and so far so good.  The upgrade took perhaps an hour on my somewhat slow laptop but happened smoothly enough.  I disabled some performance killing stuff that enables Microsoft to monitor my usage and use my PC as a server to upgrade others, but, other than that it has been a pretty standard install.

Everything works, and the user interface has shed some of the awful stuff in Windows 8. Performance seems somewhat better but, so far, haven't explored any of the new stuff other than Microsoft Edge.  I might almost get to like Microsoft again!

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Aug 13th, 2015 at 03:17:27 PM EST
Word on the street is MicroSoft put spyware everywhere in Windows 10.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Tue Aug 18th, 2015 at 10:40:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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