Dell XPS 12: Windows 8 Ultrabook Re-imagined

With the advent of Microsoft’s Windows 8, computer makers developed different form factors to take advantage of the new operating system.  Most of these new Windows 8 form factors were shown for the first time at Computex in Taipei and then at the official Windows 8 launch event in New York.  The new PC form factors extend the functionality by taking advantage of touch screen and the Windows 8 Metro interface.  Consumers and businesses can now choose from a myriad of innovative form factors: hybrids where the tablet disconnects from the keyboard, convertible flippers, convertibles that flip 360 degrees and large, portable displays that are carried from room to room.

One of the best of these new devices is Dell’s XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook.  I have been using it for nearly a month as my primary notebook and wanted to share my experiences.

Ultrabook First, Tablet Second
The XPS 12 is an Ultrabook first and a tablet second.  This is important to understand, otherwise you may fall into the trap of comparing this to a tablet-only device, which would be a big mistake.  The XPS 12 operates as a tablet secondarily through the use of a very innovative flipping hinge, which allows the display to swivel back when you want to use it as a tablet, and swivel back when you want to use it as an Ultrabook. It also enables what I like to call “movie-mode” where the display is at the front and the keyboard is hidden but acts as a great stand.
The swivel display frame is very durable, regardless of what you may read elsewhere.  When you swivel the display into place, it emits a very robust “click”, which comes from magnets all around the frame. One thing that impresses the engineering side of me is that ability to deliver power, display and touch signals signals over a moving swivel mechanism.  Dell has added a few other details to improve use as a tablet.  Dell changed the power button from a bezel button to a side slider which enables the user to turn on the device in any form factor, Ultrabook or tablet, and keeps it from accidentally getting pressed when used as a tablet.  One other comfort feature that I only noticed after a week of use was that the rubberized “feet” act as great place to put your fingers when using as a tablet.
Industrial Design
The XPS 12 pulls from the design language of the entire XPS line, which looks premium but also very functional and durable.  The lid and bottom are both made from carbon fiber, which is not only durable and very light, but cool to the touch. The metal frame is machined aluminum, which is very sturdy and looks great.  The palmrest is made from magnesium, covered with black, rubberized material that is gentle on the eyes but also keeps your palms from slipping like mine does on my MacBook Air (MBA).  Like other notebooks made with machined aluminum, the XPS 12 is a bit heavier than some other Ultrabooks, but I personally like that trade-off  And at 3.35 lbs, it’s lighter than the MacBook Pro (MBP) 13″.
Beautiful 1080P Display
The XPS 12’s display is gorgeous.  It is 12.5″ with brightness up to 400 nits and at 1,920 x 1,080 resolution.  It’s made from bonded Gorilla Glass and therefore bright and durable.  Pictures and movies looked incredible.  This delivers a much higher PPI (176) than a standard 13″ MBA  (127) and less than a 13″ MBP with Retina Display (227).
Base Specifications
While thin and light, my XPS 12 came with relatively robust features:
  • Intel Core i7 3667U operating at 2.0Ghz up to 3.2Ghz in Turbo Boost
  • Windows 8 Pro 64-bit
  • 256 GB SSD/8 GB RAM
  • Intel HD 4000 GPU and mini DisplayPort out
  • Over 5 hours battery life (per reviews) with 47 wHR battery
  • 802.11 a/g/n, USB-3.0 with with PowerShare, eSATA/USB-3.0, BlueTooth 3.0, and WiDi 3.0
  • Intel RapidStart and Smart Connect Technology
  • 3.35 lbs/1.52kg
 All of these specs were very solid, but I would have appreciated an option for discrete AMD or NVIDIA graphics to play some higher level games and take advantage of programs that use GPU compute.
Apple MacBook or Dell XPS 12?
Ultimately, consumers must make a choice and in many cases, Apple and Windows Ultrabooks will be in the consideration set. If, and I mean “IF” the consumer is neutral on an Apple versus Windows 8 ecosystem and purchase experience, here are the things they should consider:
  • how important is touch?  The XPS 12 has it, Macs do not.  Apple may say that reaching across the keyboard to touch the display is bad ergonomics.
  • how important is being able to use the laptop as a tablet? The XPS 12 can, the Mac cannot.  Apple may say buy an iPad because it performs better as a tablet.
  • how important is having the highest resolution and PPI? Apple has the highest.  Dell may say look at the price penalty you pay for the Retina Display.
  • how important are discrete graphics?  Apple offers Nvidia’s latest graphics on the MBP, Dell does not.  Dell may say with such a thin and light design starting at $1,199, it’s not practical.
  • how important is price?  The XPS 12 starts at $1,199 with 1080P display, the MBP with Retina starts at $1,699.  Apple may say the XPS 12 isn’t retina, 500 MHz. more CPU, ThunderBolt and discrete graphics. Or Apple may say look to the MBA 13″, which starts at $1,199.
 Net-net, it is great consumers have such great choices with laptops and Ultrabooks.
Dell XPS 12: Windows 8 Ultrabook Re-imagined
As an industry analyst, I don’t publicly publish many product evaluations, but with the Dell XPS 12, I thought it was important, given its unique design and new usage models it enables.  As an Ultrabook, the XPS 12 was one of the most solid devices I have ever used.  It’s fast, light, thin, sturdy and Dell has paid great attention to details in form and function. As a tablet, I enjoyed it a lot better than I ever expected, and this is coming from a long-time iPad user.  I found myself using the XPS 12 on the couch propping it on my lap and even in bed in “movie-mode” where I historically used my iPad.  It doesn’t replace my iPad or Nexus 7, but I could see using my Surface a lot less.
Dell has a real winner with the XPS 12 and I applaud their courage for developing and productizing such a unique convertible, shape-shifting Windows 8 device during such turbulent times in the PC industry.

Windows 8: Tepid Marketing–>Slow Sales

Win 8 display at Microcenter

Kind of sad, isn’t it? This sorry attempt at a festive display of new PCs at a Micro Center store in Rockville, MD, says a lot about the thud with which Windows 8 seems to have landed.

Windows guru Paul Thurrott recently reported that Win 8 sales are running below Microsoft’s expectations. Microsoft executives, Thurrott says, put much of the blame on OEM partners for being late to market with exciting hardware. But much of the problem may be closer to home. Neither Microsoft nor its retail partners seem to be making all that great an effort to sell new systems, especially compared to past efforts.

This week, I stopped by several big box retailers, the sort that generate most of the sales of Windows PCs, and what I saw was dispiriting. Instead of the end caps, banners, ceiling-high stacks of boxed software, and the occasional brass band that accompanied past Windows launches, I saw a distinctly low key effort. Windows 8 has only a modest presence on TV–most of Microsoft’s ad buy is dedicated to Surface, which is sold only online and in Microsoft’s own sparse retail outlets–and I saw no sign of any Microsoft promotional effort at my local Best Buy, Staples, Microcenter, or H.H. Gregg. In fact, the display below, at Staples, was about as flashy as it got:

Now it is a fact of life in retailing that vendors literally get what they pay for in terms of shelf position, end-cap displays, store advertising, and other promotion. It appears Microsoft isn’t paying much this time around. It doesn’t help that Microsoft is not, at least at this point, selling Windows 8 as physical media, so there are no in-store displays of the software itself. Still, it’s telling that Windows is missing from this row of promotional posters at the Micro Center entrance:

Micro Center poster display

On the shelves, things are just as bad. The main selling point for Windows 8 is touch, but most of the new touch models have yet to come to market. Laptops are generally grouped by price, sometimes by size. In no case did I see touch models grouped together or in any way featured. Best Buy at least had little tags on some non-touch models proclaiming their lack of touch screens, but otherwise, you had to figure it out for yourself, either by reading the detailed product descriptions or by touching the screen and seeing whether anything happened. (A clue: If it costs less than $1,000, it probably doesn’t has a touch screen.) In most stores, there are some Windows 7 machines mixed in among the newer models, and I wouldn’t be surprised if few shoppers managed to figure out just what was supposed to be superior about Windows 8.

Unless Microsoft is going to open a whole lot more of its own stores (there is only one full-fledged Microsoft Store in the Washington area–in Arlington, Va.,–and just two pop-up stores, really glorified mall kiosks, in the entire state of Maryland), it should work with OEMs and retailers to do something to improve a horrible shopping experience. Most of the machines I saw on shelves made it impossible to get any sort of meaningful Windows 8 experience. Many of the machines were dead, or were locked into demo screen shows. Of those that were running Windows 8, almost none were both connected to the internet and linked to a Microsoft account, two features necessary to understanding what the new OS is all about. And while I understand the need of retailers to keep stock from walking off, their approach to theft prevention is lethal to sales. For example, it’s impossible to get a real sense of the sleekness of this Hewlett-Packard Spectre XT Ultrabrook at Staples with that horrible anti-theft clamp and cable device on its side:

HP Spectre


Even worse was a similar clamp (at Best Buy) that prevented a Lenovo Yoga convertible notebook/tablet from going through its agile tricks.

I only ran into one true Windows tablet in my shopping tour, a $600 Asus Vivo Tab RT. To my complete lack of surprise, the display was free of any information on the differences between its Windows RT software and the full Windows 8 on the systems surrounding it, another bit of consumer education that Microsoft is sorely ignoring.



Samsung ATIV SmartPC 500T: Intel Strikes Back

Over the course of the Windows 8/RT industry discussions, ARM-based tablets have received the lion’s share of the discussion.  This has been particularly true with Microsoft’s announcement of Surface RT.  Does this mean Intel cannot deliver a competitive tablet solution?  Hardly.   Intel’s CloverTrail platform is shockingly competitive and I wanted to share some early experiences with the Samsung’s ATIV SmartPC 500T.  In particular, I wanted to share one of the differences between it and Surface RT.

First, just in case you were living under a rock for the past two years, two Windows operating systems exist, Windows RT and Windows 8.  Both run the newer Metro tile-based apps. Windows 8 devices will run those apps and all previous Windows 7 desktop applications and Windows RT devices come pre-loaded with Microsoft Office.

Offline Syncing

One of the major weaknesses of Windows RT devices is that they currently have no way to sync files so they are accessible offline.  With the Samsung 500T, I can install Sugarsync, Box, Dropbox or SkyDrive and have a folder of files that is accessible and synced, online and off.  This isn’t some corner case usage model for me as I have working like this for years and for me is a requirement for a “PC”.  I can even sync files with my iPad, so it’s not like this is foreign to tablets or even phones.  I do expect Microsoft to eventually add this capability but it’s just not here now which was very dissapointing.  They will need to write an ARM-based, desktop compatible connector to achieve this.


Windows RT devices come standard with key Office apps like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, but it doesn’t come with Outlook.  With my Surface, I bounce back and forth between Metro-based Mail and Desktop Office, which is a bit of a shocker when in work-mode.  On the Samsung 500T, I can take advantage of Office’s features I us a lot like rich email salutations, filters, social media connectors, Word-like formatting, mail-merge, and reply with meeting.  I have to admit, I was surprised how responsive Outlook was with CloverTrail.  Intel really did their homework on the Atom Z2760 and Outlook.  I must point out that Outlook is an adder, a $199 adder, so this isn’t free, but a requirement for me when doing heavy duty work.  The Metro email app is good, but not good enough to run my business from.


The Windows App Store does not currently have many games, but I am optimistic given the amount of Windows game developers out there.  One of the advantages of the Samsung 500T is that it can run legacy apps and games.  It’s not like you would want to run the latest Call of Duty game, but certainly you can run some of the lighter weight desktop games.  For instance, my son, as I have written many times before, plays a game called Wizard101 from KingsIsle Entertainment.  He literally plays this every day, and because Intel’s CloverTrail will run Windows desktop apps, he can play his favorite game.


It’s hard to buy a printer without an integrated scanner, fax and copy machine built in.  I had no problem network printing from Surface, but I couldn’t install any of the advanced features that made the scanner work.  The Samsung 500T loaded the entire driver and app set and I could use all of the features.  The one I appreciate most is where I scan a document and it automatically shows up in the “My Documents” folder of the 500T.


Because the 500T can run Windows 7 desktop apps, it runs full Evernote.  My entire life is on Evernote and I have been paperless for years because of it.  Quite frankly, Evernote for Metro is unusable.  It doesn’t sync in the background, crashes a lot, doesn’t handle viewing or adding attachments properly, cannot format, does not support audio notes, and does not support “Places”.  Other than that it’s great. The Evernote folks have been busy working on their iOS and OSX upgrades but I sure hope they get to Windows 8.

Chrome Browser

Chrome is my favorite browser.  I have all my favorites, folders, and even some passwords already setup.  I can use the full-strength browser.  Internet Explorer is nice, but unfortunately in Metro-mode it does not support favorites in folders.  Internet Explorer just lists a 1,000 of bookmarks without folders which is just untenable.


I will never understand why some tablets have such crummy cameras.  This includes the iPad and Surface, too.  It literally costs a few dollars to improve it.  I get the segmentation reasons and that every penny counts, but we are talking $500-700 devices.  I was quite pleased with the 500T’s camera as it captured stills at 8MP and vide at 1080P.  This is comparison to Surface’s 1MP still and 800P video capabilities.  Why would anyone want to take pictures or videos with a tablet given it looks so geeky?  In meetings I take pictures of white boards and even slides being presented.  Also, because cameras drain so much smartphone battery life, many times I will use a tablet because it will last so much longer.  So yes, I am the geek taking photos and videos of their kid’s volleyball game with the tablet.

Battery Life

Most people expected some monumental difference in battery life between Intel and ARM-based tablets.  I did a year ago, too.  I have not experienced any discernible difference between the 500T and Surface but some reviewers have noticed differences.  Given no one even thought Intel could even show up to this tablet battery life battle, Intel has proven a lot.

Startup Time

From cold start, the Samsung 500T started up extremely quick in around 13 seconds.  This is in sharp contrast to Surface which took around 29 seconds to start.  I think the last major update slowed the cold boot start for Surface, which is odd.  Users won’t need to do this often unless they run out of battery life because both devices support connected standby. The Samsung 500T and Surface, once on started immediately came to life and had updated content.

PC Oddities

The Samsung 500T is a full PC, meaning you get the advantages and disadvantages of a PC.  It is very easy to load an app that can bring it to its knees, like a video encoding app or game like Call of Duty.  If you want to run a program like that, you’d be better off getting an Ultrabook or ultrathin, but be prepared to pay a lot more.  So I did need to be aware of what was running in desktop if I noticed something was slow in Metro.

It’s also real easy to run out of storage.  I loved the synced files, but it does require that you have enough to store the data.  This may sound trite, but for many basic users, this is difficult.  Finally, I did notice that when I did restart or turn the 500T off, some app or process would keep it from shutting down.  Just like a full Windows PC.

Where to From Here?

This blog is about sharing my initial experiences with the Samsung 500T and not meant to be a sweeping analyst opinion piece on Intel versus ARM.  I will follow up with that as soon as I have used more Windows RT and Windows 8 systems.  That’s only fair. What I can say is that Intel has delivered every bit as good of a tablet experience as anything ARM-based companies have delivered so far, if you know how to navigate a Windows PC.  The Samsung 500T is responsive, thin, light and has good battery life.  In addition, it runs Windows 7 desktop apps, too, unlike Windows RT devices like Surface.  That cuts both ways in that an unsophisticated user could easily make a mistake and flood it with too much processing and/or storage from a Windows 7 desktop app.  But if you know what you are doing, you won’t do that.

What I can definitively say right now is that it is “game-on” between Intel, NVIDIA and Qualcomm in the Windows mobile space.

Windows 8’s Greatest Sin

Anyone who is in business knows that once you have made a sale, you want the next sale to become as seamless and as automatic as possible. This is why newspapers and magazines push subscriptions so heavily and why so many services, like cable, phone, electricity, etc, rely so heavily upon monthly billing. They know that customers are far more likely to continue buying their goods or services from their existing provider if the purchase of those goods or services becomes routine and automatic. When the customer is given no chance to re-think or re-evaluate their decision, there is far less liklihood that they will change that decision.

Perhaps Windows 8’s greatest sin is that it is going to force Microsoft’s current customers to have to re-decide; to re-evaluate; to re-think their current purchasing decision. And if you’re the incumbant, that’s never a good thing.


Netflix started a website that rented videos and delivered those videos to its customers by mail. Netflix introduced the monthly subscription concept to their service in September 1999 and dropped the single-rental model in early 2000. Since that time, the company has built its reputation on the business model of flat-fee, unlimited rentals without due dates, late fees, shipping or handling fees, or per title rental fees. ~ via Wikipedia

Netflix continued to expand their services by offering streaming video rentals. At the base level, Netflix was charging its customers a flat $10 for both its mail and streaming videos. Then Netflix committed a cardinal sin.

In the fall of 2011, Netflix dramatically changed its pricing. Customers could no longer continue to pay $10 and get both the mail and streaming services. Customers had to choose between paying $8 for the mail service or $8 for the streaming service or $16 for both. This forced Netflix’ customers to re-evaluate their subscription plans. And when they chose, many of them chose to cancel their subscriptions altogether.

On October 24, 2011, Netflix announced it had lost 800,000 US subscribers in the third quarter of 2011 and that more subscriber losses were expected.

Netflix’ decision hardly killed the company but it unnecessarily cost them approximately a million subscribers. By forcing their customers to re-evaluate and re-think their previously automatic decisions, they gave their customers the worst option of all – the option to opt out of their Netflix subscription altogether.

Windows Upgrades Were the Surest of Sure Things

Microsoft’s Windows has had a virtual monopoly on personal computing since the mid-ninties. Windows software comes bundled with most new PCs, so the vast majority of operating system upgrades were invisible, automatic and virtually painless.

There were fewer sure bets than that those who owned a Windows PC were going to buy another Windows PC. The only question was “when”. For most, seeking an alternative to Windows simply didn’t even enter into their minds.

Windows 8 Will Cause Hesitation

A new study by Forrester Research — as reported by Social Barrel — shows that only 33% of companies who responded to their new survey have plans to move to Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest upgrade of its operating system.

Ten percent of the respondents have no intention at all to upgrade. The remaining 40% of the survey respondents stated that they have no plans of upgrading to Windows 8 yet.

“Social Barrel” says the percentage decline is “massive” in comparison with companies that intended to shift to Windows 7 when it launched in 2009. At that time, 67% of the companies that participated in a Forrester survey intended to shift to Windows 7, with 28% either not considering the update or are totally skipping it. ~ MacNews

Windows Users Have Other Options

It’s a whole new computing world out there. In 2006, there were only PCs and a smattering of smartphones and tablets. In 2012, we have:

— Mobile devices outselling PCs
— The Mac and the iPad seen as perfectly mainstream
— Bring Your Own Device and computer decision making moving from the home to the workplace rather than from the workplace to the home
— iPad’s viewed as all the computer that some people need

Last week – two days before Windows 8 was announced – Apple introduced a new iPad Mini. But, in a surprise move, Apple also updated their third generation iPad to a fourth generation, and refreshed almost their entire Mac line.

Do you think that was coincidental? Or do you think that Apple was offering Windows’ existing users a clear alternative to Windows 8?

If I’m Going To Have To Learn A New User Interface Anyway…

Windows 8 is remarkable, daring, and innovative. But it’s also a departure from nearly everything that Windows’ customers have known Windows to be. Windows 8 is a radical makeover. It forces people to relearn how to use their computers.

And if customers have to re-learn how to user their computers anyway, then they might as well consider learning a new operating system. Like a Mac or an iPad.

If I’m Going To Have To Buy New Computer Hardware Anyway…

Windows 8 is designed for a touchscreen.

And if customers have to buy new computer hardware anyway, then they might as well consider buying a new type of computer. Or tablet. Like a Mac or an iPad.

If I’m Going To Have To Decide Which Type Of Computer To Buy Anyway…

Microsoft thinks it is giving its customer’s choice, but what it is really doing is foisting decisions upon its user base.

— Windows RT or Windows 8 Tablet?
— Surface or one of a plethora of thrid party hardeware options?

In the abstract, choice is always good. But when you’re trying to get an existing customer to re-buy from you, extensive decision making is the last thing you want.

If the customer has to decide between this Surface and that, between Arm and x86, between phablets and laplets, then the customer might just decide to exit the Windows ecosystem altogether. Because once you start to think about your options, you start to think about ALL your options, not just the options made available by Microsoft.


When you have an existing customer, the worst sin you can commit is to force that customer re-evaluate their past buying decisions. I’m quite sure that Windows 8 is going to sell a LOT of computers. However, many of those computer purchases may end up being Macs or iPads.

Microsoft Pulls it Together (Almost) for Windows 8 Launch

I attended Microsoft’s launch last week for Windows 8, Windows RT, and Surface. While launch day is only one milestonephoto 1 (3) in a string of milestones, launch day is the one day that everything must come together, the day where some make their final judgment. So how did Microsoft do?

Importance of Launch Day

Launch days is one day in many important days that a product or service goes through in its lifecycle. I believe it is one of the most important days, though, as it pulls together all the hard work of the previous years into just a few hours. The value of launches differ between consumer and commercial products, too. In the commercial world, buyers like IT managers don’t expect and quite frankly don’t believe that everything would be together on day one. They’re a skeptical bunch, due in part to just how many times they have seen products and services not live up to their promises in the past. Maybe they even lost their job or got reprimanded for making what ended up being a tech mistake that cost their company time or money.

Consumer product launches are different, in that those product and services get measured by press and reviewers based upon what it can do on launch day, not at some point in the future. There are some exceptions that consumers make, where if they trust a brand and they make a future promises the company is believed, but for the most part, what is launched on that one day sticks for a very long time.

One final important piece about launch day is “permanence”. What gets written by press and analysts on launch day is rarely updated if something changes. With most consumers checking out the internet before they buy, this is vitally important. So how did Microsoft do?

Windows 8 Launch Day Plusses

Looking holistically at the day, I have to give credit where it is due. Microsoft did a very good job pulling everything togetherimage on game day. Microsoft made a good case that Windows 8 was the best Windows yet, good for older and the newest systems. On almost every metric, Microsoft showed that Windows 8 is better than Windows 7. They didn’t address the lack of a Start button or the potential confusion, but I don’t think this was the right place to do that. That is best demonstrated in the marketplace.

The demos were some of the best I’ve ever seen from Microsoft as Mike Angiulo and Julie Larson-Green did their magic. They made a pretty good case for why consumers would want Windows 8, particularly on touch-based devices. I particularly thought they did a good job showing and talking about how Windows 8 works with other Microsoft-based properties. Angiulo and Larsen-Green also did a very good job in showing the absolute breadth of designs supporting Windows 8 and Windows RT. The device onslaught was impressive, from notebooks, to hybrids, tablets, convertible flippers, convertible swivelers, to all in ones. They showed devices from all the big brands at prices ranging from $499 to $2,499.

Steve Ballmer was in rare form too, with a good balance of his famous passion and facts. He was there to put the final stamp on the event by showing just how committed Microsoft is to the Windows 8 ecosystem and experience by outlining just how many Microsoft apps and services have been developed to support a seamless Windows experience.

The launch wasn’t perfect, though.

What I Wanted to Hear More About

Microsoft demonstrated their best launch I have ever seen, but it could have been better, had they made a stronger case on a few items.

I have been a bit critical previously on how Microsoft has handled the rollout of Metro-based apps in the store. Without having enough high-quality apps, Windows 8 could have been compared to the webOS Touchpad or 10” Android tablet ecosystem, which would have been disastrous. Microsoft definitely came through on video streaming services by adding Netflix and Hulu within weeks of launch. They also showed up with many key new site apps, even though CNN is still MIA. What Microsoft missed at launch were key social media apps. While I understand that the People app has some good connections to services, it does not replace a native social media app for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Google+. One example is Twitter. I, like many, have Twitter lists they want on their primary start screen. Not a single Metro Twitter app supports this. I would have at least liked for Microsoft to address this head-on and give a date when some of these apps are committed. In Surface reviews, the number of high quality apps was on key criticism in every single one of them. It didn’t have to be like that and was avoidable.

I would have also liked for Microsoft to address any hardware incompatibilities with Windows RT as opposed for users to find out on their own. Microsoft stated that Windows RT “works with 420,000,000 devices” but how do I know if that one Neat scanner or HP scanner that is so important to me works well? Microsoft has done a ton of work testing, but I would have at least liked to see accessible resources for consumers to check if their special peripheral works well. By not disclosing this, it made them appear to be hiding something.

Finally, there is the commercial PC and tablet market. Enterprises are currently shifting from Windows XP to Windows 7 on standard form factors like notebooks and desktops and therefore Windows 8 for the most part is irrelevant to them. Tablets are another matter altogether. Tim Cook routinely announces the extremely high per cent of enterprises rolling out or evaluating iPads, the latest figure pegged at 92%. Given Microsoft makes 75% of their profit from the commercial market, this seemed like an oversight. Given the competitiveness of the Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro tablets, many enterprise IT people would be hard pressed to justify an iPad purchase, Microsoft should have at least given a tip of the hat to Windows 8’s applicability to the commercial market.

Where We Go From Here

Many consumer reviews have been written and there will be many, many more in the future for Windows 8 and Windows RT. For the most part, the die has been cast and the Microsoft marketing and ad machine are in full swing, all which will make a difference on perception. The Windows 8 launch was the best Microsoft launch I have ever seen or attended, and I have personally attended many. While Microsoft didn’t address everything they needed to in order to seal the deal, they absolutely got Windows 8 and RT off to a solid start. Now it’s time to see if that translates to sales.

The Windows 8 Ecosystem, For Experimental Purposes

[dc]I[/dc]n the coming weeks I will do something for experimental purposes that I have not done for over 10 years. I will be immersing myself in the Windows 8 ecosystem entirely. I converted from the Windows ecosystem to the Apple ecosystem in 2002 and I have never been happier. Apple products work the best for my computing needs and workflow, and as the saying goes, the best product is the product that works best for you.

However, I used to be fully in the Microsoft ecosystem. I started my career in this industry in IT for a semiconductor company and I could troubleshoot, diagnose, and keep Windows working with the best of them. In fact, back in those days, even after converting to Apple’s ecosystem, I was extremely loyal to Pocket PC, then Windows Mobile as my PDA and my smartphone choosing Microsoft’s mobile products over the popular Palm products. I have fond memories of those devices.

What I personally use for my computing ecosystem is irrelevant to the way I do industry analysis. To effectively understand the trends and long term market opportunities we need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of every platform and ecosystem holistically. This is why I did the 4 month test with Android by embedding myself in Google’s ecosystem as much as possible. I will be doing the same thing with Microsoft’s latest offering, Windows 8, in order to fully perform a platform analysis. And I am actually kind of excited about it.

Although, I have committed to Apple’s ecosystem, I am a fan of technology and innovation and I appreciate it no matter where it comes from. Just because I know what products work best for me does not mean I can’t appreciate innovative things about other products of ecosystems. And as mentioned before, this is key for us to assess the short and long term opportunities for those in the technology industry.

So for experimental purposes, for periods of time over the coming months, I will be using the latest HTC Windows 8 smartphone as my primary smartphone, The Acer S7 UltraBook with Touch as my notebook, Surface and the Asus Vivo Tab RT as my tablets, and a few X86 Windows 8 hybrids.

Besides my goal of an exhaustive platform analysis of pros and cons and short and long term opportunities within the Microsoft ecosystem for our clients, I hope to find specific things that I like or appreciate about Microsoft’s latest effort.

I’ve always believed that the most enjoyable computing experience will come when you commit to a platform or ecosystem and stick with it. Each platform and ecosystem looks for unique ways to make their products work better together. I believe that philosophy will yield the most valuable experiences in personal computing.

In my view Apple and Microsoft have the strongest platform and ecosystem stories to day. I say this because they have platforms that span every screen in personal computing. Apple’s is more mature in my opinion but Microsoft is not going anywhere.

Regardless of whose ecosystem you commit to, the future for personal computing is extremely bright.

Windows 8: Back To The Future

[dc]D[/dc]ue to scheduling conflicts I could not be in NYC yesterday for the Windows 8 launch but watched it intently as it was streamed around the world from Microsoft’s Web site. But what I saw was both impressive as well as confounding for many reasons.

Let me start with the confounding issue first. Once Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage with his bubbly personality, he expressed “excitement” about Windows 8 and he was right to do that. Windows 8 will always be known as the version of Windows that ushered in the age of the touch UI to the Windows world. And just as Windows 95 solidified the GUI in PC users mind, Windows 8 will burn into people’s conscience the fact that touch should be a key addition to the Windows User Interface. And before he spoke, other Microsoft executives showed off a plethora of laptops, all-in-one touch PCs as well as tablets that are already touch enabled so they can take full advantage of Windows 8 touch features.

But as I listened to Steve Ballmer speak, I could not help but think that his message was one of “welcome to the past” instead of “welcome to the future.” We all pretty much know that we are well into the post PC era and demand for traditional PCs are stable, stalled, or even in decline in many areas of the world. In fact, while we still expect to see between 300-350 million P’s sold WW annually for a few more years, the hard fact is that traditional PC vendors are having a tough time making any money on PCs anymore and some of them may get out of the consumer PC business completely in the next 12-24 months.

Smartphones and tablets are quickly supplanting a need for a full-fledged PC. User surveys show that tablets especially can handle as much as 80% of the tasks they used to do on a PC and that consumers are spending less time on their PC than before. This is not good news for the PC vendors as well as Microsoft and Intel. As more customers are ushered into the world of tablets by cheaper models from Amazon and Google, as well as Apple’s new entry into smaller tablets with the iPad mini, tablet unit shipments will outnumber the amount of PCs sold annually WW by 2015.

We also sell 1.4 billion cell phones a year and by 2013, 65% of the cell phones sold in the US will be smartphones. And by 2015, 60% of all cell phones sold WW will be smartphones. In fact, instead of the post PC era being used to describe where we are today, a more accurate terminology could be that we are finally entering the age of truly personal mobile computing, with smartphones and tablets leading the way.

But I also viewed the Windows 8 event as impressive and important due to the demand for new traditional PCs will stay stable or decline, there are well over 700 million PCs still in use today and Windows 8 represents an important step or bridge to the future of PC UIs and the role touch will play in these devices. Also, millions of PC customers are already familiar with touch through their purchases of tablets and smartphones, Windows 8 has to be considered an important evolution of the graphical user interface for existing and new PCs and laptops.

While I view Windows 8 as important, the one area that I think it will have its greatest impact in will be with devices that are truly touch enabled. This includes new hybrids or combo laptops and tablets that can take full advantage of Windows 8’s new touch interface. However, I am less confident it will be a huge success with existing PCs where the only input is a mouse or a touchpad. Current input devices were not designed with touch in mind and therefore do a rather poor job with navigating through a rich touch based user experience. The exception to this may be when Synaptics’ new ForcePad is installed in new laptops. This is a trackpad that maps the touch UI interface and mirrors some of the touch UI features through this innovative new trackpad optimized for Windows 8. Apple does this already with their Magic Trackpad. Interestingly, Apple does not believe their laptops or desktops should be touch enabled as they view the use of the hand or finger having to move from keyboard to screen as an unnatural way to navigate these types of devices.

There is also another key issue that may keep Windows 8 from being adopted faster and that is the added cost of laptops that sport touchscreens. At the moment, putting a touch screen on a laptop adds about $150-$200 to the cost of the laptop. That is why we still see most of the laptops sold at least through 2014 having non-touch based screens as consumers are inclined to buy on price instead of features in most cases.

While I see Windows 8 working well with touch based devices and see it having a harder time being adopted by users whose laptop or desktop is not touch enabled, Still, Windows 8 will be important to the collective PC market today. And it represents the next major evolution of the user interface for PCs, even if the market for PCs will not be a major growth market in the future.

Windows 8, Windows RT, and Surface: A Strategy Emerges

Microsoft SurfaceMicrosoft has begun the tough job of answering three questions vital to its future: Why Windows? Why Windows RT? And why Surface? The arguments given at the Windows 8 launch event in New York on Oct. 25 won’t close the deal, but they mark the emergence of a strategy out of what has sometimes seemed a muddle

Why Windows
Microsoft has clearly been watching Apple and learning. It understands that when customers buy iPhones, iPads, or Macs, they aren’t just purchasing hardware; they’re buying into an ecosystem of products, services, apps, and content where everything works together.
Microsoft has long had the pieces, but lacked the integration. Now it is putting them together. Content moves seamlessly from your Xbox to your PC to your tablet to your Windows Phone. The new Xbox Music brings a Spotify-like music service to all devices. SkyDrive lets you share your files easily and all the devices have access to some form of Office. Clever Windows 8 apps connect to Bing services. Windows users will be able to “plug into the largest ecosystem anywhere,” says Windows chief Steven Sinofsky.
How well this all works in practice remains to be seen. Microsoft, with its deep experience in enterprise back-end operations, has a considerable advantage over Apple, which has stumbled often with network-based services. For once, it is Apple that is stuck with the legacy of iTunes, which Microsoft is starting clean. And the Microsoft offering leaves Google, which has tons of stuff but none of it very well integrated, in the dust. Neither Apple nor Google was mentioned by name in the lengthy presentations, but I got the sense that Google, which has left an opening by failing to exploit its early advantage in cloud services,  may be the primary target.
Microsoft isn’t forgetting the enterprise, but for the moment, at least, it seems to be taking it for granted; the messaging at the Windows launch was nearly 100% consumer. Except for tablets (Microsoft seems to have given up on the idea of calling them “slates”), the company has no illusions of large-scale enterprise adoption of Win 8 any time soon. But corporations remain wedded to Microsoft and these days, the company makes more enterprise revenue from  servers and tools than from desktops and laptops, or even Office.
Why Windows RT
Windows RT, the version designed for tablets based on ARM processors, is a tougher proposition. At the launch, Microsoft started the hard job of differentiating between the two new versions of Windows. The selling point for Windows 8 is fairly simple: Although the new user interface will require a fair amount of learning by users, the operating system remains compatible with the vast array of existing Windows software. If you want to run Autocad or Photoshop or even Microsoft Outlook, you need the legacy support of Windows 8.
But that legacy also brings a lot of cruft with it, and if you don’t need to run these desktop programs, you may be better off with the lean, clean Windows RT. Windows has made great leaps in security since XP, but a traditional operating system that gives programs full access to system resources is always going to be vulnerable
Windows RT is much more locked down and only allows installation of apps through the Windows Store. This should provide an environment that is resistant to both malware and the complex problems caused by software interactions that plague tradition Windows and, yes, Mac OS X
The troubling question is whether users pf RT-based tablets will be able to get the apps they need. As of today, the answer is no. I had hoped that launch day would see a sudden profusion of apps on the barren shelves of the Windows Store, but it hasn’t happened. There have been some very welcome additions, such as a client for the SugarSync cloud synchronization service and a Kindle reader, and a Twitter client is sad to be coming soon. But the Windows Store remains deeply impoverished compared to the iTunes App Store or even Google Play
The preloaded Microsoft apps are a mixed bag. The biggest issue is the awful mail client, which lacks such basic features as a consolidated inbox and support for POP mail services. Microsoft has promised improvements, and I hope that either they come soon or that someone steps up with a third-party offering. Having major components of Office–Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and One Note–certainly distinguishes RT  from other tablet OSes, but the allegedly touch-optimized applications still aren’t very touch-friendly. Their use pretty much demands a keyboard and a touchpad or mouse.
Why Surface
It’s clear that Microsoft regards Surface, its first plug into computer hardware, as an entirely new type of device, neither a tablet nor a PC or, more accurately both.  Microsoft offers it without either of its two keyboards–either the flat $100 Touch Cover, which looks unusable but actually works quite nicely, or the $129 Type Cover, with keys that actually move a little–both to hit a $499 price point and to avoid a profusion of SKUs. But if you are buying a Surface, don’t even think about getting it without one of these keyboard-plus-touchpad covers.
Apple considers the iPad a post-PC device. Microsoft considers the Surface a kind of PC. Thee difference was summed up, in hyperbolic language, by the respective chieftains. Sinofsky describes the Surface as “not just a tablet but the best tablet I’ve ever used. Not just a laptop, but the best laptop I’ve ever used.” But Apple CEO Tim Cook, who hasn’t actually seen it yet, dismissed it as “aa fairly compromised, confusing product…. I suppose you could design a car that flies and floats, but I don;t think it would do any of those things well.”
Surface is in many ways a more ambitious device than the iPad because it can do everything most consumers want from a PC. Sinofsky even makes a big deal of its ability to work with printers and other peripheral devices through a USB cable (personally, I don’t want to think of connecting a tablet to anything except over a wireless link.
It will be interesting to see how the market shakes out between the ARM-powered Surface and the Surface Pro, which uses an Intel Clover Trail processor and standard Windows 8. The Pro version will be heavier and considerably more expensive. It will truly be a PC in a new design: lighter than an Ultrabook and less capable, though probably capable enough for most uses
To the extent to which enterprises go for the Surface, they are going to choose the Pro (expected to ship some time in Novmber), both for software compatibility and because it, unlike the regular Surface, can be centrally managed like a PC. IT managers may see the Surface Pro as an way to stop the creeping invasion of iPads, giving executives the tablets they want while retaining the manageability IT desires.
Microsoft still has a lot of work to do to sell Windows 8. It’s biggest immediate challenge ia to set customer expectations for Windows RT correctly to avoid a wave of returns of Surfaces (and RT tablets from Lenovo, Dell, and Asus) by consumers who did not understand the software limitations. But Microsoft is off to a good start. It’s good to see the tablet battle finally fully joined.

Microsoft’s Surface: Less Than A Tablet, Less Than A Notebook PC, Less Than Ideal


I hadn’t planned on writing a review of the Surface today. But after reading over a dozen reviews, a pattern has clearly emerged:

— Excellent hardware
— Not as good a tablet as the iPad
— Not as good a PC as a notebook PC

The Promise

But perhaps none of that matters. The Surface, after all, wasn’t designed to be only a tablet or only a notebook PC. It was designed to be a hybrid – the best of both worlds. Perhaps it succeeds in that role?

As Josh Topolsky of The Verge put it:

The promise of the Surface was that it could deliver a best-in-class tablet experience, but then transform into the PC you needed when heavier lifting was required. Instead of putting down my tablet and picking up my laptop, I would just snap on my keyboard and get my work done.

The Surface won’t satisfy the tablet user

The Good

It’s clear that Microsoft has really thought through the Windows RT tablet software.

It’s a new paradigm, and people are uncomforable with new, but new isn’t necessarily bad. And the Windows RT “new” appears to be very, very good indeed.

It’s not as discoverable as iOS and Android, and it will receive criticism for that but discoverability isn’t everything. Some of the gestures in Windows 8 are brilliantly implemented. Many of the reviewers found it to be more engaging, more immersive, more delightful than either iOS or Android.

In that way, I believe that Windows RT for the tablet will be like Android on the phone – it will appeal to the more advanced users who will love it for the power that it unlocks.

The Bad

There is absolutely no reason to have a desktop OS on the Surface RT tablet. The Surface RT doesn’t even run desktop applications, so why bother?

Almost all of the reviewer’s complaints stemmed from the schizoid nature of the dual operating systems. Sometimes you were in tablet mode. Then suddenly you were in desktop mode. There were two control panels and two Internet Explorers. In short, there were two too many operating systems in one device, especally when that one device didn’t even run Windows desktop software.

The Ugly

The Windows RT store is barren. Could this change? Possibly. But until it does, you’ve bought a tablet that doesn’t have any available tablet apps. And that’s going to make you very un-app-y.

The Surface won’t satisfy the notebook PC user

The only Windows desktop software that the Surface RT runs is Windows Office. That’s it.

There are over 4,000,000 applications that run on Windows. The Surface RT falls 3,999,999 applications short of being an adequate notebook PC. And that’s really short of ideal.

The Surface won’t satisfy its ideal user

Ed Bott, of ZDnet, describes the ideal Surface RT user:

On a busy Sunday evening a few weeks ago, I was sitting in Terminal 4 of the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport waiting for a connecting flight. The guy sitting next to me was clearly an experienced business traveler.

I watched out of the corner of my eye as he pulled an iPad from his briefcase, checked some football scores, and played Words with Friends for a few minutes.

Then he put the iPad away and pulled out a well-worn Dell notebook (I swear it had duct tape on one corner). He waited (more patiently than I would have) for Windows XP to load, and then he worked on an Excel spreadsheet for 30 minutes until our flight was called.

That guy. The one who has to carry around two devices because neither one by itself can do everything that needs to be done. That’s who Microsoft’s new Surface with Windows RT was designed for.

First let me say this: There aren’t as many of those guys out there as we think. There are a whole lot of people who only need a notebook. And, as I tried to explain in my article entitled: “The PC is the Titanic and the Tablet is the Iceberg. Any Questions?“, there are even more people who only need a tablet.

But even if they are only a niche, there are still a sizable minority of people who fall into the above description of the Surface’s ideal user. And the most damning thing that I can say about the Surface is that it won’t satisfy it’s own ideal user.

— He’ll go to check on some football scores and then be frustrated that he doesn’t have access to one of a dozen available alternatives to the official ESPN app.

— He’ll go to play a game and then be frustrated that he can’t play any one of the 300,000 games available on Android or the game that everyone’s been talking about and that’s been available on iOS for over a year.

— He’ll go to run a Windows application and then remember that the Office suite are the only Windows applications that run on his device.

That guy. The one who has to carry around two devices because neither one by itself can do everything that needs to be done. The ideal customer for the Windows RT. That’s the guy who will be totally unsatisfied with the Windows RT.

Less than a tablet, less than a PC, less than ideal

Microsoft calls the Windows 8 operating system and the Surface RT a “no compromise” computing solution. But this tablet is such a compromise that it will satisfy no one – not even it’s intended target audience.

Ironically, it is the software, not the hardware, that is letting Microsoft – the software company – down. And that’s too bad because it would have been much better for Microsoft if it had been the other way around. It’s possible that another hardware partner would have fixed any deficienies in the Surface’s hardware. But no matter how good the hardware, it will still be running the Windows RT operating system. And that’s far from ideal.

Windows 8: It’s Later For Microsoft Than You Think

Microsoft Needs To Hurry

Microsoft has two problems. The first is that they have no presence in mobile and mobile is where it’s at. The second, is that they’ve run out of time.

Run out of time? How is that possible? The iPhone is only 5 years old. Android is only 4 years old. The iPad only appeared on the market 2 and a half years ago. How can it possibly be that Microsoft is out of time? Three things:

1) PC sales are declining fast;
2) Smartphones, and especially tablets, are being adopted at historically unprecedented rates; and
3) Microsoft’s absence from the market has been ceding the mobile computing business to Apple.

1) PC Sales Are Declining Fast

Both Gartner and IDC concur that worldwide PC sales fell by over 8%. Ultrabook sales forcasts were slashed in half for 2012 from 22 million to 10.3 million.

But as bad as that looks, it’s actually a lot worse than that if you’re Microsoft. If you take out the Apple Mac sales, PC sales in the U.S. actually shrank by 13.8%. And, naturally, as PC sales shrink, so do Microsofts profits.

It’s not so much that PCs are in decline – it’s PCs running Microsoft windows that are in decline. And the decline is not temporary, it’s permanent. As Mike Gualtieri, principal analyst at Forrester Research, put it:

“I don’t think [Windows 8] is going to turn [the PC industry] around because nothing’s going to turn it around…”

2) Smartphones, and especially tablets, are being adopted at historically unprecedented rates

It’s not computing sales that are down, it’s only PC sales that are down. If you add tablets with PCs, overall sales of computing devices (excluding smartphones) will actually RISE by 12% this year.

Smartphone sales grew so quickly that they surpassed PC sales in late 2010. And the rise of tablets has been even faster and has been even more spectacular. No other technology has penetrated society so quickly. By the end of this year, tablet sales will jump 90 percent to 124 million units or just over 35 percent of the total PC sales for this year. Tablet sales are expected to outsell PCs by 2016, if not sooner.

Market Penetration

Within 18 months after the introduction of the iPad, tablet penetration among U.S. housholds hit 11%. 12 months later it was at 25%.

A Lost Generation

Microsoft has lost an entire generation of users. Don’t believe me?

40% of U.S. teens own an Apple iPhone. 62% want one.

— More than half (51 percent) of tablet users think that their tablet will be their primary computing device within the next two years.

Microsoft’s absence from the market has been ceding the mobile computing business to Apple

Business has long been a Microsoft bastion. It’s been estimated that as many as 92% of all business personal computers once ran on Windows powered machines.

Consumerization and BYOD

But Apple is riding the crest of the “consumerization of IT” trend. Truth be told, Apple isn’t riding the wave, it CREATED the wave. For most companies, BYOD doesn’t mean “bring your own device” to work, it means “bring your own iOS device” to work.

Business Adoption

94 percent of the Fortune 500 companies are either testing or deploying iPads. Some 70 percent of the Global 500 companies are testing or deploying iPads, too. 3 in 4 American enterprises have adopted the tablet in some way.

And when 500 of the UK Chief Information Officers (CIO) were polled, 37% choose the iPhone to be the dominant business smartphone in the the next few years.

“The role of the iPad cannot be overemphasized. Some observers estimate the iPad sales in the business market might represent up to half of all iPad sales,” ~ Charlie Wolf, Needham & Co.

Use In The Workplace

77% of tablet users report that their destop usage decreased after getting a tablet. 1 in 4 owners say their tablet is now their primary computer.


Not only has the iPad stolen a march on Microsoft in business, it’s going to be hard to dislodge. People love their iPads. In a quirky poll taken earlier this year:

— Almost half of respondents (47 percent) said they’d rather have an iPad for work than a bigger or better office or a more senior title (34 percent).

— Sixty-eight percent said they’d rather have an iPad than their own parking space at work, while almost one in four (23 percent) would prefer the tablet over an extra week of vacation each year.

— When asked what they would go without before they would give up travel with their iPad, nearly half (48 percent) say they would forego meals, 41 percent would skip drinking water, and more than 1 in 3 (35 percent) would give up bathroom breaks. More than half (55 percent) said they would rather forget deodorant than forget their iPad.


Read these headlines and tell me that Microsoft should not be terrified. Many of the headlines have to do with the demise of RIM, but notice that the busienss is moving to Apple and Android – not Microsoft:

More car companies link iPhone nav apps to dashboard displays

The iPad Kiosk: Landing at an Airport Near You

Urban Outfitters Replaces All Cash Registers With iPads

BlackBerry Dropped by Booz Allen for Apple, Android

Australia’s Woolworths drops RIM for iPhones

U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) dropping RIM BlackBerry and purchasing 17,000 Apple iPhones

Windows 8 Is Late

Windows 8 is arriving on Friday, October, 26th and it’s none too soon…

…in fact, as far as mobile goes, it may already be too late.

Windows 8: Microsoft Is Betting The Company

I am one of those who thinks that this week is a seminal moment in computing history. The introduction of Windows 8 is the most important time for Microsoft since the launch of Windows 95. Microsoft’s actions – and the buying public’s response to those actions – is going to change the future of Microsoft – and the future of computing – forever.

Microsoft will survive…

Let’s take a step back and put things in perspective. Microsoft makes – and will continue to make – a lot of money.

Microsoft is really an enterprise company. It makes much of its money from business customers with products like Windows Server, management software, SQL databases and development tools. Those businesses are doing well. Further, Enterprises are upgrading to Windows 7 and the Microsoft Office suite. Microsoft will have most enterprises locked up with agreements for three to five more years. Finally, Microsft is sitting on $60 billion in cash. It has deep, deep pockets.

However, personal computing is no small part of Microsoft’s business. Windows makes up 25% and Microsoft Office makes up 35% of Microsoft’s total sales and a much greater percentage of its profits.

…but their future in personal computing is not assured

There are those who argue that Microsoft has plenty of time, plenty of money, plenty of chances to fix Window 8 even if it goes astray. I couldn’t disagree more.

Did time, money and opportunity allow Microsoft to fix the Zune? Or Windows Phone 7?

Windows 8 on the desktop may or may not do well. But Windows 8 is all about Microsoft’s efforts to transfer their desktop user base to the tablet and smartphone markets. Mobile is the future of computing and Microsoft has absolutely nothing going on in mobile. If Windows 8 does not kick-start Microsoft’s mobile efforts, Microsoft will have missed the boat for good and no amount of time, effort or resources will allow them to swim fast enough to catch up.

Microsoft knows this. They remember well the PC wars of the eighties. In those wars, they were the ones sailing into the sunset, leaving Apple and the Mac floundering in their wake. In today’s world, iOS and Android are the new Windows and Windows is the new Mac. And for Microsoft, that ain’t a pretty picture.

If Windows 8 flounders, Microsoft will survive, but not as the same company we know today

The times, they are a-changing. The decades old Windows-Intel empire is already crumbling. If Windows 8 doesn’t gain traction in mobile, it will be disastrous for Microsoft. We’re witnessing history – we just don’t know yet what the result of that history will be. October 2012 marks a new beginning for Microsoft’s mobile efforts. Or it marks the beginning of the end for Microsoft’s mobile efforts. By this time next year, we’ll know for sure – one way, or the other.

A Tale of Two Internet Explorers

I have been playing with Windows 8 on a number of different devices, specifically some touch enabled, and others non-touch enabled. One of the many questions I have been wanting to analyze was how software built for Windows 8 would handle the touch experience and the physical mouse and keyboard experience at the same time. Given that Windows 8, and many Windows 8 hardware configurations, will provide consumers with three potential input mechanisms simultaneously (touch, mouse / trackpad, keyboard).

In concept this sounds like a compelling idea. However, in execution it may be more tricky.

Although I keep in my mind that Windows 8 is still early, and updates will inevitably come, I found how Microsoft handled this dual-state touch + mouse and keyboard scenario with Windows Explorer. Microsoft decided that it would be best to include two different versions of Windows Explorer on Windows 8. There is a Modern UI (Metro) version of IE and there is also the all familiar desktop version of IE. One can be accessed while using Modern UI mode, and the other can be accessed from desktop mode. One is built specifically for touch and one is not. Here are a few simple examples of how that works.

When in Modern UI version of Internet Explorer (version 10), I get a much simpler and full screen user interface. In this Explorer touch works well with links, pinch and zoom, scoll, etc., all work as expected. When I get to a web page with a text input box, the soft keyboard automatically appears so I may enter text.

In desktop version of IE, touch, although supported, does not work nearly as well. Touching links sometimes requires multiple touches, put more importantly when you click a text entry box like the URL bar or a search field, no soft keyboard comes up. This version of IE is built more with the assumption that a mouse / trackpad and physical keyboard is present.

What strikes me about this approach is that it may not be a big deal for some hardware configurations, but it will be a big deal for others. I am caused to wonder about the number of Windows 8 tablets which will be sold without a keyboard included. Will consumers be wise enough to realize that they should avoid using desktop IE on their Windows 8 tablet? Will they even understand there are two different versions designed to work specifically in different modes? Perhaps an equally provocative question is why isn’t the software smart enough to know whether a physical keyboard or trackpad is adjust the experience accordingly. For example, if I happen to be in the desktop version of IE but am using the tablet without a mouse and keyboard present or docked, the soft keyboard should come up automatically.

It is very odd when you are using the desktop version of IE in tablet only mode and you click to enter text and no keyboard comes up. Confusion may abound. However, there is an icon in the lower left hand corner that you can click to bring up the soft keyboard. Perhaps I am nit picking but if no keyboard is present this should happen automatically no matter what the application or mode. I’d even question the presence of the desktop mode in Windows 8 when a physical keyboard is not docked or synced for that matter.

It is this kind of intelligent context switching that is still lacking with many of my experiences with Windows 8. Although I am speculating, I believe that the vast amount of input mechanisms being supported are the point of the challenge.

How software developers and Microsoft handle the multiple context switching opportunities as well as input mechanisms will be fascinating to see. Microsoft has done it by including two different versions of the same application. Let’s hope other software developers can figure out how to harness touch, mouse / trackpad, and soft / physical keyboard all in one program intelligently.

For more reading here is a Quora question someone asked as to why Windows 8 has two different versions of IE. Also here is an article on TechRepublic focusing on how to make desktop IE the default IE to open when clicking a link.

Rebuttal: Windows 8 “May Or May Not” Be The Disaster This Video Makes It Out To Be

Steve Kovach at Business Insider has a few words of wisdom regarding Windows 8:

Microsoft’s new operating system for PCs and tablets, Windows 8, will have a drastic new look.
The Start menu you’re used to is gone, replaced by a touch-friendly menu of tiles that houses all your apps and settings.

It’s going to be incredibly jarring for people to use at first.

Tech pundit Chris Pirillo demonstrates that in a man-on-the-street video where he asks people to try Windows 8 for the first time. The results don’t look good for Microsoft. Almost every person in the video is extremely confused by the new Windows 8 interface.

Does that mean Windows 8 is a flop?


So far, I’m with Steve. Discoverability is not the same as usability. Microsoft’s radical new Windows 8 interface changes – particularly on the desktop – may be new but new isn’t necessarily bad. Features may be hard to discover at first – but learn a feature one time and you’ve probably learned it forever.

I think we can all agree that the lack of discoverability on Windows 8 is going to cause some problems at first. But it’s the overall usability that matters most and I’m not going to judge that until I’ve seen how regular people – you know, people who are not first adopters like you and me – react.

It’s at this point, however, that Steve and I part ways.

This is how you push innovation forward. It’s going to be jarring and scary for novices. It’s going to take time for people to learn the new menus. But they’ll catch on.

Hmm. Not so very sure about that. Sure, innovation CAN be jarring a scary. And jarring and scary is often the price we pay in order to move technology forward. But that doesn’t mean that we should pay that price if we don’t have to. So the question becomes, did Microsoft have to extract a price – or did they sacrifice discoverability on the desktop in order to forward their phone and tablet agendas?

Imagine giving someone who has never seen and iPhone or Android device before and asking them to use it. That person would be just as confused as the people are in the video below.

Say what now?

Kids and total novices can use smartphones and tablets. Ninty-nine year old senor citizens use them. Baby’s use them. Heck, even cats and apes use them.

As a friend on Twitter put it, “If every interface were designed by man-on-the-street committee we’d all still have Windows 3.1.”

Yeah, about that. Maybe that’s not so very accurate. Or even a little bit accurate . Perhaps the way Steve’s friend on Twitter should have put it was: “If every interface were designed with the “man-on-the-street” in mind, we’d all be using iOS or Android.”

Take a look at Pirillo’s video at the bottom of the the original article, here.

The Microsoft Surface Was Made For Surfaces…But That’s Not What Tablets Were Made For

The first Microsoft Surface Ad is out. It’s called “The Surface Movement” (although it probably should be called “Click”). In his article entitled: Marketing Surface and Windows 8, Ben Bajarin focuses on what the ad communicates to potential buyers. My focus is on what the ad communicates about Microsoft’s attitude toward tablets.


Even before the ad aired, industry observers had picked up a theme:

The message we seem to be getting from Microsoft with its Surface tablets is that you need a keyboard with your slate to take full advantage of Windows. ~ James Kendrick, ZDNet

Microsoft is really is focusing on the keyboard as what enables the Surface to work equally well for consumption and creation. ~ Mary Jo Foley, CNet

It’s all about the keyboard and it’s all about using the keyboard on a flat surface.


The Microsoft surface has five characteristics that distinguish it from the iPad:

— Windows 8 user interface;
— Windows desktop applications;
— Kickstand;
— Upturned rear-facing camera; and
— Attachable keyboard.

The last four of those five characteristics are most useful when employed on a flat surface…

…but that’s not what tablets were made for.


The tablet has two defining characteristics: It is touchable and totable.

The tablet was made for standing, and walking; for moving from room to room, and moving from door to door; for sitting back and leaning forward; for remote locations and touch occasions. The tablet was made to be touched and toted. The Surface was made for a surface.

The Microsoft Surface goes on sale on October 26th. We’ll soon see what really defines a tablet.

Marketing Surface and Windows 8

The first commercial for Microsoft Surface has aired. After seeing it, I’m not sure Microsoft’s partners should be at all worried about the perceived threat of Microsoft competing with them on the hardware front. The commercial itself does absolutely nothing to communicate any valuable reason why a consumer should even remotely consider buying it over something else. I wrote a column a few weeks ago explaining that in today’s day-and-age it is critical to communicate and message to consumers why they should consider your product over something else.

This is not rocket science. Show the product doing something valuable, something consumers can relate to and associate with. Apple, Google, Samsung, etc., are all doing this by messaging and highlighting in their marketing the key benefits of their products.

The Windows 8 preview ads do a little better job by actually showing some use cases with different products. This may sound odd given the market share Microsoft has in traditional PCs but I firmly believe Microsoft is the odd man out with the momentum in this industry and they are the ones in catch up mode.

From the early pricing we are seeing the upcoming flood of Windows 8 products are not going to be on par with other products from a pricing standpoint. Which by default means price is not in their favor. Because of that consumers must be absolutely clear on why they should care at all about this product.

What does it do that others products don’t? What does it empower me to do that others products don’t? What experiences exist on Windows 8 that don’t exist on other devices?

Success in consumer markets requires a good product and good marketing. I’m reserving judgement on whether or not Windows 8 is a good product. When it comes to the marketing, Microsoft needs to convince consumers Windows 8 is relevant to their current and future market needs. The current ads do not do this in my opinion.

In case you hadn’t seen them yet, here they are:

Microsoft Surface Ads

Windows 8 Preview Ads

The iPad Mini Hits Windows 8 Where It Ain’t

Tim Bajarin muses on whether it was a mistake for Microsoft to focus Windows 8 on the the larger screen sizes:

When Microsoft decided to get into the tablet business again, it pretty much committed to 9- to 11-inch tablets, mostly eyeing the business market.

… it is clear that Microsoft will stay this course and will not manufacture 7-inch Windows 8 tablets directly or through a partner any time soon.

I believe this is a major judgment error by Microsoft because the plethora of 7-inch tablets coming out soon will become a huge hit with consumers.

Consumers appear to be extremely interested in an iPad mini, but I predict many business users will also fancy it…(too)

Tim goes on to make several excellent points. I would add this. I think the rumored iPad Mini will be a MONSTER hit in education. The current iPad is taking education by storm and the rumored iPad mini will turn the current torrent of iPad adoptions into a virtual flood.

Microsoft is in a very tough spot. They need to get into tablets. They are wise to go with their strength (business). But they can’t neglect education either. It may sound trite, but children are the future. Kids are already enamored with the iPhone and the iPad. Microsoft is in a dog fight to recapture this generation of tablet users. However, if they let the iPad become the de facto standard in education at the K-12 and college levels, all their efforts may be for naught. While they’re busy fighting for today’s customers, they will have already lost tomorrow’s.

Battle Of The Tablet Business Models: Lessons Learned And A Look Ahead


We’ve been looking at the tablet business models of Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung and Microsoft. Today we wrap up the series by seeing what lessons we have learned and by asking ourselves what the various business models can tell us about the future of tablet computing.

Lessons Learned

Lesson #1: Subsidized tablet business models are a niche

The subsidized business models of the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7 are very limiting. They can only be sold where their content is sold, they can only be sold to consumers who readily pay for content or consume relevant advertising and they will have little appeal to business, government or education. Even if they are fantastically successful within their confined market space, their markets will have little overlap with the tablets that focus primarily on the importance of apps.

Lesson #2: Subsidized tablet business models need to be measured differently and judged appropriately

We tend to judge all things tech by the number of units sold or by overall market share. We should, of course, be focusing on profit instead. Profit is the goal and profit is the standard by which tablet business models should be measured.

The subsidized tablets of the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7 need to be judged, not by sales, not by market share, but by the profits generated by the sale of content and advertising. In a subsidized business model, nothing else matters.

Lesson #3: Conflicting business models are a sign of weakness

With the Nexus 7 and the Surface tablet, both Google and Microsoft have reversed their licensing models and embraced an integrated approach. There is nothing wrong with adjusting one’s business model to fit the times. There’s a lot wrong with having two conflicting business models.

Lesson #4: Platform Matters

Apple has the strongest tablet platform, by far, and it shows in their sales and in their profits.

Amazon seems to understand platform. However, subsidized business models seem geared more toward content than apps. The Kindle Fire is only a year old. We will have to wait and see how the Amazon platform develops.

Google doesn’t seem to get platform, even now. Their weak platform has not hurt them in phone sales (yet) but it’s crippled their tablet efforts. And with the introduction of the Google Nexus 7, Google has made it clear that they think that content, not apps, is what matters most.

Samsung almost certainly understands platform, but they have no control over the Android operating system nor do they control the way Android content and apps are sold. Their only choice is to suffer or get out.

Microsoft gets platform all too well but they are so very late to the game. The Windows Phone 7 platform went nowhere and Microsoft has to be terribly concerned that the Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets may share the same fate.

Lesson #5: Skate to where the puck is going to be

When the market is underserved, products move toward integration. When the market is over served, products move towards modularization. It seems to me that part of the problem with most of the current tablet business models is that their respective companies have misidentified where the market is over served and where it is underserved.

Apple: In my opinion, Apple is on the right path. Tablet hardware, software, and content distribution are becoming “good enough” and are in danger of being commoditized. Apps and ecosystem are still under serving the market and have a lot of room for growth. Apple is adding value and differentiating itself from its competitors by integrating hardware, software, content and apps into a single, cohesive ecosystem.

Apple’s problem is that they have traditionally not been very good at internet services. Look at MobileMe, Ping, Siri, Maps, etc. And internet services are the key to the future of mobile computing ecosystems.

Jonathan Ive is a genius who can design Apple’s hardware but he can’t design a database system that will work with iCloud. Tim Cook’s supply chain prowess turned Apple from a very good company into a great company. What Apple may need to thrive in the future is a Tim Cook for internet services.

Amazon and Google: I think that both the Amazon and Google subsidized strategies are fundamentally flawed. They are creating an integrated hardware and software product designed to add value via the sale of content. But content distribution has already been commoditized. It makes no sense to subsidize hardware sales in order to enhance content sales if the margins on content are de minimis.

Samsung: The problem with the current Samsung tablet model is two-fold. First, their hardware is only one part of the value chain. They do not control the software, content, apps or overall ecosystem. Second, the area where they add value – hardware – is rapidly moving towards “good enough” and commoditization.

Microsoft: In my opinion, Microsoft’s business model is focused on the wrong part of the value chain or stack. Windows RT and Windows 8 is all about creating a superior operating system. But the operating systems currently available from Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are already more than good enough for most consumers. Microsoft is pouring all of its efforts into an area where consumers are already satisfied or over served. Windows 8 may or may not be a better mobile operating system than either Android or iOS but it is not so much better that it will compel the bulk of consumers to switch to it.

The Future

We obsess over tiny diferences between the hardware and operating systems of the various competitors but it is business models that dictate success or failure. Until those business models change, Apple has, and will retain, the lead in tablets. Both Amazon and Google have chosen to ghettoize their tablets. Their inability to generate substantial profits will be obscured by irrelevant sales numbers. Samsung tablets are nowhere and they have nowhere to go.

Microsoft is trickier. It first has to overcome the hurdle of creating a virtuous platform cycle. If developers can’t attract customers – if customers can’t attract developers – then nothing else matters because the platform will go nowhere. However, if Microsoft can overcome this initial, all-important hurdle, then they have a chance to be relevant. We should be able to gauge just how relevant they’ll be by this time next year.


The future of tablets will be determined by their respective business models. Yet most of the current business models are not even directed towards that future.

Battle Of The Tablet Business Models: Windows 8 And The Microsoft Surface


We’re looking at the tablet business models of Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung and Microsoft. Today we focus on Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface.

5.0 Windows 8 And The Microsoft Surface


When introducing the new Amazon tablets, Jeff Bezos said:

“We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices.”

Microsoft now has TWO tablet business models. They license their software to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and make their money from licensing fees. AND they sell their brand spanking new Surface tablet directly to end users and make their money from the sale of the hardware.

In neither model does Microsoft make (much of) its money from the sale of content or apps.

It’s important to note that in the licensing model, the OEM is the customer and in the hardware model, the end user is the customer. The different models require entirely different – and possibly conflicting – corporate cultures, philosophies and strategies along with different supply, production, marketing, sales, and distribution structures.


Before we look forward at Microsoft’s tablet business model, let’s look back at Microsoft’s desktop (and notebook) business model.

Microsoft’s traditional desktop business model brought value to their customers in a wide variety of ways. However, it is vitally important to note that Microsoft’s customers were not end users. They were:

— The manufacturers who made hardware;
— The developers who made third-party software; and
— The business IT departments who authorized the large scale purchases of the hardware running Microsoft’s Windows operating system and the software compatible with the Windows operating system.

  • Licensing Business Model
  • Microsoft licenses their Windows operating system software to all comers. This allows a multitude of companies to create a wide array of hardware offerings with different shapes, sizes, types, prices, etc. The strength of licensing lies in its variety at the hardware level. The software is monolithic. The hardware is diverse.

    Licensing is often considered to be THE reason why Microsoft won the PC wars in the ninties. Licensing allowed for the rapid proliferation of hardware running the Windows operating system. As the number of Windows powered computing units increased, the network effect kicked in and Microsoft’s platform became more and more powerful. Suddenly Microsoft Windows was not a choice, it was the ONLY choice. When one was buying a desktop computer or desktop software in the nineties and the two thousands, the first question asked was whether that hardware or that software was compatible with Windows.

  • Operating System
  • Microsoft’s excellent, high quality Windows operating system software provides their cutomers with great value.

  • Platform
  • Microsoft maintains the platform for software developers to build upon. The importance of Microsoft’s role in adding value by building and supporting their platform cannot be underestimated.

    People mock Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer for his sweaty “developers, developers, developers” chant but he had it exactly right. Ballmer knew that so long as Microsoft took care of their developers, their developers would continue to add ever more value to the Windows platorm and that the more valuable the Windows platform became, the more valuable – and the less vulnerable to competition – the Windows operating system software would be.

    As an aside, compare Microsoft’s stewardship of Windows with how Google has treated Android. Google has created a world class operating system in Android but they have done their hardware licensees a disservice when it comes to platform. Their software updates are severely fragmented, their store is difficult to navigate and lacks content and their app store is clogged with clones, pirates and viruses. As a result, Android owners buy less content and apps and Android app developers make far, far less money than do the developers for competing platforms.

  • Office Suite
  • Microsoft’s Office Suite is THE standard for business software and THE bedrock upon which most businesses operate. If your hardware or your software doesn’t run the Office Suite, it probably doesn’t run in a business enviornment.

  • Business Symbiosis
  • It has already been mentioned that business owners and IT departments, not end users, are one of Microsoft’s prime customers. However, the bond created by Microsoft between their Windows operating system and Business IT departments cannot be overstated. Microsoft catered to IT’s every need and IT reciprocated by making Windows the one and only allowable computing operating system at most small, mid and large business organizations the world around.

  • Monopoly Superpower
  • At its height, with as much as 95% market share, Microsoft was, and still remains, THE de facto standard for desktop computing. The benefits derived from this monopoly position are too many to enumerate. The easiest way to sum it up is to say that Microsoft basically had no competition whatsoever and Windows hardware manufacturers and Windows developers only competed among themselves. They had virtually no external competition at all.


    It is difficult to project what is going to happen with Microsoft’s tablet business model for at least two reasons.

    First, Microsoft’s new, Windows 8 and Surface tablets don’t go on sale until October 26, 2012. Without hard data to guide us, everything is speculation.

    Second, I think that, for many, the analysis of Microsoft’s future is clouded by beliefs engendered from Microsoft’s past. Many pundits aren’t so much hoping that Microsoft will advance to a glorious future in mobile computing as they are hankering for Microsoft to return to their glorious past. The glow from Microsoft’s past successes is so bright that it is blinding them to the fact that today’s mobile computing markets are very, very different from yesterday’s desktop computing markets. We need to be certain that we are applying today’s reality to Microsoft’s tablet efforts, rather than being swayed by echos from Microsoft’s fabled past.

  • The licensing business model is not the same
  • Microsoft made its name and its fortune from licensing its Windows operating system software to desktop and notebook manufacturers. To say that Microsoft’s licensing model was a success would be one of the biggest understatements in the history of business. However, because Microsoft won the PC wars so convincingly, many industry observers mistakenly concluded that licensing was the one and only viable business model for creating a computer platform. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    A business model is merely a strategy, not a guarantor of success. There is no one right business model. Business models have to be adapted to the existing circumstances. What worked yesterday is no guarantee of success. In fact, doing what worked yesterday may very well guarantee failure.

    Today’s mobile markets are very different from yesterday’s PC market. The question before us isn’t whether licensing works – it does. The question is whether Microsoft’s current licensing strategy has a place in today’s tablet markets under today’s circumstances.

  • The licensing fees are not the same
  • It has been estimated that licensing fees for mobile devices will be lower, and perhaps much lower, than those that Microsoft has been able to command from desktop manufacturers. Microsoft needs to charge less in order to keep their mobile devices from being priced out of the market but they also need to be cognizant of the fact that every reduction in licensing fees is a reduction in their overall revenues.

    The good news is that mobile is where all the growth is and if Microsoft can successfully break into the tablet market, they might ultimately make up in volume what they lose on a per device basis. However, while the Apple Mac – with its premium, integrated software and hardware business model – was able to survive and thrive with only a tiny share of the desktop market, licensing models do not do well as niche players. Since licensing business models only receive a small portion of each product’s total revenue stream, they need to be high volume players in order to generate significant income.

  • Hardware diversity is not necessarily an asset
  • As previously noted, one of the stregnths of the licensing business model is hardware diversity. But hardware diversity can also lead to customer confusion. And confusion is the enemy of sales.

    Microsoft isn’t entering the tablet space with a single tablet entrant. Most of Microsoft’s partners are jumping into the Windows 8 tablet space all at once with a wide and wild assortment of products. Endless choice is nice in theory but real world marketing experts know that too much choice leads to paralysis by analysis, buyer indecision and no sale.

    Another concern is the lack of software optimization. With such a wide variety of screen sizes and types, all coming onto the market at once along with the new Windows 8 operating system, it will be virtually impossible for developers to optimize their programs for the numerous hardware form factors. For more on this, I highly reccomentd Ben Bajarin’s artle on this topic entitled: Windows 8 Tablet Fragmentation and the App Dilemma.

  • Selling hardware is not the same as licensing software
  • With the introduction of the Surface tablet, Microsoft has entered into an entirely new (for them) business model. Breaking from their traditional model of only licensing their software, Microsoft will, in addtion to licensing their tablet software, be selling tablet hardware as well.

    Microsoft has some experience with the creation of hardware (Zune, Xbox) but it can’t be considered a core competency. And their unwillingness to reveal details about the pricing and specifications of the Microsoft Surface, plus their almost paranoid refusal to let anyone outside of their inner circle play with or even touch the unit, has to raise doubts about the devices readiness.

    With regard to the quality of the Surface hardware, I’ll give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. But until we finally get units in the hands of independent reviewers, the doubt will still remain.

  • Desktop applications are not the same
  • Desktop applications running on Windows 8 tablets is a huge differentiator for Microsoft. But does it truly bring value to their users?

    Ten long years of bad experiences with Microsoft tablets have taught us that desktop applications do not work well on tablets. Yet Microsoft perseveres in their belief that desktop applications DO have a vital role to play on the tablet form factor. We’re about to have an epiphany or Microsoft is about to re-learn a very expensive lesson.

  • Tablet apps are not the same
  • Microsoft wants to bring value to their users with tablet apps the same way that they brought value to their desktop users with desktop applications. They know, better than anyone, that a modern software ecosystem needs a large number of apps to be successful. It’s the very reason that their Windows platform dominated computing for the past twenty years.

    However, Microsoft is very, very late to the tablet game. Modern touch tablets may only be two and a half years old but tablets have been adopted faster than any technology in history. Studies show that 25% of Americans own a tablet. Further, while tablets may only be two and a half years old, the modern day app platform started four and a half years ago, in April 2008, with the iPhone. While Windows 8 is entering the market with between 2,000 and 10,000 apps, the Android and iOS platforms boast 700,000 and 750,000 apps each. And iOS has some 250,000 apps specifically optimized for use on their tablet products.

    The low number of apps is a catch-22 for Microsoft. Developers don’t want to develop until a platform has enough users, while users don’t want to buy your tablets until you have enough apps. Users of iOS and Android devices won’t have much patience with Windows 8 either. Why should they wait for a barren Windows 8 store to fill with product when they can buy from the fully stocked Android and iOS app stores today?

    Microsoft is the master of creating developer relationships but, shockingly, they have failed to successfully woo developers to the Windows 8 platform. Microsoft has actually resorted to PAYING developers to develop for the platform. This is very telling.

    With platform, developers are the canaries in the coal mine. We can gauge how well the platform is doing by measuring how well the platform’s developers are doing. And right now, developers are telling us, in no uncertain terms, that they have no confidence in the platform. They are waiting to see if the platform will be successful before they commit. And with platform, a “wait and see” attitude is the kiss of death. The longer they wait, the less likely it is that the platform will succeed.

    It’s still too soon to definitively say that Windows 8 won’t attract developers. But the time needed for Microsoft to build a successful platform is running out and it’s running out fast.

  • The Office Suite is not the same
  • On the desktop, Microsoft’s Office Suite is THE standard for business software and THE bedrock upon which most businesses operate. Many believe that it will be Microsoft’s killer app for tablets too.

    The problem with that theory is that it totally ignores the divide between the touch input demanded by tablets and pixel specific mouse input demanded by the vertical screens used by notebook and desktop computers. Windows Office is optimized for desktops. The more Microsoft tries to make it work on tablets, the less like Windows Office for the desktop it will become. Windows Office will not be the killer app for the tablet because by the time it works properly on the tablet, it will have morphed into a entirely different program.

    Even worse, from Microsoft’s perspective, is that Microsoft Office has lost its cachet among smartphone and tablet users. The past year alone has taught 650 million smartphone users and 100 million tablet users that they can get by just fine without the need to use Microsoft’s Office Suite.

  • Microsoft’s symbiosis with businesses is not the same
  • Many pundits are expecting IT to embrace the Microsoft tablet in the same way that IT embraced Microsoft Windows for the desktop. The problem with that theory is two-fold.

    First, times have changed. In the ninties, businesses standardized on the Windows operating system and then consumers followed suit. Today, consumers are making many of the critical buying decisions. Consumerization and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work are trends, not fads.

    Second, Windows tablets aren’t attempting to replace an unpopular product. The Apple iPad, for example, has user satisfaction ratings in the high nineties. And in only two and a half years, many businesses are already finding the iPad indispensible.

    When it comes to business, Apple’s popular iPad tablet is viewed as a critical tool…

    “No one doubts the device’s popularity, but what’s really eye-opening about these statistics is just how inextricable the iPad has become from (business) users’ everyday lives. ~ Brainshark

    Windows 8 tablets may or may not do well in business and the Enterprise but we’re never returning to the days when Microsoft dominated IT and IT dominated all the computer purchase decision-making.

  • Microsoft’s monopoly is not the same
  • Microsoft Windows and the Microsoft Office Suite may or may not be the best software in their respective fields but users are familiar with them. No one likes to relearn how to use a software program or a user interface. Users benefit from the consistency in Microsoft’s products and Microsoft benefits from the fact that end users are comfortable using their products. This is one of the reasons why Microsoft has been able to maintain its massive market share among desktop users.

    But that was yesterday.

    A Q4 2011 Forrester survey of 9,900 employees around the world found the average employee used two and a half devices for work. Thanks to gains by Apple and Google, only 63% of respondents reported using a Microsoft OS on one of their work devices.

    That is some startling information. Let’s break it down for further examination:

    — The average employee uses two and a half devices for work. Wow. And since Microsoft is found mostly on desktops and noteboks and found almost not at all on smartphones or tablets, that means that almost all emploees are now spending some of their time on a non-Microsoft device.

    — If 63% of respondents report that they ARE using at least one Microsoft device that means that 37% of employees ARE NOT using ANY Microsoft device AT ALL.

    Microsoft still dominates desktops but it’s no longer a computing monopoly. Not by a long shot.

    Today’s computing world is filled with not just desktops but with smartphones and tablets too. Phones and tablets are touch devices that have wholly different user interfaces than do desktop devices. If you’re going to have to learn an unfamiliar user interface anyway, you look to learn the best. Without its monopoly power, Microsoft’s products have to compete on the merits. And no matter how good Microsoft’s products are, competing on the merits is a very different – and far more difficult – proposition than being the default choice or the only choice.


  • Too Many Agendas
  • A company’s business model often dictates the end user’s experience.

    — Apple wants to provide its end users with the best user experience possible because they want to sell as many tablets as possible.

    — Amazon Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7 are willing to sacrifice some the end user’s experience by including advertisments and focusing their tablets soley on their stores, but they hope to make up for it with the lower prices of their tablets.

    — Microsoft’s traditional business model was aimed at IT departments, not end users. IT departments wanted control and features designed specifically for their use and they got it. This sometimes led to a less than optimal end user experience. Microsoft was happy to provide end users with the best experience possible but not if it meant offending their real customers, the IT departments, who made the large scale purchasing decisions.

    Microsoft’s current tablet business model is dictating a compromised end user experience. The problem with Windows 8 on tablets is that it isn’t a platform, it’s an agenda.

    Mobile is the future of computing. Microsoft needs to get in the tablet game or they are going to be shut out of mobile and shut out of the future of computing. Today, Microsof has virtually no presence in mobile computing. What they do have is a massive presence in desktop computing. Windows 8 is all about leveraging Microsoft’s massive desktop market share in order to gain a foothold in mobile computing. This might be good for business but it is not necessarily good for the end user. Microsoft’s business model is not aligned with the welfare of the end user. And in the long run, that’s bad business.

  • Too Many Business Models
  • Microsoft is employing two incompatable business models to sell their tablets. They are licensing their software to manufacturers and they are competing with those same manufacturers by selling their own Microsoft branded Surface tablet. This is similar to what Google is doing with the Nexus 7.

    First, Microsoft is competing with its own partners. That’s never a good thing. Even Microsfoft acknowledged the problem in an SEC filing:

    “…our Surface devices will compete with products made by our OEM partners, which may affect their commitment to our platform.”

    Second, licensing to manufacturers and selling directly to end users requires two entirely different, and oft-times redundant, business structures. Supply, production, distribution, marketing, advertising and sales are all totally different. Just to illustrate the point, Microsoft’s retail stores make perfect sense for selling their hardware to consumers but they serve no purpose at all for licensing their software to manufacturers. Compare this to Apple whose retail store sells virtually every product that Apple makes.

    Third, conflicing business philosophies, strategies and cultures do not bode well for Microsoft. One of the reasons that mergers and acquisitions so often fail is because it impossible for the two companies to align their corporate values and culture. One of Microsoft’s greatest strengths was that they knew who they were and what they stood for. Who and what are they now?

    Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Microsoft’s dual strategies show a lack of focus, a lack of direction. They’re improvising.

    The purpose of a business model is to direct and guide one’s actions – to be able to foretell a possible future and to act in order to make it so. Multiple, conflicting business models accomplish just the opposite. They are not the embodiment of a strategy, they are the abandonment of strategy.


    I’ve spent an awful lot of this article talking about what can go wrong with Microsoft’s tablet business model. Now let me tell you what might go terriblly right. Microsoft might succeed with tablets DESPITE the flaws in their business model because there is no one standing in their way.

    Oh sure, Apple is the 900 pound gorilla in tablets. But they’re not going to acquire 95% market share the way Microsoft did with desktops. Amazon and Google’s business models seem directed at content, not apps. Their subsidized, ad supported models have inherent limitations and are not going to appeal to government, business or education entities. If you want a tablet for serious computing, and you want an alternative to Apple, Microsoft might be your go to guy.

    If you want to know whether Microsoft’s tablet strategy will or will not succeed, forget everything else and focus on developers. If developers start to make significant money, if developers start to develop apps for Windows 8 first or even second, if the Windows store starts to fill up with high quality apps that are equal or superior to those of their rivals – then Windows 8 is going to do just fine.

    Microsoft’s greatest fear should be that Windows 8 for tablets becomes another Windows Phone 7 – a platform with high quality hardware, excellent software, few developers and even fewer users.


    We’ve now looked at the Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung and Microsoft tablet business models. Tomorrow, we wrap up the series by seeing what the various business models can tell us about the future of tablet computing.

    HP’s Future: Apple, IBM–or Dell?


    HP logoOn Oct. 3, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman will give analysts her strategy for restoring the battered tech giant. A close look at the company’s financials and its business suggests that it has the strengths to stay around for a long time. But years of boardroom drama have taken a heavy toll that make it difficult  for the company to return to industry leadership.

    How does HP make its money? As the table below shows, more than half its revenues come from personal systems, primarily Windows desktops and laptops for consumers and businesses, and from imaging and printing, a line of business ranging from $50 inkjets to Indigo presses for commercial printing. Services, largely enterprise systems integration and outsourcing, contribute about 28%, and enterprise servers, storage, networking, and software most of the rest. The problem is simple: The companies HP wants to be most like are Apple on the consumer side and IBM for enterprise. But the company is that the company it currently most resembles is Dell.

     HP 2011 Performance by Sector

    Net revenue Share of sales Earnings from operations Net margin Share of earnings
    Personal Systems 39,574 30.4% 2,350 5.9% 15.1%
    Services 35,954 27.6% 5,149 14.3% 33.1%
    Imaging & Printing 25,783 19.8% 3,973 15.4% 25.6%
    Enterprise Servers, Storage & Networking 22,241 17.1% 3,026 13.6% 19.5%
    Software 3,217 2.5% 698 21.7% 4.5%
    Financial services 3,596 2.8% 348 9.7% 2.2%
      Total from operations 130,365 100.0% 15,544 11.9% 100.0%

    A SWOT analysis–strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats–is useful for assessing HP’s prospects.

    Strengths: For all its recent problems, HP has the most important thing for a company in need of reinvention–a solid financial base. It remains nicely, if not spectacularly, profitable and has strong cash flow. It is the dominant player in its two largest sectors, PCs and printing. It has mastered supply-chain and channel management, It competes on a global scale and enjoys strong worldwide brand recognition.

    Weaknesses: Unfortunately for HP, this is a much longer list. The overarching problem is a consequence of endless boardroom turmoil. Mark Hurd replaced a flailing Carly Fiorina. He dramatically improved execution, but at the expense of ruthless cost-cutting that trimmed muscle as well as fat. Hurd’s dramatic ouster was followed by the brief, disastrous tenure of Léo Apotheker. When Whitman was appointed, she took command of a disoriented and badly demoralized company, knocked between post and pillar by ever-changing top-level strategies. Given that, it’s a wonder that HP isn’t in worse shape than it is.

    Personal systems is #1 in many of its markets. According to Gartner, HP has been tops in worldwide unit PC volume for five straight years. It beat back a surging Acer, though it is now threatened by a rising Lenovo. The problem is that these are largely commodity markets in which HP’s products offer little differentiation and not a lot of profit. And the question facing the traditional PC business is not whether it will decline, but how quickly.

    C0mpaq iPAQ (Wikipedia)The action is moving to phones and tablets, and HP is not yet a player in either market. HP was a leader in handheld devices in the pre-smartphone era. The Microsoft PocketPC-powered iPAQ, acquired when HP bought Compaq in 2001, was the most successful challenger to Palm in the PDA market. But unlike other PDAs, the iPAQ failed to evolve into a phone and HP was left behind.

    HP’s 2010 purchase of Palm was supposed to solve two fundamental PSG problems: Its weakness in mobile and its total dependence on Microsoft for critical software. It was a bold plan, and PSG chief Todd Bradley talked bravely of a version of webOS that would run on Windows PCs to give a unified experience across PCs, phones, and tablets. Unfortunately,  Apotheker wanted to dump PSG, not invest in it. The webOS operation was tossed in a cell, starved, and ultimately taken out and shot, leaving HP without a dog in the increasingly important mobile fight.

    HP’s enterprise businesses–hardware, services, software, and financing–contribute about half of sales and about 60% of profits, but they are hardly industry stars. This years, HP took an $8 billion writedown of its 2008 acquisition of EDS and its 2011 purchase of Autonomy enterprise analytics software–at an $11 billion price that many analysts considered too high–has yet to pay dividends. HP continues to be a pale challenger to industry leader IBM in nearly all enterprise categories and the jury is still out on its challenge to Cisco’s dominance of enterprise routing,

    Threats. The failure of the webOS strategy left HP more beholden to Microsoft than ever. HP have a reasonably attractive line of products including Ultrabooks, hybrid tablets with keyboard docks, and straight tablets ready for the Windows 8 launch. For the time being, HP has decided to forgo entering the Windows RT (ARM-based) tablet market infov of Intel-powered Windows 8.

    One challenge is that the introduction of the Surface tablets, Microsoft is also becoming a competitor. For HP to get into the mobile game, it needs Windows 8 to make it big, but without Surface becoming the iPad of Windows products. This could end up being a very narrow path.

    HP also has to complete its portfolio with a smartphone line. Having blown the webOS opportunity, HP’s only real choices are Windows Phone 8 and Android, and HP’s general Windows-centricity argues for WP8. But once again, that would leave HP at the mercy of Microsoft’s success, and competing as a new entrant against HTC and Nokia, the latter having bet the company on Windows Phone.

    The printer business continues to be a cash cow for HP, with sales of high-margin ink and toner providing reliable annuity income streams for some years to come.  It’s also true, however, that printing is in a long term secular decline that is likely to accelerate as tablets replace printed documents. This will cut into HP’s sales of generally low-margin printers and hihgly profitable consumables.

    HP’s enterprise service business is big and reasonably profitable, but it is concentrated in the relatively low end of the business, such as operations outsourcing, rather than the high-end integration dominated by companies such as IBM and Accenture. HP has to find a way to push its way up the food chain.

    Opportunities.  The data center switching and routing market is ripe for disruption. HP is pushing its OpenFlow technology hard as a software-based alternative to specialized, dedicated hardware (read Cisco.) HP is right about the direction of technology, but Cisco has read the same tea leaves and has shown itself to be a nimble competitor.

    Autonomy was a big play to get into the fast growing but fragmented enterprise analytics market. The high price will limited the return on investment in purely financial terms, but if HP makes it work, it could make the company a much more significant enterprise software player.

    HP’s culture—the vaunted “HP Way” created by Dave Packard and Bill Hewitt–has taken horrible blows in recent years. HP Labs, once second only to IBM Research in the industry, has been hollowed out by savage budget cuts and staff reductions. But HP is still an engineering company at heart and retains a great deal of talent waiting to be used effectively. That–not spending cuts, better marketing–is the only real route to HP’s long-term success,




    With Apps, Size Matters

    Ben Bajarin has written an important article entitled: “Windows 8 Tablet Fragmentation and the App Dilemma“. I highly encourage you to follow the link and read. it.

    His main thesis is so important that I’m re-stating it here in the hope that it will draw even more attention to his article and even more attention to this vital issue.

    “(Apps) are specifically designed for the current … screen size. (E)verything is placed where it is for a reason.” ~ Ben Bajarin

    There is a FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE between an app designed for a smaller (3.5 to 7 inch) screen and an app designed for a 9.7 inch or larger tablet. The pundits don’t get this. Google doesn’t get this. Amazon may not get this. And Microsoft may be ignoring this fundamental truth because they simply have to. Let me explain.

    The Pundits Don’t Get It

    “And this size (7 inches) is useless unless you include sandpaper so users can sand their fingers down to a quarter of their size.” ~ Steve Jobs

    This Steve Jobs quote baffles many tech observers. There are literally hundreds of thousands of useful apps availabe for our phones and our phones are much smaller than a 7 inch tablet. Why then would Steve Jobs say that apps on a 7 inch tablet are useless when apps on the much smaller phone are perfectly usable?

    Steve Jobs wasn’t talking about EXPANDING 3.5 inch phone applications up to fit on a 7 inch screen. He was talking about SHRINKING 9.7 inch tablet applications down to fit on a 7 inch screen.

    You can blow up a phone app and make it run adequately on a 7 inch screen but if you take an iPad app running on a 9.7 inch screen and shrink it down to run on a 7 inch screen (which is only 45% the area of a 9.7 inch screen) it will be virtually unusable. As Steve Jobs said, you would need to sandpaper your fingers down in order to make them thin enough to interact with the app’s interface.

    Google Doesn’t Get It

    “Nonsense,” the critics cry. “Phone apps work perfectly well on tablets. Even Google’s Andy Rubin says so.”

    It’s true that he does say that. When the Nexus 7 was introduced, Andy Rubin made a point of saying that he was sticking with Google’s strategy of encouraging developers to write a single app for both phones and tablets. This same philosophy was reflected in one of his earlier quotes on the subject:

    “I don’t think there should be apps specific to a tablet…if someone makes an ICS app it’s going to run on phones and it’s going to run on tablets.” ~ Andy Rubin

    And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the exact reason why Android’s 10 inch tablet strategy lies in tatters and its partners tablet sales lie moribund. Google doesn’t get it.

    Optimized apps matter.

    iPad Developers Get It

    There are 700,000 apps in the iOS App Store. 250,000 of them – one quarter of a million – are specifically tailored to run on the iPad.

    Developers don’t develop tablet apps for their health and consumers don’t buy tablet apps for no reason. Some phone apps run adequately when blown up to fit on the iPad’s increased screen real estate. However, most phone apps are less than optimal. Some are virtually unusable.

    If you want an optimal phone or tablet experience, you have to tailor the app to the device’s specific screen size.

    Where Does This Leave Android?

    Until Google changes its philosophy on tablet apps, its tablets will merely run oversized phone apps and they will never have any success with the larger screen sizes and they will never seriously compete with any platform that has tablet optimized apps.

    Where Does This Leave Amazon?

    Amazon just introduced larger sized tablets. As smart as Jeff Bezos is, I think that he’s about to find out that there is a huge difference between a 7 inch tablet that can run stretched out phone apps and a larger tablet that demands apps optimized for the increased screen size(s). Without knowing a thing about the new, larger, Kindle Fire devices, I will predict that the larger form sizes will fall flat because they don’t add much in the way of content viewing over that of a 7 inch tablet and their lack of apps devoted to their form factor means that apps won’t add much to their value either.

    Where Does This Leave Microsoft?

    “In essence (developers) are not simply shrinking or expanding their apps to work on smaller or larger screens, they are in essence creating new app experiences for those screen sizes.


    Windows 8 touch based hardware will be so fragmented in screen size that we will see touch based Windows 8 hardware ranging from 10” all the way up to 27. If developers feel the need to optimize their software for a screen that is anywhere from a half-inch and even a 2” difference, what will they do when they have 4, 5, or 6 different screen sizes to target in the Windows 8 touch hardware ecosystem?” ~ Ben Bajarin

    Do you want to know the future of Microsoft’s tablet efforts? Then ask yourself: “How many apps are optimized for each of the various Windows RT and Windows 8 tablet form factors? If the answer is “a few” or “not many”, then that form factor is going to struggle.

    And while Windows 8 tablets run both Metro and desktop apps, what is the point of owning a tablet if the tablet apps are missing in action and it only ends up only serving as a lessor substitute for a notebook? You’d be better off buying a notebook instead.


    Apple’s iOS has 250,000 9.7 inch optimized apps.

    — How many apps are optimized for the various Android large screen tablets?
    — How many apps are optimized for the large screen Amazon Kindle Fire tablets?
    — How many apps are optimized for the various Windows RT and 8 large screen tablets?

    Do you want to know the future of tablets? One of the keys is optimized apps. If you don’t got ’em, you don’t got no future.

    Read Ben’s article and enjoy. Understanding his article is essential if you want to fathom the future of tablets.

    Windows 8 Tablet Fragmentation and the App Dilemma

    I was having a discussion with an iPad software developer recently and we were discussing the iPad mini. Interestingly he was still a skeptic about the iPad mini and I thought his reason was interesting. He noted that the apps they develop, and primarily the user interface, are specifically designed for the current iPad screen size. He said that everything is placed where it is for a reason.

    His skepticism about the iPad mini was based on his conclusion that if a 7-8 inch iPad was to come out his current app would not work. His point was that 2 or so inches may not seem like a big difference but for many apps that have menu’s and touch based navigation interfaces, 2 inches is a lot of screen real estate to loose. Basically he had concluded that for many applications developers would target each tablet screen size independently.

    His points got me thinking. First of all I agree with him. If we have learned anything about Apple’s developers is that they are willing to take the time to make sure their app experience is ideal no matter what the screen size. The iPhone 5’s larger screen and app developers already starting to take advantage and optimize their apps for the new 4” screen. Interestingly Apple, during this transition, is faced with having apps with two different looks and feel in their app store for both 3.5” and 4” iPhones. So as developers look to tweak their UI for the iPhone 5 which app UI will we see in the app store? Apple is solving this elegantly but only showing consumers the new app UI for 4” apps only if they have an iPhone 5. That way consumers who don’t have the iPhone 5 will still see app preview screenshots of the 3.5” UI.

    Now with all of that in mind let’s turn our thoughts toward Windows 8. In all the above examples I mentioned we were talking about screen size differences ranging from .5 to 2 inches of difference. And within that extremely small range we should expect to see developers uniquely tweak their app experience and UI. In essence they are not simply shrinking or expanding their apps to work on smaller or larger screens, they are in essence creating new app experiences for those screen sizes. Windows 8 touch based hardware will be so fragmented in screen size that we will see touch based Windows 8 hardware ranging from 10” all the way up to 27.” If developers feel the need to optimize their software for a screen that is anywhere from a half-inch and even a 2” difference, what will they do when they have 4, 5, or 6 different screen sizes to target in the Windows 8 touch hardware ecosystem? And more importantly will they feel that their energy and resources will be worth the investment and hard work?

    Microsoft needs developers to be writing touch based applications but my concern with the touch based hardware fragmentation is that it will may cause them to target only specific screen sizes and not others. This would mean that the touch based software experience will be better on some Windows 8 hardware but not others. I can tell you right now that an application that is built for 10” Windows 8 hardware is not going to be a pleasant experience on a 27” all-in-one running Windows 8 with a touch screen.

    Some categories, like games for example, may work fine within this fragmentation. However, it would seem logical that even developers of many of the popular games may want to make tweaks for larger vs. smaller screens that may run their apps.

    The bottom line is that I expect developers who are looking to sell software to the masses to want their software to be the ideal experience on any screen size. To do that they will inevitably need to write software and create user interfaces that are specifically made for certain screen sizes. This is where I feel developers may feel the need to pause and truly evaluate the effort they put into Windows 8 touch based software.

    You can make the point that the screen size fragmentation I mention has existed for decades in the Windows ecosystem. This is true but I fundamentally believe that when it comes to mouse and keyboard software and UI this fragmentation is not an issue. Because of the unique way touch based software UIs are made, I believe fragmentation becomes an issue when it comes to touch computing in a way it never was with mouse and keyboard computing.

    I believe touch computing is the future, and so does Microsoft with the emphasis they are putting on touch. Microsoft’s challenge over the next twelve months is to convince developers who also believe in touch based computing that their platform is the one worth investing in.

    Windows 8 Tablets and Email: A Disaster in the Making

    Win 8 mail app screenshotI’m skeptical about Windows 8 as a desktop operating system, but I think it has a lot of potential on tablets. To win a good chunk of the market, however, Microsoft and its OEM partners have to convince buyers, both consumers and enterprises, that Windows serves their needs better than the competition, particularly the iPad. As the Oct. 26 launch of Windows nears, this venture is in danger of foundering on the shoals of email.

    I’ve written before about the awfulness of Windows 8’s built-in mail Metro-styles program. The more I use the version built into the finished version of Windows 8, the less I like it. Though it has a very clean touch-centric design, its lack of features long considered essential in any email client makes it a great leap backward. First and foremost, while you can have multiple accounts with support for Exchange, Yahoo, Gmail, and IMAP. there is no way to combine accounts into a unified inbox. There’s no message threading. You can’t flag messages or create smart  inboxes. It feels like a throwback to the bad old days of AOL mail.

    The Mail app has gotten marginally better through the Windows 8 beta process, but Microsoft isn’t promising that it will improve much any time soon. My inquiries yielded a bland and noncommittal statement: “The first-party Microsoft apps built for Windows 8, including Mail, will continue to receive updates and feature changes over time via the Windows Store.”

    This is an enormous challenge for ARM-based tablets running on Windows RT. because as of now, Metro Mail (sorry, I’m going to call it Metro until Microsoft gives us a real alternative) is the only mail client available for RT. Outlook 2013 has the same architecture and essentially the same user interface as Outlook 2010, and its computational, memory, and storage demands always made it unlikely as a component of Office on RT. Microsoft made this official in a somewhat backhanded reference in an Office Next blog post, that said that the Mail app does not support “certain [Office application] email sending features, since Windows RT does not support Outlook or other desktop mail applications (opening a mail app, such as the mail app that comes with Windows RT devices, and inserting your Office content works fine).”

    Unless some third party comes up with a more capable Metro mail client soon, I think RT tablets will effectively be disqualified for enterprise use. Yes, the Metro Mail app is an Exchange client, but it’s a wretched one, far worse than iPad Mail. Enterprise users may have to rely on Outlook Web Access (OWA) for a decent Exchange experience–but the current version requires an active network connection to do anything. Exchange Server 2013 will add offline access capabilities to OWA, but it is likely to be at least a couple of years before this versions is widely deployed by enterprise IT. The fact that Microsoft, which owns the back-end mail systems of the corporate and institutional world with Exchange, has failed to offer a first-rate mail client for a tablet it considers a key to the future is just baffling.

    Things are somewhat better for Intel-powered Windows 8 tablets, because they do not have to depend exclusively on the availability of Metro-style apps. Outlook 2013  is only sort-of touch optimized. The cleaner ribbor with larger icons and menu items in touch mode will work a bit better on tablets, but the program is still heavily dependent on cascading menus, which do not work at all well with touch.

    Still, it’s good to at least have access to Microsoft’s premier mail and collaboration application. In the enterprise world, Outlook is the program everyone hates and that everyone depends on to get through the day. The lack of a tablet-ready version of Outlook promises to be a huge impediment to the enterprise adoption of Windows tablets and could be a crushing blow to Windows RT.



    8 Questions For Windows 8

    “Make no mistake about it, this is the year for Windows,” ~ Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer

    Microsoft CEO, Steve Balmer, has declared this “The Year For Windows”. Is he right? Or is that just wishful thinking on his part? Let’s ask ourselves a couple of pertinent questions and see if we can suss this out.

    Question #1: Is The Nokia Hardware Special Enough To Kickstart Windows 8?

    First, some analysts don’t seem to think so:

    “Microsoft still needs to jump start their mobile business,” UBS analyst Brent Thill told MarketWatch. “I’m not sure Nokia is their battery.”

    Second, the markets don’t seem to think so either as Nokia’s shares slumped after the announcement of the Lumia 920.

    Third, in the short term, the Nokia Lumia 920 is a non-entity. With no price, no ship date and no working models, it’s more vaporware than savior.

    Fourth, and most importantly, when it comes to platforms, hardware – even if it’s the best hardware – is not going to be the deciding factor. Remember Betamax v. VHS? Remember the Mac v. the PC? Having the best hardware is a good thing but it’s far from being the DECISIVE thing.

    When it comes to computing platforms, developers – not hardware – is where the value is. Hardware is important. Developers are crucial. The Nokia hardware – vaporware though it is – holds great promise. But it’s just an empty promise without Windows 8 platform developers.

    Asking Nokia hardware – no matter how good it may be – to save a platform is like asking a swimmer to save a sinking ship. It’s not going to happen.

    Nokia’s hardware can’t save Windows 8. It’s the other way around. Windows 8 has to be a success for Nokia’s phones to even stand a chance.

    Question #2: Will the “Re-imagined” Microsoft Windows Help Sales Of The Windows Operating System?

    “We have re-imagined Windows from the ground up.” ~ Steve Ballmer

    It’s true enough that Microsoft has re-imagined Windows from the ground up. But is that a good thing? There are, in my opinion, at least three issues with the “re-imagined” Windows 8.

    First, Windows 8 is a wholly unfamiliar user interface and people hate the unfamiliar. This may well slow adoption. Ultimately, I think this understandable reluctance on the part of the consumer can be overcome. Windows 8 may be an acquired taste but, in time, people will get used to it and their initial reluctance to try the operating system will fade and be forgotten.

    Second, while Windows 8 for the phone and for Windows RT appear to be wholly consistent user interfaces, Windows 8 for the Intel tablet, notebook and desktop subject their users to two completely different computing experiences.

    Advocates of Windows 8 say that this is the best of both worlds. Microsoft argues that “Windows 8 brings together all the power and flexibility you have in your PC today with the ability to immerse yourself in a Metro style experience.”

    Critics, however, say that it is not the best of both worlds but an unfortunate collision of two worlds – a disconnected, disjointed and disconcerting experience – a Jekyll and Hyde existence – a computing environment that subjects it’s user to a brain tax at every switch between the desktop and the tablet metaphors.

    Who is right? And will this matter in the long run? Today’s partisan rhetoric is so heated that it is almost impossible to tell what is subjective and what is objective. We’ll just have to wait and allow the more casual users to give us the final verdict on this question in their own time.

    Third, I think that Microsoft is “re-imagining” Windows for the wrong reasons. Microsoft is not really “re-imagining” Windows so much as they’re hoping to “re-educate” their existing Windows user base. Their goal isn’t to create the best user experience, optimized to the form factor they are using. Far from it.

    Microsoft’s goal is to familiarize their desktop users with the “formerly-known-as-Metro” user interface, in the hope that familiarity will breed adoption of their Windows phone, Windows RT and Windows Tablet offerings. This explains why the Windows desktop operating system incorporates so many unnecessary and counter-productive tablet elements.

    The “re-imagined” Windows isn’t about what the end user needs, it’s about what Microsoft needs. The end user needs a great user experience. Microsoft needs to have Windows 8 running on every form factor. When the two come into conflict, Microsoft has sacrificed the former in the hopes of achieving the latter.

    Achieving a great user experience is hard enough when you’re really, really trying. It’s nigh on impossible to achieve when it is not your primary objective.

    Question #3: Will Moving Windows Phone 8 To the Windows Kernel Give Microsoft An Advantage?

    Moving Windows 8 Phone to run on the Windows 8 kernel will most certainly make it easier for developers to port their apps between Windows smartphones, tablets and desktops. However, Apple has been running both iOS and OS X on the same kernel since 2008. Android doesn’t even have a divided operating system to begin with.

    Moving Windows 8 phone to the Windows 8 kernel is a good move – heck, it’s a great move. But it hardly gives Windows an advantage. It’s more a case of Microsoft finally catching up…after being a full four years behind.

    Question #4: Will Microsoft’s Unified Platform Give Them An Edge Over The Competition?

    “Perhaps more importantly than anything else, we bring a developer platform and a store that’s common to both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8,” ~ Steve Ballmer

    Is Steve Ballmer seriously calling Windows 8 a “common” developer platform?

    Windows 8 has a common name. And it has a common initial appearance. But the operation of Windows Phone 8, Windows RT and Windows 8 for tablets, notebooks and desktops is not at all the same. And the code base is not at all the same. And the applications are not at all the same.

    Windows 8 is, in fact, three wholly separate, three wholly incompatible, operating systems. And just because Steve Ballmer insist’s on CALLING the three different operating systems by the same name doesn’t make them a “common” platform. Not by a long shot.

    Microsoft is pursuing a strategy of taking three wholly different platforms, giving them similar names and similar initial user interfaces and hoping against hope that consumers won’t notice and will consider them to be one and the same thing. This may work in the short run but in the long run it’s bound to create consumer confusion and frustration as users discover that the Apps they have purchased to run on one “Windows” platform won’t run on other “Windows” platforms.

    Developers – God bless ’em – won’t be fooled at all. They’ll well know that they have to develop three different versions of the same program no matter how closely the three platforms are named or how closely the three platforms resemble one another in appearance.

    Is Windows 8 a “common” developer platform? Not hardly.

    Question #5: Will Developers Flock To Windows 8?

    “Those devices running Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, I’m quite sure, represent the biggest single opportunity available for software developers today. Four hundred million per year is unrivaled. I’ll bet you that the next app developer to hit it really, really big will be a developer on Windows.” ~ Steve Ballmer

    Steve Ballmer is betting that the next app developer to hit it really, really, big will be on Windows. I’m betting that he’s really, really wrong.

    Why? When was the last time you heard of something “hot” being developed for Windows? The platform is stagnant and all the action is taking place in mobile.

    “That means Lumia … that means Surface … devices introduced in Berlin last week … those devices I’m quite sure represent the largest single opportunity for developers today,” ~ Steve Ballmer

    Yeah, only here’s the thing. The developer developing for the Lumia; the developer developing for the Surface, the developer developing for the Windows 8 desktop; that developer will be creating THREE, not one, programs running on THREE separate, look-alike platforms.

    Developers don’t care what a platform is called or what it looks like. They have to write the actual code and they will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are writing for three platforms, not one supposedly monolithic platform.

    Question #6: Will there be 400 million new devices running the Windows Operating System one year from now?

    “One year from now, between Windows phones, Windows tablets and Windows PCs, we’ll see close to … 400 million new devices running those new operating systems.” ~ Steve Ballmer

    400 million is one very big number and a nice benchmark by which to measure Windows’ progress. But given the size of the existing Windows PC base, 400 million is certainly doable.

    400 million Windows devices sold would be nice – in fact, it would be far more than nice. It would be extremely lucrative for Microsoft. However, if a goodly percentage of those Windows users are not on Windows 8 phones, Windows RT tablets and Windows 8 tablets, then Microsoft will have utterly failed in its Windows 8 mission. Sales of Windows 8 on the desktop will be a short-term financial windfall but a long-term financial disaster for Microsoft. Here’s why.

    Fools, knaves and naysayers may not understand the importance of computing’s shift to tablets, but you can be very sure that Microsoft does.

    Microsoft desperately needs to migrate their operating system from desktop devices to mobile devices. Microsoft controls the desktop (including notebook) market, but the desktop market has peaked and is starting to decline. All the action, all the growth, all the money is in mobile devices (phones and tablets). In mobile, Windows is nowhere to be found. Even if Windows 8 is an overwhelming success on the desktop, if it is also an underwhelming failure on phones and tablets, then it is a failure for Microsoft, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

    Microsoft NEEDS to move to mobile. They need it very badly and they need it right now. We’ll see if Microsoft has 400 million copies of Windows 8 in play by this time next year. But more importantly – MUCH more importantly – we’ll see WHERE those operating systems are located. If Microsoft hasn’t made significant penetration into the phone and tablet space by this time next year (or has rapidly accelerating sales in those areas), then it’s all over but the shouting. Their OS will be trapped on an every shrinking desktop base and Windows will be locked out of the future of personal computing.

    Question #7: Can Microsoft Overcome Their Very Late Start?

    Windows (smartphone market share) — 5.4 million units, 3.5 percent share (2.3 percent a year earlier) ~ via

    Right now, Microsoft’s Windows 7 for phones is the third horse in a two-horse race. And Microsoft hasn’t even started the race in mobile tablets yet. Windows Phone 7 has excellent hardware but that has not been enough to garner market share. Microsoft believes that they have the better mobile phone operating system but their operating paradigm hasn’t been embraced by mobile phone buyers. Microsoft has an excellent overall mobile phone platform but they can’t seem to attract developers. Despite their very deep pockets and their extensive connections, Microsoft can’t seem to get any traction in the mobile markets at all.

    In perhaps the irony of all ironies, Windows 8 now finds itself playing the roll that the Mac played vis a vis Windows in the eighties and ninties. Windows 8 for mobile, like the Mac, is the (subjectively) better platform that no one will buy.

    Frankly, Microsoft has no one to blame for this but themselves. The iPhone was introduced in 2007 but Microsoft’s second attempt at re-booting their mobile phone operating system won’t be operable until October of 2012. Apple introduced the iPad in 2010 but Microsoft won’t be introducing Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets until the fall of 2012.

    This has often been Microsoft’s pattern. They start so very far behind and think that they can catch up simply by being “better” than the rest. It didn’t work with the Zune. It didn’t work with Windows Phone 7. And it’s unlikely to work with Windows 8 either.

    The “best” runner may always win the race but only if he starts the race at the same time as all the other contestants. What good does it do Microsoft to be the “best” runner in a race if they’re starting a full two and a half years behind the pack?

    The only way to win a race like that is to stop chasing the leaders and start a new race. That’s what Apple did with the iPhone. There was no way that Apple was going to catch up to Palm, RIM, Nokia and Windows Mobile in Smartphones. So they started a new race in pocket computers instead.

    Starting a new race is what Apple did with the iPad too. There was no way that the Mac – considered by many to be the “best” personal computer – was ever going to catch up to PC’s powered by Windows. Apple stopped chasing Windows PCs and they started a new race in touch tablets.

    Microsoft needs to stop joining races that are already in progress and start running their own race.

    Question #8: Will This Be The Year Of Windows?

    “Make no mistake about it, this is the year for Windows,” ~ Steve Ballmer

    So is Steve Ballmer right or is he wrong? Will this be the Year of Windows? Or will this be the year that we discover that Windows is likely to ever remain the third of three in mobile computing? Let me put it this way.

    Microsoft Windows has had a great fall. Not the hardware, nor the software, nor the kernel, nor the platform, nor the developers, nor 400 million desktop sales, nor all the kings horses and all the king’s men are going to put this operating system on the throne again.

    Let’s meet back here in a year from now and see what time hath wrought. It should be fascinating.

    Without Metro Apps, Innovative Touch-based Windows 8 Consumer Hardware is Meaningless

    Last week at IFA in Berlin, Germany, HP, Dell, Samsung, and Sony announced some very unique hardware designs for Windows 8.  They included touch notebooks, convertibles, sliders, flippers, hybrids, and tablets that can take advantage of Microsoft’s Metro touch-based UI. The hardware was very impressive and it was obvious that a lot of thought and effort went into the design.  Will these be successful?  It’s impossible to say at this point because two huge questions have yet to be answered: device price and the number of high quality Metro applications.  Device prices will be announced by Windows 8 launch on October 26, but I want to dive into the applications question.  Without many high-quality Metro-based application details on the horizon, it’s hard to get excited about the hardware.

    Let’s first look at the diversity of products.

    Touch-based Hardware for Windows 8

    There were many innovative devices launched at IFA to take advantage of Windows 8 touch for the Metro environment.  Here are a few that appeared innovative:

    • HP SpectreXT TouchSmart– Premium 15.6″ HD touch display Ultrabook with Intel Thunderbolt technology.
    • HP ENVY x2– Ultrathin notebook whose 11.6″ HD display can be removed and used as a tablet.
    • Dell XPS Duo12– Premium Ultrabook  with 12″ touch whose screen flips around to be used as a tablet while in Metro-mode.  The design includes use of machined aluminum, carbon fiber, and Gorilla Glass.
    • Dell XPS One 27–  Premium All In One with a 10-point touch enabled, Quad HD (2560×1440) 27″ display.  The all in one will lay flat as well, enabling multiple users to use it at the same time.
    • Sony VAIO Duo 11– Slider with an 11″ display that operates as a notebook and a tablet when the HD display is slid onto the keyboard.
    • Samsung ATIV Tab– Windows RT tablet with 10″ touch display.  It’s thin at 8.9 mm and light at 570 grams

    As you can see, the diversity of Windows 8-based touch devices was very wide, which, given a wide variety of high quality apps, would usually mean that something would stick.  The problem is, few really know the true state of Metro-based touch apps, including most PC and chip makers.

    Ecosystem Losing Confidence in Metro Application Delivery Timing

    Nearly ten months ago, Microsoft held its BUILD conference for Windows 8 software and hardware ecosystem partners.  Microsoft also launched their development platform for Windows 8, called Visual Studio 11.  Every attendee went home with a robust Samsung developer tablet and keyboard with Visual Studio Express Beta, intended to spur development of Metro-based applications.  As of April 2012, six months later, 99 applications were available.  As I outlined here, this was way behind where Apple was but far ahead of where Android was.

    So where does that leave the state of Metro apps?  Microsoft is now seven weeks away from launch and virtually no one has much of a sense for how many compelling Metro apps will be available at launch.  Here were some key milestones that Microsoft has anounced:

    • April 18, announces developer submission locales from 5 to 38 markets, but limited to select partners; app catalog at 21 markets
    • May 31, “hundreds of preview apps in the catalog-including the first desktop app listings”; app catalog increases to 25 markets; Share contract added
    • July 20, Microsoft outlines how to monetize and get paid for apps
    • August 1, RTM Windows store opens; “qualifying businesses can submit apps”; 54 new markets and 24 app languages added

    As of today with my version of Windoes RTM, I can only see 844 Desktop + Metro apps in the Windows 8 store.  I do not see most of my favorite apps, including Facebook, Path, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Netflix, Hulu+, Amazon Video, HBO Go, ESPN Video, Time Warner Video, CNN, Flipboard, Pulse, Nike Running, MyFitnessPal, Pandora, Flixter, or E*trade.  I am concerned and many ecosystem executives are telling me that they are very concerned with the state of Metro-based applications.  Should we really care about how many Metro applications will be available at launch given Windows 8 is a five year investment?

    Why Should We Care About Apps at Launch?

    Having microscopically observed and participated in the launch of the Motorola XOOM, HP TouchPad and the BlackBerry PlayBook, there were some common threads that led to their failed launches and quick retreat.  These issues included:

    1. Incomplete hardware: hardware features did not work or were not available, including SD cards, and LTE support.
    2. Incomplete paid content: lack of support for paid movies, music, games and books.
    3. Sluggish and buggy: experience was slower than expected and/or included many bugs
    4. Lack of high quality apps: few applications were available that consumers recognized or were compelling.  In some cases, basic apps were missing like calendar, mail and contacts.
    5. Priced at iPad: tablets even with issues above were priced on top of the iPad, an already known and successful product with a great consumer brand

    Many of these issues were addressed shortly after launch, but it didn’t make a difference.  The damage was done and in most cases, irreparable.  What developer wants to write apps for an ecosystem or platform that just got slaughtered by the press, analysts and consumers?

    What about post-launch? Some issues still exist even for 10″ Android tablets.  Android 10″ tablets have come a long way with ICS, Jelly Bean and paid content, but still suffer from a lack of high quality apps, which still number in the 100’s.  Remember, part of the the success of the Google Nexus is that it leverages the Android phone applications, not those designed for tablets. And, let’s not forget it is priced at half of the iPad. I believe Windows 8 will launch with #1 complete hardware via PC makers, #2 paid content via XBOX Live, Netflix and Kindle and so far it looks that even #3 Windows RT will have acceptable performance.  As for #4 and #5, well no one know yet and if we can learn anything from Android tablets, a robust supply of touch-based applications are required for success, which eludes them almost 2 years later.

    I’ll say it again…… innovative consumer hardware for touch-based products is meaningless without thousands of high quality, compelling and popular apps.

    Windows RT Grows More Mysterious as Launch Nears

    Microsoft Surface
    Microsoft’s Surface Windows RT Tablet

    I expected we would be seeing more clarity on the distinctions between Windows 8 and its Windows RT sibling (for ARM processor devices) as the expected late October launch grows closer. But the picture seems to be growing murkier instead.

    I didn’t make it to the IFA show in Berlin where many Windows 8 and RT devices had their unveiling but read dozens of reports. I was particularly struck by this hands-on video from The Verge’s Tom Warren. When Microsoft first announced what was then called Windows on ARM in February, it said Windows RT would have very limited access to the traditional Windows Desktop:

    WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These new Office applications, codenamed “Office 15”, have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption, while also being fully-featured for consumers and providing complete document compatibility. WOA supports the Windows desktop experience including File Explorer, Internet Explorer 10 for the desktop, and most other intrinsic Windows desktop features—which have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption.

    It seems that the definition of “intrinsic Windows desktop features” is somewhat broader than most of us had expected. For example, Warren found versions of Notepad and Paint included.  Maybe RT will support all of the applications and utilities traditionally found in the \windows\system32 directory. (It would certainly be the most robust utility tool kit on an ARM tablet.)

    Isn’t all this extra stuff a good thing? Not really. For one thing, these apps are not optimized for touch and Warren’s video shows how awkward they are when the on-screen keyboard is covering half the display. (This was a chronic problem on Windows Tablet PCs going back a decade. The keyboard was never smart enough to stay out of the way of the programs it was interacting with.)

    The bigger problem is that this is going to be very confusing for consumers. If Windows 8 and Windows RT look alike and to a considerable extent act alike, how are consumers going to understand the difference? But the differences are large and important. Whatever classic desktop applications come on the RT versions, those are all you are going to get. Windows RT only allows installing of software downloaded through the Windows App Store. There will inevitably be a jailbreak that allows sideloading of apps, but even if you could load them, they won’t run: Code compiled for an x86 processor simply will not execute on an ARM system.

    Microsoft’s Windows 8 strategy was always courting massive consumer confusion and the prospects  are getting worse. Manufacturers are showing keyboard-equipped Windows RT devices that pretty much look like notebooks, At a minimum, Microsoft faces a large-scale consumer education problem.