Say Goodbye To Microsoft

In the beginning, Microsoft’s business model was simple. They made the Windows operating system and licensed it to manufacturers, who then put it on their various computing machines. In the mid-nineties, Windows gained critical mass with businesses which, in turn, led to the adoption of the Windows operating system by consumers. The PC OS Wars were not just won by Microsoft, they were decisively won by Microsoft. Every other company that made competing PC operating systems was annihilated, save Apple, which only held on by the skin of their teeth.

Microsoft’s original audacious vision was a computer on every desk. (Importantly, that vision later became corrupted and transformed into “Windows” on every desk.) By the turn of the century, Microsoft had, for all intents and purposes, accomplished their mission. Now what?

A company that feels it has reached its goal will quickly stagnate and lose its vitality. ~ Ingvar Kamprad

When Money Is Your Guide, You Are Lost

Steve Ballmer has often said his goal was to make money. And he did. But making money is the means, not the ends.

Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. ~ Ayn Rand

I’m a HUGE fan of companies making money. Money is the way one keeps score. But money is not the game. And the game’s the thing.

To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy. ~ Bette Davis

A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business. ~ Henry Ford

There are people around here who start companies just to make money, but the great companies, well, that’s not what they’re about. ~ Steve Jobs

Money is a great incentive, but when it becomes your main incentive, it attracts the wrong kind of people.

You cannot motivate the best people with money. Money is just a way to keep score. The best people in any field are motivated by passion. ~ Eric S. Raymond

If a company values profits more than its vision, it will first lose its vision and then, ironically, it will lose its profits too. Money is an excellent servant but it is a terrible master.

Microsoft’s Lost Decade

Microsoft desperately tried to get into phones, tablets, watches and TVs but they missed and they missed badly. This is where their subtle shift from “a computer running a Microsoft operating system on every desk” to “a computer running Windows on every desk” came back to haunt them.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. ~ John Viscount Morley

At Microsoft, Windows was the Sun and anyone who espoused anything else was a heretic that had to be hunted down and eliminated.

Rather than try to create an operating system right for the various emerging form factors, Microsoft insisted — over and over and over again — on trying to shoehorn Windows onto every form factor. The results were disastrous.

The Mobile Wars Were Over Before Microsoft Even Entered The Fray

iOS and Android won the mobile OS wars as decisively as Microsoft had won the PC OS wars.

First, iOS and Android got out to a huge lead long before Microsoft was able to respond with Windows Phone 7 (then 8) and Windows RT and Windows 8.

Second, Google undercut Microsoft’s licensing model by giving their Android OS away for free.

MicroChartMicrosoft – like World War II Japanese soldiers stranded on deserted islands – continued to pretend the war was ongoing while everyone else went about the business of post-war reconstruction. Not only had Microsoft lost the post-PC wars, but their insistence the world was still fighting the PC wars jeopardized their possibilities in the post-post-PC world, as well.

Microsoft’s Anti-Strategy

Strategy is about choices, about making the hard decisions and about focus. Microsoft’s response to iOS and Android might be described as an anti-strategy. They chose not to choose, they decided not to decide, they focused on everything (which is to say that they focused on nothing).

  1. Microsoft wanted to be Google so they created Bing
  2. Microsoft wanted to be Microsoft so they licensed their OS software
  3. Microsoft wanted to be a monopoly so they ported their desktop OS to tablets
  4. Microsoft wanted to be iOS so they created Windows Phone 7, then 8
  5. Microsoft wanted to be in tablets so the created Windows RT
  6. Microsoft wanted to be the iPad so they created the Surface
  7. Microsoft wanted to be Apple so they restructured their company along functional lines
  8. Microsoft wanted to be the iPhone so they bought Nokia

Be yourself. The world worships the original. ~ Ingrid Bergman

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire, not things we fear. ~ Brian Tracy

We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. ~ Tim Cook, Acting Apple CEO, January 2009 FQ1 2009 Earnings Call

Microsoft didn’t play to their strengths. Instead, they entered every game and tried to compete everywhere.

If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete. ~ Jack Welch

Microsoft didn’t want to narrow its options. Instead, they wanted to be everything to everybody. They didn’t want to be anything in particular so they produced nothing anybody particularly wanted.


CAPTION: The very epitome of a Microsoft product — chicken-flavored vegetable ham.


Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger. ~ Franklin P. Jones

The recipe that made Microsoft dominant is not the recipe that will make them relevant again. Say goodbye to Microsoft…


…the new Microsoft has arrived.

Next week, I’ll look at Microsoft’s new strategy and analyze its potential and its potential pitfalls. (SPOILER ALERT: So far, I like what I’m seeing.)

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Microsoft Surface is (French) Toast

The Apology

Please allow me to begin by apologizing for the saucy language you are about to encounter. There is simply no way for me to tell the following joke without cursing. I really don’t like cursing (although, I do so love using it for effect), so I’m going to employ a substitute for the curse word. I trust that the savvy and discerning Techpinions reader will be able to pierce the veil and see through my little euphemism. Enjoy!

The Joke

On a Saturday morning, three boys come down to the kitchen and sit around the breakfast table.

Their mother asks the oldest boy what he’d like to eat.

“I’ll have some firetruckin’ French toast,” he says. The mother is outraged at his crude language. She hits him and sends him upstairs.

When she calms down, she asks the middle child what he wants. “Well, I guess that leaves more firetruckin’ French toast for me,” he says. The mom is livid. She smacks him and sends him away.

Finally, she looks at the youngest son and asks him what he wants for breakfast.

“I don’t know,” he says meekly, “but I definitely don’t want the firetruckin’ French toast!”

Excerpt from: “Jokes Every Man Should Know

The Analogy

• The mother in the Joke represents the computer buying public.

• The first two boys represent any one of the several PC hardware manufacturers who made tablets running the Windows 8 software but who have since been booted from the market.

• The youngest boy represents Microsoft.

Microsoft – like the youngest boy in the Joke – has gotten the reaction of the public (the mother) all mixed up. The boy thinks that the mother is upset about the French Toast, not the cursing. Microsoft thinks that the public is upset about Windows 8. So Microsoft has been quick to swear off (see what I did there?) Windows 8 and move on to the brand, spanking, new Windows 8.1. That’s going to fix EVERYTHING!

Or not.

‘Cause the real problem – the problem that Microsoft doesn’t see or get – is with Microsoft’s accursed tablet philosophy. Microsoft thinks that what people REALLY want in a tablet is a PC. And Microsoft thinks that what people REALLY want in a PC is Windows. Thus and therefore, Microsoft thinks that what people REALLY want in a tablet is a PC that runs Windows – a hybrid, that does it all and is all things to all people.

Until Microsoft’s outlook (oh my, yet another obscure reference) changes – and I think it’s unlikely to change anytime too soon – Microsoft, like the youngest boy in the Joke, is going to keep on getting slapped around without a clue as to why it’s happening.

Paul Thurrott’s Analysis

Paul Thurrott, in his article entitled, “Can Surface be Saved?“, is seemingly critical of Microsoft’s tablet efforts but, in the end, he erroneously sides with Microsoft’s take on why Windows 8 tablets are failing in the marketplace.

The Surface Is The New Zune

The parallels with (Surface and) Zune are interesting. In both cases, Microsoft established a new (well, recycled in the case of Surface) brand for a new family of hardware products. In both cases, Microsoft adopted a coopetition model in which it sought to have it both ways by both supporting partner devices and then competing with them head-on with their own.

The fear at the time of the reveal event was that Microsoft would alienate these partners by making its own hardware. ~ Paul Thurrott

Microsoft’s move to “co-opetition” is quite interesting. When Microsoft announced the Surface, the pundits seemed to fall into one of two groups. The theorists suggested that by making their own hardware, Microsoft would harm their relationship with their hardware partners. On the other hand, realists looked at the market and concluded: “Harm their relationship? Nonsense. Where are the hardware manufacturer’s going to go?”

In a way, the theorists and the realists were both right. If the Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet program is the sinking Titanic, Microsoft’s PC manufacturers are the lifeboats and those lifeboats aren’t so much paddling toward anything as they are simply madly paddling to get AWAY from the sinking ship that is the Surface. ((Paul Thurrott: First, of the few PC and hardware makers that voiced support for Windows RT last year and the subset of those that actually shipped devices, virtually all have completely and publicly backed away from the platform. Indeed, the most successful Windows RT device, by all measures, is Surface RT. And that device required a nearly $1 billion write-off because of poor sales.
Second, more and more PC makers are turning to free Google platforms. Not just Chrome OS, which is a super-cheap/low-risk bet, but also now Android.))

Redefining “Superior”

Killing off Surface would just deprive customers of some of the only truly superior PC hardware out there.

And these devices really are superior. We can debate specifics around battery life, the keyboard choices, the number of ports, the non-adjustable kickstand, or whatever. But these are beautiful and well made products. ~ Paul Thurrott

Okey dokey then. Let’s take a step back for a second and examine that bit of analysis. I have no argument at all with the hardware quality of the Surface. Beautiful and well-made? Yes. But nothing is truly “superior”unless it serves its intended purpose.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. ~ Peter Drucker

The “Pro” Tablet

I previously described (the Surface) as what a “Pro” line of iPads might look like if Apple were to make such a thing. ~ Paul Thurrott

This is where Paul’s analysis and Microsoft’s tablet philosophy go right off the rails. They both think that what the world wants – that what the world needs – is a “Pro” line of tablets.

…I still believe that this kind of hybrid device—one that combines work and play thematically and tablet and laptop physically—is the future of the PC. Not just the Ultrabook, but the PC. The ability to use and travel with just a single device that does it all is still a dream today. ~ Paul Thurrott

Yeah, not so very much.

I can see the appeal of Paul and Microsoft’s “dream”. But – as Microsoft has demonstrated – merging a tablet with a PC is not a “dream”, it’s a nightmare.

Not One Hybrid, But Multiple Screens

Ironically, Bill Gates predicted the future of computing back in 2007:

I don’t think you’ll have one device.

I think you’ll have a full-screen device that you can carry around and you’ll do dramatically more reading off of that – yeah, I believe in the tablet form factor…

…and then you’ll have the device that fits in your pocket…

…and then we’ll have the evolution of the portable machine. And the evolution of the phone will both be extremely high volume, complementary–that is, if you own one, you’re more likely to own the other.

[pullquote]The one, unifying computer is not the hybrid, it’s the Cloud.[/pullquote]

What’s actually happening is that we’re moving toward owning multiple windows (Ironic, eh?) to view and interact with our centralized data in the Cloud. One screen for our pocket (smart phone), one screen for the desk (PC), one screen for the wall (TV) and one screen for walking and lounging about (tablet). The one, unifying computer is not the hybrid, it’s the Cloud.

So if Bill Gates predicted this so very long ago, why doesn’t Microsoft get it? Well, as Upton Sinclair so rightly put it:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

A hybrid computer that runs Windows is not the consumer’s dream, it’s Microsoft’s dream. And the bulk of the computer buying public is having none of it.

Black or White Thinking

Am I saying the the Surface isn’t good for anyone? Absolutely not. There are literally millions upon millions of users who will need it, love it, absolutely adore it.

But that’s not enough.

In today’s marketplace, millions of computers is a niche. The goal is to sell in the BILLIONS. And I’m not being hyperbolic. Android is closing in on a billion activations fast. And iOS isn’t that far behind.

The pertinent question isn’t whether Windows 8 tablets are good or bad. Like all products, they’re good for some people and bad for others. The pertinent question is one of proportion. Will enough people want enough Windows 8 tablets to make them a majority or even a plurality? All the evidence to date says that they will not.

The Surface Is Firetrucked

So let’s tie this into one nice, neat package and put a ribbon on it.

In the Joke, the mom’s problem isn’t with the French Toast. It’s with the kids’ cursing.

In reality, the public’s problem isn’t with the quality of the Surface hardware or about tweaking the Windows 8 software. It’s with Microsoft’s cursed belief that tablets really want to be PCs.

As long as the kid in the Joke doesn’t understand the problem, he’s going to keep getting smacked around by his mother.

As long as Microsoft doesn’t understand the problem, they’re going to keep getting smacked around by the marketplace.

If Microsoft doesn’t start getting the joke, instead of being the joke, their tablet ambitions are going to end up as (French) toast. ((Urban Dictionary: Toast – Destroyed, terminated, ceased functioning, ended abruptly by external forces.))

Why Windows RT Will Survive $900M Later

Yesterday, Microsoft announced that they were writing off $900M in Surface RT inventory.  This is based on price reductions on Surface RT to clear inventory.  If we assume that Microsoft factored in $150 per unit and we do some simple math, we can then estimate that Microsoft is sitting on 6M Surface RTs.  This is an absolute abomination, and I don’t think this is a surprise to many that Surface RT didn’t sell well, but what is a surprise is the magnitude of the write-down.  Even with nearly $1B in write-downs, I don’t think Microsoft will cancel Windows RT and I want to share my thinking.

I would be remiss if I didn’t first give my opinion on why Windows RT didn’t sell well.  First, I disagree with the notion that it has to do with the dual tablet-PC nature of Windows 8, and for that matter, RT.  Research I have conducted and research I have seen shows that once users actually use a use a touch-Windows device, they like it.  It’s that trial that is the tough part.  What doomed Surface RT, plain and simple, was the lack of premier apps and because the tablet market shifted to the 7-8″ form factor.  This isn’t the main topic of this post but I needed to weigh in.

To better understand why Microsoft will keep investing in Windows RT, we have to know why they invested in it in the first place.  When Microsoft would have had to make the decision to support an ARM-based Windows RT, Intel did not have a competitive mobile part and had just come off of some very public mobile failures, Menlow and Moorestown.  The CloverTrail schedule was risky, too, and Microsoft felt that they needed lower power ARM-based SOCs to meet the battery life bar set by the iPad and the Motorola Xoom.  The other factor is that in the minds of both Microsoft and Intel, any dollar invested by an OEM into each others products, is a dollar that they lose.  Microsoft is interested in cheap hardware so they can charge more for software.  Intel is interested in cheap software so they can charge more for hardware.  Makes sense, right?

The first reason Microsoft will keep investing in Windows RT is to keep Intel competitive on tablets.  Microsoft thinks that if they don’t hold something over Intel’s head, they won’t see solutions in the future as competitive as Bay Trail which, at least on paper, looks very competitive for holiday 2013 Windows 8-based tablets.  Microsoft is also seeking to lower prices on 7-8″ tablets, and they see ARM-based SOCs from someone like Rockchip or Huawei providing that cost reduction necessary to enable Microsoft to charge more for software or lower the product street price. We also need to factor in phones.  Windows Phone 9 will most likely share the same kernel as Windows RT (9) and therefore it would make sense to cease development now for ARM to revive it a few years later.  Finally, Microsoft is thinking wearables and IoT devices based on this shared Windows RT (9) kernel, and so far, Intel doesn’t have a roadmap that would provide this level of performance/watt necessary to last weeks on a single charge.

So even with nearly $1B in “losses” racked up so far, Microsoft will trudge on, because they believe that they need ARM-based silicon to cover all their product segment bases and increase the price of their software to OEMs.

Can Microsoft Compete in a Post-PC World?

Microsoft says it sold 100 million licenses for Windows 8 in the six months it was on sale. Not spectacular, but not bad either. But for Windows RT, Widows 8’s tablet-friendly little brother, things haven’t been so hot. Microsoft hasn’t given out numbers, but IDC estimates sales of Microsoft’s Surface RT at a bit over a million for October through March. It seems likely that combined sales of OEM RT products–all four of them–were even lower. By contrast, Apple is selling nearly 1.5 million iPads a week.

The failure of Windows RT–and it is getting very hard to call it anything else–leaves Microsoft in a terrible bind, as least a s a seller of consumer products. The post-PC era is upon us, not in the sense that traditional PCs are going way, but that they are no longer the center of the computing world, either in most people’s usage, in mindshare, or in sales. We’ve just entered this new era and it should be possible for a company with Microsoft’s resources to recover. But the first step in recovery is recognizing that you have a problem, and Microsoft doesn’t seem to quite be there yet. Consider Board Chairman Bill Gates’ comments on CNBC:

Windows 8 really  is revolutionary in that it takes the benefits of the tablet and the benefits of the PC and it’s able to support both of those. On Surface and Surface Pro, you have the portability of the tablet but the richness in terms of the keyboard and Microsoft Office…. A lot of [iPad] users are frustrated. They can’t type, they can’t create documents, they don’t have Office there. We’re providing them something with the benefits they’ve seen that have made that a big category without giving up the benefits of the PC.

In other words, what people want is more mobile versions of traditional PCs, and that’s what Microsoft is determined to give them. The problem is that this is a serious misreading of why customers are flocking to tablets. Mobility is, of course, an important attribute of the tablet. But so–and here is where Gates and Microsoft go wrong–simplicity. The iPad has limitations which users accept in exchange for wonderful simplicity and great ease of use. Tablets, and especially, the iPad, have the shallowest learning curve in the history of computing. Their software does not break. The process of updating their software is simple automatic. They don’t run Office but, while this may come as a surprise to Gates, many people do not see that as a disadvantage. They are, as my colleague Ben Bajarin would put it, a great example of “good enough” computing.

So what can Microsoft do about this? I have always thought the company made a strategic mistake when it decided to adapt desktop Windows to tablets rather than follow Apple’s lead by using an enhanced version of Windows Phone. It ended up compromising both the desktop and the tablet experience (based on the reports we’ve been hearing lately, such as this from ZDnet’s Mary Jo Foley, the upcoming “Blue” update to Windows is designed more to address Windows 8’s shortcomings as a desktop OS than to rescue Windows RT.[pullquote]I have always thought the company made a strategic mistake when it decided to adapt desktop Windows to tablets rather than follow Apple’s lead by using an enhanced version of Windows Phone.[/pullquote]

Windows 8/RT was a radical step for Microsoft, but in the end it just didn’t go far enough to succeed on tablets while perhaps going too far to win friends on the desktop. A true tablet OS simply would not have a Desktop mode that depends on a keyboard and mouse for usability, and Windows RT regularly requires going into Desktop for critical tasks (we can only hope that Blue will fix this.) The vaunted availability of Office is no advantage at all for most users because the Desktop Office apps simply don’t work well on a tablet. True touch versions of Office applications are reportedly in the works, but they are not expected before late 2014.

OEMs disappointed with Windows RT are building Windows 8 tablets. The most PC-like of these may succeed as sort of Ultra-ultrabooks, Windows 8 is fundamentally unsuited to a pure tablet. It requires too much process, too much battery power, too much storage, and too much keyboard. The same OEMs, even those most loyal to Microsoft, are also hedging their bets with Android.

That may well be too late. iOS 7, expected this fall, is likely to be a major enhancement of the iPad and we may see iOS 8 before the Windows tablet software upgrade is complete. Android tablet software still lags; the operating system has not made nearly as much progress on tablets as on phones. But Google and its partners will get it right sooner or later, and probably before Microsoft.

None of this means that Microsoft is going away. It’s back-end software powers most enterprise computing and its clients continue to have a vital place in business. For some business users, Gates might even be right about tablets: they need Office worse than they need the elegance and simplicty of an iPad. But with the mass of consumers, for whom a conventional PC is more likely to be a place where they store stuff rather than do stuff, Microsoft is in real trouble with no easy way out.



The Late Microsoft Windows 8

10x091098b5efaIn 2008, Microsoft’s Windows OS ran on 95% of all computing devices. By the end of 2012, Forrester estimated that Microsoft’s market share had declined to 30%.

In 2012 there were more Android devices sold than Windows devices. By the end of 2013, it is probable that there will be more iOS devices sold than Windows devices too. If so, by the end of this year, Windows will be only third in terms of OS sales.

Microsoft’s Profits

By the fiscal year ending June 2009, Microsoft had made $14.5 billion in profit. By 2012, that number had grown to $21.76 billion.

That sounds pretty good until it’s compared to Apple. Apple’s net income for the fiscal year ending September 2009 was 8.2 billion. By the end of fiscal 2012, its income had risen to $41 billion. Not only had Apple made up the difference between the two companies, in 2012 it lapped Microsoft, making almost exactly twice as much in profits as Microsoft had. The iPhone, alone, makes more profit than all of Microsoft and by the end of 2013 it is expected that the iPad, alone, will make more revenue than all of Microsoft too.

Microsoft’s PC-centric Problem


The purple portion of the graphic, above, represents income from Microsoft Office. The green portion represents income from Microsoft Windows. Microsoft’s problem is that both of those cash cows are located, almost exclusively, on desktop and notebook PCs and PCs are in decline both in actual and in relative terms.

In 2012, PC shipments fell 3.7%. And IDC just slashed its 2013 PC shipment forecast from growth of 2.8% to a decline of 1.3%.

Windows 8 was supposed to reverse the downward trend in PC sales but, if anything, it has made things worse.

The new operating system launched on Oct. 26, along with heavy advertising by Microsoft and its PC hardware partners, including Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Lenovo. But the response to Windows 8 has been “underwhelming” and worldwide PC shipments tumbled 8.3% in Q4, the most substantial decline recorded for a holiday quarter, IDC said.

The Plan

The plan was to create a single user interface for all Windows phones, tablets and PCs. By migrating Windows’ substantial user base in desktops and notebooks to Windows 8, it was hoped that users would become familiar with the unified user interface and then naturally migrate down from Windows desktops and notebooks to Windows tablets and phones.

The Reality

The reality has been quite different.

First, Windows phone sales have been a disaster. Despite the introduction of Windows 8 phone and the Nokia Lumia, Windows phones actually LOST market share in the recent holiday quarter.

Second, support for Windows RT is rapidly drying up. Acer delayed their RT offering, HP an Toshiba opted out altogether, Samsung refused to produce an RT product for the U.S. and now Samsung is withdrawing its RT product from the European markets.

Third, despite a massive advertising campaign, there is absolutely no indication that Windows 8 tablets are capturing the imagination of consumers. In fact, all of the evidence points to the exact opposite conclusion.


Source: The Yankee Group

The Yankee Group recently surveyed consumers, asking them which brand of tablet they intended to buy. The iPad dominated the discussion but if you examine the chart carefully, you’ll see that Microsoft and its hardware partners barely registered at all.


Source: Chitika

Further, in terms of Tablet Usage Share, Microsoft tablets are barely a blip on the radar. The Microsoft Surface, for example, shows up at Zero Point Four percent, behind even the discredited Blackberry Playbook.

Fourth, it appears that the growth in Windows 8 apps is rapidly declining.

When windows 8 was first released, there were 500 apps being added to the Windows 8 market each and every day. By December 27, that number had dropped to 415. By January 28, the number had dropped much further to 156.

Fifth, in a sign of how poor sales have been, Microsoft has started to discount Windows 8 licenses in order to spur the growth in Windows 8 touchscreen notebooks and tablets.


Microsoft is not in any danger. But their personal computing empire is.

Microsoft is making more and more of their money from their server and tools division, which is a good thing. But their income from Windows and Office is still huge and it seems that both are tied to the declining PC sector. And as Microsoft loses its monopoly position, its dominance over even the declining PC sector is waning too.

Microsoft will continue to make money on the sales of Windows 8 licenses but the goal of Windows 8 was to transfer Microsoft’s user base from desktops and notebooks to tablets and phones. That bid has, so far, failed.

Is it too early to say that Windows 8 has failed? Or is it already too late for the late Microsoft Windows 8?

How To Make Windows 8 Great

Del XPS Duo 12 Convertible
There has been a lot of discussion here lately, both in posts such as Why IT buyers are Excited About Convertibles and Hybrids and Microsoft Surface: How Relevant Are Legacy Apps and Hardware? about the failings and the potential of Windows 8. So inspired by these posts, and even more so by readers’ comments on them, here is a radical if only partially baked idea: How about a hybrid operating system for hybrid devices?

In Metro (I’m going to go on calling it that until Microsoft comes up with a real alternative), Microsoft has designed a very good user interface for tablets and touch-based apps. The legacy Windows Desktop is still an excellent UI for a traditional mouse-and-keyboard PC. But in bolting the two together in Windows 8 and, to a lesser extent, Windows RT, Microsoft has created a very ugly two-headed calf. The tendency of Metro to pop up while you are working in Desktop, and for Desktop to be necessary for some tasks even while in touch mode, renders both interfaces far from optimal.

Microsoft should do three things. The easiest is to get Metro out of Desktop by allowing booting into Desktop and restoring traditional UI elements, such as a start menu, that were removed from Windows 8.  Fixing Metro is harder. Basically, Microsoft has to finish the job by creating features, utilities, and apps that allow the user to do everything in the touch interface. The toughest challenge is Metrofying Office. It would be extremely difficult to recreate all the functionality of Word, Excel, and the rest in a tablet app and almost certainly unwise to try. Instead, Microsoft has to pick a core feature set that can work in a touch interface on relatively small screens and build the applications around these. (If reports are to be believed, Microsoft is doing this for iOS and Android anyway; why not Windows?)

But the really cool thing would be hybrid Windows for hybrids, a shape-shifting operating system designed for a new generation of devices that can convert from traditional PCs to tablets (the forthcoming Surface Pro probably belongs in this class.) Why not an OS that presents the traditional Desktop UI when the device is being used with a keyboard and touchpad or mouse, then converts instantly and automatically to a touch-first Metro-type UI when the device transforms?

The key to making this work is the use of solid state storage, which allows for very fast saving and restoration of state. I envision a system where you could be editing a Word file in Desktop, then switch to tablet mode, where you make some changes to the file in the touch version of Word. When you switch back to Desktop, Word would still be open with your file, but it would include the edits made in tablet. I suspect that the Desktop and Metro versions of programs would still have to be different applications and this would require closing and reopening of files when switching modes. But SSDs can make this happen so quickly that the user will barely notice.

I’m not suggesting this is at all a trivial job or that in can be done very quickly. The Office project alone is a very large undertaking, one that I can only presume is already underway, although Microsoft has been totally silent about it. There is a great deal of work beyond that, and third-party software vendors would have to get on board with mode-switchable versions of their applications.  But the result would be new and exciting computing experience.

Ten Things I prefer to do on Microsoft Surface versus my Apple iPad

My primary tablet of choice for years has been Apple’s iPad. The iPad, iPad 2, and the New (now old) iPad (3). This is after trying at least 20 other tablets with Android phone, Android tablet, Kindle Android, Windows 7, webOS, and QNX operating systems. Before Surface, I used my iPad 2 primarily in productivity mode with a Logitech keyboard in “fridge toaster mode” and used my iPad 3 as my primary entertainment device when paired with the HumanToolz stand. I find that combination suited my distinct needs.

After all of the contextual “research”, I have finally found a device that could make me leave the iPad at home, that is, after some improvements. After using Microsoft’s Surface for about a week, there are some usage models that I prefer to do on the Surface over the iPad. Before you decide to go directly to the comments section and flame me without reading the article, my next column will be on where I still prefer the iPad in specific usage models, which are many.


I have been critical of Windows 8 email earlier versions, but in the final throes of pre-launch, Microsoft redeemed themselves with a very solid Mail update. The email client is fast enough, is threaded, pulls in avatars from other services that personalizes the experience and easily handles attachments in a way that I am familiar with Windows. Emails are very quick with Surface’s keyboard, too. It’s not perfect as I want a unified inbox, in-message web links, and shortcuts like “add to calendar”, but given this is only version 1.0, I am certain Microsoft could enable it if they wanted to. Question is, how good will they make it until it pulls business from Outlook?

Random, Unplanned Web Browsing

Internet Explorer on Surface is a full, PC-grade browser, unlike Safari on my iPad, but it feels as fast as a tablet browser. While I run into sites that are just ugly on the iPad, Internet Explorer just works as it doesn’t need to cut corners. I never get a down-featured mobile site either, which I routinely get on iPad Safari. Like Mail, it’s not perfect either as it doesn’t even have synced bookmarks. For planned browsing where I go down my favorites list I still prefer the iPad, but I have to think Microsoft will add this or lose many customers to Google Chrome, which works very well on X86-based Windows 8 tablets. In fact, on my Intel Clover Trail-based tablet, I’ve already shifted to Chrome because of the lack of IE bookmarks.

The other thing that is, quite frankly, emancipating is being able to interact fully with a web site or service. I am very disappointed with the lack of Metro-based social media apps, but overjoyed that I can do EVERYTHING on my tablet with a social media site I can do with my full PC. Literally, upload, download, post, reply to every and any site without worrying about if that app has connected with that API or not. IE supports every Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest feature. Why? It’s simple, because it is full-featured PC browser with access to the system’s file system and peripherals. That, paired with Nvidia’s quad core Tegra 3 that accelerates HTML 5 drives a complete web experience.

Does this mean I don’t want apps? No way. I want apps for speed too, but want the web when I want the whole experience. I want it all.

Writing Research and Blogs

On my iPad, my blog workflow today moves from iPad Evernote to WordPress on the iPad and then final edit on a PC. If you have ever worked with iOS WordPress and photos, you understand why. With Surface, I start with Word then publish inside the app to WordPress. One app, one device; what could be simpler? And it is so, so much easier with the type cover with a trackpad to pound out a 1,000 word piece of work. For research papers, there is no substitute for Word. It’s just the gold standard of productivity. Enough said.

Wireless Printing

While not that sexy, I have appreciated the consistency of Surface’s wireless printing. Like web browsing, it just works. When printing from my iPad, half the time it prints garbage or ten pages when I really only wanted the first page. This has come in handy for my kid’s school projects and when printing out contracts to sign and scan. For the record, no, Surface doesn’t support my HP or Neat scanner and I do that on a full PC.

Task Switching

It seemed for the longest time, Apple was “holding out” for easy task switching. Then came the very much appreciated two finger gesture for the iPad. I thanked Apple profusely for this. Microsoft and the Surface take this a few steps forward with the simple left thumb flick, which allows the user to keep both hands on the device and task switch. When I am showing friends and family the Surface, they are all “gee whiz” on this very simple feature. I liked webOS and QNX task switching better than Windows 8, but must say, I have warmed up to Windows RT and 8 task switching, and certainly prefer over my iPad.

Instant Access to Information without Opening Apps

If you want to get an Apple fan boy riled up, just start a discussion about Live Tiles or Android panes. You can just see the blood pressure rising and the next hour of conversation is around ease of use and what normal consumers want. Well, I like Live Tiles because it saves me time and some don’t because they are “confusing”. Without even touching the Surface display I can see emails, calendar, and weather, stocks, Tweets, breaking news, updated podcasts and about 100 other pieces of information. I think other consumers will prefer, too, after some time as icons are so 1980’s. I believe Microsoft jumped ahead of the curve on this tile concept and Apple will follow at some point.

As the industry moves to large surface usage models and environments for full rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, etc., live tiles will be commonplace. And, yes, I had PointCast and Yahoo widgets and stopped using them because they became a hindrance over time, but these tiles are different, as they are the experience, not an add-on.

Rental Videos

I watch a lot of rental movies and TV from the Apple Store on my iPad. I do this a lot while crashing on the couch or in bed. I use the HumanToolz stand to prop up the iPad 3 on my chest so I didn’t have to hold it. When Amazon Prime came to iPad, I still used the iPad, but switched to Prime. It wasn’t about the deals, it was that Prime enables streaming and the Apple Store does not on the iPad. I sometimes had to wait over an hour for an Apple Store video to download. I get the QOS challenges with streaming, but somehow Amazon and Netflix deals with those. Plus, Apple deals with streaming on my Apple TV just fine, so it’s just frustrating. With Surface, I use the Xbox movie store where I can stream or download and play. This is a lot more convenient than the iPad.

One broadcast channel app that was quite good was the ABC Player. My wife and I watched “Revenge” together and Surface provided a better quality and stable video experience than the iPad. I haven’t had the chance to test every service, but I also thought the Netflix and Hulu+ experiences were also very solid.

Anything that Really Requires a Mouse

As I use my iPad for productivity in addition to entertainment, I attempted presentations with Keynote and spreadsheets with Numbers. I tried for years to love these on the iPad but ended up abandoning them after each new release. Pages was fine but spreadsheets and presentations were nightmares even for editing files I created first on a PC. The lack of a mouse was the biggest issue for me as I had to learn a bunch of new gestures on a small 9.7” screen. With Surface, I have a keyboard, trackpad, optional mouse, Excel and PowerPoint. If you’ve done spreadsheets and presentations, you know how much easier this is and can relate. As in web browsing, this is an area where the four Nvidia Tegra 3 cores are making an impact.

Group Music Listening

I still prefer personal listening of music on the iPad as it’s faster and simpler, but in a group environment, Surface is just all that better. Microsoft essentially took the Xbox music experience and put it on Surface. If you’ve never experienced it, you should, as it’s as much about the video as it is the music. As you play a song, you are fed some incredible transitions that go way above cover art.

Sharing Anything

With my iPad, it’s up to Apple to determine what app or service I can directly share to. Like rental movies, this is Apple simplifying for the consumer and ensuring QOS. Also, if all apps had access to all Apple APIs, Apple couldn’t fully monetize its connections. Microsoft has chosen a different another route, one that is more partner-friendly and inclusive. This isn’t Microsoft jut being the good citizen, it’s part of their business model of monetizing the OS and they are years behind in the tablet war.

In Metro, I literally click on the “Share” charm and any, and I mean, any app that has a “contract” to share, I can share with. Let me use sharing pictures as an example. On my iPad from the Camera Roll, I can share a picture to 2 non-Apple apps, Facebook and Twitter. On Surface, I can share that same picture to 6 different non-Microsoft services and apps and that’s only two weeks in before many social media apps even surface.

Hate my iPads?

I love my iPad and it has been the “chosen one” for many years, for basic productivity and for fun. I cannot tell you just now many times I received flak years ago, before the iPad, for forecasting three years ago that the tablet would be the primary content consumption device for the home by 2015. I think there are many more believers now. I am here to say that the iPad finally has some authentic competition, stiff competition, and that’s from Microsoft Surface and from other Windows RT and 8 devices. Holistically, the iPad has it more together, but then again, it doesn’t do as much, either, and has a multi-year head start. Surface is far from perfect, has its flaws, but also delivers a much better experience than expected, and selectively delivers a preferred experience in certain usage models.

Next week, I will outline usage scenarios where I still prefer my iPad.

Why Surface Will Be Good for the iPad–and the Rest of Us

Microsoft SurfaceFor the past 2 1/2 years, iPad as has ruled the world of tablets. Except for Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble NOOK Tablet, both special-purpose devices dedicated to consumption, there has been no competition worth mentioning. But with the entry of Microsoft into the fray, both with the Surface and an assortment of third-party Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets, the business is about to get a lot more interesting.

I start from the premise that only competition keeps the tech business driving forward and that in the absence of effective competition products stultify. This definitely happened in PCs. After Apple failed to respond to the introduction of Windows 95, the Mac market share fell to the low single digits and without effective competition, Microsoft innovation faded. It has only been Apple’s across-the-board success in recent years that lit a fire under Microsoft.

The iPhone never had iPad’s grace period. It entered a crowded market, where it had to displace the entrenched market leaders: BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm, and Symbian. That proved to be surprisingly easy, helped by lunkheaded competition, but  Android soon came along as a serious challenger. I don’t think there is any doubt that the iPhone and Android have made each other better and I expect this process to continue, especially if Google can build and app and services ecosystem that rivals Apple’s. And I think the entry of Windows Phone 8 can  only improve things, pushing both Apple and Android, though its commercial success is an open question.

The fact that iPad has improved quite a bit since its 2010 introduction seems largely the spillover of iPhone features into the tablet space: better apps, better services, faster processors, and the retina display.  The first notable effect that tablet competition has had on the iPad is the introduction of the iPad mini, which is clearly a response to smaller tablets finding at least some success in the market.

Android tablets, especially the larger ones, have suffered from many problems. but the overwhelming issue is the lack of decent software. The success of iOS devices and even, to some extent, of Android phones has proven that consumers want native apps. But Google has had a very hard time seeing beyond the browser. The Android app situation remains calamitous, with most of the available choices being blown-up phone apps that are terrible on a 7″ tablet and unspeakable on a 10″.

Microsoft is not making this mistake.  The selection of Windows RT apps is still quite limited, but Microsoft understands the care and feeding of developers. The RT apps that are available are designed for the Surface’s display (and those of Windows 8 laptops and tablets) and consistently speak the Metro (for lack of a better name) design language common to Windows 8/RT and Windows Phone. Many of the apps are quite good (a notable exception being the built-in Windows 8/RT Mail app, whose awfulness is both inexplicable and inexcusable.)

Equally important, Surface is being launched into a mature Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft has spent years seemingly pouring money down the holes of Xbox and what used to be called the Windows Live collection of online services. But now, those investments may be about to pay off, as the company pulls together the entertainment content of Xbox and cloud services such as SkyDrive,, and Office 360–not to mention the deep understanding of cloud services it has gained from its enterprise back office offerings. iOS devices sold a lot of Macs because of the way they work so well together in the Apple ecosystem. The same dynamic could work for Microsoft in reverse: the vast installed base of Windows PCs could sell Surfaces and Windows Phones to gain the advantages of the Microsoft environment.Surface is being launched into a mature Microsoft ecosystem..

Surface is not designed as a head-on competitor for the iPad. In many ways, from its ability to work with USB peripherals to its all-but-mandatory keyboard, it is far more PC-like. Like the iPad itself, it represents a new device class in what is turning out to be a surprisingly big space between smartphones and traditional PCs.

It’s going to take a while before we can judge the success of the Surface strategy. Microsoft, however, is a patient company that is smart enough not to expect an instant payoff from its very big bet. But by offering tablet-hungry consumers a worthy alternative to the iPad, Microsoft has put pressure on Apple to keep its game up. That can only be good for all of us.



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.

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.

The Return of the Tablet PC

Photo of Acer Iconia W510 (Acer)
Acer Iconia W510

Microsoft’s decision to offer tablets in two flavors–Intel-powered slates running full windows 8 and ARM-powered units running Windows RT–has created a marketing and branding problem for manufacturers: How these very different products going to be distinguished for buyers?

One solution that seems to be gaining popularity is to call the Intel/full Windows versions “tablet PCs.” This seems to assume, probably correctly, that customers have little memory of the ungainly and, outside of some niche markets, unpopular, touchscreen laptops and slates that went by that name starting in 2003, and that they are willing to give the name, and the category, a fresh look with Windows 8.

Acer today announced its latest entrant, the Iconia W510 Tablet PC, a 10.1″ , 1.3-lb.slate powered by an Intel Atom Z2760 (Clover Trail) processor. The W510 will start at $499 for a 16 gigabyte version and $599 for 64 GB. A keyboard and battery dock that turns the tablet into a sort of notebook adds $250 and doubles the weight to 2.6 lb.

Hewlett-Packard is also using the tablet PC moniker, though it applies it to a broader ranger of products. On its small business website,  the Slate 2, an 8.9″, $849 pure tablet currently shipping with Windows 7 is called a Tablet PC. But so is the EliteBook 2760p, a more traditional 12.1″ touchscreen convertible (meaning the screen can rotate and flip over to form a bulky slate) notebook. It runs an Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processor, weighs 4 lb., and starts at $1,479.

Dell calls its current 10.1″, $679 Latitude ST Windows 7 tablet a Tablet PC. It also uses the name for a the Latitude XT3,  a design similar to the HP EliteBook but even heftier with a 13.3″ display. Dell’s web site does not make clear whether it will use the Tablet PC names for its upcoming XPS 10 pure Windows 8 tablet or the XPS Duo 12, a sort of old-fashioned Tablet PC with a novel screen that can rotate vertically.

Lenovo, interestingly, calls the ThinkPad X230, the latest version of a conventional Tablet PC that has been in its product line for several years, just a “convertible tablet.” Like Acer, Lenovo is also shipping Android tablets in addition to planning for the windows versions.

Microsoft, meanwhile, seems to believe its customers will know what its tablets are when they see them. It plans both Windows 8 and Windows RT versions of the Surface, which will come with a very thin membrane keyboard that doubles as a cover. But Microsoft is staying out of the naming game. Its web site avoids calling them either tablets or slates, let alone Tablet PCs. They are just Surface.

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.

Windows 8 Mail App: Better, but Still Bad

Screen shotThe good news is that the lame Mail app in Windows 8 is about to get better. The bad news is that it will still fall well short of any reasonable expectations of a modern mail client.

As the Oct. 26 ship date of Windows 8 approaches, Microsoft has announced new versions of many of the key Metro (since Microsoft still hasn’t given us a better name for them) apps. The new features of Mail are described in the screen grab on the right: message threading, better IMAP support, proper handling of calendar invitations, and better search. The new app hasn’t actually rolled out yet, so I couldn’t test how well it delivers on these promises. But even if these new features are very good, they only nudge mail closer to marginal acceptability.

The biggest missing item remains a consolidated inbox for all your accounts. Also missing are such abilities as saving searches into smart mailboxes, message sorting, and the ability to flag messages.

This is important because at least in Windows RT, which means on all ARM-based tablets including Surface, this is the mail program you are going to have to use. It’s possible that third-party mail apps will emerge soon, but as of now there are none in the Windows App Store. For anyone who considers email important, and that is still an awful lot of people, that puts RT tablets at a significant disadvantage to the iPad, whose mail app is quite good, and Android, whose mail app is not so great, but still a lot better than this.


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.

    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.



    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.

    What Does Microsoft Have Against Email?

    Windows 8 Mail iconEmail in Windows 8 is a catastrophe.

    I know the cool kids think email is last decade’s technology, but the fact is that it remains a vitally important communications tool for both businesses and consumers. But it gets no respect from Windows 8, and this could be a huge problem on Windows RT tablets.

    When I first started playing with the Mail app in the first preview of Windows 8, I didn’t pay too much attention to its glaring deficiencies, figuring it was a placeholder for the real application that would come along later. The version of Mail that’s included in the RTM version of Windows 8 Pro is better, but not by much. Support for IMAP accounts has been added, though POP3 is weirdly still missing. And the list of missing features is longer than the roster of present ones: multiple accounts are supported but there is no unified inbox, there’s no way to search,* thread, sort, or arrange messages in anything but newest on top. I haven’t seen anything this bad since AOL Mail, circa 1995.

    At first, I thought this was a clever plot to drive users to the new mail service.’s browser user interface is a lot more capable than the Win 8 Mail app. But it’s account support is sadly deficient. It supports only web mail (the replacement for Hotmail) and POP3 accounts. (Do the and Windows 8 Mail teams talk to each other? I doubt it.)

    The lack of a decent built-in mail client is not a crushing defect for a operating system.  Windows 7 shipped with no mail client at all, though you could easily download the confusingly named Windows Live Essentials Mail, a latter-day Outlook Express. If you had Office, you could use Outlook, and almost certainly did if your mail system was Exchange-based. Or you could download any of a number of free or paid mail clients.

    The same is true for the x86 version of Windows 8. But Windows RT, the vers. ion for ARM-based tablets, is much more problematical. The version of Office included with RT does not include Outlook and Microsoft has not said whether there will be an Outlook for RT. Unless some developer comes up with a good mail client for RT (which would have to meet with Microsoft approval for distribution through the Windows Store), consumer users of RT tablets are going to be annoyed and business users will be in deep trouble. The Mail app does support Exchange accounts, but only the most basic features are available. Outlook Web Access is an alternative, but it has the significant disadvantage of only working on a live internet connection, along with the lack of a unified inbox that will combine messages from other accounts.

    Much about Windows RT is still speculative, because we have yet to see systems in the wild. But if Microsoft is going to win back ground lost to the iPad, it will have to do a whole lot better on email support.


    *–Commenter Bam! pointed out to me that you can indeed search through messagers using the standard Search charm. It’s a bit crude–there seems to be no way to limit search to a specific folder, though you can use specifiers such as from: and to:. I still find the idea of the Search charm as a sort of  do-anything tool somewhat confusing. And considering the amount of space the full-screen Mail app wastes, there was plenty of room for a conventional search box.


    Deciphering Microsoft’s Latest Windows Blog on Windows RT

    For over 20 years, I worked with Microsoft as a customer or a technology partner. Microsoft has a huge job in guiding their enormous Windows ecosystem down certain paths, and over those two decades I have seen many flavors of communication styles. For Windows 8, Microsoft has adopted a significantly different way of communicating with the ecosystem versus prior OS releases. For the broad ecosystem, Microsoft is communicating with their main “Building Windows 8” Blog, which appears as a direct link to the engineering team. Their latest blog on Windows RT truly is an interesting one. While not that significant on the surface, if you dig deep with context, it is actually saying a lot, providing deep insights to Windows RT.  It also highlights the amount of pacification Microsoft is doing to the financial community and the OEMs.

    It is helpful to put some context around Windows 8 and Windows RT. As I’ve written about previously, Windows 8 truly is the biggest risk Microsoft has ever taken. Microsoft is risking over 50% of their operating profits by deprioritizing the Windows desktop and leading with the “UI formerly known as Metro”. If Metro is a hit, it greatly increases Microsoft’s probability of success in tablets and phones. If not, they’ve risked a huge part of their company profits and reputation. Along the path, Microsoft has to keep multiple constituents aligned, many who are at odds, particularly when it comes to Windows RT where it’s truly X86 versus ARM. And this is where the latest blog gets interesting in what it says and doesn’t say.

    “Surface Didn’t Kill Other Consumer Windows RT Tablets, Really”

    With Surface, Microsoft is competing head-to-head with their customers. Whether we want to sugar coat it with phrases like “priming the pumps” the end result is still the same in that OEMs will be competing for mindshare and market share with companies like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer and Samsung. Microsoft has not once said that if a certain threshold was achieved, then they would stand down or pull back. I don’t want to open the debate yet on whether Microsoft needed to do this or not as I will save that for a future column. One of the biggest things Microsoft is trying to say here is that even post-Surface, OEMs are still very interested in Windows RT tablets. So in the blog, Microsoft pointed out with exuberance that in addition to its own Surface, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, Acer, and Asus will launch ARM-based Windows RT devices. Why did Microsoft do this? It was primarily to pacify investors who were concerned with the potential beginning of a crumbling of Windows as a platform.

    “Acer May Be Upset, But Not That Upset” (UPDATED)

    Acer’s CEO JT Wang has really been coming after Microsoft lately over by making some very caustic comments about Surface. They are veiled threats in a way, almost as if it’s a negotiation in the public forum. Wang is basically saying that Microsoft has no business doing hardware and they should leave it to the OEMs or risk mass defection and big hardware headaches they aren’t ready to take on. He may be right long-term, but OEMs really don’t have a viable option short term other than Android. Android for 4-7” devices may be doing well, but there are still less than 500 Android tablets apps available after a year and a half. Microsoft’s statement in their blog about OEMs leads with ASUS and it’s not just about alphabetical order, either, as ASUS gets their own, special hyperlink to their product, unlike the other OEMs. The blog says, “If you are following Windows RT, perhaps you have taken note of the Asus Tablet 600 (Windows RT) announcement or Microsoft’s own Surface RT™ news.” I love this part. It literally binds ASUS and Surface together as if to say, “Everything’s OK with Acer, really.”  ASUS isn’t Acer but they compete heavily in Asia and Europe.

    “Dell Doing a Work Tablet, Like Lenovo, But with ARM-based Design”

    Only one OEM got a quote in Microsoft’s latest Windows RT blog, and that was Dell. The rumor mill had been swirling for weeks on whether “Microsoft would allow Dell” to make to make a Windows RT tablet. This was a bizarre rumor in that it really wasn’t Microsoft’s decision on who does the first tablets; it was primarily Dell’s and the silicon provider’s choice which then needs to be approved by Microsoft because they are investing resources, too. Sam Burd, Dell’s VP of the PC Product Group says in the blog, “Dell’s tablet for Windows RT is going to take advantage of the capabilities the new ecosystem offers to help customers do more at work and home. We’re excited to be Microsoft’s strategic partner, and look forward to sharing more soon.” Note he leads with “work” and follows with “home”. This is in direct response to Lenovo’s Intel-based business tablet entry last week, which, interestingly enough, was cited in a Windows RT blog. Microsoft also intends this to counter Lenovo’s slides that show Windows RT as a lousy corporate client.

    “Where Are the Web Browsing Battery Life Figures?”

    Like others, I was glad to see the Windows RT battery life figures. The HD playback numbers make sense as video playback is limited to a very small part of the SOC and in some cases can do it without even lighting up the CPU or GPU. The connected standby is also a very impressive number, but I am curious about the variables around it like the type and persistence of the connection. One figure though that was glaringly absent was the lack of a web browsing battery life figure. This one is real important as it is also an indication of how well Metro apps will do as many are based on web technologies. Their absence probably means that the numbers aren’t great or inconsistent and they are still tweaking drivers.

    “Windows RT Does Deliver a Differentiated Experience, Really”

    Microsoft starts their Windows RT blog with a tip of the hat to both Intel and AMD. The industry was surprised when Intel provided OEMs low power silicon with acceptable performance and I think how well AMD’s Trinity does, too. Intel downplayed their achievements on Medfield, too, which makes sense as they lost  mobile credibility on Menlow and Moorestown. Microsoft’s tone in their blog is as if they are saying, “OK, Intel does have competitive silicon that works with the full-featured Windows 8, but there is value in Windows RT, too.”

    And what is Microsoft saying about the incremental value? Essentially, they are parroting exactly what NVIDIA’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said months ago, and that it’s about consistency of experience. Microsoft talks about consistency in battery life, graphics, gestures, and even physical characteristics.

    Microsoft may have a point here in that the focus and options are much more dialed in on Windows RT than on Windows 8. For example, because Windows RT cannot install Windows 7 apps, there’s no way that a consumer will install BattleField 3 and have a lousy experience. Also, the touchpad experience on Windows 8 is crucial, and according to the blog, all Windows RT tablets will support the side-swipes and swipe-up/down. Does this mean that you cannot find these features on X86-based Windows 8 tablets? No, but it doesn’t mean all of them will have it either.

    Where is Toshiba?

    One of the biggest missing OEMs from the blog was Toshiba. Toshiba and Texas Instruments both were showing off Windows RT tablets at Computex, but they were nowhere to be found in the Microsoft blog. Shara Tibken at the Wall Street Journal cleared up any ambiguity with her article. Toshiba will not do a Windows RT-based tablet now and place focus on Intel and AMD-based tablets. This does not bode well for TI, who has significantly lagged NVIDIA and Qualcomm on drivers for the Windows RT platform. While I have personally used NVIDIA and Qualcomm-based RT tablets, I haven’t been able to actually try out on based on TI silicon yet, so all I can comment on what I have heard from developers. With TI’s focus primarily on Android, it makes sense they would prioritize that development over Windows, even with the direct help they are receiving from Microsoft. I believe the future of TI-based Window RT devices is in question now, at least for launch.


    Microsoft felt the need to pacify their OEM customers and investors and used this latest blog to do it. They came under attack of late for launching Surface with Windows RT that cast doubt on the future of any other RT tablets being successful. Ironically, with Intel-based Windows 8 tablets being announced as well by Lenovo that look very compelling, Microsoft needed to reiterate why Windows RT is incrementally valuable and different. Will the blog be enough to sway what people think in the ecosystem? I don’t think so, as what people really want to know is how many well-known, high quality Metro-based applications will be available at launch, as this will be the true decider of how well Windows RT will fair, at least in the short term. We should know more tomorrow, August 15, as the doors to the paid Windows 8 store opens up.  As we learned from the Blackberry PlayBook and the webOS-based Touchpad, first impressions do matter and I hope Microsoft has heeded that history.

    The Windows 8 UI: Microsoft Makes a Tough Marketing Problem Worse

    Over at ZDNet, Mary Jo Foley, master of all things Microsoft, reports sources tell her that having lost the name Metro in an apparent trademark dispute, Microsoft will call the new tile-based user interface for Windows 8 the Windows 8 UI. Beyond a stunning lack of creativity, this is going to cause some real trouble for the already difficult task of educating consumers about what Windows 8 is.

    Windows 8 screen shotWindows 8 will existing in two versions on two different types of devices, which would be no problem if the general device type corresponded to the OS version–but it doesn’t. The Windows 8 we can think of as the successor to Windows 7 will run both on traditional PCs and on tablets based on Intel (or more properly, x86/x64) processors. The second version, known officially (so far, at least) as Windows RT, will run on tablets using ARM processors.

    Now the version I am going to call traditional Windows, because Microsoft hasn’t really given it a name, offers two distinct user interfaces. There is a desktop interface that resembles Windows 7, but differs from it in some critical elements. And there is what used to be called the Metro UI, which is radically different, using no menus or icons in its full-screen apps.

    Traditional Windows runs both types of apps, including applications written for older versions of Windows (though all of these will need considerable work–the sort Office applications have gotten–to look and feel right on Windows 8 and to provide better support for touch.) Windows RT supports only new (Metro) style apps. Microsoft made an important exception for itself: The traditional-styled Office 2013 applications, as well as the Windows Explorer file manager, will be on RT, but third-party software vendors are not allowed to do this.

    If you are not thoroughly confused by now, you probably haven’t been paying close enough attention. This was going to be a huge customer education problem for Microsoft under the best of circumstances. But Microsoft now appears to have denied itself even an easy linguistic way to differentiate between these two user interfaces and the capabilities of traditional Windows and Windows RT systems.

    I can’t quite fathom how Microsoft stumbled into this mess. But it’s going to be a tough hole to get out of.

    Will Windows RT Include Outlook? Microsoft Won’t Say

    Office 13 logo
    Folks who plan to use Outlook on ARM-powered tablets, such as the Windows RT version of the Surface, may be in for a disappointment. The materials Microsoft released this week along with the Consumer Preview of Office 2013 were frustratingly vague about the RT version, saying only that Windows RT tablets would come bundled with a version of Office that included Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

    In in response to a direct question on whether Outlook would be available for RT, a Microsoft spokesperson said “we are not sharing more specifics about ARM plans today.”

    A lack of Outlook on RT tablets has important implications. Many enterprises rely heavily on Outlook, especially as the front end to Exchange mail and collaboration systems. and the lack of Outlook would eliminate a major competitive advantage for Windows tablets vs. the iPad and other tablets. Users would be stuck with the mail, contacts, and calendar programs built into, and the mail program, at least as it exists in the windows 8 Consumer Preview, is particularly weak. It’s Exchange support is limited and  it does not support standard internet mail (IMAP or POP3) accounts at all.

    However, as I point out in a post earlier today, Outlook 2013 shares the space and resource hungry architecture of earlier versions and implementing it on an ARM device would be highly problematic. In particular, Outlook’s storage requirements will prove very troublesome on tablets where storage is limited to a few gigabytes.



    Office 2013: Can Complexity and Touch Get Along? [UPDATED]

    The new versionOffice 13 logo of Microsoft Office, unveiled this week in a consumer preview, has an awful lot riding on it. The strongest claim Microsoft can make for Windows 8 tablets, including the Microsoft-branded Surface, is that they will deliver the full Office experience. This probably won’t mean much to consumers, most of whom can do perfectly well with with the Office alternatives available today for the iPad. But it is a very big deal in the enterprise, where Office still rules and advanced features are routinely used.

    To an extent that technology writers on the web often ignore, enterprises live and die in Office and its back office companions, especially Exchange and SharePoint. Support for these technologies in both iOS and Android is limited by the lack of support for full-featured Office applications. Windows 8 delivers that, at least in part, but there are major questions about the usability of the apps without a keyboard and mouse. Based on preliminary experience with the new Office, it looks like the software could give Microsoft a competitive edge, but it is very far from being decisive.

    Outlook on RT? There’s a lot we still don’t know about Office, especially the version that will run on Windows RT (ARM-based) systems. For example, we do not know for certain whether Outlook, a critical enterprise application, will exist for Windows RT. The version of Office that will be bundled on Surface and other Windows RT tablets will not include Outlook. If Outlook is not available separately–and Microsoft has not yet responded to inquiries on this point–enterprise users with Exchange accounts would have to make do with the much more limited Windows 8 mail, calendar, and contact programs. UPDATE: A Microsoft spokesperson says the company has no further information on its Office for Windows RT plans at this time.

    Microsoft developers faced an impossible task with Office 2013. The essence of Office is the richness of its applications. But feature-rich applications require complicated interfaces, and complicated interfaces are very difficult to implement for a touch-only tablet environment. Consider the iPhoto application for the iPad. It’s a very rich app by iPad standards, though it contains only a small fraction of the features of Photoshop. Yet it has a user interface that, again by iPad standards, is unusually complex and fussy.

    Microsoft decided to make only evolutionary changes to the Office UI. A lot of touch features have been added, especially gestural controls, but access the the myriad features still requires negotiating Office’s maze of ribbons and menus. Unless you have Steve Jobs’s famous sandpapered fingers, you’re going to need a stylus or some other sort of pointing device to do that with any efficiency. Ars Technica summed it up well in a downbeat analysis of touch features in Office with the subhead: “Office 2013 makes concessions to tablet users, but they’re far too few.”

    How big a problem this is depends on how an individual wants to use Office on a tablet. Having the full apps lets you view files, make minor changes, and save or send them without the fear you may have that a third-party tablet app would make a mess of complex formatting. But any attempt to do serious work on complex documents will prove extremely frustrating without a keyboard and a pointing device. You have all the features, but they are just not highly usable in touch mode. (I found that highly formatted documents did not do at all well in Word’s new Reading view. Pages with multiple elements broke up in ways that made it difficult to understand the relationship between them.)

    The mail challenge. Outlook is a special case. Outlook 15 does not appear to have tamed the application’s hunger for resources, both CPU cycles and storage. This will be problematic on tablets, with their very limited storage. I installed the new Outlook on a laptop running the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and set up two mail accounts: The IMAP service I use as my primary mail account and a lightly used corporate Exchange account. The local database (OST file) for the Exchange account, which was limited to the last six months of messages, weighed in at 211 MB. The file for the much more active IMAP account took up 1.9 GB (the option to time-limit the messages stored locally is available only for Exchange accounts.) Unlike the mail programs designed for tablets, Outlook clearly does not have the economical use of local storage as a priority–and this is why I think it may not be an option on Windows RT devices, which are likely to have more modest specs than their Intel-based brethren.

    Microsoft made a decision to deliver the full Windows experience on tablets. The difficulty is that it isn’t a very good tablet experience for the same reasons that Windows 7 was not a satisfactory touch experience. The richness and complexity of Office may appeal to IT departments looking to support uniform software across different types of devices, but I think users will be frustrated.


    Two Sides of the Consumer Coin to Windows RT

    Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled via a blog the different Windows 8 editions and comparing the different features and functionalities.  There are three versions, Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT.  One of the biggest changes in Windows 8 versus previous editions is the support for the ARM architecture with NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments, and the new naming reflects it.  The Windows 8 on ARM, or WOA for short, gets its own name, called “Windows RT”.  I believe that this naming cuts both ways, some positive and some challenging for the ARM camp, but can be mitigated with marketing spend and education.

    Windows RT (ARM) versus Windows 8 (X86)

    Windows RT and Windows 8 are very similar but in other ways very different, and in some ways reflect Windows RT’s shedding of legacy…. but not completely.  The Microsoft blog had a lengthy line listing of differences, but here are the ones I feel are the most significant to the general, non-geeky consumer.

    The following reflects relevant typical features Windows 8 provides over Windows RT:

    • Installation of X86 desktop software
    • Windows Media Player

    The following reflects relevant typical consumer features Windows RT provides over Windows 8:

    • Pre-installed Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote
    • Device encryption

    Again, this isn’t the complete list and I urge you to check out the long listing, but these are the features most relevant to the non-geeky consumer.

    What isn’t Addressed

    What I would have like to seen discussed at length and in detail was support for hardware peripherals.   I will use a personal example to illustrate this.   Last week, I bought for $149 a new HP Photosmart 7510 printer, scanner and fax machine.  Will I am confident I will be able to do a basic print with a Windows RT machine, will I be able to use the advanced printer features and be able to scan and fax?  We won’t know these details until closer to launch, but this needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

    Next, I would have also liked to see some specifics on battery life and any specific height restrictions for Windows RT tablets.  If these devices are intended to be better than an iPad, they will need some experiential consistency to provide consumers with confidence, unlike Android.  As I address below, this wasn’t overt, but a little covert.

    The Plusses with what Microsoft Disclosed with Windows RT

    There are some positive items for the ARM camp that came from Microsoft’s blog post that covered Windows RT.  Windows RT does support the primary secondary tablet-based needs a general consumer would desire.  In the detailed blog posts, Windows RT supports many features.   This comes to light specifically when you put yourself in the shoes of the general consumer, who doesn’t need features like Group Policy, Domain Join, and Remote Desktop Host.  Also,  I don’t see the absence of Storage Spaces or Windows Media Player as major issues for different reasons.  Storage Spaces is very geeky and I do not believe the typical consumer would do much with it.  I believe Windows RT will have many, many methods of playing video as we see on the iPad and Android tablets, so the absence of Windows media Player isn’t a killer, specifically for tablets.

    Windows RT also contains Office, specifically Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote which sells for $99 today. Finally, while details are sketchy, Windows RT supports complete device encryption.  I can only speculate that all data, storage and memory operations are encrypted.  This can potentially leveraged with the consumer, but it’s not something that has kept the iPad from selling.

    A final,  important note, is the consistent experience I expect Windows RT to deliver.  By definition, all Windows RT systems will be lightweight with impressive battery life. While this doesn’t come out as clearly in the blog post, I do read between the lines and see where this is headed.  I believe Microsoft wants to deliver the most consistency with Windows RT and leave the experience variability to Windows 8.

    There will be challenges, though.

    The Risks with what Microsoft Disclosed with Windows RT

    While there are positives in what Microsoft disclosed on Windows RT, there are risks and potential downsides, too.  First of all and primarily is the absence of the “8”.  Regardless of how much Microsoft may attempt to downplay the “8”, consumers fixate on generational modifiers to add value to something.  Consumers do this because it makes it easy for them.  When a consumer walks into a store and sees Windows 8 and Windows RT, I expect them to ask about the difference.  What will the answer be from the Best Buy “blue shirt”?  Without a tremendous amount of training on “RT” I would expect them to say, “RT has MS Office, but won’t run older programs.  8 runs all your old programs but doesn’t come with Office.” With that said, the street price adder for Office isn’t public knowledge, but I know that it does add at least $50 to the street price.  This is a discount to $99, but then again, I don’t miss not having Office on my iPad.

    As I discussed above, Microsoft needs to disclose more on backward hardware compatibility.  Every day that ensues without a more definitive statement, Microsoft draws in the skeptics.  What wasn’t discussed in the industry 6 months ago is being discussed now.  Finally, how can the lack of X86 desktop software be turned into a positive?  The basic consumer, if offered something more in their minds for the same price, will always choose more, unless they see a corresponding behavior to give up something.  Apple has done a fine job with this on the iPad.  When the iPad first launched, many focused on what it didn’t have, namely USB ports, SD cards, or the ability to print.  The iPad can print in limited fashion, still has no USB or SD card slot and is still selling great.  Windows RT needs a distinct value proposition related to Windows 8 but different too.

    What Needs to Be Done Next

    If I were in the ARM camp, I would plead with Microsoft to reconsider the naming.  Even adding an “8” to the naming to render “Windows 8 RT” would at least recognize it’s in the same family.  Without it, Windows RT looks like part of the Windows family, but not “new Windows” table. This can be overcome by spend on a unique value proposition.  This distinct value proposition may be that all RT units are thin and light weight and provide a consistent experience, something that Windows 8 cannot guarantee.  The ecosystem then would need to fill “RT” with value and meaning which will be expensive. Finally, the Windows RT ecosystem needs to start better communicating about peripheral compatibility, as every day passes, the broader ecosystem gets more nervous.  With six months to go, there’s a whole lot of work to do, and a lot more in the Windows RT camp than the Windows 8 camp.


    Windows on ARM May Get Its Own Brand

    The Wall Street Journal‘s Don Clark is reporting that Microsoft is considering calling the version of Windows that will run on ARM chips something other than Windows 8, the  name expected to be used for the Intel/AMD version. But I can only hope that his belief that the Windows-on-ARM operating system may be called Windows RT is wrong.

    First, it’s a lousy name. It does not fall trippingly off the tongue. The best you can say is that it is better than WOA, hard-core tech-speak for Windows-on-ARM. Windows Tablets are going to need all the marketing help they can get and something with a little more pizzazz would be  helpful.

    Second and more important, Windows RT would be a really confusing name, because of its extreme similarity to WinRT, which is how developers usually refer to the programming model for Windows 8 Metro apps. Among developers, programs written for Metro as usually referred to as WinRT apps. In theory, at least, all WinRT apps should run on both Windows 8 and Windows RT, if those are the names Microsoft chooses. But the whole thing seems unnecessarily confusing.