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Move Over New Coke and Make Some Room for Windows 8


Shattered Windows

Is Windows Officially Shattered?

According to various news stories published this week, Microsoft will reverse course on their Windows 8 strategy during the next major update to the operating system. User backlash has been so strong against the changes introduced in Windows 8 (as record-low sales figures seem to support) that analysts expect that the codename “Blue” update due by the end of the year may include a return of the “Start Menu” as well as a way for users to completely bypass the “tiled” interface that is the defining characteristic of the Windows 8 interface.

Many are calling this the biggest commercial failure since New Coke. As I have described in my previous articles about Windows 8, Microsoft needed to hit a home run with Windows 8. Unfortunately, it seems they have struck out and Windows 8 now has a nasty stigma associated with it, just like Windows Vista. The difference is that Microsoft had time to recover from their previous debacles. The mobile device market dominated by Apple and Google is moving much too fast for Microsoft. I don’t believe Windows 8 will be able to shake the “New Coke” label in time to seriously compete in The New World of Technology.

As before, this is simply another sign for small business owners, professionals, and technology-concerned individuals to plan their migration away from a Microsoft-dependent environment. The writing is all over the wall here. There’s no use in crying over the new “New Coke”.

The Biggest Decline in PC Shipments in History

PC Flatline

The PC Market is Flatlining

This news was so big that it was even being covered by the mainstream media yesterday: for the first quarter of 2013, PC shipments fell by 13.9% according to research firm IDC. This is the largest drop in PC sales since 1994, which is when IDC began tracking this information. Competing company Gartner, which uses a different methodology to track shipments and sales, reported that PC shipments fell by 11.2%, also one of the biggest declines in history.

It’s no secret PC sales have been declining over the last several years. PC industry pundits have been contorting themselves in all sorts of different ways to try to explain why this is, but most are simply avoiding the stark reality: the PC era is over. It’s time to come to grips that we are in The New World of Technology.

The underlying theme to this story is the fact that Windows 8 has done nothing to help PC sales. The real question, given the lackluster response to the operating system, is Windows 8 actually hurting PC sales? As I’ve said before, unless Microsoft hits a home run with Windows 8, the future of the company is seriously in doubt. At this point, it not only seems they’ve struck out, but to continue the baseball analogy, it seems they’ve let the runner get doubled up as well.

What does this mean for you? If it hasn’t been clear to you before now, hopefully news like this makes it glaringly obvious that you must get on board with New World Technologies NOW. The time to wait has long passed. Those who have waited to this point are already at a big disadvantage to those that have already begun benefiting from all that new technology has to offer. Anyone who continues to wait, especially from a business perspective, does so at their own peril. Specifically, if you thought Windows 8 was going to be Microsoft’s resurgence, all evidence points otherwise.

Do not invest further into Microsoft-based technologies without consulting with experts who have experience with both Old World and New World technologies. All too often, those who were experts in Old World technologies have little to no experience with New World technologies in a real-world environment. They show a bias towards Old World implementations because that is all they know and are comfortable with. Make sure you are getting advice from those who have actual experience with both New and Old World technologies and can make unbiased recommendations based on your needs, not their own.

Suffering the Surface

Microsoft SurfaceYes, I’m enough of a geek that on first weekend the Microsoft Surface was introduced, I found out which local mall had the Surface on display and spent some time testing it. At the time, my impression was that the interface was far too complicated for a tablet and that while Microsoft trumpets the keyboard as an optional accessory, the reality is that it is all about the keyboard. The Surface without a keyboard is like owning a laptop, well, without a keyboard. The Windows RT operating system feels like it assumes you’ll be using the keyboard and the actual shape of the Surface is too long to hold comfortably in portrait mode. To add insult to injury, the first Surface model I was playing with had a problem bringing up the touchscreen keyboard when I disconnected the keyboard cover. The Microsoft representative was baffled why it wouldn’t work and claimed “somebody must have uninstalled the keyboard driver”. Wow. If anyone still doesn’t understand why the iPad is enormously popular, the fact that the iPad will never have a problem like “uninstalling a keyboard driver” should be all the proof required.

Early reviews seemed to back up my own testing. The Windows RT (and Windows 8) operating system felt like Microsoft had created a Frankenstein-ed mess, clumsily throwing together concepts from traditional Windows with a brand-new tablet interface. The Surface all together just did not feel like a final, polished product, awkward to use and rough around the edges. It’s been a few months now and unfortunately for Microsoft, the reviews haven’t changed much. I read an article, Sorry Microsoft, I am breaking up with the Surface, that highlighted many of the issues I uncovered.

After too many hours trying to make the Surface fit into my daily work routine, I have placed it on a shelf while I use other devices to go about my business.

This is exactly what many of my clients did with older tablet PCs running Windows that were available years before the iPad. They were all excited to get them, and then the reality of the the devices were underwhelming at best. Many of them went unused or relegated to use as a heavy laptop. It looks like Microsoft hasn’t learned their lesson.

It’s because I require the gear I use to do everything I need and without fuss. The Surface fails me in this regard despite a big effort on my part to make it work.

“Without fuss”. That is exactly what most people expect from their technology devices. Which is exactly what Apple delivers so much better than any other company. Which is exactly why Apple catapulted past Microsoft and everybody else to become the most valuable technology company in the world.

Whatever the reason, I am tired of constantly trying to get stuff done with my Surface, only to put it away after a few hours in sheer frustration. I can pick up any other gadget in my possession, and that’s quite a few, and easily get things done with little effort.

Do I need to go on?

I am sure some will think I’m too sensitive or that I haven’t given the Surface with Windows 8 enough time. That may be but I’ve given it far more time and effort than I’ve given any other platform and device I’ve used. It’s left me in a continual state of frustration every time I’ve used the Surface to work and I just can’t take it anymore.

I think this statement can easily apply to the Old World of Technology in general. Years of suffering with hard-to-use technology left people frustrated. As soon as a viable alternative showed up, people flocked to Apple and haven’t looked back. Microsoft’s Surface is a throwback to those long days of suffering, and I don’t think anyone wants to go back to that.

RIM is Dead; Long Live BlackBerry?

BlackBerry 10The company formerly known as RIM, whose claim to fame is the BlackBerry smartphone line, has changed their name to BlackBerry. I, for one, am entirely ecstatic about this, as this will be the last sentence I will ever write explaining that RIM is the company that makes the BlackBerry. Most people had no idea who RIM was, they just assumed the company was called BlackBerry. Apparently, RIM finally got the hint. Oh, and by the way, the company also finally released their long-delayed and somewhat-anticipated new smartphone platform, the BlackBerry 10.

I long ago wrote off RIM, er BlackBerry, as dead. Once they announced they were delaying BB10 until after the 2012 holiday season, I called Time of Death. Truly, last year was their only chance at capitalizing on a new platform, and by missing the holiday season, they effectively lost an entire year. Assuming there even is room for a 3rd place competitor in the mobile device market, BlackBerry will be fighting for table scraps against Microsoft and there really won’t be any winners in that war.

By and large, most pundits agree that BlackBerry’s chances are extremely slim. But if you follow the technology industry at all, or if you are exposed to people in the technology industry, you will read or hear some positive reviews as well as some arguing that BB10 will save BlackBerry. Let me summarize why none of this matters, especially to consumers and small business owners.

While I haven’t had any hands-on with a BB10 device (the devices won’t be released until March or April), many reviews are positive regarding the BB10 user experience. I won’t argue those points. The real question should be is BB10 so much better than its competitors that it will cause a huge defection from people using iPhones or Android-based phones? Almost certainly not. Especially considering that changing phones will mean the loss of purchased apps for that platform, and in the case of the iPhone, a move away from the iTunes ecosystem. BB10, just like Microsoft’s Windows 8 phones, will have a huge challenge fighting the inertia of the installed user base of the iPhone. Evidence shows Android phone users are not as loyal, so they might gain some adopters from that platform, but not likely much of any consequence.

Why should you care if BlackBerry has a large marketshare? The reality is that most developers will not put the effort into writing Apps for a platform without a sufficient user base to profit from. But without quality Apps, a platform will not attract a large user base. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem that BlackBerry just doesn’t have the time or financial resources to overcome. Microsoft maybe, but even that’s to be seen.

One train of thought I’ve seen from technology writers is that the BlackBerry 10 will be a hit among its traditional stronghold of corporate IT departments. They claim that IT departments will be eager to upgrade the BlackBerry devices they currently deploy to their corporate users. This might be true, although there is also a chance that IT departments will be slow to adopt the entirely new BB10 platform, either because they want to take the time to thoroughly test it or because they aren’t convinced of its future. Even assuming that IT departments like the BB10 platform, the reality is that it simply doesn’t matter.

First, corporate smartphone users, who used to make up the vast majority of the market in The Old World of Technology, now make up a fraction in The New World of Technology. Consumers and small business owners now rule the roost, and they have all but forgotten about BlackBerry. Second, because of this consumerization of the technology market, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement is spreading rapidly across the corporate IT world. In a nutshell, BYOD is the idea that employees are expecting that their workplaces will support the use of their personally-owned technology devices, such as smartphones. By and large, these devices are iPhones – not BlackBerry phones. And by and large the movement is so strong that corporate IT departments have little choice but to comply with their users’ wishes. The era of corporate IT dictating smartphones to their users has passed. The idea that corporate IT will have any significant influence on the smartphone market is wishful thinking.

The bottom line is that if BlackBerry’s only hope is in corporate IT, then they have almost no chance at all. The era of trickle-down technology, where small business and consumers waited to see what technology shook out from big business, is over. Since small business and consumers drive The New World of Technology, BlackBerry has simply become irrelevant. BB10 is BlackBerry’s last gasp before they sink below the surface; don’t get dragged down with them.

Microsoft Enters the Tablet Wars

Today is a historical day for Microsoft, and not just because they released their latest operating systems (the various flavors of Windows 8 and Windows RT). By also introducing their “Surface” tablet device, today marks the first time that Microsoft has produced a computing device of any sort. For all the devices that have run Microsoft operating systems and software, Microsoft has never made PCs, never made laptops, never made smartphones, and up until now, had never made a tablet. The Surface represents a huge step for Microsoft’s future, but the important question for those planning technology purchases remains – what does Microsoft’s future hold? And how does the Surface play into that future?

At this point, Microsoft’s future is quite uncertain. For as large of a company Microsoft still is, all of their strength lies in the PC market. However, the PC market is shrinking rapidly, largely being replaced by mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. Mobile devices won’t completely eliminate the PC market, but it will reduce it down to a size that will likely not support a company the size of Microsoft – at least not in the manner they are accustomed to existing. So while Microsoft is in no immediate danger of collapsing, such as a company like RIM, their future 5 years out is shaky at best. Microsoft’s only chance of remaining a dominant company in the future is to compete successfully in the mobile device market. Up to this point, Microsoft has had no success at all.

Windows 8/RT is Microsoft’s attempt to bridge their dominance in the PC market into success in the mobile device market. The Surface is Microsoft’s attempt to inject a level of control over an entire platform, both hardware and software as Apple has successfully done. The strategies are independent yet intertwined. If Windows 8 and RT are wildly successful on their own, it will prove that the Old World Technology paradigm of one company making software for a plethora of hardware vendors can still be viable. However, it appears that Microsoft is hedging their bets and getting their feet wet with hardware manufacturing. If Microsoft’s hardware partners can’t make inroads into the dominance of Apple’s iOS devices and Google’s Android-based devices, then Microsoft’s last hope will be to offer consumers a 100% Microsoft solution, one in which they control all aspects of production and, perhaps more importantly, marketing and promotion. The next few months should give us a good indication how successful Microsoft’s strategies will prove. Unfortunately, even today at day one, it seems they are already off to a rocky start.

So far early reviews have been mixed. The general consensus is that while Microsoft’s Surface may have strong hardware specs, the software leaves much to be desired. Too many inconsistencies and missing features plague the new Windows RT platform. While Microsoft could afford to release subpar products into the PC market, they are not afforded the same luxury in the mobile device market. Consumer expectations are set very high due to the ease-of-use and robustness of Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Consumers and small business owners are not as forgiving of flaws as are corporate IT departments. These flaws could very well hurt Windows adoption on the mobile device front.  Given the rapid pace of technology development and the speed at which products come and go, a slow start is a bad sign for a mobile device platform these days. If Microsoft strikes out with Windows on a mobile platform now, they may be relegated to a third-place also-ran, behind Apple and Google.

Microsoft is betting that those people who currently are still tied to Microsoft on the PC will hold out for Microsoft on mobile devices. While that’s Microsoft’s only bet, it’s not a good bet for consumers and small business. The mobile device market has established itself without Microsoft and will continue to entrench itself over the next few years while Microsoft is still figuring out how to catch up. I can not recommend that any small business wait to see how Microsoft fares in this market. The longer any business waits to jump into The New World of Technology, the further they fall behind their competitors who are embracing it. Waiting for Microsoft to get their act together is time that most small businesses simply can’t afford.

Eight is Not Great

Windows Metro InterfaceA recent article, Microsoft’s big bet: Windows 8’s ‘too many cooks’ problem, highlights one of the more common concerns technology experts have about the upcoming Windows 8: that it is trying to be everything to everyone and in doing so, will please no one. This isn’t the only article that brings up this concern, but it does do a very good job of explaining the reasons why Microsoft is trying to make Windows 8 all things to all people.

The first part of article’s title, “Microsoft’s big bet,” says a lot. For a company that still commands the largest marketshare in the PC industry, they are virtually betting the company on Windows 8. How could this be? The reason is pretty simple: Microsoft is attempting to navigate a technology transition unlike any it has ever attempted before. And as I referenced in a previous article, transitions are where tech companies go to die. From the mainframe era, to the PC era, to the Internet era, and so on, history is littered with the remains of companies that failed during times of transition. We are in the middle of the transition to The New World of Technology and Microsoft has missed the boat up to this point. They realize that they can no longer afford to rest on their laurels, but Microsoft has very little experience playing from behind. Given the incredibly rapid pace the technology industry is transitioning, Microsoft is scrambling to do something – anything. But without a clear vision of how to make Windows fit into The New World of Technology, Microsoft appears to be trying to change Windows for change’s sake.

A quote from the article sums up Microsoft’s predicament nicely,

Windows 8 has become a “Franken-system” of mish-mashed ideas, thoughts and concepts. Microsoft is desperately trying to make the forthcoming operating system a one-size-fits-all solution to everyone’s troubles.

With Microsoft betting the company, going “all in” with a Franken-system Windows 8 seems like a highly risky play. But Microsoft seems desperate and given how far they are behind, it may be their only move. Windows 8 can’t be just “good enough”. It has to be game changing if it is to preserve the current user base of Windows while transitioning to the new world of tablet devices. Microsoft needs a home run and they are definitely swinging for the fences – but in this case they only have one strike left and they aren’t very good at hitting curveballs.

Where Tech Companies Go To Die

The now-famous open letter to RIM executives references a quote that one of RIM’s CEOs recently made in regards to RIM’s so-far-not-yet-successful technology transition, “No other technology company other than Apple has successfully transitioned their platform. It’s almost never done, and it’s way harder than you realize. This transition is where tech companies go to die.”

In fact, Apple has done it by my count, 4 times (Apple II to Macintosh, Motorola 68000 processors to PowerPC processors, Classic Mac OS to Mac OS X, PowerPC processors to Intel processors). And now it is possible to argue that Apple is doing it for a 5th time, transitioning from Mac OS to iOS. How does a company like Apple manage to pull off these transitions, during both good times and bad? It stems from their deeply held beliefs that technology must be user-focused. Great technology is born from this and it requires great technology (along with proper execution) to pull off major technology transitions.

As RIM’s CEO said, most companies that try it fail. It’s an incredibly risky time, as RIM is experiencing right now. Poorly executed transitions are opportunities for customers to jump ship. It’s why Microsoft has never done it. They know their continued success is contingent on the inertia that the Windows platform has built up in the industry. But more importantly, Microsoft realizes that this inertia is maintained by all the software that runs on Windows. In order for Microsoft to develop a truly next-generation operating system, they must give up the shaky foundations that Windows is built up. But they know that if they do this, they cut the ties that binds users to Microsoft, as software that runs on Windows would likely need to be modified or completely re-written to run on a next generation of Windows. Only an exceptionally executed transition across all phases would ensure that Microsoft keeps most of their customers. There’s not yet been a need for Microsoft to take that chance. But it is becoming increasingly clear that standing still is also becoming risky. At some point Microsoft, and many other tech companies, will realize that they must make a transition to survive. And that’s when things will become very interesting.

If one pays attention to the market, it is coming into focus that Microsoft is entering (or already has entered) a transitional state. As I alluded to before, the “PC” market is transitioning into mobile devices such as tablets (i.e. the iPad) and smartphones (i.e. the iPhone). Microsoft’s announcements of Windows 8 and their attempts at re-creating their mobile strategy with Windows Phone 7 is evidence that Microsoft has realized the changing state of the market. But a lot hinges on what Microsoft does over the next two years. If Microsoft doesn’t pull off this transition well, the entire future of the company is in doubt. If one doesn’t believe that a company like Microsoft could fall, just a little study of history can show what happened to tech giants like IBM.

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