ballmer at we day in keyarena, 3/27/13
In its 36-plus years of existence, Microsoft has had only two CEOs.
But no longer.
Steve Ballmer’s calling it quits, effective some time next year.
Fret not for the big guy with the big voice and the big body language. He’ll get a retirement-severance package bigger than the economies of several Third World states.
It’s what will happen to the empire of code and copyrights in Redmond (with tendrils worldwide) that’s at stake.
As all good schoolchilden know, Microsoft began in the primordial-ooze era of pre-personal computers, when tiny startup companies made build-it-youself electronics kits which, when assembled, could perform some of the functions of “real” computers (except, you know, for the function of performing real, practical work).
Bill Gates and Paul Allen made a stripped-down version of the BASIC programming language; then (more importantly) they established the notion that software should be paid for. They backed up this concept with copyrights and patents and lawyers.
With Ballmer at their side, Gates and Allen bought an operating system, re-sold it to IBM, and kept the right to also sell versions of it to other computer makers. MS would let hardware makers battle it out among themselves while it controlled the “platform” their products all ran.
This led to the DOS near-monopoly, which segued into the Windows near-monopoly.
It also led to Office and Internet Explorer.
It led to SQL Server, and to other high-end business software and related services.
Most everything Microsoft makes money from can be traced directly back to its early DOS-era dominance.
The company’s tried to get into other things. But those other things have had mixed results.
Remember MSN.com’s “online shows” concept? (The last survivor of those sites, Slate, is now among the Washington Post Co. properties not being sold to Jeff Bezos.)
Remember WebTV, HD-DVD, Mediaroom, Bob, Clippy, Hotmail, Actimates toys, the Encarta CD-ROM encyclopedia, Sidewalk.com, and Zune?
It’s probably easier to remember the Surface RT tablet device, the one the company recently wrote off to the tune of $900 million.
The company’s most successful new consumer-product line, the XBox game platform, is built (at least marketing-wise) on Windows’ gaming clientele. And even this realm has had its duds (XBox One, anyone?).
The jury’s still out on Windows Phone. Is there room for a third smartphone platform?
Microsoft could afford all these failures. Yes, even the Surface RT.
It could afford to keep an unsuccessful project going long enough to learn every little thing about why it failed.
And it could keep a successful project going long enough to watch its trajectory as the times, and the industry, pass it by.
So: Is today’s tech-universe passing Microsoft by?
Some analysts and pundits are making that claim.
They say the age one-size-fits-all personal computer has peaked.
There aren’t enough reasons for people or companies to keep replacing them as fast as they used to.
Especially with tablets and smart phones, and their hordes of specialty-function “apps” that make everything-for-everybody software like Office seem like lumbering beasts of prey.
So what should the next MS-boss do?
For one thing, he or she (and how come no women have been named as potentials?) could dump the notorious employee “stack ranking” system, that causes percentages of workers in each unit to be labeled as inferior no matter what. It’s horrid for morale and for productivity, and does nothing to improve products or services. If Ballmer really deserves to be called the “worst CEO ever” (he’s not, not by a long shot), it would be over this.
Next: Windows and Office still have many lucrative years left in them. That means there’ll be enough cash on hand to re-steer the company.
But to steer it where?
I say, away from Windows as the “one ring to rule them all.”
Even before phones and tablets, Windows had become an unwieldy thing, needing to perform the same functions (or at least most of them) on umpteen different hardware architectures, from sub-laptops to server arrays; for use by everyone from sophomores and shopkeepers to hospitals and factories.
Word and Excel have similarly undergone years of mounting “feature bloat,” hindering their everyday use at all but the most complex tasks. (Both are also based on a printed-page visual metaphor that’s increasingly obsolete as more people do everything on screens.)
What people increasingly need are simple ways to do specific things (preparing specific kinds of texts or crunching specific kinds of numbers, say), and to bounce the resulting documents around between different machines (their own and other people’s).
Think “apps,” to use the modern parlance.
The New MS could supply a basic ecosystem for modular software, which could be supplemented by developers large and small working in file formats (but not underlying code structures) compatible across different devices running different OSes in different screen sizes.
There’s plenty of space in that for all kinds of software puzzle pieces and building blocks. And for developers and template-scripters to build them.
And there’s no reason (other than entrenched corporate culture) why a lot of those builders couldn’t be at Microsoft.
Think even more “micro,” even more “soft.”
the new yorker
ap via nbc news
While I’ve been busy doing whatever (looking for a new home, etc.), I missed a few big birthdays here in online-land.
Tim Berners-Lee opened the first public World Wide Web site on 4/30/93 at the CERN particle-physics lab in Switzerland. For the occasion, that site has been put back up at its original URL.
Berners-Lee was, and still is, an idealist. In the original CERN site’s documents, he described the WWW as something that could open up information to the masses.
Instead of “walled garden” online networks such as CompuServe, Prodigy, and the original AOL, the Web would be open to all comers and contributors. Anybody could put anything on, or receive anything from, it.
This ultimate “disruptive technology,” creator of LOLcat memes and destroyer of newspapers, record labels, and middle-class livelihoods, got its start with the most noble of intentions.
(Just like many a mad-scientist-movie experiment.)
By pure coincidence, the first issue of Wired magazine was out that same month.
From the start, it was intended to be a lot more important than a mere buying guide to PC gear. It was to chronicle tech as the biggest economic, societal, and even ideological movement of our time.
It posited loudmouth, alpha-male San Franciscan Libertarians as the Voice of the Future. It sneered at governments, residents of “Tired” locales (France, Manhattan, Seattle), and people who dared to think about the well-being of others as backward-thinking parasites.
In the world according to the early Wired, CEOs were the new rock stars, even the new royalty. No social or environmental issue could be discussed in its pages, unless there was a potential solution that would also enrich (or at least never inconvenience) big business.
In the end, the bosses and bosses’ lackeys Wired worshipped got most of their way.
And as cyber-critic Jason Lanier notes, the 99 Percent are still trying to pick up the pieces.
That same week 10 years later, Apple launched the first version of the iTunes Store.
The iTunes application had been around since 2001, when Apple bought and revamped a third-party program called SoundJam MP.
Steve Jobs had identified music (and eventually general media) playback as a technology in which Apple had to lead, for the sake of the company’s survival. Otherwise, Windows-only applications and file formats (remember WinAmp?) would shut out Mac users, threatening Apple’s presence in home environments. By making iTunes, and making a Windows version of it, Jobs and co. stayed in the home-computer game.
Two years later, Windows Media-only file protection schemes were threatening to put a lock on “legal” (commercial) music downloads. Again, the Mac and its users would be shut out. Apple’s response not only had to be Windows-compatible, it had to dominate the market on both platforms.
The iTunes Store did that, and more.
Its stand-alone hardware adjuct, the iPod, quickly dominated the new market of portable digital music machines.
And along the way, iTunes allegedly “killed the old music industry.”
(Of course, many of us felt the old music industry had deserved to die, but that’s not the point here.)
But now, the notion of music downloads seems as archaic as the notion of buying music on little compact discs.
The big hype these days is for streaming music subscriptions, a field which Apple has yet to enter.
Yet through all these industry changes, one thing remains constant.
Most recording artists themselves still get the fiscal shaft.
wu ming, via daily kos
'every driver every time it ever rains ever'
via jerry beck at indiewire.com
via seattle bike blog
igor keller at hideousbelltown.blogspot.com
via kip w on flickr
chris pirillo via google plus
In sociology, the controversial and oft-disputed “broken windows theory” claims that crime in an urban neighborhood can go up or down depending on how the locals perceive the place as a “nice” (orderly, civil) place or a “scary” (anything-goes) place.
This post is about an entirely different “broken Windows” theory.
It’s the perception, in some of the tech and business press, that Microsoft Windows is “broken.”
They’re not talking about the software itself being broken (as in inoperable), but the business model behind it.
Especially in regards to “upgrade” sales of the new Windows 8 for multi-desktop businesses.
The naysayers say Windows 8 does so many things so differently than previous versions that there’s a steep “learning curve,” and that businesses may not want that sort of disruption in their day to day operations if they don’t have to take it.
Another alleged issue: Windows 8 is supposed to provide one seamless operating environment among PCs, tablets, and smartphones. Only the tablets and the smartphones still aren’t selling all that well, compared with Apple and Android products.
What’s worse, PCs themselves (almost all of which still come with Windows preloaded) themselves aren’t selling like they used to, and might not ever do so again.
You sure don’t need me to tell you how important MS has become to the Wash. state economy, and that no number of XBox 360 Live subscriptions can make up for the value of all the new and upgraded Windows installations out there.
Oh well. There’s always the Plan B strategy of suing Android phone makers.
I participated in National Novel Writing Month again this year. Came out of it with most of the first draft of something I’m tentatively calling Horizontal Hold: A Novel About Love & Television. More details as I come closer to making it presentable.
from the book 'mail order mysteries' via laughingsquid.com
chris lehman, npr via kplu
watch el chacal de la trompeta, via youtube
andraste.com via the smoking gun
craig hill, tacoma news tribune