pc

Vanity Fair has a fascinating piece on the rise, fall and reboot of Microsoft. The story is really about leadership; from the days of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer; to Ballmer succeeding as CEO; and finally to Satya Nadella. It’s a great piece and definitely worth reading.

I’m a big admirer of Ballmer, but must call him out on something he said in the article:

“The worst work I did was from 2001 to 2004,” says Ballmer. “And the company paid a price for bad work. I put the A-team resources on Longhorn, not on phones or browsers. All our resources were tied up on the wrong thing.” Who shoulders the blame is a matter of debate, but the fact is neither Ballmer nor Gates stopped the failure from happening, even as almost everyone else saw it coming.

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Now that Windows 10 Technical Preview is out, opinions are flooding in about Microsoft’s oddly named OS. One of the common remarks is how modern Start Screen from Windows 8 is out the window because, you know, people hate it.

I disagree. Whether you like colorful live tiles is a subjective choice — it’s an opinion about aesthetics, like how one person could like TouchWiz but another could abhor it — but the Windows 8 Start Screen is not functionally inferior. As an app launcher, it’s actually superior to the traditional Start Menu.

But if flat, colorful boxes aren’t your thing, that’s understandable. That’s an opinion.

You may not like how TouchWiz looks, but that doesn’t make a Samsung phone objectively bad.

Windows 8 was objectively bad, but for other reasons.

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Microsoft just announced Windows 10. It’s a horrible name, and Microsoft is setting itself up to be made fun of just like they did with Surface’s “no compromises” tagline.

Here’s a joke already making the rounds: It’s Windows 10 because 7 8 9. Argh. Every time Windows 10 fails, and it will inevitably fail for something sometime, Windows 9 will be the easy barb.

Why not just go with something like Windows X? It even implies the number 10.

Name aside, Windows 10 looks promising. I’ve been sketching ideas on OneNote with my Surface Pro 3, and redesigning Windows 8 is a favorite subject. High up on my wish list is a touch mode and desktop mode; triggered when you detach or attach a keyboard to a 2-in-1 device. That’s in Windows 10 and which Microsoft calls Continuum. It looks good.

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Some time ago, we wrote the following about the upcoming ecosystem war, which will be delineated by display size:

At this screen size, productivity is possible and most consumers will want to do some work with such a device. I’m seeing more people purchase keyboard covers for their iPads; and of course, 2-in-1 PCs address this segment as well. Going forward, no device in this [10- to 13-inch display size ] category will be purely about consumption or purely about work — consumers will expect to do both on a device this size. That is why Google acquired QuickOffice; Apple is rumored to debut a 12-inch iPad Pro soon; and why Microsoft is desperately courting developers to create for consumers.

Apple and Google seem to agree. With tablet sales leveling off; the 12.9-inch iPad Pro expected to launch soon; and Google and HTC developing a keyboard cover for the new, 9-inch Nexus; Apple and Google are moving into Microsoft’s traditional stronghold of devices designed for work.

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I’ve had the Surface Pro 3 for less than a week, but unless things change by the next, I will be returning the device. As you can tell from my first impressions post, I loved it, so what brought the change of heart?

Three things. First, the tablet gets unbelievably hot frequently and when it does it’s incredibly uncomfortable to hold. It’s not much of a tablet when you don’t even want to hold it. What kind of tasks, might you ask, was I doing while its vapor magnesium was brought to a boil? Intensive, taxing stuff like web browsing, email and OneNote of course.

Second, the battery life isn’t great. I’ve consistently gotten 6 hours of screen time. This is on a balanced power plan, 37% screen brightness and sleep after 2 minutes of inactivity. I was expecting 9 hours of battery so 6 is disappointing.

Third, there’s something funky with the WiFi. Sometimes the connection is just awful slow and it’s not the fault of my connection; a reboot fixes it.

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In yesterday’s post, we referenced the interview with Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly:

The tablets boomed and now are crashing. The volume has really gone down in the last several months. But I think the laptop has something of a revival because it’s becoming more versatile. So, with the two-in-ones, you have the opportunity to have both a tablet and laptop, and that’s appealing to students in particular. So you have an evolution. The boundaries are not as well defined as they used to be.

The line between tablet and laptop have indeed blurred. People are increasingly using tablets and laptops for both work and play. Going forward, I believe the most meaningful market segmentation is not one based on devices (phones, tablets, laptops, desktops), as we tend to do today, but by screen size (2-inches and below, 3- to 6-inches, 7- to 9-inches, 10- to 13-inches, 14- to 17-inches, and above).

From those lens, the positions of the three incumbents — Apple, Microsoft and Google — look different. Apple doesn’t seem as strong; Microsoft still has a chance; and Google just needs to extend its disruption upwards.

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There was an interesting interview recently on Re/code with Best Buy CEO, Hubert Joly.  Joly says all the right things about Best Buy and also had some insights on the PC and tablet market.  Highlights on the latter:

  • PCs are experiencing a revival, partly due to no more Windows XP support
  • Tablet sales are “crashing” and now a replacement market
  • Hybrid 2-in-1s are competitive with tablets
  • PC prices have declined a lot

My hypothesis based on the above is this — the tablet market is about light computing needs and those needs have been mostly addressed.  What do people use tablets for?  Browsing the Internet, reading books, watching movies, playing casual games and perhaps a bit of emailing.  An iPad 2 is sufficiently adequate for those requirements; there’s no pressing need to get an iPad Air.  We often talk about Chromebooks being good enough; so are the earliest iPads and most Android tablets.  Perhaps the only reason to upgrade is to play the latest 3D games but that is more niche than mass market.

Add it all up, and people with tablets are in no hurry to get another.  We saw explosive growth because tablets initially fulfilled an unmet need; but now that need is mostly met, growth is levelling off.

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Mac computers have been steadily eating away at Microsoft’s share of the PC market the past few years; enough so that Panos Panay appointed the MacBook Air as the Surface Pro 3’s competition.  As PCs become increasingly lifestyle products, the Mac will continue to gain share.

When we say Macs are amazing, you’re probably thinking about its sexy look and premium finish; it’s proprietary software; it’s reputation for reliability (sometimes undeserved); the slick commercials; the aspirational Apple brand; or perhaps even unwarranted PR hype.

But you’d be wrong.  The most amazing thing about the Mac isn’t all those things, things that drive market demand; it’s Apple’s peerless ability to convert demand into profit.  And that’s about good old fashioned operations.

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