Nov 13

Resistance is Futile or: GenTriFicatiOn

The vocal minority. You’ve heard of them, but who are they?

Companies often seek to change their status quo by modifying how they do business. Generally, this is a nice way of saying just they want more. More what, you ask? Traditionally, it would have meant they simply want more money, as in raising the cost of the goods they are selling (or lowering the cost that they will pay to suppliers or partners). These of course are done to increase revenue, or decrease operating expenses, respectively.

In today’s world, personally identifiable information (PII) isn’t just data, but instead is a currency which is invaluable to advertisers. While Google was the first to really succeed in this economy (of sorts), Facebook, Adobe, Microsoft, and anybody else with skin in the Internet advertising or analytics game is in the same position today. For these companies, their ask is an ever increasing cross-section of your identity. In exchange, they offer you “free” services. However, like any other business, they want an ever-increasing amount of your personal information in order to continue delivering that service. We’ve seen it with Facebook and their PII land grabs really beginning in earnest in 2010, and we’re seeing it at the current time with the encroachment of Google+ across Google sites where legacy communities aren’t very welcoming to the G+ GenTriFicatiOn.

Whether you’re talking about raising costs (reducing expenses) or asking for increasingly accurate PII, these price uplifts (or gazumps) are often not greeted warmly. In fact, there’s usually a vocal minority that quite often speak out and fight the change.

On Twitter yesterday, Taylor Buley asked if the uproar due to YouTube’s shift to Google+ could generate enough momentum for a real YouTube competitor.

I responded to Taylor at the time that I didn’t think it could. Back in 2010, when Facebook made their (at that time) largest shift in privacy policy, there was a rather large outcry by people bothered by the changes. The alternative network Diaspora was launched (and failed) out of this outcry.

There comes a certain point where these outcries cause an opinion to turn into a degree of a PR problem. But this PR problem is usually short lived. In the end, only two things can happen:

  1. The change is reversed (unlikely, as it causes a strategic retreat and a tactical reassessment)
  2. The turbulence subsides, the majority of users are retained, and some of the vocal minority are lost.

I consciously chose the term GenTriFicatiOn when I was describing Google+ earlier. Google is trying to build a community of happy PII sharers. But a lot of Google’s legacy community citizens don’t fit that mold. Google’s services are provided “free” in exchange for the price that they (Google) deems adequate. If you don’t want to pay that price, Google seems happy to see you exit the community.

Google today, like Facebook several years ago, is in the position of the chef with a frog in a pot. Slowly turning the heat up, and actually trying to excommunicate users who aren’t going to be willing participants in the Google of Tomorrow. Facebook most likely flushed the vocal privacy critics several years ago. Consider this Google Trends chart on the query “Facebook privacy”. While there is a regular churn on the topic, high water mark event H aligns nicely with the most contentious (to that date) privacy changes Facebook made, back in 2010.


When Google shut down Google Reader last year, there was a huge outcry. However, Google obviously knew the value that Google Reader users provided in terms of PII sharing before it shut down the site. (Answer? Not much.) As a result? A huge outcry followed by a deafening thud. Google didn’t lose much of what they were after, which is those data sharing, Google loving users. See the Google Trends chart of the Google Reader outcry below. Towards the right we can see the initial outcry, followed most likely by discussion of alternatives/replacements and… resignation.


When these sites increase their PII cost to end users (let’s call these end users producers, not consumers), they’re taking a conscious gamble. The sites are hoping that the number of users who won’t care about their privacy exceeds the number of users who do. In general, they’re likely right, especially if they carefully, consciously execute these steps one by one, and are aware of which ones will be the largest minefields. Of those Google properties remaining to be “Plussed”, Google Voice is likely the most contentious, although YouTube was also pretty likely to generate pushback, as it did. Again, those vocal users not happy with the changes aren’t going to be good Google+ users, so if Google+ is where Google believes their future lies, it’s in their best interest to churn those users out anyway.

Nov 13

Mutually Assured Distraction

Have you recently updated an app your computer or your smartphone (or accessed your favorite Web app), and been faced with the arrival of:

  1. New features out of the blue
  2. Changed behavior for existing features
  3. A release that removes or breaks a feature you frequently use
  4. A user interface change that completely modifies the way the app works?

If so, you might be a victim of mutually assured distraction (MAD). MAD can also alternatively be referred to as competitive cheese moving. 

Once upon a time, software companies released software on semi-predictable schedules, with a modicum of cheese moving. User interface elements might have been moved, but users familiar with the application (or sibling applications) could find their way around with some degree of ease.

However, with the arrival of milestone-driven and Web-based software, we increasingly find ourselves facing a world where applications we are comfortable with and used to are rapidly, somewhat inexplicably, shifting on us (quick apps?). Faced with increasing competition and the agile software approaches used by competitors, more and more (and larger and larger) software companies are pushing out software that’s sort of done, sort of usable, and sort of documented.

Mutually assured distraction allows company A to volley out a marketing message when they hit their milestone and release, only to be responded to when company B (and company C, D, ad nauseum) releases it’s own milestone months or weeks later – and the process repeats. With each milestone burp of a release, little nuanced changes in the software arrive, and it is up to the end user of the software to figure out what changed, if the implementation of their favorite checkbox feature from company B works better than the implementation of checkbox feature from company A did a month and a half ago. Or if it’s still even there.

The problem with MAD is the position it puts end users in (not to mention the organizations/employers that still support them, as these applications still often have to be used for collaboration between two or more employees – that is, people have to get work done).

Adding “value” all the time may seem like a boon for the end user. But it really isn’t. It makes understanding the features of the application as it exists today hard enough, and the reality is that no end user has the neurons available (or desire) to keep track of all the changes coming in the application. They just want to get things done and use software and hardware that just works.

It’s one thing when you add a completely new feature that doesn’t really shift the way the app works for end users. It’s something else entirely when you remove or modify functionality that users depend upon and are comfortable using. When you do that, you’re violating a cardinal rule of building software:

Don’t shit on your end user’s desk.

Yes, it seems simple enough. People don’t like surprise. They don’t like it when you move things around just so you can say, “Look! We changed things! We improved it! LOOK AT THE VALUE YOU’RE GETTING!!!”

If you’re going to make your development milestones visible to end users, you darn well better give them some clue about what features you plan to add back (and ideally, some timeframe for when you plan to do so). For me, I think that this increasingly industry-wide move to faster and faster releases of key software applications creates an unsustainable cadence where users can never be fully productive with the application, and anyone responsible for supporting, deploying, or licensing applications for them is in for just as much pain, or more.

Nov 13

Plan on profiting off of Windows XP holdouts? There’s no gold left in them thar hills.

A few times over the last year, I’ve had conversations with people about Windows XP holdouts. That is, that as Windows XP’s impending doom rapidly approaches next April, businesses and consumers holding out on Windows XP will readily flock to something new, such as – ideally for Microsoft, Windows 8.1 – or Windows 7.

I’m not so sure.

To start, let’s consider why a business or consumer would still be running Windows XP today. Most likely, it’s a combination of all of the following:

  1. It’s paid for (the OS and hardware)
  2. It runs on the hardware they have
  3. Applications they have won’t run, or aren’t supported, on anything newer
  4. It requires no user retraining
  5. They don’t see  a compelling reason to move beyond XP
  6. They don’t realize the risks of sticking with XP after next April.

You can split those reasons into two categories. Items 1-3 are largely due to financial impediment, while 4-6 are generally due to “static quo” – XP meets their business needs and 8.1 or 7 doesn’t provide the necessary pull to motivate them to move off of XP.

It’s not that 7, 8, or 8.1 did anything wrong, necessarily. I was there when XP shipped, and I’ll tell you I heard many business customers complain about numerous things. They hated the theme and felt it was toy-like. They wanted to be able to take off Movie Maker, Internet Mail & News, or other consumer niblets of the OS, but couldn’t. Frankly, some of them just felt it was a warmed over Windows 2000 (obviously none of those customers had ever tried to undock a hibernated Windows 2000 laptop). For many customers, it took until XP had been effectively re-released as XPSP2 for them to really fall for it. When Vista shipped, reasons 4 & 5 above largely doomed it. Vista had a completely nebulous value proposition for most consumers and almost every business, leading to Windows XP becoming even more deeply engrained into many businesses.

Many people describe Windows 7 as “a better Windows XP”, which I think is actually an insult to both operating systems. But frankly, unless a business understands item number 6 (which Microsoft just grabbed a drum and started beating really hard – albeit very, very late), the rest don’t matter.

I’ve talked to several businesses about Windows XP over the past several years. For better or worse, most of them are happy with the hardware and software investments they made over the last 12 years, and many don’t feel like spending money for new hardware (especially new touch-centric form factors with value that they don’t see clearly yet).

Even more important though, is the number of times we have run into businesses – especially small businesses like dental, medical, or other independent practices – which during the past decade either bought commercial software packages or hired consultants to build them custom software. As a result, many of them hit item number 3 – “Applications they have won’t run, or aren’t supported, on anything newer”. I kid you not, there are a lot of small businesses with a lot of applications that honestly have no path forward. They cannot stay on XP – they cannot be secure. They cannot move off, as they either cannot find a replacement of one or more of their key applications, cannot move that key existing application, or in some cases, simply cannot afford to move to a replacement (in case you haven’t noticed, we’re still not in a great economic climate). They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Move off of XP and throw away working systems your employees already know for new systems with unknown features or functionality. To boot, any of these new solutions are primarily still targeting Windows 7 (the desktop), not the Windows 8+ “modern UI” – diminishing some of the key value in acquiring tablet or touch-centric devices running 8, if the system is, for the time being (and likely for the foreseeable future) stuck on the desktop. Since Windows 8+ doesn’t include Windows XP Mode, unless a customer has appropriate enterprise licensing with Microsoft, they can’t even run Windows XP in a VM on Windows 8+ (and I have a hard time believing that customers who spend that kind of money are the kind of customers who are holding out).

There are still many organizations that are using XP (and likely Office 2003) and appear to have no exit strategy or plan to leave XP behind. It appears a lot of organizations don’t realize (or don’t care) now porous Windows XP will become after it ceases being patched in April. It isn’t a war-hardened OS, as some customers believe. It’s a U.S.S. Constitution in an era of metal battleships. I hate to sound like a shill, but XP systems will be ripe for an ass-kicking beginning next spring, and they can, and will, be taken advantage of. I also don’t believe Microsoft will do any favors for businesses that stay on XP (and don’t pay the hefty costs for custom support agreements with a locked and loaded exit plan in place).

XP is dying. But I believe lots of organizations are simply unclear about what kind of threat it poses to them. As a result, they’re sitting on the investment they’ve already made.

I also think that a lot of organizations that are still sitting on XP today may even be aware of (some of the) potential risks that XP poses to their organization after April, but simply don’t have the budget to escape in time, even if they had the motivation (which lots of them don’t appear to have). Even if a company pulls the trigger today, if they have any significant number of XP systems and XP dependent applications, they’ll be lucky to be off of XP by April.

There’s a belief that a lot of these customers had budget sitting there, had no app blockers, and might have even wanted to go to 7, 8 or just “something new”, but were just lackadaisical and for some reason will now get a fire lit under them, generating a windfall of sorts for Microsoft, PC OEMs, and partners over the next 5 months. Instead of that easy opportunity, I believe where you run across XP in the majority of organizations at this point, a better analogy is a set of four fully impacted wisdom teeth in a patient with no dental coverage.

Nov 13

Jerry Seinfeld on Collaboration

“Let me tell you why my TV series in the ’90’s was so good. Besides an inordinate amount of just pure good fortune.

In most TV series, 50% of the time is spent working on the show. 50% of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something.

We spent 99% of our time writing. Me and Larry. The door was closed. Somebody calls? We’re not taking the call. We’re gonna make this scene funny.

That’s why the show was good.

I didn’t want to go from that to, you know, some H.G. Wells contraption machine, of trying to control the weather. That’s what these deals are. That’s what making a movie is. What’s a movie? It’s this giant machine, it’s this giant ship, and everybody gets on it and they shove off and nobody knows where it’s going.” – Jerry Seinfeld on Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing, Oct. 14, 2013 (~29M)

What Jerry said really resonated with me. It reminded me of what was so frustrating at so many of the companies I’ve worked at, and what’s so wonderful about where I work now. When people let personalities get in the way of making great things, versus what kind of magic you can create when everybody is working together towards a common goal.

Oct 13

Windows Server on ARM processors? I don’t think so.

It’s hard to believe that almost three years have passed since I wrote my first blog entry discussing Windows running on the ARM processor. Over that time, we’ve seen an increasing onslaught of client devices (tablets and phones) running on ARM, and we’ve watched Windows expand to several Windows RT-based devices, and retract back to the Surface RT and Surface 2 being the only ARM-based Windows tablets, and now with the impending Nokia 2520 being the only non-Microsoft (and the only non-Nvidia) Windows RT tablets – that is, for as long as Nokia isn’t a part of Microsoft.

Before I dive in to the topic of Windows on ARM servers, I think it is important to take a step back and assess Windows RT.

Windows RT 8.1 likely shows the way that Microsoft’s non-x64 tablets will go – with less and less emphasis on the desktop over time, specifically as we see more touch-friendly Office applications in the modern shell. In essence, the strength that Microsoft has been promoting Windows RT upon (Office! The desktop you know!) is also it’s Achilles heel, due to the bifurcated roles of the desktop and modern UIs. But that’s the client – where, if Microsoft succeeds, the desktop becomes less important over time, and the modern interface becomes more important. A completely different direction than servers.

Microsoft will surely tell you that Windows RT, like the Windows Store and Surface, are investments in the long term. They aren’t short-term bets. That said, I think you’d have to really question anybody who tells you “Windows RT is doing really well.” Many partners kicking Windows RT’s tires ahead of launch bolted before the OS arrived, and every other ODM/OEM building or selling Windows RT devices has abandoned the platform in favor of low-cost Intel silicon instead. The Windows Store may be growing in some aspects, but until it is healthy and standing on its own, Windows RT is a second fiddle to Windows 8.x, where the desktop can be available to run “old software”, as much as that may be uninspiring on a tablet.

For some odd reason, people are fascinated with the idea of ARM-based servers. I’ve wound up in several debates/discussions with people on Twitter about Windows on ARM servers. I hope it never happens, and I don’t believe it will. Moreover, if it does, I believe it will fail.

ARM is ideal for a client platform – especially a clean client platform with no legacy baggage (Android, iOS, etc). It is low-power and highly customizable silicon. Certainly, when you look at data centers, the first thing you’ll notice is the energy consumption. Sure, it’d be great if we could conceptually reduce that by using ARM. But I’m really not sure replacing systems running one instruction set with systems running another is really a)viable or b)the most cost effective way to go about making the infrastructure more energy efficient.

Windows RT is, in effect, a power-optimized version of Windows 8, targeted to Nvidia and Qualcomm SoCs. It cannot run (most) troublesome desktop applications, and as a result doesn’t suffer from decades of Win32 development bad habits, with applications constantly pushing, pulling, polling and waiting… Instead, Windows RT is predominantly based around WinRT, a new, tightly marshaled API set intended to (in addition to favoring touch) minimize power consumption of non-foreground applications (you’ll note, the complete opposite of what servers do). Many people contemplating ARM-based Windows servers don’t seem to understand how horribly this model (WinRT) would translate to Windows server.

I talked earlier this year about the fork in the road ahead of Windows Server and the Windows client. I feel that it is very important to understand this fork, as Windows Server and client are headed in totally different directions in terms of how you interact with them and how they fulfill their expected role:

  • Windows client shell is Start screen/modern/Explorer first. Focuses on low-power, foreground-led applications, ARM and x86/x64, predominantly emphasizing WinRT.
  • Windows Server shell is increasingly PowerShell first. Focuses on virtualization, storage, and networking, efficient use of background processes, x64 only, predominantly emphasizing .NET and ASP.NET.

For years, Microsoft fought Linux tooth and nail to be the OS of choice for hosters. There’s really not much money to be made at that low end when you’re fighting against free and can’t charge for client access licenses, where Microsoft loves to make bread and butter. Microsoft offered low-end variants of Windows Server to try and break into this market. Cheaper prices mixed with hamstrung feature capabilities, etc. In time the custom edition was dropped in favor of less restrictive licensing of the regular editions of Windows Server 2012. But this isn’t a licensing piece, so I digress.

It is my sincere hope that there are enough people left at Microsoft who can still remember the Itanium. We’ll never know how much money ($MM? $BB?) was wasted on trying to make Windows Server and a few other workloads successful on the Itanium processor. Microsoft spent considerable time and money getting Windows (initially client and server, eventually just server) and select server applications/workloads ported to Itanium. Not much in terms of software ever actually made it over. Now it is dead – like every other architecture Windows NT has been ported to other than x64 (technically a port, but quite different) and, for now, ARM.

That in mind, I invite you to ponder what it would take to get a Windows Server ecosystem running on ARM processors, doing the things servers need to do. You’d need:

  1. 64-bit ARM processors from Nvidia or Qualcomm (SoCs already supported by Windows, but in 64-bit forms)
  2. Server hardware built around these processors – likely blade servers
  3. Server workloads for Windows built around these processors – likely IIS and a select other range of roles such as a Hadoop node, etc.
  4. .NET framework and other third-party/dev dependencies (many of these in place due to Windows RT, but are likely 32-bit, not 64-bit)
  5. Your code, running on ARM. Many things might just work, lots of things just won’t.

That’s just the technical side. It isn’t to say you couldn’t do it – or that part of it might not already be done within Microsoft already, but otherwise it would be a fairly large amount of work with likely a very, very low payoff for Microsoft, which leads us, briefly, to the licensing side. You think ARM-based clients are scraping the bottom of the pricing barrel? I don’t think Microsoft could charge nearly the price they do for Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard on an ARM-based server and have it be commercially viable (when going up against free operating systems). Charge less than Windows Server on x64, and you’re cannibalizing your own platform – something Microsoft doesn’t like to do.

Of course, the biggest argument against Windows Server on ARM processors is this: www.windowsazure.com. Any role that you would likely find an ARM server well-suited for, Microsoft would be happy to sublet you time on Windows Azure to accomplish the same task. Web hosting, Web application, task node, Hadoop node, etc. Sure, it isn’t on-premises, but if your primary consideration is cost, using Azure instead of building out a new ARM-based data center is probably a more financially viable direction, and is what Microsoft would much rather see going forward. The energy efficiency is explicit – you likely pay fractions of what you might for the same fixed hardware workload on premises running on x64 Windows, and you pay “nothing” when the workload is off in Azure – you can also expand or contract your scale as you need to, without investing in more hardware (but you run the same code you would on-premises – not the same as ARM would need). Microsoft, being a Devices and Services company now, would much rather sell you a steady supply of Windows Azure-based services instead of Windows Server licenses that might never be updated again.

Certainly, anything is possible. We could see Windows Server on ARM processors. We could even see Microsoft-branded server hardware (please no, Microsoft). But I don’t believe Microsoft sees either of those as a path forward. For on-premises, the future of energy efficiency with Windows Server lies in virtualization and consolidation on top of Hyper-V and Windows Server 2012+. For off-premises, the future of energy efficiency with Windows Server appears rather Azure. I certainly don’t expect to see an ARM-based Windows Server anytime soon. If I do, I’d really like to see the economic model that justifies it, and what the OS would sell for.

Oct 13

How to kill your business

I’ve been tidying up my media subscriptions of late. Although I’ve subscribed to many paper and online publications over the years, I’ve found that there are only a few which give me an adequate mix of content to the price they’re willing to charge and the time I have available to give to consuming them.

I know it costs a lot to create a publication, but it’s astonishing to see how much some media companies value their product – more than their consumers, and charge accordingly.

Within the past year and a half, I’ve had two experiences with publications which, like Hollywood, try economic games in order to try and keep customers they already have, instead of just offering competitive prices to begin with for new subscribers, or offering existing subscribers a logical extension of the initial rate they paid.

Like I said – I understand that it costs money to make a publication. I also understand that often, costs increase annually, or at least on a semi-regular basis.

In almost any business, finance usually likes to see revenue go up while expenses go down. But there are only two real ways to do that. Say I have 200 customers I sell my widget to, and I rely upon annual sales of that widget at $10/each in order to keep my business going. I either

  1. Find additional customers to buy my widgets (good idea).
  2. Charge my existing customers more for the replacement widgets when they come back (bad idea – causes churn).

There’s this warped psychology that says you can shaft an existing customer and they’ll just gleefully take it. They will – for a bit. But in today’s economic climate, when you take a publication that costs less than US$30/yr for a first year weekly subscription, and you offer a “discounted” renewal for more than US$150, all I can say is, “You’re high.”

That’s not even close to sustainable. Either you’re not charging customers enough in year one and your little loss-leader for that year is actually a stupid idea, or you’re charging too much for years after that. Usually this is trying to pass along costs due to dwindling subscriptions to those who have stayed behind and renewed – which is not viable. I’ve seen far too many friends on Facebook complain about a handful of well-known US newspapers that have been jacking up their prices at rates that are so ridiculous they don’t risk churn, but instead guarantee churn.

I’ll give you a hint – you can only pass the pain of your financially stressed business model to customers for so long before they will cease being customers – and trust me, they will. There are far too many sources of information today – consumers are simply overloaded. Where you may have once thought your news was special and exclusive, you’re largely incorporating newswire feeds that consumers are seeing over Twitter, Facebook, and countless news channels that cost less than you or are free. You either add unique value, or figure out how to make your subscribers happy at a non-extortionistic renewal rate.

Which brings me to my second point. A long time ago, I used to read the NY Times quite often. Then came the paywall. Then I became a “tenner”. I’d read the ten allotted articles per month, and unless I bumped into an article syndicated through Twitter, I wouldn’t read it again until next month.

On a sidenote, I fear for local newspapers that have been inspired by the NYTimes’ ability to keep the paywall up (unlike Slate, where we tried a paywall, but it failed rather brutally). Local newspapers – especially those not in major cities – that are putting up paywalls in order to access the small amount of unique content they have (and the large amount of syndicated content people can find elsewhere) are really taking a risk. I don’t see that being sustainable and will hurt in the long run.

As for the NYTimes, I do value the unique content they provide. But their subscription rate and the amount of value I get out of it given the time I have/other sources of news I have are simply incompatible. Recently, I did decide to subscribe to the NYTimes because I earnestly wound up finding several articles I wanted to read but couldn’t because my monthly 10 were burned. So I did. The NYTimes of course does the same thing I talked about earlier… US$.99 for the first month, and then every model of subscription is US$15 per month or more after that. While I found I did use the site more for a few days, I just found that I wasn’t using it enough to justify US$180/yr – the value just isn’t there for me. I’m sure it is for some people, but wasn’t in my case.

But this is where it gets fun. Or not. Did you know that, in order to cancel a NYTimes subscription in 2013, you have to call an 800 number? Yes. That’s right. No email cancellation. No Web form. A phone call. And you know why, of course… because the hard sell is really hard to do through electronic media. While the site says, IIRC, you can “quickly and easily” cancel your subscription, the result of a phone call wasn’t quite that. I had to stay on hold for a few minutes, and then got the usual result.

The call went like this:

  • I calmly told the operator something to the effect of “I don’t have the time to get the value out of the content that it will cost me when my trial is up, and want to close my account.”
  • She proceeded to tell me about features of the site that can help you ensure you’re seeing the most appropriate content to you.
  • I restated my request, verbatim.
  • She volleyed back with more site hints.
  • I restated my request, verbatim, again.
  • She paused, changed angles, and proceeded to offer me a discounted renewal (for a year, IIRC).
  • I repeated it yet again…
  • She paused again, and volleyed back with an even more steeply discounted renewal.
  • I said it again, for the fifth time.
  • She gave me the warning that my account would close on such and such a date, and then finally closed it.

And in the end, this was just like the magazine (although the magazine wasn’t so obnoxious about me not renewing, and just lets the subscription lapse). Initial loss-leader trial, followed by a massive ramp-up on renewal (where hopefully the subscriber has stopped paying attention to the line-item on their credit card). But if you complain enough or threaten to quit, they drop the price. Offer the reduced price to at-risk subscribers, and shaft your loyal ones. Brilliant.

Charge people a fair rate out of the gate, and keep that rate. If you have to raise the costs passed along to your subscribers, fine – do it – but understand that you can’t do it significantly, or you will get churn. If you keep doing it, you won’t have churn, you will have priced yourself out of existence, and your business will not be long for this earth. Frankly, I feel the same about the tendency for free or nearly free in-app purchase (IAP) apps on iOS like games where there are bull***t line items available for purchase for insane costs like US$99 for “200,000 coins” or some virtual bunk like that. In time, I think people will realize how idiotic it is to pay that much for a game or an app on their phone, and that model will flop as well. I hope.

As I wrote this, I had to contemplate how much magazine publishers wanted Apple to pass along subscriber details to them, and how much Apple resisted. In the end, the subscriber got to select whether or not their personal information was actually visible to the publisher. Also, as far as I am aware, there is also only one price available for subscriptions – it doesn’t matter whether you’re a first year or fifth year subscriber, magazines can’t use the loss-leader model to get you in, and in the end, you can easily cancel your subscription through iTunes. No phone call, no hard sell. I love that.

This post talked primarily about media publications – but I’m seeing the same thing happen with many software vendors. Regular price increases passed along to largely loyal customers, in order to keep revenue numbers going the right way – which is also not sustainable in the long run. Loyalty and lock-in will only take you so far.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. You need to focus on delighting your customers first. Don’t nickel and dime them, or they won’t come back – they’re your lifeblood – and often your best opportunity to find new customers, through word of mouth.

Sep 13

Steve Jobs on optimize or compromise

“You’re always fighting things that are opposed to each other…So as an example, let’s take the PlayStation Portable, alright? Great game machine, but it’s not such a great music player, and there’s many reasons for that, but the main reason is that it doesn’t fit in your pocket, right?

So your games want nice big screens, music players want to fit in your pocket. You have to pick one, and optimize for it, and the second thing you do will certainly be suboptimal. Maybe you can do it, but it’s suboptimal.” – Steve Jobs at D3, 2005 (~2M:37S)


Updated: Yes, I had misheard, and misquoted that. Apologies. Steve didn’t predict the future. He said “PlayStation Portable”, not “PlayStation 4″.



Sep 13

Steve Jobs on coming up with new products

“…Part of the hardest thing about coming up with new products is to figure out a really cool set of technologies you can implement it with, and make it easy, but also figuring out something that people… want to do. We’ve all seen products that’ve come out that have been interesting, but have fallen on their face because not enough people want to do them.” – Steve Jobs at D2, 2004

Sep 13

iOS 7 – These are a few of my favorite things

I’ve been testing iOS 7 from the beginning, and though the UI took a bit of getting used to (and the new icon on the Photos app still makes me do a mental reset sometimes). Overall, I love the changes in it. I’d like to take a minute to tell you about a few of my favorite enhancements in the OS.

  • Control Center – Control Center is easily one of my favorite changes – and it’s immensely useful. A flick up from the bottom and quickly starting the iPhone’s flash, timer, calculator and camera are just one click away. You can easily turn airplane mode/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth on and off, lock the display orientation, and turn on DnD mode. It’s also easy to adjust brightness and volume – two things you sometimes have to do in a hurry. It’s well designed and quite usable.
  • Camera – The new Camera app is clean and minimal, and lets you quickly switch between video, photo, square photo, and panorama modes. More importantly, the camera app is FAST. Traveling with my family a few weeks ago, I captured many photos that I might have missed on iOS 6 with my iPhone 5, because the app… wasn’t fast.
  • Notification Center – I’m still minimalist and like to turn off most things, and only let a few apps partake in the Notification Center. From the beginning to the end of your day, iOS 7 gives you a quick glance of what’s in plan. You can see weather, your next appointment, and more at a glance. Your whole calendar for the day is also visible, as is a summary of tomorrow’s events. One cool, somewhat useful feature of iOS 7′s Notification Center is telling you what your commute will be like on your way to work and on your way home. It’s not perfect – it picks the likely main route to your office (for me, I take a back route, not the Interstate it assumes I will, so it’s not really indicative of the time my route will take), but is still useful for an at-a-glance traffic indicator.
  • Mail undelete – A hidden gem. Ever deleted an email accidentally? With earlier versions of iOS, that meant tunneling down to your deleted items, waiting for it to sync, and putting it back. With iOS 7, just shake your phone (perhaps like an Etch-A-Sketch, perhaps like a Polaroid picture). When it prompts you to Undo Trash, click Undo, and you’ll get the last deleted message back. But wait, there’s more. It’s got a queue of deleted messages, so it’ll go back some time and keep undeleting them one at a time.
  • Managing apps/Safari tabs – A double tap shows all apps. Swipe side to side to switch to an app, or grab it with your finger and fling it upwards to close. Safari, which is now capable of showing far more tabs, is the same UI, albeit turned 90 degrees to the right. Swipe up and down to select a tab, or grab one with a finger and fling to the left (or hit the X) to close.
  • Siri – No distinct improvement here, except Siri seems faster, more reliable/better at dictation, and the voice that is used is much more natural (US English – your language may vary).
  • Apple Maps – Faster to load, better directions, immersive iOS 7 look and feel. Just overall a better experience. Not perfect, but better. A single finger tap and window chrome hides. A single tap again brings it back.
  • Automatic app updates – What’s to say? No checking for updates and manually installing. It just happens. Updates are annotated in the Notification Center, as well as in the Updates tab of the App Store (where the What’s New change list is easily visible), and a small blue orb also appears next to recently updated apps.
  • Calendar app – Clean UI, gesture friendly. Scroll up and down to see the whole day. Scroll up and down on year view to go from year to year, click a month to drill in (scroll up and down for months before/after, then click a week to drill in to that. From week view, you can just fling the week listing to the right to go back a week, fling to the left to go to next week. Tapping the month and year takes you back to each of those views. Again, easily navigated, though does take some learning to get the shortcuts down.
  • Safari – Single address box for typing URLs, searching the Web, and searching pages. Takes a bit of getting used to, but is great. The same UI approach as the rest of iOS 7 is in Safari. When you start using it, it can be annoying – but here are two tips. As you scroll, the controls fade away. You can single tap the address shown at the top to bring back the address box and window controls on the bottom. If you’re scrolling down and start to scroll back up, it will also show the address bar and window controls. Finally, if they’re hidden and you tap once (as with Maps) on the bottom of Safari where the window controls normally would be, the window controls will be shown.

Overall, I’m really impressed with iOS 7, and can’t wait to put it on my iPad (which has been spared during the previews).

Sep 13

No, that new application you’re hearing about won’t replace Microsoft Office.

For two weeks straight, I’ve seen prognostications that <application> from <competitor> will replace Microsoft Office.

No. Nothing will ever replace Microsoft Office – at least for the time being for a huge chunk of business users. I know, I know… strong words – but let me explain.

While a single user who needs to simply compose their thoughts for personal use, or sometimes share them with one or two other users might be able to do so with a third-party Office document editor. Whether they save or export as an Office document, or insist that the recipients simply read it in a proprietary format (including OpenDocument), as soon as you have multiple users exchanging documents, embedding additional Office documents, using reviewing/track changes, or other complex Office features, these documents begin to fray and fall apart at the seams.

I typically see three use cases for Microsoft Office in a multiuser office setting:

  1. Simple Office document exchange between two or more users.
  2. Complex Office document exchange (use of “deep features” in Office).
  3. Custom Office document workflow between two or more users.

Even I have said in the press that the lack of Microsoft Office on the iPad has created an opportunity. However, that opportunity isn’t explicitly an opportunity for competitors. More often than not, it’s created an opportunity for the user in the sense that they haven’t had Office for the entire time they’ve had an iPad, so either they’ve simply “gone without” Office, or found alternative tools (most likely either a Web-based productivity suite or a productivity suite for their device that doesn’t include feature parity with Office for Windows or the Mac).

The users who have likely had the most “success” (using the term loosely) with replacing Office are likely the individual users I mentioned early on who are simply using Office documents as containers, not using any Office specific features to much depth, and can likely survive just using the document export features in Google Docs, iWork, or any other Web/mobile productivity suite not from Microsoft. Admittedly, Microsoft surely sees this scenario, and as such has made the Office Web Apps for consumers freely available and interconnected with SkyDrive.

For users who are simply throwing documents back and forth, but not relying either on deep features in Office document formats or the Office applications, there’s a possibility that they can switch to Google Docs, iWork, or another Office suite. But if an organization has been using Office for some time, odds are there are documents and document templates they rely upon that require actual Microsoft Office applications or even require applications that interoperate with Office, but have no direct competitor on non-Windows platforms or the Web (see Access, Visio, or InfoPath).

You’ll often hear “document fidelity” discussed when the topic of Microsoft Office comes up. This is an important thing to understand. If I give you a complex Word format document (doc or docx) to edit, and ask you to use track changes to send it back, I’m going to be a bit upset if you a) send it back to me with the changes inline because your alternative word processor doesn’t support track changes, b) mangle the document because some formatting I had wasn’t understood by your alternative word processor or c) send it back to me in a .garble document or some other document format that Word doesn’t understand. Microsoft Office documents – both the original formats and the new xml-based documents – are the lingua franca of office productivity. Third-party tools may be able to open them. What they do with them from that point on is anybody’s guess.

Surely at some point, you’ve found a Web page that was interesting to you but was in a foreign language. If you translated it using Bing or Google, you got a result that was close to, but not an exact match for, the actual translated text as a human would have performed. More importantly, if you translate the result back to the source language, the result isn’t the same as the source text was to begin with. This is the same thing that happens with Microsoft Office documents (or WordPerfect documents among some professional fields – even today). If you want to tick people off or annoy them to the point of generating passive-aggressive behavior from them, screw up the formatting or the document type of an Office document that you’re supposed to look at and hand back to them.

For many organizations today, Office isn’t something they can just swap out – they depend on features and formatting capabilities buried in the Office applications – features that sometimes it even seems like Microsoft forgets are there (like Word outlining). When you must send Office documents back and forth between users and have the formatting and document type remain consistent, there are few choices other than… Office. I’ve tried numerous third party Web and mobile Office suites, and not really found one that doesn’t break documents here or there (often in undetectable ways), or only support <feature x> if you convert it into some other proprietary format.

The final scenario for Office users is that third case. In this case, you’re talking actual server-side code (SharePoint or other) or custom Office code that reads the Office document and could actually break if a document is incorrectly formatted or submitted as the wrong document type. Much like a user who is expecting a well-formatted document to be returned from review, applications centered around client or server-side consumption of Office documents don’t handle bad formatting or incorrect documents types well (though they respond logically, rather than emotionally as many users would).

I think Office, like Windows, is at an interesting inflection point. While some consumers and a smaller percentage of businesses may want to consider (and a small amount may actually be able to consider) not using Microsoft Office, their ability to do so will be directly in relation to how broadly they use Office documents today, and how deeply into the document format and type the features they depend upon are. In addition, many Web-apps are a no-op for truly mobile users as they need the ability to work completely offline – something that Office 365, being a streamed, but completely installed version of Office 2013, can do quite well. For most organizations, replacing Office with <application> is about as likely in the short term as replacing Windows with a Mac, an iPad, or a Chromebook. It’s possible, but you may be looking at ripping out deeply embedded line-of-business applications the organization has depended upon for years just to say you got rid of Office. You’re also usually then buying into someone else’s locked in hardware ecosystem or subscription-based software ecosystem.

I think there is opportunity for someone to do an Office suite better. But I don’t think most vendors so far are focused on that. Instead, most seem to be largely aping Office with locally installed or mobile apps, or aping Office with light-featured Web apps. Nobody is really pushing the boundaries, and making collaboration better – they’re largely reimagining what we’ve been working with for 20 years. So what eventually replaces Office? I’m not sure yet – but I don’t think it looks like envelopes of text sent from one user to another, or individual silos stored in a proprietary collaboration storage bin.