Microsoft is evil, lame, and sucks, right?

WRONG!

Give me a freaking break!

I was just reading a post over on TechCrunch. I do not know why I allow myself to get drawn into reading this drivel, but I always seem to.

When are the anti-Microsoft crowd going to grow up and realize that this is a business, and we are all in it to make money and increase the value of that business.

(including, of course, Google and Apple – but it is somehow ok for them)

For those who do not want to waste time and bandwidth reading the actual post, I will summarize a bit:

  • Microsoft participated in the consortium which purchased the “Nortel Patents”, even though MS apparently did not need to
  • Microsoft is pursuing licensing agreements with Android phone vendors based on other IP which MS already had
  • Microsoft stands to make a lot of money from these agreements
  • Microsoft is obviously “lame” for doing this (seriously, who actually uses the term “lame” anymore?)
  • Microsoft is doing this (obviously) because they cannot compete with Android by being innovative.
  • It would be OK if Apple were doing this, since Apple can do no wrong

So lets take a look at this from a more realistic point of view.

  • Microsoft is a business. It is in business to make money, and increase shareholder value. Period.
  • Microsoft owns certain patents. A lot of them. It owned this IP before participating in the Nortel deal.
  • Microsoft felt that participating in the consortium to buy the Nortel patents was valuable in terms of protecting its IP position.

So far so good. Lets look at the Android situation.

  • Android (apparently) infringes upon a number of patents which Microsoft owns. I am not in a position to assess this, but I would suspect there is some validity to the claim or Android phone vendors would not be signing agreements with MS without fighting.
  • If this is the case, Google is making money selling something for which they do not have clear intellectual property rights. And this is somehow Microsoft’s fault?

The statement is made that Android is winning because Google “out-innovates” Microsoft. Lets compare the two:

  • Google has a mobile phone OS named Android, based on an existing open-source OS, using a programming model which some believe they do not have valid IP rights to, and using a UI paradigm which clearly borrows heavily from another famous mobile phone (though I do think Android improves on it).
  • Microsoft, after lagging for a long time, has introduced a new mobile phone OS, written from the ground up, using a unique UI model which is clearly theirs, and with a development environment to which they own the IP, and which is also highly innovative.

Whether WP7 succeeds or fails, and whether you happen to like it or not, from an innovation perspective it is clearly well beyond Android.

So what is Microsoft’s strategy? Well, it appears to be two-pronged.

Having invested heavily in innovation, they are clearly focused on the future of WP7. They intend it to be a success. Whether or not they are successful is more a question of their timing and marketing ability than their level of innovation.

At the same time, Microsoft has quite rightly taken action to preserve the value of its intellectual property. They have also leveraged their ownership of this IP to make money and increase shareholder value.

It seems to me like Microsoft is doing exactly what a business is supposed to do, and doing it well in this case.

Finally, I just have to comment on this little snippet form the post:

“When Apple takes these agressive (sic) approaches on patents, it’s no more right, but at least they can argue that they have a winning product (the iPhone) that they’re trying to protect. Their goal isn’t to get other companies licensing their patents, it’s to run those guys out of the market”

At least he acknowledges that Apple is “no more right” than anyone else in this process. It is the final statement that gets me. So, it is more admirable to crush your competitors and drive them out of business than to license technology to them, allowing both parties to survive and make money?

Of course it is, since we all know it is better to only have one choice in the market, as long as that choice is Apple!

(in case that was too subtle for any of you, that was sarcasm )

Danger! Do not implement SharePoint in your Organization! REDUX

This is a re-post of a column I wrote over on Legal IT Professionals a couple of years ago. Just posting it here so that I have a local version.

This column I want to deliver a warning to all of you out there – do not implement SharePoint in your organization! If you ignore this warning, and implement SharePoint anyway, beware. You run the risk of any number of problems, including:

  • User dissatisfaction
  • Maintainability and support issues
  • Data silos, making information hard to find, hard to share, and hard to maintain
  • Lots of rework
  • General chaos
  • Projects that take 10 times longer than you had planned, if they finish at all.

I do a lot of work helping organizations build solutions using SharePoint – is that all a lie?

Not at all. The problem here is the way you think about your projects. If you are consistently talking about “implementing SharePoint” you are going in the wrong direction. If you are talking about implementing any platform, you are setting up for failure. Many of the problems we run into with SharePoint and other platforms arise from focusing on the technologies.

SharePoint is a technology. It is a platform. It is a pretty good platform, in my opinion. Not without its problems, but a pretty good platform.

So what should you be focused on? The answer is obvious, isn’t it? The focus should be on implementing solutions to real business problems, bringing real business value. That was obvious to everyone, wasn’t it? If this is obvious, then why do I still have conversations with potential clients who come to me saying “Help us implement SharePoint”, when they cannot clearly articulate why they want to implement it? Sure, they can spout a lot of vague statements about documents, collaboration, communication, workflow, etc. but where are the clear statements about how this is all going to help their firm?

I think there are a number of reasons this happens. Firstly, maybe I am just talking to the wrong people (too many techies!). However, I have these discussions with many business people as well. Microsoft’s marketing is also a problem (though it is not Microsoft’s fault). People see Microsoft’s SharePoint marketing information, but they typically only pay very superficial attention. They see all these demos of interesting solutions that seem like they must be useful in their world. Then they go to their IT department (or decision makers) and say “Hey we need to implement SharePoint!”

Even worse, they go rogue and implement SharePoint on a small scale within their groups or departments. Then the IT group has to manage all of these emergent SharePoint deployments, so there is a decision to “implement SharePoint” firm wide.

Finally, there are those firms (hopefully very few these days) who really do not understand that they should not be thinking in terms of the technology.

So when is SharePoint not dangerous? Well, that is driven by how you got to “SharePoint” in the first place. I am not going to go into much detail here, because most of this should be pretty well engrained process (if not, call me – I can help ), but here are the big steps:

  • Identify clear business objectives/problems to be solved
  • Is SharePoint the right technology choice to solve them?
  • Don’t try to do everything at once – build a foundation and grow from there
  • Pick initial projects with high impact/visibility
  • Determine specific ROI goals, success metrics, etc. so that you know if you are meeting your goals
  • Make sure to consider the “human” side of things – introducing a platform that touches business processes and how people work requires detailed planning as to how to introduce it.
  • Get help! Hire it, rent it, grow it – whatever you have to do, get help. SharePoint is a big platform that does a lot of things, and if you do not know the platform well, you will end up building things that already exist. Also, as with most platforms, there are 6 different ways to do almost anything – some of them are better than others.

The first step, though – change your thinking and your terminology – and stop talking about “implementing SharePoint”!

Customer Service RIP – Update

A while back I posted a rant about customer service in general, and about my problems with a particular telescope manufacturer specifically (Celestron). In fairness to Celestron, I think I should post an update on the situation. I did finally receive a response (to my emails) from Celestron customer support, though it did take a couple of weeks. After a number of exchanges over another couple of weeks, I also managed to convince them to pay for the shipping to return the item, and to ship the repaired/replaced item back to me. The item in question is now in transit back to Celestron. I will post another update when I know the final result of the exchange.

Customer Service RIP

We all live this every day.

We go to the airport – wait in ridiculous lines, get strip searched at security, sit and wait for flights that are late for no reason.

We go to the bank – and if we want to speak to an actual person, wait in another ridiculous line, and charged outrageous service charges for the privilege. Or we can bank at a machine, or online, and get charged ever bigger service charges.

Our phone company, our doctor, our government. Everywhere we turn, customer service has gone downhill. And the sad thing is, no matter how bad the service is now, you know it will be worse next year, and the year after, and the year after.

Do these organizations purposely set out to suck? No – I would be willing to bet that every organization you deal with (even the government) claims to have a policy which puts customer service first. When was the last time you heard a company openly declare “We don’t give a crap about our customers – so there!”

Often the only refuge from bad customer service is with expensive, luxury items – most companies which supply these goods go out of their way to provide outstanding service. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

This brings me to the trigger for today’s rant. A company called Celestron. Celestron makes telescope, and has for a long time. In fact, they are one of the primary manufacturers of telescopes for amateur astronomers in the world. While these telescopes are not expensive on the scale of a yacht or a Mercedes, I would definitely classify it as an expensive, luxury item.

A couple of months back, I purchased a fairly expensive telescope from Celestron. Quite honestly, I am thrilled with the telescope. Optically and mechanically it is everything I wanted. I have so far enjoyed every minute of using it.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for one of the accessories I ordered with it. This item is a PowerTank, basically a wrapper around a car battery to allow me to power the telescope in remote locations. This item did not arrive with my telescope – in fact I only received it this week. It also arrived broken. Doesn’t work. No signs of life. Nothing.

So, I contact the dealer who sold it to me, and he contacts Celestron. Celestron tells him that I have to contact Celestron directly. This is where the real fun begins. Firstly, Celestron – a world-wide vendor of a luxury item, and a market leader – has no toll free support number. I have to call them long distance in California. Second, no one answers. I have tried twice now to call through, and both times have spent well over half an hour on hold (on long distance, listening to a polite lady’s voice tell me that someone will be with me “momentarily”. I tried using the eMail support form on their web site, with no response at all after 2 days.

I also note that, according to the documentation that came with this door-stop I now own, that if I wish to make a warranty claim, that I must pay for return shipping on the item. This means that if I want to get it replaced, I will need to pay more in shipping than the item cost in the first place!

Fortunately, the dealer who sold me the item (Astromechanics in Barrie, ON) has offered to make things right. Thanks, Dave. 

The long and short of this is, that despite the fact that I am overwhelmingly pleased with my new telescope (heaven help me if I ever need support on that), I will never buy anything from Celestron again, and would strongly recommend to anyone who asks that they not either. So, Celestron, you have lost at least one customer.

The real irony here is that I chose Celestron over Meade (the market share leader) because of horror stories about Meade’s customer service.

So this is the sorry state of our society. For the most part, customer service no longer exists (except occasionally in small, independent companies like AstroMechanics). For me, this is one of the reasons that the economy is where it is – because this poor customer service is reflective of poor management in general. And for companies that lose customers and fail because of it – can’t happen fast enough for me!

NOTE (May 28, 2008): I want to make sure that it is absolutely clear that my concern is with Celestron, not with the vendor who sold me the PowerTank, telescope, etc. AstroMechanics has been extremely helpful and responsive, and my experience with them has been great. – fgy

Is eMail dead?

I have always been a big fan of email (well, since email became prevalent, anyway). For me, it is a big help to be able to interact with people asynchronously – to be able to send questions or requests and let people deal with them when they have time (and them to me). This as opposed to a phone call or walking over to their office and demanding immediate attention, and interrupting whatever they are doing. I know not everyone shares my views on this. My peers at Whitehill felt pretty much the opposite about email – that it was a medium of last resort, and that face-to-face or phone communication were preferred. As with most things, I think the real answer is in balance and using the right tool for the context.

More and more, however, I am finding that email has become less useful. As a way of distributing specific documents within a team, it is still good. Same for setting up meetings. However, I have noticed a trend over recently (or longer than recently) for people to just ignore email. For the most part, unless a message is marked urgent, or is part of a project-specific interaction, I receive responses to only about 20% of email. I find it hard to believe that this could all be because of poor email etiquette (mine or others). I suspect the bigger problem is email overload – most of us receive far more email than we can possibly respond to. Perhaps email was more productive before it became so widespread. Then there were the years of spam overload, causing many to give up on email as a useful tool. Now (for me, anyway) email spam is no longer a problem. However, many people are still overloaded, even with spam eliminated.

So, is email as a useful business tool dead except for limited communications on projects?

Must you be either 100% Microsoft or 100% NOT Microsoft?

I was reading this interesting post Coté’s Excellent Description of the Microsoft Web Rift « SmoothSpan Blog, as well as the post to which it refers. It is an interesting discussion of the fears many have with respect to choosing to work with Microsoft technologies versus non-Microsoft. The chain is worth a read, whether you agree with the ideas or not.

One statement I found particularly interesting was

This thing he calles “lock-in fear” and the extreme polarization (encouraged by Microsoft’s rhetoric, tactics, and track record) that you’re either all-Microsoft or no-Microsoft is my “web rift”.

While I would not disagree that Microsoft strongly encourages the use of its tools and technologies (after all, that is what most companies do, isn’t it?), I see far more rhetoric and tactical positioning on the part of non-Microsoft, anti-Microsoft, and Open Source communities insisting that one must be 100% non-Microsoft (and preferably not even play nice with anything Microsoft), or you are obviously a Microsoft fan boy.

I guess that the point that I am making is that a large part of the “lock-in fear” is created not by Microsoft’s behaviour, but by the behaviours of the anti-Microsoft crowd.

More absolutely moronic Anti-Microsoft rhetoric

Soviet Microsoft: How Resistance to Free Markets and Open Ideas Will the Unravel the Software Superpower. « VistaSucks.WordPress.Com

This is a very amusing analogy, since it was the “free market economy” which created Microsoft’s success, and continues to sustain them. They are not being propped up artificially through government subsidies or bailouts, as so many companies in other industries seem to be. They are not trying to force governments or the courts to force their competitors to give up proprietary information or abandon markets to make it easier to compete.

In reality, it is the open source community, the “capitalism is evil” crowd, and those lobbying to take Microsoft down legislatively or litigiously who more resemble socialists/communists – “all intellectual property belongs to everyone”, “the government should intervene to level the playing field”, and other such crap.

The reality is, if you truly believe in the world of “free markets and open ideas”, the you believe that better ideas, smarter people, and better business models will ultimately prevail. This is the world in which Microsoft has played successfully for 20+ years. It is this model by which others can ultimately defeat Microsoft. It is Microsoft’s competition which seems unable to live within this model.