So, Apple deserves a 30% slice of all content you buy?

I was having a discussion this week with an old colleague regarding Apple’s content purchasing policies, and about the crippling of the Kindle, Nook and Google Books apps, as described here.

I was told I was a “Windows Snob”, and that “You and Fortune are criticizing a company for not wanting to send customers to their competitors site in a capitalist society?”

On the one hand, I agree. In a free, capitalist society, Apple has the right to do any damn thing it wants on its platform, to its partners, and to its customers – in the interest of scraping in even more profits.

However, that does not make their actions admirable, or in the best interests of their customers. And it does not mean that consumers should blindly accept this behaviour (though most users of Apple users have drunk so much of the kool-aid that they can no longer even think of life without their Apple products).

The basic premise being argued here is this: does owner/developer/vendor of a platform have the right to only allow you to buy content through them, and the right to a slice of all revenues for content on that platform?

Lets look at a couple of analogies, first to desktop computers, and second to browsers.

Lets think first about computer OS vendors. Would it be acceptable for a computer vendor (Apple or Microsoft) to not let you buy anything on any web site on your computer without giving them a 30% slice? Say Microsoft (always seen as the greedy capitalist in the crowd) tried to make this happen in Windows. How long would it be before consumer groups and the DoJ cried foul, fined them, and made them change the practice?

Lets think now about browsers now. Would it be ok for your web browser to ONLY go to web sites the were registered with and “approved of” by the browser vendor? Or for every e-commerce transaction in your browser to belong to the vendor, and give that vendor a 30% slice? I am pretty sure most users would complain about this.

The fact is, Apple’s policies in this area are flat-out wrong, and are anti-competitive. Any other company would not be allowed to get away with limiting choice the way Apple does, but Apple has much of the world so completely brainwashed with marketing hype that no one even questions them anymore.

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 )

Microsoft: Get Your Shit Together on Touch Development

Testing Samples from Microsoft Surface Toolkit...

Image by John Bristowe via Flickr

I have been playing with multi-touch development for a while, both on Windows 7 with my 2740p and on the Microsoft Surface table (version 1, not the new one).

I have consistently had challenges using WPF4 multi-touch events on the 2740p, or using the Microsoft Surface Toolkit for Windows Touch Beta, and now with the newly released Surface 2 SDK.

With any of these tools, I have challenges getting the software to recognize touch events, and even more trouble getting the software to recognize 2 simultaneous touch points (the 2740p supports 2 touch points). A second touch point always cancels the first touch point.

What is funny (to me, anyway) is that the samples included with the machine in the Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7 work just fine on the 2740p. This indicates that it is something in the managed drivers used with WPF that is not working.

I am fairly certain that this is a driver issue. I had it working at one point after a lot of hacking and installing drivers different from the default updates. I guess an update somewhere (Windows Update, or HP Tools) has overwritten the driver I had setup to make it work.

Can I fix the drivers to make this work again? Absolutely! But that is not the point here.

This should just work!

How am I as a software developer, or as an ISV, supposed to recommend this platform to my customers, or build applications for it, when even getting it to run on different machines requires significant hacking of drivers?

If Microsoft wants to stop being seen as a joke in the multi-touch and/or tablet market, they really better find a way to get their shit together on this.

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”!

If a phone is launched in the forest, does anyone hear it?

This is a bit of a rant (I do that a lot, don’t I?) Partly it is a rant about Microsoft and its Windows Phone 7 launch. It is also partly a rant about our local Bell Mobility retailer, and their complete lack of customer service or sales skills.

I am in the market for a new smart phone. My current phone is a 3 year old HTC touch, which I like, but it beginning to show its age. Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at both the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S. I like the iPhone, but am pretty much anti-Apple because I do not really approve of either the undeserved hype around their products, or their obsessively controlling attitude towards developers and users alike. The Galaxy S looks like an interesting option, however.

For the sake of completeness, however, I wanted to wait and have a look at a Windows Phone 7 device. I am tied to Bell, so unfortunately my only choice would be the LG Optimus Quantum. I am not a fan of slide out keyboards, but I thought I would give it a chance.

I have been faithfully watching the Bell Mobility site for news of the launch. That was a waste of time. Even now, on launch day, there is no information, just a form to fill out to “get more information when it is available”. Last night (November 7) I did get an email from Bell saying the device would be available in their stores today.

image

So today I go to my local Bell partner retailer (Sounds Fantastic in Moncton). Actually, I tried calling Sounds first to save myself a wasted trip, but three calls over the course of a couple hours all went unanswered. I figured they must be really busy. So, I decided to visit the store on my lunch break. Not busy at all – in fact, no one there. So I was able to very quickly get the attention of a helpful sales parson. After a brief sequence of questions and one-word, grunting responses, I learned the following.

They do not have any Windows Phone 7 devices.

He does not know when/if they are getting any.

No, he does not know if anyone else in the area is getting any.

No, the guy who might know if they are getting any is not in today.

Not very helpful. He could have maybe taken my name, or tried to find out the information I needed. But he was too busy (even with no other customers in the store).

So that is my rant about Sounds Fantastic. I was very disappointed by the service, but not surprised. It sort of matches all my other experiences there (on the mobility side, anyway – they seem to be completely different business).

Now to talk about Microsoft, and the Windows Phone 7 launch in general.

How can a major tech corporation manage to launch a major new product, and yet generate no hype whatsoever. I have commented on this before. It seems to me that Microsoft’s biggest weakness right now (and for most of the last decade) is its marketing department. Microsoft makes some very cool technology. In my opinion, they are at least as innovative as Apple, and probably more so (at least they are innovative across a much broader spectrum of technologies and solutions).

But lets looks at Microsoft’s marketing track record (especially marketing to the consumer market – their marketing to the enterprise seems pretty good).

  • Tablet PC: Microsoft launched the Tablet PC back in 2002. Since about 2005 it has been a viable platform. I have been using productively that entire time. And yet, even up to about a year ago, I would have people see me in airports, on airplanes, and many other places, ask me what they device was I was using, and be surprised that anything like that existed. Microsoft completely and utterly failed to communicate the existence of this technology outside of the hard-core techie community. And even within that community, they failed to communicate the power of the platform, or to entice developers to develop for it.
  • Windows Vista: Where to begin on Windows Vista? To be clear here, Windows Vista was far more of a marketing failure than a technology failure.  Yes, Vista had its problems. The vast majority of them (in my opinion) were due to third party driver and application updates or lack thereof – this is of course a marketing/product management issue as well. Vista’s biggest problem was public opinion, and failed marketing. For how long did Microsoft sit back and watch while a certain competitor raked them over the coals with very popular and effective TV commercials? When Microsoft marketing did respond, what was the best they could do? Seinfeld and Gates in obscure, bizarre skits? Please.
  • Microsoft Surface: Ok, this is not a consumer-oriented device (yet), but it is an example of Microsoft coming up with really cool technology and then actively hiding it from the world. Until a year ago, it was very difficult to get any information about it at all. Buying one was damn near impossible. Even now, people look at it and say “hey, that’s copying the iPad” – not knowing it has been around for 3 years.
  • Windows Phone 7: Major new launch, and no hype or energy at all, outside of hard core Microsoft circles. A few articles here and there. Even mobile service providers carrying the devices have almost nothing on their web sites about the devices, and then it is buried. And then I go to a store to look at one, and there are none.  Not “we had some but they are sold out”, just “we have none”. I realize I live in a backwater of the world, but it is amazing to me to see how little attention Microsoft has generated for this launch.

This to me is indicative of what truly ails Microsoft right now. In the enterprise market, they are very healthy. But in the consumer market, they cannot generate any hype. As everyone in this business (or any business) knows, you can have the best products and technology on the planet, but if you cannot get the word out, get people excited, and manage consumer perceptions of your products, you will fail!

Update: After my experience trying to look at a Windows Phone 7 device at Sounds Fantastic, I decided to reply to the above Bell email, asking why there were none at my local Bell dealer. Yes, I know it would bounce because that message was obviously form an auto-mailer. I did get an automated response, though:

image

Good enough. I happily click through the l;ink to voice my concerns – only to see the following page:

image

Just not my day for talking to Bell Sad smile

Bill Buxton: “NUI – What’s in a name?”

Recently (early October) Bill Buxton gave another talk nominally about Natural User Interfaces. For those who don’t know, Bill is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and has a 30 year involvement in research, design and commentary around human aspects of technology, and digital tools for creative endeavour, including music, film and industrial design (and a lot of other things, but I am not going to copy and paste his whole bio!).

The presentation, given at Microsoft Development Center Copenhagen, covers a lot more than just current ideas around NUIs. It looks back at the history of efforts to develop natural and touch user interfaces going back to the early 70s, as well as looking at what exactly we are trying to accomplish with these UI paradigms, what natural really means in a UI, and what makes good design in general.

While I highly recommend taking the time to watch the entire video, here are a few points I found really interesting:

  • The “Long Nose”: the concept of the “Long Tail” turned around, indicating that technologies (even successful ones) have a very long lifetime before they get on anyone’s radar, and in fact are usually in existence for about 20 years before they become major industries. This interesting implication of this, is that if you are looking for technologies that will be game-changers (can’t believe I used that term – I hate it) 10 years from now, you need to be looking that technologies that have been around for 10 years already.
  • Ask what your idea is worst at: Every idea is best at something and worst at something. It is just as important to be able to identify what your idea is least suited for as what it is best at.
  • You do not succeed in spite of your failures; you succeed because of your failures.
  • There is nothing all that new or revolutionary in the iPhone, iPad, Surface, or any other tablet-like devices. Most of the technology they rely upon has existed for 20-30 years or more).
  • Many people are stunned by how far technology has come (smart phones, touch interfaces, etc.), when really it is surprising how little progress has been made, given where things were in the 70s and 80s.
  • Most of us still carry around paper notebooks of some sort in order to scribble notes, sketch ideas, etc. We were getting to the point of replacing them with Tablet PCs. Unfortunately that is going away now with the current  generation of smartphones and slates, since they have done away with the stylus because marketing people have told us (so it must be true) that we do not want to take notes or make sketches.
  • The next generation of natural user interfaces need to be context aware. Not software context aware, but real context – where am I, what is the environment, what are the constraints.
  • Why the buttons on women’s clothes are all wrong!

Those are just the things I found interesting. The video is about 90 minutes long (60 minutes of presentation, 30 of Q & A), but it is well worth the time it takes to watch.

 http://channel9.msdn.com/posts/TechTalk-NUI-Whats-in-a-Name