Posts about microsoft

La vita cloudy

I’ve done it. I’ve moved entirely into the cloud. The process started a year ago when I bought my Chromebook Pixel. Well, actually, it started before that, when I shifted to Gmail and Google Calendar and Google Docs and that drove me to switch from iPhones to and Android phones and tablet and then to try a Chromebook. I still owned a Mac, but it did less and less, in the end just acting as a print server for my Google Cloud Print and as a Skype machine because (1) Microsoft refuses to make Skype for Chrome and (2) Leo Laporte whined about my using Google Hangouts on This Week in Google.

But last week, my Mac died. I/O error. I/O error. OK, OK, I get the point. It’s four or five years old; not worth fixing. It so happens that the moment it died I was trying to set up a Skype talk into a conference in Las Vegas. They couldn’t do Hangouts. So I had to call in on Skype from my Nexus 7 tablet and it worked. Check off one use for the old, dead Mac.

I went through a few false starts trying to check off the other function: printing. I got a Lantronix PrintServer for Google Cloud Print but it still required me to set up printers in Google and that still required having a Mac or PC. I’m using the Lantronix but I also wanted to make this test pure: no other computer required. I got a Brother printer that was alleged to be a Google Cloud Print ready but it wasn’t really. Then I got an Epson and it worked. The Epson has a web set-up I could handle on my Chromebook, arranging to print directly to it with no middleman. It even sends scans directly to my Google Drive.

Ding, dong, my personal computer is dead. I bought my first machine, an Osborne 1, in 1981. I turned off my last one 33 years later. Leo Laporte, Gina Trapani, and I talked about this at some length at the start of This Week in Google. Now Leo’s had some fun at the expense of my Pixel, though he has come around to like his. And so I asked whether for lots of people, we’ve moved past the idea of needing to own a computer that stores data and runs applications locally.

Of course, this move still depends on what you need to do with a computer. I write — in fact, I’ve just written a 55,000-word tome about the future of journalism (betcha can’t wait for that!) using my Chomebook and Google Docs and Drive. I use the web — Chrome, of course. I communicate — everything I could need except Skype. I share. I do basic photo editing. I don’t do rigorous photo or video editing; for that, I’d still need local storage and computing. Gina says she still needs to code locally. OK, but all that, too, could change as connections speed up to gigabit speed and as remote apps and servers continue to gain power over what a personal machine could do.

We also discussed the need for a security blanket: backup. As we chatted, folks in the TWiT chatroom gave us suggestions for local hard drives and for online services such as Backupify that can backup or sync data to another service, such as Dropbox. I’ll work that out next. (In the meantime, I backed up my tome to a thumbdrive.)

So now I live in the cloud. It doesn’t really matter what device I use to get to my stuff: my Chromebook, a computer anywhere with Chrome on it, my Android phone or tablet. I still run apps, but they, like my stuff, will follow me around.

Oh, and by the way, for the first time in decades, I no longer use any Apple or Microsoft products. That’s not because I have anything against either. I just don’t need them.

Welcome to the next era of personal computing without a personal computer.

Living the Google life

I was about to sit down and write an aria of praise to living the Google life, now that I have transitioned fully from my iPhone, iPad, and Mac and functioned fully for a few months with Android, Chrome, and services from Gmail to Google Calendar to Google Now to Google Reader on my Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Chromebook and now Chromebook Pixel.

But this turns into a cautionary tale as well with the news last night that Google is killing Reader. Godogle giveth, Godogle taketh away. This is the problem of handing over one’s digital life to one company, which can fail or unilaterally kill a service users depend on. Google has the right to kill a shrinking service. But it also has a responsibility to those who depended on it and in this case to the principle of RSS and how it has opened up the web and media. I agree with Tim O’Reilly that at the minimum, Google should open-source Reader.

The killing of Reader sends an unfortunate signal about whether we can count on Google to continue other services we come to need. Note well that what drove me to Google hardware was Google’s services — and now I depend on them even more. I have relied on Gmail and especially its Priority Inbox for ages. Once I finally shifted to Google Calendar et al, I found them awkward on the iPhone and so I moved to Android to try it out; there, I stayed. When the $249 Samsung Chromebook came out, I realized that I was doing most of my work only on the web, and so I decided to try to move entirely to Google Drive and Chrome. I found both transitions surprisingly easy, including working in Drive and Gmail offline. With one small and one large exception, I haven’t touched a Microsoft application for months.

The large exception is Skype, which Microsoft happens to own now. There is no Chrome app for it. I still need Skype to be on This Week in Google. So when I last went to Europe, I had to lug both my Chromebook and my Macbook with me.

But that problem was solved last night. Thanks to a helpful Google+ user, Michael Westbay, and through Kevin Tofel and Liliputing I managed to install Ubuntu Linux on the Google Chromebook so with one button I can switch from one to the other. Insert Tarzan yell here. Skype never looked better on TWiG. See for yourself:

Now to the details. Let’s start with the Chromebook Pixel. I have a review unit from Google. I so fell in love with it that after 24 hours I ordered my own — the high-end with LTE built in, for there’s nothing better than being away from wifi and suddenly finding oneself connected to the world. The screen is magnificent, which is soothing wonder to my old and hobbled eyes. The keyboard is pure butter; I only wish I could write as smoothly as I can type now. It’s fast. The machine is solid — physically and in its operation. The battery life could be better but I’m finding it does last the full five hours.

I had been managing fine on the Samsung Chromebook. But it was tinny. The screen wasn’t gorgeous. There was too little memory, which caused web pages to refresh too often. Still, for $249, I had little basis for complaint. This is a wonderful machine for students and travelers; I’d recommend it. I took it on trips as my only machine and did fine. As long as I remembered to open and refresh Drive and offline Gmail app while I was still connected, before getting on the plane, I could work when offline. The experience certainly showed me how I could live in the browser. But I wanted a slightly better machine. Then came the Pixel; it is a vastly better machine. For me, the Samsung was the gateway drug to the Pixel.

Both machines give me more Drive storage than I could possibly use. Except for one hiccup this week, Drive works well. The only other time I’ve had to use a Microsoft product was when I had to format a work document in Word. I am not sure about writing something book-length in Drive; it’s not easy to move around a large manuscript. But those things aside, it works for most anything I need to do, even presentations.

The Pixel also runs Netflix beautifully. I need to play with more Chrome apps to edit photos and video. But I tell you truthfully that I’m now not even taking my office Mac out of the drawer. I’m living in Chrome.

I’m similarly satisfied with Android, though I wish the two would integrate more and now that both are under the same leader, I hope that will happen. That Google Now will reportedly be available in both Android and Chrome is the first substantial bridge between the two. Gmail, Calendar, Maps, Voice, Google+, and Currents all operate wonderfully on my Nexus 4 and Nexus 7.

I kept playing with the idea of trying a Note II to replace both Nexus devices. I bought an unlocked AT&T model on eBay but still haven’t actually used it, as I will probably resell it. I like the size of the Nexus 4 for everyday use. I also like reading the paper and watching Breaking Bad on the Nexus 7 when I’m riding trains and airplanes.

Getting a new machine is pretty wonderful. When I turn on a new Chromebook and sign in, all my apps, bookmarks, and preferences are loaded in a minute or two. When I switch phones, I can transfer any app (though I wish I could just replicate my last phone). I am living in an ecosystem that makes sense.

So with the not inconsiderable caveat above, I’m living in Googland and happy there. Yes, at $1,500 the Pixel is expensive, but keep in mind — justification coming — that I don’t need to buy software for it. My Nexus 7 is cheaper than an iPad. My Nexus is only $300 and it’s unlocked. So I figure I also save money. I have fewer computer hassles. I can get to my data from anywhere. Come on in. The water’s fine.

Meanwhile, I bid a fond farewell to my iLife. Like an ex-girlfriend, I loved these machines in their time. I still admire them. But I don’t miss them.

Guardian column: Micohoo vs. Gulliver

My Guardian column this week on the Microhoo search lashup:

In bringing together their search traffic, Microsoft and Yahoo are fighting an unwinnable war. Worse, they are still fighting the last war. . . .

But while they pound their little fists on Google’s shins, Google remains the unchallenged giant in the arena that really matters: advertising revenue. According to the blog Search Engine Land, Google takes almost a third of all online advertising money – $21bn a year – and it doesn’t rely just on search.

And Google is turning to the next battlefields: mobile, social media, the live web, and online tools. . . .

Yahoo can now jettison the technology resources that went into search. That’s rather sad. After all, 15 years ago, it was Yahoo that first organised the web for us. Its original ambition seems quaintly naive today: human editors cataloguing every site worth visiting and deciding which were the hot ones we should visit. Back then, we, and Yahoo, thought the web was a medium, like TV, that we experienced together. Yahoo never quite broke out of that thinking. It still treats its site as a destination we have to go to with walls around it to keep us in. It just introduced a new homepage to some fanfare. Homepages are so 1999. . . .

So, let Yahoo and Microsoft celebrate their deal. Yahoo doesn’t have as much to celebrate. It turned down acquisition offers and now it gets no cash from Microsoft. And it is surrendering its earliest competence to a competitor. Microsoft has more cause to grin. It got Yahoo’s search traffic for no cash and doesn’t have to manage the rest of the old beast.

And Google? One wonders whether it notices beyond that irritating poking at its shins. It’s too busy trying to conquer what comes next.

Ballmer kills print

In an interview with the Washington Post, Steve Ballmer goes a bit farther than even I would go killing print. But that’s the problem; that’s the way print people look at it. What he’s really saying is that delivery over IP will have so much greater advantage over delivery via one-way media. Why? Interaction. He’s right.

In the next 10 years, the whole world of media, communications and advertising are going to be turned upside down — my opinion.

Here are the premises I have. Number one, there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.

Yeah. If it’s 14 or if it’s 8, it’s immaterial to my fundamental point. . . . If we want TV to be more interactive, you’ll deliver it over an IP network. I mean, it’s sort of funny today. My son will stay up all night basically playing Xbox Live with friends that are in various parts of the world, and yet I can’t sit there in front of the TV and have the same kind of a social interaction around my favorite basketball game or golf match. It’s just because one of these things is delivered over an IP network and the other is not. . . .

Also in the world of 10 years from now, there are going to be far more producers of content than exist today. We’ve already started to see that certainly in the online world, but we’ve just scratched the surface. . . . I always take my favorite case: I grew up in Detroit. I went to a place called Detroit Country Day School. They’ve got a great basketball team. Why can’t I sit in front of my television and watch the Country Day basketball game when I know darn well it’s being video-recorded at all times? It’s there. It’s just not easy to navigate to.

In this video, he also talks about the future of advertising. Ballmer argues that it will be hard to distinguish between communication and entertainment and that advertising, commerce, and content will all blend.

Microsoft’s Sneakerphone

Microsoft’s effort to bribe/reward/cajole ecommerce search business away from Google with customer rebates is the product of dubious business economics. It’s a trap: a customer acquisition cost that becomes a habit hard to break. It’s just like premiums given by magazines to get you to subscribe. When I was at Time Inc. in the ’80s, Sports Illustrated had a big hit on its hands — or so they thought — with the Sneakerphone, free with your subscription. Time and other of the company’s magazines followed with clocks and other geegaws. In the end, though, they found that people weren’t subscribing to the magazines; they wanted the Sneakerphone and when it came time to renew, because they already had what they wanted, they canceled — and renewals are where magazines begin to see a return from their marketing to acquire subscribers. Advertisers eventually realized that they weren’t talking to readers; the magazines were the premium. The Sneakerphone turned out to be a very expensive problem. It took painful effort for Time Inc. to ween itself and its subscribers from the expectation of freebies with subscriptions.

Microsoft’s fees are a marketing cost, pure and simple. The company could pay to advertise it search or it can pay consumers to search. I’m glad to see money going into the pockets of consumers — the internet dividend strikes again. But I doubt that these economics are sustainable; this is just an effort to poke Google in the kidneys and I doubt that the giant will even notice. This is akin to Mark Cuban’s sillyass idea to pay/bribe/reward/cajole advertisers into leaving Google.

Michael Arrington has a well-done analysis of the Microsoft gambit. He concludes that it could increase Microsoft’s share of valuable commerce search:

A year ago Microsoft basically did a trial run of Live Search CashBack with Live Search Club, which lured searchers to Microsoft with offered of prizes to users for using Live Search. Microsoft went from 10.3% to 13.2% market share in a month, a nearly 30% rise. Live Search CashBack, which gives a much more straightforward payout to users, should see significantly better results.

But earlier in his post, I think he defeated that argument when he said, quite rightly:

This is a winner-take-most market: Having 9% of search doesn’t mean Microsoft has 9% of search marketing dollars. Far from it – publishers go to Google to partner on ads, which means advertisers must go there to get inventory, and a very healthy auction system pushes up prices. So not only does Microsoft (and Yahoo, and everyone else) have much fewer queries than Google, they are also generating much less revenue per query as well.

Right. So Microsoft pays heavily to raise it share but still doesn’t get critical mass. Then let’s say that Cuban gets on the board of Yahoo and convinces them to follow his plan and they lower their profit margin by paying advertisers, forcing Microsoft to do likewise. And what will they be left with? A warehouse filled with sneakerphones.

Is there a way to defeat the Google beast at search? Not this way. How about the Mahalo or Wikio method? I’m not sure about them either. They all have to try to change what is already a well-ingrained consumer habit and a critical mass of advertiser participation. Does this mean that search is Google’s forever? Well, I still don’t see anything to topple them — certainly not Microsoft’s plan. It has been tried before. Remember IWon.com? I barely did.

Fightin’ words from Google

At Google’s blog today, David Drummond, the company’s chief legal officer and senior VP for development, comes out with phasers set to kill against the Microsoft bid for Yahoo. A week ago in Europe, I ended up at a small dinner and a few other events with Drummond. He’s a serious guy with a stoney glare. I’ll bet he could stare down Steve Ballmer in a contest.

Implicit in Drummond’s and Google’s argument is that Microsoft is a closed company in the open internet. He contends that Google is the better agent of that openness. It sounds rather like a presidential debate: Who is the agent of change? Says Drummond:

So Microsoft’s hostile bid for Yahoo! raises troubling questions. This is about more than simply a financial transaction, one company taking over another. It’s about preserving the underlying principles of the Internet: openness and innovation.

Could Microsoft now attempt to exert the same sort of inappropriate and illegal influence over the Internet that it did with the PC? While the Internet rewards competitive innovation, Microsoft has frequently sought to establish proprietary monopolies — and then leverage its dominance into new, adjacent markets.

Could the acquisition of Yahoo! allow Microsoft — despite its legacy of serious legal and regulatory offenses — to extend unfair practices from browsers and operating systems to the Internet?

One should never underestimate the power of Microsoft. Nonetheless, I think the internet’s openness is precisely what has kept Microsoft from monopolizing it, as some feared. I’d say that the precedent of AOL taking over and then slowly killing Netscape is relevant here: I’ll bet that Microsoft is just as likely to destroy as to exploit what it gets from Yahoo. That is often the history of these takeovers, when a company tries to buy the strategy it doesn’t have: AOL and Netscape, Time Warner and AOL, Yahoo and Broadcast.com, and on and on.

And if I were Google, I’d be a bit careful trying to call someone else too big, since some are trying to paint Google as the new overblown boogeyman. In Europe, newspapers are trying to stop Google’s acquisition of Doubleclick for similar reasons (though Reuters says EU approval is likely). Personally, I don’t think regulation is needed in either deal. But Google does:

In addition, Microsoft plus Yahoo! equals an overwhelming share of instant messaging and web email accounts. And between them, the two companies operate the two most heavily trafficked portals on the Internet. Could a combination of the two take advantage of a PC software monopoly to unfairly limit the ability of consumers to freely access competitors’ email, IM, and web-based services? Policymakers around the world need to ask these questions — and consumers deserve satisfying answers.

This hostile bid was announced on Friday, so there is plenty of time for these questions to be thoroughly addressed. We take Internet openness, choice and innovation seriously. They are the core of our culture. We believe that the interests of Internet users come first — and should come first — as the merits of this proposed acquisition are examined and alternatives explored.

It’s hard to believe that Google is actually scared of Microhoo but is merely using PR and regulation to try to throw some marbles on the ground in front of them. Google does indeed understand the open internet better than either of these young dinos and that is its greatest competitive advantage. In this case, size doesn’t matter. Openness and smarts do.

Microsoft-Yahoo: The deal of the dinos

(Crossposted from Comment is Free, where there are also comments.)

Yahoo, I’ve long argued, is the last old media company, for it operates on the old-media model: It owns or controls content, markets to bring audience in, then bombards us with ads until we leave. Contrast that with Google, which comes to us with its ads and content and tools, all of which I can distribute on my blog. Yahoo, like media before it, is centralized. Google is distributed.

It’s appropriate, then, that Yahoo is being bought by what one could say is the last old technology company, Microsoft. For Microsoft still operates on a model of control: closed in an open era. They will get along well together.

This is not a deal about content. At an entrepreneurial conference in New York this week, OnMedia, a venture capitalist said that the “perceived value of content is approaching zero.” That’s a kick in the kidneys to us content people.

No, this is a deal about audience and advertising. After the big guys consolidated all the ad networks they could — aQuantive to Microsoft, Tacoda to AOL, Doubleclick to Google (the EU willing) — next they’re buying up audience in bulk. That’s what Yahoo is, really. They call it a firehose: people in bulk, us as masses.

The reason this is happening is that advertisers and their agencies are still stupidly treating and buying us as masses — they want everything to operate like the one medium they understand: TV. (This is why, in the U.S., even as television’s audience shrinks, the rates paid for advertising continue to increase — because, oddly, the decrease in audience is creating a market scarcity in commercials’ reach).

This is just as well for Yahoo, which had no strategy, really. They’d gone as far as they could with the old-media model, as exploited by the last CEO, former movie-studio head Terry Semel. Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang started saying the right things about turning Yahoo into a platform, but it probably would have taken years to turn his culture around. They were too used to operating like a movie studio or publishing house.

Will this be big enough to beat Google? No, because big won’t win in the end. Open will.