My Work

The question comes in many forms. 

What do you do?

What is your job?

What line of work are you in?

What do you do for work?

It’s a simple question, and one I get more since I began working from home at my own company.

I suspect the answer one gives to that questions is often sugar-coated or watered down depending on the person asking the question. Does your answer change if you’re telling a parent than it would if you’re asked at a high school reunion?

I’ve had a few jobs that were difficult to describe even to people I worked alongside.  For example, I had a job at Microsoft where I spent 50% of my days in meetings. I’m not kidding. There were days were I spent 6 to 8 hours in meetings and then got caught up on email late into the night. I guess you could say I was paid a salary to attend meetings and do email although my job title was “Product Manager” I didn’t actually work on a product nor did I manage much of anything.

I’ve worked in sales over the past couple of years, but I wouldn’t say I really sold anything. I was more of a consultant and order taker. I was technology manager for a number of years, but if I told you what I did each day you’d call me a baby-sitter. I don’t know if I could describe the few marketing jobs I’ve had, but I know I certainly couldn’t explain what I did each day with any accuracy.

But as went for an afternoon walk today I though about the work I’m doing now. I don’t have a job in the traditional sense, meaning I don’t have an office, meetings, or coworkers. I don’t even have a job description or designated work hours. But I can describe what I do, so here it goes.

I write for Site Builder Report.

I write for Puget Systems.

I gather customer feedback for Puget Systems and integrate the best of it back into our company and products.

That’s what I spend my days doing, and I love it.

How would you describe your job?

My Windows Experience

I bought my first PC in 1994. It ran both DOS and Windows 3.1. Over the next few months, I’d install more RAM, a modem and a CD-ROM.

Although I justified my purchase by telling myself I’d no longer have to rely on the computers at the library at the University of Utah, my computer wasn’t used for much outside of a playing Links Golf and Doom.

Until Windows 95.

The release of Windows 95 coincided with a time of great interest in connecting to the internet. But doing so wasn’t easy. The user had to gather settings from their ISP and then enter those settings into Windows. It was anything but intuitive.

But Windows 95 cemented Microsoft’s grip on the desktop. If you wanted to run the largest array of applications, games or utilities you ran Windows. And that’s exactly what I did for two decades. I learned about drivers, the registry, file extensions, and printers. Oh man, did I learn about printers.

I stuck with Windows through the good (XP, 7) and bad (ME, Vista). And then Window 8 happened.

So much has been written about Windows 8. The only thing I have to add is that it was not built for traditional desktop users like me. It feels like an operating system build for tablets. Or maybe phones. I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.

We still have three PCs at our home. As recent as six months ago, all three were used for hours each day. But that’s no longer the case. I still spend most of my day on a PC running Windows 8. It works for the most part. Unless I need to print a document. Or try to search the Windows Store.

A month ago I bought a MacBook Pro, and a strange thing happened: my role as family IT manager came to an end.

The Mac belongs to my spouse, and I assumed it would come with a learning curve. I assumed I’d be called on support it daily, like I’ve done with her Windows PCs for years. But that hasn’t been the case at all. Her Windows 8 PC now collects dusts while her Mac just works.

I want to see the PC prosper. I know Microsoft wants their Surface tablet and Windows Phone to prosper, but they no longer seem interested in the traditional desktop PC.

Maybe Windows 9 will change my mind. But my patience is waning. So much so that this is my first blog post written on a Mac.

A Tale of Two Ads

Steve Wildstrom for Techpinions comparing the different approaches Apple and Microsoft took with their latest ads:

I have worked with both companies for many years and can assure you that while they are very different from each other, both are fiercely competitive, touchy, and as huggable as  hedgehogs. But there can be big difference between what you are and the persona you choose to present to the world.

Apple’s “Misunderstood” ad is one of the best ads I’ve seen this year. It wasn’t that long ago that Apple was running their I’m a Mac ads that, while sharing a few Mac features, were primarily focused on making anyone using a PC look like a buffoon.

Today we have Microsoft ads walking all over Google, but spending little time explaining why a customer might want a laptop with Windows 8. As someone who works for a company that builds computers, most of which run Windows, I’d love to see Microsoft spend less time obsessing over Google and more time focused on building great products.

Apple’s ads work because they make great products.

My in-laws stopped by on Christmas Eve and watched as my kids sent videos and pictures they’d taken to our TV using their iPods. My mother-in-law asked how they were doing it and I showed her the hockey puck sized Apple TV. My father-in-law then took out his iPhone and did the same, playing a number of videos of the kids when we lived in Seattle. I didn’t have to show him how it worked, nor did we have to pull out a manual and fiddle with any settings.

It was one of the few times when the technology melted into the background, and everything worked seamlessly.

This afternoon I asked Kim what her parents were up to. “They are online buying an Apple TV,” she replied.

My Two Experiences with Steve Ballmer

Much has been written about Steve Ballmer’s decision to retire from Microsoft. No doubt there’s a lot more analysis to come, but I don’t plan to add to that narrative today.

But having spent about 11 years of my career at Microsoft as a contractor, full-time employee, and vendor, I decided to share a couple of impressions and experiences I had of Ballmer while I was employed in Redmond.

While working as a contractor in the mid-90s’ I was tasked to create demos executives used to showcase their products at tradeshows and conventions. Some of the products we created demos for were not finished or were not stable enough to demo “live” so we used smoke and mirrors (local websites, Flash, fake data) to make it appear the products worked.

The first few products I worked on never made it to market. This isn’t uncommon at Microsoft where Bill Gates would proudly say he’d rather have product teams compete internally for resources than have the market decide which product succeeds. This Darwinian approach worked well as weaker products faded into oblivion giving the battle-tested products a chance to succeed.

After a couple of failures, I was finally on a team with a product we thought was good enough to bring to market. We were excited to find a prominent customer who would commit to our product, making it more likely it would be selected. In short, we needed a high-profile company to help us champion our software internally before the plug was pulled. Word got out that Starbucks was interested and a meeting was scheduled to get both parties together to work through the details.

I was involved in the meeting only because the software wasn’t finished and I would be part of the demo. Our team, made of mostly of program and product managers, worked for several weeks to make sure we had a compelling and complete presentation. It was a tense couple of weeks. We felt our existence as a product team rested on being able to convince Starbucks to go with our product.

The big day came. The meeting went well and I was pleased our demo didn’t crash and burn, which can and does happen. As the meeting was brought to a close, our group manager mentioned that Steve Ballmer would be stopping by to meet the team from Starbucks. At the time, Ballmer was VP of Sales and Support, and, although he was admired, nobody carried more clout with employees and customers than Bill Gates. One could argue that no CEO in American was more well-known than Bill Gates. Competitors feared him, customers admired him and Microsoft employees both feared and revered him.

On the walk back to our offices, I asked my coworker, who had been with Microsoft for a decade, why Ballmer instead of Gates was being brought in at this critical point of the sales process. Was our product too insignificant at the time to garner Gate’s attention? What was going on?

My coworker had been a part of a number of these meetings, having spent years in the field as a sales manager said, “We bring Bill in to impress the client. We bring in Steve to close the deal.”

And he did.

Years later, after I left Microsoft and returned as a vendor, I worked for the group that planned and provided technical support at the nearly 500 annual events Microsoft takes part in that include conventions, trade-shows, conference and dozens of keynotes.

When a Microsoft executive is asked to speak at these keynotes, say, CES, a small army of technical handlers is there to make sure the presentation goes as smoothly as possible. One group might polish the slide deck while another team configures the computers and software that will be shown. Microsoft even has podiums built that can be shipped around to the most important events. These podiums are full of computer and A/V equipment these geeks know well. Although expensive, controlling every segment of the keynote results in fewer surprises.

In short, the goal is to ensure something like this never happens again.

I was still new to the group and decided to attend a presentation that Ballmer would be giving at a hotel in downtown Seattle. I arrived early and was able to secure a badge that gave me access to the backstage. I followed my team around the stage as attendees began to fill the seats. I watched them wire a podium and demo table with all sorts of electronic gadgets including a row of black flat screen monitors. These monitors are used by the speaker to keep track of his slides and any demos. One monitor is a dedicated speaker timer.

As I looked around I noticed black tape covering the logo on each monitor at the speaker podium. I found that odd since most of the computer gear was donated by HP or Dell.  When I asked one of the techs about the tape he told me they had built the podiums to support a certain monitor size, and that a certain IBM monitor was either the best fit or best quality or both. I asked why the logo was covered on the IBM monitors but not the Dell monitors being used on the demo tables.

The tech said, “We cover the IBM logo because Steve hates IBM and doesn’t want to be photographed using any IBM products.”

Both of these experiences helped form my opinion of the man with an oversized personality and ego, who would years earlier, make friends with a computer geek from Seattle.

The rest is history.

Devices! Devices! Devices!

Steve Ballmer, in an email to Microsoft employees today:

“Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work, and on the go, for the activities they value most.”

Now that’s interesting.

The CEO of the world’s largest software company says Microsoft will focus on devices and services.

Translation: Ballmer wants to morph Microsoft into a mix of Apple (devices) and Google (services).

Where does Windows fit into Ballmer’s plans? Well, Windows is already running on Microsoft’s three primary devices: Surface tablet, Xbox, and Windows Phone. And the current head of Windows and Surface engineering, Julie Larson-Green, is now in charge of the new Devices and Studios group.

Microsoft still builds a crapload of other products. But none are as important as those Larson-Green is now tasked with growing.  Microsoft has seen clear success with the Xbox, and with the Xbox One on the horizon, should maintain their lead in the cutthroat console business.

But the Surface and Windows Phone are basically non-players in a game being dominated by Apple and Samsung. If Larson-Green can turn them around to become a bona-fide competition in the smartphone and tablet markets, then Ballmer should turn over the CEO keys to her.

How much are two well-known devices worth to Apple?

The iPhone, which Ballmer famously mocked, has been around since 2007 while the iPad didn’t show up until 2010. These two products now drive more revenue and profit than every Microsoft product and service combined. In fact, the iPhone, on its own, is larger than Microsoft in terms of revenue and profit.

Ballmer finally appears to realize that mobile is the future, even for the company that built the desktop.

Changing of the Guard

In just two years, mobile went from about 5% of all Black Friday purchases to 24% according to a report from IBM. And of that traffic the iPad dominated with 10% of all shopping traffic and a whopping 88% of all mobile traffic.

Think about that for a minute.

A device that didn’t exist 3 years ago is now responsible for 10% of shopping traffic.

A few of my friends say the PC will be around forever, and they are probably right. Engineers, designers, and many professionals will still require the processing and graphical performance found only on a workstation. I work for a company that designs and builds these type of systems, and the demand continues to be strong.

But the following slide should scare the crap out of Microsoft and Intel. From the mid 80’s still 2009, they were the dominant computing platform. If you owned a PC during that time it likely ran a version of Windows and was powered by an Intel processor.

But today Android + iOS comprise 45% of all computing operating systems while Windows is down to a 35% share from nearly 90% just five years ago.


With the massive growth of smartphones, Windows is no longer the dominate platform, and this is the first chart I’ve seen that visually shows what’s happening. No wonder Microsoft is willing to spend billions to push their Windows Phone 8 platform into a market that has so far ignored it.

More people are now using a phone or tablet running Android or iOS than Windows. Many analysts see that PC sales are slowing, yet upwards of 350 million will be sold in 2013. That seems impressive until you hear that 1.5 billion smartphones will be sold during the same time frame.

We’re witnessing a changing of the guard.

Some will see that 24% mobile shopping traffic and disregard it. “PCs are still king!” they will say.

And they are right.

But for how long?

*Graphic taken from Internet Trends presentation from Mary Meeker.

Can Microsoft create killer hardware and software?

What if Microsoft pulled a page out their early playbook and created software for the most popular platforms, be it desktop, tablets or mobile?

What if Microsoft  was less concerned about owning the entire mobile ecosystem and instead was a player on all platforms? I can’t imagine owning an Android tablet or phone. But because Google brings apps to iOS, they have my businesses. I wouldn’t hesitate to pay for premium versions of GMail and Google Docs. I run Chrome and use Google Search multiple times each day. Too much of my life runs through Google apps. No way am I switching to a competitor at this stage.

I understand that Microsoft hopes to sway me into buying a Surface tablet and Windows Phone by getting me accustomed to the look and feel of those products through Windows 8. But the train has left the station, and I’ve already committed to another tablet and phone, that when combined, are used more often than my Windows PC.  And that delta continues to grow each year as my tablet and phone perform more of my day to day tasks.

This year, Microsoft will get $39 from me for a Windows 8 Pro upgrade and $60 for an Xbox Live Gold account. That’s better than nothing but still a fraction of what I’ll give Apple for games, apps and music among two iPhones, two iPads and three iPod Touch. 

Why does Microsoft continue to toss hundreds of millions into Windows Phone when the best they can do is take 3rd place? Why not create best of breed apps across Android and iOS and offer them to billions of customers instead of a few million Windows Phone owners?

Some may point to the success of Xbox to show Microsoft can make their own hardware and own the end-to-end experience. Sure, Xbox can be found in millions of living rooms, but it adds very little to the bottom line for Microsoft. Microsoft still derives most profits from Windows and Office. They dabble in entertainment, and search and business software, but if you look at what drives profits to the bottom line, it’s Windows and Office.

Unfortunately, Windows and Office take a backseat to tablets and smartphones in terms of growth potential, two areas where Microsoft had a head start, but got shoved aside by RIM, Apple and Google. They are trying to crawl back into the game with products like the Surface and updates to their Windows Phone platform. And, both seem like decent products, but they spotted Apple and Google a three to four year head start, and it doesn’t appear that carriers or customers are looking for a third alternative. Developers already have a huge audience developing for Android and iOS which explain why Microsoft is having to pay developers to build apps for Windows Phone and new Windows Store.

Why does Microsoft believe they need to become like Apple?

Some of my favorite software products came from Microsoft but have been abandoned like Windows Live Writer and Digital Image Pro. I used to love Windows Messenger and Live Mesh until they started changing their names, and morphing into other products.

I’ve been running Windows 8 Pro for just over and month. With one exception (older Creative soundcard), it’s been a easy transition from Windows 7. Microsoft can put an army of talented software engineers behind a product like no other company can.

I just wish they spent more time creating excellent software across all platforms.

Tax on the Brain

“The PC is over. It will linger, but increasingly as a relic.”

Those are words from from MG Siegler, a noted fan of Apple products, writer and investor.

When I come across anyone predicting the demise of the PC I immediately take interest because I make my living helping people select custom computers. Many of these people make their living using professional software tools such as Adobe Photoshop or Premiere. The computer power they require can’t be found on a tablet or smartphone or even a laptop on many occasions.

I would guess that many from this group are longtime PC users and laugh at the idea of PCs becoming relics. Not a week goes by where someone tells me the view tablets like the iPad as “toys” and can’t imagine being productive on them. They are viewed in same light as the Nintendo DS: fun toys, but useless when it comes to serious work.

We have Windows PCs, iPads, iPhones and three iPod Touch in our home. This past Christmas we finally got a big screen TV that’s hooked up to DirecTV, a Nintendo Wii and the Xbox 360.

Watching how my children use each of these devices has been interesting and not what I would have predicted.

The PC is used to play Roblox, which is a simple (and goofy) Flashed based game. Occasionally Lincoln will watch a YouTube video or Luca will edit a paper for school on the PC. To them, the PC is a place where I do my work. It’s for old people who have to use these primitive input devices called a keyboard and mouse. It’s big and clunky, and requires frequent patches and reboots. In short, it’s a hassle.

The TV is used to consume shows they watch together like So You Think You Can Dance. They seldom watch anything live. To them, TV is what’s on Netflix or recorded to the DVR. They idea of having to sit through commercials is foreign to them.

For everything else, they default to their iPod Touch. It’s the only device they own and don’t have to share with anyone else. They can select which apps are on it as well as customize the screen the way they want. They use the iPod Touch to play games, send texts, watch movies, and stream Netflix. It’s what they turn to first. I’m still surprised when I see one of them curled up on the couch in front of a turned off TV watching Spongebob through Netflix on the iPod Touch.

And yet I do the same thing now with my iPad. I watched all five season of the Wire on my iPad because I could do so from bed. I often sit on the couch and watch ESPN highlights when I could be watching them on a 52-inch screen. But when I’d have to locate three remotes and then fuss with each of them. In that same time I can watch the highlight on my iPad.

When I wanted to watch HBO on my computer I had to download a bunch of plugins that weren’t initially compatible with my browser. But first I had to lookup the model number of my video card to make sure it was on the “approved list” because I guess someone is worried I possess the skills to pirate Game of Thrones. Given the number of technical hoops I had to jump through, I’m sure many people would just give up. Even once I had the plugins installed, I would get an error telling me my graphics card wasn’t compatible with their service.

The same thing happened when I my PC upgraded to Silverlight which is required to stream Netflix on the PC. Searching for a solution online brought up many people having the same problem. Some suggested I revert back to an older version of Silverlight while others recommended making a few changes to the registry. Two weeks later, a user on a technical forum suggested I run a command from the command line that magically fixed it.

At least until the next Silverlight upgrade.

The fact is PCs are still incredibly complex. They require far too many updates. They are not easy to backup, and many of the backup services are difficult to use. Have you installed a PC game lately? Get ready to spend a few hours making everything work right. The hoops the gamer must jump through would be inconceivable to many who play those same games on the Xbox or Playstation. The patience required is still enormous.

I grew up using a PC. It’s all I had. It’s all I knew for most of my computing life. I’m willing to put up with the many quirks and idiosyncrasies that try my patience. I know my way around the registry, and have torched so many computers that I got accustomed to making them work again by breaking them open and futzing around with them for hours. 

My kids will grow up using devices that don’t require that level of dedication and know-how. Hand an iPad to a child and watch them master it in just minutes. It’s simple and intuitive. Compare that to Windows 8 which is best described as a “tax on the brain”.

Many kids in elementary school have no need for a PC. They will have experienced the instant-on, no fuss nature of the smartphone or tablet. Try telling them they can’t type on a small screen and watch them laugh. Many of them can type more words per minute on their tiny screens that you can type on your full-sized keyboard. Don’t tell them they need a PC to edit photos or video either. The tools are already there in the app stores. Tell them about Patch Tuesday and watch them double over in laughter.

For the time being, PC sales remain strong as least at my employer. We don’t sell sub $1000 PCs which have been decimated by the rise of the iPad. We’ll soon witness a wave of new tablets running Windows 8. We still sell a lot of PCs to people who just need a reliable platform to browse the web, write emails, and edit the occasional Office document. If you’re like me and you’re used to doing those activities on a PC, you’ll probably stick with the PC for a while and maybe forever.

But for kids who grow up using smartphones and tablets to accomplish those same tasks, only time will tell if they even consider a traditional PC.  Most of the killer apps are on mobile devices. When’s the last time someone told you to check out a cool program for the PC?

Time will tell, but I don’t believe my children will have a need for a PC in same way I did. I’d say the odds are against it.

What’s Driving Windows 8 Pricing?

Today Microsoft announced that anyone with a copy of Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99.

My first thought was that this is a smart move my Microsoft. A low price may very well drive momentum for Microsoft’s newest and most controversial version of Windows in years.

Microsoft knows that Windows 8 is going to sell hundreds of millions of copies no matter the reception. Microsoft also knows that the last thing they need is a Vista-type reception that bleeds over into Surface and Windows Phone sales. That’s a downside of tying the Windows brand to as many devices as possible.

But the actual price of the upgrade have longer term effects on Microsoft bottom line because, although the jury is still out on whether Microsoft can becoming a player in smart phones and tablets, Windows will be around for many years. You can’t ignore the fact that Microsoft is dropping the price of Windows upgrades from $199 for Windows 7 Professional or $119 for Windows 7 Home Premium to forty bucks for Windows 8 Professional.

Does Microsoft expect to make up the difference in volume? Given projected PC sales that’s hard to imagine. Maybe pressure from the OEMs made Microsoft reconsider a lower price for Windows given decrease in average selling price of the PC.

Whatever the reason, you can bet that Microsoft is feeling the heat. It’s been nearly 30 years since any competing platform has approached the PC in sales. But already this year, Android passed the PC in total units shipped and iOS is poised to follow. This chart from Horace Dediu at Asymco tells the story.

I always felt that the price of Windows should come down as the price of the PC decreased. But for many years, the opposite happened because Microsoft felt no competitive pressure to do so.

Could it be that by the time you realize you must lower your price it’s actually too late? It won’t take long to find out.

“Priming the Pump”

“No comment”

Those were the words of Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, when asked about the reaction of his PC partners when told of the Surface tablet.

Of course, this isn’t Microsoft’s first attempt at building their own hardware device running Microsoft software. They did it with the ill-fated Zune media player and with the successful Xbox console.

But what happened this evening at Milk Studios in Hollywood signals a much more pointed assessment of Ballmer’s trust in OEMs to compete head on with the best selling Apple iPad.


Neither Zune nor Xbox ran Windows as we know it, nor did they compete head to head with current Microsoft partners such as Dell and HP. No pesky channel conflict to be found.

But that all changed today.

Think about this for a moment: companies such as Dell, HP, Sony, Lenovo and many others will now be purchasing Windows licenses from the company they are competing against in the tablet market.  Ballmer tried to downplay the conflict referring to it as “priming the pump.”

I’d call it a partner butt kicking.

Today’s hastily called event showcased the many features of the Surface (which will be offered in both X86 and RT models), including the unique foldout keyboard that doubles as a cover as well as the integrated kickstand. But we were left in the dark on such items as price, availability and battery life.

What came across loud and clear from Ballmer and his team was this: “We’ll flood the earth with our own devices running Windows if we have to.” 

The iPad wasn’t mentioned today but it loomed large because every tablet will be compared to the leader dominating the market. But that may not be the correct comparison. With the included keyboard, USB port, and MicroSD,  the Surface appears to compete more with Ultrabooks than the iPad.

I don’t believe Microsoft wanted to design and build their own hardware. Software, not hardware, is in their DNA. They had no choice with Xbox and Zune. But today, Ballmer surveyed the scene, and sent a message to every one of his OEMs that Microsoft won’t stand on the sidelines and watch Apple release integrated devices that slow Windows growth and win over a generation who may never need Windows.

Much of Microsoft’s growth over the last 30 years can be attributed to the support of its hardware partners. Choice fueled growth of Windows and the integrated approach of Apple nearly faded into oblivion in the late 90’s.

But few, outside of Steve Jobs, could have predicted the meteoric growth of smartphones and tablets which reward tightly integrated systems. That the iPhone business is larger than all of Microsoft can’t sit well with the man who once derided it.

By melding Windows 8 with its own hardware, Microsoft took a page out of the Apple playbook.

And keep your eye on what’s happening with Nokia.

Surface Phone anyone?