Tag Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft, Yammer, and the bubble

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Microsoft have finally bought Yammer, the enterprise focussed, chat-style Skype/ Twitter tool.

I reviewed Yammer two years ago after a colleague, Ben, heard about Yammer in use at several investment banks in New York. We started using the free version of Yammer at Endava and it spread quickly through the organisation without any promotion – the joy of viral marketing. We use Yammer for asking group questions and disseminating news announcements about our suppliers.

Two things surprise me about the purchase – the first is that Microsoft already own Live Messenger for consumers, and Office Communicator (now Lync – I think) for enterprises.

And remember, Microsoft also own Skype. So maybe the acquisition was defensive – to ensure none of its competitor’s got to buy Yammer.

The second surprise is the cost – Microsoft spent $1.2 billion on the acquisition. Yammer’s annual revenue is estimated to be around $15 million which equates to around 1 million users based on their latest pricing.

Anyone else think that we’re in another bubble?

 

Google Drive opinion

I’ve had a couple of emails asking what I think of Google Drive.

Firstly I’m a bit disappointed with Google’s lack of innovation. I’d have expected a few bells and whistles because they are late entrants into the market and have the benefit of watching their competitors and market makers.

I’m growing sceptical of new Google services. If Google Drive doesn’t take off, yet a business has used it for all their file server needs, migrating all those files and links to them is going to be a nightmare for any organisation.

And this is the inherent problem with immature cloud services.

This blog uses Posterous which was bought by Twitter a month ago. If Posterous is discontinued, I need to migrate all the content (relatively straightforward but a hassle nonetheless).

I use Brinkster to host my websites and domain names. For the cost of using 500Gb on Google Drive, I get the same amount of FTP storage, thousands of email accounts and a Microsoft web server thrown in.

Cloud storage is the first step to consumer IT virtualisation. Soon we’ll all be using virtual PCs via a web browser. Google started this with Google Docs and Picasa Web Albums. Creating a generic file storage area is misaligned with their goal of eradicating the need for local files.

We now have a situation where the key players in the market all have competing file storage and online services – Apple, Microsoft and Google. It will be interesting to see how they compete.

Windows 8 first review

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It’s funny how the ‘computer busy’ state is shown on PCs. 15 years ago we all got frustrated when we kept seeing an hourglass that prevented us from doing some work. So Microsoft rebranded the egg timer/ hourglass, probably because some psychologist recommended taking our mind off of ‘time’ being wasted. And so we ended up with a circle. Well in Windows 8, even the circle has been replaced (perhaps Google trademarked ‘the circle’ as part of Google+?) – this time it’s dots flying around the screen, usually in some oddly attractive patterns.

The ‘please wait’ icon isn’t the only change to Windows 8. It’s very, very different throughout. I’ve been using Windows 8 for a couple of weeks now.

WIMP 

I remember the acronym “WIMP” when Windows 3.1 was launched. It stood for Windows, Icons, [dropdown] Menus and Pointer. It was the move away from black and white text terminals into graphical interfaces so that humans could start using computers without a Computer Science degree.

In Windows 8, the only part of WIMP that is left is the ‘I’. Windows have been replaced by full screen, errrr, Windows. It’s a bit like using a tablet on your PC – more of that later. You can switch back to a desktop that looks like the current Windows XP or Windows 7 desktop, and I guess that users will spend most of their time in this view.

Where to start 

One of the most obvious missing features in the desktop view is the start menu. ‘Start’ has been totally overhauled into a separate interface. If you’ve used an Xbox before, it will look very familiar. And if you haven’t used an Xbox before, well, Start is like a games console.

Start is the default screen, not the desktop. In ‘Start’, you see a link to the commonly used apps, and some of the icons contain extra information. For example, the email icon contains some of the subject lines of your emails. The first time I saw this it was really disconcerting because I’d just installed Windows 8, and I was looking at the icons, when a personal message caught my eye and I thought “How does the computer know about that???” – only to realise soon afterwards that it was an email subject line from my wife.

And disconcerting is a recurring theme. It’s only natural to use a different interface and wonder where certain familiar features have been moved to.

Then, by luck, you realise that if you right click on various areas of the screen, you get a simple, context menu appear at the bottom or sometimes the side of the screen and have a Eureka moment.

Right click back

I remember going to the launch of Windows Vista when Microsoft announced that their usability strategy was to remove right clicks from as many operations as possible because it’s just not obvious to end users. I get the feeling that guy left Microsoft before Windows 8 was created, because right click is everywhere.

As well as using your mouse’s right button more, you’re also going to be using the Windows key on your keyboard more during Windows 8. I already use shortcuts like Windows +E (to get a new File Explorer window), Windows+M (to minimise everything) and Windows+L (to lock my PC), however in reality I hardly need any of those commands over a working day. To use Windows 8, you’re constantly pressing Windows+C to get the context menu working. I can’t remember how I heard about it, but before you know about Windows+C, it is almost impossible to use Windows 8 because you can’t ‘get to’ any other installed programs.

Similar to when you use any Google product where you use your Google account to sign in, Windows has the same feature with its Live ID. In fact, you sign into Windows 8 with your Live ID. Anyone with a Hotmail account will have a Live ID already.

Like all new Operating Systems, half the previous functionality feels like it’s playing hide and seek. Doing Windows Update for example, I had to go to desktop view, open IE, press the Alt button to get the old drop down menus back, and then select Windows Update.

New apps

Some of the apps aren’t quite finished. Windows 8 comes with SkyDrive, which is a bit like Dropbox – a file system ‘in the Cloud’. Skydrive shows all the files you’ve uploaded, but when you want to edit say, a Word document, the interface to use Office Live is quite clunky and doesn’t even start to compete with say, Google Docs. Also, because the Windows 8 SkyDrive and Windows 8 Internet Explorer are all full screen experiences, you start getting a bit lost after opening a couple of documents.

Fast

Finally, the performance: I’m running Windows 8 in a virtual machine (perversely it only runs inOracle’s VirtualBox, not Microsoft’s Virtual PC) and it’s very, very fast. It’s faster than running Windows XP in Virtual PC, and just as responsive as my native Windows 7 installation. Bearing in mind the virtual machines only uses 2Mb RAM (half my laptop), I’ve been very impressed.

Summary

In summary, Windows 8 is very different. It’s clearly targeted at consumers more than corporates, and just as much a tablet Operating System as a desktop. It will take a lot of getting used to, and with the refined start menu, although using ‘classic’ apps such as Word or Excel it will feel the same as Windows 7. Perhaps that’s Microsoft’s strategy – it’s like releasing two Operating Systems at the same time for its different sets of users.

The one thing that will drive you annoy you within a couple of hours are those dots! Bring back the egg timer.

 

Short term companies

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Recent news about RIM, the makers of Blackberry mobile handsets (when did people stop calling them mobile phones?) pulling out of the consumer market and maybe even putting themselves up for sale, got me thinking about other high profile, modern companies emerging, peaking and struggling in a short timescale.

Think about companies such as Blockbuster and TomTom.

Note that I’m not including short term, boom and bust .com-style companies from 2000, or more recent companies. I’m including companies that created a new market and had great profits for a period of time.

Have markets always been like this?

I hope that RIM recover. They found the ‘killer app’ – email – to drive smartphone usage into 21st century levels, at which point companies such as Apple and Microsoft improved the experience (mainly by moving the keyboard on to the touchscreen). However with technology become more consumer centric, I don’t think that exclusively targeting the corporate market is a successful move.

 

 

Silently updating

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One of the best features about Google Chrome is how it updates itself to provide new features.

If you look at the user experience of various desktop applications, on one end of the scale would be Google Chrome, and the other end would be Microsoft Windows, which relies on the user to configure that they want updates. In most organisations over 100 people, updates are disabled by system administrators. Other applications such as Spotify sit closer to the “Chrome end” because they automatically update however the user is still prompted during the process.

I’m excluding the stomach-churning “will make data survive this?” iPhone OS upgrades because you can’t compare a complete OS upgrade to an application upgrade.

Every so often, Google Chrome checks to see if you are using the latest version. If you aren’t, it automatically downloads the latest version and installs it. The next time you launch Chrome, you’ll be using the latest version – you won’t have clicked on anything to accept it or install it.

Microsoft have cottoned on to this and the next version of Internet Explorer will silently update the browser by default. You can already install an ‘Update blocker’ to prevent automatic updates if you wish.

This puts Microsoft in an interesting situation because they are still clearly focussed on business users rather than consumers. IT organisations aim to standardise programs on user’s computers so that it’s easier to support them en masse. By choosing such a high profile application to start doing automatic updates, it will be a steep learning curve for both IT organisations and Microsoft.

This all paves the way for staff in large organisations to move a step further along the consumerisation journey. As users [supposedly] get more tech-savvy, they don’t need huge IT service desks for application support. In ten years’ time we’ll be choosing our own technology – mobile phone and laptop, and perhaps even our own applications.

We’ll keep the documents centralised (in ‘The Cloud’) and access them via Google Docs, Office 365 or any other newcomers.

The version of the application we are using won’t make any difference whatsoever.

Photo courtesy of warrenski on Flickr.

 

How I would Yahoo!

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So, apparently Yahoo! is up for sale, and even better, Google are willing to help fund it’s resurgence. This sounds so familiar – in 1997, Apple were having serious problems and Microsoft, their once main competitor, invested $150 million in the company, and now Apple is worth more than Microsoft!

Back to Yahoo!, it’s amazing how many people are so dismissive of Yahoo!’s (that’s a lot of punctuation) value.

Here are the high level stats:

Yahoo has over 500 million unique visitors each month, around the World, in over 30 languages.

In the UK alone, adults spend over 3 hours a month just on Yahoo! Mail.

To build that audience of 500 million would cost a HUGE amount of money (and time), so in my opinion there’s never been a better time to Yahoo! Stock is set at a very reasonable price, and Google are willing to invest a significant amount of money.

Here’s what I would do if I took over Yahoo! tomorrow:

Focus

  • An Internet content portal above all else. In terms of competition, Google provide mail to compete with Yahoo! Mail however there is no one with similar a traffic size which provides the level of content as Yahoo!
  • Generate a cost/revenue model for services such as Yahoo! Mail and Flickr to see if it’s worth selling these on or keeping them and reinvesting.
  • Create a cloud development service model to compete with the likes of Amazon and Microsoft – turning a cost centre into a profit centre

Analytics

 Work out where my users are coming from – is it mainly from PC manufacturer-set-browser-homepages which haven’t been updated for 5 years? In fact, I’d probably do most of my initial work on the analysis of who uses the individual Yahoo! services to ascertain the users’ value, or even try to derive an ARPU (Average Revenue Per User).

Innovation

Yahoo! strikes me as a company which is struggling to innovate. How many new services of note have their launched recently? I would look at why this has happened – have they all left to go to competitors? Internet companies need to have innovation at the centre of their philosophy, vision and corporate structure in order to keep users returning. I would reignite this passion for innovation immediately.

And finally, I think I’d rebrand Yahoo! to drop the exclamation mark! (Pun intended).

 

The future of consumerisation

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One of the major shifts in the last five years has been the “consumerisation” of technology. Consumerisation is a swanky word for technology moving outside of the office/professional life into personal lives, and then moving back into the office in a different guise.

The shift started with broadband Internet. Once staff had broadband installed at home, they checked their email from home. They stopped taking laptops home with them and used their home computer.

Smartphones have accelerated the amount of consumerisation. You definitely know some people who have been provided a mobile phone from their employer, and the same individuals also have a smartphone on a personal contract. They will then use their personal phone to check their work email because they prefer their personal device.

This grey area of using personally-paid-for devices is a real issue for IT departments at the moment because of lack of standardisation (having to support iPhones, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia, etc.) and security risks.

Consumerisation isn’t limited to hardware either. I use Outlook 2010 at work, and mainly Google Mail for personal email. New features on Google Mail are appearing regularly. One of my favourites is if you type “I have attached the document” inside a GMail email and press send before attaching a file, Google gives you an alert to ask if you want to attach a document. Brilliant. I wish Microsoft had built the same functionality to prevent me forgetting to attach a file in Outlook.

In fact Google understands consumerisation on a new level. GMail and Google Docs started their lives as consumer tools and then became available as white labeled enterprise tools (a matter of opinion) for businesses. And there’s recently been a lot of commentary about Google refusing to let businesses on to their new social networks – they want end users on there first.

Technology is continuing to become more consumer-focussed, which means we’ll use more of our personally-paid-for technology in our working lives. As my post earlier this week demonstrated, once we start checking our work calendar on our bathroom sink as soon as we wake up, the grey line will been very broad indeed.

 

Why Internet scams are becoming harder to detect

Internet scams are becoming more and more elaborate and easier to fall for, according to the Howard household. Here are two scams that we’ve experienced in the last couple of months:

Trial products

Mrs H signed up for a trial product which arrived quickly and was good value at £29.95. The next month we noticed a number of significant transactions on our credit card (we always use the credit card for Internet purchases so that we can appeal to the credit card company, rather than having to claim back money into our own debit account).

We called the company we’d bought the trial from, and they asked us to look at the terms and conditions of the trial.

How often do you check the terms and conditions on ecommerce sites? How often do you even click through to the terms and conditions page?

On this site, number one term was “the cost of the product will be £200 from the second month”.

The second term was that we would be automatically registered and charged for other products.

Luckily, the person on the phone was extremely rude and ended up putting the phone down on us. I called the credit card company who, as soon as I said I think we’ve fallen for a scam, they said “Is it xxxxxxx company, because we’ve had a number of complaints about them, however they are adamant they are not hiding anything, it’s all in the terms and conditions. It’s morally wrong, but not illegal.”

I then wrote an email to the company and focussed on the rude phone support rather than the product, and they agreed to refund the additional items and the second month’s “full” cost.

The trust had already been broken and I asked the credit card company to reinssue our cards with new numbers, so there was no way we could be charged at a later point.

A few key lessons from this:

  1. Read the terms and conditions. Even if it’s a quick glance, it’s important to read them.
  2. Always use a credit card and not your debit card for Internet purchases.
  3. If you regularly buy from Internet sites, I think it’s worth changing your card number from time to time (even if it’s every couple of years).

Viruses

We haven’t had a virus on our home PC for several years. I make sure our anti-virus software is regularly up to date and configured correctly. The kids also have parental controls on their accounts, which prevents them going to many sites.

This morning Mrs H woke me up and called me over the computer to show me the screenshot below:

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At first glance, I looked at it and agreed that it looked like we had a virus. I paused, and thought “Why is this screen inside Internet Explorer?” and then I realised it was just an elaborate web page.

Mrs H had been looking for a photo to use on a birthday card (she’d searched on Google Images) and when she clicked on a site, this came up.

I’ve seen a number of virus warning ads and websites over the years, but this one was the most accurate-looking of them all.

A few key lessons if you see a virus warning:

  1. Take a screenshot (just press the Print Screen button, and email it to yourself in Gmail/ Hotmail). You might need this evidence later.
  2. Close all windows and applications.
  3. Open anti-virus, and run a scan. Only follow instructions from your anti-virus program, nothing else.

Windows 8 review


So, the covers have started to be lifted from Windows 8. Take 5 minutes to watch the video to see a glimpse of Microsoft’s new operating system.

Some immediate feedback:

  1. “We’re watching Google”. Google believe the [Chrome] browser is the future, so Microsoft are looking to pull as many Internet services out of the browser into small apps.
  2. “Touch my screen”. I hate fingermarks on my screen. Walk up to someone else’s screen at work today and touch their screen – you’ll get a reaction as if you invaded their privacy! No one likes fingermarks on their screen. Windows 8 will be all about touch screens though. We recently bought a new PC at home and I decided not to get a touch screen because I was concerned the kids would have wrecked it within weeks. And a keyboard on the screen? A vertical keyboard? No thanks.
  3. “It looks so beautiful until you want to do anything productive”. All the screens in the video look really nice – it’s like ‘Windows 7 mobile meets XBox‘. And then the video shows Excel and Word, which are straight back to square one.
  4. “Multiple windows – hmmmm”. I get the slider to show multiple windows, but the sad thing is that this is a world away from how people really multi-task with many smaller windows. Have a vertical slider is very inefficient with wasted space.
  5. “Files haven’t changed”. Whilst Microsoft should be commended from abstracting the C: hierarchy to users folders (it started in Windows Vista and Windows 7 makes it even easier), the abstraction should continue. Why do we still care about files? The only point of a file it to email it to someone else, and Google Docs has solved this already (by sharing it from a central place).
  6. “Why no Kinnect?”. After using Kinnect over the weekend with the family, you start wondering why objects in the rest of the world need you to touch them! Kinnect (aka waving at things) is the future and a smaller one to one style interface would be much better than touch (see #2).

However the OS does look lovely. It’s like a ‘Windows 7 meets XBox‘ interface (and both are good). I’m just concerned they’re fine on a 5″ screen or when you sit 5″ away from it. Sitting a foot away from it at a desk for 8 hours a day requires a different style of UI.

Chromebooks are expensive

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On June 15th, the Google Chromebooks will go on sale.

The price of the new Chromebook is $499. That’s the same as a Windows laptop, only you can’t run Windows applications on a Chromebook, including office apps, games, or use external devices such as video cameras, scanners, etc.

I thought that we’d see a $250 laptop with a Chrome browser. We’ve ended up with an expensive laptop with a Chrome browser. Put another way, it’s cheaper to buy a $450 Dell Windows laptop and install Chrome (plus you get the benefit of a using Internet Explorer for sites that don’t support Chrome!).

If the laptop looked as beautiful as a Macbook Air, I could understand a premium, but it doesn’t. To most people the Chromebook looks identical to a Windows laptop.

On another note, Microsoft is required by EU law to ship Windows without Internet Explorer because of its monopolistic position. If Chromebooks [first become cheaper and] become widely used, will Google need to start shipping them without a browser? Or ship them with Windows?

Any thoughts on why it costs so much?