26
Jan

Microsoft’s Q2 FY 15 webcast adds some form to the target market for Hololens and word of a formal end to the Windows XP refresh cycle

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthDuring Microsoft’s Q2 FY 15 webcast, Satya Nadella alluded to Windows 10 Universal Apps, and their usefulness for average consumers of Microsoft’s recently debuted Hololens “alternative reality/AR” headset computer.

So Microsoft clearly intends to promote the Hololens to the consumer market. But as to whether or not the consumer market will jump at the opportunity, or not, is another question, which was not addressed during the webcast. It is more likely the early adopters for the device will be organization like the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). JPL was mentioned during the January 20th event. As well, a post on the Hololens was published on the official JPL blog.

Another business with an entry in the headset computer business, Oculus also made news the same day Microsoft held its webcast. In an article titled Oculus CEO on its new VR filmmaking venture Story Studio and Microsoft’s HoloLens, Tim Bradshaw summarizes a comment made by Brendan Iribe, the CEO of Oculus about Microsoft’s Hololens, likely target markets and the pace of introducing the technology: “AR [alternative reality] may be further away than Microsoft made it seem last week[. He] suggested the software giant should be “careful” about setting unrealistic expectations.” This opinion seems sensible to me, and, perhaps, one at least the Marketing Communications team at Microsoft might want to adopt.

The rationale behind my recommendation is an article by David Carr, of the New York Times, which appeared on the same day. Carr’s article brings up the whole personal information notion, complete with some thoughts on the level of behavioral re-engineering average consumers will have to go through to adjust to regular use of the Hololens. Of course this type of conjecture hovered around Google Glass for most of its product life. But, nevertheless, stimulating writers like David Carr to voice these opinions so early in the cycle of introducing a product like the Hololens may have been a mistake.

On the question of why the quarter failed to hit all of the analyst estimate targets, it may help readers to note the emphasis Amy Hood, CFO placed on the end of the Windows XP refresh cycle as a reason for these misses. A lot of the commentary already published on the quarterly results have posited notions of serious declines in sales of Windows, Microsoft’s enterprise products, etc. But little mention has been made of the end of the refresh cycle, which may actually make more sense.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

22
Jan

Machine learning and Windows 10 and Windows Phone 8.1

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthMicrosoft’s Windows 10: The Next Chapter event, which was held on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, included a number of new product and features announcements. A lot of editorial copy has been produced on the Holographic computer, the “Hololens”. But other announcements, about machine learning capabilities, while, perhaps not as dramatic, also deserve some comments.

Windows 10 Leverages Machine Learning

During the 2 plus hour webcast, Joe Belfiore demonstrates the new role Microsoft’s Personal Assistant, aka “Cortana”, will play in Windows 10. He makes the point of mentioning Cortana’s capacity to learn, over time.

This machine learning capability is also demonstrated much later in the presentation, within the introduction of the Hololens.

Belfiore’s claims are overstated, at least when they are judged against my use of Cortana on Windows Phones. We own two of these, both are Windows 8.1 Lumia 925 smartphones. Cortana has operated as a feature on these phones for at least the last 90 days, and perhaps even longer. The biggest missing piece for us has been the lack of any improvement in Cortana’s understanding of either of our two users. One of our users has a pronounced accent, which has proven to be the basis of erroneous responses from Cortana, which she has gotten to simple questions.

Our other user, me, recently asked Cortana what it knows about him. Cortana’s reply included mention of a “Notebook”. The “Notebook” is presented in the “Windows 10: Next Chapter” event as a valuable new feature. In the webcast, one of the presenters (probably either Terry Myerson or Joe Belfiore) makes mention of the “Notebook” as an important control people will be able to use to determine just what personal information is available for processing and to limit the cognizance of the system of personal information.

Cortana’s reply to a simple question about what this personal assistant application “knows” about a specific person: “Well, I have my Notebook, so I know what you know you’ve let me know. Y’know?” seems to be more of a disclaimer than anything else. We took a look at the “Notebook”. We framed specific questions about information included in it, but could not get an answer from the system on any questions about any of the entries in the “Notebook”. Recommendation: turn down the hype on machine learning as this component of the system does not seem to have developed much at all since we last took a look at it.

In fairness, we need to also note we have an Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone manufactured by LG and an Apple iPad Air 2. Both of these devices also include personal assistants, “Siri” and “OK Google”, which are capable of understanding verbal commands and formulating audible responses. Neither of these devices are actually any more useful than Microsoft’s Cortana when the requirement amounts to an extended audio discussion with one’s computer device.

Machine learning in all of these applications has a long way to go before it is tangibly useful for personal computing.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

21
Jan

Microsoft debuts many new products while analysts hypothesize about impact on its revenue model

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthOn Wednesday, January 21, 2015, Microsoft published a webcast on its Windows blog. The reason for the webcast was the debut of a number of new products, each of which is scheduled for release later this year. Readers interested in the presentation can view the entire webcast, titled Windows 10: the Next Chapter via the link just provided.

But despite the freshness of the products presented by Terry Myerson, Joe Bellefiore, and Alex Kipman, not to mention the potential for business expansion (or shall I say evolution?) represented by the feature sets of each of these products, some representatives from the analyst community, who attended the event, in person, appeared to fixate on a pair of negative possibilities:

  1. Windows 10 as a free product (for anyone already owning devices with an authorized licensed copy of either Windows 8.1, or Windows 7, or even a Windows Phone with Windows Phone 8.1) threatening what Shira Ovide and Jeff Elder presented (with reference to Rick Sherlund of Nomura Securities) as “about 19% of Microsoft’s revenue in the year ended June 30”
  2. and an announcement of the company doubling down on its commitment to establish a substantial presence in markets for mobile hardware devices despite a diminished presence, which has shrunk, over the last few years, into what looks to be little more than 3%, respectively, of global consumption of smartphone and tablet devices (I gleaned this data from Ovide and Elder’s article in the Online Wall Street Journal, titled Microsoft Shows Off Windows 10 Software)

I am not disputing the relevance of the above points, but I think the potential negative impact of them has been overstated. My position is predicated on two points:

  1. The first of these is a set of APIs, which Alex Kipman presented. Developers can use these APIs to leverage the artificial intelligence/neural networks/cognition features built into Windows 10 to enable mass market consumption of services likewise only accessible via bigger machines
  2. The second is the Windows 10 Holographic system, including the computer and the Holo Studio development environment. Readers should not overlook the inclusion of JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in the presentation as a present consumer of the computer. With a very prominent consumer already in place, is it hard to extrapolate other organizations implementing this technology? Perhaps profit-making businesses in, for example, the aircraft manufacturing space?

I cannot provide more detail here about the potential of the APIs, beyond merely noting the extensive market interest in robotics, AI, and machine learning. The revenue potential represented by these two points may cover any revenue short fall from Microsoft’s announced decision to give away the Windows 10 OS for the first year after it is RTM sooner than analysts appear to be thinking.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

20
Jan

Positioning Windows 8 versus Windows 10

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthOn January 20, 2015, the GeekWire website published an article written by Todd Bishop and Blair Hanley Frank, which discusses Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system and a public event (the actual debut of the consumer version of this O/S), which is scheduled to be held on January 21, 2015. The title of the article is Does the world still need Windows? What’s at stake for Microsoft in the Windows 10 consumer preview. Bishop and Frank summarize in this article some statistics coming out of NetApplications, which depict an enterprise computing world largely dominated by Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system (56% market share vs 14% market share for a combination of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 desktops).

The statistics are included to buttress a portrayal of some of the challenges in front of this new operating system, as Microsoft prepares for its event. The article argues Microsoft faces an imperative, which it must successfully address, via the January 21st event, to ” . . . assure [the public] that Windows 10 won’t cause them to punch their PC. Windows 8’s dual interface, straddling the line between desktop and tablet features, has caused confusion and frustration for many longtime Windows users.” A similar call for urgency can be found in a number of other articles published on the same topic.

Is it possible Microsoft’s public relations team has encouraged the news community to adopt this approach to the event, which I would summarize as “Windows 10 is a radically different operating system from Windows 8.1”? I have no information to indicate whether this is the case, or not, but the similarity in tone between these articles is, perhaps, attributable to a set of “talking points” someone sent out. At least it is fair to say there has been no press from Redmond countering the tone or substance of these articles.

I have been running Windows 10 Preview on a laptop since the start of the preview program (I believe the program kicked off in October, 2014). The laptop, an HP Envy, shipped with Windows 8.0, which I upgraded to Windows 8.1. In my opinion the differences between Windows 10 and Windows 8.1, at least as of Build 9879, are not radical. The real takeaway, for me, from the Windows 10 Preview experience, is a refinement of Windows 8.1, where the user interface is now a consistent experience of apps and other desktop components. Is it necessary to combine both experiences in one operating system? I would answer it is, given the reality of an enterprise computing world where mobile hardware devices are the norm.

Microsoft is not the only vendor of these systems seeking to present consumers with a “unified” computing experience. Both Apple and Google (Android and Chrome) have come around to the same approach, which should be something of a vindication for the original notion powering Windows 8.1. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s event. It might even be fun.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

2
Jan

PaaS is Oracle’s sweet spot for 2015

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-width During Oracle’s Q2 2015 earnings conference call, Larry Ellison, Executive Chairman and CTO informed his audience of analysts about the importance of platform as a service, PaaS to Oracle’s strategy to grow its cloud business. Per Ellison, PaaS is the differentiator promising to elevate Oracle’s cloud business from the commodity-driven world of infrastructure as a service (IaaS) to something more attractive, meaning a product with more promising return on investment given Oracle’s commitment to product development, general and administrative (G&A) expenses, and sales and marketing.

So what is the core of Oracle’s PaaS offer? Per Ellison, PaaS for Oracle amounts to the combination of the Java software language and Oracle’s database product. Ellison did not mention hardware, but, Mark Hurd, one of the two co-Presidents of the company (Safra Catz is the other co-President) cited surprising strength in sales of Oracle’s SPARC super cluster, and the SPARC database appliance later in the call during an answer to a question.

Leaving aside the highly competitive tone of Ellison’s comments (he mentioned Salesforce.com and Workday as direct competitors at numerous points), his PaaS claim is, in my opinion, credible. Oracle has demonstrated a clear commitment to defend the proprietary nature of its Java language, so it should be safe to assume customers will have to pay a price should they opt to use the language to customize solutions, build tools, etc. There was absolutely no specific mention of individual database products throughout the conference call, so it is also likely safe to assume management is confident in the attractiveness of Oracle’s traditional RDBMS products for its new found customer base for cloud offers. Of course, coming quarterly reports should be carefully reviewed to see if any mention of database product mix pops up. I was eager to hear some mention about the condition of Oracle’s own NoSQL database, but there was no mention of it. The only references to “big data” came up when Ellison spoke about Oracle’s Exalogic and Exadata servers.

The lengthy list of prominent larger businesses already committed to Oracle’s cloud offers, which Mark Hurd referred to as a list of “icons” is impressive, and, further, is also indicative of why a company like Oracle (much has been the case, I would argue, for Microsoft, as well) truly can benefit from expanding the volume of its cloud activity — and get paid for it. After all, each of the companies behind these icons is probably hosting one, or more of Oracle’s on-premises solutions. Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, SAP and EMC each stand to benefit from robust customer interest in hybrid computing scenarios as the result of large installed bases of on-premises computing systems.

In contract, Salesforce.com, Amazon, Google, Workday cannot leverage proprietary on-premises systems to achieve the same advantage.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

7
Nov

Windows 10 delivers a uniform computing experience regardless of application type

Back in 2001 Microsoft introduced the first application layer support for Intel’s then new line of 64 bit CPUs for consumers. But in the 12 years since the first release of 64 bit Windows, not much headway has been made to replace “win32” applications with 64 bit solutions. As Joe Bellfiore demonstrates during the Keynote presentation for Microsoft’s Tech Ed Europe 2014 event, with Windows 10 Microsoft has approached the task from a different angle: trying now to make sure user enjoy the same satisfactory experience, regardless of whether or not an application is written for 64 bit CPUs, or not.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the question of what’s really changed, under the Windows 10 hood to make this happen, the result Bellfiore demonstrated is certainly preferred and likely to win Microsoft new fans for Windows 10. This writer is participating in the Windows 10 Preview effort. It is now possible to open so-called “tile” apps and run them directly alongside legacy Windows applications without issue. In contrast, the Surface 2 RT experience leaves a lot to be desired and, for most consumers, would likely fall somewhere substantially below the “acceptable” level.

But perhaps Bellfiore could have simply presented the vastly improved performance of this latest version of Microsoft’s O/S without the associated claims about everyone sure to “love” it. Enterprise IT organizations are more likely to approve use of this O/S anyways simply as a result of the better stability of the O/S and the job Microsoft has done to stabilize system performance regardless of application type.

The webcast recording of Bellfiore’s presentation captures the enthusiastic response of the audience as Bellfiore demonstrated the new capability to copy and paste between applications running within Window 10’s GUI and a command line. So it’s safe to assume a number of converts over to the Microsoft view of the future of desktop computing were made during this section of the Keynote.

On a related note, Bellfiore’s demonstration of how the tile desktop has been built into the Windows Key display is worth noting. A highlight of the Windows Preview experience has been the improved accessibility of tile apps via this new view.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

6
Nov

Will enterprise IT reclaim the title of tech leader within the organization?

Anyone watching the Windows 10 segment of the webcast of the Keynote presentation from Microsoft’s Tech Ed Europe 2014 event will likely catch the appeal Joe Bellfiore, Corporate Vice Presdident, Windows Division is making to the enterprise business attendees in his audience. The old branding message “Windows is the best O/S for all types of computing” has been replaced with a new pitch characterized by its razor sharp “focus on enterprise” computing and the people responsible for its success within a typical organization.

What follows is a rhetorical argument (made up of 4 cornerstones) of why enterprise IT organizations, and the CIOs at the top, should look favorably on Windows 10, whose “first phase of engagement is really aimed at an enterprise audience”. The four cornerstones are:

  1. One converged Windows Platform
  2. A product people will love to use
  3. Protection against modern security threats
  4. Managed for continuous innovation

But the house to be built on these cornerstones is really a rebuild of the old edifice where new computing solutions popped up in organizations as the result of IT’s efforts to introduce them, and an attempt to bring down the dominance of lines of business (LoBs), who have recently staged a coup named BYOD and wielded a sword called consumerized IT to wreak havoc for the teams of computer support personnel ostensibly responsible to manage their computing activity.

In this writer’s opinion, the second cornerstone is nothing new. Microsoft has attempted, all along, to claim the title of best O/S for all types of computing. One need only reflect on one of the video ads for the original Surface tablets, titled Microsoft Surface – Commercial HD to get this point.

A word of caution: this claim hasn’t worked in the past (skeptical readers are advised to just think about the comparatively poor sales performance of the original Surface to get the point. If it worked so well, why the $900 Million write down?) and doesn’t look likely to win in the near future. Further, enterprise IT organizations may actually like their new way of operating in catch up mode. Perhaps it makes more sense for spokespeople like Bellfiore to emphasize each of the other cornerstones, and back pedal on the second.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

4
Nov

Microsoft looks at the inevitability of big data

Jason Zander, a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft opened his segment of the Keynote presentation for Microsoft’s Tech Ed Europe 2014 with a compelling argument for the inevitability of big data. Zander presented some numbers indicating the global population of smart devices has now surpassed the entire human global population. The number of apps supporting these devices, and their users has also grown in geometric proportion. The result is truly big data — an enormous amount of information about each/every touchpoint for devices, users, and even data itself as they interact.

Zander’s rhetorical argument is yet one more articulation of one of the core planks of Microsoft’s 2014 communications brand — productivity. To sum up this theme, readers are asked to simply consider the impact of the “hundreds and hundreds of petabytes of data we already have” on the notion of what this writer refers to as the “dawn” of “information opacity” aka the Samuel Coleridge phenomenon (“Water, water everywhere, but nary a drop to drink”).

Zander points to cloud, and Microsoft’s Azure as a leading example of it, as the only method of powering all of the data produced by the global interaction of users and smart devices. It’s worth noting his mention of telemetry. There will be more to be said about this category of data, and its relation to the concept of an Internet of Things (IoT) throughout the remainder of the conference.

The presentation then shifts to another core plank of Microsoft’s 2014 communications brand — the slogan, first articulated by its CEO, Satya Nadella, and now re-articulated by each and every other spokesperson (including Zander) “Mobile First, Cloud First”. Zander echoes Nadella’s recent comments on the slogan, and pulls in the scalability plank of the market message. Mobile First, he stresses for his audience, requires ISVs like Microsoft to envision consumers in motion, implementing different devices, at different times, with the objective of accomplishing the same tasks or activities. The only way to satisfy this need for a uniform computing experience is to deliver the same quality across any/all device form factors. Nothing less will do.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

3
Nov

Microsoft publishes an enormous amount of content from TechEd Europe 2014

In yet another gesture towards app developers and their stakeholders, Microsoft is rapidly publishing a very large amount of video content from its recently concluded TechEd Europe 2014 event. All of the content can be found on the Tech Ed Europe 2014 web site. As of the date of this post, Saturday, November 1, 2014, just a few of the webcasts available for public viewing included:

  1. Keynote Presentation by Joseph Belfiore, and Jason Zander
  2. Empowering Enterprise Mobility, led by Andrew Conway who plays a senior product marketing role for Microsoft’s Windows Server / System Center Business
  3. Microsoft Azure for Enterprises: What and Why, led by David Chappell a Principal at Chappell & Associates
  4. Azure Pack Roadmap and Ecosystem, led by Maurizio Portolani, and Robert Reynolds
  5. Microsoft IoT Platform: Architecture Overview, led by Uli Homann

Each of the above 5 webcasts are worth some commentary over the next few posts to this blog. The second, “Empowering Enterprise Mobility” is of interest for information it may add as to how Microsoft has designed its entry into the market for Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) aka Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions. In this writer’s opinion enterprise business consumers are demonstrating a voracious appetite for EMM and/or MDM. The intensity of need makes sense; after all, with a majority of larger organizations supporting formal BYOD, BYOA and other policy structures to support personnel as they bring new devices, and systems into the internal computing realm. EMM and MDM, on paper, can provide central IT support organizations with the methods they need to permit this use while preserving control and making a best effort to safeguard company confidential information.

A lot has already been written about the fourth and the fifth webcasts. Azure Pack looks like the right set of components to transform Microsoft’s cloud, IaaS into something portable, the kind of solution Dell has brought to market in its recently announced “Cloud in a box” hardware device.

IoT is a subject of interest to this blog, so a presentation on Microsoft’s data communications architecture to support the billions of devices interacting under the IoT umbrella is a “must attend” event.

Readers should stay tuned.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved