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

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

1
Oct

Microsoft presents Windows 10, a scalable operating system for a wide range of computing form factors

On Tuesday, September 30, 2014 two senior executives at Microsoft, Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President of Operating Systems, and Joe Belfiore, Vice President, presented Windows 10 to the public via an invitation only press conference.

Within a few moments of the conclusion of this presentation, a press release appeared on the Microsoft news web site. Later in the day a lengthier presentation appeared on Terry Myerson’s blog, titled Announcing Windows 10.

The big takeaway, for this writer, is Myerson’s assertion about this new operating system. “Windows 10 will run across an incredibly broad set of devices – from the Internet of Things, to servers in enterprise data centers worldwide.” (quoted from Terry Myerson’s post to his blog on Microsoft.com title “Announcing Windows 10”). If Microsoft can deliver on this promise, then they will likely achieve a couple of very important milestones:

  • One core operating system will be available for a very wide range of computing form factors. Once the core operating system is built, then form factors will likely “bolt on”, meaning no more than a set of hooks will be required to bring up an appropriate version of the operating system required to power any/all target form factors. Bottom line: this will represent a truly innovative improvement in efficiency, which should lead to lower Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), and substantially higher margins. In short, very good news for Microsoft as a business
  • A truly consistent, and generally predictable user experience will be achieved, regardless of the form factor chosen for computing (tablet, PC, game console, sensor, etc). When consumers can be expected to enjoy a consistent computing experience, it makes sense to plan on higher levels of purchase satisfaction and repeat purchases. Once again, if Microsoft can deliver a truly scalable user experience, then this will be very good news for the business

One of the big questions about the next release of Windows is when it will be available for purchase. Myerson and Belfiore estimated availability after Microsoft’s BUILD Conference for 2015, in other words, sometime in late summer of 2015. We would have hoped this O/S would be available sooner, especially given some remarks from Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, which were captured in the webcast of the company’s most recent earnings conference call. But it is likely Microsoft’s Public Relations team will issue quite a bit of supporting information about this new O/S between now and the actual release date. Therefore, it makes sense to plan on the product gaining momentum from now on.

Ira Michael Blonder

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