Tag Archives: microsoft

In the best light

Microsoft may have, um, borrowed a lot from Apple in designing their own Microsoft Store retail experience, but beyond the superficial similarities are important differences.

To give but one example, I found browsing on the Surface RT to be slow, halting experience. Microsoft seemed to be blocking some of the websites I tried to visit and redirecting them to their own home page, but even when the sites weren’t blocked, they were slow to load. Some of it could have been a software issue, but I think a lot was related to the WiFi network in the Microsoft store, and the speed of its connection to the Internet.

Apple knows better. The WiFi and Internet connection at their store is speedy, allowing them to show their products in the best possible light, and it worked, the iPad Mini and iPad felt snappy when browsing the web. The Surface RT felt sluggish.


Just below the Surface of Windows RT

I went to the Seattle Microsoft Store this weekend to check out the Surface RT. I was already skeptical that anyone should buy the Surface RT. After using it, I no longer have any doubt: Buying a surface RT would be foolish.

The Surface RT is a Windows product from Microsoft. I think people will expect it to be like an iPad that runs Windows applications, and they are going to be disappointed to find that it really isn’t. Even so, I assumed it would well executed.

I was surprised then, when I actually used a Surface RT, is that even the Metro/Modern UI experience was sub par. The hardware was very nice. Many things were smooth and speedy with the UI, but many things were not. Lots of the built-in apps took a lonnng time to launch. Rotating the screen involved a considerable delay, made more apparent by jerky animation. In the 10 minutes I was using it, I had (built in) apps exit unexpectedly more than once.

Microsoft makes a big deal about the keyboard cover. I found it harder to type on than an on-screen keyboard –I constantly had to check to make sure my fingers were over the right keys. I tried to rely on the autocorrect, as I do with the iPad’s on-screen keyboard, but it was not up to the job.

People should see for themselves if they have the chance. I did, and learned that Microsoft’s execution was worse than I expected. I really don’t know what they were thinking. They needed to bring their “A-game.” Maybe they did, if so, their A-game is a lot of flash, and not much substance. It feels like demo-quality, rather than a finished product from one of the largest software companies in the world.

Google’s ChromeOS Doesn’t Have to be Popular to Matter

This week Google confirmed a long running rumor that they were working on their own operating system when they announced their ChromeOS.  Most of the resulting commentary I’ve seen have missed the mark.  A lot of tech journalists and bloggers focused on the Google / Microsoft rivalry.  Dave Weiner found that predictable narrative to be a boring one, and dismissed it for the same reason the journalists seemed to find it interesting, because it was yet another fight between two big tech companies. Ultimately ChromeOS didn’t interest him because the Chrome browser didn’t support his favorite browser extension, a bookmark synchronization tool, and because, being Linux based, it wouldn’t run Frontier, the desktop software he wrote that he uses to develop and run most of his websites. On Slate, Farad Manjoo criticized the move with an article titled “Five Reasons Google’s new Chrome OS is a Bad Idea.

Here is the thing, and it is really simple, Chrome and ChromeOS don’t need to become popular for them to do well by Google, they just have to have influence.

It works like this.  Google benefits when more people use the web more often for more activities. They benefit primarily from increased opportunities for advertising revenue, but also they are getting paid for Google Apps.

More people will use the web more often for more activities as:

  • Web applications offer more and more utility and usability
  • Devices that can access the web become more affordable
  • Internet connectivity becomes cheaper and more widespread

I don’t think ChromeOS helps with internet connectivity, unless it includes easy to use mesh networking, and even then, its not going to make that big a difference, but the effort helps with the other two.

Chrome the browser helps make web applications more useful and easier to use. It has already helped make both performance and robustness a bigger issue in the browser world. Since Chrome published their first performance numbers, both Safari and Firefox have made strong strides of their own on Javascript performance. I’m not saying that WebKit and Firefox weren’t already working on the problem, the speed with which they responded shows they were, but I think the entry of Chrome has helped accelerate the pace of improvement.  Just this week, the Firefox developers let out some news about their work on a multiprocess architecture like Chrome’s to help with stability.

Chrome the OS both helps make web applications more useful. It has the potential to create an environment where web applications work better with each other, and also with local applications and files. By doing so Chrome OS also puts pressure on other OS vendors (ie Apple and Microsoft) to do a better job of supporting web applications as well.

It also gives them away to influence the cost of client operating systems, and, by extension, desktop, notebook and netbook computers. Linux may ultimately be an unpopular choice on netbooks, but its presence helped put pressure on Microsoft to keep selling XP and make it available for netbooks at a lower cost.

It would be a mistake to look at this through the cost issue through lens of the US or Western Europe. This really an issue in the developing markets where computer penetration among “consumers” and small businesses is still quite low.  In those circumstances fewer people think they need to run Office or Photoshop, etc so compatibility with desktop applications isn’t as important as it is to tech journalists and bloggers. These markets represent a huge opportunity for Google’s advertising and also Google Apps. When computer penetration is low, even pushing the price down $20 could lead to a big bump in the number using computers, and that will help drive economies of scale that help make the hardware even cheaper, and network effects that increase the relative value of having a computer.

That all this might hurt Microsoft by putting pressure on their prices and revenues is kind of a bonus.

Goodtimes for Powerset, Hard times for Hadoop?

Yahoo’s troubles and a recent Microsoft acquisition could be bad news for open source software that enables “internet-scale” computing.

Hadoop is a project to build an open source version of the infrastruture that Google uses to process data. It provides a huge filesystem that can be distributed over dozens or even thousands of computers (analogous to GFS), as well as support for processing all that data in parallel in the same way Google does when they build and update their index of the web (using MapReduce). It also provides HBase a distributed database that is built on top of the filesytem in the manner of Google’s BigTable. Hadoop is a spin-off of the Nutch project to build an opensource search engine that could index a significant portion of the web.

Most of the work on Hadoop and HBase has been supported by Yahoo, and a lot of the recent work was supported by a semantic-search startup called Powerset. In fact, a quick look at the personnel on the project shows that it is dominated by people from those two companies.

Given that Yahoo is in turmoil, and has been showing some signs of reconsidering their search business, and given that Powerset was just bought by Microsoft, who likely already has its own infrastructure for these sorts of applications, I have to wonder what will happen with Hadoop.