Every once in a while a journalist, blogger or analyst will publish an article that crawls under my skin. I've grown weary of hearing how much Microsoft is missing the mark. This commentary seems to have reached a fever pitch in regards to our showing at CES 2011.
Mary Jo Foley in CES: What Microsoft's Ballmer didn't say
“This isn’t a typical keynote write-up. Usually, covering a keynote, I write about what executives say or announce. At the kick-off Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2011 keynote by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on January 5, the more interesting bits were what Ballmer didn’t say.”
Nick Eaton in Microsoft at CES: Not much new to talk about
“After juicy rumors gurgled online for days leading up to the event, Microsoft today gave techies little to chew on as they prepared for a weekend of gadgets and nerdery in Las Vegas.”
Jessica Mintz in Microsoft's answer to the iPad is still in pieces
“Instead of unveiling an elegant response to the iPad, Microsoft came to the tech industry's premier gadget show with a collection of exposed computer guts.”
I tweeted my gut response to the Mintz piece and my friend Ed Bott summed it up better than I ever could…
"Oh, man, that is one of the stupidest things I've read all week, in a week filled with stupid."
There seems to be a lack of objectivity at the moment for some reason. As best I can tell, these three articles (and many others not cited here) have some underlying foundations or assumptions which are questionable…
- The real story is in the things Microsoft does not pick to highlight at the moment.
- Anything less than a Microsoft branded competitor to anything Apple or Google announces or ships is considered failure.
- The author lacks an understanding of how Microsoft has intentionally chosen to have a business relationship with partners.
So, how is Microsoft really doing?
I thought I would take a moment share my personal thoughts and key takeaways in response to the CES 2011 Microsoft keynote (video and transcript) taken in the order in which they were presented.
Apple Apple TV
Set Top Boxes (Blu-ray / Cable / Satellite / TiVO / Google TV)
- "...30 million Xbox LIVE members."
- "...a new member joins Xbox LIVE every two seconds."
- "Xbox 360 has been the No. 1 selling console every month for the last six months here in the United States."
- "...sales for the Xbox 360 are now over 50 million units worldwide."
- "In the first 60 days we sold over 8 million Kinect sensors worldwide."
"Your Xbox is becoming the hub of your living room. It is your gaming system, but it's your movie, it's your TV experience, it's a TV show, and it's your sporting event. It's your social interaction all delivered directly to the biggest screen in the house."
Do some quick back-of-the-napkin math around the ecosystem for Microsoft alone (XBox Live memberships, games, consoles and peripherals like Kinect) and you'll quickly find this is a billion dollar plus business and growing. The XBox is becoming an entertainment console, more than just a gaming console, building on the strength of our partnerships with movies, TV, music and sports.
By comparison, Apple is a rounding error in this market with Apple TV. Sales have likely come through the magical and revolutionary price point of $99 to achieve sales of 1 million devices in 2010. It’s really too early to tell about Google TV but the initial reviews aren’t promising. Set top boxes are low powered, commodity items locked in to vertical market silos. I don’t hear much excitement about the non-gaming features of the PlayStation or Wii so they might be stagnating into the one trick ponies of gaming.
- What does Apple have to offer consumers in the living room besides Apple TV, or what are they going to do to make Apple TV compelling and competitive?
- There has been a long line of ‘make the TV smarter' initiatives from scores of companies over the years (including Microsoft). Is Google truly bringing anything new to this space with Google TV or is it an ‘also ran’?
Microsoft (Windows Phone 7) + Partners
Google (Android) + Partners
- "We launched 9 phones across 60 mobile operators in 30 countries."
- "...we'll finish the release that will make the Windows Phone available on the Sprint and Verizon networks in the first half of 2011."
"We're proud of what the customers are saying about Windows Phone 7, and we're going to continue to invest in it aggressively in the future."
Journalists and analysts have continued to focus on how much market share we lost when the momentum for the smartphone market shifted from enterprise to consumer. That's old news...! It would be great to turn a corner and have a conversation about the future rather than rehashing the past.
Windows Phone 7 is a version 1 product for Microsoft. By comparison the iPhone v1 was 1 phone across 4 mobile operators in 6 countries. Apple is just now addressing non-AT&T networks here in the United States with the fourth generation iPhone. Microsoft announced on day one Windows Phone 7 will be available on Sprint, Verizon and AT&T. Net: I believe Microsoft has demonstrated a strong entry into this market. Watch out Apple -- we compete more effectively when coming from behind -- reference the rise of the XBox in the gaming console market. Note Microsoft is also bringing the success of social gaming in the living room to the mobile space with XBox Live -- an area where Apple currently has no comparable offering.
- Can Apple or Google continue to hold their positions in mobile experience with competitive offerings from others and their respective partners given the relatively short refresh cycle (2 years) of opportunities for consumers to choose something different?
- Will the Google model of OS customization by each handset maker hold up in the long term?
Personal Computer (Desktop, Laptop, Tablet)
Microsoft (Windows) + Partners
Apple (Mac and iPad)
Google (Android / Chrome) + Partners
- "Windows 7 PCs are the fastest selling PCs in history, selling over 7 copies a second, they now represent more than 20 percent of all the PCs connected to the Internet."
- "We shipped a new release of Windows Live to over 500 million people around the world."
- "Windows has always been, and will continue to be, about the breadth of hardware and software applications..."
- "…define and deliver this next generation of devices to customers through the innovation of our partners."
- "...Windows PCs will continue to adapt and evolve."
Quite frankly, I’m not sure Mr. Ballmer could have been any clearer about the business model for Microsoft in this space: Breadth, partners, adapt and evolve. Journalists need to understand this at a fundamental level when writing about product announcements and responses to the competitive landscape.
The only way for Apple to radically change the personal computer market and displace Microsoft + partners is for tablets to take significant market share from other form factors (desktop and laptop) in a very short period of time. If we include iPad sales when measuring market share Apple is still relatively low on the worldwide personal computer market share looking at the most recent numbers from Q3 2010. To get an idea of position I took Apple sales figures and combined them with IDC estimates…
Without a doubt, the iPad has been a success for Apple. If you exclude iPad sales numbers for the quarter (4.19 million) they are somewhere below Toshiba in market share. That’s a nice jump of more than doubling their personal computer volume. It will be interesting to see what Q4 and beyond looks like but my prediction is Apple will begin to flatten out rather than skyrocket in taking market share if the price point for the iPad v2 stays consistent (i.e., $499+).
There are some who will argue the tablet represents a whole new market segment. From my personal use of the iPad: It's not a laptop replacement...and in order for a tablet to be successful in the long term it must become a laptop replacement. The wild card here is the price of the iPad: Can (will) Apple get it low enough to appeal to the mainstream consumer so it’s an additive rather than replacement purchase?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe tablets will be important in the long term. It’s just very, very early in a never ending game.
- Will the tablet factor become the dominant form of computing in the next few years?
- If so, is the rise of the tablet in the mix of personal computers linear or exponential in growth? (Note: Exponential favors challenger, linear favors incumbent.)
- Does the tablet play by a different set of refresh cycle rules in comparison to the other form factors of desktop and laptop?
One more thing...
Apple and Steve Jobs is rather famous for the ‘one more thing’ presentation style. The Microsoft CES 2011 keynote has it’s equivalent – usually peppered throughout rather than being at the end. This year was no different so it’s worth noting there were items mentioned in the keynote which are important from a consumer standpoint. These are areas where we are making progress or our competitors are either weaker or non-existent.
- Office 2010, Office Web (Consumer), Office 365 (Corporate), Office on Windows Phone. (Although not mentioned in the keynote: Office for Mac.) This is a great example of where Microsoft has continued to ‘adapt and evolve’.
- Bing – It continues to nibble (if ever so slightly) away at Google market share. Apple offers third party web search engines in all of its products as far as I can tell -- their closest match as a revenue generator being iAd.
- Azure Services -- I guess we could theoretically count Mobile Me here if we really want to stretch the definition of a category. Google is making some inroads here but also has to compete with folks like Amazon Web Services.
- Surface -- People make jokes about Surface as the typical Microsoft answer to iPad. It's cool to see us innovating here...and some of these things are directly applicable to things like tablets. Apple has touch with up to three fingers -- Microsoft is looking at stuff that makes interacting with devices an extension of your body and voice with natural user interface -- the first output of these investments are products like Kinect and Surface.
I’ve put together a simple table (alphabetical by company name) which helps us see the competitors for each area and their strategic bets. I believe it’s important to note the growing overlap – e.g., XBox Live present in the living room and mobile.
||Mac and iPad|
||Android + Partners
||Chrome / Android + Partners|
||Windows Phone 7 + Partners
||Windows + Partners|
So, I’ll ask a final rhetorical question…
Who is currently best positioned to lead across all three areas over the long term?
I’ve got to say watching the ‘I’m a Mac’ commercials were fairly excruciating for me being a Microsoft employee. The first reason: They were rarely factual. The second reason: My wife would always laugh at them. Ouch. So, it’s with some amount of pride I see us finally answering in a tangible way with the Laptop Hunter series of advertisements. I alluded to this on Twitter the other day: “How do you know when an ad is successful? When, instead of Apple fan boys ridiculing it, they start defending against.”
Brandon summarizes a Microsoft sponsored whitepaper here (click through to get the underlying study). AppleInsider.com has a response here. In my opinion all of the discussion surrounding the costs of Mac vs. PC miss a simple, obvious fact. No matter how much you debate processor speeds, memory, hard disk space, screen size, optical drives, ports, operating systems, etc. one thing is clear.
The starting price to purchase a Mac is considerably higher than a Windows PC.
Here’s is the proof: at the time of this blog post these were the starting price points comparing Apple and Dell entry level (lowest cost) models:
Apple Mac Mini = $599
Dell Inspiron 530s = $289
Apple White 13" Macbook = $999
Dell Insipron Mini 9 = $299
I think it’s pretty darn cool you could get the entry level Dell desktop AND netbook for under the cost of the Apple Mac Mini (desktop) alone.
Michael Gartenberg writes "Same joke, still as effective."
I went out and purchased Leopard a day or two after it shipped. I installed it clean (not an upgrade) on my less than year old MacBook here at home. At some point I needed to add up a few numbers and therefore launched Calculator.
This is what I eventually got:
So, enjoy the ads.
But if you are a consumer considering purchasing a Mac you should definitely separate the hype from the truth -- no operating system is flawless. None. Oh, and make sure you have your fact radar on when you visit your local Apple store.
Edit: Adding links to Apple Hot News: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/ and RSS http://images.apple.com/main/rss/hotnews/hotnews.rss.
I subscribe to the Apple Hot News RSS feed. It's clearly biased, as any official corporate public relations web site is going to be. I think they let one slip through the censors. I'm going to copy it here because I'm willing to bet it will be taken down as soon as someone realizes what they are saying:
Vista blazes when running under Boot Camp on a Mac
“If you install Boot Camp on a well-equipped Mac model, it can become a blazing fast Vista computer.” That’s what Walter Mossberg (Wall Street Journal) concluded after installing Vista and Boot Camp on a new iMac. Mossberg tested the iMac’s performance “using Vista’s built-in Windows Experience Index, a rating system that goes from 1 to 5.9, with scores above 3.0 generally required for full, quick performance. My iMac scored a 5.0, the best score of any consumer Vista machine I have tested.” That score, he remarks, is “very impressive for a computer that wasn’t designed with Vista in mind.” [Aug 23, 2007]
That first sentence *could* imply that any other operating installed on the Mac makes it not so 'blazing fast' by comparison.
Seriously, if the MacOS is all that why even bother installing another operating system. Oh, what? You want a blazing fast computer? Then install Windows Vista on that MacBook (Pro) and you'll have your wish. Of course, some folks will point out Mossberg limited it to comparisons with 'Vista' computers. Lots of people will miss that distinction as I did when I first read this pull quote.
Furthermore, what Apple is reinforcing is the concept of the Mac being the best Windows Vista machine out there. If true, that backs up my assertion that the Mac hardware is gaining personal computer market share directly as a result of the fact it is a Windows machine, capable of running the best darn operating system in the world: Windows Vista. Yeah, there is a Halo Effect -- it's called 'we do Windows and do it great!'
Tonight I stopped by the Apple Store at Alderwood Mall specifically to pick up iLife 08. The young man at the checkout counter was having difficulties swiping my credit card for payment on the handheld devices you use for this purpose (I believe they are made by Symbol). He tried three of them before saying sarcastically: 'These run Windows Mobile which explains why I can't run your credit card.' It worked after he removed and then forcefully jammed the mag stripe reader into the bottom of the fourth device.
It's totally lame to have this attitude.
And this isn't the first time I've encountered this at your stores. When I bought my MacBook down in Portland back in December the pre-purchase conversation with two of your floor staff was filled (and I mean filled) with anti-Microsoft rhetoric. Even when I tried to get them to focus on features of your product it came around quickly to 'Microsoft stinks at this.' I was asking pertinent questions to my purchase, not trying to goad them -- I truly wanted to learn more about the experience I could expect with Windows running in Parallels Desktop. After about 20 minutes of lame interaction I informed them I was a Microsoft employee, and pointed out some of the inaccuracies of their statements about Microsoft products. A few people were listening in (it was right before Christmas so the store was really, really busy) and eyebrows went up. Both guys started back pedaling, and became quite apologetic. The conversation then took on a very professional air (thankfully). When I concluded our discussion by stating I'd like to purchase a MacBook the guy who rang up the purchases gave me the educational discount across the entire purchase, even though I don't qualify. I gave him a nice shoulder hug and said 'see, Mac and PC can get along' which resulted in quite a few laughs from his peers who had gathered around. One of them even asked when Windows Vista would be out for him to try, and he thought Windows Media Center was really cool. True story. My wife will back me up. I have the receipt. I'm pretty sure I still have the follow up emails I sent to these guys with information they had requested.
Your commercials are funny, and draw folks into the stores or online to check out your products -- they shouldn't be the net total of your sales training materials. You make good, solid products -- both on the hardware and software side. If the best thing you can say about them is nothing but bad things about Microsoft you are truly doing yourself a disservice. You would do well to train your staff at the Apple store to always take the high road and truly get educated on Microsoft products, as well as those of your other competitors. I would even be willing to come in once a month to an Apple store or two in the Seattle area for Q&A time with your staff to help them get it right.
I'm hoping you agree our mutual customers deserve better.
Apple is a huge competitor in the space Windows Media Center seeks to inhabit. Evidence?
Front Row and Windows Media Center
Apple TV and Media Center Extender
But even though I want to compare and contrast these products I find myself always holding back.
Because of the signal to noise ratio. On the somewhat rare instance I do post something related to Apple it almost never fails that folks show up bringing nothing to the conversation of value. Case in point, go read the two comments on Thoughts on iPod Amnesty Bin. After reading those I again had to ask myself 'why bother'.
Mary Jo and Long are beginning to understand the pitfalls of writing anything other than high praises of Apple.
So, I ask myself would it be worth the time and effort to give my perspective of MacOS, iPod and AppleTV or will I be labeled as just another Apple hater who works for Microsoft. Can I count on the community (both PC and Mac) to engage in the conversation?
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Shortly after Thomas Hawk got a Mac I began to think I was really missing something, thinking maybe they had been able to catch up in the 7 or so years it took us to get Windows Vista out the door. So, right before the Christmas holidays (December 13) while visiting the Apple store in Portland, OR I succumbed to the commercials and bought myself a white MacBook. I will admit to being a little ashamed -- and really couldn't bring myself to let folks know I even had the thing. But then had coffee with Steve Makofsky at Redmond Town Center and he made me feel better, helping me understand it's perfectly OK and natural to like the Mac. Needless to say, it's been wonderful ever since and I couldn't even think of going back to Windows.
I've remained silent about Thomas moving most of his computing to the Mac simply because I was so very disappointed to lose him as a resource to make Windows Media Center a better experience. I was pretty amazed to see him so quickly jump on the 'Get a Mac' bandwagon with Chris' latest post given (1) a majority of his problems with Windows at the time he 'switched' seemed to stem from his chosen OEM and (2) as far as I know he doesn't have a ton of experience with Windows Vista to objectively compare it to MacOS. In his defense, he might have a ton of experience with Windows Vista but hasn't posted about it (yet).
For the record, Thomas commands my respect with regards to his computing experiences.
But today, he lost some of his shine with me -- I was very disappointed by the way he ended this post today.
Normally, what Michael says most of the time is spot on -- I'm a big fan, and pay close attention to what he writes. I'll admit his coverage of MacWorld has me a little bit baffled, as he seems to be caught in the echo chamber that is created by Apple for the Jobs keynote -- something I don't usually find him doing. Some examples...
In Macworld - Apple Says It's Time to Phone Home Michael states "Both Apple TV and the iPhone are important devices as they cement Apple's role within different places of the digital home." Apple has not yet shipped either of these products yet, and they hold exactly 0% market share for their respective categories (digital media receivers and mobile phones). How can you cement a position you don't hold at all? I'll admit I'm interested to see how AppleTV does over the long haul, and whether or not it's couple-of-tricks-pony approach will resound with consumers on the scale iPods have to date. The iPhone has *much* stiffer competition than the iPod really ever did (to his credit, Michael does allude to this towards the end of this post -- kinda).
Michael has this to say in Is Apple Late to the Phone Game: "Yes, I know other devices can do a lot of what the iPhone can do but that's like saying there's a lot of other music players out there as well." Well, actually, no. There are many devices shipping today that can do everything the iPhone will be able to do when it ships (and more). And, based on prices given today, those devices do more things a whole heckuva lot cheaper now than iPhone will when it ships. The market conditions that existed when the iPod rose to its popularity aren't really in play today in the mobile phone market. Specifically: Sony resting on its Walkman, Discman and (most importantly) proprietary NetMD laurels, the rise of the MP3 as a universal standard, lack of understanding by the then current crop of MP3 players to realize it's all about the hardware form factor, lack of attention to marketing to get out a message. Apple showing up at the right time, with the right device and the right service coupled with the lack of a timely and competitive response from other established players in that market allowed the iPod to take its favorable market position. While Apple will probably be successful by its own definition ("1% market share in 2008" -- obviously and intentionally lowballed) it's doubtful the competition will take the same laissez faire attitude. While you compare the success of the iPhone to the iPod we could just as esily compare it to the Mac (as Jobs did during his keynote today). I think there are few people who doubt the historical and perhaps groundbreaking importance of the machine when it was introduced in 1984. The ancestors of the original Mac now account for 3-5% market share (depending on who you reference) for all personal computers worldwide. Which trajectory will the iPhone follow...?
What's Missing From the iPhone outlines 4 significant blockers to the iPhone success (go read 'em). Even so, Michael says "Even with these issues, I still believe Apple is going to be force to reckoned with in this space." Michael seems to ignore the fact cell phones (and in particular SmartPhones, which iPhones are suppose to squash) are much more enterpise oriented than consumer oriented, and the first three of the items he outlines represent some fundamental gaps in the story. Once iPhone reaches feature parity with current offering, then it becomes a market changer. Sound familiar? Yep. Zune.
"...the XBox is the challenger against Apple TV (and the Slingcatcher as well). There's a battle going on for your living room. There's still a lot of network issues that Microsoft needs to work out. Where's the support for N in Media Center?" is what we get in Will Apple TV have issues as it's 'only' 720p. Where to begin. First, the Xbox has shipped over 10 million units. Windows Media Center enabled SKUs of Windows has sold over 30 million units. Window XP (to which any XBox 360 can connect to and stream content from) has sold in the 100s of millions. How many AppleTVs have shipped. Zero to date. If anything, AppleTV is the challenger here. The network issues will also tend to be a problem for Apple if and when they ever implement true high definition TV (think about the live events scenarios here, like sports). As it is, they covered most of the hurdles with the addition of a 40GB hard drive in the AppleTV (kudos to them, but that has to bite into the profit margin due to the BOM) and limiting it largely to content available from iTunes. Speaking of the content available from iTunes -- most of that doesn't even need the bandwidth offered by 802.11n which Michael seemingly calls a gap for Microsoft (certainly not music which can bounce around on 802.11b just fine, and their standard definition videos which would be quite happy with 802.11g). An admirable first attempt by Apple to enter this market segment and it remains to be seen if they have all the wrinkles ironed out
I'll be interested in what Michael has to say over the next couple of days when he moves over to CES in Las Vegas, and notices Apple might not have a lock on everything they present in their keynotes.
Update: I thought Omar had some pretty good thoughts on this subject over at Thoughts on the macworld keynote.
Update: After some email exchanges between the two of us Seth slightly clarified his article by adding 'The video is' to the paragraph I excerpt below (change is shown in italics). He still does a fairly poor job of telling the overall story here -- but I'm still working on him.
I'm a big fan of The Motley Fool, so it pains me to some extent to write this, but someone has to, so guess it will be me.
In Apple's Latest Victims, Seth writes the following, speaking of the media playback capabilities of the XBox 360...
"It's capable of streaming media directly from a PC, with one big hitch. The video is only supposed to work with the Media Center OS. This was a ridiculous mistake, in my opinion, because so few Media Center OSes exist out there. It not only should have supported streaming from plain vanilla Windows XP, it should have run more file types."
Wrong. In two places.
First, the XBox 360 works out of the box with any version of Windows XP to Play music and manage playlists and view pictures. In addition, it supports playback of content from portable media player devices (compatible device list here) *including* the Apple iPod (but not FairPlay tracks -- talk to Apple about that ). Seth has a good point about compatibility with more file types, but support for [insert codec here] is largely a matter of return on investment. We also stream more media types with the Media Center Extender features of XBox 360 when you have a Windows Media Center enabled SKU of Windows. In addition to audio and pictures, we have video (WMV, MPEG1, MPEG2) and Recorded TV. Plus all of the media available from partners in Online Spotlight (MTV, NPR, Akimbo to name a few).
Second, there are more than a few Media Center PCs out there: 16 million according to the last group of public numbers. In addition, greater than 50% of the personal computers being sold today come with Windows Media Center. With Windows Vista, we expect the percentage to increase with Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate (the two SKUs with Windows Media Center included).
So, Seth, you could actually forego the iTV even before it ships with a trip to your local retailer. Tonight.
P.S. Isn't it odd Seth owns Microsoft stock and The Motley Fool has it listed as an Inside Value recommendation, but managed to publish this article without basic fact checking? See the links above to the public XBox.com site above which clearly enumerate these features.
P.S. Even more interesting to me is they offer RSS feeds for stories, but no way for me to leave comments about them. That might be because they are offering financial advice, perhaps...?
Alexander Grundner: "In respect to iTV, Media Extenders for Windows Media Center and third party digital media adapters have been doing this duty for over two years now. What's so revolutionary (at least these days) about a device that streams videos from your PC to your TV wirelessly?"
Michael Gartenberg: "They key to the announcement is understanding that there's a seamless end to end experience for consumers for consuming digital content both within the home and outside the home."
Om Malik: "In the post-PC, device world, content is what sells the hardware, at least for hardware. More music, more movies, more television means iPod becomes da platform."
Paul Thurrott: "Overall, the iTV looks solid but it's lacking one key feature: DVR. It's literally a dull terminal, albeit one with a gorgeous UI. That doesn't mean that Apple can't add DVR capabilities to Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) of course. And you know what? I hope they do. Anyway, so far, so good. It's not the uber-box some people expected, but I'll be first in line to get one."
Robert Scoble: [Addressing Steve Jobs] "Your UI looks an awful lot like Windows Media Center. Almost a total copy. So, who is copying whom? What’s next, a Tablet PC copy?"
Mike Torres: "You know though, Apple is truly at the top of its game these days. Even more so than a year ago - or 4+ years ago when I bought my first-gen 10GB iPod. As much as I critique their lock-in model, they never cease to wow me with how much they're able to do, and the innovation and quality bar they set for others. I applaud them."
Omar Shahine: "If Apple would just support WMA and get HBO to offer their shows for download I'd be set, I'd never consider any other device or audio software for my desktop/laptop (still need Windows Media Center though). Zune better ship soon so that we can get started on v2 and of course v3. Apple has a massive head start and I'm not sure anyone will ever catch up (or that it matters)."
Steve Makofsky: "Looks like it's time to whip out the credit card."
Thomas Hawk: "And then we have iTV. So let's see. I'm going to pay $300 for a little dongle that will allow me the privlige of paying Apple $10-$15 to buy movies from them at less than DVD quality to watch on my new HDTV Plasma? I can just stick with Netflix, pay a heck of a lot less and not have to buy the $300 little dongle thing."
Ed Bott: So, will someone please tell me why I want to replace my Xbox 360 with an Apple-branded device that only plays tunes from one music store, allows me to pay $15 for a movie encoded at 640 by 480 that looks like crap on my widescreen HDTV, and is unable to record or stream TV programming?
My take: Things are becoming mildy interesting at this point. Apple built out the personal content side first and has a very strong position there (iTunes Store + iPod). We built out the home content side first and have a very strong position there (Windows Media Center + XBox 360 Media Center Extender). Apple is making a foray into the home content side (iTV). We are making our foray into the personal content side (Zune). Holiday '08 is shaping up to be very interesting.
So, who is the dark horse none of us are seeing at the moment...?
I saw the initial Engadget reports this morning from the WWDC. A couple of huge banners at the venue tout...
Mac OS X Leopard
Hasta la vista, Vista.
Mac OS X Leopard
Redmond has a cat, too. A copycat.
Free advertising, courtesy of Apple, at their developer conference. Something I doubt you would ever see at PDC. Thanks!
Now that I have your attention, and before you read on, take a moment to go read 'Vista is a train wreck' over at the Crazy Time Go! blog in it's entirety. Mart posted a comment on my post If the MacOS is so great, why do I need Windows...? which got my attention. So I checked out his blog and was surprised at what I found.
Mart really takes us to task over the new Windows Vista user interface...
"Windows users, your life is about to get a whole lot worse. This is something I've been meaning to comment on for a little while: Is it just me, or does every "new, improved" release of Windows actually increase the complexity, confusion and frustration of the user experience? Here are a few illustrations of what I'm talking about:"
...and then uses some really poor examples to back up his assertions. For the record, all of his screenshots are valid -- you can actually make Windows Vista look like this if you so choose -- but it's not how we ship Windows Vista. That is to say, Marts screenshots are not illustrative of the true out-of-the-box, typical end user experience. This post contains what the user will typically see the first time they use Windows Vista (with the usual caveats these are screenshots from the beta of Windows Vista - final version might be different).
Mart starts with the Windows Vista Start menu...
"This thing takes up fully a third of the screen, and it's full of mind-boggling teeny-weeny text... buttons, forms... look at all the information I have to sort through in order to find what I want."
Yes, it does take up about a third of the screen (at 1024x768) when the end user clicks the Start button -- that's how it's designed -- you can't use what you can't see. Click the Start button again and it folds nicely away out of view.
As far as 'mind-boggling teeny-weeny text... buttons, forms' is concerned, Marts screenshot shows the expanded 'All Programs' view -- here is the default view -- notice the simplicity.
With regards to his statement '...look at all the information I have to sort through in order to find what I want.' Well, you don't have to wade through all of the items in the expanded 'All Programs' view if you don't want to -- that's what the Search box is for. As an example, let's say I wanted to find the calculator, I would start typing 'calculator' and this is what I would see...
Mart on the usable desktop space...
"Supersized taskbar and giant sidebar clutter my workspace with seldom-used information, and leave me maybe 80% of my screen for actual work."
His screenshot shows a Windows Taskbar which has been expanded to double the normal size by the user and he assumes the Windows Sidebar takes up application space (which it doesn't by default). Here is a screenshot of Notepad running and taking up almost the entire desktop -- note Windows Sidebar is still there underneath.
He then makes a comparison of the Windows Vista desktop with the MacOS desktop. Here is the screenshot he should have used with the Windows Taskbar moved to the top of the desktop and the Windows Sidebar hidden by double-clicking the Task Tray applet (both easily accomplished by the end user).
(Aside: I would be interested to know exactly what resolution Mart was running when he took the screenshot of the MacOS desktop so we can really compare apples to apples -- I'm pretty sure he is running higher than 1024x768.)
On Internet Explorer Mart says...
"Why there is all this horrible visual complexity right at the top of every single browser window, that I can never get rid of?"
At this point I have to stop and ask if Mart is basing his comments on his actual personal use of Windows Vista, or merely on static screenshots? His screenshots show optional features which have been enabled by the end user within Internet Explorer.
Here is the screenshot I would have liked to seen Mart use for Internet Explorer...
In my opinion it doesn't have much visual clutter out of the box -- certainly way less than Internet Explorer 6 and earlier.
Mart on the Network Settings properties...
"Not much change there - well, except I hope my Grandma never calls me up and tells me her Link-Layer Topology Discovery Mapper I/O Driver broke."
Mart makes it seem really easy to get to this property page -- but it's not. It's there if an advanced user or technical support needs this level of resources. Here are all the hoops Mart had to use to finally arrive at the Network Settings properties...
1) Click the Start button on the Windows Vista desktop.
2) Select Control Panel.
3) Select 'View network status and tasks' to launch the Network Center > Status page.
4) Select 'View status' in the Network details section.
5) The Local Area Connection Status Property Page appears.
6) Click the Properties button in the Activity section.
7) Click the Continue button in the User Account Control dialog.
8) The Local Area Connection Properties page appears.
Way before then I'm hoping Grandma would have been able to solve her own problem because the troubleshooters and repair features are so much better, and networking in general 'just works' out of the box. If she couldn't and had to go through the 8 steps outlined above Mart would be absolutely correct in raking us over the coals.
Finally, Mart gives us a screenshot of the Classic View of the Control Panel which is an optional, but not default view. Here is the Control Panel the end user will see by default (and labeled as 'Home' in the options).
Now, if you've read this far, please don't think I'm trying to whoop up on Mart because he is a devoted Mac user -- I think our comments back and forth with each other on the aforementioned post show us to be rational, non-zealots, who each like our operating system choice. If I had wanted to browbeat I wouldn't have linked to him at the top of this post and sent my readers over to his blog.
And for the record, I went to the Apple store today at Alderwood Mall and played again with the MacOS on a variety of hardware -- good stuff. If my best friend came to me and said he had compared Windows with MacOS and decided on the MacOS more than likely I would jump in the car with him to go purchase the Mac (and quiz him all the way to the store to find out what tipped the scales).
I spend the bulk of my time in Windows Vista using Windows Media Center, and haven't taken much time to go digging around the other features. Marts post really made me wonder if we had gone down the path of adding 'more layers of complexity to make it even harder than it was before'. So, I decided to go find out for myself and share whatever I found with you.
I definitely think we are on the right track.
But in the end it won't be me who decides if Windows Vista is a great product -- it will be regular consumers like Mart who will determine it's success.
So, after reading both our posts I would still like to hear your feedback -- good or bad.
Mark Finocchio, Aaron Stebner and myself sat down with Robert Scoble inside the Building 50 listening room for a chat about developing for Windows Media Center in Windows Vista back before the Super Bowl. I'll actually have to watch this myself to remember what I said. I'm pretty sure Robert asked about the Apple Front Row remote control at some point. I'm also sure I stated flatly we would ship Windows Vista before the holidays this year -- little naive me -- I hope you will forgive my misguided passion -- I won't soon make that mistake again.
Channel9: Your First Media Center / Vista Application (and a Look at Their Secret Room)
(I don't think the room is really all that secret, but if the intrique makes people watch the video, yay! Robert tries to pretend he isn't in marketing, but he really is, don't you think?)
Barb Bowman with help from Doug Knox (both Windows Media Center MVPs) and Steve Makofsky (Software Development Engineer at Microsoft) have Windows Media Center running on the MacBook Pro.
Here's How I did it - Mac MCE (Barb)
Boot Camp: Day 1 (Steve)
Steve, Barb even has TV working on the MacBook Pro -- something I know you were asking about last night in an email.
I've got a challenge for you, Barb and Doug: Can you get the Portable Media Center interface (which looks and feels like Windows Media Center) to run on an iPod...?
I'm watching the Apple buzz happen again with Sean, Ed #1, Ed #2, Brian, Michael, Om, etc. over the availability of Boot Camp.
The switch page touts the Utopia of the MacOS and they have this quote from Walt Mossberg: 'It leaves Windows XP in the dust.' which just begs the following question...
If the MacOS is so wonderful why do I need to even consider running Windows?
What do I think?
Apple is going to start licensing the MacOS to third parties again. If Steve Jobs announces they have no intention to do so you can take my prediction to the bank.
Things are getting interesting with the recent announcement from Apple about the MacBook Pro and iMac with Intel processors. According to Michael Kanellos over on Apple Notebook Not For Bargain Hunters, Part II the price difference between the MacBook Pro and a comparably equipped Gateway notebook is somewhere between $355-$380, all things considered. Michael also states 'Historically, Apple has generally maintained a $300 price premium.' As always, there is a lot of discussion on both sides of the fence on the 'these are comparable' debate.
It's been hard to compare Windows to MacOS because the hardware delta has added to the number of variables for consumers to evaluate. I've actually thought having dissimilar hardware was a smart approach for Apple because it allowed them to dismiss hardware as a much less important factor in recent years (they long ago gave up performance comparisons). Until their move to Intel hardware it was difficult at best for customers to compare the hardware apples and oranges.
In other words, the Apple pitch (and I've heard it stated this way first hand at their stores) has been 'they've got hardware, we've got hardware and hardware is hardware -- let me show you why our software is better.' It seems they aim to keep this approach since the Apple home page reads 'What's an Intel chip doing in a Mac? A whole lot more than it's ever done in a PC.' It will be interesting to see if this pitch still holds water now that the MacOS runs on (theoretically) identical hardware to Windows. It becomes much more easy for consumers to compare the real costs / benefits of the operating systems and available software.
Chris Pirillo is predicting "Apple's OS Comes Bundled with Windows on All Dell Machines!" in a mock headline.
I think he is smoking something or is perhaps too young to remember Apples foray into licensing it's operating system to third party hardware builders.
Apple makes it's profit largely on the hardware (iPod anyone?) while Dell has quite a reputation for squeezing every last drop out of a bill of material for the hardware, and dropping the price lower than anyone else. For example...
- Apple's cheapest computer is the Mac Mini starting at $499 -- with no keyboard, mouse or monitor.
- Dell's cheapest computer is the Dimension B110 starting at $349 -- including keyboard, mouse and monitor. After rebate, that drops to $299.
If there were polar opposites in the technology industry, it's Dell and Apple. Neither one of them have anything to gain from this type of partnership and everything to lose: Dell's computers become more expensive than the competition and Apples profit margin on hardware would be in serious jeopardy.
Chris, let's make a pact to check back in on the state of things in two years.
Watch it happen -- not.