Archive for the ‘Computers and Internet’ Category

Democratizing Development is What Matters in Computing

May 24, 2016

Twenty five years ago I was lucky enough to be one of the people demonstrating the brand new Visual Basic development system at its launch event, Comdex Spring/Windows World in Atlanta.

In honor of that anniversary I’ve done some thinking about success of platforms in the computing world and have the following thoughts.

Where Microsoft has succeeded it has been when they catered to the casual developer, the hobbyist who tinkers with code, the tech savvy business person who has an itch to scratch.

The Altair could be programmed by "professional developers" without Microsoft BASIC but not by the average person.

The Apple ][, TRS-80 and Commodore PET could be programmed by "professional developers" without Microsoft BASIC but not by the average person.

MS-DOS could be programmed by "professional developers" without Microsoft QuickBASIC but not by the average person

Windows could be programmed by "professional developers" without Visual Basic but not by the average person

  • Windows 1 and 2 did not have tools the average person could use to develop software. They failed.
  • OS|2 did not have tools the average person could use to develop software. It failed.
  • Xenix did not have tools the average person could use to develop software. It failed.
  • Pocket Size PC did not have tools the average person could use to develop software. It failed.
  • Windows Mobile did not have tools the average person could use to develop software. It failed.
  • .NET did not have tools the average person could use to develop software. It failed.
  • Internet Explorer and IIS did not have tools the average person could use to develop software. It failed.

I’ll even go one step further.

Every time Microsoft has succeeded it has been when they catered to the casual developer, the hobbyist who tinkers with code, the tech savvy business person who has an itch to scratch. The person who needs to build "real apps, real fast".

Every time Microsoft has failed it has been because they forgot that lesson and catered to the professional developers’ existing skill set and power base and forgot the masses of users who want their computer/tablet/phone/browser to do a little something but who aren’t willing or able to learn massively complex tools to solve that small problem that really annoys them.

Visual Basic was that shining moment of remembering the point of personal computers for the GUI phase of the personal computer revolution. It enabled the millions of casual users to write that little tool they needed and share it out with their friends and co-workers. It was the synergy that ended the command line and moved the world to GUIs which led more people to using personal computers which led to more of those personal application which created the virtuous cycle that made Windows the dominant computer platform.

Frankly, what Microsoft needs right now is a Visual Basic for Universal Apps. I suspect Satya is bright enough to realize that – at least I hope he is.


After Two Years

April 17, 2013

A little follow-up to my July 2009 post on Google’s Chrome OS. Ed Bott is now reporting the first usage numbers that include Google’s attempt to convince people to give up their personal computers and switch to terminals where everything they do goes through the Silicon Valley Ad Agency’s servers.

It turns out that after almost two years on the market, Chrome OS has achieved a market share of 0.023%. Yes. Really. Not the 23% that would mark it as a contender. Not the 2.3% that would mark it as a niche product. Being a niche product would be a massive success by comparison. Google really has spent the last four years hyping a product and two years selling a product that’s achieved 1/100th of what it would take to be even considered a niche player.

Ah, Back to Geek Life as Normal

July 16, 2012

Just a quick post that I’m writing this in Word 2013 on Windows 8. Yes, back to the norm of beta applications on a beta operating system.

Life is geeky.

Google’s Chrome OS? Champagne corks are popping in Redmond

July 8, 2009

For those who are interested in history (and why you should start thinking about shorting your Google stock) here’s a little background…

In television shows there almost inevitably comes a time when the show decides that they are sufficiently popular or important to give up on their premise and start catering not to their audience but to either a new audience they want to attract or to the egos of their key performers. The mark of this is "very special episodes" or episodes where a cast member "has to" sing or when they have a cast member do a water ski jump over a shark tank.

In the computer industry there are two equivalents.

Application Vendor Shark Jumping

For application vendors it comes when one or more of their founders decides that they want to kill off Office by building or more frequently acquiring additional applications to build their own suite. The results are predictable.

  • WordPerfect tried it. Anybody here use WordPerfect as their word processor lately?
  • Ashton-Tate tried it. The results can be seen in what market share is left for the formerly dominant dBase franchise.
  • Lotus tried it. The company that owned spreadsheets is now a minor division of another ghost of its former self, IBM.
  • And that particular shark jumping was even tried by a systems house, Novell. I guess that proves you can even have hubris so massive you can cross the systems/applications boundary.

System Software Shark Jumping

On the systems side of the industry the shark jumping moment comes not by saying "let’s build an OS to compete with Windows" because that’s actually very difficult IBM, Apple and SUN have all tried multiple times and failed miserably multiple times. It’s expensive, requires a huge infrastructure and massive partner acceptance.

The way systems houses jump the shark is to say, "There’s no need for an operating system any more. We’re going to make Windows irrelevant by moving the programming layer above the OS". This is tied to their odd belief that people (not people like them, of course, but people they hold in some contempt like their end users) shouldn’t really have an OS, they’d really be better off and would really prefer a variant of the old terminal model. And so they launch a "new" product line which will move these "users" over to something better suited to their perceived lack of skills – it’s worth noting that these same executives pretty much always find a reason why they haven’t been able to switch over.

  • IBM was built on the central power/powerless user model and fell back on it by crippling their PC line when it began to hurt their System/3x family.
  • SUN tried multiple times (most famously with SUNray terminals)
  • Oracle decided that users didn’t need an OS and pushed a line of processors that ran Java natively (and a mini-OS to go with them)
  • Netscape teamed up with SUN, renamed their LiveScript programming language to JavaScript and started charging for their formerly free browser as the first step in replacing native apps and the underlying OS with browser based terminals running Java apps on Netscape servers.

In each case, the company (IBM, SUN, Oracle, Netscape) never recovered and if they survived at all it’s only as a ghost of what the were.

Today Google announced their plans to move into the arena of shark jumping. And, since I trust Steve Ballmer and company to have a fair understanding of history, I’d bet there are people dancing and popping champagne in the executive offices at the Microsoft campus as I write this.


For anyone who wondered what happened to the ‘60s…

June 17, 2009

The ability of people to globally report on oppression and spread news without government or corporate censorship is why we started the Personal Computer revolution back in the mid 1970s. The use of social networking and global relayed communication was the holy grail for a generation that grew up on Nixon, lies and dishonest reportage. We haven’t quite reached all the goals we’d set forth back then, but we’re well on the way and perhaps the people of Iran will ironically be the first to benefit.


XBox 360 Project Natal

June 2, 2009

OK. The world just changed. (Or will when it ships)

This is mind-blowing technology that we’ve been waiting for since at least when I started in personal computers back in the toggle switch days. Interaction with the computer without controllers. Face recognition, voice recognition, full body 3D motion sensing and, from the looks of things, an API that’s extremely powerful. And much as this is initially a gaming tool it goes far, far beyond that. (As Steven Spielberg noted in his brief appearance at the first public demo at Microsoft’s E3 announcements.)

Wow! Just Wow!


That’s Entertainment

April 10, 2009

I have to admit a certain guilty pleasure at watching the Mac Fanatic crowd’s collective heads explode from the three (so far) Laptop Hunters commercials. I know schadenfreude isn’t a nice thing but we all need some fun once in a while…


Microsoft’s View of the Economic Stimulus Package

February 15, 2009

Last Wednesday Microsoft weighed in on President Obama’s Economic Stimulus package. Despite what the RNC wants Americans to believe. This is just a sample of how responsible US corporations show that supporting the health of the nation and their own reasonable self-interests are not in conflict.

Thank you SteveB for yet another reason to be proud of being associated with Microsoft for the last 20 years.


February 11, 2009

Dear Member of Congress:

Microsoft strongly supports passage of the conference agreement announced today between the House and Senate on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1), and I urge Congress to act now.  We believe the final conference agreement will help families during this difficult economic time, create and save jobs, and begin to put our country back on the path toward long-term economic growth. 

We are experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis.  However, this crisis also provides an opportunity to restart the economic engine, shore up our financial institutions, and rebuild investor and consumer confidence.   Investing in people and our nation’s science and technology infrastructure will put us on the right path for the future.

This final package includes significant investments in human capital—in the citizens of our country.  America is second-to-none in turning ideas into innovations.  In today’s knowledge-driven world, innovation depends on workers who are technically sophisticated and have strong critical thinking skills.  To succeed in the knowledge economy, our workers need access to ongoing education and training services.  For the unemployed, new technical skills provide a new start up the economic ladder.  We have to provide lifelong learning opportunities so everyone has the right skills as technology advances and the economy expands.

In the same way, it is critical for the U.S. government to make this long-term commitment to research and development (R&D), and to encourage private sector R&D that will propel our economy forward.  This year alone, despite the tough economy, Microsoft will invest over $9 billion in R&D to help grow our business for the future, drive innovation across the industry, and help keep the U.S. at the forefront of emerging technologies.

The conference agreement includes critical government investment in our nation’s science and technology infrastructure.   These investments will help extend the reach of broadband access to many communities  and improve access for many citizens.   The conference agreement also provides incentives to create jobs in green technology, alternative energy, bioengineering, and advanced computing and technological solutions that will help us address some of our most pressing challenges. 

The agreement also promotes the adoption of information technology to transform healthcare.  We believe information technology can help create a connected health system that delivers predictive, preventive, and personalized care—a system that will improve the health of Americans and help control healthcare spending.  Government support for rapid adoption of information technology is essential and measurable outcomes are needed to help the Administration and Congress achieve the goals of increased access, lower healthcare costs, and improved quality of care. 

I urge you to support the conference agreement and I look forward to working with you as you shape policies that will revitalize our economy and create long-term economic growth.


Steven A. Ballmer
Chief Executive Officer
Microsoft Corporation

The Forgotten Apple Superbowl Ads and Lessons Unlearned

February 1, 2009

Sometimes it’s good to remember a little industry history. On this Super Bowl day, when I’ll be ignoring pretty much everything on TV, perhaps it’s time to look back at all three of Apple’s Super Bowl ads.


1984 – 1984

Everyone remembers Apple’s 1984 Superbowl ad that featured the introduction of Macintosh. It was and still is a massive legend in both the advertising and computer industries.


Lemmings – 1985

Many people in the industry, at least, also vaguely remember Apple’s 1985 follow-up Superbowl ad, Lemmings, that went over about as well as the Star Wars Holiday Special, or, for that matter the amazingly unsuccessful “Macintosh Office” introduction that the ad was promoting.


2000 – 1999

What almost nobody remembers is that the return of Steve Jobs to Apple also meant the return of Apple’s Super Bowl ads in 1999. This time the ad, called 2000, featured a mockup of the HAL-9000 console from Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001 and had HAL telling Dave that the economic collapse in the year 2000 following the Y2K bug was, indeed, the fault of all those non-Macintosh computers. Yes. Really. Apple, under Steve Jobs, spent millions of dollars to produce an ad whose entire purpose was to spread mindless panic about a problem that was already vastly overblown.


Lessons Unlearned

While 1984 featured hope and was a success, Lemmings featured ridicule and failed and 2000 featured fear and failed.

Perhaps the lessons of these ads and the lessons of which 2008 Presidential election themes succeeded and which failed will be learned by Steve Jobs, Apple and the Republican Party. Recent history seems to show that none of them have quite figured yet that hope and vision trump contempt and fear.

Microsoft’s Generation 4.0 Data Center Vision

December 24, 2008


Microsoft is now showing the future of infrastructure design for their global server network that will power the Windows Azure cloud operating system. The ideas of modularity, interchangeability and flexibility brought into the world of large-scale utilities is amazing to see and, hopefully, can be used as a model for future infrastructure improvements in other areas.
Video: Microsoft Generation 4.0 Data Center Vision

Thanks to for getting this video some attention.

A more detailed discussion of the Generation 4.0 plan can be found at the Loose Bolts and ms datacenters blogs.

%d bloggers like this: