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It's hard to say these days

Are you familiar with the term “Dunderhead”

clock June 6, 2011 13:07 by author Tom

Per usual Mary Jo Foley is doing a better job of conveying Microsoft’s goals than Microsoft is…

Last week during the first public preview of the Windows 8 user interface, Microsoft officials said that new Windows 8 apps will be created in HTML5 and JavaScript. By deciding not to mention anything about .Net and Silverlight — telling developers they’d have to wait until the September Build conference to hear more — company officials ended up setting off new speculation that the company is poised to dump its current frameworks and programming interfaces.

I’ve blogged before about the XAML layer that Microsoft is building for Windows 8 as part of its “Jupiter” initiative. Yes, it still exists, I hear from my contacts. And yes, this will enable support of native Silverlight applications. (Does this mean Windows Phone apps written using Silverlight will be able to run on Windows 8 with no/few tweaks? I don’t know.)

I’ve watched Microsoft for a long time.  As in “I was reading accounts of the internal war between Brad Silverberg and Jim Allchin back in Jr. High” (on Usenet no less).  So I’ve seen technology shifts before and I’ve seen Microsoft Turf wars before. 

The problem is this particular shift didn’t shift to something developers can use. 

Microsoft hasn’t even given details on HOW one would write HTML5/Javascript desktop apps.  Unless they want everyone to use Chrome or Adobe Air (which I assume isn’t the case).  Yet they very publicly announced HTML5/Javascript Desktop apps are the future and left out their current offerings (namely Silverlight).  A public announcement that was carried in the Wall Street Journal.  

So any CIO or Consultant using Microsoft technology is left adrift.  Because the Executives/Customers they’re pitching to have now heard Microsoft say “HTML5/Javascript is the future of Desktop Apps”.  Making Silverlight look like a technology with an expiration date that’s only a year in the future.  Yet that CIO/Consultant has no way to pitch an HTML5/Javascript based Desktop App. 

It wouldn’t have taken much for Sinofsky to say “HTML5/Javascript or Silverlight” instead of “HTML5/Javascript”.  But he didn’t.

If I had to guess why this  happened I’d go back to Tim Anderson’s theory that different divisions of Microsoft are pulling in different directions.  With the Developer Division continuing to support XAML based solutions while Sinfosky’s Windows/Windows Live team tries to unify under HTML5.  Meaning Sinofsky would leave Silverlight out of his presentation because of some kind of internal turf war (which again Microsoft is famous for). 

But if that’s the case Microsoft seriously needs a leadership overhaul.  If the head of the WIndows division can appear to throw a large portion of Microsoft developers under the bus just to spite another Microsoft division then something has gone terribly, terribly wrong over in Redmond. 



Attack of the Proxies

clock June 4, 2011 22:56 by author Tom

Every company has proxies out there.  People who don’t work for the company but who tow the company line because they get speaking engagements and other incentives from the company.  These people are often used to give controversial company decisions credibility because they’re visible in the community and they don’t directly work for the company which makes them appear to be credible outsiders.

Sam Gentile is a Microsoft proxy.  I don’t know if he’s directly paid by Microsoft anymore but he’s clearly someone whose best interest is in supporting them.  He makes the rounds of all the .Net User Groups and anyone involved in that community has probably seen him speak at least once.  So his post defending Microsoft’s Windows 8 presentation is not surprising… 

Yesterday Microsoft finally revealed the Windows 8 User Interface. It’s Metro UI based with applications built using Web Technologies, that’s HTML5 & AJAX. I’m not surprised. No one should be surprised, although what is going to happen to .NET is less clear. Microsoft has hinted at this direction with full support for jQuery and the demise of the proprietary Microsoft AJAX. Also, the tipping point occurred several years ago where you could essentially get a Web app to look as good as a native app without any of the footprint issues.  The axis has flipped. People want great user experiences but they want them on the Web.

The post is pretty wrong headed all the way through and I’ve addressed individual points below.  But the overall problem here is Mr. Gentile seems to think Web Apps are interchangeable with Desktop Apps and they are not.  Anyone who works in the real world knows you can’t always count on a connection.  40% of people in the U.S. still don’t have broadband connections and home.  Buying a 3/4G Hotspot for every employee that has to travel sometimes isn’t financially possible.  And even T3 lines occasionally fail. 

This is why most line-of-business apps are still on the desktop.  Clever use of Caching can allow applications to be used even when a connection is not available.  It’s also why most smart .Net developers use Silverlight’s Out-Of-Browser capabilities and why Mr Gentile’s attacks on Silverlight (which start right after the above paragraph) are off-base. 

The problem with Microsoft’s desktop environment shift is they haven’t released HTML5 tools that can do what Silverlight can nor have they outlined how these new desktop apps will work.  If they’d done that a professional using Microsoft technology could start new projects based around where Microsoft is heading but still use Silverlight in the interim.  Then they could transition over.  But since Microsoft hasn’t laid out anything (we don’t even know if these new apps will use the .Net Framework) that’s impossible. 

(For the record I’ve been suggesting people use Silverlight’s Out-Of-Browser ability and an MVVM based pattern but using HTML5 in place of Silverlight for the UI while using .Net Silverlight code on the backend.  But that’s just an educated guess)

To hammer home how wrong he is about Silverlight I’ve taken his individual points and refuted them below (quoted text is in bold)...

“Microsoft is simply going the way most of the rest of the world is going.” – Not really.  The “rest of the world” I believe he’s referring to are the people who think the desktop is completely dead.  Those people think everything will be web based.  That’s not where Microsoft is going at all.  Microsoft is saying “build desktop apps with web based technology” which is a completely different goal.  If you look at other companies pushing native apps (Apple, Google with Android, etc…) none of them are pushing web technologies (Google still has Android developers using Java and Apple is built around Objective-C)

“Let’s face it, despite the passion certain Silverlight developers have for their tools it never got broad acceptance.” – An assertion not backed up by any solid numbers.  The truth is Silverlight was never going to be a web technology.  Silverlight didn’t take hold on the open web for the same reason that Flash is losing ground.  I have no problem with HTML5 and Javascript for the web.  But for corporations Silverlight hasn’t been around that long.  Most corporate initiatives take a year or so to get through the planning stages alone.  Which leads me to…

“[Silverlight’s] been around 5 years now” – That’s just a lie and anyone whose familiar with Microsoft technology should know it.  Silverlight 1.0 was not the Silverlight of today.  It was Javascript based and didn’t support C# or the .Net Framework subset.  It was completely different technology.  Silverlight in its current form has been around less than 3 years (the RTM date on 2.0 was Oct. 14th, 2008). 

“Two things have held Silverlight and WPF back. It has a huge learning curve to do right. Unfortunately the vast majority of XAML developers opted to create the same battleship grey applications they did with MFC and plain old C# and VB.” – Clearly the rather shallow definition of “do right” here is “be pretty”.  Don’t get the wrong idea, I believe applications should be attractive.  But Silverlight’s advantages are just as much behind the scenes as they are in UI.  Rapid development with technology like LINQ is just as important and in fact more important from a business perspective.  Most corporate apps aren’t pretty. 

“When we, at work considered the next generation UI for our newest project, Silverlight was not even a consideration. But HTML and AJAX/JavaScript were! MVC was!”  - Well again we’re mixing Web with Desktop.  If you’re building a public facing web app you should be using HTML5 and Javascript.  But that IS NOT what he posted on originally.  The Windows 8 UI is about desktop apps NOT web apps.  They are different things.

“Chris Love alludes to the fact that many complain JavaScript is hard and it is! But that’s what jQuery is for. I also used to hate JavaScript. Last week, at work, I started to really learn jQuery and jQuery UI and I was shocked how jQuery-UI had legs as great cross-platform UI library.” – So lets talk about JQuery for a second (I’m not going to keep hammering the desktop vs. web issue even though its still relevant here).  I love Jquery.  I am an unabashed supporter of it.  But I also realize it doesn’t entirely deliver on its cross platform promises.  Open a JQuery UI based app in IE  7 and you’ll see what I mean.  It doesn’t look bad but it looks different.  That’s a problem because, as I said above, in the real world legacy apps from other manufacturers sometimes require different browser versions.   Silverlight is an easy way to write an app that looks the same in all different browsers and if you’re in a corporation that can guarantee the plug-in will be there it’s your fastest way to build apps. 

Addendum: One last point I’d like to make.  I used to be one of those “all apps should be web apps” type of people.  But again only 60% of households have broadband connections while web apps don’t work without a broadband connection.  Many argue these households aren’t the ones that buy new PCs anyway but I can tell you that’s not the case.  I’ve found many $100,000+ income households still don’t have broadband connections because they just don’t see the need.  They do most of their web browsing at work and don’t want to pay the $100 a month for something they don’t think they’ll use.  So the issue of web apps isn’t as cut and dry as many technology people think it is. 



Doomsday for .NET?

clock June 3, 2011 13:58 by author Tom

Tim Anderson published an interesting piece entitled “Microsoft refuses to comment as .NET developers fret about Windows 8”.  In my experience over the last few days “fret” is an understatement.  Developers I know are baffled by Microsoft’s indifference towards them. 

For those who missed it Microsoft gave a glimpse of Windows 8 this week (see video here) and it essentially adopts the tile interface of Windows Phone 7.   Except you can click on certain tiles (like an “Excel  Tile”) and it will open legacy applications complete with taskbar, desktop, file system, and all the other trappings of Windows.  

image

I didn’t comment at the time because I think the whole Interface is doomed to failure.  Sure you’re hearing a bunch of pundits and bloggers praise it but that’s meaningless.  They aren’t going to trade their Mac for a Windows machine.  I know this because all those same people heaped praise on Windows Phone 7 yet they’re all still using iPhones.  As for novice users, I can’t see them embracing an Operating System with two different usability paradigms jammed into it.  Anyone who has worked with novice users knows they live and die by definitive rules.  The taskbar is always there at the bottom, you can always right click on an object to see the commands available to you, and so on.  Beginners need consistency.  Windows 8 provides exactly the opposite. 

So it’s really an interface designed for no one and likely to be cast aside like Microsoft Bob, The Windows Media Shell, and all the other shell interfaces Microsoft’s tried to build on top of Windows over the years.

The real problem is in the developers.  Along with the tile interface Microsoft said they consider HTML5 and Javascript the preferred way of developing Windows Apps.  Which absolutely obliterates their developer strategy.  To quote Mr. Anderson’s post…

Microsoft made no mention of either Silverlight or .NET, even though Silverlight is used as the development platform in Windows Phone 7, from which Windows 8 Tiled mode draws its inspiration.

The fear of .NET developers is that Microsoft’s Windows team now regards not only Silverlight but also .NET as a legacy technology. Everything will still run, but to take full advantage of Tiled mode you will need to use the new HTML and JavaScript model.

Underlying the discussion is that developers have clients, and clients want applications that run on a platform with a future. Currently, Microsoft is promoting HTML and JavaScript as the future for Windows applications, putting every client-side .NET developer at a disadvantage in those pitches.

Worse Microsoft is pushing slightly different development strategies for every one of its platforms right now.   Windows 7 is WPF, Windows Phone is Silverlight, Windows 8 is HTML5 and Javascript and ASP.NET is C# based web development (it’s still hard to use Javascript directly in ASP.NET).  This chaos seems to come from directly inside Microsoft…

From the outside, it still looks as if Microsoft’s server and tools division is pulling one way, and the Windows team the other. If that is the case, it is destructive, and something CEO Steve Ballmer should address; though I imagine that Steven Sinofsky, the man who steered Windows 7 to launch so successfully, is a hard person to oppose even for the CEO.

What makes this disaster so maddening is it has been brewing for months now.  Since November of last year when (then) Microsoft Senior VP Bob Muglia all but declared Silverlight dead.  These statements were later revised but the revision looked a lot like back peddling(Microsoft’s Sinofsky did a similar back peddle when asked about Silverlight during the Windows 8 Q&A). 

Yet Microsoft staff continue to be blasé about these changes.  Take this post from Microsoft’s Dare Obasanjo…

Earlier this week, Microsoft took the initial wraps off of the next version of Windows (aka "Windows 8"). As someone who loves personal computing and loves the Web, there’s a lot I find exciting about what we just announced.  If you’re a web developer this represents an amazing opportunity and one that should fill you with excitement.

So while half the .NET developers are flipping out because they believe their skills are now obsolete we’re getting sunny PR talk from Microsoft employees.  The reason I quote Mr. Obasanjo is because I know he’s aware of the problem.  He tweeted about it right after he made the above quoted post…

image

So there’s clearly not been an emergency meeting of any kind at Microsoft.   No one’s raised the red flag.  Instead Microsoft continues to watch with painful indifference as its developers run out to buy books on Ruby. 

Addendum: For the record I do think you'll be able to develop Silverlight apps for years to come.  IE is clearly the engine for all these new Javascript/HTML5 apps meaning Silverlight will also work just fine.  The problem, as Mr. Anderson's article lays out, is in pitching the applications in the first place.  No one wants to start a "legacy" app and Microsoft has made all its current tools appear obsolete.  



The Death Knell for Forbes’ Credibility

clock May 12, 2011 15:59 by author Tom

I warn you right now my tone might be harsher than I’d prefer here.  I tried to tone it down (even waiting several hours after writing this to post it) but the whole thing really annoyed me.  So I apologize in advance for the incivility. 

That said this Forbes article is misleading or just plain wrong in just about every paragraph.  Here are a few examples of what I mean…

Chromebooks are built to run nothing but a browser–unless they’re jailbroken, no executable files can be installed, neither antivirus software, nor the malicious software it’s meant to protect against. And if that web-only strategy catches on–still a big if, admittedly–it could spell real trouble for the antivirus companies like McAfee, Symantec, Kaspersky and Trend Micro.

This really isn’t true.  There’s a whole SDK dedicated to writing native applications.  I think Google has done everything they can to secure those apps with their double sandbox design.  But to say “no executable files can be installed” is inaccurate. 

Charlie Miller, a researcher for Independent Security Evaluators who has made a career out of disproving Apple’s security claims, has owned a Chromebook since February, when the machines were sent as freebies to winners of the Pwn2Own hacking competition in Vancouver. He hasn’t dug deeply into the device’s security, but he says the Web-only security model works in theory. While a hacker might exploit bugs in the Chrome browser to run code on a user’s machine, that exploit would only allow the attacker for a single session, and would disappear the moment the browser closed. “The way you stay persistent [as a hacker] is by installing software,” says Miller. “This is designed not to allow any persistence. You turn it off and on and you’re good to go.”

This is Stage One thinking at its worst.  Yes, a hacker could only gain access to the Chromebook for one session.   But the whole point of “hacking” (as defined in this context) is to access or cause damage to the user’s data.  So gaining access to the Chromebook for more than one session is irrelevant.  A virus targeting a Chromebook would be looking to harvest credentials from the user and then access their files off Google’s cloud. 

So, in theory, all a malignant program would have to do is redirect the browser to a page that makes it appear the user has been logged out.  The user enters their credentials and the harvesting program can do whatever damage it wants to the files in the cloud.   In that way it actually presents more of a security threat because you can’t stop it by turning off your own computer (as you could with a traditional virus).

The Chromebook contributes to that larger post-PC problem McAfee and its ilk, [Perimeter E-Security’s Andrew Jaquith] argues.  Jaquith points to data from Gartner Research that predicts sales of 1.4 billion post-PC devices (a category that he construes as including the Chromebook) by 2015 compared with 540 million traditional PCs. “Very few of these will need AV. That’s terrible news for security vendors because three-quarters of the market for their traditional products is about to go away,” says Jaquith. “That’s what happens when you build security in, instead of relying on the market to bolt it on. It’s great for customers, and terrible for the security aftermarket.”

Two things here.  First the article quotes a security person whose company is shifting their focus to these post PC Devices (see here).  That’s smart of his company but it gives him a bias.  Because his company directly competes with McAfee and their focus on post-PC devices is a strategic advantage.   So drawing focus to them makes his company look better over their competitors.

(I’ve already posted on how Analysts are almost always wrong with these types of numbers so I’ll just direct you to that post in regards to the Gartner claim)

The second thing is the claim that post-PC devices won’t require any security software.  That really isn’t provable.  Apple has had few to no security breaches because they lock down things so extensively.  But we don’t know how many Android breaches are out there because people can side-load applications.  Meaning there might be programs compromising Android phones right now that Google isn’t aware of.   Google has had security breaches in its own Marketplace so I think it’s safe to assume there are malignant side-loaded apps out there. 

In the end we really don’t know what the need for Anti Virus software will be in a post-PC era (not that we are anywhere close to being in a post-PC era).  Which is why this article annoyed me so much.  It is far too early to be writing off security for these post-PC devices.  Telling people they “shouldn’t worry about it” is downright irresponsible and could be disastrous in the future. 



Quick Post on Chromebooks for Education

clock May 11, 2011 17:10 by author Tom

So Google announced Chomebooks for Education which costs $20 a month (Thank you TechCrunch for rushing a paragraph long article out for me to quote)…

ChromeBooks, centralized, almost entirely cloud-based machines by Google, will be available for students and schools at $20/per month/per user, enabling full updates, central login controls, and a central administrator panel to handle users and control access.

I don’t have a lot of time to make this post.  But I’m already seeing “Wow, Google just made it possible for every child to have a notebook” tweets so I wanted to address the reality as someone who is responsible for a school.   To put this in perspective I’m going to list the costs for our most recent “student computer” configuration.  This configuration has been deployed to our Los Angeles location since September of 2010 and has been running (reasonably) flawlessly since then. 

Here are the costs to maintain that configuration over 4 years (the life of the Asus Eee PC we are using)

-----------------------------

Netbook: $331.99

(We actually used the Asus Desktops but I'm trying to compare Apples to Apples here so I quoted the Eee PC 1015PEM 10.1" Netbook)

Anti-Virus: $52.36

Deep Freeze: $24

Office 2010: $99.95

Internet Filter: $26

Memeo Connect: $24

-----------------------------

Grand Total: $11.64 per Month

=====================

So as you can see the Chomebook would almost double our cost per month while severely limiting us because it can’t run Windows programs (which most educational software still is). 

Now, in fairness, the cloud portion of the above configuration is made possible by Google generously providing free access to Google Docs and GMail.  Because of that we can use Memeo Connect and give the kids cloud access to their files.   So kudos to Google for that. 

But that’s exactly what makes Google Chromebooks unattractive.  With the above I can actually deploy Windows 7 netbooks.  Netbooks that can run all the kids games, do desktop publishing (there’s no Google Docs equivalent to Publisher),  run one of the existing web filtering programs and still do everything a Chromebook can (since it has Chrome loaded as its default browser).

Beyond that we use Faronics Deep Freeze which is a program that restores the default configuration on every boot.  So even Google’s security checks aren’t an advantage over this configuration.   And since the updates run automatically on Sunday morning (the computer unfreezes so changes  can be made) the auto-update is taken care of as well. 

Don’t get me wrong.  It isn’t that I don’t applaud Google for trying.  But this isn’t a game changer by any measure.  In fact, as I understand it right now, it isn’t even usable for schools. 

Addendum: For the record my point isn't to dump on Google.  If I had more time I'd point out some things Google could have done and could still do to make the Chromebook a viable option (and I'll definitely post that in the next couple days so stay tuned).  I just wanted to get something out there quickly to do my small part to redirect the "Google saves schools" meme I saw developing.  

2nd Addendum: From Danny Sullivan...

 

Google says there’s a three year subscription required. Hardware will be upgraded at the end of the three years, if people want to continue on the plans.

 

So with my current plan we'd pay about $1,676 for hardware and software over a 12 year period. With Google Chromebook for Education it would be $2,880. That's clearly an unfair comparison in many ways (most notably that we'd have newer computers for a few years of that if we went with Google). But it doesn't change the reality.  If I were to switch tomorrow it would cost that much more.  



Nixon, Arrington and the Amazing Human Brain

clock May 8, 2011 15:50 by author Tom

Yesterday Michael Arrington of TechCrunch responded to criticism over his investing in startups.  His point is basically that people have all kinds of biases and since he’s disclosing his it shouldn’t be an issue.  I made a similar point here so I agree with that part.  But then he goes a little further…

AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher, the chief whiner about our policy, is married to a Google executive. This is disclosed by her, but I certainly don’t see it as any less of a conflict than when I invest in a startup. And yet she whines. One of her writers, Liz Gannes, is married to a Facebook consultant. She covers the company and its competitors regularly. She discloses it as well, but it isn’t clear whether or not her husband has stock in Facebook. That’s something as a reader I’d like to know. And regardless, it’s a huge conflict of interest. I think someone will think twice before slamming a company and then going to sleep next to an employee of that company. Certain adjectives, for example, might be softened in the hopes of marital harmony.

I see where he’s coming from here.  He feels accused and so he’s pointing out the hypocrisy of his accusers .   But in the juicy personal conflict I think the real point is being missed here.  So to pull it back to that I’d like to tell a very brief story (it’s less than a page long printed out and it’s important so give me some leeway here).

~~~~

Years ago I took a U.S. History class.  During a discussion of Richard Nixon’s Presidency I made the claim that “he was the President most responsible for the Vietnam war”. 

I didn’t think twice about making this claim because it’s generally accepted that Nixon is the President most associated with the Vietnam war.  But my professor challenged me to back up this claim and I found that I couldn’t.  In fact, when you look at it objectively the opposite is true.  He walked in the door committed to ending the war as quickly as he saw possible (See Addendum Below for more details).

So why is Nixon so closely associated with the War in Vietnam?

I didn’t know at the time but a couple years ago an interesting editorial crossed my path.  During the Nixon administration the “most trusted man in News” was Walter Cronkite.  So revered was Mr. Cronkite that, to this day, he’s held up by many as the prototypical unbiased journalist.  Yet this Washington Post editorial paints a different picture.  Apparently Mr. Cronkite was considered as a Vice Presidential candidate to run against Richard Nixon…

Walter Cronkite could have been vice president of the United States, and that would have both ended the war in Vietnam with some dignity and prevented Watergate from becoming "our long national nightmare."

It's not even a long story. In 1972 I was political director for the presidential campaign of Sen. George McGovern. That July, just as a rather chaotic Democratic National Convention in Miami agreed to make McGovern the party's nominee, I convened a group of top campaign officials to come up with some options for the candidate to consider as his running mate. Armed with a poll showing Walter Cronkite to be the most trusted man in America, I proposed that the senator put forward Walter Cronkite for vice president.

My idea met with instant, and unanimous, disapproval.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being considered for office (though it does show Cronkite had a bias that was pretty widely known).  But here’s the real issue…

Decades later, at a meeting of a corporate board on which they both served, George McGovern mentioned to Walter Cronkite that his name had been proposed as the vice presidential nominee at that stage of the campaign but was rejected because we were certain he would have turned us down. "On the contrary, George," the senator told me Cronkite replied, "I'd have accepted in a minute; anything to help end that dreadful war." At a later board meeting, Cronkite told a larger group that he would gladly have accepted the invitation to run with McGovern.

He would have ACCEPTED THE OFFER!  Walter Cronkite, the most trusted name in news, continued to report on the Nixon administration even though his bias against them was so great that he would have given up his journalism career to run against them in the current election.  In fact, I did a little further digging and found this

Walter Cronkite, May 19, 1971: "Many of us see a clear indication on the part of this administration of a grand conspiracy to destroy the credibility of the press. No one doubts the right of anyone to seek to correct distortion, to right untruths ... but the present campaign, spearheaded by Vice President Agnew and Republican National Chairman Sen. Robert Dole goes beyond that."

So not only did he dislike Nixon’s politics he actively thought the Administration was trying to destroy his credibility.   Could there be a larger bias than considering someone your personal enemy and the enemy of your entire profession?

~~~~

Given that I’d make two points.

1.  Not only does bias exist in Journalism now but it always has.  The standard people look back to never existed and in fact things have gotten better.  Cronkite never formally disclosed his political affiliations (though the above quote makes it clear IMHO)

2.  As with the Vietnam War the facts are always out there.  If you really think TechCrunch is biased than take their writing with a grain of salt.  When they write about a company that looks interesting take 5 minutes to do a Google search for that company’s competitors.  Then e-mail the TechCrunch link to those competitors and ask them to respond. 

Bottom line: Use your Brain!  There’s no reason to follow any writer’s opinion blindly.  Spend 10 minutes on research and then you won’t have to worry about  bias. 

The Vietnam Addendum

I don’t really want to spend a lot of time arguing the Vietnam war with people (or Richard Nixon who I do think was horrible on a personal level).  But there are some who believe Nixon escalated the war based on faulty assumptions (the same faulty assumptions I had and disproved when challenged by my professor).  These assumptions are…

Cambodia and Laos: Nixon did launch campaigns on these two countries but if you look at interviews from the time his goal was largely to liberate those countries in anticipation of ending the war.  The Nixon administration felt they would stay independent even if South Vietnam fell (which was largely true) so they took it upon themselves to drive the North Vietnamese out before moving to end the war. 

The Bombing of Hanoi: The Nixon administration walked into office thinking the Johnson administration had weakened the American position so much that negotiation would be impossible.  So they devised a plan to use air power as a showing of force.  This limited the use of ground troops (and hence casualties) while weakening North Vietnam by showing the U.S. could strike at their capital. 

In addition to that Nixon took steps from day one to dial down the war…

He pulled back ground troops: Look at the U.S. Casualties by year.  Nixon took office in January of 1969…

1966: 6,143

1967: 11,153

1968: 16,592

1969: 11,616

1970: 6,081

1971: 2,357

He improved relations with Communist China and the USSR: Nixon was the first President to visit both Moscow and Beijing.  Everyone remembers China but people forget that was part of a triangulation strategy to lure the USSR into talks (the idea being the USSR would fear improved relations between the U.S. and China and feel compelled to enter talks).  It worked as Nixon was invited to meet with with a Soviet Premier (Leonid Brezhnev) and flew to Moscow to do so.  All this is important because the early overtures to these breakthroughs limited support to North Vietnam (whose support was largely from the two communist countries)



Is Amazon Manufacturing an iPad2 Killer? Not If They’re Smart…

clock May 3, 2011 13:31 by author Tom

DigiTimes is reporting notebook manufacturer Quanta will build the Amazon LCD Tablet…

Taiwan-based notebook maker Quanta Computer has recently received OEM orders from Amazon for its reported tablet PC and the device will also receive full support from Taiwan-based electrophoretic display (EPD) maker E Ink Holdings (EIH) for supplying touch panel as well as providing its Fringe Field Switching (FFS) technology, according to sources from upstream component makers.

And a lot of people are calling this Amazon’s iPad killer.  Buisness Insider says “Amazon’s iPad Killer Ships This Fall” while geek.com compares them on a price level saying “we don’t know any specifics about this tablet yet, we’d bet serious money Amazon will be matching, if not undercutting the price of the iPad 2 from launch

I’ve already said I think a full fledged tablet strategy would be suicide for Amazon.  But I don’t think that’s what Amazon is doing here.  I sincerely doubt this is even an iPad competitor.

One thing we know about the Amazon Tablet is that it has a Fringe Field LCD Display.  The advantages to these displays are…

1.  The increase the viewing angle over normal LCD displays (e.g. you can view them from the side)

2.  The provide more accurate color reproduction

3.  They offer reduced power consumption

4.  They offer improved readability in sunlight

Sounds great right?  You can read it outside, the colors look better, they take less power AND you can sit down with some friends and all watch a movie.  What could possibly be wrong here?

The answer is cost.  This is new technology.  E-Ink (previously PVI) specifically bought the company that manufacturers it (Hydis) so they realize the value in it (and I’m sure they’re charging accordingly).  So how can Amazon afford to manufacturer a tablet with this display and still match every other iPad feature? 

My guess is they can’t. 

Which brings us to what I suspect this actually is: The next generation Kindle.  A media device with less tablet functionality but which is geared towards consuming Amazon’s media offerings.   Probably lacking multi-touch and other fancy features but geared towards book reading, movies and maybe music. 

Again I ask you to read my last post on this issue where I make the point that Amazon has always been a retailer and their goals have always been centered around selling products. 

What the strategy I lay out above allows Amazon to do is provide a simple device to sell digital media WITHOUT threatening the high end tablet manufacturers like Motorola and Samsung.  While at the same time neutralizing the threat posed by the Barnes and Noble Nook. 

So I don’t think Amazon is preparing an iPad killer here.  More like a Nook killer with a little multimedia pizazz for good measure. 



The Twisting Web of Biases

clock April 28, 2011 03:29 by author tom

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has decided to start angel investing again

In 2009 the accusations of conflicts of interest by our competitors became somewhat distracting, and for a couple of years I discontinued investing in startups completely.

That policy has now changed. Over the last several months I have begun investing actively again. We’ve noted these investments in Shawn Fanning’s new startup and in Kevin Rose’snew startup.

I have also become a limited partner in two venture funds, Benchmark Capital and SoftTech VC. I am considering investments in a few other venture funds and a couple of startups as well, but have nothing further to announce yet.

and people are making a big deal out of it

Arrington says "I think that this will all be fine," because he plans to disclose everything. But his conflicts have already illustrated how reporting financial tech news tends to be in fundamental opposition to participating in tech finance: Rather than reporting on Napster creator Shawn Fanning's new startup "Yo" when he heard about it, Arrington jumped in as an investor. Only when one of his reporters uncovered the story independently, as Arrington describes it, did TechCrunch publish the news that the site's own editor had known for some time. And that is the flaw with trying to mitigate conflicts with disclosure: You can't disclose when you're sitting on information; otherwise you are, by definition, not sitting on the information. Likewise, it's hard to see how TechCrunch is going to disclose when it doesn'tcover a competitor of one of Arrington's companies (Twitter, maybe?).

The problem with isolating financial gain as a serious conflict of interest is it ignores all the other conflicts that are just as likely to cause a bias.

The most obvious of these is personal relationships.  The valley you read about in blogs is really just a series of relationships between the media and those founders who are lucky enough to interact with them.  There are tons of other startups that will never personally meet a TechCrunch author and as a consequence will be lumped into the thousands of startups begging for coverage by e-mail (and getting none). 

Even where a personal relationship isn’t present things like location play a huge factor in coverage.  Is there anyone reading this who honestly thinks a startup in Chicago would get as much coverage as one on Market Street?  If so you’re fooling yourself.

In fact I’d argue financial bias is the least of all biases.  Because people acknowledge it’s wrong so they actively resist it.  That’s not true of other biases.

You’d never see someone like Mike Arrington write a post disclosing his friendship with Loic Le Meur because as a society we don’t see anything wrong with “helping a friend”.   Yet the second he invests in Seesmic he feels the need to disclose it. 

But isn’t a personal relationship just as likely to cause a someone to view a startup favorably? 

So all the talk about Arrington’s investments hurting TechCrunch is much ado about nothing.  In the end a media outlet’s only guard against bias is to actively resist it from where ever it comes and the only factor a reader should consider is whether they believe that outlet is capable of resisting it. 



Blackberry Playbook Selling Well After All? Not So Fast…

clock April 21, 2011 21:32 by author Tom

From ReadWriteWeb

After mixed reviews detailing the unfinished state, not to mention the bugs and quirks that comprise RIM's new 7-inch tablet computer, the BlackBerry PlayBook, few expected yesterday's launch to be anything short of failure. But as it turns out, the tablet did better than expected - at least according to analysts. Early reports estimate that Research in Motion (RIM) moved around 50,000 units on day one of the PlayBook's commercial availability. There are even some reports of the tablet selling out at major retailers.

Of course, 50,000 is a drop in the bucket when compared with Apple's booming tablet business. For comparison's sake, Apple sold 300,000 iPads on day one last April - a launch that defined the tablet market itself.

An important point here.  The iPad launched in the  U.S. on April 3rd and in the rest of the world a month later.    So that 300,000 number is just the U.S.  The same is true of the Motorola Xoom which was released in the U.S. on March 27th but didn’t make it to Canada until April 8th.

The Playbook on the other hand released to the U.S. and Canada at the same time.  To compare Apple sold 1 iPad for every 1030 people it was available to while the playbook sold 1 for every 6,900 people it was available to. 

Also keep in mind Canada has always been RIM’s best market (RIM is a Canadian company).  The company itself employs 17,500 Canadians (who I suspect make up a large portion of the 20,000 pre-orders). 

Oh and one more thing.  This is all based on analysis from the Royal Bank of Canada’s Mike Abramsky who has continued to list RIM as a “Top Pick” even as other analysts have downgraded it.    In fact he has been laughably optimistic about the Playbook.  From allthingsd.com…

Strong buying intentions are developing around Research In Motion’s BlackBerry PlayBook ahead of its presumed March launch. Extrapolating from a post-CES consumer survey, RBC* analyst Mike Abramsky concludes the device could sell four million units this calendar year and in excess of six million units in its first full year at market.

“The data shows PlayBook appealing to early adopters and power users, given its differentiation from iPad,” Abramsky told clients, noting that six percent of the survey group said they were “likely” to buy a PlayBook. Of those, one percent were “very likely” and the remaining five percent “somewhat likely.”

This is funny given Mr. Abramsky’s pessimism about RIM’s competitors in the past. 

Bottom Line: The whole thing doesn’t smell right. 



Spend Google Spend!

clock April 20, 2011 23:21 by author Tom

In a post entitled “Time for Google to Cut Up Its Credit Card?” Mike Elgan takes Google to task for spending too much (both in the last quarter and in their future plans).  Here’s the core of his argument…

The company is still growing -- net income grew 27 percent to $8.58 billion for the first quarter (compared with the same quarter last year). That's strong growth, but slightly slower earnings-per-share than Wall Street predicted. Google's stock price fell 5.2 percent.

The real problem is the long-term prospects for Google's continued dominance.

Google faces a volatility imbalance between income and spending. Google is an advertising company. Some 99 percent of its revenues come from ads. The trouble is, ad revenue is fragile, and tends to rise and fall with the economy, and changes in the ad market. But costs tend to be more persistent, and tend to rise, rise and rise.

While 27 percent revenue growth sounds good, consider also that spending is growing much faster. In the past year, for example, Google's research costs have increased by 50 percent. Sales and marketing costs have risen 69 percent.

Google announced recently that it's hiring 6,000 new employees this year -- a 23 percent increase in staff. And Google is paying more for the people they've already got.

I don’t think he’s right here and to illustrate that I want to look at what lies ahead for Google.  Google has two possible futures right now. 

The first is stagnation.  In this future they remain dominant in the advertising space but never achieve huge success in other markets.  Then, as time goes by, their core business starts to erode and they become a company dedicated to maintaining their monopoly at all cost.

The second possibility is they thrive.  To do this they need several successful businesses.  Because the biggest part of thriving is hiring and maintaining quality employees.  To do that you need to be able to pay well and create an environment that’s enjoyable.  That can’t be done with a single product no matter how successful that product might be. 

Once you see those two basic possibilities you can properly frame Google’s situation.  Right now Google is in a negative feedback loop.  It goes like this…

…The company has trouble innovating

…That leads to a bland employee experience

…The bland experience causes quality employees to leave

…Less Talent means more trouble innovating

…And the cycle repeats itself

This is a path to stagnation.  If Google allows this trend to continue they’ll be a company dedicated to maintaining a slowly eroding advertising monopoly within five years. That is not something they want.

So the question becomes “How does Google reverse this trend?”

The only part of the above cycle that is within Google's power to fix is the employee exodus.  That’s where the spending comes in. 

Spending money on additional salary perks and pouring money into innovative products helps retain quality employees and recruit new ones.  This gives Google its best shot at avoiding stagnation. 

So not only is Google right to spend money they’d be dooming themselves if they didn’t. 



About Me

Not really relevant right now. This blog is on hiatus. I really haven't decided if it is an indefinite hiatus yet

For the record if you've tried to e-mail me over the last 4 to 6 months I didn't mean to ignore you. The e-mail forwarding isn't working and I didn't realize that until months worth of e-mails had been deleted on forward. The tom@tomstechblog.com address still won't forward to the postmaster account and I don't know why because it's provided by the webhost. But if you're one of my old blog pen pals I would always welcome an e-mail from you at the postmaster@tomstechblog.com address

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