Short Takes: October 10, 2014

Short Takes: October 10, 2014

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including Satya Nadella's embarrassing advice to women, a new tell-nothing book about Stephen Elop, Ashton Kutcher's new role acting like an engineer, Verizon retires the Lumia Icon, if Microsoft can talk "mobile first, cloud first," then surely Google can tout its work products, and Carl Icahn turns his chilly, money-making eye on Apple.

Satya Nadella's honeymoon period is now officially over

Mark the calendar, folks: It finally happened. In an appearance yesterday at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella ham-handedly answered a question about women and pay equality by noting that women should simply trust the system. "It's not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise. It's good karma. It will come back," he said to an incredulous Maria Klawe, who is, 1) a computer scientist, 2) the president of Harvey Mudd College, and, 3) a member of Microsoft's board of directors. She said plainly in response, "This is one of the very few things I disagree with you on." As would any thinking person. So Nadella took to Twitter—"was inarticulate re how women should ask for raise. Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias"—and then the Microsoft web site for a more formal apology in which he admitted he was "completely wrong." Which is fine. But an inability to think and then speak clearly about a topic that is at the forefront of the concerns of your audience is, obviously, a bit troubling.

"Google Provides Details on 'Right to Be Forgotten' Requests

Something tells me Satya Nadella is making such a request right now.

Stephen Elop blasted in pro-Nokia book

A new tell-all book written by pro-Nokia Finnish journalists claims that while Stephen Elop was not the "Trojan Horse" he was accused of being, he was "the wrong man to lead Nokia." The book, tellingly titled "Operation Elop," tells the story of how Stephen Elop left Microsoft to run the failing Nokia and then, just a few years later, orchestrated the sale of the firm back to his former employer. For that reason, he is hated by many, especially in Nokia's native Finland. But as I've argued many times, Elop did more for Nokia that many thought possible, and had it continued on its previous strategy ("treading water while innovation occurred around them") or adopted Android, it would have failed even more quickly. But not according to this book. "Someone else could have saved Nokia's phone business," it claims without explaining how. They disagree with Elop's attempts to simplify Nokia's product line around a single platform, Windows Phone, arguing that it should have pushed similar efforts in Android and Symbian to hedge its bets. But that's the kind of overhead that sunk Nokia in the first place. They even criticize Elop's amazing "burning platform" memo, a wonderful moment of clarity and leadership. Sorry guys, but no one could have saved Nokia. Elop did the best he could and arguably better than anyone else would have. And his version of Nokia was truly great. It's just a shame that he inherited a Titanic wreck from the previous regimes who couldn't move quickly enough or do the right thing. That is the real story here.

Ashton Kutcher, Lenovo engineer

Lenovo—the world's biggest PC maker—yesterday unveiled a very interesting collection of new Yoga laptops, 2-in-1s and tablets, and I'm looking forward to reviewing as many of them as possible. (Somewhat selfishly, too; I really like Lenovo's products and could see buying and adopting one or more of these for regular use.) But here's the thing. Lenovo, as you may know, is using "actor" Ashton Kutcher—"Kelso" from "That 70's Show"—as their celebrity spokesmodel, and he played a major role in Thursday's web-broadcasted live announcement. And it was clear watching this guy that ... he actually thinks he's a Lenovo engineer. Granted, almost anyone could do a better job of this than, say, Alicia Keys, who was infamously seen using an iPhone during a period of time in which she was allegedly BlackBerry's creative director. But someone needs to tell this guy, who is probably most famous for some camera commercials from a few years ago, that this is a role not a career. And, Lenovo, seriously. If you value the type of input that Mr. Kutcher brings to the table, maybe it's time for some focus groups. There are literally millions—perhaps billions—of people out there who could contribute just as much as he does. This whole thing is bizarre.

"Microsoft is likely to terminate the Surface product line"

Microsoft: "We are here to stay. Microsoft is putting its full and sustained support behind the ongoing Surface program as one of a number of great hardware choices for businesses large and small." More here.

Verizon has reportedly "retired" the best Windows Phone handset in the United States

Someone on Twitter asked me about the Nokia Lumia Icon yesterday, noting that it no longer appeared on the Verizon Wireless web site. Was it possible that the Icon had been discontinued? Absolutely not, I thought, though I verified that the phone was no longer available on the site. After all, the Icon—which is sold elsewhere as the Lumia 930—is the single best Windows Phone handset available right now in the United States, and it is barely six months old, and has no obvious successor in sight. But as WPCentral noticed on Twitter separately, Verizon support has claimed that the Icon "has been retired." Which is incredible. And not the good kind of incredible.

Google trumpets its business offerings at Atmosphere event

It didn't get a lot of press, but Google held a live (and now on-demand) webcast this past week called Atmosphere Live at which it touted its "Google for Work" initiatives. Since this stuff hits right at the heart of Microsoft's business, I was curious so I tuned in. And the most interesting bits come in the last 20 minutes of the presentation when Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai—who runs both Android and Chrome OS, as well as the firm's mobile apps business—engaged in a canned Q&A with one of his starry-eyed employees. Mr. Pichai had some interesting things to say about Microsoft, which he criticized for "cloud first, mobile first," since those are "just words" while Google's products were designed for "cloud first, mobile first" from the start. But he also admitted that Microsoft was both more entrenched, and more familiar with the language of, the business market than was Google. And that as such Google was starting from behind. And that is interesting, because that is the way that Microsoft speaks of the mobile and cloud markets right now too.

"Apple says U2's 'Songs of Innocence' album downloaded 26M times since debut"

And at least 16 or 17 of those were on purpose.

Carl Icahn would like Apple to buy back massive amounts of stock

Activist investors are to large corporations what lobbyists and special interest groups are to the government, usurping the natural order of things so that they can make even more money. And there's just something about Carl Icahn, the activist investor's activist investor, which really bothers me. This week he wrote an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, asking him to use most of Apple's $160 billion cash hoard to buy back a ton of Apple stock, an action that would dramatically increase the stock price and—coincidentally—increase the value of Mr. Icahn's shares. Kind of a win-win, if you will. My advice to Apple—which, as you might imagine, is always quite welcome—is to focus on being a great tech products company, using that money to better its R&D, and not on being a high-interest rate of return for Mr. Icahn. Just a thought.

"Apple to live stream Oct. 16 iPad event on Web and Apple TV"

I can't wait to listen to a Chinese interpreter talking over the first hour of this event, while I reset the stream every few minutes because it keeps crashing my Apple TV. Literally.

But Wait, There's More

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