Short Takes: July 18, 2014 Markku Ruottinen/Lehtikuva, via Reuters

Short Takes: July 18, 2014

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including the Microsoft layoffs, it's not just Nokia employees being laid off, "Hello there" isn't that offensive, Microsoft is cutting products and services too, Microsoft will support "right to forget," Lenovo kills off its Windows mini-tablets in North America, Xbox One sales more than double but still fall short of PlayStation 4, Apple teams with IBM on ... something, and Apple to pay $400 million to settle its embarrassing e-book price fixing antitrust case.

Microsoft layoffs roundup

It's obviously been a tough week for Microsoft, which finally took the long-overdue step of materially shedding big parts of its bloated workforce. But this kind of change is painful, of course, especially for those being laid off.  If you're not up to date, I've written a number of articles about this week's events:

Microsoft to Layoff Up to 18,000 Employees This Fiscal Year
Satya Nadella Memo to Employees About Layoffs
Stephen Elop Memo to Employees About Changes to Microsoft's Devices Business
Nokia X'd: Microsoft Goes All In on Windows Phone

It's not just Nokia employees who are being culled from Microsoft

Watching the tech and business press react to Microsoft's layoffs, I see some curious trends emerging. And one of them puts a bit too much emphasis on former Nokia employees who are being laid off. I mean, seriously: Of course a lot of those layoffs are coming from Nokia. There was far too much redundancy at Microsoft even before they subsumed those 25,000 new employees. But our ability to too easily focus on the obvious also means we've forgotten about the other 6,000 or so Microsofties who are being laid off as well, and that number alone is bigger than all previous Microsoft layoffs. These people are coming from all parts of the company, and I've gotten numerous reports from buddies in Redmond about good people being led, often in tears, to some corner office to discuss their future without Microsoft. All I'm saying is, it's not just Nokia. And really, if anyone should have expected this axe, it would have been those folks who did come to Microsoft from Nokia. As I've been writing for weeks.

And you thought "Hello there" was offensive?

I'm always fascinated by how people react to things. Case in point, Stephen Elop's email message to the troops in the Devices business at Microsoft that outlines how and why things are changing. The message, which starts off with a casual "Hello there" intro, has been deemed a bit too cavalier by armchair critics who think the background of this discussion—18,000 layoffs, 12,500 of which come from Elop's Nokia holdings—merits a bit more tact. Well, yes, we're all experts in communication, I guess. We're certainly experts in faux indignation. But then we have the incredibly insensitive click-bait headline writers at Bloomberg, who not only criticized Elop themselves, but then went on to write—yes, really—the headline "Microsoft Declares War on Middle Managers and Khaki Pants." So being casual around your employees is a problem, but being flippant about human beings losing jobs? Well, that's all in a day's work.

Employees aren't the only thing leaving Microsoft

In addition to 18,000 employees, Microsoft is also culling a number of "non-core" products and services from its portfolio, and while I expect the list to grow dramatically in the weeks and months ahead, we've already learned about a few of the things Microsoft is giving up on. Key among them is the Nokia X line of Android-based smart phones, the stupidest product Microsoft has ever sold. (Yes, including Bob.) Then there's the Xbox Entertainment Studio, which was to have created Netflix-like original programming that would have aired exclusively on Xbox 360 and Xbox One. This was always a terrible, terrible idea—Microsoft went through a similar content creation mania, briefly, in the late 1990s as well—so this move makes sense. (That said, a couple of planned "Halo" TV series will still be produced because, well, you can never have enough Halo. Also getting the axe is Nokia's redundant MixRadio, a fine app and music streaming service for both Windows and Windows Phone. MixRadio will be spun off and the folks responsible for it say they're heading to iOS and Android now, since the Microsoft shackles are off.

Microsoft: You are right to forget. Or something

Following in the footsteps of a stunning EU Court of Justice ruling requiring Google to respect individuals' requests to remove spurious links about them from search results, Microsoft says now that it will proactively work to adhere to this ruling too. A new Bing form that is available to EU residents only lets customers tell Microsoft about links they'd like banned from search results about them. "[We] will consider the balance between your individual privacy interest and the public interest in protecting free expression and the free availability of information, consistent with European law," the form explains. "As a result, making a request does not guarantee that a particular search result will be blocked." So I salute Microsoft for stepping up to the plate, so to speak. But the move is largely symbolic: While Bing has about 17 percent usage share worldwide, in Europe it's all Google. In the EU, Bing only delivers only single digit market share.

Lenovo kills off Windows mini-tablets in the US

A Lenovo spokesperson has confirmed that the world's largest PC maker has stopped selling its Windows 8.1-based mini-tablets, the ThinkPad 8 and Miix 2, in the United States. "In North America, we're seeing stronger interest in the larger screen sizes for Windows tablets and are pleased with initial customer demand for the ThinkPad 10," the firm told PC World. It also noted that these tablets are doing well in other markets, like Brazil, China and Japan. Oddly, this news sort-of corresponds to a weird shift in tablet sales, from mini-tablets back to full-sized tablets, which occurred earlier this year. And it has me wondering whether the phablet has killed the mini-tablet market in established economies. It doesn't help that Microsoft doesn't exactly have a compelling tablet story, either, as I noted in WPC 2014: Microsoft's Android Counterattack.

How screwed is Xbox One? This screwed

As I noted in Xbox One Sales Improve Thanks to Cheaper Model, Microsoft was able to make some positive but also dubious claims about Xbox One sales last month. Since the release of a cheaper, Kinect-less Xbox One model in early June, the firm claims that sales in the US have "more than doubled," month-over-month. But that claim was based on internal data—very unusual—and not on NPD data, as is typical (and reliable). And it made me wonder if Microsoft's celebration wasn't a bit too early. After all, once NPD publishes its own market data, we'll know if this doubling of sales led to Microsoft finally beating Sony's PlayStation 4 in sales, if only for a month. Nope. "PS4 is #1 top-selling US next-gen console in June, 6th month in a row," Sony gleefully tweeted last night. I'm not saying it's over—obviously, the market can sustain two big league consoles—but I don't see how Microsoft will ever catch up at this point.

Apple teams with IBM on Mobile Device Management

I know, I know. That reads like the punchline to a joke. Because if you were to create a list of the top ten firms in Mobile Device Management today, you'd have two key takeaways. One, there are not even ten companies. And two, none of them are IBM. Scanning through the respective press releases, I don't get it. IBM provides absolutely no cachet to Apple in the enterprise, or anywhere else for that matter. And the notion of IBM writing even a single reasonable mobile app—and it's promised hundreds of them—is so ludicrous it borders on an April Fool's joke. This is the dumbest tech partnership I've ever seen, period.

Apple settles on price of US-based e-book price fixing case

Yes, they are guilty. And now they will pay: Apple this week finally arrived at a payout figure for the US antitrust case that centered on its illegal conspiracy to fix e-book prices and harm competitors and consumers in the process. The firm will pay $400 million in restitution to consumers who paid artificially high prices for e-books during Apple's two year reign of terror. Sounds good, right? There's just one problem: This payout assumes that Apple loses its appeal in the case. Which is should, if there is any justice in the world. Or as Apple literally did put it, "We did nothing wrong." Sigh.

But Wait, There's More

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