We've done this before. And we'll do it again

I spoke last night at the one-year anniversary of the Boston Windows 8 App Developers & IT Group. Here's a peek at my presentation, Transitions, which I had originally planned to publish as a long-form article on this site.

The basic theme is that we're in the early stages of a transition from traditional PCs and locally-stored data to computing devices and cloud services, which I see as just the latest in a long list of personal technology transitions over the past 30 years. For some reason, however, users have so far rejected Windows 8, which combines the past (desktop Windows) with the future ("Metro" mobile OS and deep services integration) in a single system, while fully embracing alternative device platforms like Android and iPad. Why is this?

In trying to write about this phenomenon, which in retrospect is I think easily explained, I discovered that it was a big topic, and unwieldy in article form. So when the Boston Windows 8 App Developers & IT Group asked me to speak at their September event, I figured this might be an interesting topic to meld into a presentation. I think that was the right approach.

So while I'm never going to finish that article, I will at least provide my presentation here, in picture form with notes, and the parts of the original article I did write, which you'll see is just a tiny part of the overall story. And not the important part really.

Transitions presentation

What’s the major difference between me and you?

Assuming you are developers

It’s that I can complain about what’s wrong, but I can’t actually fix anything. I don’t have any answers.

By definition, you fix things. And I do envy that

Technology is nothing but frustration, day in and day out. You wake up one day and nothing works. Or you wake up one day and Microsoft is broken

BTW – I do have a background in software development. (Explain)

And yes, this is a spoof of a Cialis ad.

Looking just at technology—we can discuss our transitions from parents to grandparents some other time—we’ve making transitions since the dawn of the PC age.

Multiple micro-computers to a PC standard

Command line to GUI

Keyboard to mouse+keyboard

CRT to flat-screen

Desktop PCs to portable computers --- offline to always connected Internet – software to services – PCs to devices

If anything the change has accelerated over time. You’d think we’d be good at this by now

So it’s not worth stepping through all of the tech transitions we’ve made. Instead, let’s focus on one of the more important ones. Video games.

This is Castle Wolfenstein 3D. You may remember this game.

Of course, this is not how I originally experienced this game.

I experienced it like this, in grayscale. Well, it was probably worse than this, since my wife’s computer could only display 4 shades of gray. But you get the idea.

This game opened my eyes to a number of things, but mostly that the PC was a viable architecture for fast and immersive games. I transitioned from joystick/mouse on the Amiga to keyboard on the PC.

Over time ... DOOM, other games. All keyboard based.

Quake – real 3D, transition to the mouse + keyboard.

Quake III etc.

And then the Xbox happened. Halo and then Call of Duty 2 on the Xbox 360 convinced me that game controllers were first viable and then even superior. (I know, I know.)

And that is quite a transition—set of transitions—over 20+ years.

And we all made these kinds of transitions over that time period.

So why is THIS so fricking hard for people?

No one had any issues with this, after all. The iPad doesn’t have a Start button or a Start menu. Neither does Android. And yet these devices are now selling in the 10s or 100s of millions of units per year. What is it about Windows 8—and Windows Phone, too—that has triggered such a visceral response from users, the same users who had no issues at all with mixing Android and iOS into their daily lives?

I think it just boils down to basic psychology. When you pick up and iPad or an Android tablet, you expect it to be different, and you naturally forgive the differences. There’s no expectation of the UIs you know from Windows. There’s no expectation that it will run the same apps or have the same capabilities. You give it a pass.  Over time you get used to it. And one the key learnings of these devices is that users are smart enough to handle different UIs on different device types.

But when you pick up a Windows PC—sorry, a Windows device—you do have certain expectations.

And that is the first issue.

The second issue—also psychological, btw—is that Microsoft, in its mad zeal to be backwards compatible and solve all customer problems with a single platform, Windows. The alternative was a different mobile platform—I guess Windows Mobile was the right name, but had been used before—that no one would have bought. That device would have been incompatible with everything, including Windows desktop apps. So they combined the two. Problem solved, right?


The problem is that Microsoft trampled on the good will of its users by pushing a new mobile platform, which I’ll still call Metro—on top of the Windows desktop. And this integration made it impossible for users to avoid Metro on the 1.5 billion PCs already out there in the world.

Conversely, it was also impossible to avoid the desktop on the few Windows mobile devices that anyone bought. Windows 8 didn’t please anyone. It was released perhaps a bit early. Why?

I listened to the Audible version of Stephen King’s “Riding the Bullet” recently. It mentions this phrase as being from Dracula by Bram Stoker. “The dead drive fast.”

Looked it up. The actual quote is “For the dead travel fast.” It’s a 1773 poem called "Lenora" which is also happens to be about Vampires, basically.

My point isn’t that Microsoft is sort of a vampire. It’s that with Windows 8 Microsoft was implicitly acknowledging something that is really happening. The personal computing world is changing fast. And it needed to get to market fast. So for once, it actually moved quickly. Maybe too quickly. Because the market for traditional PCs running traditional Windows is dropping off a cliff.

This data is from Forrester and it’s probably out of date. But let’s not worry about the details. This is a wonderful if rough approximation of what’s happened and what’s happening.

Microsoft dominated personal computing when that market was just PCs. But add smart phones and tablets into the mix and something interesting happens. Microsoft is roughly one-third, splitting the market with its Windows and iOS and Android.

Anyone see what crucial information isn’t present in this chart? It only shows percentage of each platform. Not the size of market. Which will grow big-time between 2008 and 2016.

2008 = 500M? We know that 1 billion smart phones will be sold in 2013, 325 million PCs and 225 million ish tablets. 1.6 billion devices. More by 2016

Microsoft’s share of the overall market shrinks, and this what everyone focuses on. But the market will grow. Microsoft’s total take should be much higher ... Microsoft will grow too.

That’s my theory anyway. That is certainly what the data tells me. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime we have this terrible transition to get through. And you guys, as the front-line third parties who will be most affected by this change, have a lot at stake. I think you’re going to do great.

So. How do we get there?

First, Windows 8.1. This is nothing less than an apology for Windows 8 and can be seen as the release Microsoft should have waited for.

Pretty amazing, really. Makes it easier for desktop users to ignore Metro. But also makes it easier for tablet/devices users to avoid the desktop.  It sounds like a minor thing, but I think Windows 8.1 is good enough to squash a lot of the negativity.

New device types help too. The go-to-market last year wasn’t all that great, and the v1 Surface devices didn’t exactly set the world on fire. What I know about the second-generation tablets and hybrid PCs isn’t overwhelmingly positive, but it is better. New Surface 2, Surface Pro 2 and Surface mini as well.

This is a photo that depicts what I hope is Microsoft’s next CEO, on the left, Alan Mulally, and Microsoft’s previous (current) CEO, Steven Ballmer.

Ballmer has gotten a bad rep but I think he did a great job for reasons I’ve already written about. And finding a guy who could manage this incredibly complex company will be next to impossible.

Microsoft, let Alan Mulally gut this company and start over. Review the strategy, shed businesses that don’t make sense.

Quick sidebar. Which businesses should Microsoft shed? Yes, that’s an ivory tower.

There are two. Kind of like Oldsmobile and Pontiac and you’re a car fan who understands history.

They are Online Services and Xbox.

Xbox – Several billion dollars lost in R&D on Xbox and Xbox 360, each, never recovered. $1 billion warranty bill for the most unreliable consumer electronics product ever produced.

Online services - $17 billion in Bing losses in 10 years. $6 billion aQuantive write-off.

Spin these businesses off.

Since Microsoft will ignore my earlier comment about Xbox...

Going back to the Peanut Butter Cup model, Microsoft should take the next logical step and move its platforms together. Not just from a user experience standpoint but from an API standpoint.

We have WinRT and WinPRT. Why not WinXRT? Why not make them all based on a common core—WinRT Core or whatever—and have each have platform-specific additions? I have to think they’re moving in this direction.

Certainly, this will benefit anyone who got started with WinRT early.

We’ll see. I’m batting about .000 on predictions, so I’m one to talk.

But like you, I’ve bet my future on Microsoft and its platforms. So I have a horse in this race. Am I concerned? Sure. But I also look at the alternatives and find myself curiously ambivalent. I really like what Microsoft is doing, prefer it.

Transitions article excerpt: Cloud computing and mobility are messing with your heads

Reading through the feedback I get via email, Twitter, and the comments on this site, one thing is brutally clear: A significant percentage of the Windows user base is freaking out—absolutely losing it—over what they see as forced transitions to new ways of doing things: Mobile devices, not PCs. Cloud computing, not locally stored data. Metro, not the Windows desktop. Folks, these kinds of transitions are a vital part of the history of personal computing. And we’ve been through this before.

Change is hard, I get that. But the sheer amount of complaining that greets every Microsoft product announcement these days is a bit much. The transitions to cloud computing generally or from Zune/iTunes to Xbox Music/Xbox Video specifically (to use an obvious recent example) are just modern, 2013-era versions of transitions we’ve been making since the first personal computers appeared over 30 years ago. And really, that was always sort of the point.

Looking back at my own personal history, I can cherry-pick a few transitions that were difficult for me at the time.

Amiga to PC. Faced with the extinction of the Amiga in 1992 or so, I realized I’d be getting a PC, which in those days meant DOS and Windows (or possibly OS/2, though that was short-lived). Productivity software and software development were two areas in which I knew the PC would excel. But what about games? At the time, I played the types of games at which the Amiga excelled: Sideway scrollers like “Shadow of the Beast,” and I used a variety of joysticks (the Epyx 500XJ, for example) for this purpose.

So what was available on the PC? Sad-looking but surprisingly playable DOS-based games like “Jill of the Jungle,” which featured basic graphics (EGA? VGA?) with no parallax scrolling, PC speaker blooping sounds and required you to use the keyboard for control. I played a lot of games like this—Commander Keen, Duke Nukem 2 (in pre-3D form)—in my early PC days, and while they never lived up the Amiga titles, they got the job done.

The thing is, I had to transition from joystick to keyboard. It was awkward, and frustrating. And more often than not, I’d lose a life in a game because of some ham-fisted control mistake. But I adapted, and over a short period of time got used to it.

And then 3D gaming happened. First with Wolfenstein 3D. Then DOOM. And Heretic. And Duke Nukem 3D. Quake. And so many more amazing MS-DOS games. And I never looked back.

Keyboard to keyboard/mouse for gaming. Speaking of Quake, first person games that preceded that title were not “really” 3D in that you were really just playing on a single plane and couldn’t look (or shoot, or move) up, down or in any other direction. So just playing with a keyboard didn’t just make sense, it was the most efficient control method. And for years over a series of many games, that’s exactly what I did.

But then Quake happened. This first “true” 3D game brought with it a new need for better control, because you could look and move and shoot in any 3D direction. If an enemy was on a platform above you, you could look up, target him, and then shoot in that exact direction. Suddenly, a mouse wasn’t just useful. It was necessary.

It was also amazingly painful to make this transition, hard coded as I was to the keyboard. This transition took a while. But having your butt handed to you in enough online multiplayer matches has a way of inspiring the necessary work. Over time, I became proficient at using the mouse and keyboard. I actually became quite proficient at it, in fact.

And then the Xbox happened.

From mouse/keyboard to Xbox controller for gaming. While there were some first person shooters for gaming consoles before this, the first truly successful console-based shooter was the original Halo for the Xbox. I believe I actually played the original game with mouse and keyboard on the PC first, but with Halo 2, I saw that a controller could work with such a game, though I felt it lacked the precision of mouse/keyboard.

That was surely true, but with the release of the Xbox 360, I made the painful transition from mouse/keyboard on the PC to using a controller with the console. Games like Call of Duty 2 proved to me that a controller could indeed work quite well and I spent the next year honing my controller/first person shooter skills online. And since then—2005/2006—this is pretty much all I do, gaming-wise: First person shooters on the Xbox.

While my own history is full of game-related transitions, there are of course more general and obvious tech transitions from the past as well.

DOS to Windows. Microsoft previously moved its entire user base from MS-DOS to Windows, and it did so in a way that mirrors the current transition from traditional PCs to multi-touch, mobile computing devices: At first, you could use both the old and the new and over time the new took over for the old. MS-DOS went from being the foundation of the PC operating system to being a little-used console application in Windows over a period of years.

Windows 9x to NT. Microsoft also made a similar transition from the DOS code base to the NT code base and it did so in a way that was mostly transparent to average users. Though regarded quite fondly now, Windows XP was initially the subject of some scorn and ridicule by gamers, for example, in the early days because it couldn’t run DOS games as quickly as could Windows 98. There were compatibility issues across the board. Moving to the NT code base, however, allowed future transitions—like the move to 64-bit computing—happen even more seamlessly.

So here we are. It’s 2013, and a few important trends are sweeping our industry. Cloud computing has moved the storage of our critical data from being locked in a single app on a single PC to being globally available to us from any app on any device at any time.


It kind of just stops there. I have the following notes as well:


No angst moving to iPad


Some buy one as companion

Have PC to fall back on

Over time, realize they can use PC less or not at all

The transition is made

With windows 8, you're replacing a pc with another pc

No one is really using them only as companion devices

More angst


And that's as far as I got.  You get the idea. :)

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