Bill Gates and his second life

March 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

My first PC was an Intel 286 architecture based system that came preloaded with Windows 3.1. Since then, I have had a love-hate relationship with Microsoft. Their software is in a way, responsible for my career and who I am today. But I didn’t personally approve of the way Microsoft muscled their way into many segments of the business killing meaningful competition and innovation by the sheer strength of their OS domination [1][2][3][4]. I continued to use Microsoft software in those years but with growing disdain. Bill Gates was the villain of the day back then.

Everything changed when Gates stepped down from his role of CEO and subsequently as Chairman of Microsoft Corp. He is now the head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the biggest and most influential charities in the world. With his foundation, Gates has redefined his role dramatically from what it used to be. From head nerd, he is now a head philanthropist. Not just giving significant chunks of his wealth, but taking a very active interest in trying to address key world problems in the areas of health and education with the same kind of innovative spirit that defined the creation of Microsoft. In this second life, Gates has truly made a difference that matters in a significantly profound way that is truly admirable. If I sound like a shill of Gates, I really am. Especially of his tremendous impact in Africa and Asia in trying to solve basic healthcare problems.

I have always argued about the real good of capitalism in enriching humanity. I have appreciated some of the things being done by billionaire philanthropists in truly sharing their wealth [1][2], however earned.  But Gates changed the game in a way unimagined. Not only did he seize the bull by the horns, he coaxed his fellow billionaires to also commit, via the giving pledge. Much was made of Buffett signing on, but equally remarkable is how Gates convinced many more such billionaires to commit vast sums of their fortunes to make the world a better place.

We all know it is one thing to talk about donating but another to truly commit financially to make a difference in the lives of others less privileged. The cynic would argue that Gates has far more wealth than the amount he has committed. But thats besides the point. There is real good being done by Gates. One that makes him a role model for all of us to admire and emulate. Not just the geek who dropped out to co-found one of the largest corporations in the world, but the one who figured it out post retirement.

In his second life, Bill Gates has actually managed the unthinkable. Craft a profile and career that might potentially rewrite his identity in the history books. Now that is truly spectacular.

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Of turkeys and eagles

February 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

“Can two turkeys make an eagle?”

If you believe in the occult and in magic, maybe it can. Or if you are a fan of technology being able to do everything including fusing two turkeys to create an eagle, you are a believer or maybe you work for Microsoft or Nokia. Ill not spend a lot of time explaining the turkey and eagle reference of the post. You can get it all here.

Last week in a less than surprising move, Microsoft and Nokia shared stage in London to announce a far reaching partnership between the two companies where Nokia will start using Microsoft Windows Phone 7 OS on their high end smart phone devices and slowly but definitely start phasing out their iconic and immensely popular Symbian platform. The move means different things to the two companies and this post reflects on the present on the future of this partnership.

The announcement is a big win for Microsoft, atleast in getting a solid partner for its WP7 devices. The operating system, while garnering good reviews has not really translated into the kind of sales it was hoping for with the gargantuan investment. It gives the Redmond behemoth a large market for its fledgling OS, one that will span multiple continents and hopefully millions of new users. It also makes its Bing search engine a player in the search wars from a mobile standpoint.

The big question is what it means for Nokia. For certain, it is a massive fall from grace for the once biggest mobile player and architect of the mobile revolution in much of the developing world. It is also a significant chapter in the woes of the Finnish legend that has refused to innovate against the oncoming hordes of iOS and Android. The last quarter was a clear indication of Nokia’s woes. Nokia was, until recently, pursuing a highest open source smart phone platform project titled MeeGo with Intel. MeeGo has seen multiple delays, although Intel believes it has value, unlike Nokia. Intel was supposedly caught off-guard with the Nokia announcement.

The first Nokia WP7 devices are not expected until next year, but the conspiracy theorists are already speculating if Microsoft alum and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop was really a Microsoft plant and part of a Redmond plot to takeover the Finnish company. A recent move to replace Nokia USA President with another Microsoft vet is only fodder to the theory.

Apple and Google might have much to gain from this alignment. Both companies have been trying to and have been partially successful in making inroads in developing markets. A void in products from Nokia coupled with the Android plan to penetrate all segments of the market will help. In addition, a rumored low-cost phone from Apple could fit very well into the segment that Nokia so admirably filled for many years.

Only time will tell if the partnership benefits either of the companies but I will leave with a parting note from a wireless industry veteran, who on hearing the news said, “Nokia+Windows=No Win”. For the sake of Nokia employees, the country of Finland, and the thousands of engineers in both companies working hard on the Nokia WP7 handsets, hope that is not the case.

Update: There is talk and also confirmation that Nokia had partnership conversations with Google and RIM which went nowhere and the one presented to Nokia board was only the Microsoft one. Even more interesting (although not very significant based on the scale of the effort) is a Plan B outlined by ex-Nokia folks that is getting some press time. See more here.

Second Update: Looks like Plan B was a hoax after all. Not that it had the muscle to go anywhere, but it doesn’t hurt to wonder the power of the Internet does it?

Search Wars

February 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

If you have been following the tech blogs the last couple of days, the search PR wars must have caught your eye. Google accused Bing of copying its results and the veritable follow up from Bing made for interesting reading. Before I delve any further, here is the original article that lays our Google’s accusation, the search conference where there was public airing of the complaint, Google’s  blog post on the topic and Bing’s follow up.

Google is the undisputed leader in search and Bing has been a steady underdog trying to usurp the title from Google. After trying to go at it alone and failing, Microsoft entered into a strategic alliance with Yahoo where the two companies put together a synergistic approach to their search offering a meaningful competitor to Google. While it hasn’t shown dramatic results, month to month search statistics show that Bing is very slowly chipping at Google’s over sized share of the pie. Bing has also tried to use Microsoft’s investment and cozy relationship with Facebook to make things interesting (read difficult for Google).

In the meantime, the last few months has seen some prominent web journalists and bloggers claiming that Google was turning up with a lot of spam results. In a tacit affirmation of the problem, Google started making moves to reduce spam and search engine manipulation before it took a larger toll on the brand.

In this rare case of Microsoft being the underdog the corporate behemoth is milking that moniker for all its worth. Google on the other hand has bigger worries in the form of trying to assert that its search results are still relevant amidst the deluge of sophisticated spam sites purportedly from the likes of recent IPO darling, Demand Media properties.

The accusation was a rare public outburst from Google that prides on keeping itself above such trivialities. But if the accusation that Bing uses some of Google’s sophisticated algorithms for outlier searches and spelling errors is true, the future of search wars is going to get very ugly and very competitive.

Bite sized games

January 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you were asked to remember the first game that came to your mind, chances are that it would be “Angry Birds“. This insanely addictive and immensely popular game has captured the minds and fingers of mobile users all over the world. Be it on iOS or Android, the game has taken its place in millions of mobile devices and promises to go even further with smartphone proliferation. Angry Birds is not alone. The Internet is abuzz about a 14yr old kid whose game, Bubble Ball topped the iPhone App Store game download charts recently. And most developers by now have read the BackFlip Studios case study presentation from GDC, where the company charted its growth from a one man operation to a developer whose primary game is a free app that generates over $1million a year in ad revenue.

Are console games on their deathbeds?. Is this the end of full sized blockbusters like Gran Tourismo, Call of Duty and Halo?. No. But there is an undeniable paradigm shift in the kind of games that attract attention and sell. Gone are the days when blockbuster games were PC or console only experiences. Today, the standard for console and PC blockbusters are very high. For developers with smaller pockets and not so infinite resources, the world of bite sized games is much more preferable. The mobile game market is exploding with all sorts of players big and small. Electronic Arts makes big blockbusters like its Madden NFL franchise. It also generates a ton of money selling Scrabble and Sudoku on every conceivable platform from iOS to Android to Kindle. The risk with these smaller games is much lesser than the budgetof a console game which can run a few million dollars. There is also a greater appetite for such games from users who dont mind spending 99 cents to $4.99 compared to the the $49-$59 that pc and console games cost.

To point, consoles now have a significant library of download only titles on the Xbox Live, PSN and WiiWare platforms where smart and addictive games are cheaper to build and play, not to mention, easier to obtain via direct downloads. Game developers and publishers will continue to build multimillion dollar blockbuster titles for the PC and consoles. But they will also prop their calendar and revenue with smaller download only titles that have the potential to turn into goldmines. They will also port such games to as many platforms, mobile and otherwise to reach the widest audience possible and maximize their revenue from the small investment.

It is a great time to be a small developer who can build breakout game hits from the confines of his home office. It is also a great time to be a gamer to experience fascinating games, indie and otherwise on all platforms at a very affordable price. Game On !

Disclosure: I did not invent the title moniker. I first saw its usage here. Since then, some references have popped here and there.

WP7

October 14, 2010 § 2 Comments

Windows Phone 7, the experience, was unveiled to the world earlier this week. In an interesting approach, Microsoft launched the operating system with multiple carriers and multiple device vendors. At launch (Fall 2010) about 10 devices are expected from every major manufacturer not named Apple or Motorola has a device scheduled for launch. Microsoft has also realized that apps and software are what drive smartphone adoption. No one cares if it looks or feels like their desktop. Hence the focus on apps at launch. Also evident is the impetus on highlighting the social aspect of the OS with tight Facebook integration. With a tight requirement list controlling each handset sold under the WP7 moniker, Microsoft is trying to do what it didn’t do with Windows Mobile and Apple does so well with iOS, namely close hardware software coupling. This also ensures that user experience is consistent across multiple handsets that hawk WP7. MS has also used the one successful element from the failed Kin experiment namely the cloud syncing of user profiles, information and data in bolstering the WP7 offering.

With iPhone soon to arrive in Verizon (want to bet on it?) and the Android juggernaut rolling forward, this was a critical launch for Microsoft. It also means something for AT&T which will soon lose iPhone exclusivity (and a lot of customers along with it) and has partnered with Microsoft for the WP7 launch. They have done well until now in terms of drumming up some excitement for the new OS and the handsets that will carry it. Will this translate to meaningful marketshare remains to be seen. To be fair, it would be unwise to expect WP7 to even make a dent on the iOS or Android marketshare. What it can and needs to do is to make Microsoft relevant again. That would be well worth the investment.

Social Network Integration may not be for everyone.

July 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Let me preface this by saying I enjoy Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook allows me to share personal moments with family and friends, LinkedIn allows me to keep in touch with my professional colleagues – past and present, and Twitter gets me the news as it happens. That said, I would like to keep them separate. Individually, they are awesome. Together, they could cause a lot of confusion and pain and potentially scary situations.

Last fall with Facebook on the cusp of global domination, the Facebook single sign-on program started expanding to cover all other aspects of our internet life. The purported motive was to allow a single sign in access to all websites of interest. Soon enough, websites were supporting the Facebook single sign on method. Little did everyone realize that Facebook now had access to parts of our life that were until then, ours.

Now everybody wants to be a part of the social network paradigm. Twitter and LinkedIn also wanted a piece of the action and soon enough there was social integration left, right and center. To be fair, all of these are options one can disable but the lure is still there for unsuspecting public to want to link up their private lives with their work and their public interests.  Everybody from Microsoft to Google to Facebook to LinkedIn to Yahoo/Twitter is pushing for it.

There is a lot at stake here starting with the user’s data and preferences. By integrating your social lives, these networks have access to everything about you ranging from your favorite restaurant to your best friends to where you work to your past employers to your son’s school. By hooking all these up in one place, we are exposing ourselves to huge ramifications if this data were to be shared with the wrong audiences or worse still- be hacked.

Microsoft just announced their Outlook connector which integrates your Outlook Inbox with your Facebook friends. Just imagine the kind of ways things could go wrong. With that thought, Ill end this post. If this topic interests you, there is an excellent (but long) Slideshare presentation titled the Real Life Social Network, from a developer at Google talking about the future of social networking. Note that Google has an active role in this so read about it with that perspective.

Its all about the cloud

June 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

Cloud Computing has been quite the buzz word for the last few years and rightfully so. From PC OS vendors like Microsoft and Apple to data storage vendors to mobile handset OS developers, everybody has been talking about moving “it” to the cloud. So what does the “it” refer to and why is the “cloud” so important.

To understand the value proposition of the cloud architecture, look no further than salesforce.com and Amazon Elastic Services. When Oracle and SAP were trying to get the enterprise to commit to heavy duty hardware and software to run their tools, Marc Benioff came in and said, away with all those. He offered small and medium businesses a completely web based on-demand service (termed as SaaS or Software as a Service) to manage everything that Oracle and SAP allowed them to do at a fraction of the cost. This was truly a revolution.

Fast forward a few years later to the Amazon story. Amazon, not content with its tremendous success with its ecommerce platform was experimenting with its own version of cloud based computing that would allow small and medium businesses to rely on Amazon’s computing infrastructure to crunch massive amounts of data at a per byte/per minute/ per computation cost. This lowered the barrier of entry for startups that needed the computing power without the significant initial investment. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is now a big hit for the company and is starting to contribute in a small way to the giant’s bottom line.

A recent yet incredibly successful attempt at Cloud services is the Google Apps system. The solution from Google, free for most users and for a small fee for SME’s has been a big success story. It has truly questioned the Microsoft domination of the word processing and office documentation segment. It has also offered cloud based storage of such documents. It has been so popular that MS had to launch its online version of its Office toolset called Office Live to combat the threat.

All this brings us to the cloud based battle brewing in the mobile space. Google with its pioneering Apps service has a headstart on the rest by integrating a lot of its cloud services on the Android OS. While the success of its recently launched Kin handsets for teens is debatable, Microsoft has a legitimate smart approach to cloud storage of mobile data with its Kin Studio service. There is now talk that Apple will make its MobileMe service, currently offered to Mac customers for $99 a year will become a free part of the Apple iPhone user experience. It makes no sense for Apple to charge for services that Google and Microsoft offer for free. Rumors seem to indicate that it will indeed become free as of this WWDC.

It is obvious that cloud computing and cloud storage is the way forward, be it for enterprises and their complex software or a mobile device with rich user content. Most of us are incredibly dependent on the cloud – we just haven’t realized it yet.

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