Tag Archives: Microsoft

My Love-Hate Thang with Ballmer’s Microsoft

Microsoft Kin One and Kin TwoToday (October 17) is the debut of the “real” Windows 8, thank goodness. And a perfect time for reflections on my love/hate affair with Microsoft.

I love Microsoft. I envy Steve Ballmer’s hairline. Microsoft Office is the greatest thing since the invention of the personal computer. I love Office so much I refuse to buy a tablet computer (iPad, Galaxy, Note, Surface RT) because almost none of those plastic/glass doo-dads will run my favorite programs – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and OneNote. Microsoft employs 40,000 people in my hometown area of Seattle, which vastly improves the quality of life here. Microsofties leave the company to found their own startup companies which makes for a really exciting technology scene – just ask Todd Bishop or John Cook at Geekwire. I love the X-Box 360 and I love Microsoft Research with products like web-based translation. And the Kinect is leading us into the future of gesture-based computing.

I love Microsoft so much I say “bing it” when others say “google it”.

Ballmer

Steve Ballmer

I hate Microsoft. Steve Ballmer laughed at the first iPhone because it didn’t have a keyboard. His answer: the “Kin” twins which lasted one month. Microsoft completely missed the tablet revolution, until it finally, three years after the iPad, came out with the Surface RT with zero apps and almost complete incompatibility with everything else in tech.

Windows 8 and its Metro interface is a travesty.  What were Ballmer and his brain trust thinking when they rolled out Windows 8? They urinated off on every Enterprise and Enterprise desktop user of Windows, a billion or more users in all.

There is zero zip nada which is nice about Windows 8 and the #@%! “metro” interface for folks using a keyboard and mouse. I resisted buying a Windows 8 computer because I don’t have a touch screen and I knew it would be tough learning to use Win8, but I had no idea how bad until now, when I actually have to use it. Finding simple stuff like the control panel is a monstrous chore, as are other simple tasks such as closing a Metro window for Adobe reader. How the hell do you “swipe up” with a mouse? Half the time the “charms” never appear when using a mouse.

I could go on-and-on but I’m totally baffled why Microsoft would spend all this time and effort on a new, touch-screen optimized OS when their bread-and-butter is enterprise customers using desktop computers with no touchscreen.

Does Steve Ballmer have a death-wish for his company?

Even folks who use touchscreens spend little time in Metroland and most of their time on the “traditional” desktop interface, if they can find it. There are plenty of rants about this on the web of course, too, including ones on microsoft.com.

I could go back and forth all day with my love/hate of Microsoft and its products:

  • Love Windows Phone 8 smartphones.
  • Woulda bought one when I ditched my Blackberry in May, 2012, but only Windows Phone 7 was available and that hardware was NOT upgradeable to version 8. Had to get an iPhone instead, unfortunately.
  • Love all the apps available for Windows desktop computers.
  • Hate all the apps not available for the Surface and Windows Phone.
  • Love tablet computing – I used a Gateway tablet running Windows for years starting in about 2003, and my 3.75 year old kid uses a gen 1 iPad all the time.
  • Hate Ballmer and Microsoft’s failure of vision to miss the whole smartphone and tablet computer revolution. Especially since Microsoft partners HAD tablet computers using Windows XP and developed the Surface tabletop computer.
  • Love all the power of the Internet with websites, web apps, open data and all the rest.
  • Hate that Microsoft basically missed the whole Internet revolution, brought us stuff like Front Page and Silverlight and MSN, and is playing catch-up ever since.
  • Love that the entire world uses Windows desktop computers and Office as THE standard for productive computing. So much so that some of those cities and places which have converted to gmail and Google apps are regretting that decision (i.e. Los Angeles).
  • Hate Microsoft running after consumers with the ill-fated Zune and poor Windows 8 implementation, dissing their cash-cow livelihood: Enterprise customers.
Redmond sign - how about software?

Redmond sign – how about software?

So after all the harping and carping on my favorite hometown company (although Boeing and Amazon are actively competing for that “favorite” spot), do I have some advice for my friends and their new CEO in Redmond? You bet.

  • Keep your Enterprise friends happy. You do a good job serving corporate America, governments and businesses. Don’t screw them with crap like Windows 8. (Fingers crossed for a decent Windows 8.1).
  • Microsoft Research is great at innovating. Use them. For just one example, capitalize on Kinect gesture-based computing. Actively encourage people to link Kinect to all sorts of other tech from computers to TVs to cars.
  • Continue to develop the Xbox into the all-purpose home device for entertainment and personal business. · Concentrate on voice. Voice control of computers will leapfrog the touchscreen interface. I spend a lot of time in my car – I’d love it if my smartphone could read me my email and text messages allow me to compose tweets and Word documents, all by talking to it. Voice would allow my 3.75 year to say “I want to watch Caillou” and her tablet would start Netflix and ask her “Do you want Caillou the Chef” which it knows is her favorite.
  • Embrace the “internet of things”. Over the next 20 years, sensors will be deployed everywhere – electrical grid, roadways, autonomous vehicles, medical patients, appliances, even toilets and toasters. Myriad opportunities exist in this space, starting with just crunching and making sense of all that data.

Microsoft, I love you. I desperately want you to succeed. Please stop shooting yourself (and your customers) in the foot.

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Filed under future of technology, iPhone, Microsoft

– The Inception Event (CfA)

click to see moreI guess you can teach an older CTO (me!) new tricks.

I was pleasantly surprised by a Code for America “inception event” on March 17th. The event was the kickoff – really the kickoff of the second half of our “game” (project) to create open source software which will help Seattle and Philadelphia and other cities’ neighborhood leaders … well … “lead”.

Every City and County has neighborhood activists – people who care about their blocks and their communities – and want to improve them. Most often, such activists are “made”, not born. There are many “inception events” which create activists for examples:

  • A child or a senior citizen is struck by a speeding car in a crosswalk.
  • A sex predator moves into the neighborhood.
  • A rash of burglaries occurs in homes on the block.
  • A vacant lot becomes overgrown with weeds and becomes a breeding ground for rats and insects.

Quite often, many people in the neighborhood recognize the problem. Sometimes, someone in the neighborhood recognizes the problem and decides to take action to fix it.

Code for AmericaAn activist is born.

But what do they do next? What action can they really take to change the situation?

Nine times out of ten, they call their local government – their City or sometimes their County. Sometimes it is a call to 911, sometimes to their Mayor or City Council member, sometimes to 311, sometimes they spend time flipping through the blue pages in the phone book (or the modern-day equivalent – an often-hard-to-navigate municipal website) trying to find who to call.

Often the answer they receive – if they get one, especially in these days of government budget deficits and cutbacks in services – sends them from one phone call to another, or maybe directs them to “go to a meeting” of their local blockwatch or community council.

Then our newly minted activist will search online for the meeting of a local community group.  Or maybe they’ll search, usually in vain, for the name of the local blockwatch captain.  Blockwatch captains – community members – are often skittish about publicly releasing their contact information, and understandably so, since blockwatches represent a threat to the local gangs or criminals in the neighborhood.  But finding a blockwatch/community meeting or event can be a dizzying trip through a maze of websites and online calendars or bulletin boards in grocery stores.

Our neighborhood activist, by this time, can be thoroughly frustrated not just with the problem on their block, but with government, community councils, blockwatches and life in general.

How can we in government fix this situation, and help neighborhood activists turn into civic leaders and also help those leaders to be successful?

Code for America - click to see moreFirst, we need to recognize the many people in our cities who have figured this out – have become neighborhood activists, blockwatch captains and civic leaders.  They’ve figured out the “secret sauce” to getting things done.

Next we need to recognize the many government employees – city and county – who really take their jobs seriously.  They want to fix problems and help improve quality of life for residents, but are often stymied by siloed department bureaucracies and simple lack of information – a transportation worker filling a pothole in the street often doesn’t know who to contact about a rat-infested vacant lot, any more than any other citizen.

Finally, government doesn’t have to be involved in the solution to EVERY civic problem.  Quite often citizens working with each other can take action and make their neighborhoods better.

Enter Code for America.

Code for America is a non-profit established by Jen Pahlka, who is also CfA’s Executive Director.  Jen also runs Web/Gov 2.0 events for Techweb, in conjunction with O’Reilly media.   Many of you probably know Tim O’Reilly, a prominent – perhaps THE prominent proponent of the interactive, social web (sometimes called Web 2.0 or Gov 2.0).

Code for America’s premise is simple – citizens and governments face the fundamentally the same issues whether they live in South Beach on Staten Island or San Antonio or Seattle.  Sometimes we can create online applications to help solve those problems.  And if we create them – and we make those applications open source – cities across the United States – perhaps even the world – can take those open source solutions and use them.

Code for America hires “fellows” – usually recent college grads or others with real world experience and a lot of tech savvy – to analyze these problems and write these apps.

This does require money, of course. The City of Seattle (the department I lead – DoIT) pitched in some dollars. But I’m very grateful to Microsoft via Joanne Harrell for contributing $50,000, and to Jack Dangermond of ESRI for chipping in an additional $50,000. Joanne and Microsoft, Jack and ESRI see the potential of this amazing model.

Seattle, Philadelphia and Boston are the launch cities for this ambitious concept.  I’ve previously blogged about what I hoped to get from our Code for America project – see my blog about Citywatch.

In February, the CfA fellows came to our three cities and spent a lot of time with those people I mentioned above – the civic leaders who have “figured out the secret sauce” to getting things done in their neighborhoods – but also the City staff often stymied as well.  They heard about the problems with trying to take action – that civic leaders can’t find each other and have difficulty getting their message out to like-minded activists.  And they heard about the difficulty in finding those meetings of neighborhood blockwatches and community councils and precinct advisory boards – the “meet ups” for neighborhood leaders.

Cue the Code for America “inception event” on March 17th.

This was an amazing eight hours.

First, all the fellows assigned to Seattle, Philly and Boston got together with Code for America staff and our Cities technology folks, including me.  The fellows had already brainstormed several potential applications to solve our community activism problems.

Dan Melton, CfA’s Chief Technology Officer, took the whole group through an exercise to develop the concepts for four potential apps, and determine our overall level of interest in them.  People stood on their feet throughout this exercise. If we were wildly enthusiastic about an idea, we stood to the far right of the room.  If we were “meh” (ambivalent) about it, we stood at the left side.

Then Dan asked us why we were enthusiastic – or not.  In the process, we also further developed the ideas – added functions or features or discarded them.

Next, we voted on the ideas and came up with the top two.

In the afternoon, we went through a deeper dive to develop each application further.  This reminded me a lot of doing a work breakdown structure for a project.  We looked at potential users of the application (our civic leaders) and what they would find useful.  We considered which features would be essential for the first version, and which ones could wait until later versions. We talked a little about what apps presently perform the function, because we don’t want to re-invent an app which already exists.

I worked on the “engagement toolkit” project. As we developed it, it turned into a simple web-based application which a neighborhood activist could use to describe their particular issue or passion.  It would include a “splash page” which simply describes the issue or idea.  But it could also include flyers or doorhangers to solicit others to the “cause”. It might include e-mail list capability or an online map describing the issue.  And it could include simple project management tools – checklists or timelines – to help move the issue forward.

Most importantly, the engagement toolkit would allow neighborhood activists to mobilize their friends and neighbors to the cause.  Working together, they might solve certain problems without any help from their city or county government. They might also be able to find similar groups across a city – or even across the nation – who have already solved their particular problem, and adapt the same solution.

Over the next few months the Code for America staff and fellows will develop this concept into an online application.  They’ll test it out with the civic leaders they’ve already identified in Seattle and Philly.  And in August or September we’ll roll it out and starting using it.

With a little luck, we can marry the “inception event” at Code for America, combined with “inception events” which create budding civic leaders, to create new, online, tools to improve our blocks, our neighborhoods, our communities, and our America as a nation.

From the ground … up.

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Filed under Code for America, community technology, social media

– Keeping up with the Gateses

A Fox keeps up with the Gateses

A Fox keeps up with the Gateses

Internet Explorer Version 8 Beta is released! So proclaim the headlines over the past 10 days on the Internet ether and in the tech trade rags and e-mail magazines (e-zines). You know what we use at the City of Seattle? IE Version 6. I personally think IE V7, with tabbed browsing, is the best thing since the invention of the first browser. I use it all the time(along with Firefox) at home. But at work in downtown Seattle, I’m an IE 6 user because that is the standard. The one I’ve set for the government.
Does anyone care about Microsoft Vista? Oh sure, if you buy a new computer for home or personal use, you get Vista as the operating system. Because you don’t have any choice! And you probably don’t care, as long as it works. But if you are a large corporation, Windows XP rules. Indeed, those corporations, including the City of Seattle, will receive a computer with Vista installed, wipe the hard drive, and install Windows XP. And XP works fine for us.

Office 2007 has been on the market since, well, before 2007. Yet at the City, the most advanced users use Office 2003. Most users use Office XP (aka 2002) or Office 2000. In fact, there are still those who long for Word Perfect. Even the most skilled power users probably use 1% of the commands and functions of Word. Office 2007 does change the format of documents, making them more interoperable with documents on the web and other document formats. But that’s a feature few corporate users care about at this time.
Why the heck can’t the City of Seattle keep up with the Gateses? Why are we (and, frankly, almost all other large Corporations) so far behind? Is this another case of sluggish bureaucratic inertia?

Actually, computer systems today are all “ecosystems”. Very few pieces of software stand on their own, independently of others.
For a specific example at the City of Seattle, we use PeopleSoft Government Financials Version 8.8, one of the very latest versions of a financial management system. But PeopleSoft has engineered it to use IE V6 as an interface for most users, to work under Windows XP, and to download data into spreadsheets in Office 2003 or earlier formats. PeopleSoft certifies that it will support these versions, but not newer versions, until they exhaustively test them. We – the City – cannot upgrade to a newer version of any software without losing PeopleSoft’s support.

Microsoft is a little better, at least for its own applications. It extensively tests software so that Microsoft XP works with Microsoft Exchange works with Microsoft Office works with Microsoft fill-in-the-blank. This testing makes it easier on corporate IT folks (and sells more software in the meantime).
At the City of Seattle, we complicate this a bit by using some non-Microsoft software such as Novell’s GroupWise for e-mail and Novell’s NetWare to save and print files. So we have to test those ourselves with new Microsoft software.

Even more complicated than this, any particular user’s computer will have dozens and dozens of different applications running on it. Not just Windows XP, Internet Explorer and Office, but also our GroupWise e-mail system, maybe the financial management system or the utility customer information system and perhaps Microsoft Visio, Adobe Photoshop, Virtual Private Networking, McAfee anti-virus and many more. Changing any one of the pieces of software – and especially core software such as Office, IE and Windows itself – could break any of the other applications. And then the employee can’t do their job.
To complicate this even further, each one of the City of Seattle’s 11,000+ desktop and laptop computers can have different applications from every other computer! Things are not this bad, of course – the computers installed in police vehicles are pretty standard, for example. But certainly computers in offices will vary from cubicle to cubicle.

These complex systems are now necessary to do the work of City government.

But it also makes it hard to keep up the latest versions emerging from the Gateses.

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Filed under Microsoft