Sep 072014
 
apple-iPhone5s-5Up_Features_iOS8_PRINT

Unsurprisingly the hype ahead of Tuesday’s media announcement by Apple is reaching a crescendo, with the consensus being that a smart watch will be the day’s main announcement.

The constant stream of targeted leaks by Apple to friendly outlets is quite tiring, however one thing that will be fascinating if all the stories are true is the software the device will run.

As Microsoft have discovered, the idea of running the same operating system across all devices just doesn’t work.

While how users interact with the devices will be the main factor, the most immediate problem will be power. If Apple Insider’s report that prototypes need to be recharged twice a day is true, then the limitations of smaller batteries are going to be considerable and software is going to have to be much more stingy with power usage.

The other big challenge for the iWatch, if that’s what it’s called, is the entire global watch market is a tiny fraction of the smartphone industry so expectations Apple’s new product will replace smartphones and tablets as a huge growth driver for the company are probably misguided.

So it’s good for Apple and its acolytes that the iPhone6 will probably be announced as well. If this has the features expected, then its likely to give the company’s slowing smartphone sales a boost.

Regardless of what’s announced on Wednesday, Apple does have the luxury of being one of the most profitable and richest companies on the planet. if a smartwatch is the major new product they have the resources and time to finesse the product and its software.

 

Aug 282014
 
800px-Steve_Jobs_and_Bill_Gates_(522695099)

“Apple lives in an ecosystem,” Steve Jobs told the 1997 MacWorld conference. “It helps other partners and it needs the help of other partners.”

A few minutes later Jobs unveiled Apple’s deal with Microsoft, much to the disgust of many of the company’s true believers in the audience – something not helped by Bill Gates appearing on video midway through the presentation.

“We have to let go of the idea that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose;” said Jobs after the booing died down.

I was reminded of Jobs’ and Gates’ deal when talking to Pat Gelsinger, the CEO of virtualisation software company VM Ware at their annual VM World conference in San Francisco this week.

Gelsinger was discussing the myriad deals VM Ware has made with companies that are their superficially their rivals as markets radically change. The company has even gone as far to embrace the open source Open Stack that was originally set up as competition to VM Ware’s proprietary technology.

“The idea of frenemies – or co-competition – isn’t new to the IT industry.” Said Gelsinger, “as we are in this period that we’ve called the tectonic shifts that are underway.”

“All of us need to be somewhat careful about who’s our friends and who’s our enemies as we go through that period and be as nice as we can to everybody because who’s our friends and who’s our enemies in six months or twelve months could change a whole lot.”

That lesson has been harsh in the IT industry as various unstoppable businesses have found the market has shifted rapidly against them. A process that’s accelerating as cloud computing changes the software industry.

“I always quip that ten years ago or fifteen years ago Sun would have been buying Oracle. Those shifts can occur quite rapidly,” Gelsinger says.

VM Ware itself is on the brunt of one of those shifts as its core business of creating virtual services in company’s data centres is being disrupted by cloud computing companies like Amazon, Google and – ironically – Microsoft.

Adapting to that changing market is the key task for Gelsinger and VM Ware’s management team, “our philosophy has been about doing the right thing that technology enables us to do.” Gesliner states, “do the right things for our customers and enable the ecosystem to join us on the journey.”

For companies like VM Ware and Microsoft no-one predicted that one of their biggest threats would come from an online book retailer, yet Amazon Web Services has upended the entire software industry.

The challenges for VM Ware today or Apple nearly two decades ago are being repeated in many other industries as competitors appear from unexpected directions, which is why it’s important not to ignore and sometimes co-operate with your competitors.

We shouldn’t also ignore the other main reason why companies like Apple, Microsoft and, possibly, VM Ware have survived massive market shifts over time – a deep and loyal customer base.

Understanding and responding to your customers’ needs is possibly the greatest management skill needed in every business today. Are you listening to what your market is telling you?

Paul travelled to VM World in San Francisco as a guest of VM Ware

Picture of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates via Joi Ito on Flickr

Jul 302014
 
soldier pawns on a chess board

This week I’m in New York to attend the BlackBerry Security Summit, more of which I’ll write about later although this story for Technology Spectator covers much of the news from the day.

BlackBerry is struggling to find relevance after losing its way when Apple and Android smashed their business model of providing secure, reliable and email friendly phones.

Now in post Snowden world, BlackBerry under new CEO John Chen is looking to rebuild the company’s fortunes on its strengths in security.

One of the aspects Chen’s team is emphasising is the simplicity of their software. Dan Dodge, who heads BlackBerry’s QNX embedded devices division says their operating system has a 100,000 lines of code as opposed to hundreds of millions in Windows and Android.

That weakness in the established software packages is something illustrated in today’s story about a verification problem in Android due to reuse of old code from another older product.

Simplicity is strength is Dodge’s message and that idea could probably be applied to more than software.

In the complex times we live in, simplicity could be the key to success.

Jul 152014
 
microsoft-leadership-team-2014

After last week’s long memo from CEO Satya Nadilla, it was inevitable Microsoft would have to restructure around the company’s new direction.

Bloomberg now reports Microsoft will be laying off thousands of employees – possibly more than the 5,800 laid off in the recessionary depths of 2009.

With 127, 000 employees Microsoft could almost certainly do with a cull, to make the company as nimble as it needs to be may take more than 5,000 jobs.

Mar 182014
 
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

Paul Wallbank joins Tony Delroy on ABC Nightlife across Australia to discuss how technology affects your business and life.

For the March 2014 spot we’ll be looking at the end of Windows XP, Australia’s Privacy Act, the web turning 25 and the call for an Internet Magna Carta.

If you missed the show, you can listen online at the Tony Delroy’s Nightlife homepage.

One of the show’s listeners, Linda, called in about asking for Apple Mac security software; two free products for OsX users are Sophos Home Edition and Avira Free. While Macs are less prone to malware than Windows systems, it’s still a good idea to be protected.

Another listener, Grant, described a problem with his computer which sounds like it’s infected with something. We recommend the free Malwarebytes as the first step to fixing the problem.

The end of Windows XP

After 13 years, Microsoft is retiring Windows XP; what does this mean for those of us still using it, or for our banks who still use it in their ATMs? Some of the questions we’ll cover include;

  • why is Microsoft pulling the pin on Windows XP now?
  • what happens on April 8 when Microsoft stops support?
  • are Windows XP users still protected from viruses?
  • what’s this story about bank ATMs running Windows XP?
  • the web turned 25 last week. Didn’t it turn twenty a year or so back?
  • inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, called for an Internet Magna Carta last week; what does he mean?
  • could such an idea work in today’s globalised world?
  • on similar topic, the new Privacy Act came into effect last week; what does this mean for the average person?

We’d love to hear your views so join the conversation with your on-air questions, ideas or comments; phone in on the night on 1300 800 222 within Australia or +61 2 8333 1000 from outside Australia.

Tune in on your local ABC radio station from 10pm Eastern Summer time or listen online at www.abc.net.au/nightlife.

You can SMS Nightlife’s talkback on 19922702, or through twitter to @paulwallbank using the #abcnightlife hashtag or visit the Nightlife Facebook page.

Mar 072014
 
sugar-crm-convention

“Tell me something I didn’t know about my customer;” is what Clint Oram demands of his software.

“If you think about legacy of Customer Relationship Management tools it’s really been about entering something I already knew about by customer so my manager can keep track of me.”

Oram sees that changing with Sugar CRM, the open source Customer Relationship Management software company he co-founded in 2004 at a time when the software industry was coming out of the post dot com bust depression.

“There was a huge backlash by customers to the enterprise software market,” Oram remembers. “There were a lot of hopes and promises made of all this fantastic software that would change the world. The reality was a lot of it didn’t do anything.”

Foundations for the cloud

In Oram’s view, that disillusionment formed the basis of today’s cloud based software businesses with the market’s demand that software be delivered as a service, reducing up front commitments to any one product, commercial open source that gave customers a stake in development and annual subscription licensing.

That last factor – a radical change to the traditional software model that saw small businesses buy boxed programs and larger enterprises negotiate complex agreements with expensive implementation projects – is the biggest change to the modern software industry.

Oram sees that as challenging those established giants like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft; “in the past it was ‘here’s my software, goodbye and good luck. Maybe we’ll see you next year.”

“If you look at those names, the competitors we see on a day-to-day basis, several of them are very much challenged in making the shift from perpetual software licensing. It’s been a challenge that I don’t think all of them will work their way through, their business models are too entrenched.”

“Software companies really have to stay focused on continuous innovation to their customers.”

Freemium challenges

From his ten years in business, Oram learned the freemium model is a difficult way to run a business, “we learned that the freemium model is challenging and you gotta really focus on differentiation across your software editions and deliver clear value to each customer segment.”

While the Freemium business model remains a challenge, Oram sees mobile and the cloud as driving the CRM industry with the sector focusing on delivering more customer insights as software increasingly goes mobile and gets better at predicting behaviour.

“We’re taking these cloud, mobile based platforms that can be delivered anywhere and anytime,” says Clint “and now work on collecting that data about your customers and telling you what you should do next.”

“How do you help your customer to get the fullest value out of working with you.”

Delivering value to customers is a challenge not just for the software industry; in an era where business is far more competitive, it’s a question facing all industries.

Feb 232014
 
ford interior with Microsoft embedded

As Microsoft prepare for a major launch at this week’s Mobile World Congress, the news isn’t good for the company’s flagship Windows operating system.

Two Bloomberg reports illustrate the problems; the major story is the company is planning to drop licensing fees for Windows 8.1 while the other, still serious, news is that Ford will be dropping Windows as its in-car operating systems.

Automotive systems are one of the key markets for Microsoft as the company tries to move into markets beyond the stagnating personal computer sector and should the reports be true that Ford is looking at moving to the rival Blackberry owned QNX system then Windows Embedded has taken an embarrassing blow in a key market.

More serious though is Bloomberg’s report that Microsoft plans to cut its licensing fees for Windows installed on cheaper devices.

While not unexpected, this will damage the company’s earnings given the Windows division made up 22% of Microsoft’s earnings last year.

It’s clear that the free Android system is beginning to hurt Microsoft both in the smartphone and personal computer markets.

For Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella, dealing with Windows’ place in the new Microsoft is going to be one of his most pressing challenges and will almost certainly define his first year in the role.

As the Internet of Things and Machine to Machine markets grow, Microsoft is going to have quickly decide if the company wants to compete in the market.