Now Every Company Really Is A…

My stump speech seven or eight years ago included two assertions: 1.) every company is now a media company and 2.) every company is now a software company. Someone recently reminded me of that pitch and while it seems obvious today, it was definitely before its time. The globe-spanning organizational behemoths I was then hectoring weren’t buying it (but unlike with mainframe customers, I don’t think anyone ever called me “son” in the course of the conversation).

The media company prediction came out of the path we were taking with Microsoft’s developer platform business. That business at Microsoft, despite Steve Ballmer’s infamous and sweaty “Developers, Developers, Developers!!!” performances (and you should see him order lunch: “Pastrami, Pastrami, Pastrami!!!” with all credit to Bruce Ryan for not only coming up with that line, but shouting it out while Steve was in the sandwich line), was strategically important but a sideline by any quantitative metric. The developer audience had an endless thirst for content but was also very suspicious of anything that reeked of marketing. Intermediaries, particularly the press, had a tendency to water things down and didn’t always fully comprehend the topic at hand. So we started to reach out directly to the developer audience and sidestep the traditional gatekeepers.

Those were the early days of corporate blogging. We had a sign in the office showing “Days Since Last Blogging Accident” (I’m looking at you Scoble 😉 and spent too much time fighting off a prominent executive who wanted to ban blogging across the company (ironically, he went on to probably blog more sheer word volume than any other blogger ever). The genesis of Channel 9 also happened in this time, which provided an authentic and humanizing behind the scenes look at the Microsoft developer platform (it was also as much a rejection of MSDN, a CD-ROM library of developer tools that had clumsily migrated to the web, as anything else). Channel 9 also quickly metastasized into a vibrant community around that content channel. The end result is we found ourselves using cheap digital technology to program (in the TV sense) directly to our audience.

It seemed obvious at the time that everyone would be doing this soon. And this was before the rise of social media, the christening of content marketing or the fixation on the CMO as the new Great White Whale of IT, all of which have fueled the ability for anyone to be their own media business. Meanwhile, the traditional media continue to face gale force headwinds (e.g. the New York Times recently paying to get rid of the Boston Globe, which they paid over a billion dollars for not so long ago). Dan “Fake Steve Jobs” Lyons chronicles the ranks of traditional journalists taking to the lifeboats to join the corporate media ranks, a path he too has taken. There is some irony that being in the media business is increasingly attractive to everyone except those actually in the media business. Even the old line about not getting into a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel has far less applicability when printing presses are ridiculously cheap (and the guys who buy ink have to budget for bankruptcy lawyers).

In terms of every company becoming a software company, Marc Andreessen nailed this with his Wall Street Journal essay “Why Software is Eating the World”. Software no longer just replaces older generations of software, but everywhere you look software is chewing up and spitting out enormous traditional industries. Skype finished off the long distance business. iOS and Android broke the operator chokehold on the mobile experience (“hello Mr. dumb pipe!!!”). Netflix destroyed the DVD rental business (remember Blockbuster?) and is now driving the DVD itself to extinction as a medium. Uber has pushed the taxi business to lawyer up in the absent of any other strategies for coping with change. Barnes & Noble is a case study in understanding the software threat but then mismanaging its play to the point of threatening the viability of their still profitable bookstore business. AirBnB is not appreciated by hoteliers for opening lots of vacancies. The hottest thing in cars is software that powers the entertainment system. connects with your smartphone, manages the hybrid powertrain and is poised to resurrect the slogan “leave the driving to us”. The energy revolution that has pulled the rug out from under OPEC, Vladimir Putin and predictions of peak oil owes much to advances in data analysis and visualization software. And we’ve recently learned that even the world’s second oldest profession — spying — appears to have become a vast software play.

At a time when the assumption is you outsource everything you can outside your core business, both media and software development are being in-sourced with a vengeance. You just can’t live without them.

Must Have Software: Google Analytics Opt-Out

Google Analytics can track individual Internet users across millions and millions of web sites.  Google has quietly rolled out a browser add-on for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari that prevents information about an individual web site visit from being sent to Google.  Presumably this was done in response to regulatory scrutiny somewhere in the world as Google does not lightly deprive itself of any information about your Internet activity.

A good start but we still need:

  • The add-on to be distributed through the various browsers’ integrated add-on catalogs and not just buried on the Google site.
  • Google needs to provide the add-on for other browsers as well.  At minimum, they need to support all the browsers they put on stage for marketing purposes (e.g. Opera)
  • Google should build it into Chrome and turn it on by default (note that Chrome still has a bunch of other privacy issues)
  • We need a similar add-on for opting out of AdSense which has a comparable tracking ability.

Live SkiFree or Die

Hey, I actually get this obscure xkcd reference:


We did three Entertainment Packs for Windows soon after Windows 3.0 came out (tagline: “Not the most fun you can have with Windows, the only fun”).  Each had about eight games.  Some like Minesweeper and FreeCell got bundled with subsequent versions of Windows, but I never would have guessed SkiFree would continue to have a cult following nearly two decades later.  There are SkiFree updates, ports, exhaustive overviews, numerous videos, cheat codes, fan mail and even fan fiction.  The Wikipedia entry has even dug into the philosophical underpinnings of the game (though inexplicably provides no scatological discussions of the sources of and scoring for yellow snow in the game).

The funniest part is (if I recall correctly), the origin of the Abominable Snowman was the game had a stack overflow bug and instead of fixing the bug (hey, we were on Internet time way way before it was popular, cranking these things out in a couple months), the Snowman was introduced as a way to sidestep the bug by devouring the player with a small loophole that if you outran him in a specific way (appreciate the annotated video and opportunity to buy the soundtrack…), you’d start again.

image I assume it is just a matter of time before the Snowman gets a movie deal.  Every other comic character with any nostalgic appeal already seems to have one.

It’s Microzilla Time

image It is time for Microsoft and Mozilla to make peace and together face their common enemy: Google.

For Mozilla, Google is both sole patron and now direct competitor, which is at best strategically awkward.  Firefox market share has plateaued.  They’re losing their status as the browser of choice amongst the cool kids to Chrome.  It is no longer the svelte and solid product it once was as lobbying seems increasingly prized at Mozilla above software development.  The idealistic fire burns low as the dog is not sure what to do after catching the car.

While Mozilla drifts, Microsoft, meanwhile, has a tremendous need to change the browser game.  Internet Explorer is getting bigger faster than it is getting better.  Attenuating market share loss does not constitute a winning strategy.  Instead of inflicting yet another column on the compatibility test matrix with a new rendering engine, why not just embrace Firefox?  At this point, Microsoft has acquiesced to the idea of cross-platform browser compatibility.  The browser anyway is just a container for Silverlight which is the real presentation strategy.  Mozilla can help propagate Silverlight as well as help with browser search defaults.  Mozilla executives are publicly expressing a preference for Bing despite their Google-funded paychecks, so cultivating Firefox users and the open source community more broadly is not nearly as crazy as it might have sounded even six months ago.

Microsoft has already paid almost $2.5 billion for the privilege of being required to ship Firefox and other browsers with Windows in Europe (who knew there were 12 “popular” browsers?).  And the company has gotten nothing out of strategic control of IE all the while butting heads with the EU.  Now that the (Fire)fox’s nose is through the Windows’ window (to butcher a metaphor badly), the renowned software designers of Brussels and their various friends (aka “Other” in most market share reports) are now hard at work trying to expand that toehold (and the scariest part of this for Microsoft should be the regulations starting entangle Office as part of this).

In yet another eerie Richard Nixon parallel, Microsoft has a history of surprise rapprochements with once bitter foes (Apple, Novell, Sun, arguably China and they’ll probably end up bailing IBM out one of these days…).  Why not add Mozilla to the list?  It not only costs little to let the wookie win, but it helps on multiple fronts of the new competitive landscape.  And maybe more importantly, is a powerful demonstration to the world just how much that landscape has shifted, all to Microsoft’s advantage amidst its metamorphosis from Evil Empire to benign-by-comparison former Evil Empire.

Just a thought.

Windows XP Really is Immortal

Yesterday I was wondering how Microsoft will price Windows 7 for the netbook market and speculated that Microsoft could

always keep offering the immortal Windows XP if necessary.

And just like that, the edict came down from upon high.  This suggests the OEMs aren’t falling for Windows 7 Starter Edition and Home Premium will be priced at too high a premium for netbooks.

Is it too early to start a pool on XP’s market share in 2021, when it will be twenty years old?