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  • Mark 9:52 pm on January 26, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , microsoft, , , , vertical integration   

    The Platform Wars 

    From Battle of the Titans, loc 113-127. This dynamic seems likely to intensify with time:

    A lot of what we buy via Apple’s iTunes store—apps, music, movies, TV shows, books, etc.—doesn’t work easily on Android devices or at all, and vice versa. And both companies know that the more money each of us spends on apps and other media from one store, the less likely we are to switch to the other. They know we will ask, “Why rebuy all that content just to buy an Android phone instead of an iPhone?” Many companies have free apps that work on both platforms, but even having to redownload them, and re-set them up, is enough to keep many users from switching. In Silicon Valley parlance, it’s a platform war. Whether your example is Microsoft with Windows and Office, eBay with auctions, Apple with the iPod, Amazon with books, Google with search, or Facebook with social media, history suggests that the winner in fights like this gets more than 75 percent of the market share, while the loser struggles to stay in that business.

  • Mark 9:29 am on January 12, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , conflict, , , , microsoft, , , , ,   

    The Ontology of Corporate Grievance 

    There’s an interesting section of In The Plex which details quite how much Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer hated Google. From pg 282-283:

    Just how intensely Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, despised his competitor to the south became clear in depositions that would be filed in the Lee lawsuit. The year before, in November 2004, a top Microsoft executive named Mark Lucovsky had gone to Steve Ballmer with the unwelcome news that he was leaving Microsoft. “ Just tell me it’s not Google ,” said Ballmer, according to Lucovsky’s sworn testimony. Lucovsky confirmed that it was indeed Google. Lucovsky testified that Ballmer went ballistic: “Fucking Eric Schmidt is a fucking pussy! I’m going to fucking bury that guy! I have done it before and I will do it again. I’m going to fucking kill Google.” (The reference to having “done it before” seemed to refer to Microsoft’s anticompetitive actions during the browser war, when Schmidt was aligned with the Netscape forces.) For good measure, Ballmer threw a chair across the room, according to Lucovsky. (Ballmer would later say that Lucovsky’s account was exaggerated, but the CEO’s denials were not made under oath.)

    The competition between Microsoft and Google is easily explicable in terms of the dynamics of a number of intersecting markets, with their respective positions within them changing as a result of their rivalry, in the process contributing to the transformation of the markets themselves.

    But what makes this a matter of grievance? It’s an interesting question to ask what influence personal antagonism exerts over inter-organisational conflict. Is it a product of this organisational competition? Is it a driver of this competition? Or is it both: does the organisational conflict (continently) lead to personal antagonism, by creating situations in which it thrives, which in turn amplifies the organisational conflict, by introducing personal animus into corporate decision making?

  • Mark 10:35 am on November 7, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: microsoft, smart phone,   

    did bill gates predict the smart phone? 

    From Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 10748:

    At a February 1993 lecture at the University of Washington, Gates took the “Information at Your Fingertips” concept a step farther by describing a wallet PC that would include everything from a global positioning system to a wireless data transceiver and would serve as key, passport, credit card, electronic mailbox, information retriever, and snapshot holder.

    More on the pre-history of mobile computing at loc 10805:

    Lightweight computers? Microsoft software powered generations of ’em, beginning in 1992: Handheld PC, Palm-size PC, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile Classic. Apple nabbed the basic concept, eviscerated the software bloat, and turned it into iPods small and smaller. Apple rejiggered the Tablet PC, sneak-previewed by Gates at Comdex in 2000, dropped the stylus in favor of human digits, and voila!—iPad! Apple embraced and amended the unwieldy Ultra-Mobile PC specification of the mid-2000s, dumping the unusable split-thumb keyboard for an onscreen model, and creating the iPad Mini. As for smartphones, Microsoft “improved” on earlier models such as the Nokia’s brick-like 9000 and Palm’s beloved Treo and officially got into the business with Windows Mobile 2003, whose development proved a decade-long fiasco. Four years later, Apple swept in with the iPhone and drove Microsoft’s sputtering telephony efforts into virtual irrelevance.

  • Mark 1:19 pm on October 25, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: cinemania, databases, imdb, microsoft,   

    remembering cinemania: the history of digitalisation  

    I just came across a reference to an old Microsoft initiative, Cinemania, in Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 10184:

    Cinemania, demonstrated by Chairman Bill himself—a CD-ROM movie database containing information on 19,000 films and 3,000 stars. The movie-mad Gates called up The Maltese Falcon, clicked on the sound icon, and smiled as Humphrey Bogart’s voice emerged from the speakers.

    Doesn’t this seem remarkably quaint only a little more than two decades later? Yet I dimly recall being fascinated by Cinemania as a child, struggling to make sense of the sheer abundance of information it offered about a singular topic. Contrast this to what IMDB now offers, as stated on their Wikipedia page:

    As of September 2015, IMDb had approximately 3.4 million titles (includes episodes) and 6.7 million personalities in its database,[2] as well as 60 million registered users and is an Alexa Top 50 site.


    The theoretical question this poses for me is how best to make sense of the transition from the former to the latter. Is it something we could usefully think of in terms of the acceleration of digitalisation? This could then organise the analysis of a whole range of interconnected factors: technological affordances,  consumer demand, business strategy, consumption to prosumption etc.

  • Mark 12:12 pm on October 17, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , intellectual theft, microsoft, ,   

    innovation through appropriation 

    From Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 9378:

    Developers trying to cut deals with Microsoft often divulged their technology and/or their business plans. According to the complainants, Microsoft then used the knowledge for its own gain. The case of Go was the most widely publicized. The Silicon Valley startup, headed by ex-Lotusian Jerry Kaplan and Framework author Robert Carr, had shown Microsoft its technology for a new pen-based operating system with the understanding that Microsoft might want to write applications for it. Instead Microsoft later announced that it would adapt pen-based technology to Windows—a project headed by the chief engineer from the group that got an early look at Go’s effort. “Microsoft stretched the truth a lot,” said Dan Bricklin, co-inventor of VisiCalc and vice president of Slate, an independent developer working with both Go and Microsoft. “They’d have you believe they’ve been working as long as Go. We knew when it became more earnest. They clearly were reacting to Go and OEMs Go was dealing with.” “Stretching the truth,” on the other hand, was the way Slate’s chairman and CEO Vern Raburn described Go’s complaints. “The only thing Go did was they got Microsoft starting to think about it. Did Microsoft plagiarize? Did they lift? Did they take things? No. Absolutely not. Other than, well, what would it be like to use a pen?” Microsoft agreed: No code was stolen. And upon looking at other systems, the company tended to believe it could do better. As David Weise said of a similar scenario regarding a Micrografx product called Mirrors, “let’s just say [they] thought much better of their code than we ever did, and we didn’t steal a thing. It was just bad code.”

  • Mark 6:25 am on October 13, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , microsoft, , , workplace   

    the motivational culture of early microsoft  

    From Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 6989-7007:

    Microsoft was more like a northwestern Paul Bunyan. “It’s a culture of work,” Cole recalled. “Bill would hate it when the weather got good in Seattle. People would leave early. They weren’t going to put in their twelve hours that day or sixteen hours that day.” But the Pirates and just about everyone else at Apple worked long hours too. “The huge difference at Microsoft was nobody was having fun. People worked hard, all the smart, smart, smart people. But very few people were having any fun. They were grinding out the work.” Bill, Cole observed,   cares so much, and his way of motivating of people is through shame and intimidation. And some people are motivated that way. I mean, all of us to a certain extent are motivated by shame and disgust. People lose weight before they go to their high school reunions, and before they have to get into a bathing suit for summer . . . . It is motivating. But it’s not motivating for all people in all situations. And that was in fact the only trick in the bag.

    I’m interested in how this leadership style diffused through the tech industry, in many cases being formalised in policy and consolidating as human resources common sense. From loc 7007-7029 of the same book:

    It was a culture that came straight from the top. Gates was notorious for prowling the halls on Saturdays and Sundays and calling key people at home, asking “What’s the matter? Why haven’t I seen you around?” But the company was growing so fast that there was little time for training or traditional management. Gates’s rule of sink or swim still applied: You were expected to learn your job and do it. If you didn’t, find something else or take off.

    “Ida said it very succinctly at the last meeting: Management cannot force you to work long hours, only YOU can do that,” Charles Simonyi wrote in an April 1985 e-mail. “So why do otherwise intelligent people CHOOSE to come here at night and during the weekend?” Personal convenience, for one thing (if you happened to be a night owl); the bonus, for another. “We do reward outstanding contributions with a bonus. The most straightforward way to make an outstanding contribution is by working longer.” Then there was   the clincher. We live in a competitive world in a landscape littered with visible corpses. Do you think our schedules are tight? Too many features to write and test? Our competition will be happy to hear it. . . . If they work day and night and sleep under their desks, we may have to. I, for one, do not want to lose, not just because of pride, but also because it is very unpleasant.

  • Mark 6:14 am on October 13, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: digital locks, drm, microsoft,   

    the fascinating crudeness of early digital rights management  

    Has the mentality actually changed? My suspicion is that these messages express the same underling disposition as can be found in the present day, now dressed up in carefully crafted ideological clothing. From Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 6969:

    Late in 1985, Sheldon Richman of the Washington Times reported that his brand-new copy of Microsoft Access had displayed a message that went something like this: “Internal security violation. The tree of evil bears bitter fruit; crime does not pay. The Shadow knows. Trashing program disk.” What followed was a horrendous racket from the disk drive. Spin control time: Microsoft’s Jeff Raikes told the press that a programmer had slipped the “idle threat” into the program unbeknownst to his superiors and that it had been excised. End of story. Well, not quite. Clever computerists suddenly began hunting for and finding such messages in most of their Microsoft applications—and revealing their discoveries to the press. “How can a $70 million company like Microsoft tolerate this idiocy?” InfoWorld’s John Dvorak fulminated. Years later developer Jeff Harbers would admit that the racket—harmless though scary—had been his design, a general feature of the application’s copy-protection code that wasn’t supposed to show up except when snoops and crackers ran debuggers to sneak a look at it. The message itself had been the work of a summer intern from Caltech.

  • Mark 9:01 am on October 3, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: blair newman, , microsoft,   

    the pre-history of the internet of things  

    I had no idea how long this notion had been around for. Blair Newman was a notoriously drug addled technologist (who once tried to claim cocaine as a business expense) into whose failed venture Microsoft ploughed $50,000 in the late 70s. At the same time, he was also kicking around the idea of an architecture for the Internet of things, predicated upon overly optimistic assumptions that have only recently been proved correct. Quoted from Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 3423-3442

    The idea, as expressed in an early document, was that “by the end of the 1980s, experts predict microprocessors will be a part of almost every electrical consumer product selling for more than $20.” The logical extension of this prediction—which actually turned out to be more or less true—was that for virtually no additional cost, these microprocessors could be designed to communicate with each other, forming “a modular intelligent network . . . the central nervous system of the microcomputerized home of the future.” Shades of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair! “Energy Conservation . . . Personal Safety . . . Convenience.” With Home Bus, you could remotely control everything from your blender to your hot tub. Newman’s Home Bus Standards Association, in conjunction with the research firm SRI International, would develop a single home bus standard that everyone could agree on, and chipmakers and home computer makers would jump gleefully on board. Bill Gates was one of the Association’s original three directors. An outfit called 3Com, masterminded by Robert Metcalfe, who had invented the seminal Ethernet computer network in his Xerox days, was doing Home Bus consulting for General Electric. The idea was that GE would produce its own computer—code name Homer—that could via some sort of network—Home Bus!—control all the GE toasters and blenders and dishwashers in the house. 

  • Mark 8:01 am on October 3, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , microsoft, , ,   

    the politics of discretionary effort  

    Since first encountering the notion of discretionary effort, I’ve been fascinated by it. This is a definition I found on page one of Google:

    Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, but above and beyond the minimum required. Many organizations manage performance in such a way that motivates employees to do only enough to get by and avoid getting in trouble (negative reinforcement).


    What renders discretionary effort so problematic is how difficult it is to verify the amount of effort people could give if they wanted to. Particularly if employees are conceived as rationally seeking to minimise their effort, it can license all sorts of performance related interventions in order to mine discretionary effort: heating up the floor to see who can keep hopping the longest, in the pithy phrase used by Will Davies which I’ve been obsessed by since coming across it.

    But things looks rather different is arenas where passion dominates occupational self-understanding. This is something I’ve blogged about a lot before but it’s been on my mind recently since I interviewed the team behind The Sociological Review’s excellent Gender and Creative Labour monograph (podcast coming soon on @thesocreview). The invocation of passion offers an entirely new way to mine discretionary effort, one that is perhaps more congruent with the day-to-day necessitaties of knowledge work orientated towards creative production. This is how a programmer described the experience of being a new hire in the early days of Microsoft, a place renowned for the expectations of long working hours that were perceived to dominate the employment culture of the firm. Quoted from Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 2993:

    Fresh from academe, he loved the challenge. “It wasn’t like there was pressure to work twelve-hour days. It’s like you were an astronaut or something. You just kind of loved working so much.”
    Loc 2993

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