Monthly Archives: January 2015

Free Upgrade for Windows?

Microsoft recently announced Windows 10, with a strong indication that it may be offered as a free upgrade for licensees of Windows 7 and higher for the first year. Contrary to a lot of the analysis so far, I think this is a relatively low-cost move aimed at regaining mind-share and market share for Windows. I’m supportive, but they’ve got a heck of a hill to climb!

(Note: I’ve spent my career in software development and marketing, including Microsoft from 1992-2012. I’m speaking as a marketing professional here, not as a representative of Microsoft.)

First of all, it’s important to recognize that Microsoft makes final pricing decisions just prior to general availability (GA), so there’s still a lot of room for policy changes. I don’t think Microsoft is intending this latest announcement to be a promise for free software, but it does indicate the strategy in play.

One of the hazards of pre-announcing anything in tech is that you could stall sales of the goodies you are currently selling. So by implying that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade, or at least have a defined free period, Microsoft is urging customers to keep buying current devices and not worry about missing out on the shinier thing that’s coming next.

The Wall Street Journal and others speculated that this move could cost Microsoft as much as half a billion dollars of upgrade revenue. But I think that is way off.

Why? In my years in the industry, I’ve observed that customers rarely upgrade the operating systems on their personal computers. The customer investment in terms of money, time and risk that something might go wrong, is just too high for all but the most technical users.

A new version of Windows is designed to do one thing, and one thing only: sell more computers. And this is even more true as the hardware game has morphed and people now buy a variety of lower-cost devices which they keep for shorter periods of time.

So I think the half a billion might be overstated by as much as 10x. I also think that aside from not wanting to stall current sales, Microsoft has a huge hill to climb to gain back the relevance they previously had in the personal computing space.

In the early 2000’s, developer surveys showed that close to 90% of developers were developing for Windows, and two-thirds of those were doing so exclusively for Windows. But that number peaked with Windows XP, and has dropped significantly since then, being replaced by iOS, Java, Android, etc.

Without third-party developer support, Windows will shrivel up and die of irrelevance. So I think there’s a sad irony in the fact that right next to its Windows 10 article, the WSJ featured an ad for WSJ on iPhone/iPad bundled with Evernote. The battle that Satya and Microsoft are fighting is that WSJ and their readers are apparently not very hungry to consume WSJ on a device running Windows and Office.

After I left Microsoft in early 2012 to go to Adobe, I read a report indicating that more US-based college students were purchasing Apple computers than Windows-based computers. This bell-weather change spoke volumes to me as a marketer, and meant that consumer preferences had, and would continue to move away from Microsoft in a significant fashion.

So far I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture. I think the upside is that Microsoft is doing a good job of reducing development complexity across devices, has embraced open standards, and has an amazing treasure trove of technology in Microsoft Research. Satya has shown a strong appetite for change, and is taking some smart risks to try to maintain Microsoft leadership. They are down, but I’m not counting them out.


Get Motivated: Pay Yourself

Tis’ the season for resolutions. Perhaps you’ve already been through a cycle of resolving to change, trying, failing and giving up.

I’ve been reading a ton about how people can achieve their goals, especially fitness-related goals. Real change is hard, witness the industries that are vying for your attention and money – TV shows, books, gyms, diets, new phones, fitness bands and apps.

I have a simple system that will help you succeed with your fitness goals, change your behavior for the long term, and the price is a one-time fee of whatever you want.

Before I tell you how to meet your goals, a little about me. I’m a fitness success story. I took up triathlon at age 40 after being relatively sedentary in my 20’s and 30’s. I’ve competed in at least one race or long-distance endurance event every year since. At age 50, I completed the half-Ironman in under 6 hours. I’ve been bike commuting year-round since 2008, my longest daily commute was 27 miles each way. And I still work out 5 or more hours a week, every week.

I’m also a student of human behavior, having been a marketer at Microsoft for 20 years. I’ve studied how customers respond to pricing, messaging, incentives, coupons, free offers, etc.

So I think I’m pretty well qualified to suggest a system for behavior change. My system is based on my experience and the latest research.

The key insight that experts have observed is that behavioral change is nothing more than establishing a new habit. In general, it takes people just a few weeks or months of successful performance to establish a habit. Once the habit is established, it’s very hard to change. Meaning, if you do this successfully, you may be able to sustain your goal for years to come.

The next insight is that financial rewards work. A cash prize of $10 per visit is enough to convince most people to go to the gym. Cash penalties of equal magnitude for non-performance increase the success rate.

Finally, people perform best when goals are clear and attainable, and they are externally observed. This last bit is important. Have you ever noticed when you’re running or biking and you approach or pass someone, your form improves and you speed up? That’s because we all like to be observed doing well.

Here’s my method:

  1. Set an attainable goal, for example: “I will ride my bike or go to the gym 3 times per week, 60 minutes each time, for 5 weeks. I will start this Saturday.”
  2. Write your goal and post it in a spot you see every morning. (Morning works well because you have time to make plans. If you have to go home to get your gear after work, chances are better you’ll fail that day.)
  3. Put 3 glass jars near the goal placard. Put your chosen sum of cash in the middle jar. I recommend $100 in this case, 5 weeks x $20 for each week. You decide exactly what amount works for you.
  4. The right-hand jar is for successful performance. Move $20 one jar to the right each Saturday if you made your goal of 3 gym visits. Congrats!
  5. The left-hand jar is for non-performance. Move $20 one jar to the left if you missed.
  6. You can cut yourself some slack. If it’s Saturday, and you only went twice, count today’s workout toward the previous week and start your next week on Sunday (tomorrow).
  7. When all the money is in the right-hand jar, congrats, you have attained your goal and probably established a healthy habit. Spend the money on something nice – an evening out with your S.O., new gear – something you wouldn’t normally buy. But do not take a break, keep going! If you feel any hesitation, cough up another $100.
  8. If all the money ends up in the left-hand jar, get ready to do something really distasteful, like giving the money to the NRA or some cause you personally detest. You will have selected this organization at the beginning so you will be working throughout to avoid it.

By the way, there are apps that use this methodology, I prefer the low-tech approach, but feel free to use one if you like.

Leave me a comment and tell me about your biggest fitness challenge and whether my idea works for you!

Winter Cycling Survival Tips

People look at me funny when I tell them I’ve been bike commuting in Seattle year-round since 2008.

Their imaginary horrors include darkness, snow, ice, fog, rain, bad drivers, wind, etc., etc. I’m here to tell you, the reality is just as bad as you imagine.

To help me survive the winters (which often last well into May), I’ve devised a 5-point rating system, which I use both as a distraction while I ride (boredom is another hazard), as well as a way to quantify how much better it is than it certainly could be. A way to fool myself into believing, “I’m so lucky! I’m wet, shivering and dodging traffic, but it could be way worse than this.”

The scale is pretty simple. Score 1 point for each of the main challenges. Mine are:

  1. Darkness
  2. Fog
  3. Snow/Ice
  4. Wind
  5. Rain

You score only half a point if, for example, you have wind in your face for just half the ride. Which is usually the case, though sometimes it seems to magically shift against you halfway through. Snow and ice are combined into one category since they usually arrive together (and what the hell are you complaining about, it’s ski season!)

Rain is so prevalent, it requires a special score-keeping system. Basically, you can get a full point only if your socks are soaked inside your shoes and making that squishy sound before you hit the half-way point in your ride.

As an example, my ride on Sunday was pretty nice. 15 MPH wind in my face for about forty-five minutes, followed by a soaking downpour at mile 20 of 25. A total of one point, on a 5-point scale – a veritable walk in the park!

On the plus side, I got a nice workout, dodged (well, postponed) the breakfast dishes, and felt great for the rest of the day. (Or was it the Seahawks?!)

Why do it? Well, the endorphin high is probably the most honest answer. The joy of being outdoors. The challenge of getting through it. The feeling of accomplishment. And eating whatever the hell I please when I get home – that’s certainly an undeniable benefit!

If you’re uncertain of your motivation, read my next post for a proven strategy to help you reach your own fitness goals.

Discovering a New Sport

I went out Friday with three close friends for my second try at mountain biking (MTB). It was a humbling and joyous experience.

The humbling part is learning a new skill, with a body that is not as resilient as it was at age 20 or 30. The first time I went, I fell 4 times, but not very hard. This time I fell just once, but this was an “endo” (they have names for different falls in this sport!) going down a hill, and I landed hard on my elbow. After I got over the shock, and realized I would be mostly OK, it reminded me to be careful and pay attention – there are hazards galore in this sport.

I’ve been biking my whole life, but my primary mode has always been on pavement. On the surface, MTB and road biking look a lot alike – wheels, brakes, a skinny seat, etc. – but truly they are worlds apart. MTB has a completely different vibe.

Let me try to describe it for you. On a road bike, your goals generally revolve around getting from Point A to Point B, usually as fast as possible. The ultimate ride involves reducing friction, avoiding obstacles (& cars!) and achieving something as close to flight as possible. In fact, a lot of people describe the thrill of on-road cycling as something akin to the freedom of flying.

Now switch your mindset to mountain biking. You’re in the middle of the woods. The twisting & undulating nature of the trail, not to mention the rocks, stumps and trees, make going fast mostly impossible. Frequently, you lose traction due to the mud or a hill, the bike stops and you flop over to one side. Maintaining traction means keeping your pedals moving steadily, and keeping your wheels in contact with the earth.

On the MTB, it’s all about being in the moment, choosing a safe path, as you move gracefully along the trail. The image I got on both my rides was more about caressing the earth, vs. flying over and by.

After my confidence returned, I realized I had gained a higher level of respect for the trail and the bike. I was coming to appreciate the difficulty of this new sport, but having had a glimpse of the exhilaration and tranquility it can offer me, I knew I’d be hooked.

On the drive home, I opened the windows, turned up the radio, and basked in a perfect mix of sunshine, endorphins and old songs that somehow sounded completely new.

Artificial Intelligence: I’ll Take Mine with Extra Cheese (Part 2)

I wrote Part 1 of this post with a warning about the potential future danger of a monolithic artificial intelligence, vs. a distributed self-regulating model:

In my view, AI-driven intelligent agents should be experts in narrow fields, can share or sell their expertise in real-time micro transactions, and be subject to the control of human arbiters of right and wrong. My ideal model provides increased sharing of diverse sources of knowledge, with self-regulating biological models, including, and centered-around, human minds.

The movies have done a great job of showing us what doomsday looks like. Conversely, you need look no further than your own body or backyard to see what the bio diversity model looks like – we are all miraculous products of it.

But if you’re a smallish company, what can you do to combat the likes of Google, IBM or Amazon? What are the organizing principles that will let you compete and create a sustainable competitive advantage vs. those behemoths?

(By the way, I’m writing this because I’m a champion for the underdog, a believer in Small is Beautiful, and I want to put my money where my mouth is.)

Here’s how I would compete:

  1. Partner with the big guys. Not just to keep your enemies close, but because they will be players in pretty much any future scenario, and they’re always willing to partner and share technology with innovators. Plus, there’s always the buy-out scenario.
  2. Pick a niche or two and exploit the heck out of it:
    • I think Automotive is great. I wrote about Google’s play in this market. Turns out they’re also doing Android for cars. But the race is far from over. I predict we’ll be spending more and more time in our cars, and more of that time will be connected time.
    • I really like the idea of building expertise (and tools & services) to serve businesses that are creating branded virtual agents. Domino’s Dom and Alaska Airlines’ Jenn are great examples. Even though Siri is a general-purpose assistant, she’s not for everyone. As will attest, his cuff has 4 kilowatts of DAF! Kidding aside, these examples indicate that real companies (and artists) think there are opportunities for creating lasting relationships via these devices/services, and there may well develop an ecosystem of virtual agents, some general purpose and some with the domain expertise of a Dom or a Jenn.

But what about the argument that Google, IBM and the others have deep pockets and can afford to buy customers and wait a long time? How to compete?

Well, Dom and Jenn are already using one potentially successful approach. Getting their software into the marketplace for small up-front fees, and hopefully a revenue share, in exchange for capturing the transaction data.

You have to cover your up-front costs, taking a rev-share is like syndication dollars for an actor (potentially very juicy); but I think the real money – the IP – is in the data. Owning (or sharing) rights to the customer interactions, not for advertising, but for behavioral analysis and making your own systems smarter, is the goldmine here.

If I were the developer of Dom, I would scrutinize every data point about every transaction so I could make Dom the all-knowing, all-seeing virtual G-d of pizza. This is how to increase valuation over time, valuation that will enable you to play with the big fellas.

In my next post, I’m going to address the big craze at CES – wearables – specifically, health and fitness gadgets, and why I’ll be betting heavily on them.

Hover Chair

Skynet Marshmallow Bumper Bots – Sign Me Up!

I loved The Oatmeal’s recent tour of Google’s Self-driving Car.

Before I tell you why, I just want to say, the whole conversation and debate about whether this technology is safe, or desirable, or whatever, is so first-world! So many kids in Africa would kill for a $134 bicycle just to get to school, and we United States-ians are debating Uber vs. Tesla vs. the Skynet Marshmallow Bumper Bot??

So, why am I so in love with these cute little cars? Let me count the ways:

  1. Who doesn’t like marshmallows? There’s only one word of the four that’s at all objectionable. And Skynet is coming, whether you like it or not.
  2. Am I the only one who hates being stuck in traffic? Brake. Accelerate. Brake. Accelerate. Lane Change. It’s mind-numbing. The bus is way better, but it won’t come pick me up when I summon it. (And give me Bing loyalty points for watching the ads?)
  3. My friend Neil remarked one time that a car is nothing more than a chair with a cup-holder and a stereo. I don’t know why that’s relevant, but think of the opportunities for Buy-N-Large.
  4. I have way better things to do with my time than drive a car. Reading. Writing. Shaving. (I once got pulled over for distracted driving cuz I was SHAVING. Sheesh!)
  5. To mention just a few.

The accident thing is certainly troublesome, according to The Oatmeal:

Even if in a few years self-driving cars are proven to be ten times safer than human-operated cars, all it’s going to take is one tragic accident and the public is going to lose their minds. There will be outrage. There will be politicizing. There will be hashtags.

On the one hand we have the Bumper Bots 10x safer than human drivers (for argument’s sake). On the other hand, impaired, distracted, even shaving drivers who kill a fellow driver, cyclist or pedestrian. But we’ve allowed that to continue for years, why?

I think it’s because we can understand and assign blame in the human case – even with alcohol. We’ve all been there. We didn’t mean to do it. We tried to avoid it. In the Google case, technology is perfect, isn’t it? Why did you fail me, Father?

Even that issue isn’t a deal-breaker for me. I know it’ll be solved, cuz I was at an indoor trampoline park the other day. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. But some poor insurance company wrote a policy for them, ha.

I think my last word on this topic is that the cuteness and lack of turbo-chargers on the Marshmallow Bots really appeal to me. It resets the conversation about the value and desirability of cars: safe, reliable transportation, rather than status symbols or road-rage macho death machines.

I will summon mine with a double short cappuccino in a mug not a cup! One raw sugar and a spoon served on the side. And please don’t spill it, Marshmallow Bot.

I’m ready for the future.

Facebook’s New Data Policy and How to Protect Yourself

I wrote previously about my concerns with the soon-to-be implemented Facebook Data Policy. I had even planned to call this entry, “My New Year’s Resolution: Get Off Facebook.” But I’ve changed my mind as I spent more time researching and thinking about the policies.

My concern began with the broad coverage in November of Facebook’s planned January 30 data policy update. Two topics raised alarm bells: commercial rights to photographs shared on FB, and the use of location data to serve location-specific ads. Since I’m not a commercial photographer – I don’t require exclusive rights to my photos – my main concern is with location data.

My issue with the location data is not that the intent of the collection, which is to provide FB with ad revenue and me with geo-relevant advertising. Since I’m generally ignoring ads, I wouldn’t benefit from ads that know my location anyway.

What I am worried about is my data falling into the wrong hands. In a post-Snowden world, we have to weight the benefits of data shared, against the risk of discovery of our data by unfriendly parties. Do we really want our church-going habits (or lack thereof!) or visits to Vegas scrutinized in some foreign capital?

So why have I decided to keep using Facebook? Well, it’s an important means of communication for me both personally and professionally, and I like the community I’ve built there. Also, my whole family – including my dog! – are there.

Instead of turning it off, I’m going to alter my usage and use FB in a new context. I’ll describe it for you, so you can make a more informed decision about your own usage.

  • I will continue to use Facebook at home
  • I will use Facebook on my mobile devices – but with location-based services TURNED OFF (I will explain this below)
  • I will use WordPress, Twitter, SMS and LinkedIn (plus the old standby, email!) as my primary comms channels, minus location-based services

The big red switch, that individual users still control, is called Location-based Services (LBS). If you haven’t spent some time learning about how it works on your devices, and setting it to reflect your preferences, I urge you to do so now.

LBS is the process by which your phone continuously publishes its location (i.e. your location) to the apps running on your phone, and to your network provider (AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.) On most internet-connected devices, you have three choices for location settings: On, Off, or App-Specific.

LBS On is what FB and other ad-dependent vendors would like you to use. Don’t! This is the most invasive setting, and allows the app vendors to determine whether to collect and how to use your data. In a worst-case scenario, they collect your GPS data whenever your phone moves, store that data with or without your personal information (name, address) and then accidentally share that data with an unfriendly entity.

I recommend LBS Off by default, and turned on for trusted or critical apps only. With this setting, your GPS data will not be shared with your app vendors (e.g. FB), though your network provider (e.g. AT&T) may still collect it.

What will you be giving up? Well, the first thing is that Siri either won’t work, or will have limited functionality. Like when you say, “Siri, where’s the nearest Starbucks?” Siri won’t have a frame of reference to answer the question. If you lose your phone, the Find My iPhone app won’t work. And when you use Bing or Google to get directions, you may have to manually input your starting address.

Most phones allow you to switch LBS ON for some apps only, so your phone finder and mapping apps can work, but other apps will be suppressed. This is the setting I recommend.

A related question for a future entry: While I can limit the sharing of my physical location by turning off LBS on my mobile devices, who is tracking my Internet browsing habits, and can I limit the collection and use of that data?