Wednesday, February 27, 2008

30 and counting...

Growing up, I heard the adage, "With age comes wisdom", more often than I could count. Any argument or difference of opinion with my parents would eventually end with this statement, which would preclude any future debate on my part. I would be lying if I'd not admit that I was looking forward to getting older, so I could have the upper hand over someone else. I am older now...

What my parents didn't tell me was with the wisdom, age brought with it some hidden gifts - aching joints, funky food cravings, insomnia, stress (work, personal, 3rd party) - gifts that keep giving even when I am really not in the mood for taking! I should look on the bright side though; according to a colleague of mine, I have it good - his in-laws live with him :))

I lost my squash match last night, and it wasn't one of those matches that I had a good feeling about as I stretched to relieve my sore joints. Dumb mistakes and daft strategy (if you could call it that) were my undoing, but on the flip side, I tried my best to enjoy my time on the court. I don't know what to attribute this to but I have vowed to enjoy everything I do. You know what, I'm going to call extracting pleasure out of my activities the New Year resolution for 2008.

It took a lot of effort, but I have affected a change in my work schedule - I don't get in much after 10:30, and don't stay around after 6:30. When I am at my desk though, I am fixated on my tasks, I am prompt with email, on time for meetings, all in an effort to shutdown my work brain once I am out of Zune HQ. Not having a laptop that connects to Microsoft is a true blessing, and I'm going to try my hardest to not change that situation.

Another sure consequence of growing up - most of your friends enter a second phase of their life. People get married, they move away, they have less time to interact with you because all their time is spent in nourishing a new relationship, one that will hopefully see them through their life. It's interesting isn't it - when you start working, your friends act as a buffer for the stress that work induces; once you settle into work, you use work as a buffer to offshoot the flux in your personal life. More evidence to the fact that the tide is forever turning.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Studios Try to Save the DVD

Hey Blu-Ray won, but Hollywood isn't really celebrating, is it?

"But the victory of Sony’s new Blu-ray high-definition disc over a rival format, Toshiba’s HD DVD, masks a problem facing the studios: the overall decline of the DVD market. Domestic DVD sales fell 3.2 percent last year to $15.9 billion, according to Adams Media Research, the first annual drop in the medium’s history. Adams projects another decline in 2008, to $15.4 billion, and a similar dip for 2009.

So instead of celebrating the Blu-ray format — which remains a nascent business — the studios are scrambling to introduce an array of initiatives aimed at propping up the broader market. Some efforts, like the addition of new interactive features and changes in how DVDs are packaged and promoted, are intended to prevent further market erosion while nurturing Blu-ray."

I'll tell you what will save the DVD - lower prices. I bought Transformers as a Secret Santa gift for $19.99 - that's day light robbery!! If a DVD costed $5.99 and a Blu-Ray disc costed $7.99, I promise you this, the movie studios wouldn't be able to keep up with demand. If the plan backfires, I'll... It won't backfire, I'm cocksure!!

The format will be re-energized, if only the studios execs would relinquish their greed, just a tad bit...

What Consumer Technology Companies Can Learn From Apple Product Launches

This excerpt from the article reminded me of something I read in the forward of Emotional Design. The author remarked on the close connection between aesthetic appeal and perceived performance by using the example of a freshly detailed car; when we are just done washing and waxing our car, it seems to drive smoother, quieter even...
"Even the font choices in Apple’s user documentation and manuals are carefully selected. By crafting a uniform design identity not just for the core product, but also for all ancillary materials, Apple builds a tangible expectation of superior performance and value."
The truth is, there is no change in the car's performance, and the cleaner design of Apple's products don't make them any better than the competition. What makes people continue to buy Apple's products is that a discretionary purchase (anything costing more than $199) is not based on logic and reason - it's based on perception and visceral appeal, which Apple evokes in droves.

This need to draw the user to products is slowly permeating into the product lines of other hardware manufacturers too - Lenovo, Dell, HP, dare I say Microsoft, are all learning from Apple and catching up. It's a great time to be a consumer right now because when manufacturers compete for my attention, I WIN!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Facebook loses a few bitches | The Register

Is Facebook going the way of most Web 2.0 sites, especially the ones that attempt to get us whimsical individuals network socially? Do you even remember myspace?

"Facebook has suffered its first drop in monthly users, according to numbers from web analytics outfit Nielsen Online.

Five per cent fewer people in the UK visited the site in January compared to the previous month. A total of 400,000 seem to have become bored with the social network and didn't bother to return.

A year earlier Facebook was still growing rapidly, despite the usual seasonal dip experienced online."

Considering that Zune is investing money into and marketing the "Social" experience via, I can't help but ask the question - is this investment sound? What do we turn to when the users change their minds and divert their attention to the new fad?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Microsoft's Acquisition of Danger Inc.

I read in the news yesterday that Microsoft has begun talks to acquire the maker of the Software platform that powers, among a bunch of devices, the T-Mobile Sidekick. I should have expected an acquisition along these lines; Microsoft's strategy over the last couple years has been to increase revenues via acquisition, not in-house innovation. Rather than dismiss this as an inevitable acquisition, I began thinking along a different tack - what's to become of the Sidekick 3 now that Danger is going to be a Microsoft company?

There is no doubt that Danger will continue to innovate under its new management, but it remains to be seen whether the eco-system that depends on Danger's s/w platform will continue to the latest and greatest s/w bundles from Danger. There is a possibility that Danger does some work exclusively for Microsoft; some of its work might be leveraged by the Windows Mobile team to improve the platform. Or the acquisition can go sour, and Danger will flounder under Microsoft. What gives me hope is the counter-example of an acquired company that thrived after merging with Microsoft. That counter-example is Bungie, a case in point of a team of individuals that worked wonders while under the Microsoft umbrella.

We might be headed into a new M&A path at Microsoft - the Juggernaut acquires a company yet lets it operate independently but under the auspices of the larger corporation. The guaranteed flow of capital investment spurs the newly acquired entity to innovate with renewed vigor, and Microsoft peppers the fruits of the new entity's labors in product lines that can directly benefit from the work. The rumor mills are rife with talk of Microsoft finally realizing that in order to succeed in niche consumer markets, it's not sufficient to have just a s/w platform strategy. The $$ lie in marrying cool software ideas with an appealing hardware device; a device with both h/w and s/w merits brings in not only revenues but invaluable mind-share. The Microsoft brand is already gaining traction in the consumer market via the successful launches of the X-Box and Zune. It remains to be seen if the company seizes this opportunity to make further inroads into the consumer electronics market, which at this point is ruled by Sony and Apple.

To quote the article:
Terms of the purchase were not disclosed. The founders of Danger previously worked at Apple as engineers before leaving to found the company. Some see this is a response to the Apple's recent success:

Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies of Campbell, said the acquisition provides further evidence that Microsoft is mirroring the thinking of Apple, which has married software and hardware to make simple, fashionable consumer products like the iPod and iPhone.

"Sometime in the last two years Microsoft fundamentally woke up and realized that even though they're a software company, they had to use hardware to control their destiny"
Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time - Laugh Lines - Humor - New York Times Blog

For every positive quality in a person, there is a negative side lurking in the shadows, or so this little table indicates. Great for Monday morning positivity :))

Saturday, February 09, 2008

What Microsoft needs is Focus

I couldn't agree more with this paragraph from an opinion piece in the latest Businessweek.
"Had Microsoft kept its focus on its core business, this might not have happened. Instead, your efforts on the Web have tended to focus more on bending the Web to your will than making your software enhance it.

Take Microsoft Office. If someone took it away from me, I could get by using a Web-based office suite like Google Docs and Spreadsheets, or Zoho and others like it. You should have had Office on the Web five years ago. Meanwhile, as Web-based upstarts were quietly invading this turf, you've been wasting time, effort, and attention trying to be a consumer electronics company, a digital media company, and now an online advertising company. Before long you'll probably want to sell me telephone and TV service, too. Enough with the identity crisis! Microsoft is a software company. Everything else is superfluous."
I wonder if the Steve that needs to listen is listening, or watching the other Steve that has taken his company to new heights. The only common trait of both Steves - they are both going to leave an indelible mark on the individual companies they spearhead. To continue quoting the article (it's very well written by the way)
Buy It and Spin It Off

It all sounds very misguided, how you say that by spending all that money on Yahoo you can grow so much bigger, when what you really need is to be smaller.

But since it's clear that I'm not going to change your mind about buying Yahoo, here's what you should do: Once you close the deal, package Yahoo with your online services division, the entertainment and devices division (yes, the Xbox, too), and spin the whole thing off.

Remember that bit about focus? This would help you get it back. Put all those things that Microsoft isn't very good at, put them in a box with Yahoo and cut the apron strings. Sure, keep an equity stake, even a majority. But this formidable new entity would function best outside the Windows-centric reservation. If this new company's plans don't coincide perfectly with some future set of features coming to Windows, so be it.

The alternative, if you force these businesses to fester within Microsoft, is that these businesses will always play second fiddle to Windows—and fail to meet their potential.

This new entity is going to have to be nimble to compete with Google, Facebook, and probably one, two, or five other companies we haven't heard of yet. With luck you'll have enough time to whip the whole thing into fighting shape before it's too late. That's assuming it's not too late already.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Was turning 30 a life altering event?

To those who haven't figured this out yet, I turned 30 on September 13, 2007. People make a big deal about turning 30, but honestly, I didn't initially get what everyone was talking about. Age is just a number, isn't it? A birthday is just another day - the sun rises, the wind blows (a sea breeze), the sun sets, the wind blows some more (a land breeze). Right? For the most part...

Subconsciously though, the fact that another decade of my life had passed me by slowly began to dawn on me. The decade most instrumental in determining the future course of my life was behind me, and begged some reflection. What had I accomplished? How would I like to remember these years? Was I any happier today than I was when I turned 20? Was I happy with the status quo or was it time to make a change? These questions have haunted me the last couple months.

One thing is certain - if the last decade was one of growth, this decade is going to be one of change. My friends started noticing changes in me when I returned from India in October, I decided to enter a committed relationship which till a few months ago wasn't even a consideration, but the biggest change in this new decade has been the dialing back at work. I have always put work ahead of everything else over the last six years at Microsoft, but this is all about to change. I'd like to preface this with the fact that I have no regrets; my time at Microsoft has been a rewarding experience. Reviews - good or bad - aren't reason to love or hate someone else; this dialing back has nothing to do with my performance at work. I simply want more from life now, don't want to be a worker bee any more than I need to be, and enjoy the real pleasures of life. Taking an afternoon off to idle away in the sunshine, go skiing on a weekday evening, sit beside a sick friend, speak to Gouri through an afternoon, and read my favorite blogs so I am abreast with the happenings of my interest. To Life then...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Apple updates iPhone and iPod Touch

I found this paragraph from the NYTimes Tech blog rather interesting:
“Second, Apple appears confident of demand that it is not using this moment to lower prices on the existing models. But then again, Apple is very good at capturing the money from the price-insensitive fans who need to have the very latest. After the uproar over the $200 cut in iPhone prices last year, I would think it will want to be delicate in its pricing moves.”
If history is anything to go by, the number of price-insensitive customers (not necessarily fans) of Apple products has been growing quarter-on-quarter. I wonder what will happen when this “crowd’s” numbers start to decline, which will be an inflection point in Apple’s product pricing strategy. As things stand currently, Apple continues to make hefty profits on its hardware, there seems to be no dearth of buyers wanting Apple hardware, which pushes their quarterly earnings higher, which means they invest more in building new hardware. Lather, Rinse, Repeat…

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Hail the Anti-Social Manoj

What started out as just a fad has now become a problem - I just don't have the inclination to participate in social activities any more. If my time in India, both in October and January, is a harbinger of times to come, I need to do something to reverse this anti-social streak. I've been sleeping earlier, not been on facebook much, have little desire to talk on the phone, am getting more involved in solo activities like running and biking, haven't really gone out partying since I have been back - the list goes on and on and ...

This phase could be attributed to the shitty weather in Seattle since I've been back. Wait, I was in Bombay where the weather was smashing; why then did I not want to do anything much except sit around and watch cricket? Hmm, identifying the problem is half the battle won. Good thing there is an easy way to *start* fixing this problem - stop typing, get up, shower and bounce out of the house. Time to fill out the prescription.