Undoing Ballmer

Steve BallmerI first saw the news in a tweet from my friend Mark Twomey (@Storagezilla): Microsoft have just written off the entire Nokia handset business Steve Ballmer bought – citing this news article on Bloomberg

As usual, Mark digested this news like a surviving wild west gunfighter: shoot fast, shoot straight and without trying to untangle the “fancy talk” in Microsoft’s press release – attributed to CEO Satya Nadella:

We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem including our first-party device family,” Nadella said. “In the near-term, we’ll run a more effective and focused phone portfolio while retaining capability for long-term reinvention in mobility.

Here’s my take on it:

1) The Windows Phone business is hopelessly behind Apple and Android with no way to catch up. Nadella has known this for some time but has not been able to make this move until now.

2) Windows Phone has been a huge distraction and productivity-limiter inside Microsoft where there was a culture house of cards win phoneencouraging employees to use Windows phones at work – and discouraging them from using Apple and Android phones.  For a company with a strategy to enable mobile computing, this was a major problem because many of Microsoft’s employees were behind the mobile curve using app-deficient Windows phones. This statement is likely inflammatory, but I stand behind it.

3) There are other Ballmer screw-ups that will be under the Microscope, including Surface. This is a much bigger problem because Surface tablet PCs are decent products that have some strong customer loyalty, but have been a big disappointment financially for Microsoft. The bottom line is that nothing has done more to sour Microsoft’s most important partnerships (HP, Dell and all other PC makers) than Surface. Not even the disastrous Windows 8 operating system. Windows 8 will soon be replaced by Windows 10, but the Surface remains as a disincentive for every company Microsoft needs to help bury the memory of Windows 8. As long as this idiotic competition exists, people will question the intelligence and management decisions from Redmond.

4) Microsoft will look at all of its hardware businesses differently, including Xbox. It would not surprise me to see a sale of the Xbox hardware business with the Surface business as a sweetener. Nadella clearly sees the need to focus on dev/ops services, apps and cloud. Hardwarxbox drive repaire, even successful gaming hardware, is a distraction and Nadella knows this. Maybe that will be next July’s bombshell.

My Ubuntu epiphany – that old Dell lives again

I’ve always been a Windows user. I’ve never had problems finding the apps I needed to get the job done – and that includes audio and video production, so I’ve stuck with it and Windows has treated me well in return. FWIW, I’m definitely looking forward to Windows 8, although I probably won’t be an early adopter, preferring to wait for the first round of gotchas to get ironed out.

But in the last couple days I had a situation come up that drove me off Windows for a solution. A family member is having problems with their aging Mac and asked what they should do. My technology-tired spouse unit piped up: “Ask Marc, he has a bunch of machines lying around, he should be able to help you out”.  And of course, like a moron, I said I did and I would as long as they could use a Windows system. They were desperate and finally caved.

So I pulled the door open to the closet from hell and extracted a Dell bag from the bottom containing an old corporate system (Dell D630). I was supposed to have turned it in at work some years ago, but it had been a good friend and it looked so sad sitting there – I couldn’t have just given it to the grim reaper of corporate transition. Besides it had a bunch of source files on it from various ongoing blog concepts that I thought might be useful. Of course, once it hit the closet, it was never seen again.

All I needed to do was fire it up, clear out the old data and give it away.  As if.

CTRL+ALT+DEL  and the prompt for credentials appeared. 15 minutes later I could see this was going nowhere and so I turned to the Internet having seen references years ago for recovering XP passwords. There’s nothing quite like getting your hopes up with an Internet search to find that everything written is an insult to your intelligence. “Here’s a great tip – try logging in as Administrator!” Uhhh, yeah, I did  already as well as trying as guest, admin, petrock and several other favorites. I finally tried Ophcrack which involves downloading an ISO file on another system, burning the a CD and  booting the locked system. At this point I was in geek heaven, but it turns out that Ophcrack didn’t reveal anything on the first pass and I didn’t want to take 5 hours figuring out which hash tables I needed. It was becoming clear to me that this would cost me money if I had to replace the hard drive and buy another Windows OS license. Spending $$ was never a part of my good-family plan.

Then it hit me. Linux. Reinstall over XP and get it over with. The only problem was that I never really worked with the stuff. The last time I tried, I got it installed but never really did anything with it. The learning curve seemed too steep for something I didn’t need.  FWIW, it was experiences like that had me questioning my geek status. Anyway, I had enough awareness to know that Ubuntu had some popularity, so after verifying that with Google, I downloaded an ISO for Ubuntu, made the CD, booted it and started the installation.

OMG – was this ever the easiest installation for anything, or what?  It went flawlessly and quickly. It found all my hardware like my wireless card and gave me a list of networks to use.  I had to adjust my touchpad settings to my liking, but that was all I had to do. Damn! The distribution came with Firefox and software called LibreOffice for word processing, spreadsheets and presentation. I haven’t tried them, but they look reasonable – especially for somebody who doesn’t need them for  work.

It also came with an app called the Ubuntu Software Center, which is like an app store, but a lot of the apps in it are open source freeware apps and utilities.  There is a ton of stuff in there and after 30 minutes or so of dorking around, I figured out how it was organized and could search it with some effectiveness.

In short order I had a basic working system that looks good, performs well and does a lot of things a lot of people need a system to do. And it didn’t cost me anything except for the time it took – most of which was wrapped up in futile Windows password cracking attempts.

A pleasant surprise this morning happened when my wife mentioned she was up early and saw some stars that she wondered about. I fired up an application called Stellarium (Linux is great for scientific and educational software) that allowed me to get a picture of the night sky from any time. Amazing! A screencap from Stellarium is below.

Of course it looks better on a full screen, you can get the idea by clicking it.  Ultra-coolness.

So it turns out that this machine is suddenly fun again and I’m liking it too much to give it up to somebody that can’t possibly appreciate it. It will be back to the closet for me to find another orphaned system. FWIW, This blog post was written on my new/old Ubuntu machine. I couldn’t really tell the difference from my Windows 7 system while doing this (working in Firefox).