Category Archives: Microsoft

First Encounters with Internet Technology

The following post is my essay I submitted for peer review for my Coursera course, Internet History, Technology, and Security by Charles Severance. The question to be answered: Write an essay about how you first encountered the Internet or an earlier networking technology. Describe the technologies you were using, some of the activities you did “on line”, and tell us how having a new form of communication changed the way you think about the world.

The first two weeks of the course have been an enjoyable stroll down technology memory lane. If you are interested I believe you can still get in the course. Here is my essay:

I was a young chemist sparked by the discovery of computer programming at the end of my college career and then ignited with the purchase of an Apple II computer in 1979. My obsession with this new computational freedom motivated me to open my own computer store with a college buddy in 1980.

Scientific Frontiers Grand Opening 1981

Computer Store Looks to Future

I was programing on an HP 85 and we sold mostly CP/M based computers. Commodore emerged as our main microcomputer product line. A product that we tried to sell which I totally believed in was the “The Source”, it may have been the first online consumer service. Readers Digest believed in this enough to pay 6 million for the service in 1980. It was touted as a self-help service with a Google type dream search of that time. Access to the UPI newswire and conceptually encyclopedia type information had me believing it would change the world. However, technology was based on 300 or maybe 1200 baud acoustic modems with very few local call options. The cost per line of knowledge never built an acceptable ROI, but I do believe we saw the future. I still have one of the coffee mugs that we gave away for promotion.Source Mug

During the same period of time when I owned the computer store I travelled to Las Vegas to attend “Comdex”, pretty sure it was the fall of 1981. I was mostly interested in the battle lines that were forming between Apple and this new IBM PC. But at that show I remember checking out the Xerox Star workstation, famous for presenting the concept of the Graphical User Interface. I was impressed but did not get it. I remember scoffing at the idea of linking your hand via a mouse to activity on the computer screen. Oh well, I was not as imaginative as the Steve Jobs who did see the potential.

After the computer store and a fling with the Oil Shale boom and bust, my career moved to Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Valley, in 1987. I was in heaven, driving through the bay area at that time was like perusing a live PC Magazine. By then I believed in Windows and actually did a lot with HP’s New Wave interface. The Bay area was exciting up until the earthquake in 1989. That combined with the effect of California’s Proposition 13 on public school funding caused me to request that HP move my young family to Cincinnati in 1990. I was a systems engineer supporting the LIMS and LAS market segment, that is Laboratory Information and Instrumentation Management which matched well with my chemistry background. My early viewpoint of the “Internet” was shaped by how great the open access to DOS and Windows apps via the BBS services had become. Do you remember the “Wildcat BBS” software that was the engine for most of those services?

Access to the BBS services in the early 90’s was exploding into viable business opportunities. I used to maintain a “Best of the BBS Apps” floppy disk where I would store the coolest PC tools and screen savers of the day. I would always be asked by my customers for the latest copy of that diskette. The Hayes Smartmodem was reliable, affordable and fast enough to open the door for the geeks of the day to explore the potential of this new world of information. This reminds me of the second technology opportunity that “I did not get”. It was probably late 1992 when a co-worker of mine in Cincinnati was involved with a BBS out of Dayton, OH. He asked me one day if I would be interested in an opportunity to link his BBS to ARPANET a connection he had via a friend at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. There was some cost involved and as I remember access was limited to a small number of users, but my question was more about what value ARPANET would provide. I could envision the potential of public access to what the academic community was playing with and open source collaboration seemed to be alive and well. I didn’t see how a path through ARPANET was going to help. But it wasn’t about ARPANET it was about seeing the potential of what soon became the World Wide Web, WWW. We were actually talking about developments taking place in this arena since we were playing with the early concept of HTML and the MOSAIC project in our X-Terminal environment.

It is fun to look back and second guess. There were lots of winners and losers. Remember Ashton-Tate’s dBASE or VisiCalc? I never thought Microsoft would amount to anything and with respect to the Internet they really didn’t. I remember how brilliant I thought Bill Gates approach was to the Internet in wanting to carve out a cost per transaction. Trouble is he never could gain control of the connection. Oh well, it was fun writing this assignment for my Coursera course “Internet History, Technology, and Security” and I am definitely interested in how this peer review grading is going to work.

I’m Going to Missouri S&T

I would like for my blogging community to know that I will be changing jobs as of February 1, 2013. My new position will be Chief Information Officer for Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, MO. sandtLogoThe official press release will explain it more if you are interested. This is exciting for me because I am returning to my science and technology roots. It should bring a new flavor to this blog as I transition not only from private to public but from primarily Apple to Microsoft.

It was a great privilege to answer God’s call to help George Fox University, but I sense a new call to help our country graduate more scientists and engineers. Moving to Missouri will be a dramatic change as will the opportunity to lead a well-established STEM-based university. Science and technology is my passion so I couldn’t be more excited especially with an opportunity to get back into support of significant research activity.

The New PC Revolution

I was intrigued by my own response to the Apple product announcements yesterday. How does that work? Well, I allowed my own technical interest to play out. I watched the product announcement video, I critiqued the Jobs-less Apple presentation as any Apple fan might do. But then I stepped back and evaluated what I had seen and what my gut reactions had been. And I believe I sensed a turning point similar to what I witnessed when the PC finally emerged as the option for the masses back in the early eighties.

Apple’s new products are beautiful and carry an even higher “cool factor”, but I think the difference now is the status difference that emphasizes affluence over practicality. I caught myself asking “why do we really need such a thin iMAC with a retina display that will cost approximately $2000. Sure some power users can justify the specifications, but I sensed a new arrogance from Apple, one that says we only care or cater to the affluent buyer and if you have concerns about being locked into our platform then tough, we don’t need you. Why haven’t I felt that before.

  • Was it because the Apple products were so superior that cost was not a factor.
  • Was it the fact that I don’t really see a difference with the retina display.
  • Was it the lack of attention to even offer low cost options.
  • Was it the $329 entry price for the iPad Mini.

Yes, probably so.

If I wear my Higher Education hat, I start to question whether the recent trend of students preferring Apple laptops is still healthy in these turbulent financial times. I see the student with a white macbook as the Kmart shopper and the those with aluminum models the Neiman Marcus shopper. I see our entitled students as being concerned about this. Nothing wrong, this is who we are, but I sense that the split in the road is now pronounced. Apple only wants the high road and the profit margins that come from that market segment. Do we in Higher Education need to shift our focus to the affordable consumer market that appears to be dominated by Google based platforms?

I think the door is still slightly open for Microsoft to hold onto the corporate workplace, but it won’t be because of an Office Suite but can be about professional applications. Let’s accept the fact that a Pad computing device is more then adequate for working with today’s cloud based information. I believe we will see affordable smart computing devices appear in the hands of the consumer masses worldwide. This is a movement that redefines the Personal Computer, “PC”.  And with it, we will have an even greater need for techies to maintain computing sanity.

Remembering Windows 3.1

When I saw this article “Windows 3.1 Twenty Years Later” from PC Magazine today, I asked myself, where was I and how did Windows 3.1 influence my life.


Microsoft Windows 3.1

Microsoft Windows 3.1


I was working for Hewlett-Packard and the Windows based PC was our standard computing environment. Yes, we were using it to access UNIX and RTE based systems but we were also developing products that relied on Windows. And the hopes for a more stable Windows were very real for us System Engineers. We had been propping up Windows 2.0 then 3.0 with HP’s NewWave, and that computing life was not stable. We had analytical instrumentation workstation software running on Windows that had strict requirements.

Opening multiple windows gave us the false illusion that we were running multiple programs at the same time. No we were just using the windows as placeholders, but Win 3.1 gave us hope. The Windows Registry was born giving us nerds the power over the general users. Screen savers spawned an industry of gimmicky apps that in some ways rivaled todays app store. Our customers were so excited when we would pass along the latest new screen saver apps that we had pulled off some BBS. I guess Win 3.1 also ushered in the Golden Age of Microsoft. We then got Win 3.11 or Windows for Workgroups. Remember how amazing the concept of sharing files between PCs was. We knew that true multi-tasking was on the horizon.

Oh well, that was fun, just felt like sharing those memories.

The Hype about Desktop Virtualization

Sitting in Phoenix Airport with no WiFi so why not write a post. Just finished up an excellent CIO Summit put on by INX. I always find it valuable to attend CIO summits typically driven by key technology vendors. This summit was excellent for gauging where I stand with respect to our IT services compared to the corporate sector. The focus of the summit was virtualization, cloud computing and leveraging social networking. An excellent keynote from Erik Qualman, author of “Socialnomics” reminded us how important it is to understand the effect social networks have on our customer’s decision process. Also, Carlos Dominguez, Cisco, reconfirmed this, especially pressing the value of Twitter for news and research. It was interesting that half of the CIOs present do not use Twitter. We also were treated to an excellent talk by Morten Hansen, Author of “Collaboration”.

One of the key themes from the sponsoring vendors was desktop virtualization, VDI. Most all of the entities represented are well into server virtualization but the desktop is obviously the next problem/opportunity that the INX partners would like for us to be more concerned about, and most are. I was actually looking forward to checking into this more as well. I have not been able to justify an ROI for virtualizing my desktops so I was interested to find out why it is such a hot topic. Turns out the issue is primarily based on reducing the cost and complexity for supporting a Microsoft Windows desktop environment. That is why it did not catch my eye, you see, we have been moving toward a browser based computing environment with little or no critical dependance upon any desktop clients. This has been partly due to strategic moves such being primarily on Apple through the university, going with PeopleSoft and leveraging Google enterprise resources. I am now motivated to find out just how dependent we may be on desktop clients. Sure does make the adoption of ChromeComputing look a lot smarter then VDI.

PC Market Changes May be Accelerating

There seems to be an uptick of articles referencing the changing slice of the micro computer pie held by the traditional computer vendors along with info about declining sales. Obviously millions of iPads hitting the market has some affect on this. But I thought I would relay a more local consumer trend that I am observing. In our higher education community where I tend  to be the technology sounding board, I will get lots of feedback from the early device adopters. So I have witnessed many iPad adopters convey their positive experiences. This was validated for me yesterday by the questions I received after giving a talk about consumer technology trends to the local Rotary Club.

What I am starting to hear from these iPad adopters is that they now want to replace their Personal Computer partly due to life cycle timing but mostly because they want a new computer. They are showing new found technology confidence that they have gained from their iPad experience. And they are primarily talking about switching to Apple for the first time. They get it. They believe that there can be a simpler solution and of course they equate that to their positive experience with the Apple iPad.

I throw this observation out because it may help to signal significant change that is about to hit the personal computer industry. Household computing needs have been satisfied for many years by the consumer PC micro computer lines. These PCs were positive experiences for months or maybe years, but they also inflicted a lot of pain upon those users. And the reality was that there was no need for that type of computing platform to satisfy the simple desires for Internet access or home management. But that was the only solution available. So now, what if this new pad device does receive a public blessing. What platform do you think is going to lose market share?

Reflections & Migration to Google went Well

I’m at MSP waiting for my flight back to Portland and had time to reflect on the week. Last weekend we migrated all of our University (faculty, staff & students) to Google gmail. All indications are that the migration went really well. An excellent value proposition, we essentially get Unified Communications with serious email resources and Google gets target marketing data and an excellent chance for lifetime customers.

The reason for the trip to Minnesota was our annual CCCU Technology Conference, that is the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, which is a very good cross section of small to medium size institutions of Higher Education. I gave a presentation entitled “Will the iPad Change Higher Education?”. The key message was how GFU was going to support the iPads that some of our freshman would choose from our “Connected Across Campus” program. Unfortunately my presentation was mostly about how we would deal with the deficiencies of the iPad, but we did get to a more open discussion. E-Textbooks are not happening, and cloud collaboration should be a key to the future of iPad type devices.

General networking discussions leaned toward frustration and disappointment with Microsoft’s product strategy. How Microsoft’s arrogance prevents them from being innovative, but also how Apple’s arrogance is starting to look a lot more like Microsoft. Hmmm, history always seems to repeat itself. Interesting observations about the leadership of these 2 companies. Microsoft’s hope is that Ballmer will leave. Apple’s fear is that Jobs will leave.

Just Talking About our Student Consumer Influence

I just wanted to offer a bit more clarification for what influence I believe is changing. That was the loss of influence directly related to the influence attributed to the consumers we produce, our students. Early on those students represented the most significant demographic that would influence technology purchasing. Back then they were the emerging work force being hired by companies that would consider investing in technology. College students were a privileged class that had access to computing, they were influential.

This has played out as I mentioned with Apple’s early focus on K-12 which has probably provided significant influence for the massive general consumer market of non-professionals that they are doing so well with right now. Apple’s success in Higher Ed in recent years is a fortunate by-product of their overall marketing strategy. But Apple is not targeting the iPad for Higher Ed meaning our students are not influential for the success of that product line.

Microsoft is slightly different in that they did aggressively pursue the college student initially and are now realizing the long term benefit. It was critical for Microsoft that our college students were given access to MS Office and that they carried that influence on to the business community. Today that influence is still coming from those old students, but not the new ones. Microsoft is trying to hold on to their most significant revenue stream in business and government with those same students now firmly entrenched in those companies. Microsoft’s focus is on their Business Productivity Online Suite, BPOS, based on SharePoint requiring MS Office. New students coming into these companies are not going to dislodge such a significant business suite infrastructure with products like iWorks or Google Apps. Making some of those features available to Live EDU is a by-product that Microsoft is forced to provide in response to Google.

This is not a negative against these companies, it is good business on their part. I’m just identifying this trend for what it is. There are other examples that relate to corporate philanthropy and influence that academic research may still hold, but my example is just about the changing student consumer influence that we in IT have been a part of.

Now we in IT leadership still need to consider how our influence may be beneficial to our institution. And one of the major influences today is that offered for managing our information. Google is the most interested in this influence because they want our consumers (students). Because today they are the most likely demographic to consider using this service after graduation and are most likely to influence their future professions. The real take away here is that Google is trying to influence the creation of a new market while Microsoft is trying to hold on to one.

By the way, we migrated our university email to gmail today for my IT department so that we could properly pilot it in preparation for moving all university email to Google at the end of the month. I am far more impressed then I anticipated. We have supported all Google Apps except email for a year now. What we now have by adding email is as fine a Unified Communications Solution as I could ever buy.

Higher Education’s Influence is a Changin

It is obvious that Apple has not been catering to Higher Education with their shift to the new iPad consumer line. And it is also clear that Microsoft must try to hold on to the markets they still control; Business and Government, hence, not a lot of concern for Higher Ed. Of course we have always known that there is no money in Higher Ed, but we always had influence. What is now apparent is that Higher Education has lost its influence. The influence born from the student computing experience that would shape their technology buying habits as they moved into the work force. Why exactly has this happened and what might the long term effect be?

There is no business, marketing or economic reason for this change. I think the change is driven the fact that students no longer consider the computer an advantage. Early on it was critical for the tech industry to gain academic influence. School was the first exposure to the wonders and power of computing. Apple chose to control K-12 which may now be an influence fueling their success. Microsoft chose to control business which required influence from Higher Education, valid reason for their current control of the MS Office, now SharePoint, dependent business world. Some tried to gain influence solely by hardware opportunity such as IBM and Sun, unfortunately their strategy had no way to maintain contact after graduation.

So is it that the student no longer considers the computer as an advantage or is it that they no longer consider the computer cool. Either way it translates to a vanishing concern by the main tech companies. The computer does not really have that much influence on learning. Trying to tie it to the optimal path to the Internet isn’t really about enhanced learning, that is about access to information which may assist learning. So what does this next period have in store for Higher Education? If Higher Ed has no influence then are we just consumers. Yes, we are just consumers of devices, however, Higher Ed does influence the flow of information. And that is why Google cares the most about us now.

Clash of the Tech Titans

I have not been in the blog posting mood for the last week which is mostly due to my recovery from getting a new hip. The new hip is fine, but the rest of the body has not gotten back to a good equilibrium until recently. So just some quick thoughts related to Apple’s Quarterly Report to get me back into the flow.

It just amazes me how quickly Apple has not just turned things around but have generated and grown new revenue streams. 8.75 million in iPhone sales for the last quarter is just flat out impressive for any consumer item. So I was reviewing the Business Insider article Microsoft’s Desperate Search for a New Market to Dominate, which did a good job of laying out what Microsoft’s revenue generating opportunities are. But then I took a look at Apple’s Product Revenue Chart compared to Microsoft’s and you realize how important market domination is, it should be an emerging market. And then look at Google’s Revenue Chart and you realize how Google will be competing for those same markets all fueled by their advertising revenue. It will be an interesting time for the tech industry’s Clash of the Titans.

Where could Microsoft Go?

I was watching the last Portland Blazer game of the season last night and they panned over to show Steve Ballmer sitting and talking with Blazer’s owner and Microsoft cofounder, Paul Allen. From the look on Ballmer’s face I couldn’t help but wonder if he might be asking Paul about options that might work for him in retirement. Maybe Paul was advising about the pros and cons of professional sports franchise ownership since Paul owns all in the NW except the Seattle Mariners. Of course the direction of this post is really headed toward the question, where is Microsoft going. Yes, time is running out for Microsoft to have any influence over the legacy of Windows and Office. It is innovate or get out of the way.

I don’t want to bash Microsoft, Windows is an operating system that will influence the next decade and MS Office obviously carries tremendous importance today, but may be the most vulnerable. I just think that it will be better for all if the Microsoft ship stays afloat and we all know where it is sailing. So what could Microsoft do? This probably comes down to dealing with the core Windows/Office and redefining their Web strategy. Now I step out of the box to toss out a few ideas.

I think Microsoft should consider locking down Windows and possibly selling their own PC. Now that is a bit radical but isn’t the XBox their most impressive product in a decade. But really, Windows has everything going for it right now except for a future. Microsoft could pull back the code, optimize it with a RISC marriage to a customized Intel Processor and sell a screaming fast PC that no longer leaves doors open for attack. Of course this would be a somewhat disruptive transition especially for their PC distributor relationships. Maybe Dell or HP would offer a strong manufacturing partnership right now. And it probably means abandoning many customers and their favorite applications. Maybe you Open Source Windows 7. I think a proprietary path could be justified. Build confidence that a Windows PC has a future and protect all other enterprise applications that are based on that. Who knows, this could open up new markets and actually be considered innovative.

The other big question would be Internet strategy. If Microsoft can protect the mother ship then they may still be able to exercise some clout with respect to selling Office related applications. But the Office clients probably need to be free and totally web enabled soon. So by selling Office I mean the enterprise areas that have Office influence like SharePoint and server applications. Bing’s greatest value right now may be to partner with Apple against Google. That said, pride may be the greatest obstacle for Microsoft to overcome. Which takes me back to Paul Allen giving Steve Ballmer some good advice about retiring.

Where is Apple Going?

Most questions lately that I am asked about Apple have to do with obvious limitations imposed by the iPad. And yes this has been well documented. The iPad could easily become the killer academic computing device, but it does not need to for another year.

Apple is currently experiencing their greatest success in adoption rate of MacBooks by universities. They really should ride that out until other market factors force them to upgrade the iPad to be a self sufficient computing device. This is a transition year for E-Textbooks so Apple does not want to put the cart in front of the horse. I also do not think Apple really knows how it will all play out. If they could force the world to always tether an iPad to a computer then they most likely would benefit greatly from that computer selection. But Apple is foremost a business that is making the smartest business decisions. They will lay the groundwork for many of the iPad needs by boosting the iPhone line. Within a year all of the iPad issues will be solved and they will begin to position the iPad as stand-alone computing device. But in that time period they will also acquire a vast number of new customers that will be primed for their next generation of computing devices that will most likely be entertainment driven. And do not underestimate the power that the eventual stand-alone iPad will have.

Apple is extremely well positioned for the technology buying trends for the future as well as for the advertising and entertainment trends. Think of the market that will be created by the many million new iPad customers who will be ready to seamlessly link their iPad into a more powerful “Entertainment” device. But that market foundation must still evolve with vast improvements to our Internet grid and lot’s of content copyright definition.

There are many who bash Apple for their proprietary agenda. But are you bashing from behind or ahead. I supported Microsoft in their rise as passionately as I may now support Apple. What I support is the technological innovation. When that ends it is time to bash the proprietary control, but during the rise I am willing to jump on board. It is OK to follow a leader if they are actually leading you to something better. Apple’s power and influence will dwarf what Microsoft was ever able to attain. However, Apple’s greatest success may be written by how they deal with their eventual leveling out.

FaceBook in Retirement Communities

Our university has a special relationship with a retirement community, Friendsview, next to campus. Plenty of mutual benefit activity with our nursing program, tech support and foster grandparent program. We helped them build a computer lab 3 years ago and it has been a glowing success primarily for their residents to use email. I just met with their tech committee and the main discussion was about moving forward. Their situation echoed my thoughts on how computing is changing. They have tried to offer computer classes to their residents, but thanks to our societal Microsoft central attitudes they ventured down the MS Office App course path. And guess what – no relevance anymore. So we had an enlightening conversation about carefully introducing their residents to FaceBook. Unfortunately there is great fear about venturing into that dangerous world of the Internet, however, I do think the time is right for them. Their community participates heavily in activities designed to improve memory or anything that helps to keep mental capacity sharp. You know, I would bet some farming responsibilities in FaceBook would be quite beneficial as an activity. But of course a simpler way to connect with their kids is the real draw, but reconnecting with old friends is why FaceBook is booming with our older population.

Apple to Bing

Apple considering using Microsoft’s Bing search engine as the default for the iPhone is a fairly straightforward business move. Apple cannot overlook the importance of mobile advertising, which is a main business process of their new Smartphone competitor Google. The actual mechanics for how the iPhone would use Bing for advertising kickbacks will be interesting.

Most of the discussion on this switch has to do with the unfortunate parting of ways for Apple and Google who have carried the flag of innovation in recent years. But I think we are also seeing a transition of players. Microsoft is still a very powerful market share asset that both Apple and Google can find valuable partnering opportunities. I think Microsoft is starting to realize the importance of these new stars. It will be very interesting to watch Microsoft court new business partnerships with Apple and Google. It may mean that Microsoft gives up on any hope for being a player in the mobile market, but it could ensure their continuing success in the laptop and desktop market.

Writing, Printing & Publishing has Changed

Document format has always been a key to control of software selection and retention. That dominance not only guaranteed Microsoft’s control of the Office Suite market but also allowed them to create a renewable market with manipulation of their format. We in tech support were forced to upgrade our MS Office Suite in order to eliminate the user hassles with their inability to open the new formats. But what about all of those great new features in MS Word that allowed us to be so much more effective writers.

The point of my post – communication has changed. Those impressive writing features in programs like MS Word are more in the way now. 20 years ago we communicated by means of a printed document, 10 years ago printed format was still important. But how many printed documents do you create today? We write for electronic distribution today and that medium handles the format for us. Benefits of MS Word have allowed for more elegant authoring in Outlook, but again, the trend is obvious. It reminds me of the advice offered in Paul McDougall’s InformationWeek article: “7 Things Microsoft Must Do in 2010”. Cut the price of Windows and free Office. I actually thought of this post while reading about competition between Apple and Google. Competition based on the relevant tech business market that Microsoft is not a part of. And I realized that Apple’s publishing tools such as iLife and iWork and even Google Apps are so much more relevant to this electronic publishing era, price is right as well.

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