The Gangs of New Work

I was watching the most excellent “Gangs of New York” this weekend and something stuck in my head as it relates to the coming release of the Microsoft Surface.

Prepare for a little trip, as I am going to venture off into crazy town with this post.  Let me state now, very clearly – I have not used a Microsoft Surface.  I have passing knowledge of Windows 8.  I do not use on a daily machine yet, though I am very excited about it.  I have handled a few Windows 8 and Windows RT devices.

Back to the movie: In the opening scene, Daniel Day Lewis and Liam Neeson have at it with words, and then they have at with all manner of wicked weapons.  The point of the fight was to discern the group that can claim right to the 5 Points – where five streets came together in New York City.

Let’s draw some analogies to the computing world.  In this case, the natives led by Day Lewis, were fighting alone – we’ll call them the Apple camp.  The foreigners were led by Neeson, but in reality there were multiple groups who came to their side – 6 groups in this case.  Let’s call this the Microsoft camp with the aid of the OEMs.  To continue this analogy, the 5 Points is then the intersection of computing, gaming, content, games and apps.

Neeson loses the first go round, and thus sets up the rest of the movie.  It’s never stated clearly in the movie what events brought us to this conflict short of the soliloquy of Day Lewis tinged with xenophobic rage.  Though while the Neeson camp came with numbers, they did not triumph.

The Microsoft ecosystem, though while it had numbers, succumbed to the ferocity of the Apple onslaught.  It didn’t matter that the OEMs were willing to fight alongside Microsoft, they weren’t fighting an inspired fight.

The story moves forward a handful of years and DiCaprio (Neeson’s son) takes the lead in the movie.  His is a cause born of revenge.  Revenge is a challenging lubricant.  It doesn’t inspire others.  You will find yourself alone in your cause.  However, as DiCaprio transitions from fighting out of vengeance to fighting for a cause (specifically, ridding the 5 Points of tyranny and injustice), he begins to build his following.  He identifies a need in the population, and exploits it to achieve his specific goal.

Years of uninspired PC manufacturing was a cause born of complacency.  When it was clear that the iPad had dealt a serious blow, the reaction was that born of vengeance.  Do more of the same, and hope for a different result.  As much as it pains me to make this analogy, the Surface is DiCaprio in the third act of the movie.  How?  Keep reading.

Venturing on a bit of an orthogonal now.  Why do people love their iPads?  Why are they selling so many?  Well, they are great entertainment devices, and they allow people to accomplish most of their computing needs.  They are not full on productivity replacements.  Despite what Apple might tell you, or any of the fan boys, they are not legitimate replacements for computers.  They just aren’t.  Even Jobs intoned that people don’t need trucks.  Working on documents and spreadsheets on an iPad is not the most productive experience.  It can be done, but at a much lower productivity rate than with a proper keyboard, easy task switching.  However, the iPad did something much more critical – it inspired people.  They craved the device.

Apple talks about their iPad share, but they don’t talk about their Mac share.  They are controlling the battlefield by defining the metrics for success.  iPhones and iPads are the shiny new thing, and that’s what is being reported – and of course, they are the undisputed leader.  The reality, however, is that PC sales far outstrip iPad sales.  Many will say “for now” and they have reason to.  PCs, in their current manifestation, cannot solve the problem the iPad solves in an elegant way.

People need to stop thinking about Windows 8 tablets, and Windows 8 laptops, and Windows 8 PCs as if they are separate things.  Ballmer and company get this, and have begun referring to them as “devices.”  Devices.  This slight shift in nomenclature has the potential to tilt the battlefield back in Microsoft’s favor.  They can now claim numerical superiority.  Picture the headline – “Windows ships on 1 billion devices!”

Next orthogonal.  Have you noticed a lot of work or noise going into the Windows Phone 8 brand?  I have been out of the company long enough that I have no idea what they are doing over there.  It would not surprise me if the lack of a Windows Phone 8 brand marketing is specifically because the shift to that word – devices – is because the powers that be in big Windows (i.e the Sinofsky camp) want to report on Windows 8 licenses shipping on devices.  Remember, Windows Phone 8 is Windows 8 at its core.

So coming back to this DiCaprio as the Surface idea.  What was that all about?  Here goes…The Surface is a product that finally allows the legions of Microsoft fans to get what they want.  To get the laid back entertainment screen (apps, games, news, email), and a full up operating system for productivity work.  Let’s not forget the true killer app in Office.  It’s still very relevant.  Please don’t come at me with Google apps.  Even with our iPad, my wife still does virtually all of her work on her Macbook Air.  Why?  Convenience and productivity.

The Surface is pretty (so is DiCaprio, but that point is not relevant here).  It’s light.  Way lighter than any laptop.  It will weight just a teeny bit more than an iPad.  It’s way cooler than any laptop.  But most importantly, it is inspiring the OEMs.  It’s showing them that there is innovation and coolness left in the Windows legacy.  It’s demonstrating that the OEMs should necessarily roll over while the iPad eats their lunch.  But there’s something that Windows 8 gives me that I cannot get today – device nirvana.

Last orthogonal.  When I travel now, I have to make several screen related decisions.  iPad or Kindle Fire HD?  Kindle Fire HD or Kindle Paperwight?  Laptop or iPad?  I haven’t yet found my travel device nirvana, and it’s mostly because I am still tied to my PC.  I love having a laptop.  My 7” Fire HD is my goto device for consuming books, movies, magazines, games and the web, but I want to be inspired to create content.  I could never have written this blog post on my iPad.  Nor on my Fire HD.  Yet it took me a while to write it because I have my laptop hooked up to a big screen in my office, and as completely lame as this sounds, it feels like too much work to unhook everything and take it to the other room.  I would just as soon leave it here on my desk, because here is where I do real work.

The ability to rip a screen of an attached keyboard – exactly like the Surface – would allow me to plug in to work in my office, or take my laid back experience to the couch.  I could do my content creating while also having the ability to lighten up the device and do some content consumption.  Which brings this back to why it’s good for me.  You know who does really well in a situation like this?  The screen agnostic content provider.  Have you seen Kindle for Windows 8?  It’s in the Microsoft Store…you should check it out. <g>

I believe that Windows 8 is going to do well, though I think it’s going to take some time to get its legs.  If I were Apple, I would actually be very concerned about the reality of history repeating itself.  As Derek Sivers posted, ideas are fine, but execution matters.  Is it possible that Apple’s execution has only been great, and not brilliant?  They haven’t cracked the corp nut yet, so it’s not crazy to say that they haven’t truly capitalized on their brilliant idea by selling the majority of their devices to consumers.  Doing a version of a brilliant idea is at best a great idea, perhaps a good idea, but if executed brilliantly, well, that’s a nice outcome.  Microsoft has played that game before.  Windows (vs. Mac) and Office (vs. WordPerfect & Lotus) stand as testimony.

One of my favorite things to say is that “we are living in the future.”  I am unbelievably excited about all of the technological change that is going on right now, but I am in fact really excited about Windows 8 and what it means for the computing I do.  A Surface plus my 7” Fire HD?  That’s the lightest bag I have ever packed for any vacation.

Extra credit: super ultra mega crazy idea for Microsoft.  Allow OEMs to sell Windows 8 devices to enterprise account holding customers (this is a specific type of customer of Microsoft, and they represent a gajillion Windows licenses) without a Windows 8 OS on it.  Why?  Well, the “Microsoft tax” immediately goes away, and most of those companies have already paid for their licenses with the EA agreement (or whatever it’s called now).  As long as the device can see a System Center Server, it can be provisioned.  If I were a field person worried about iPads taking share in the enterprise, this sure would grease the skids for a bunch of Windows 8 tablets to fly off the shelves.

  • mtpfischer

    What’s the use of your 7″ Fire HD if you have a Surface in your bag? (Honest question, since doesn’t the Surface do everything the Fire HD does and more?)

  • pradeepviswav

    Better come back to Microsoft and help DiCaprio win over developers ! ! 😉

  • Mary Branscombe

    Um, doesn’t say HP & Dell already do your extra credit idea? look at corporate purchasing. only for business devices – maybe extending it to consumer tablets now they all have TPM would be an idea.

  • Haha


  • Fjl

    The iPad is a consumption device not a creation device and was never meant to replace the laptop. In my opinion the laptop/surface should not expect to replace the tablet

  • Pingback: The Microsoft Surface Is Already A Success - Mobility Digest()

  • alukard

    Interesting point of view and I like it, which is a first for me regarding your views. Kudos for not just spewing bile coz Windows 8 is different in some aspects. I’ve used windows 8 exclusively since its developer release and frankly I’ve been impressed, it has its kinks and its win some loose some moments, but nothing as a deal breaker against it.
    All I’ve waited for is for the hardware to catchup to this new beginning, they are. The surface was an awesome starting shot and now the beautiful Asus Vivo tablets are born, the cute quirky Acer W510, the impressive Lenovo yoga, and the quite special Sony Touch 20. Its a smorgasbord of fine hardware.
    Now MSFT has to really tear through the quagmire of apple hysteria and android numbers in a very agressive but inteligent way. It’s a kilimangaro climb, but im optimistic.
    Thanks for the article, it made my day.

  • Two words – “the beach.” In reality, I don’t see myself doing loads of book reading on anything larger than 7″. Watching videos on the couch or in bed is plenty adequate on 7″ HD. And of course, at sub $200, I fear a lot less in taking the Fire HD to the beach.

  • Sorry it was to long – the tl;dr version is “Microsoft has something that I believe is different enough to drive consumer demand.”

  • And this is where I think you are wrong. For years people have been asking MSFT what their tablet strategy is. Surface gets customers a “tablet” while also getting them a laptop. Clever design at work.

  • Do they? I don’t know anything about how the enterprise agreements work…

  • I think you are right on target about history possibly repeating itself. The Apple fanboys are too young to understand what MS did to competitors before, and I’m betting that the Apple brass know full well what it is you are talking about, and have their hands tied behind their backs because of the foothold that they do not possess in the corporate world. 10, 9, 8, 8, 8…

  • and here i thought “the beach” was another DiCaprio reference.  who knew you were such a Leo fan, Brandon 🙂

  • Microsoft could NEVER simplify their licensing. There is security in obscurity, and obsequious clinging to status quo.

  • Im waiting for this. It don’t matter what people say

  • burnblue

    In your 5 points you have both gaming and games. What did you actually mean?

  • StefEBear

    Wrong. why would a 10.1″ device that is just a touch screen (iPads are 9.8″) NOT be a tablet? It is in all worlds a Tablet, but it just does MORE than the iPad can. And has purpose built keyboard covers (not some crappy 3rd party one that so many iPad users buy because touch screens are crap for heavy use)

  • Bill5

    I’ve got bluetooth keyboards for my iPads.  They, well, SUCK.  I spend more time getting the keyboard to pair with the iPad than I do typing on it.  Or recharging the keyboard (separate from the iPad).  And my best keyboard is part of a clamshell that protects the iPad nicely, but prevents me from plugging the iPad into anything.
    If Microsoft can develop a usable keyboard for a tablet, THAT would  be a game-changer.  It would facilitate content creation on the tablet.  Everything else is there except for keyboard/mouse.
    (Now, tell me again why I wouldn’t want this magnificant keyboard for my iPad…)