The Chinese Treasure Fleets and Microsoft vs Apple; and checking in on productivity

Microsoft hatchet job: Reading this article here I couldn’t help but grit my teeth. This is a little like that memorable Vanity Fair article hacking away at Steve Ballmer for being a klutz. The author basically says that while Facebook, Google, and Apple all have compelling reasons for existence – Apple with simplicity of design, Google with organizing the world’s information, and Facebook with connecting people – Microsoft currently lacks that clear distinction. As a result, there’s a brain drain where creative, talented programmers are leaving for other platforms.

This point of view is simplistic and WAY negative; it ignores the strengths of Microsoft as a company, and overemphasized the weaknesses. In my opinion, “devices and services” alone wasn’t enough of a niche for a 200K+ sized company like Microsoft; and there’s way too much competition in that space anyway. By starting from an office and meeting-type strategy – “we’re about productivity and building a platform for mobile and cloud” – that’s playing to the enterprise, MSFT’s great strength. Think about it like the board game Risk. At this point, MSFT isn’t messing around in Asia. They’ve holed up in Australia, and are stockpiling armies/cards so they can reestablish themselves. Azure, Surface, Windows 8.1, Office365, etc are all great products that are getting better – they’re starting to get a bigger footprint in the consumer space that was starting to slip away.

Microsoft made a great mistake 15 years ago not spending more on marketing; they allowed those dang John Hodgman Apple vs PC ads to define them as being stodgy and conservative. Worse was the grain of truth behind those ads; they badly missed the boat and have been playing catchup with the BYOD and tablet revolution. That being said, they’re still the best company out there for developers because of all the great ramp-up documentation that exists. I love the thinking behind Xamarin – where you can write one set of common code and still have platform-specific application development. There’s still not a company on earth that’s better able to give the guys in the trenches writing code a leg up. That’s I chose them over Oracle twenty years ago; I’d make the same call today.

In the book “Guns Germs and Steel” Jared Diamond faults a strong, gigantic central government in China as being a major contributing factor in limiting growth in China. Because if one guy (the emperor) didn’t like ‘risky’ adventures like what Christopher Columbus and others were undertaking, he could outlaw them. So, the old Chinese treasure fleets – instead of growing and taking part in the age of Exploration – rotted at the anchor in harbor, because they represented something new and scary. A European king didn’t have that luxury – he had to compete, innovate, or perish. In fact, Apple and Microsoft have very similar top-down hierarchies, and both – believe it or not – are very resistant to change. Apple was lucky enough a dozen years ago to have a true visionary at the helm who could winnow down the product line into a few compelling products – the iMac, Os X, then the iPad/iPhone/iPad and etc – and put design first, the consumer first. It already shows signs post-Jobs of losing traction in the marketplace against more nimble adversaries. Microsoft, in contrast, has suffered comparatively, but the new leadership comes from a web-first background. Microsoft’s true competition now is Google, and Microsoft’s abilities to support the enterprise far outstrip Google’s; I believe ultimately they’ll be successful in winning their way back into the minds of today’s consumer.

Time management check-in: I did an article on time management a week back. Let’s just say its been a mixed bag since then. My inbox is empty and is staying that way; I’m checking my inbox three times a day. That frees up a lot of mindspace for more important work. I do love the 1:1 format with OneNote, and I’m using that with my manager currently. I’m also scheduling my “frogs” for first thing in the morning for two hours – not every day, but when I can. The downside? I haven’t been able to use Pomodoro consistently, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for my job. Others in my role tend to be very reactive and highly responsive, since that’s what the customer base values – I need to look like them and act like them to be successful. Being offline for 50 minutes ‘focus time’ and then 20 minutes ‘break’ just won’t cut it. But, as a programmer, that would have been invaluable.

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