Category Archives: New Technology

Google is freaking me out

Last week Google acquired Skybox, a satellite imaging company. This is hot on the heels of acquiring Titan Aerospace – a drone company, Boston Dynamics – a robot company that had military contracts at the time of acquisition, and Deepmind – an artificial intelligence company with technology so powerful they forced Google to setup an ethics board before they would sell it.

Google is building skynet

Google is building SkyNet

This alone would be terrifying – a single company with the capability to surveil the entire world from space, build military robots and command them with an artificial intelligence too powerful to control. Except this is just the tip of Google’s power. Google has self driving cars, control of most of the world’s smart phones through Android, and much of the world’s communication through gmail.

Think about that for a second – Google has an army of billions of video cameras around the world and control over vital phone and electronic communications, and a super intelligent artificial robot army and air force. Totalitarian governments at their height could barely comprehend such power, and that’s just the start of it.

Google controls the world’s information source. Google search has a more than two thirds share of search in the US, globally it approaches 90%, with total domination in some markets like Germany.  Youtube serves more than 6 billion hours of video each months. They have used their power over information politically before to kill SOPA.

Ponder for a moment. – Google is the gateway through which most users access information, controls one of the most popular video networks and has used their power over information to change policy. They can monitor the entire planet from space, inside your pocket or through email and voice communication. And they have a computer controlled robot military.

Google is freaking me out, and I think we need to be very careful about ceding so much power to a single private corporation – no matter how well intentioned they may seem to be.

Image from this interesting Fast Company article.

Windows Glass – Microsoft’s Problem Isn’t Innovation

This last week Google announced a really exciting look into the future called Project Glass. Naturally, Google debuted it with a YouTube video that enticed you with the possibilities, but they did more than that. This wasn’t some futuristic video meant to inspire people to build interesting products, this wasn’t just a prototype one researcher had cobbled together in a lab somewhere – this was an actual alpha product that many Googlers have since been seen sporting around town. I am, unfortunately, not among them.

Microsoft Windows Glass 2012 Service Pack 2 R3

It didn’t take long for the Microsoft parodies to start. Pitting innovative Google against a Microsoft that was still partying like it was 1995. The first video decries Microsoft’s overuse of dialogs, pop-ups and notifications. I would come to Microsoft’s defense on this one, were it not all too true. It seems like I’m constantly interrupted on Windows by crap I don’t care about. I’m looking forward to my upcoming upgrade to a Macbook Air (Hurry up and release the new ones already Apple!)


The parody continues with these old style View-master glasses, wittily branded as Windows Glass. Seeming to reinforce a common perception – while the rest of the world has moved on, Microsoft is just sitting around listening to 8-track tapes and raving about color TV. It’s surely a common refrain from many that Microsoft has lost the ability to innovate, that other large tech companies continually run circles around Microsoft. Whether it’s Apple trifecta of iPod, iPhone, iPad, or Amazon’s AWS or pretty much anything Google has done in the last 10 years.

Microsoft doggedly improves Windows and Office. Milking it’s cash cows for all they’re worth. Sometimes they take a step backwards (Vista, and IMO Windows 8), sometimes they have a hit (Windows 7, Office 2010). All the while slowly losing share in servers, databases and anything to do with the web or big data. Every now and then they’ll strike out in desperation and the predictably grim results – Zune, Windows Phone (though I think they still have time to become a 5% market share player here). Occasionally they’ll do a great job copying a competitor (Bing). Even rarer is the breakout hit where they redefine a market (Xbox).

Looking at this track record it’s easy to assume that Microsoft has an innovation problem. I don’t believe that is true.

Microsoft has a Windows and Office Problem

Specifically, things which aren’t good for Windows or Office rarely, if ever, see the light of day. Like a good example in the making for the next in the Innovator’s Dilemma series these projects are killed. Whether it’s an irony laden turn by Windows/Office senior management to ‘cut off their air supply’, or a slow leaking of resources so the project has no choice but to rot – the end result is the same.

You might think that I’m awfully down on Microsoft, I’m not. The truth is Microsoft is GREAT at innovation. You only need to take a quick gander through some of the great ideas and prototypes that come from Microsoft Research. Everything from the pinch-and-zoom mobile browsing we take for granted on the iPhone (Microsoft and Apple have patent cross licensing deals), or Cleartype text that makes innovative use of LCD characteristics to improve text quality, or XML HTTP Request which birthed web apps.

When I worked at Microsoft I would browse the annual Techfest like a kid in a candy store. The scope of innovation was broad and deep, with some of the best ideas at least on par with Google’s Project Glass. It was a phenomenal demonstration of visionary and innovative thinking.

But it stopped there. It stayed as visionary and innovative thinking. It stayed with the handful of researchers who broke the ground. It rarely made it into a product or shipped alone to users to refine and get feedback. Most of the great ideas died on the floor of Techfest, or came back year after year until it was nothing more than the decaying zombie ravaged by the progress of time and technology.

I Want Microsoft to Deliver Innovative Products

It might sound odd for someone from Google to passionately want Microsoft to deliver innovative products. If you step back for a moment you’ll see that no single company can ever have all the great ideas or push the industry forward. It takes many companies working with slightly different goals and biases to fully explore a space and push technology forward. In fact, it takes more than just companies – universities and government are important partners. If you doubt government’s inclusion you may go ahead and shut off your Internet and stop using GPS now.

Microsoft’s window of opportunity to impact the evolution of technology is closing. Please, don’t kill your innovation before it can grow up.


The Tech Release I’m Most Looking Forward to in 2012

In a few short hours 2011 will be behind us, and a new year dawns. While the Mayan calendar portends next year as our last I’m still quite hopeful that we’ll see a slew of amazing software, hardware and services released.

2012 in Technology

2012 in Technology

For sure 2011 was a busy year in technology. New smartphones were announced almost weekly, with the iPhone 4s, Samsung Galaxy and Nokia Lumia topping the charts in terms of innovative and sleek design. The phones brought along their fair share of software updates too. Siri caused a stir, Ice Cream Sandwich was delightful and Mango was a healthy (if rarely seen in the wild) refresh.

Twitter received an overhaul, WordPress got more social and Facebook crossed the creepy line (again) with their stalk and share feature. Spotify came to the US and built a platform. Google released Chromebooks, while Microsoft showed a developer preview of Windows 8 and it’s tablet-focused Metro interface and Amazon released the blockbuster Kindle fire.

Yet for me, 2011 will be marked by two amazingly impactful products: the iPad 2 and Google+.

Steve Jobs was spot on when he said, ‘This year will be the year of the iPad2’. Sales figures alone don’t do it justice. It’s hard to describe how usefully delightful and functionally fun the iPad is if you’ve never had a tablet before. It’s the device you never knew you needed, and can’t truly appreciate until you own one. I went from a tablet skeptic to devote, and find that I use my iPad more often than my PC these days.

Google make a compelling entry into the social networking space with Google+, and many tech pundits went from lauding it as a ‘Facebook killer’ to panning it as a ‘Facebook clone that is dying’. Personally, I have found the community and conversation that Google+ inspires to be unlike that of any other social network. It combines the breadth of discovery that Twitter has with the depth of discussion from Facebook and adds a healthy dose of unique features with circles being the privacy breakthrough.

For more in the year in tech 2011, head over to Tech Cocktail, Frank put together an interesting look at technology trends in 2011.

Looking Ahead to 2012

There is so much to look forward to in 2012. The iPad 3, iPhone 5, Google’s mysterious super-tablet, a possible Xbox refresh and no doubt Amazon will further refine their hardware and services offering. Given that I’m surprised to admit that the release I’m most looking forward to is Windows 8.

Apart from performance and stability improvements I don’t expect much magic in Windows 8 for a desktop user. It’s clear Microsoft has been focusing on touch UI, and short of something miraculous from Redmond I don’t expect to give up my iPad (or it’s successor) any time soon.

So why am I so excited about Windows 8? It’s likely many of the ISVs are planning a plethora of  new devices to coincide with the release of Windows 8. This is a fantastic opportunity for them to capitalize on Microsoft’s marketing dollars and get a few innovative ideas out there before Apple perfects them. I’m most excited to see what Samsung will come up with. Their Series 9 laptops are gorgeous, and the Samsung Central Station has too much potential not to anticipate a v2.

So here’s looking ahead to a tech-filled 2012 – Happy New Year!

Photo courtesy of Creativity103