# Wednesday, 28 May 2008

God bless the lawyers. (I never thought I would start a blog post that way.)

The way we buy cell phones in the United States is different than in almost all other major markets. The carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc) control the market. You can only buy a phone through them and with a service plan attached to it. Not only that but the phone manufactures (Nokia, Motorola, etc) have little control as to what features they can put on the carrier's "version" of their phone. For example let's say that Nokia releases the sexy new Nokia 123456 phone. This phone has integrated bluetooth and a cool wifi feature. AT&T will sell you the 123456 phone without the wifi and Sprint may sell it to you without the bluetooth feature. You can't buy the "normal" Nokia 123456 anywhere in the United States, you have to check eBay or travel to Asia or Europe and buy an "unlocked" version (more on that in a minute.)

Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world does it differently. You can buy the Nokia 123456 at a Nokia outlet, a retail shop like Radio Shack or Circuit City, or online. It is unlocked, meaning that you can put in any GSM chip from any service provider. (By contrast US phones are locked, my AT&T phone will only work with my AT&T chip. But I can buy an unlocked European phone and put in my AT&T chip, but AT&T won't support the phone, and they get mad at me when I do this.)

So the rest of the world is free and unlocked. This leads to major consumer choice. Consumers change phones all the time and also change carriers quite often. This forces the carriers to compete on coverage, price, service, network reliability, and features (exclusive MP3 downloads, cheap wall papers, etc.) In Europe there is major innovation both at the phone level (unlocked phones have to compete with other unlocked phones) and on the carrier level. This leads to innovation and more consumer choice.

In the United States, we have no such competition. We have an oligopoly. We have expensive plans, crippled phones, and we are tied to our carrier forever. (I have been with AT&T since 1995 and I hate them!) This also explains why at 16,000' on Mt. Kilimanjaro I had service but can't get coverage on 3rd Avenue and 86th Street in Manhattan, a "dead zone" for AT&T, which is funny since an AT&T store is one block away.

In November 2007, this was promised to change. You were suppose to  be allowed to unlock your phone (funny it was illegal up until then to unlock your phone since it violated an intellectual property law).

So what did the carriers do? Take it all to court.

Good news. People started to sue. (Thank God for lawyers! Wow, I said it again.) Under threat of the lawyers, Verizon and Sprint, have agreed to unlock hones after customers have completed their original contract. (Not perfect, but a start.) AT&T and T-Mobile decided to fight on. They took their case all the way to the California Supreme Court and lost. So they appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Good news. The US Supreme Court yesterday sided with consumers. (All those Reagan and Bush arch-conservatives are good for something!) The court declined to review an October decision by the California Supreme Court that  basically cleared the way for a class action lawsuit that will allow millions of California customers to sue the carriers. (The suits also prompted all the carriers to reduce the fees charged to costumers who terminate a contract before it expires. Thank God for lawyers a third time!)

This does not unlock the phones automatically and change the US market to behave just like the rest of the world. But it is a start. We are free from the control of the carriers. Let freedom ring. Bring on the innovation!

PS iPhone users, you can finally get an unlocked iPhone!

posted on Wednesday, 28 May 2008 11:24:58 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [1] Trackback
# Tuesday, 27 May 2008

As Bill Gates heads to retirement, he is making one last hurrah as the keynote speaker at TechEd next week in Orlando. I am lucky enough to be invited with 12 of my closest friends to have lunch with Bill after the keynote.

I was told not to ask anything controversial or not to monopolize the conversation (those who know me well will appreciate that one) but since I will be also in attendance with Richard Campbell and Andrew Brust, I will be lucky to even ask Bill how his golf handicap is going. So I have to be strategic. In an hour and a half lunch with 12 people, I can possibly get one good question with a follow up.

What would you ask Bill Gates if you could? Here is what I am thinking, leave in the comments or via email what you think is a better/worse question.

You recently said in Davos that a new style of capitalism may be needed in order to solve the world's problems. You make the case for more corporate social responsibility (CSR), so what is one major problem in the world today that you think is severe (AIDS, global warming, etc) and how can the "creative capitalism" you outlined at Davos solve it. Also would a Microsoft of say, 1980 with revenues of just over $1 million and just hired the first MBA "manager" type (Steve Ballmer) react to this positively (what is in it for MSFT '80)? Isn't "the business of business is business" and wouldn't Steve and Bill in 1980 agree? How do you motivate 1980 Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer to "creative capitalism".

Let me know if you have something better. :)

posted on Tuesday, 27 May 2008 12:09:21 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [1] Trackback
# Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Napster just launched a digital music store that is DRM free and has 6 million MP3s to download for $ 0.99. It will not have the proprietary DRM from Apple or Microsoft on it.

"Music fans have spoken and it's clear they need the convenience, ease of use and broad interoperability of the DRM-free MP3 format," said Napster CEO Chris Gorog, "and they want to be able to find both major label artists and independent music all in one place.  Napster is delighted to deliver all of this and more with the world’s largest MP3 catalog."

This is bad news for Apple.  Apple got strong in this business because the record labels wanted DRM on the songs and Steve Jobs gave them one, one that will only work on the iPod. Jobs argued to the labels that in order to make Apple's DRM software, FairPlay, effective, it had to be proprietary. The labels agreed and the iPod was released in October 2001 along with iTunes as the first legal digital music download store. Jobs won't license FairPlay, so all music sold on iTunes can be played only on iPods. This lack of interoperability, combined with the iPod's overwhelming dominance, gives Apple a stranglehold on the digital music marketplace. How big is this stranglehold? 22% of all music sold in 2007 was sold on iTunes.

So the empire strikes back. In July 2007, Universal said it would selectively choose which songs (or albums or artists) were sold on iTunes, rather than granting iTune blanket access to the entire catalog. (This was a major blow to Apple.) In August 2007, Universal announced the plan to offer DRM-free tracks through non-Apple retailers. Amazon and Napster are now selling DRM free music in an attempt to break the stranglehold Apple has with its proprietary system.

Is this the beginning of the end of the iPod? Time for Apple to respond. It would be nice if they licensed FairPlay. Something has to change. it will be fun to see what does.

posted on Tuesday, 20 May 2008 11:19:04 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, 18 May 2008

On Monday I will be speaking before representatives of the US House of Representatives about legacy systems. The question is to invest in brand new systems and technology or just to kind of glue together things on top of old systems. The question boils down to one of public policy, should the Congress pass laws mandating this, or should they give some autonomy (and budget to attract some talent) to their in-house IT staffs.

I am working with the Association for Competitive Technology on this issue. We feel that scraping the old and leapfrogging over a generation of technology or two is the best bet. Get some creative destruction on Capital Hill from new IT systems.  Treat the IT departments like a business, not a governmental agency. Give them budgets and goals and have them develop the applications and processes required. A little autonomy can go a long way.

posted on Sunday, 18 May 2008 22:01:39 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Thursday, 15 May 2008

Cable company Comcast acquired Plaxo yesterday for about $150 million. Comcast did for the same reason Microsoft wanted to buy Yahoo, eyeballs. Plaxo has a lot of members, and a popular new feature called Pulse, gives Comcast a toehold in Silicon Valley.

Was this a wise move? Probably not. Plaxo was on the block for a long time and nobody would touch them. Google was rumored for a while, then Facebook. The problem is that Plaxo is not relevant anymore. With the movement this year behind both OpenID and Data Portability, your social grid should be your to manage and in a new environment where profiles, contacts and your data is portable across platforms (Facebook, Yahoo, MySpace, etc), it is the API and applications that matter, not how many contacts you have.

Plaxo will most likely die a quiet death inside of Comcast within a few years. The good news, no more Plaxo spam.

posted on Thursday, 15 May 2008 10:57:54 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008
WPF Beyond the Basics: Playing Tricks with the Visual Tree

Subject: 
You must register at https://www.clicktoattend.com/invitation.aspx?code=126267 in order to be admitted to the building and attend.
The Visual tree is one of the core concepts of the WPF framework. All things visible in a WPF application are objects from the Visual tree. In this talk I'll give a quick overview of the Visual Tree and then get into interesting ways of manipulating it. We will also look into the styling and templating aspects of visuals. The ideas presented here should be immediately useful to custom-control developers and application developers in general. The session will be very hands-on with cool demos and live coding! The techniques discussed here were used in my blog posts on ElementFlow, GlassWindow, Drag 'n' Drop with attached properties, Genie Effect, etc.

Speaker: 
Pavan Podila
Pavan Podila has worked on a wide variety of UI technologies with current focus on WPF/Silverlight, Flash/Flex and DHTML. He has a Bachelors and Masters degree in Computer Science with specialization in Graphics and Image Processing. He has been working with .Net since 2004 and WPF since 2005. In the past he has worked with Java Swing, Eclipse plugins, AJAX UI frameworks and Trolltech Qt. His primary interests are in 2D/3D Graphics, Data Visualization, UI architecture and computational art. He blogs actively on http://blog.pixelingene.com.

Date: 
Thursday, May 15, 2008

Time: 
Reception 6:00 PM , Program 6:15 PM

Location:  
Microsoft , 1290 Avenue of the Americas (the AXA building - bet. 51st/52nd Sts.) , 6th floor

Directions:
B/D/F/V to 47th-50th Sts./Rockefeller Ctr
1 to 50th St./Bway
N/R/W to 49th St./7th Ave.

posted on Tuesday, 13 May 2008 07:38:08 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Monday, 12 May 2008

You may already know this but the beta of .NET 3.5 SP1 and Visual Studio 2008 SP1 are out today. You can download and install the beta from here. See ScottGu's blog for some release and install notes here.

It fixes a lot of bugs and rolls up a ton of service releases, etc, but this is not your ordinary service pack. SP1 of .NET Framework 3.5 actually adds brand new functionality to the .NET Framweork. For example the ADO .NET Entity Framework and ADO.NET Data Services (formerly code-named "Astoria") both ship new with the .net 3.5 SP1.

This changes the definition of a "service pack" since we have new functionality added. Since these are new features it will not break anything old and it is ok to install over your current 3.5 installation. But we really have .NET Framework 3.75. Download and enjoy.

posted on Monday, 12 May 2008 14:46:37 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, 11 May 2008

About 13 years ago, Microsoft ruled the Earth. Windows 95 shipped to much fanfare and people were talking about a "monopoly" and how nobody could remove Microsoft from their top position- ever. Then came Netscape and the Internet, then the .com boom and then Google. Now everyone counts Microsoft out. (Mary Jo Foley and I don't agree, but that is a topic for another day.)

There was a time when GM ruled the Earth. Their market share was so dominate we could not envision a world without them. Their profits were larger than most European countries' GDP. First came the Japanese, then the Koreans (and soon the Chinese will come.) But the real death kill was the environment. Now everyone (including non-car owner me!) wants a Tesla. Now everyone counts GM out and they are probably right to do so. They will survive but struggle for relevance.

There was a time when AT&T ruled the Earth. They even had a real monopoly, but I am talking about post monopoly. They were big and had infrastructure and controlled a large portion of the long distance market. Then came Voice Over IP. Vonage was the early trend setter, then cable/fiber companies, then Skype. People keep asking me what my "work" or "home" phone number is and I say either call my cell or Skype me since I don't pay long distance or have a land line. Companies like VOIPo are just killing AT&T and other telcos. (Congratz to VOIPo for hiring such a smart CTO!) The telcos are now irrelevant. 

It has long been argued that this is all good. It is "Creative Destruction"  or the process of something new killing something old. The term was coined by Joseph Schumpeter in his 1942 book called Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy to be a "process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one."

The role technology plays in the process of creative destruction is simply amazing. I can list ten more examples but you get the point. I watch with sheer excitement when Microsoft feels that it has to "bet the farm" on some new technology or Google has to buy YouTube to stay relevant, or how they all bow to the Facebook alter (and Facebook will be made irrelevant by someone new just like Friendster and MySpace before it.) I love how 13 years go Yahoo was predicted to take over the world (along with Excite and others that have gone away) and now it is struggling for survival. My old employer Zagat is struggling to stay alive (I only half like that with my unexpired stock options still on the line <g>).

Technology is the most powerful creative destruction force and will continue to be so. The reason why I am not on the Al Gore bandwagon (despite my insistence of taking the subway everywhere) is because I have faith that the problems we are facing here in 2008 of the environment or health care will be solved with technology, motivated by the powerful market force of creative destruction. We now have a Tesla, the sexiest car on the planet. We now have targeted chemo-therapy based on your DNA, making it far more effective. What is next? I don't know but I sure what to watch it all play out.

posted on Sunday, 11 May 2008 11:55:21 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [1] Trackback