Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
During the last year or so, I listened to several speakers at content management and social media conferences suggest that business email will soon be a technology of the past. Judging by my inbox, and recognizing that people are still sending faxes, I think it’s safe to say that I will be getting email throughout what remains of my career. If that’s the case, I would appreciate it if the people who send me business email would take it upon themselves to improve the quality of the email that they send. If I thought everyone would give this topic the thought it deserves, and change their behavior accordingly, I’d stop writing after making the following statement:
Consider that regular business email, the stuff that I will read simply because you sent it, comes with an implied contract based on mutual respect. Then remember that once my respect for you has been earned, that you have to prevent me from losing it.
Since I get so much email, from so many sources, let me offer a few general guidelines to make those emails better:
Size matters – I had a chemistry professor who required written lab reports but thought they should be factual. In warning against long explanations in lieu of facts – he used to say “remember, the longer the wronger!” It’s the same with email. A single paragraph business communication will be appreciated. A couple of paragraphs will be tolerated and a multi-page monologue will probably be ignored.
Don’t be a jerk – This sounds like so much common sense, but it’s easy to look like a jerk in email. Unless you want to look like a jerk, reread your message before you click send. Think about whether what you wrote will be understood in the absence of facial expressions, tone of voice and that precious act of reaching out to touch my shoulder. By the way, if you don’t want to reread it because it’s so long, refer to the previous paragraph.
I have an inbox – After you send your email, continue not being a jerk by not calling me, texting me or visiting me to ask me: “Did you get the email I just sent?”
Some subjects are better left out of the inbox – If you are dancing around a sensitive issue, delete the email, walk down to hall, or pick up the phone and make personal contact.
Stop crying wolf – Remember that I can sort my email by sender, so I can see if there are patterns in the email that you send. If 2/3’s of your subject lines include “Important” or “Must read” maybe you need to think about the way you organize, schedule and prioritize your work/day/life.
If you find yourself saying “this is good advice for most people, but it doesn’t work in my situation,” maybe you need to think a little harder about your situation and about the nature of email.
One subject – one thought – I know it’s not a text message, but email shouldn’t be a sermon and it absolutely shouldn’t be a lecture. If you have three complex points to make about a subject, schedule a meeting to discuss your thoughts. This works better because I can communicate my boredom with my facial expression and I can point out when your first assumption is wrong and therefore you should stop blathering.
Email is not a presentation – Forget the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” mantra that is supposed to set you up to make a great speech. Just tell me what you want me to know in short, grammatically correct sentences – preferably less than 5. If you are thinking about including graphics, drop the “s” – limit yourself to one graphic.
Note: I added this next rule in response to Microsoft’s addition of the Screen Clipping tool into Outlook.
Remain in media – If you are reading my document, reviewing my presentation or testing my spreadsheet, use the features built into Office on the Review Ribbon instead of artfully crafting a treasure map of arrows and text boxes for me to follow. This should also help you comply with the ‘one graphic’ rule.
Oh, one last thought, particularly if you are still clinging to the notion that you or your emails are somehow special and should be exempt from these rules: If I wouldn’t need to be in the room when you told somebody this critical information in person, please leave me off the CC line.
Of all the things that technology has all but removed from our lives, the giving and receiving of directions is the one I have the most trouble getting used to. I’m good with not needing to write letters, look numbers up in a phone book, or lug a bunch of 8-tracks, cassettes or CD’s around in my car. I love my GPS (her name is Greta), but I miss the distinctly human practice of giving directions. I knew that at some point, I would be writing a “back in my day” post, and I guess that point is now.
I am like my father, who would always give you directions by landmark instead of highway exits and route numbers. Instead of “take I-79 to Rt-50,” he would say “go down (Interstate) 79 and get off like you’re going to Bobby’s gas station.” Making matters worse, he didn’t limit himself to existing landmarks; he once gave me directions that included the phrase “…and keep going until you get to where old-man Bedner’s barn used to be, then turn left” (the barn had burned down years before).
If you have ever looked at the ‘About’ page, you know that this blog gets its name from a stretch of the as yet unimproved I-79 near Morgantown, West Virginia where I went to college. Of course, “unimproved” is relative; in 1973, the West Virginia Turnpike was a two-lane undivided highway separated by a common passing lane in some sections. It wasn’t necessary to get on I-79 to get to my apartment; but on the day that I was moving in, the directions the landlord had given me began with “you’ll come into town on 19, then get on the new highway” and proceeded from there. “19” referred to US-19, a piece of torturous highway that wound its way through the Allegheny Mountains and remained the road of choice for my father long after I-79 made it unnecessary. My trip began without a map; stay on Rt-19 until you cross into WV, get on I-79 and then follow the directions.
I probably wouldn’t have been able to find a map in Pittsburgh that included street level detail of Morgantown, WV even if I had tried. Maps were generally available (for free with a few gallons of gas) for the area you were in, and the highways in between you and your next likely destination; once you got there, you would get another map. I drove across the US and back across Canada using that system, and it worked pretty well. One of my favorite “map moments” occurred when my wife and I were still dating. We had gotten lost and as we thought about heading home, she somewhat sarcastically said “I don’t suppose you even have a map in this car.” I seized the moment to surprise her with my Exxon Map of the Eastern United States. Of course, that map, showing the US from the Mississippi River east, included the dozen or so major highways in CT, none of which we knew how to get to.
Getting lost has never been panic inducing event for me, partly because I get lost a lot, and partly because the act of getting lost has so often resulted in a surprising new find. After my wife and I drove around a while, we followed a stream of traffic and ended up at the Haddam Neck Fair. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we have returned to that fair many times on Labor Day weekends. On another occasion, when returning to our house from a friend’s in central CT, we took the wrong turn near Riverton, CT and ended up circumnavigating the Barkhamsted reservoir. We were lost for sure, but we enjoyed the ride. With the advent of GPS, driving has become a transaction, not an adventure – although I am still capable of making it an adventure as my family and friends will attest to. I have the ability to misunderstand the GPS directions, especially on Rt-128 near Waltham, MA.
…continue ¾ of a mile, then turn left where the barn used to be
My wife still prefers paper maps, and she has a small collection of detailed books of street maps. She is a route-number traveler, something I will never understand. She prefers having a sense of the entire journey before we start driving. She’s not fond of my GPS, and less fond of the fact that I listen to Greta but I don’t always listen to her. The fact that I manage to get lost while using the GPS isn’t helping the adoption process. I look forward to the day when my GPS will be so sophisticated and have so much memory that I will be able to choose Landmark Style instructions and hear the female British voice say: “continue ¾ of a mile, then turn left where the barn used to be.”
I’m an IT guy, and in my presentation at the AIIM Conference last week, I began by saying that I didn’t think that the challenges facing business from things like BYOD, Big Data and the rapid pace of change are new ones. These challenges are just different. In fact, recent articles that I’ve read suggest that people were effectively using Big Data during WWII and that the Egyptians understood the value of data thousands of years ago – those ancient Egyptians are always surprising us. At the AIIM Conference, AIIM President, John Mancini talked about a body of work by Geoffrey Moore that characterizes the information industry as having two humps. On the left we have the complex systems that serve relatively few folks and on the right, the wild-west social stuff serving gazillions of people. I understand the message, but we’re also starting to realize that some businesses have to work both humps. This is where the non-technical me says “this isn’t news, this is just our industry starting to realize what other businesses already know” – at least some businesses.
I think about a store like Sarasnick’s Hardware in Bridgeville, PA. They have been in business since 1937, and I think that they have always worked both humps. They have a general purpose hardware store that lots of retail customers come to for the things they need, like a light bulb. They also serve commercial customers with very specific, sometimes complex needs, like a case of light bulbs that you and I would never use in our houses. I spoke to one of the owners of Sarasnick’s and he confirmed that the commercial customers are critical to his store’s success, and that they require a different approach to customer service. (Click to watch a cool little video from Sarasnick’s)
Staying in Bridgeville, about two blocks north of Sarasnick’s used to be a bowling alley called Bridgeville Recreation Center. I practically grew up in that place, as my dad managed it for years. Of course BRC offered general bowling to the public. They also offered league bowling, and they sponsored semi-professional men’s and women’s teams in what were known as “traveling leagues” who competed against other teams throughout the greater Pittsburgh area. Open bowling was clearly a right-hump industry. League bowling was closer to the left hump, but the traveling leagues were absolutely a left-hump operation.
South of both Sarasnick’s and BRC, was Norwood Catering service where I worked after I got my driver’s license. One of their customers in the 1970’s was the Gateway Clipper Fleet. In the 70’s, that “fleet” consisted of the Gateway Party Liner, the Gateway Clipper and the Good Ship Lollipop (seriously). The Lollipop ran children’s tours and charters (think birthday parties). The Clipper offered a series of ongoing tours of the three rivers and the Party Liner hosted nightly dinner dances, weddings and business events, all with food that was delivered by me for about 14 months. Tours, and dinner dances were public events; right hump endeavors. Weddings, charters and business events, were left hump activities with for more specific requirements, calling for more complex planning (although Norwood usually served the same food).
It seems strange that three small businesses, each in business over 50 years ago, understood market forces that are currently being revealed to the information management industry. I don’t think any of these businesses were being run by statisticians, physicists or behavioral scientists. What these guys knew, and what today’s information businesses seem like they are still trying to avoid learning, is that customer service drives success. The key difference between the left and right humps is the nature of the customers under the curve; if you want to succeed, you have to serve them all.
Some companies choose to not serve both groups. For example, I am a big D-I-Y project guy, and I have occasionally had to buy something at a plumbing supply house. If you can find one who will sell to you as an individual, don’t expect it to be a welcoming experience, and don’t expect much help. By the time you get to the counter, you had better know exactly what you want. If I don’t know exactly what I want, I start at a store like Sarasnick’s and most often, they can figure out what I need and place a special order. Here’s a tip if you want to be respected by this blog:
Do not pick the brain of the guy at the local hardware store and then go and place an order at Amazon or Home Depot – in my book, that’s stealing – there, I said it.
As the study shows, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer; you can’t serve every customer the same way. If you find your business model staring at those two humps of customers, figure out which hump is critical to your success, or figure out how to serve both groups equally well.
I was at a meeting recently where the conversation drifted back and forth between innovation and history. Several of the speakers were talking about innovation, including Tom Soderstrom, CTO, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Jill Singer, CIO, National Reconnaissance Office. The memorable statements included Tom identifying his “favorite satellite” and Jill pointing out that “in the 80’s our enemies were easy to find and hard to kill. Today they are hard to find but easy to kill.” She added that “kill” doesn’t always mean, you know, kill. Statements like this prompted discussions and it was easy to determine those of us that remember the Soviet Union launching Sputnik and the dark days of the cold war when “killing” our enemies more than likely also meant destroying the Earth.
Innovation, invention and progress in general are happening so fast, that the spectrum of experience is very broad and reactions vary from “wow!” to “what good is that without…?” I wanted to capture some of the things that came up in conversation and a few others that just seem to be important to me. I can’t cover the entire list in one blog post, hence the title, but I have to start somewhere.
Automotive Electronics – I’m not talking about heated car seats (which apparently aren’t new) or satellite radio or my car’s ability to play songs from my iPhone via Bluetooth. I could live without all of those. I might even hope that one of our enemies would target the Sirius satellite(s). I am talking about electronic ignition and electronic fuel injection. I remember the days when pitted or improperly gapped points meant that you weren’t going anywhere without lifting the hood and owning a small file. I also remember my Dodge Coronet that had such a chronic choke problem that I had to carry an alligator clip in the glove compartment to pin the choke plate on the carburetor open.
Variable Speed Drills – I could have easily gone with Cordless Drills, which have become one of my favorite tools, but without variable speed, you can’t use a drill to drive a fastener. The ability to vary the speed of hand-held power tools not only lets us drive screws, it also lets us start holes without wandering all over, and ruining the surface, and when adapted to jig saws, to start cuts in material that we would have previously avoided without first drilling a pilot hole.
Scientific Calculators – I was around when the basic add-subtract-multiply-divide calculators hit the market. In fact, I had a friend who received one for Christmas when they were selling for $110! I could handle basic math in my head well enough to live without one of those devices, but the ability to perform trig functions, calculate square and cube roots and to convert between Base-10 and Hex are greatly appreciated. I most recently used the OpenStack scientific calculator on my iPhone to square up the 16’ stringers for a ramp I was building – the square root of (1922 + 44.6252) not being something I am comfortable doing in my head. Of course, my first scientific calculator replaced my slide rule, but it went way beyond that; it put the power of memory in my pocket. Granted, it was only the ability to remember one number [MC] for use later [MR], but that made it much easier to use the calculator without also using a pad and pencil.
Instant Replay – I don’t know that I would go as far as this article and say that:
“Prior to instant replay, it was almost impossible to portray the essence of a football game on television”
but I can’t imagine watching a game without it. This feature came into our living room when TV was a choice between ABC, NBC, CBS and WQED (PBS before Big Bird), and if you didn’t see it live, you didn’t see it. Cable TV brought more choices, and eliminated having to adjust the antennae, VCR’s introduced time shifting, remote control eliminated having to move, but none of those compare to Instant Replay.
Digital Photography – Along the same lines as Instant Replay, digital photography saved the day for me by allowing me to get the picture I wanted. Not only can I afford to take 10 shots to get one good one, I can avoid altogether the chance that I will take 10 bad pictures. If you haven’t had the experience of throwing away the pictures from an entire roll of film, you don’t love your digital camera enough.
What’s your favorite? – I hope you see the trend here. These aren’t just inventions, automotive electronics stems from the same inventions that later brought us laptops and cell phones. These are the uses of innovation and inventions that made a significant difference (between going and not going) in my life. Please add anything you feel this way about as a comment. I’ll include it in subsequent versions of this list or into the eventual separate page this is bound to turn into.
Last night, while I sat watching a show on the History Channel and listening to the Pirates beat the Marlins 5-1 at PNC Park, it occurred to me that I may have become my father. I was listening to MLB At Bat on my iPhone, but the scene was in every way reminiscent of our house in Pittsburgh in the 60’s. Back then, my father would have been listening to the game on the handheld device de jour, his transistor radio. That game-changing device was also at a similar point in the product life-cycle to the device that I was using. In the late 60’s we stopped adding the word “transistor” as an adjective and accepted that “radio” would suffice, just as we are starting to drop the ‘cell’ from cell phone. Perhaps the only difference between the scene in my house today and his house 45 years ago is the fact that he might have also been watching the game on TV. You see, in Pittsburgh in the 60’s you listened to the Gunner – Bob Prince call the game, my father would turn the sound off on the TV, and listen to that radio. Here in CT, stuck between AL powerhouses I almost never get the opportunity to see the Pirates on TV; that would take the Mets playing at PNC Park, or to an unlikely sellout crowd at Citi Field.
The truly amazing thing about listening to the game last night was how quickly I was reminded of the simple joy of listening to a ballgame. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but listening to baseball on the “radio” is an amazing experience and quite different from today’s modern options. I’ve “watched” football games on ESPN’s ScoreCenter Gamecast, and, in the absence of a good bar with Direct TV, they are OK, but baseball in that medium is just flat out boring. They jazz it up with a few nice graphics, but it doesn’t hold my interest. If you want me to pay attention to something visually, there better be a lot of action, and baseball can’t deliver action at the required rate. I know the kinds of things that are happening between pitches, but I can’t see them, and I can’t imagine them staring at a graphic rendering of a ball field. Listening to the game is great, because the announcer fills in the slow periods. In the audience of a good announcer, you can truly visualize the game because he brings you into the stadium.
The broadcast team today on KDKA is no match for the Gunner when it comes to catch phrases. There were no references to the Green Weenie, Babushka Power, cans of corn and no “you can kiss that one goodbye” but they filled the voids with interesting chatter. I was amused by the fact that the visual images I conjured up for last night’s game were from Forbes Field. I didn’t see a lot of games in that park, but I guess they are the strongest memories. I look forward to seeing a game at PNC Park and forming some new memories.
A few days ago, AIIM New England sponsored a panel discussion on Cloud Computing, Mobile Content Management and the trend to “bring your own device” (BYOD). I don’t plan to talk about those subjects here, but I should introduce the panel. We had three brilliant speakers: Roger Bottum – VP of Marketing, SpringCM; Christopher J. Luise – Executive VP, ADNET Technologies and Marc D. Anderson – Co-Founder and President of Sympraxis Consulting. The discussion was mostly technical, but toward the end, it drifted into a philosophical lane.
The lane change occurred after considering the fact that mobile devices and cloud-based applications allow us to work at any time, from almost anywhere; although Marc pointed out that working from the shower will require the invention of the driPhone. Additional fuel came from an audience member who remembered a time (in the 1950’s) when technology was being advertised as something that was going to allow us to “do our jobs in half the time”, thus increasing leisure time and improving the quality of our lives. He asked: “when does technology start to deliver on that promise?” My first thought was “they also told us that our school desk would save us during a nuclear attack and that filtered cigarettes were safe” – they might have been lying.
The panelists bounced between the concept of “having to establish a work-life balance” and the fact that avoiding burnout is our (employees) responsibility. There were comments from the audience ranging from descriptions of Scrooge-like expectations to “these devices all have off buttons – use them!” One comment intrigued me:
“Maybe there isn’t a work-life balance, maybe it’s all just life.”
Think about that; why does it matter when we work?
Think about everything else in your life; do you keep it contained? Are you only religious during church services? Are you only learning when in class? Are you only a parent before and after work? I have always subscribed to the notion that “work is what you do to finance your life” but that’s not inconsistent with the idea that work is also part of my life. My work doesn’t define me, but it is part of the definition. Maybe there was a time when people looked for jobs that allowed them to show up at 8:00, toil until 4:00, and not think about that job until 8:00 the next day – if those jobs actually existed, (I seem to remember Ward Clever bringing work home) I think they are gone.
I feel lucky to have a job that provides me with the opportunity to travel a bit, to meet new and interesting people, to refine and expand my skillset, and to work from wherever I am. I am also fortunate to work for a company that supports my involvement in a professional association (AIIM) and encourages me to give back to the community of professionals that have helped me throughout my career. My other blogs, my presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. (etc. is the new name for Google+) are all somewhat related to my career – should I only work on them during “business hours?”
One of the panelists embraces the idea that we have to break away, that we have to disconnect and unwind – that’s true, but the object behind the implied “from” isn’t work, it’s everything. When I go for a bike ride, I’m not just escaping work, I’m not thinking about the projects I have going on at home, I’m not thinking about saving for retirement, I’m not necessarily thinking about my wife and daughter (never far from my mind girls, but…) When I spend a few hours in my workshop, I am focused on the task, the tool or piece of wood at hand. It’s the same when I am caught up in a bit of productive programming at work; I am involved to the exclusion of all else. Sitting around in the evening, I might organize some pictures I took on that bike ride, I might sketch some changes to that woodworking project and I might jot down some notes on how to improve that code, or maybe I’ll open my laptop and change that code – I don’t think that’s unhealthy.
I don’t think a 24 hour capability to access people and content from work is adding to our stress level; I think we mentally fabricate our stress level, just as we always have. People had ulcers in the 30’s and 40’s when they barely had the ability to place their own phone calls. One of the reasons I am not stressed about my job is that I know I can deal with problems whenever I need to from wherever I happen to be. I rarely worry about work. Truth be told, I rarely worry about anything, but that’s another story. The people in my life, the growing list of goals, objectives and accomplishments are all part of the composite picture of me. They are all part of my life, and I don’t want to waste my time cordoning them off into their separate times – I think I’ll just live this life and be happy.
I took this picture while on the beach in Florida, after dinner at one of our company events. Some of the people nearby were watching me try to setup my camera on a mini-tripod, and I heard several comments like “I love the reflection on the waves” and “look how the moon is backlighting the clouds”, but nobody guessed what I was actually trying to capture. If you look below and to the right of the moon, there’s a white dot that looks like a bad pixel – that’s Jupiter! While all the focus was on our planet, our moon, our ocean and our atmosphere, most people simply ignored the biggest planet in our solar system.
Truth be told, I’m no expert on obvious. My daughter was old enough to realize this for herself, when I pointed out to her that Kanga and Roo (in the Disney Channel’s Winnie the Pooh), were kangaroos – the connection had only then occurred to me. Sad as that fact may be, I think I do understand certain obvious things that many of the people I read about, hear about and periodically encounter seem to miss. For instance, I think it’s obvious that we should continue to explore the universe beyond our atmosphere. Despite the benefits that the space program delivered to the rest of our economy, the recent news from NASA is all about how they are depositing the fleet of Space Shuttles at three famous museums and how it may be a decade until we return to space in a NASA-build vehicle. Sorry, that’s just wrong. I was still in single-digits when President Kennedy spurred this nation to the challenge of putting a man on the moon, and he simultaneously spurred an interest in math and science in me. Today, we lament the lack of students and graduates in this country in those fields, but we ignore the connection between what we want and what we do.
As I look back on the various things that have been in flux and transition during my lifetime, I feel like I may be on the event horizon of a black hole. When I was a child, everything and everybody seemed to be looking forward and outward. Today, we seem to be retreating to smaller and smaller interests, more narrowly defined goals and a view of the world as if the scientific facts we’ve uncorked during the previous 50 years are still a mystery. We have communication technology that actually lets us share and discuss ideas with people around the world on a continuous basis, but we have governments from cities all the way up to countries considering how to block those communication channels. Political candidates seem woefully unconcerned about even the smallest of larger issues, and unbelievably compulsive about the most trivial things. The people who occupy leadership roles in this country follow the narrow interests of their financial supporters as if to step off that path would be to wander into a minefield. We look backward to try to find ways to fight the battles we have already lost, and we seem willing to ignore the future battles I think we are uniquely capable of winning. My pet example is manufacturing. So many people talk about why we are losing jobs, how we need to stop losing jobs, and how horrible losing these jobs has been for our economy and our future. If we remain a capitalistic economy, there is simply no way we are going to bring most of today’s manufacturing jobs back from China. In fact, there’s no way China can stop those jobs from moving to places with even cheaper labor forces. The simple truth is nobody wants to pay more money for the stuff they buy; but what about the next generation of manufacturing jobs?
Why aren’t our politicians challenging and supporting businesses in this country to leapfrog today’s manufacturing process and create the next generation of good paying jobs in this country. Why aren’t we setting unattainable goals and then supporting the people who will achieve them in their efforts. Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” why do we continue to ignore this aspect of his legacy. We have an educational system that remains largely unchanged since I was a student, and the best our government seems to be able to do is make us spend more time testing children and then arguing over whose funds should be cut (schools or teachers) when children fail those tests. We have created an environment where stepping outside the box would be financial suicide and where success from trying a new technique will go unnoticed or perhaps punished.
Over 10 years ago, I donated three used computers to a middle school teacher in our town who taught special needs students. He had complained that these kids were uncomfortable working in the crowded environment of the Media Center and they were missing out on a valuable resource. The teacher spent his own money on a printer and a network switch, and on a Saturday morning, we configured a network in his classroom. The results, according to the teacher were amazing. Three months later, an administrator stuck a Board of Education inventory tag on each device and moved them all into the Media Center.
Einstein also said, perhaps when he was frustrated that people didn’t understand the first quote, that: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Laurence Hart recently warned on his excellent Word-of-Pie blog that we should not count the PC out too soon. He pointed out in the title that “Mobile Devices Sell Faster and Die Sooner”, a sentiment I agree with, but I would tack on “for now.” I would also add that a lot of those devices don’t die, they are handed down to other people, the way we used to handle laptops.
I had just returned from my trip to the AIIM Conference in San Francisco, which I extended by four days with a family visit in beautiful Iowa when I read @Pieword’s post. It struck me that during those 9 days of travel, I had used my laptop less than 6 hours, while I lost track of how often I was using my iPad. I think that is worth noting because I am an IT guy who never travels without a laptop.
I carry my laptop with me, always, because the responsibilities of my job include maintenance and support for the in-house applications that I developed, maintenance of our company website and the possible need to use some desktop applications that only run under Windows. However, since none of those things occurred, my laptop mainly stayed in the bag. I did use it to place 2 Lync calls to a coworker, and I used it to practice my PowerPoint presentation. AIIM supplied the hardware for the presentations during the conference, so my laptop never had to leave the hotel room. I could have placed those Lync calls on my iPhone, and I could have easily practiced my presentation from my iPad, I chose the laptop because, for the moment, it’s familiar.
In his book “Crossing the Chasm” author Geoffrey Moore talks about the technology adoption lifecycle and the work by Everett Rogers and others. It is from this work that we have the expression “early adopters”. Moore explores what he describes as a chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. I don’t know how Messer’s Moore and Rogers would describe tablet and smartphone adoption, but I think we are beyond the chasm on both. Oh sure, I’m surrounded by people clinging to their laptops, but a lot of them would rather use their iPad, and I will help them get to that point. The people most loyal to the complete PC model are the ones whose work day involves processing transactions or reporting on the transactions processed in our organization. These folks are using those applications that we developed, and those applications are not iPad ready – nor will they be anytime soon. Ironically, these were the first people in our organization to get computers of any sort, but the last people to get laptops. Other users, the ones who travel often and need the ability to stay connected to the mother ship, create content and give presentations, have been carrying laptops since before they were an affordable solution. I can remember a day when people preferred desktop computers because you could swap hard drives, add memory and install add-on cards with ease compared to a laptop. Desktops were more powerful and more versatile which meant that only travelers chose laptops, and they did it for the convenience.
Laptops grew to equal the power of business desktops several years ago, or they simply got beyond the point where it mattered; I can’t remember the last time, I ran out of disk space before retiring my computer. Frankly, I see the same trend today; tablets are becoming as good as laptops, or they are getting good enough to the point of it not mattering. For example, I use the App Photogene on my iPhone and iPad to edit digital pictures; I use Adobe Creative Suite on my laptop. For most of my photo editing work, Photogene does the job. The other way to look at that is to point out that I use very little of Photoshop’s rich feature set. The same can be said of my use of Microsoft Office, and I honestly think I use more features of Creative Suite and Office than most people I know. While my iPad will continue to encroach on my laptop’s capability, my laptop is stuck in a bigger-is-better model. I use Photogene instead of PhotoShop, because I can take the photo, edit the photo, email the photo and post the photo to Facebook from the same device. In fact, I can do ALL those things from within Photogene! My laptop tries to lure me in with the promise of better software, but increasingly, I find that I don’t need what it has to offer. Contrast the meager benefits with the fact that I have to carry a power brick, find a place to rest the laptop and wait forever for the thing to boot up, and it’s game-set-match iPad.
Looking down the road to what appears to be a one-Windows-fits-all offering from Microsoft; I can say without hesitation, I dread the day it arrives. If you want to embarrass me, I’ll save you the trouble – I also said I didn’t want an iPad. Ironically, when I wrote that I didn’t want an iPad, I said that I was looking for the features Microsoft seems to be building into Windows 8 for tablets. What I failed to consider at that time is that I am a geek. I wanted those features, and I wanted the ability to build on that complex platform to give my users what I think they expect from me. It turns out, that most of my users don’t want that at all.
Since 1981, when first IBM PC came out, I have been giving my users something that was way more complicated, way more powerful and that demands way more knowledge than they wanted. In fact, most of the users that I support (work, friends, family) really don’t understand the PCs I provide to them or help them use. They learn specific applications and they use Windows the way a passenger uses a bus. The fact that Windows can do so much more than run Word, Outlook and Internet Explorer is lost on most users. In fact, most of the features of Word and Outlook go unused, and most users aren’t fully comfortable with Windows Explorer! If you want to test that, ask someone to change the default application for opening a file type – go ahead, I’ll wait.
For the first time, I am giving people something they want, like and understand – an iPad. Oh, I have some who complain that they can’t find their files, but they are in a minority that, amazingly no longer includes me. I don’t care where the files are. My apps always know where the files are, I can always open, delete and share those files, so why should I care where they actually reside? I was driving with a friend last week and I asked him if he felt the absence of a file system on his iPad was a drawback. He immediately replied: “it’s a blessing!”
Microsoft seems to be banking on the fact that users want more from a tablet; I doubt it. I think they want tablets to be, as Einstein said, "as simple as they can be, but no simpler" and for my money, and the money my boss trusts me to spend, I think Apple has nailed that with the iPad. The app that I developed for our iPhone and iPad users is dirt-simple to use, and I can honestly say that I’ve gotten more positive feedback on that app than any other piece of software I’ve ever written.
In fairness to Microsoft, maybe they do get it, maybe they know where this all has to go, but they also realize that there are a gazillion PCs out there running Windows and they can’t just throw the switch and change things. Microsoft is fighting momentum (conservation of energy) Einstein had something to say about that too. In fact, Einstein changed the law from conservation of energy to conservation of "mass-energy", recognizing that mass is converted to energy by E=mc2. One of the sad realities revealed by that simple equation is the amount of energy required to counteract momentum. So maybe the iPad is just a disruptive technology and Microsoft is fighting back the best way it can, or maybe Microsoft is trying to wring every last dollar out of its customer base at every turn and they are afraid to actually make life simpler for those who want it. A Windows world where some users have desktops and some laptops and some tablets, might be a nice place to live, if each user had what they want, and an operating system that fully exploited the box it was running on. Giving a desktop or laptop user a touch-based OS is like turning the on the sound on a TV in a sports bar – it’s a distraction that provides no benefit.
For almost 10 years, I used a Toshiba Portege Tablet PC. I loved those laptops; they worked as fully functional laptops and flipped around to create awesome slates. Unfortunately, the last model (M800) featured a full touch screen, even though Windows 7 was ill-equipped to take advantage of it. It caused me constant grief as people would point to stuff on my screen and cause actions to occur. When I tried to use the stylus for input, my palm was always doing something I wasn’t trying to do. After I got my first iPad, I ditched the Portege in favor of a lighter, no-touch ThinkPad.
Windows is like a railroad that never unloads its trains. The trains run for a while and then they stop and add a few more cars. The routes get more complex, serving more and more customers. The trains have gotten longer, carrying a wider and wider variety of loads. Microsoft seems to think we want an N-gauge version of the whole Windows train. I think most people want a mix of unit trains (like the one shown above), light-rail, subways, buses, cars and bicycles, and I think we are right to want those things.