Speculations for Build 2013

Build is a Microsoft developer conference that has taken the place of their Professional Developer Conference (PDC). The first Build was held in 2011 and introduced the world to Windows 8 Preview. Last year’s Build, saw the release of Windows 8 and Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet. You can read my thoughts on Build 2011 here. Microsoft has not yet announced sessions or topics for this year’s Build, which will be held June 26-28, 2013 in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. However, that is not stopping us from speculating on what we are going to see.

Windows 8.1 – It has already been announced that the next version of Windows, Windows 8.1, will be announced and available for download at Build. Not too much is known about the next version, codenamed Blue, but Microsoft has announced some features recently. Users can expect to see:

  • The return of the start button
  • Better personalization features
  • Integrated search across multiple applications and the web

Windows 8 Screen shot

Windows RT – Microsoft Windows RT, the ARM based version of their Operating System, is in a weird place. It runs Metro/Modern Design apps in a full touch mode. It also ships with a subset of Microsoft Office such as Word and Excel. However it does not run other Windows applications. What it does do is run all day on a single charge. It is a great productivity tool for knowledge workers. However, with the release of Intel’s Haswell chipset it seems that all-day battery life will be available on much more powerful chipsets. What, then, becomes the future of Windows RT? Will it move to being Microsoft Windows Phone OS? Will Microsoft reduce the cost of Windows RT to get more hardware vendors building machines? Maybe we will find out more at Build!

Devices and Services Company – Microsoft has repeatedly said they are now a devices and services company. They released their Surface RT machines last year and this January released their Surface Pro, a full blown Intel machine. With the exception of Xbox One, Microsoft has not announced any new devices in almost a year. It seems like Build would be a great time.

Xbox One – Microsoft has a month of information about their next Xbox platform. Late May saw the introduction of Xbox One. E3, at the beginning of June, saw Microsoft focusing on games for the platform and game play demos. Build should see Microsoft talking about Xbox One’s developer story. With the core of Xbox now being Windows 8, it should be interesting to see what the development story is. Will Microsoft make it easier for Indie Game developers to create applications for Xbox One? Will Win 8 games port over to Xbox One easily?

Windows Phone – With the release of Windows Phone 8, Microsoft reworked its Phone OS to also have a Windows core. From a developer’s standpoint, the XAML code development for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are relatively similar, however, WinJS, Microsoft’s HTML based API for Windows 8 development was not an option. Will Microsoft release its WinJS API for Windows Phone at Build?

Smaller Windows 8 Devices – Since the release of Windows 8, a market has emerged for either large phones/phablets as well as smaller tablet devices like the Kindel Fire or iPad Mini. We expect Microsoft will be detailing support for these form factors at Build. Hopefully they will be showing off some of them too!

Kinect for Windows RT – Microsoft’s Kinect is impressive technology. Microsoft released a Kinect for Windows last year, but the hardware did not work on the RT side of the house. Will there be APIs in Windows RT for Kinect? Will there be new Kinect hardware?

Microsoft buys Nook? – Microsoft is usually good for an acquisition or partnership announcement. Will they be announcing during Build that they have purchased Nook from Barnes and Noble? Microsoft has digital media eco systems for music (Xbox Music), videos (Xbox Movies) but not for books. A purchase of Nook would allow them to compete with Google Books, iBooks and of course, Amazon and the Kindle.

One API To Rule Them All – With the core of Windows driving Xbox One, Windows Phone and Windows 8, will Microsoft release a single API that enables development across all of their platform? That would be great to see and could drive a lot of great applications across Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox!

With Build quickly approaching, we expect some exciting news in the next few weeks. Skyline Technologies will be there to help our clients synthesize it!

This blog post originally appeared at Skyline Technologies (


Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Jump Starting Microsoft’s Devices and Services Transition

Microsoft, over the last year, has stated they are a devices and services company. In a lot of ways, this is not just not true J. Microsoft WANTS to be a services and devices company. Right now they are an enterprise Software company that sells the world's most popular PC operating system in a world where PC sales are quickly falling.

How do they make the move to truly being a devices and services company? Well, if I was CEO for a while, this is what I would do.....

Microsoft really has three things they need to ramp up. First, they need more users of its services, especially on the consumer side. Second, they need to increase the diversity of software on mobile devices, both Windows, Windows Phone and competing platforms like Android and iOS. Last, but not least, they need to have more devices.

So how would I go about tackling these issues? It is time to pullout the checkbook.

First, Microsoft already has a very popular service that is used by close to 750 million people in Skype. Over a third of all international phone calls last year were done with Skype. Skype is an example of how these purchases should unfold. Buy an organization and integrate into Microsoft platform stack, but for the most part, leave it alone. Let the teams that have run the company and have made it successful continue to build it.

Part of growing users is having great applications, so let us start with Microsoft buying Flipboard. Flipboard is a great RSS reader on the iOS and Android platforms that considers itself your personal magazine. They collect content from social media and other websites and bring them together in a visually appealing way. Once purchasing Flipboard, immediately make clients for their Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 platforms, create a web version and move to replace Google Reader, which will soon be going away. LinkedIn recently purchased a similar company, Pulse, for $90 million dollars. Flipboard, in their most recent funding round over a year ago came out at about $200 million, so let's be safe and say it will cost $500 million.

Next up, jumpstart their social offerings. I like my Twitter, grudgingly go to Facebook to see how family and friends are doing and occasionally check out Google+ and LinkedIn. I don't spend a ton of time being social on the web and do not pretend to be an expert. Having said that, based on the like/post buttons on the sites I go to, Facebook, Twitter, LinkdedIn, Google+ and Pinterest seem to be the most popular. Microsoft already owns about 5% of Facebook and they (most likely) won't ever own the rest of Facebook. LindedIn fits into the Enterprise Microsoft wants to expand out of. Twitter would be an interesting buy, but the market cap is very high. That leaves us with Pinterest, and it kind of makes sense for Microsoft, a lot of sense.

Pinterest is a photo sharing site using a pinboard style that has become popular from a design standpoint (I am looking at you recently redesigned Google+). It is also like Bradley Cooper, very popular with the ladies. This would help Microsoft because their most popular social service, Xbox and Xbox live, is very popular with the males of the species. A Pinterest buy allows Microsoft to break out of its male dominated social user base in a big way. (Of course, trying to use a little hyperbole above, realize plenty of males and females on each platform). Similar to Flipboard, focus on getting applications on their Windows and Windows Phone platform. Over time, provide tie-ins to your Microsoft account.


Pinterest's current valuation is 2.5 billion. Let's give it a little bump to be safe and pay $3 billion for Pinterest and our total cost is $3.5 billion.

Next up, buy Barnes and Noble Nook division. I was not really sure about this because I do not think it makes a ton of sense, but it is not my money. Rumors have been around for a while that Microsoft is already considering doing this. They invested ~$300 million a while back in Nook and are already part owners. I don't think it makes sense because Nook is not doing well, Microsoft should be spending on brands going up, and not down. On the other hand, as they move to a services division they are the only major player without a book platform. Google, Apple and Amazon all have various offerings. With the Xbox video and music services that already exist, the Nook platform helps them spread across the media space. Throw in the consumption side of Flipboard, its magazine publishing features and you have a nice solution across multiple media spots. This helps Microsoft in the checkbox battle of marketing, but I am not sure much more beyond that. Current buyout rumors say for about a billion dollars, so let us do that. So far, we have spent $4.5 billion.

We have addressed some of the application, user base and holes in the Microsoft media space. We need devices though. For Microsoft's mobile phone platform, Windows Phone 8, that means one thing, Nokia. Currently, Nokia accounts for about 80% of all Windows Phone 8 device sales. They also have great data and tools in the mapping space. Microsoft could use this data to make its own Bing Maps service even better. They in fact, currently license Nokia map data today. Obviously though, the reason for this would be to sell more phones. Nokia and their Lumia brand for the most part, are Windows Phone today. Purchasing Nokia allows Microsoft to truly become a devices company today instead of waiting for their Surface line to become a huge part of their bottom line.

Having said that, it is important, and quite possibly bordering imperative that Microsoft get out of Nokia's way, similar to what they did with Skype. Nokia understands the mobile space and devices better than Microsoft can. They have relationships with carriers across the world. That is what Microsoft is really buying, expertise in supply chain for making phones and the relationships to sell across the world. Nokia's market cap is approximately $14 billion. We will put a 15% premium on the stock, which puts the buyout at 16.1 billion. This puts us at $20.6 billion dollars.

So, one of my concerns about this though is Microsoft wants to sell more Windows Phones and not less. While Microsoft isn't seeing tons of people buying Windows phones, the platform is oh so slowly growing and you don't want to lose that other 20%. There are also some great devices by vendors like HTC that people who buy them, really like.

If you are Microsoft, go to the Android route. Give away the OS. With a purchase of Nokia, Microsoft would quite possibly be making money on every smartphone device being sold in the world. Nokia currently gets a royalty on every iPhone sold. Microsoft has license agreements that we assume involve royalty payments from nearly every Android vendor not named Google/Motorola. What Microsoft needs to do is get more users of its phone system. By giving away Windows Phone OS to hardware vendors, it may act as an incentive. The other reason for this is that rumors abound that Samsung will be creating its own OS platform. While Microsoft is a distant third in mobile OS, they do not want Samsung to catapult them if they move away from Android to their own platform. Given the sales of the Samsung Galaxy series, this could be a distinct possibility.

We are trying to grow the Windows Phone base, we also want to grow the Windows 8 base. Microsoft released Windows 8 last October. They have sold close to 100 million copies, but it is not taking the world by storm. The next Windows release, Blue, will be out later this year. Rumors are it will focus on smaller form factors, like the 7 inch iPad mini size. When you start getting to devices of that size, it makes very little sense to have the legacy Windows software running there. You also have the issue of hardware vendors trying to sell $300 tablets to compete against the Kindle fire. With $50 going to Microsoft for Windows the math just won't work and it will be almost impossible for hardware vendors to compete on price.

Realizing this, Microsoft should release two version of Windows. One is the current version of Windows 8, with both old school/legacy Windows that can run things like Word and Photoshop as well as the fully enabled touch interface that is Windows Metro (or Modern apps or RT). This would be for laptop/desktop users, which for sake of this article we would call Windows Classic, but definitely not thee name you want going forward. I would then release a version of Windows RT, with ONLY the Windows Metro side of the house included. Get rid of the current Windows desktop side of the house. You lose the selling point of Office on these devices, but I am not going to write too many Word documents on such a small form factor. Plus, Microsoft should have RT versions of the software soon that they could provide as part of the Windows RT version, similar to what they do with the desktop office currently. And then, similar to Windows Phone, give away the OS to hardware vendors. Without having to pay a license fee to Microsoft, vendors can release a variety of devices, and not worry about the fee for the OS impacting their ability to be competitively priced. This will help grow the user base for Windows 8 and the number of applications in the app store. By having Windows 8 Classic with the current Windows desktop, they can still preserve their income stream from Enterprises as they transition to making money from their app store.

To become a devices and services company, Microsoft is going to need more users using its services and they need them quick. Nothing will jump start the market like giving away their phone and fully enabled touch operating system to any hardware vendor that asks.

Microsoft also needs to get its Enterprise apps like Office onto Android and iOS devices. The longer they wait to do this, the more reason folks have to look at things like Google Apps as their productivity suite. I assume they are waiting until they have RT versions of their Office applications available, but they cannot wait another year or two to do this.

Last, don't mess up Xbox. Microsoft is announcing their next generation Xbox later today. They need to get this right, since it is the only great consumer winner they have today. I am also interested to see what kind of peripheral devices they release. I have written in the past about an Xbox phone, I am pretty sure we will see some kind of Xbox Surface device this year. Should be a very interesting time in the Xbox/Surface space over the next 6 months.

So to recap, if I were CEO for a while

  • Buy Flipboard for $500 million
  • Buy Pinterest for $3 billion
  • Buy Nook for $1 billion
  • Buy Nokia for $16.1 billion
  • Give away Windows Phone to hardware manufacturers
  • Split Windows 8 into Windows RT and Windows "Classic"
  • Make Windows RT free for hardware manufacturers
  • Get Office on Android and iOS
  • Xbox home run So $20.6 billion is a lot of money, close to half of Microsoft's cash reserves. However, Microsoft needs to move quickly. It will continue to make money in the Enterprise space for a long time. They have great enterprise services emerging like Azure and Office 365. What they need to do is quickly adjust to a world where PC sales are declining and people are bringing devices to the office to do their work. They don't want to turn into another RIM where their cash reserves just help them run out the clock.

Microsoft is transitioning to a devices and services company, however they are doing it slouching towards Bethlehem waiting to be born style. It needs to be more Gangam style, more quick, more energized. They need to increase their velocity and they need to do it now.




That Conference 2013

That Conference 2013 tickets go on sale tomorrow (5/15). If you are invested in your career and love making the web a more awesome place, you should be buying a ticket. Allow me to ramble a bit and elaborate...

That Conference ( is a three day conference (August 12th -14th) in its second year and is hosted in Wisconsin Dells. For those of you from not around here (here being Wisconsin), the Dells is a huge tourist destination located about an hour north of Madison, WI.

The thing I loved most about last year's That Conference is the community aspect. The main mad-scientist behind bringing the conference together is Clark Sell. Clark is passionate about what he does. You can tell he loves getting on the keyboard and hitting the compile button. However, the true genius of Clark (and make no mistake, it is genius) is Community and it permeates the conference in ways that folks may not realize. There is a longer break between sessions than there is at most conferences. You are either forced to be bored out of your skull or actually say to someone, "Hey, that is a pretty awesome Hold Steady concert shirt, are you a fan?" and then many hours later you are closing down the bar with your new buddy. There are Open Spaces going on throughout the conference, and I do not know if it was dumb luck or inspired room placement (I am going inspired room placement because I still want to believe in Santa Clause) but there is a constant flow of people through the room, engaging with one another. Clark and the rest of the Camp Staff, to the best of their ability, make sure the speakers meet the "Not a Jerk" rule. You can be sure if Clark or the rest of the Camp Staff know the speaker, then that speaker is going to be someone you can go up to after their talk, or anytime during the conference and bend their ear and they will stop what they're doing, listen and offer suggestions and help. Whether you realize it or not, Clark and the staff will go out of their way to make sure you make new connections during the week and you will be better for it.

Next, the speaker list is outstanding. Last year saw keynotes from Richard Campbell of .NET Rocks fame, Scott Hanselman of Scott Hanselman fame and Leon Gersing, the Ruby Buddha, who probably had the best received keynote of them all. The thing that differentiated the keynotes at That Conference for me last year was that they were more focused on life outside of code. You are about to have a day full of deep technical dives into a wide and varied array of topics. Each of the key notes though were more focused on the developer outside of developing code. Hansleman focused on making sure you were not overwhelmed in the flow of information we all see, Campbell talked about the sea of change in front of everyone with mobile devices and offered perspective and history while Gersing asked everyone to follow their passion. I thought it was awesome.

This year's keynoters promise to be along the same level of greatness. Doc Norton is the Director of Engineering at Groupon and has a great background in delivering large scale applications. Dave Thomas helped create Ruby and wants you to enjoy what you are doing. Denise Jacobs is probably the talk I am most excited to see. I have heard many great things about her presentations throughout the Interwebs and couldn't be more excited to see her in person.

That however is only the tip of the iceberg. The speaker list (or Camp Counselors in keeping with the Summer Camp for Geeks theme) is full of top notch national speakers, and they are all coming to my backyard of Wisconsin. Richard Campbell and Leon Gersing will be back. Pete Brown, who does awesome things in his garage, is back presenting. Tim Huckaby is going to be presenting as is Beth Massi. There is a whole list of people I follow on Twitter and have seen present at national conferences like Tech-Ed and Build that will be coming to Wisconsin for three days in August.

On a personal level, six of my fellow Skyline Technologies peers will be speaking. I know the passion each of them have for what they do in their day to day, and even more important, how willing they are to share their experiences and help developers around them. What blew me away about last year, is that each session I attended, you could see that same passion in the speakers. They are not speaking because their boss is telling them to, they are speaking because they love what they do and they want you to share.

Usually tourist areas during the busy season makes me break out into hives, but it really works for the conference (not the hives, the location). It is hosted at a huge resort complex, The Kalahari, which has a water park associated with it. This is genius for two reasons; 1) water parks are fun for adults, 2) water parks are MORE fun for children. For those of you with families, this is a GREAT summer event where you can bring your spouse/significant other with you. And if you have children in your life, it is a great get away for you and your people. The Camp Staff have family friendly events like game night, and even more awesome, a coding for kids event, which will be hosted by Keith Burnell. Great fun.

For the cost of $349, you are not going to find a better deal on making yourself a better developer. More important though, if you are in the Midwest you are investing and supporting something awesome in your backyard, and you can never have enough awesome in your backyard. By attending Year Two and making it great, we all make sure we get to go to an even greater Year Three. Most importantly though, you are going to build your community. You will meet people engaged and passionate in what they do and help you realize that you too are doing awesome by being part of the community. Starting tomorrow, sign up is here. I will see you in August!


John Ptacek I'm John Ptacek, a software developer for Skyline Technologies. This blog is my contains my content and opinionss, which are not those of my employer.

Currently, I am reading Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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