Starbucks CIO shows why next version of Windows is “risky business” for Microsoft

Starbucks CIO, Stephen Gillett, and I had breakfast on Wednesday. He showed me Starbucks new Digital Network, which will pop up on the screen if you sign in on wifi at any of Starbucks US stores. 30 million people a month do that.

You can hear him telling me about that on this CinchCast, I’ll have a video up this weekend.

But what he told me about what Starbucks is learning about its customers was telling and demonstrates just how big a deal the next version of Windows will be to Microsoft. How big a deal? Well, Steve Ballmer is already telling folks it’s the riskiest product intro yet for Microsoft.

So, what did Gillett tell me?

He said that laptop usage is flat, or even slightly declining, and that mobile usage is on fire and growing a great percentage every month.

Take that trend out two more years, which is when we expect to see the next version of Windows, and you can see the “risky” problem for Microsoft: we might not care at all about the OS on laptops and desktop computers anymore and might have switched to smart phones or slates, like the iPad. By the way, Gillett also said that iDevices from Apple are used more in its stores than any others. How important is that? Well, Gillett wanted to use Flash on the social network, but there wasn’t any way he could because of Steve Jobs’ refusal to support Flash. Even today Apple is refusing to include Flash in its laptops and desktops.

So, Starbucks built its system using HTML 5. Note what that means: nothing special for Microsoft Windows. No Silverlight. No .NET code. No Windows Mobile 7 features. Etc.

How the world has changed in just a decade. If we were in 2000, instead of 2010, Gillett wouldn’t have kept his job if he tried betting against Microsoft. But today his customers are forcing him to.

When I visited Microsoft this summer employees there told me they knew this fact too: we are losing interest in the platforms that Microsoft is dominant in and that makes the next version of Windows very risky.

Look at what could happen:

1. Windows 7 is a fantastic OS, so we might just stay with that. If Windows 8 doesn’t have a “killer feature and killer apps” then there won’t be the leverage on us to upgrade. We all upgraded to Windows 7 to get rid of the buggy Vista, or get the new stuff that made XP seem old-in-the-tooth. But will Windows 8 come up with something to make Win 7 seem long in the tooth? That’s a far tougher challenge.

2. We could stop caring about laptops and desktops altogether. I’m noticing more and more iPhones and iPads when I fly. Steve Rubel, VP of Edelman, told me he doesn’t even carry his iPad or laptops on business trips anymore. Just uses his mobile phone.

3. We could get pulled into Apple’s platforms, or Google’s platforms. Look at all the new apps that are only on these platforms. That would mean the death of Windows.

So, what will happen? Well, Microsoft better pull a rabbit out of its hat. The problem is, that hat has been dry for some time.

What would get you to care about Windows again, after all, Starbucks is noticing we like using our mobiles in its stores a lot more and that’s NOT a good place for Microsoft right now.


Scribd and Apture herald a new more usable web (New wave of Semantic services arrives)

I’m seeing a trend of new search technologies and semantic databases that make the services we use more productive. You’ll see more of those over the next few weeks, but today Scribd and Apture kick off a new way to get more info from documents stored on the web. Here’s some examples — just highlight a term you want to learn more about and click “learn more:”

Frank Gehrey Illustration.
Room To Read India Brochure (Pg. 17–Mirzapur/rickshaw video )
Kemble Scott’s Book: (Camp David, Armenia)

Here’s Apture’s CEO/founder, Tristan Harris, showing off how this works:

You highlight a term and you’ll learn more about it.

Now, how does that work? Underneath is pretty sophisticated semantic web technologies, but notice how Tristan never talks about semantic web. This is one of the first of the new wave, which shove that technology under the covers, while making it useful. The first wave never caught on because it was too slow, too geeky, and didn’t come help us where we actually live — on the documents we are trying to learn from.

Other places that semantic web technology is being used? Well, take a look at Meshin, which was developed yards from where ethernet originally was developed, in Xerox’s PARC labs. Right now Meshin is an Outlook plugin, sort of a copy of Xobni, but they are indexing every email going through that system and using a combination of graph and semantic databases to make your email more useful.

Who else is building sophisticated databases? Well, if you have one please post in the comments here.

Screw the super angels, we need a super user collusion table at Bin-38

OK, screw the super angels. You’ve heard all about those, right?

Well, I’m tired of hearing all about them. Why? They pollute every conversation with talk of valuations. Collusion. Exit strategies. Monetization strategies. Gamification strategies.

How boring.

When I was on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt I had to sit through this kind of talk. Look at the sessions from the first day. It’s all about adding gaming systems to the web. What did they talk about? Pleasing investors (we’re already selling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth) or pleasing brands (we can help brands get more engagement).

Gag me with a spoon.

Did I hear anyone during our session say “users are gonna love this?” Or “we did this to make users lives easier/better/etc?” No!

But it’s worse than that.

When I talk with audiences that have lots of VCs and VIPs in them, like I did last week at Rackspace’s SaaS event, or the week before at VatorSplash (a great event, by the way), I ask them how many new apps they’ve tried on their phones.

Only 5% of those audiences have tried more than 100 apps (I’ve tried more than 500, but have kept 356 on my iPhone. Strike that, I was just at CardMunch today and got one more. 357. Great business card scanning app, by the way).

Just look at Google. There are 3.1 million results for “super angels.” But there’s only 298,000 results for “super users.”

Why is that? Because money talks.

I’m sick of it.

Instead of the Super Angels alledgedly colluding against entrepreneurs, it’s time that the users met at places like Bin-38 and collude to get better products. It’s time that super users get the word out again. It used to be that the tech bloggers were all about users. But, lately, the best user conference, Gnomedex, has closed up shop and the tech press has decided to either talk about new products, people getting promoted/fired/hired, or funding events or exits.

I want a blog that says “Hey, did you hear what Kleiner Perkins sold today? WHO CARES! Did they build a better product?”

I’m to blame, by the way. Why do I say that? Well…

When Facebook opened up its new group feature, did I build a list of super users? No. I built a list of VCs, CEOs, and Tech Influentials.

Gag me with a spoon.

Did I get off my behind and build a Twitter list of super users? No. I’ve built a bunch of them, but none that focus on users.

Do I ask enough questions about how to use a product or service better? No.

Do I get technical info from companies about how to use APIs to build things better for users? No.

Do I hold companies feet to the fire for building crappy user interfaces? Not enough. Yeah, I bashed the first Kindle, but do I do that enough? No.

So, what can we do to make the industry more user-centric?

I’ll try to do my part. I’m looking for people who have more than 100 apps loaded on their mobile phones to start a group of super users. Who is in? Leave your Twitter info and Plancast info here so I can add you to a group.

Oh, and how do you get more than 100 apps? Use Chomp. Appolicious. Or Appsfire.

By banding together we can put pressure on those Super Angels to give us better technology.

Why focus on mobile? Because mobile is seeing the most innovation and change of any platform, by far, and investment too. It’s where users still have some leverage because those super angels will be pushing their companies to get adoption and they’ll want to talk with super users who are willing to try new ideas/apps/services, etc.

Are you in?