Thursday, July 16, 2009

New MacBook Pro

My employer was very generous in finally providing me a new MacBook Pro (2.53 MHz, SD slot) for my work computer which has been an amazing yet sometimes puzzling computer.

First of all, it's just beautiful and sleek. When you feel it, touch it, and use it, you feel like it's a high quality device. No wonder Apple make a big deal over the solid core aluminum construction. It looks almost like a piece of art. Rather than the "putting lipstick on a pig approach by many PC assemblers," Apple made it different down to the core (forgive the double entendre).

When you open the lid from sleep, you hear a sight "whoosh" as the fans briefly cycle - you feel like you should hold your breath for a moment because using this thing is a special privilege.

Second - this thing is QUIET!!!! Sorry to shout that. I've done all kinds of things with it and the fans have never come on that I've heard them running. You can't imagine how golden that silence is until you try it.

Third - it's fast. Really fast. Even with running FileVault the computer seems so smooth. Nothing seems to faze it. That should change once I get on our corporate encryption solution which doesn't store your home folder as a single file like Apple does.

Fourth - the screen is very bright. I was able to use it in a vehicle on a bright sunny day. I did pick up a little glare off the glossy monitor (which I love - so deep and lustrous) but it was much more usable than my trusty old laptop (which my son was thrilled to have use of now).

Fifth - the battery life is stunning. While typing out documents in Word on a flight, after 30 minutes the battery monitor still said I had 7:41 remaining. That is a coast to coast flight with room to spare.

Now the bad stuff - occasionally when I hook up a new external monitor or projector, the laptop takes some time to recognize the device. Once or twice, even when hooking up a familiar external monitor, it froze. My old MacBook Pro never did that. I think there is a little bit of Mac OS X sorting that needs to occur. Maybe that's the difference between ATi and NVidia. Good thing I had my Dr. Bott gHead II adapter that saved me in a customer presentation.

In fact, while on a flight back from Texas, I sat next to a guy that had the first 17" solid aluminum MacBook Pro and he had the same issue so he was glad to discover that there was such a thing.

The only other thing was that I wish Apple's Active Directory plug-in was better. In our network environment, even being binded to the network doesn't force me to change my overall password and I still have to enter in my password for certain services on our network. I'm going to try ADmit Mac which supposedly works a lot better. But that is not a hardware issue.

Someone once said that "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." My three year old MacBook Pro was a great joy to use and still kept up with even the new laptops that were being issued. It runs like it has years left in it and still looks great.

But this new one has raised the bar even further. It's like you're in a whole 'nother world or category of computing.

Microsoft Retail Stores

Microsoft has announced that they will be rolling out new retail stores, some in proximity to Apple stores, to create a physical presence in the consumer space. If Microsoft's aim is to copy Apple's, I think that they will be in for a very rough ride.

Apple's brand image is one of high quality which is the reason why they choose "highstreet" locations. The brick and mortar stores reflect their brand and the entire experience is designed to make you feel special. And Apple's stores generate a profit and are self-sustaining. In fact, they were the fastest chain to hit $1 billion in sales.
Microsoft, while running the current Laptop Hunters ad campaign, is creating a low cost, every day commodity brand, more like WalMart, less like Crate & Barrel. So opening stores in high street areas, if that is their intent, is incongruous with the image that they are brandishing. The other issue that Microsoft will have is how are they going to generate revenue at their stores? Their only mass market hardware are accessories. They aren't going to sell millions of Windows 7 at retail - there just isn't enough there to excite consumers. Not only that, but because people view Windows as a commodity, it's very difficult for them to sell a lot at retail like they did with Windows 95 that we perceived as something completely new and different. They spent $6 billion to develop Vista that was commonly panned and uninstalled and with the way Apple positioned Snow Leopard's pricing, it probably affected their ability to charge full tilt

They certainly won't sell hardware, at least not directly because of its OEM customer base. Maybe they will sell all kinds of retail software titles and games. But those dedicated stores pretty much died in the 90's. Apple offers something you can't get anywhere else. Microsoft has to do the same if they want to stand out.

I'm not privy to their strategy but I hope it is a good one. Even though I'm an Apple fan, it's great to see an American business investing in America. Millions of people depend on the Microsoft economy. My concerns for the company are that it may not generate self-sustaining revenue or will it be a drag on the balance sheet. Microsoft's appetite to buy businesses, competition, and invest in all kinds of products that don't pay for themselves will eventually hurt the company.

It is rumored that the only two divisions that generate positive revenue and carries the company are its Windows and Office products. Windows continues to see erosion, particularly in the consumer space hence the ad campaign and announcing stores. Office is also taking heat from Google, to IBM, to iWork, to open source alternatives, to people who stick with the old version because the new version does not offer enough value and the unfamiliar ribbon interface. Now Microsoft is going to offer a free, online, scaled down version of Office. You can bet that for the average home user, this will be more than enough for everyday purposes. I bet advertising is going to have to make up for lost revenue in box sales of Office.

So if more of Microsoft's offerings are moving to the cloud like Google, why are they investing in retail store fronts like Apple?

Maybe they have such a futuristic experience planned that people will want to go into to really be wowed. I just haven't seen that cohesive thinking out of Microsoft lately except when it comes to Bing - and you can't ring that up at the checkout counter.