Home opinion-and-analysis Fuzzy Logic An open letter to Frank X. Shaw re: Apples and Oranges

An open letter to Frank X. Shaw re: Apples and Oranges

The following satirical post is 70% from Frank X. Shaw, Corporate Vice President of Communications at Microsoft, 2% from Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO and 28% from me, Alex Zaharov-Reutt, Technology Journalist and Sometime Satirist (TM). There's a message for Mr Shaw at the end, an invitation to reply with a better try.

Microsoft’s Frank X. Shaw, Corporate Vice President of Communications, has written an article that seeks to debunk any positive impact from Apple making iWork apps free for Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches and even Windows PCs in the browser for anyone with a freely acquirable Apple ID by suggesting that Office 2013 on Surface tablets makes all the productive difference in the world. Among other things.

This article looks at what this piece might have been like had it been written in 2007, and includes real, actual quotes from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer slamming the iPhone and its chances of success, which you can check by clicking the source links for yourself.

Mr Shaw’s article, entitled Apples and Oranges, dated 23 October 2013, regarding Apple’s moves to make iWork apps free is here.

Below is the re-imagined, fast and fluid version from the not too distant past:

Apples and oranges: the 2007 edition

September 5, 2007 11:24 AM

I’m still over in 2007, where the only thing hotter than the weather are the new Windows Mobile and iPhone comments unveiled by Steve Ballmer at the USA Today CEO Forum, about the iPhone, which we’ll get to in a moment as they are so stunningly on the mark - just like I am today.

I have to say, I’m really excited for the upcoming Windows Mobile 6.5 with its calendar and Internet Explorer Mobile browser so I can keep a close eye on more people, more news, more stuff.

Of course, even with the stylus-driven and physical keyboard-enhanced Windows Mobile Palm Treo 700w smartphone I’m using right now, I could easily spot some coverage today that needs to be corrected.

Seems like the RDF (Reality Distortion Field) typically generated by an Apple event has extended beyond Cupertino.

So let me try to clear some things up.

Note: If you are the TL;DR type, let me cut to the chase over the next 20 paragraphs, with only occasional use of the Enter key and my kinda unique, kinda cool stream-of-consciousness-style. Windows Mobile 6.x phones include an exclusive mobile version of Office, the best there is, from us, Microsoft, the guys and gals that make it, the world’s most popular, most powerful productivity software for free with every Windows Mobile smartphone, and many models are priced on contract well below the insanely expensive $599 iPhone, which just got cut to a still crazy $399 today. Making Apple’s decision to build the unproven, unpopular and less powerful “Iphones” without even basic features like copy and paste, nor video recording, nor even any third party programs is not a very big (or very good) deal.

Since we launched the Pocket PC line years ago, which we originally called the Palm PC in an attempt to rip, I mean, riff off the Palm Pilot, we later introduced Pocket PCs with phones in them and called them Windows Mobile smartphones. We’ve been doing this for a long time now. Embrance, extend. Extinguish as needed. Enjoy. Lather, rinse, repeat. 10 Print "hello world", 20 goto 10. End. It's basic stuff.  

One of the themes we’ve consistently used to talk about them is that they are a terrific blend of productivity and entertainment in one lightweight, affordable package. In fact, we’re confident that they offer the best combination of those capabilities available on the market today. I mean, everybody knows that Windows Mobile phones absolutely rock (well, they rock my world) and Windows Mobile 6.5 is going to make it EVEN BETTER!

That’s not an accident, it’s exactly what we set out to design. We saw too many people carrying two devices around (a PDA and a basic phone) and dealing with the excess cost, weight and complexity that “dual carrying” entails.

We believed that there was another, better way: A Windows Mobile phone built to offer great stylus and button keyboard based entertainment activities combined with a productivity powerhouse that helps people crank through the stuff they have to get done before they watch zombie movies converted to the industry-leading WMV format or flicking styluses accidentally off the screen when screen scribbling in a hurry. Alongside using their actual PCs for real work, rather than tapping away on a tiny screen with a stylus.

That’s what Windows Mobile 6.x is. A single, simple, stylus-enabled affordable device that helps you both lean in and kick back. Let’s be clear – helping folks kill time on a Windows Mobile is relatively easy. Give them books, music and videos on the Windows Mobile media player and games like Solitaire and other stuff out there on Handango, and they’ll figure out the rest. Pretty much all smartphones do that - Symbian powered Nokias, those Sony Ericsson A1000 models, so none of this stuff is revolutionary, and three quarters of it the iPhone just doesn’t do at all. The iPhone doesn’t even have any kind of Office at all either, unless you’re telling me Notes is a word processor. Us having Office is kind of a big, big, big deal. Did I mention Office was a big deal?

But helping people be productive on Windows Mobile is a little trickier. It takes an understanding of how people actually work, how they get things done, and how to best support the way they do things already.

The good news is that Microsoft understands how people work better than anyone else on the planet. We created DOS, Windows 3.11, Windows 95, XP, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Internet Explorer, Windows Live Search. We killed Netscape, Amigas, Ataris, Microbees, Apple ][e's, C64s - you name it in the tech world, and we're probably the ones that helped kill it - indirectly, directly, it doesn't matter. We did just release Vista earlier this year but hey, don’t worry, we’ll have a better, faster version out in around two years, which isn’t that long to wait. Sorry about the decades between XP and Vista though. Our bad on that one and Vista too (but shh, don't mention it. Or the war. The Apple vs Microsoft thing was won long ago - by us).

Look, we created the personal computing revolution by giving people around the world a low-cost, powerful, easy-to-use piece of software loaded onto OEM hardware from Dell and whoever that helped them accomplish an unbelievable array of tasks - all in the era well before today’s Internet connectivity, in a world of floppy disks, in a world where we had crushed Apple decisively before, even lending the company $150 million to stay alive.

We’ve done the same with Windows Mobile smartphones. We have over 50 partners globally. We have all the big and small names in every form factor imaginable, all with our gloriously amazing Mobile Office, the Office compatible software that makes all the difference from the people that make the real, full Office on your computer. Those Office people. Not Officeworks or OfficeMax. Office. Not The Office on TV (neither British nor US version). Not the Oval Office. But Office. From Microsoft. That Office.  

This is a big deal. It’s bigger than apartments and leather bound books smelling of rich mahogany. I mean, it’s big. BIG big. Mobile Office on Windows Mobile is what sets Windows Mobile apart. This is a brand, an OS, a UI and a paradigm set to stand the test of time – free Mobile Office inclusion only makes its enduring success to come even more so.

And together, Windows and Office ended up reaching every corner of the globe and powering every academic institution, industry and profession. Of course both Windows and Office are evolving all the time – to reflect the way people work today – more file formats, more mobile and connected through the email attachment.

Now we’re doing this with Windows Mobile phone, and you can be certain: the future for Windows Mobile is strong. This iPhone nonsense is, as Steve Ballmer says, something businesses – or most anyone – isn’t going for.

Windows Mobile -OWNS- the business market - heck we’re about to release Windows Mobile 6.5, our best yet - that business and consumer market share isn’t going anywhere, and no-one else is going to be dumb enough to try and compete.

iPhone is a rip-off name too, like iPod was. Windows Mobile ran on an iPaq long before Apple’s iRipoffs landed on the scene.

Steve Ballmer was asked at the recent USA Today CEO Forum summit what he thought about the iPhone and if people were going to get as passionate about it as the iPod.

Steve Ballmer replied: “It's sort of a funny question. Would I trade 96% of the market for 4% of the market? (Laughter.) I want to have products that appeal to everybody.

“Now we'll get a chance to go through this again in phones and music players. There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.”

“In the case of music, Apple got out early. They were the first to really recognize that you couldn't just think about the device and all the pieces separately. Bravo. Credit that to Steve (Jobs) and Apple. They did a nice job.”

“But it's not like we're at the end of the line of innovation that's going to come in the way people listen to music, watch videos, etc. I'll bet our ads will be less edgy. But my 85-year-old uncle probably will never own an iPod, and I hope we'll get him to own a Zune.”

A bit later, Mr Ballmer was then asked: “Q: When can we look forward to a Zune phone?”.

Steve’s reply was: “A: It's not a concept you'll ever get from us. We're in the Windows Mobile business. We wouldn't define our phone experience just by music. A phone is really a general purpose device. You want to make telephone calls, you want to get and receive messages, text, e-mail, whatever your preference is. The phone really is kind of a general purpose device that we need to have clean and easy to use.”

That’s what Windows Mobile is.

I mean, I heard a rumour that Google is looking to make a phone that going to look like a BlackBerry ripoff. What, them in the phone business, too? Hahahaha… Give me a break.

That’s even weaker than this iPhone thing Jobs has released, after all, what does a stupid search engine company know about making smartphones and operating systems, for goodness sakes? It’s never going to happen - you can take Frank X. Shaw’s word for it, bet your house and get me to eat my hat word for it. I’m that serious. Someone will ask me one day, “Why so serious?”. Because I am. That’s what the X in my name stands for, you know. Xerious. Seriously? Yes. Blame my parents.

Anyway, heck - we literally wrote the book on getting things done, and doing things over, like IBM, Apple in the first two and a half decades and of course our users. And that’s how we knew that Windows Mobile 6.5 needed to include three things to help people do their best work:

1. The gold standard in productivity software for mobile devices – Office Mobile, not some QuickOffice clone garbage or lame iWork rubbish like on Mac OS. I can’t see that cheap, feature free “suite” ever coming to iPhone, a device which doesn’t run third party programs anyway.  

2. Faster and more precise input methods like a stylus and a real keyboard - none of this stupid “typing on glass” business, it’ll NEVER take off as slow iPhone sales and iPhone price cuts (but no cut and paste) are already demonstrating.

3. The ability to use third-party programs and documents from store partners like Handango and others, allowing the comparisons, analysis and synthesis that happens frequently during browsing smartphone program stores from different companies.

We haven’t bothered to make our own smartphone program stores, or a mobile application store over the past few years - we let our retail partners do that. I mean, we’ll never make our own hardware - that’s what our partners do. We make software. That’s a promise - Alan Kay never knew what he was talking about, poor idealistic fool that he was - that idea nearly put Apple out of business and would have if we hadn't saved them! 

So, that’s what we delivered. And it’s why the Windows Mobile 6.5 and Office Mobile-powered smartphone is the most productive smartphone you can buy today. We also knew that it would make our competitors take notice.

That as consumers got a taste of devices that could really help them get things done, they would see alternatives as being more limited - and, after all, you can’t get as limited as Apple with its iPhone that can’t even copy and paste, can’t multitask, can’t record video, can’t use 3G data, doesn’t have a camera flash, can’t run Adobe Flash, can’t run third-party programs, doesn’t have a stylus and doesn’t even have a physical keyboard!

And so it’s not surprising that we see other folks now talking about how much “work” you can get done on their devices, like with weak sauce Office clones on Symbian or the pathetically weak Google Docs effort. Adding watered down productivity clones just isn’t that big of a deal. I mean, I can’t smell the mahogany or the leather.

iPhone doesn’t even have aftermarket input devices - our Pocket PCs and Windows Mobile devices have had plug-in and even Bluetooth keyboards for years. All in an effort to convince people that our Windows Mobile devices are really work machines.

In that spirit, Apple announced yesterday that they were dropping their iPhone price for the 8GB model from $599 to $399.

Now, since the iPhone has never gotten much traction, with now the 4GB model to be abandoned to due lack of interest, and was already priced like an afterthought of the original high 8GB iPhone $599 pricing, it’s hardly that surprising or significant a move.

And it doesn’t change the fact that it’s much harder to get work done on a device that lacks precision input and a stylus and physical keyboard for true input mastery and quick access to multitasking.

But you wouldn’t know that from reading some of the coverage I’ve read today. Perhaps attendees at Apple’s event were required to work on iPhones devices that don’t allow them to have 3G connections or third party apps, so let me help them out by highlighting the following facts:

• Many Windows Mobile 6.5 phones are less expensive than the iPhone 4GB and iPhone 8GB respectively, and yet offer more storage, both onboard and in the SD card slot expansion capability.

• … come with full versions of Mobile Office, including Mobile Outlook, not non-standard, non-cross-platform, imitation email programs that can’t share photos, videos or other attachments with the rest of the world.

• … offer additional native productivity enhancing capabilities like the stylus, SD card slots and multiple form factors to choose from, with and without button keyboards.

• … include interfaces for opening multiple mobile programs, either from our standard industry-recognised “Start Button”, all layered with programs you can easily open to fit the way most people actually work. iPhone doesn’t have third-party apps.

So, when I see Apple drop the price of their struggling, lightweight iPhone, I don’t see a shot across our bow, I see an attempt to play catch up.

I think they, like others, are waking up to the fact that we’ve built a better solution for people everywhere, who are getting things done from anywhere, and who don’t have hard lines between their personal and professional lives. People who want a single, simple, affordable device with the power and flexibility to enhance and support their whole day. :)

That’s Windows Mobile 6.5. With cut and paste. And 3G. And a stylus. And a physical keyboard if you want a device with a physical keyboard. And third-party software. And inbuilt email, inbuilt Solitaire. All of this choice is the very embodiment of a better solution.

It’s top secret, but our first “Retail Experience Center” or Microsoft Store will open in a couple of years, so don’t bother coming to our headquarters, but go to any cell phone store to see the gloriously large range of Windows Mobile phones at all kinds of price points, from HTC, Motorola, Samsung, LG, iMate, HP and many others.

If you want more of me, Frank X. Shaw, you can go back to the future with my 2010 article where I look at Microsoft by the numbers, which notes a projected 7.1 million iPad sales in 2010 compared to projections of 58 million netbook sales and 355 million total PC sales in 2010.

Go further back into the future and compare that with Cupertino’s Reality Distortion Field now trying to distort you into reality realising Tim Cook’s revelation that 170m iPads have been sold to date, alongside the fact that netbooks are a dead category and PC sales have fallen for six quarters, the 170m iPad claim which can be seen in the first few minutes of this keynote.

But back here in 2007, all that is yet to come, and Windows Mobile 6.5 will soon rule the roost, thanks in large part to Office.  

After all, with all this success we’ve written the book on, no-one’s going to even remember what an iPhone is this time next year, let alone in the 2010s and beyond, so please, stop wasting my time with all this Steve Jobs hubris on how i-Wonderful this is and iPod in a phone blah blah blah.

It’ll never happen, because my name is Frank X. Shaw, Corporate Vice President of Communications at Microsoft, and I know what I’m talking about. Xeriously!

The real TL;DR: This satirical post takes to task Frank X. Shaw’s actual post from the 23rd of October 2013 on how Surface 2 and Surface Pro with Office 2013 is going to slay the new iPads with free iWorks apps, except looking at it through the lens of 2007 when the iPhone was just released, which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer expected to be a big failure, never getting more than 2 or 3% of the market. We know how that ended up, but what about Frank X. Shaw’s statements and previous predictions?

The article links to actual, real non-satirical news stories and blog posts, so take a look at Frank X. Shaw’s original post, then read mine again (instead of just this TL;DR section) and make up your own mind on what you think might happen with iPads, iWork, Surface 2 and Microsoft Office, and whether you think Frank’s actual version or the one from my alternate time-shifted universe which depicts what happened the last time big predictions from Microsoft didn’t quite go as planned.

Mr Shaw, do you have any comments on the above re-imagined scenario? Do you fear history repeating itself if you and Microsoft don't do a heck of a lot more to suport Windows 8.1, such as full-screen tablet touch versions of Office, and a raft of other quality first party apps of the GarageBand, iPhoto, iMovie quality? I know Microsoft has released some new apps, but Bing Food and Health alongside Movie Moments doesn't quite cut it, as such.

I'm not sure Office 2013 alone can save Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. It didn't scratch the surface of saving the first Surface and Surface Pro models, so while your positive bullishness is to be admired, and hopefully is a portentious harbinger of far better, stronger and more competitive times for Microsoft's Surface models (and the entire PC industry), but based on your own past history of "favourite numbers" and the sayings of one day perhaps Chairman-to-be Ballmer from 2007, reality turned out to be quite different.

It makes me wonder where this RDF reality distortion field is, and who's really using it. Xeriously!


Did you know: Key business communication services may not work on the NBN?

Would your office survive without a phone, fax or email?

Avoid disruption and despair for your business.

Learn the NBN tricks and traps with your FREE 10-page NBN Business Survival Guide

The NBN Business Survival Guide answers your key questions:

· When can I get NBN?
· Will my business phones work?
· Will fax & EFTPOS be affected?
· How much will NBN cost?
· When should I start preparing?


Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.