Scobleizer Weblog

Daily Permalink Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Just to show that I won't only write about when I come across Windows computers in my geek life in Silicon Valley, tonight I was buying some groceries with Maryam and Patrick at Safeway and I was interested in their brand new Point of Sale terminals. The UI was much simpler than what we saw last night at the Cheesecake Factory. I couldn't tell what OS was being used. I didn't think it was Windows, cause the fonts were rendered as bitmaps, and that would be lame for a Windows developer to do that.

So, I got home and started looking through Google for some idea. Looks like the prototype was done on Windows, but then Safeway's CTO, Brian Keating, had the developers move the system over to Linux. They were IBM machines (although Safeway did a pretty good job of hiding the logos). "I think Linux is going to be a big winner. The picking software [being trialled by Safeway] didn't run on Linux, but we asked the supplier to get it to. Microsoft is high cost, Linux is low cost and Linux doesn't attract nerds to try to give you viruses. I think Microsoft will have some problems with it," Keating says in this CRN interview.

But, all is not lost. He also says "[In future] we will have lots more Microsoft products as we use more packages."

Anyone know more about the Safeway system?

This particular Safeway is only a few hundred feet from Sun Microsystems' former headquarters in Santa Clara. I'm sure that drives all the Sun employees who shop there nuts.

Ahh, Maryam, when I die, can you buy me one of these geek-oriented caskets?

Seriously: spend the money on something that'll be more useful. If I come back to life after I'm dead, I have a feeling that weblogging won't be the first thing I worry about.

Oh, no, you can't get rich anymore by starting a Windows-oriented software company. That day is over, right?

If you believe that, then what the heck is Citrix doing paying $225 million to buy "GoToMyPC?"

Deservedly so, too. I love that software. Buzz Bruggeman gave me my first demo of Active Words using it.

Who's next?

The Internet Thermometer is a site that tracks attacks on Internet sites. Whoa, not all Windows sites, as the popular belief might have you expect.

Rob Mensching, who works at Microsoft, writes about shipping software that was developed inside Microsoft: "Sadly, Microsoft is a gigantic legal target and from what I've seen a lot of time is spent trying to avoid stepping on anybody's toes (getting sued sucks!). I know this is contrary to a lot of popular belief but there are lots of people at Microsoft that just want to make the world a better place."

Loren Heiny: "How would you explain the business opportunities of Tablet PCs to VCs?"

I'd start by dragging them out of their offices on Sand Hill Road and into my mother-in-law's hospital room at Stanford University (it, too, is on Sand Hill Road, so they won't have to go far). Every single computer there is Windows. But, it's locked down. Tied down. And there is still very little data interchange going between the various machines. The hospital room needs a rethink. The Tablet PC could be revolutionary here.

How big is the hospital market? Oh, I don't know. A few billion or so. A billion here and a billion there and soon you have real money.

Then, take them to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory in Palo Alto. VCs can never turn down free food. Then, show them how the menus could be updated to be virtually updated and much more useful.

How big is the restaurant market? Another few billion?

Then take them over to the Apple store. Show them the lines of people buying digital cameras and other digital gadgets. What's better for showing off your digital photos than a Tablet PC?

Then, take them for a walk down University Ave. Hand them the Tablet PC. Point out that the entire downtown area is a WiFi hotspot. What good is all that wireless unless you can use a computer while standing up? Now, think about all the workers who work while standing up. The teachers. The lawyers. The journalists. The newsbabes on TV.

On second thought, just give up, save your $100 that you'll spend on food and drinks, and come and have fun touring the US's largest pistachio factory next Tuesday. That's run with a Tablet PC already. At least you'll be among friends and with people who get the opportunities.

I'm just putting this here to remind myself to subscribe to Ken Camp's blog.

Michael Earls wants us to focus on the here and now, rather than Longhorn. My response?

Windows XP development is already pretty much well understood. There are hundreds of .NET books, for instance. Thousands of MSDN articles. Probably hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of other things about Windows development out there.

So, discovering new stuff is to be expected. Longhorn is gonna be a big deal. Already is. You should see the list of companies that are already working on prototypes. Why is that happening? Because Longhorn opens up new scenarios that will enable new business opportunities. Most software projects of any size or scope take a couple of years to go from start to finish (many take longer) and that's why you're seeing excitement.

Keep in mind, too, that Microsoft's own developers live in a world that's about five to 10 years ahead of the rest of the world. Why is that? Well, ever watch a developer write Windows code? I have. That person is familiar with the internals and vision of Longhorn. He's been living in the guts of Longhorn for months now, if not years.

It'd be like if we asked you to write articles about developing for Windows 3.11. Can you do that? Probably. But it sure wouldn't be interesting. Why? Cause you haven't used that for at least five years now, unless you really are on the trailing edge of software development.

I personally want to see more transparency, not less. Why is that important? Because SOMEDAY you WILL be doing Longhorn development (unless the world switches completely to Linux or the Mac) and that means that in a few years you'll be looking for information on Longhorn. Wouldn't you like to search Google and find tens of thousands of weblog entries (and other things) done by the guys who actually wrote the code? Done while they are writing the code?

After all, if you know the intention behind an object, a lot of times that'll help you use it better.

OK, geek dinner with Ross Mayfield and me for Monday, December 29 is set. 6 p.m. at the Cheesecake Factory on University Ave. in Palo Alto. Tantek Celik says he'll try to be there too. Anyone else?

Oh, this Friday I'll be meeting Steve Sloan at the Apple Store at noon. We will geek out. You're welcome there too. You can talk with Steve about how he uses Macs and PCs at San Jose State University.

Simon Phipps theorizes that MSNBC is being used to remove video streaming choice in the industry. First, next time you're up in Redmond visiting MSNBC, come and visit me! My office is about half a mile away.

Second, Simon's right on when he points out that MSNBC is owned by Microsoft. What's funny is that MSNBC tries so hard to be objective that I find I often learn about Microsoft's competitors, like this Linux-based portable PC, on MSNBC before I learn about them other places. But, always be skeptical. Are you also skeptical of Rupert Murdoch? Knight Ridder? Disney? I hope so.

Third, if MSNBC was the only news choice in the market, it would matter, but it is not. Personally, I think the move to remove other video streaming options makes MSNBC a little less likely to get me as a viewer than, say, CNN.

Fourth, I know a few people at MSNBC and they have been told by Microsoft's execs to reduce expenses (which increases the chances they'll show a profit). Video streaming is expensive. It takes expensive machines (Winnov machines, for instance, cost $10,000 or more, depending on how many video streams one machine needs to be able to record). It takes bandwidth. Server space. And, finally, it costs money to maintain systems and keep them up and running.

As a Windows guy, though, MSNBC is a customer and I'm glad they chose my team's products rather than something else. Keep in mind, here at Microsoft, every team is really run like a separate company.

I'm honored that Eric Sink quoted me in his lead, and on MSDN no less (on an article about his experiences starting up software companies). His headline? "Make more mistakes."

In addition to next Monday night's geek dinner with Ross Mayfield and me, there are a few other geek events that I'm trying to plan before I leave California on January 2.

1) Dori Smith wants to do something up in Sonoma. Maybe an O'Reilly geek lunch or something? What day would work best for everyone who lives north of the Golden Gate Bridge? How about this weekend (Sunday would be best)? Or, January 1 would be great since I need to drop Patrick off in Petaluma.

2) Next Tuesday I'll be south of Fresno at Paramount Farms, getting a tour of the largest Pistachio processing plant in the US. Anyone else wanna come? Or have lunch with Patrick and me?

3) Steve Sloan, one of those who keeps San Jose State University's IT infrastructure up and running, wants to have a geek lunch too. I want to see the new SJ library too -- I've been outside and it looks absolutely amazing. Steve, when would work best?

Anyone else? I gotta go and visit Marc Canter too at his new house and help him redesign his weblog. That font is uuuuuuggggglllllllyyyyyy. :-)

I was fascinated to learn my son has read all of the Lord of the Rings books and today he tore through 100 pages of The Hobbit. J.R. Tolkien, you're my hero for getting Patrick interested in reading!

While Ross Mayfield and I were checking out the computers at the Cheesecake Factory, we discussed having another geek dinner. So, let's plan one. How about Palo Alto. Next Monday night (the 29th). 6 p.m.

Now, where should we do it? Cheesecake Factory? After all, we can go and visit the Apple Store while we wait. Later we can go to University Coffee and continue the conversations.

Anyone is invited. Let's kick out the year in Silicon Valley style!

When you make your pilgrimage to Silicon Valley, and want to visit the Palo Alto (admit it, if you're a geek, you gotta come and see Palo Alto at least once in your life and University Ave is the epicenter of the tech world) you're eventually going to get hungry.

The new Cheesecake Factory on University Ave has already become a leading place to meet geeks. Ross Mayfield, CEO of Social Text, told me tonight that it's his wife's favorite place to eat.

This 300-seat restaurant, which is a few doors down from the first Apple store, already has waiting lines on a Monday night of 45 minutes or more. (I've been to three Cheesecake Factories, and this is a standard experience. They don't accept reservations, so you need to be prepared for long waits).

So, where did Ross bump into me? Well, right near the computer terminals that run the restaurant, of course (I was watching the staff use the computer terminals there, I was trying to learn about things that Longhorn might do to make the restaurant even more productive). Where else would you find a geek in a Cheesecake Factory?

My wife and son thought I was checking out the female greeters. Heh, that's funny. I actually was drawn to the screen by how the female greeters were carressing their LCD monitors. It was quite sexual, at least for this geek. There are two greeter's stations at the front of the restaurant. Two greeters were standing there, and both were running their hands up and down the sides of the LCD in a quite caring manner. It was almost that they had become emotionally attached to their terminals.

And I could see why these terminals were getting all that attention. They were positioned at just the right height to be touched by the waitstaff. The UI was manipulated completely by touching the screen with your finger. No mouse. No keyboard. Just some really big tabs along the top that would bring up various things like customer lists, table maps (very nice graphics that told the users what the state of the tables were instantly).

Every 20 seconds or so, another party would come up to the front counters and try to get a table. Or, previously-checked in customers asked what the status of their table is. "Your table is being cleared right now, you'll be seated in a couple of minutes," one of the greeters told someone as I watched her finger the screen.

I saw her pull maps up of the restaurant. Select guest's names. Setup beepers for newcomers. All with great efficiency. Every interaction with a guest took just a few seconds. The turnover in this place is truly amazing.

Eventually I figured out what the systems were running on: Windows XP. How did I know? A dialog box popped up with XP's standard blue gradient title bar.

In one of the few breaks, I asked some questions:

Me: "How do you like this computer system?"

Greeter: "It makes this the most organized restaurant I've ever worked in."

Me: "Does it ever crash?"

Greeter: "Not yet."

Me: "Do they use this system in all Cheesecake Factories?"

Greeter: "Yes."

Me: "How long did it take you to learn this system?"

Greeter: "A few hours."

Me: "Do you know who built it?"

Greeter: "No, I'm sorry, I don't, but you might call our corporate headquarters and find out that way."

Anyway, I had some quick talking to do with my wife. She didn't know whether to be mad at me for being a geek and not paying attention to her, or for being a man and checking out the waitstaff.

Come on Maryam, I +DO+ have my priorities. A hot LCD that can be touched wins out everytime! ;-)

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Robert Scoble works at Microsoft. Everything here, though, is his personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. No warranties or other guarantees will be offered as to the quality of the opinions or anything else offered here.

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© Copyright 2004 Robert Scoble Last updated: 1/3/2004; 3:28:01 AM.