MS on Vista’s “Challenges”

At this point I doubt there is any new information available that would dissuade people from the notion that Vista was one very screwed up launch, so I guess Microsoft’s PR strategy momentarily shifted to stating the obvious.

The answers we got during this mid-June background conversation were brutally honest: Our source, a high-ranking Windows product manager, conceded that Microsoft botched the Vista launch. He added that the company’s biggest concern wasn’t the OS but rather the eroded faith in Microsoft’s flagship product among users of all types and experience levels.

[From Exclusive Interview: Microsoft Admits What Went Wrong with Vista, and How They Fixed It]

I don’t think Vista is that bad or fatally flawed, in fact once it’s working people seem to be okay with it. But that’s the problem, you should get more for your money than simply not being annoyed anymore… but the real problem is probably that Vista is the desktop equivalent of fighting the last war. The referenced “eroded faith in Microsoft” cuts to the very core of what Microsoft has to maintain at all costs, trust.

Apple successfully shifted the debate to “the OS is a commodity, it’s everything on top of the OS that matters” and Microsoft has never been prone to shipping useful or even tolerable applications with their OS releases. They prefer to preserve that option for upselling you a separate package later. The notion of utility has shifted from being able to faithfully support other people’s apps to value that I get out of the box and on this latter point Microsoft is far far behind Apple.

Worse for Microsoft is that their distribution strategy weakens their customer advocacy position by allowing PC manufacturers to crapify the desktop of your new machine, further adding to bloat and annoyance.

The folks in Redmond will get this sorted out and in the end it could be the catalyst that leads to major strategy shifts for the desktop business unit. As has been noted many times throughout the history of this company, they are always at their best when they have something to target.

Ironically, while Microsoft diligently works to sort itself out it may be that Apple is just passing the apex of it’s meteoric rise of recent years. MobileMe has been an acknowledged black eye, the iPhone 3G has been plagued by issues related to battery life and network performance, and there have been quality issues (MagSafe and iPod Nanos catching fire). Apple’s shine isn’t quite as glossy and this has people asking “what’s next?”.

Hollywood Economics

Interesting look at the economics of movie star paychecks. I was rather surprised to read that Nicole Kidman generated a measly $1 in gross income for every dollar she was paid, making her the most overpaid movie star in the business… but then again I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that she was in that I liked.

To calculate our payback figures, we took half of each film’s worldwide box office (to roughly approximate the studio’s cut of each ticket). Then we added the first three months of DVD revenues and subtracted the budget to derive the film’s gross income. After that, the actor’s total compensation (upfront pay plus any money earned from sharing in the film’s profits) was divided into the gross income to get the actor’s payback figure for the film. The payback for the last three movies for each actor was averaged to calculate ultimate payback. We deliberately used gross income rather than net income in our analysis because the latter figure is so easily manipulated by studio accountants, with marketing expenses treated differently for almost every film.

[From Hollywood's Most Overpaid Movie Stars - Forbes.com]

California’s High Speed Pipe Dream

Don’t you love how the proponents are telling us how much the ticket will cost even though this thing is two decades away from being completed, should the voters be duped into passing this measure. Sure, let’s add another $50 billion in debt that has a payoff price tag of $100 billion to the State’s already current liabilities of $100 billion (which will cost taxpayers $200 billion to pay off).

Personally, I like traveling by train and even if the LA to San Francisco route takes 3 1/2 hours, which is more realistic, I would use it. Having said that, the cost of building this will bankrupt the state, literally, and given the other priorities we have I would prefer the government stay out of the transportation business. If it’s such a great idea, fund it privately through a transit authority similar to the Port Authority, don’t stick it on taxpayers.

A trip from the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco and Los Angeles Union Station would take about two and a half hours, according to the state High Speed Rail Authority, and cost about $55 one way.

[From California voters could put high-speed rail system on fast track]

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Google’s Energy Plan

Quick, how much is $2.7 trillion? Answer, the entire annual U.S. Federal government budget.

The reason why I’m skeptical of these plans is that they feel a lot like “have your cake and eat it too” plans. For example, Schmidt suggests that his plan costs will be recovered in savings and from half a million new jobs… and this makes it sound like a perpetual motion machine, a logical possibility but otherwise impossible because of various laws of physics, or in this case laws of pork spending and government inefficiency.

19 years after the Loma Prieta earthquake we still don’t have a replacement for the earthquake damaged eastern span of the Bay Bridge and that’s just a civil engineering project by comparison (which is not only behind schedule but also wildly more expensive than originally projected).

His plan will cost a lot — $2.7 trillion — but it’ll generate nearly as much in energy savings, and create a lot of new jobs, including 500,000 in the wind industry alone, he said.

[From Google CEO Eric Schmidt offers energy plan - San Jose Mercury News]

It’s not that I disagree with Schmidt’s prescription, but what I do take issue with is the viability of any solution that is billed as “comprehensive” in nature. Let’s get on with some tactical initiatives that move in the right direction, like expanding natural gas distribution pipelines, rebuilding power grids to handle new power generation capabilities, increase capacity in nuclear (7 plants on up-power permits before the NRC), and yes, increase domestic production of crude oil. Let’s also stop the tax insanity involving corn-based biofuels.