John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

Bing, like the Borg, Will Assimilate

Google is a wonderful company – an advertising company wrapped in a search engine, surrounded by  androids, covered in chrome and steeped in mysterious enigmas.   It is also facing the stiffest competition it will ever see, and it might not even yet realize that Bing, like the Borg, will assimilate.  I don’t think it is too bold to suggest that Google’s days may be numbered.

I predict that Bing’s percentage of the search-o-sphere will more than double in the next 12 months, growing from about 20% to well over 40%. I further predict that Google’s percentage of search will see a similar decline. I think it is somewhat inevitable, and I will explain why.

First a bit of background: I’m not a great lover of Microsoft technology, but I completed my MCSE in 1997 and have been continuously employed since then working on an assortment of large and small websites - and at least 80% of them were running some form of Microsoft’s Internet Information Server (IIS). I’ve technically edited of books on IIS and windows. I have considerable experience and expertise with Windows technology.  I’ve also optimized websites for search engines, as a marketing tool, since 1998. This gives me a unique perspective.  

Yesterday, I installed Windows 7 on one of my laptops. It took about two hours or so, and the install worked extremely well. I was surprised, maybe shocked how well it worked!  HP had NO windows 7 drivers on its website for my secondary laptop, a 2-3 year old HP DV6449 with 2g of memory and a 1.8g dual core AMD cpu.  I pressed on with the install. It was as close to flawless as any operating system install I’ve done. Ever.  

  • As a side note, I was impressed with PC World’s upgrade checklist and Lincoln Spector’s upgrade guide. (Thank you Lincoln Spector!) I also used their netbook idea to put the OS on a USB key to speed the install. Very cool - as another side note – given the prices that USB keys have been falling to, I think it might be cost-effective and user-friendly for more software makers to provide more upgrades on USB keys.

But I digress too much. This is a story about Bing’s upcoming search engine growth – and perhaps leadership.

Yesterday, interestingly, Microsoft posted on their Bing blog that they would be bringing real time twitter and facebook results to their searches.  That is huge because companies and people use blogs, microblogs, and social media to drive traffic, to optimize search engine results, to find traffic. Social media is a necessary part of any company’s comprehensive marketing plan.  (You might say that Microsoft used their own blog to make a product announcement that might have been in a press release in decades past.

SO here is the interesting thing – Microsoft’s Windows 7 comes with Internet Explorer 8 as a standard browser. It is a smooth, clean browser, and has a search window built into the top right hand corner. With that search window, you can add in a few dozen different search engines.  With that search window, there’s no real reason to initially go to the websites google.com, bing.com, ask.com, yahoo.com or any other search engine website. The built in search window is convenient, easy to use, and completely functional.  The default search engine for that built in search window, of course, is Bing.   It is possible to add other search tools, even other browsers – and that is where Microsoft has installed a bit of genius. I will come back to that.

This morning Steve Ballmer on NBC’s Today Show said that Windows is installed on 9 out of 10 PCs. By saying that, he essentially lumped Apple, Linux and other operating systems together. He also lumped Windows XP, Windows Vista and other windows PC’s into a “windows” box.  From his perspective, that seems pretty accurate. It is also potentially deadly for Google, because XP is very old and Vista is very troublesome.  Hundreds of Millions of PCs will eventually run in Windows 7. It is a sound operating system.  I think that is going to be very good for Microsoft from an O/S profit perspective and I think it is going to be extraordinary from a search perspective.

Let me get back to the “bing as default” and where these numbers go. Say Microsoft has 90% of the O/S market, and over the next two years succeeds in getting 80% of those PC’s upgraded to Windows 7. I think those numbers are suspect, but they could easily be too short as too long.   My point is that it would be a fair to suggest that 72% of PCs, two years from now, will run Windows 7.

Nearly all of those PC’s will have Bing installed as a default search engine in their default browser. Well – what does that look like? bing-search  It looks like this.
There’s a search engine, it is right there, easy to use, installed by default, it will return social media results, it will give Microsoft the same sort of data that has made Google such an unstoppable force. It will also bleed traffic from Google, and it will bleed data from Google going forward.

I think it is pretty inevitable to say that Bing will double in use. I think it might be fair to ask if it will triple or quadruple. 

I wanted to add Google back in to my search bar, not because I love Google, or because I hate Microsoft, but because Google is relevant.  Google is essential.  Google is unique in many ways, and I think at this time, it is somewhat superior to Bing.  So – what happens when an average Windows 7 user tries to add Google to a browser? The “Find More Providers…” button seems to be the place to go. That takes a person to a windows add-in site. That add-in site offers search engine providers that can be added to IE 8.

search providers

There are DOZENS of providers – many of them very useful – the New York Times, Wikipedia, Amazon, Ask.com, Yahoo,  Ebay, Yahoo Maps, New Egg, and even Google.   But it is very time-consuming to find Google, not very intuitive, and not very easy. If you pick “Most Popular Providers,” Google is on the second page. I’m not faulting Microsoft, Windows 7, IE 8, or Bing.

I’m just saying that there will be perhaps 72% of computers running a new operating system, Bing will be the default search provider on IE 8, which will be the default browser, and adding Google isn’t very easy.

People aren’t necessarily lemmings, and Bing isn’t necessarily a cliff – but the path of least resistance is an extraordinarily popular path – and that path will soon be Bing for an ENORMOUS number of people and companies. Let me be clear – this is not just about the people and their personal computers. Thousands of corporations have standardized desktop platforms running a somewhat antiquated Windows XP.  They WILL move to Windows 7 in the next few years.  One of the last things corporate technology executives want is for individual users to be able to customize software. For those executives, preventing user-customization is extremely smart from both cost and security perspectives.  Those computer’s browsers probably will be somewhat locked-down.  So – a huge number of people will have Windows 7 with IE 8, and Bing at work, and at home.

These are people who, in large numbers, switched from Yahoo to Google some time ago. They will switch from Google to Bing.  Bing, like the fictional Borg, will assimilate millions of people, but for real.  This is huge for many industries, many businesses. If Bing can scale, and if it can provide reasonably good results, Google may be in enormous danger.

October 22nd, 2009 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Technology | no comments

Cheese, Difficult Obstacles and the Power of Change

I’ve been reading Jason Kerchner’s blog more and more. On the 16th, he posted a great article on Procrastination, subtitled “Sprinting through things you don’t want to do.” His techniques involve defining changes as you want to define them. 

I really enjoyed his article and as a person prone to procrastination, I recognized his systematic elimination of that efficiency sapping trait. An overview of his article’s methods for dealing with procrastination is to:

  • Think about the task
  • Pick an amount of time you are willing to devote to it
  • Accept devotion of that amount of time and you as a resource to working on that task
  • Set a timer for that amount of time
  • Prepare before starting the timer
  • Take a deep breath and then begin
  • When the timer goes off, stop

That approach would work well with small tasks and large tasks. I wish that, as a country, the US had adopted that strategic overview and approach to the wars we are now embroiled in. Imagine if we had said – We will devote 4 years and 9 months to the tasks in Iraq – or any other reasonable but arbitrary time.  We would probably have already ended the conflicts. We needed to set a limit, an exit strategy that would have pre-defined the change that we wanted to make happen, and when we wanted to make it.

I am drawn to this military analogy because it reminded me my experiences at Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island. usmc_logoThere was a saying that – “They couldn’t stop the clock.”  When I was there – undergoing the misery – we collectively knew that it as long as we stayed on track, it could only last for 13 weeks.  Marine Corps Recruits learn that with every day that passes, one day less remains. No matter how many sand fleas crawl in your ear canal while you are standing motionless in a formation at Parris Island, no matter how much yelling goes on at 4am, no matter how many times you shine boots, run through sand … no matter how itchy, sore, hot, cold, wet, miserable and exhausted you find yourself, you understand that the difficult stuff is going to come to an end.   As a recruit, you know that your exposure to all of that has a time limit, and you know every day passing is one less day remaining.  Sometimes when you are miserable in more ways than you knew possible, that thought of a finite remaining time can give you strength. Sometimes knowing that change is coming can help a person with almost any current issue.

There were many lessons to learn at Parris Island. I think one of the most valuable is that concept of “They cannot stop the clock.” It gives every Marine a way to use the power of an ever-changing world – the power of change.  Knowing that painful things often have arbitrary time limits helps a great deal in dealing with those difficulties.   

You can use that too – and you don’t even have to give plasma donations to mosquitos in South Carolina swampland. You just have to think about it accept the power of change.

The knowledge that change is inevitable enables and can empower a person to survive their personal trials and ordeals.  There is a popular book that looks at ways of dealing with and surviving change in terms of “Who Moved My Cheese.”  cheeseTo me, that approach seems somewhat backwards. Change is often painted as a disruptive force.  To me, Change can be extremely powerful because beyond someone moving your cheese. You probably wouldn’t ask “who moved my obstacles?”  You wouldn’t ask, “Who moved my difficulties?”  You wouldn’t ask, “Who ended the misery?” But change can do that. Change will do that. Change has extraordinary power and anyone can use that.

Think about any personal, physical, emotional, business, or mental situation that you personally find difficult. With the exception of things like death that are final, change generally evaporates difficulties.  The power of change applies to almost everything.  If you are having a difficult time in a college course, remember that the course has a finite limit and it will end.  Difficult project? It won’t last forever. Difficult boss? You won’t work for that boss forever. Difficult merger?  Difficult business decisions?  Difficult climate? No matter how painful, uncomfortable, and unhappy these things can make you, they are almost always finite.  They will end. The sun will come up tomorrow. Things WILL change. Knowing that things change can give anyone strength, because change helps anyone overcome the most difficult things.

When the very worst difficulties weigh you down, when you have to meet life’s occasional troubling and terrible situations, when you have relationships that make you feel like crying – That is your opportunity to think positively about how those difficulties will pass. It is an opportunity to use the power of change.  Those positive thoughts can be extraordinarily powerful.  Change as a positive force can give anyone the strength to overcome, sustain, and survive extraordinary difficulties.  

Know that change is inevitable. That means that even the most difficult things will invariably become less difficult.

October 21st, 2009 Posted by | Continuous Improvement, Life, People | no comments

Mark Cuban, Financial Engineering and the OSWMI Fund

I really love Mark Cuban’s thoughts on Financial Engineering vs. Investing.  I wish he would take his core ideas and turn them into a book. He makes great points about investors, financial engineers, and the danger they pose to the economy of the future.  I like to use metaphors to describe things – and his descriptions of the problems in the economy remind me of driving – so I’m going to use that.

Our economy is a car and we drive it. It takes a bit of effort to put on a seat belt. It takes a bit if effort to drive safe. Bad drivers in other cars are a danger to everyone on the road and the weather can only be semi-predicted in the future. At some point in time, we are going to hit ice, with bad drivers around us, and we just don’t want to take the time to minimize risk by putting our seat belts on. We don’t want the added expense of buying cars with lots of air bags everywhere. If we drive slower, it is safer, but we can’t make everyone else drive slower, and driving slower will make us late sometimes. We want to go fast, we want to be risky, and we want the rewards that come from being even more risky. Some people are too risky, and we can’t stop them all from driving. Mark Cuban says that at some point, they are going to cause crashes.

He is right.

I really enjoy his ideas when he advocates building an “oh shit we missed it fund” to protect against the inevitable crashes that will come from future financial engineering and bubbles. His other thoughtful suggestions are great, but the best part is that he realizes and points out that nobody can predict the future well enough to prevent all possible scenarios.

He suggests a failsafe fund. To quote Mr. Cuban, the mechanics of that fund would be “levy a fee of anywhere from 1c to 10c on every transaction of stocks or bonds which would go into a general fund, that I will call the “Oh Shit We Missed It Fund”. It will be there to fund the inevitable situation where someone figures out how to work around whatever regulations and tax code that is created.”

This is a simple and wonderful idea which is unfortunately (but ultimately) doomed to failure.

The problem isn’t the idea, which would essentially invest in advance in protection against future corporate and investment failures. The problem is in the political design of a government program to predict, prevent, and address the problem. Let’s say we call this the OSWMI Fund. It is a simple and powerful idea, and should be implemented. The problem is that no amount of legal lock-box creation could protect the OSWMI fund from politicians. They would raid it from every direction, every chance they got. Even if the people writing the new laws were the same congress members and senators who held their noses voting for $700 billion of Tarp funding – they would still write as many loopholes as were written into the social security code. (Which itself could be thought of as somewhat of a personal “oh shit I missed it fund.”

I think it is safe to say the social security “lockbox” has been opened so often, it has become a bit of a federally-mandated ponzi scheme where new money paid in goes out immediately for existing benefit recipients – instead of going in for the future withdrawals that will be made by the people who are paying it in. if we cannot keep a personal fund for rainy days when planning doesn’t work, with the lobbying power of the AARP pushing for an untouchable, perpetually protected fund – it would never, ever be possible to keep such a fund for corporate, investment, and financial engineering issues.

So, Houston, we have a problem. I don’t think there is a solution. Guess we better make sure that the right mechanics and medicine are available for the next financial wreck.

October 13th, 2009 Posted by | Business, Life, People | no comments

What can Governments and Companies afford?

Dell announced that they would be closing their plant near Winston Salem, NC.  That plant closing will eliminate 905 jobs. The plant has been open since 2005.

To open that plant, Dell was given $280 million in state and local incentives. $280 million for 905 jobs = slightly more than $309,392 per job.

If I could be given that paltry sum of $280 million in state and local incentives, I could promise to employ those 905 people, and pay them $50,000 per year – for 6 years each, and they could do NOTHING – or they could make buggy whips. They could make candles, or weave baskets. They could simply spend that money in their local communities.  With what’s left over – I could pay myself $1 million, and donate more than $7 million to local charities.

Sure – I’m not a computer manufacturer – but for Forsyth county, North Carolina, Dell isn’t one anymore… either.

We can recompute these numbers when (if) Dell returns some of that money… but I think there are two points to make

1) Government investment in private enterprise can be extremely foolish.
2) With a single decision, Dell has probably lost sales across the entire state of North Carolina, to businesses headquartered in that state, to agencies operating in North Carolina, to people who have relatives in North Carolina… and in some cases, that business loss will be forever.

The original incentives seemed wonderful. Pictures were taken of North Carolina’s Governor shaking hands with Michael Dell. The original incentives were designed to help a big business, and to bring jobs to a state that has been crippled by unemployment, shuttered textile mills, shrinking market share, mergered banks and higher taxes.  

Instead, the incentives result in 905 people finding misery, a community that feels betrayed, a state that feels robbed and cheated, and a company that will lose massive business.

What government and what companies can afford that?  What can Governments and Companies afford? When can any government or any business afford to have incentives that result in both unemployment and an unending loss of customers, sales and, well, business?

 

October 8th, 2009 Posted by | Business, Life | no comments