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Is Microsoft Money dead?

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Later, I’ll write a more philosophical blog about online financial services, like But this is actually a legitimate question–I think Microsoft might be killing MS Money.

I’m currently using Money 2006 and, based on my installation date, it’s now telling me that my online services are about to expire (starting Sept 1) and that I need to upgrade. But clicking on the Upgrade link does nothing.

So I figured I’d just go buy a copy of the new version. Here’s where it gets strange: the Company Store is Sold Out. (As a former Microsoft employee and paying Alumni member, I have limited access to the Microsoft Company Store–a nice little perk that lets me buy a limited amount of Microsoft software at a discount).

It’s very strange for the company store website to show a product as Out Of Stock. So I sent them an email asking about it. They tell me (quoted):

—–Original Message—–
From: Microsoft Company Store
Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 5:25 PM
To: ‘joel grossman’
Subject: RE: Microsoft Money? ~259719

It is actually discontinued, and we are sold out so will not be receiving
any more.

Thank you,
Microsoft Company Store

 I ask for clarification. They say:

We have not been told if it’s being replaced with anything new.

Thank you,
Microsoft Company Store

Does anyone out there know? Could Microsoft really kill the product (has it been that much of a failure? I like it!)? What happens to those of us using the software that is apparently about to expire??


My Day with the iPhone

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Played with the iPhone today. It’s beautiful. The photos and iPod are particularly well done, of course, and the phone is pretty nice, too. I haven’t spent all that much time with it, but no surprises:

  • EDGE is painfully slow, rendering the browser nearly useless
  • The phone is smaller than I thought it was. Bigger than a perl, but maybe thinner
  • The screen smudges, a lot
  • It requires iTunes to activate
  • It wasn’t immediately obvious to me how to add contacts beyond typing all the info, which is tough
  • The keyboard was tricky, but not actually as tricky as I thought it would be. I believe reports that you get used to it after a few days
  • It’s fun to use because Apple just nails design–they offer you exactly the option you need when you need it–it’s amazing to me that no phone manufacturer has ever offered the “merge calls” button that the iPhone has–which I’ve needed on many occasions (and I’ve never been able to figure out how to do a conf call on any mobile phone i’ve owned)
  • The visual treatment throughout is fantastic.
  • There were actually a number of situations in which I got a little lost–I wasn’t clear how to get out, move on, etc. However, these were always recoverable (hitting the power button returns you to the home screen) and i’m sure that, with a little learning, these will be non-issues.
  • The iPhone itself got warm to the touch after just a bit of use; also, i did manage to hang it once, requiring a reboot… I was configuring a setting on Yahoo Mail and the entire thing froze

Overall, it lived up to expectations (impressive because they were high) and now I’m back to wondering if this thing could really be huge after all. I still say that the price, the slow network, and the requirement that you sign a two year contract with AT&T (and break any existing contract) will prevent them from hitting 15M units by the end of next year (unless they either go global, offer a lower price point, a new model, etc).

One other thing, just for kicks–the friends who bought this iPhone happened to decide to go to an AT&T store in a mall that also had an Apple store (we had heard that AT&T stores limited them to 1 phone per person, so figured the odds were better there). The shopping experience at the two stores could not have been more different:

Apple Store

  • Employees applaud you on the way out
  • T-shirts, festivities, streamlined process
  • One employee told them (the day before) that they couldn’t believe that they got to be part of the launch


  • Delays, slow process, constant reminder that you had to call Apple for support
  • Gave you your one phone in a heat-sealed AT&T bag. If you opened that bag and returned the phone, even if it was still sealed and unopened, you faced a 10% restocking fee
  • One employee told them (the day before) that staffing at 6 pm on launch day would be a total nightmare and they’d try to get out of it (switch shifts), except that they were afraid they’d be fired for that

Kudos to Jobs and Apple. Both national treasures in my book.

Who waits in line at midnight for an operating system?

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

It has been some time since I’ve blogged. I won’t waste your time trying to think of an excuse.

This afternoon, I was watching a video on CNet about the San Francisco release of Windows Vista. They said that they were expecting 500 – 1,000 people to wait outside.

Who on earth would wait in line outside of a store (CompUSA) at midnight for an Operating System?

  • It’s not going sell out like the XBox (since the OS is just software, it’s easy to make more)
  • It’s not that much “fun” (I apologize to my ‘softie friends, but c’mon, it’s an OS–what are you going to do, watch your disk defrag?)
  • It probably takes upwards of an hour to install, so if you get home at 1 AM… I honestly don’t get it.

Then I watched the video. The applesauce explanation does clarify most of it…

Yahoo Music Jukebox

Monday, August 21st, 2006

It’s been nearly 6 months since I’ve written here because, well, I haven’t really had the time. Today, though, I do… AND I have something to write about.

I’m a recent subescriber to the Yahoo Music Jukebox with Yahoo! Unlimited To Go: a subscription service (roughly $10/mo) that allows me to download an unlimited number of songs for playing on my PCs (up to 3) and my Creative Rio MP3 player (the songs stick around as long as I keep paying Yahoo!). I’ll start by saying that, ultimately, I can’t deny that it works as advertised. I had to endure typical early-adopter challenges (I had to do a firmware upgrade on my MP3 player and deal with a larger-than-usual number of bugs in the YME), but when everything works, it’s neat and super valuable for the gym, office, road trips, etc.

The Good

  • I can download other people’s playlists (mostly), move them to my MP3 player (generally), and download all the songs I want (often).
  • It offers some decent recommendations based on my preferences. I’m going to watch this closely–I’m not a music expert nor have a ton a ton of rating music yet. So far, though, it seems to work pretty well.

The Bad

Now, having said that, there is plenty that works less well than it should:

  • My PC has 500 MB of RAM, which (as far as I can tell) is nowhere near enough for Yahoo Music Jukebox–running it absolutely cripples my machine. I’ve just bought another gig of memory on eBay, so I’m hoping that solves my problem. I’ll post an update here.
    • This really impacts a number of other experiences–the worst being syncing with my MP3 player. The user interface here is not good and made significantly worse by the fact that the UI is sluggish (at best). I’m hoping that this is improved in the new 2.0 Jukebox. Even if it wasn’t sluggish, though, there’s no good way to say “of my 20 gigs of music, put these 5 on my MP3 player” or, better yet, “cycle fresh tracks through my MP3 player based on my updated ratings.”
  • Downloads often fail with no real explanation. If I “retry”, it often works (but not always).
  • For some reason, I can download playlists that have songs I can’t access. I really don’t understand this.

That’s all for now. I need to get back to work. In my next issue, I’ll talk about my new purchase: the Roku, and how it works with Yahoo! Music Subscription (hint: more of the same)…


The Data behind why DRM sucks

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Oliver posted to his blog recently that his friend Damian (from OKGO) had written a guest blog post on why DRM sucks. I thought that Damian’s points were well taken, and it certainly carries additional weight coming from an artist, but is it just another emotional rant?

Last semester I had Professor Oberholzer-Gee, a veritable Strategy ninja, as far as I’m concerned. I had the pleasure of talking with him one afternoon about the Grokster Supreme Court case (before they had issued a ruling). It turned out to be a very enlightening conversation: Professor Oberholzer-Gee (along with a colleague at UNC) had published the first academic paper on the effect of P2P File Sharing on the Music Industry that had used actual download data, a paper which was later filed as a Friend of the Court Brief for Grokster Supreme Court case.

I want to emphasize that they use actual data in their analysis: they “match 0.01% of the world’s downloads to U.S. sales data for a large number of albums. To establish causality, [they] instrumented for downloads using data on international school holidays and technical features related to file sharing.”

The result? “Downloads have an effect on sales which is statistically indistinguishable from zero. Moreover, [the] estimates are of moderate economic significance and are inconsistent with claims that file sharing can explain the decline in music sales during our study period.”

The actual study is interesting, but long and dense. Fortunately, the Friend of the Court Brief is short and readable.

So Damian’s gut instinct, that “before a million people can buy our record, a million people have to hear our music and like it enough to go looking for it. That ain’t gonna happen without a lot of people playing us for their friends, which, in turn, ain’t gonna happen without a fair amount of file sharing” is 100% correct and backed up by real quantifiable evidence.

Smart Rock Star.


Will TiVo survive?

Thursday, November 10th, 2005

Earlier this week, Tom Rogers, the new TiVo CEO (4 months old, I think) came to my Strategy and Technology class. (We’ve had a ton of fascinating visitors and i’ve totally dropped the ball not blogging about them)

Mr. Rogers is much quieter, much more reserved than Mike Ramsey (the creative and energetic Founder and CEO until this past summer), whom I saw speak last year. While Mr. Ramsey was more “fun” to listen to, I left his talk last year thinking that TiVo had no hope: that they had no sustainable advantage, that DVRs would become commoditized, and that Mr. Ramsey was all over the map in terms of great ideas, but lacked some focus.

Let me first back up and say that I LOVE TiVo. Really, I do. I had TiVo/DirecTV until this fall. I moved and went with Comcast, who offered me a huge incentive to leave the ditch. I’ve been using the Comcast DVR for a few months and it’s crap. Total, complete, and utter crap. When you turn the cable box off, it stops recording. Need I say more?

Back to TiVo. Here’s where they stand today: DirecTV’s parent (News Corp) recently sold its 4% stake in TiVo and is a significant shareholder in a TiVo competitor called NDS. Why? My bet is that they feared TiVo becoming too powerful: it turns out that there is high churn in satellite and cable customers (upwards of 20%) but very low churn in TiVo customers (like me, most TiVo customers love the service). DirecTV saw this: the only customers who didn’t churn were the combo DirecTV/TiVo customers. Furthermore, the DirecTV contract was huge for TiVo: responsible for over half of their customer base (1.86M out of 3M total, as of 1/31/05). There couldn’t really have been a short term monetary reason for this move: TiVo’s current situation allowed DirecTV to negotiate very steep price discounts (paying TiVo slightly more than $1 per customer per month). Interestingly, DirecTV still advertises TiVo (only promising to push customers to NDS in the future). Further, it seems very unlikely that News Corp will incur the cost of going into the houses of all 1.86M DirecTV/TiVo subscribers and replace the box. I think it’s a safe bet to assume, at least, that those 1.86M folks will stay TiVo subscribers for the near future.

Once this happened, Comcast signed a deal with TiVo–hoping, I assume to lower their churn (and maybe snag some of the DirecTV/TiVo devotees). Again, the “deal” is a good one for Comcast (about $1 per sub per month). For Comcast subscribers (like me) eagerly awaiting the arrival of such a box–I think that they’re saying 2007 (though I’m not sure about that, so don’t quote me). It will be interesting to see if this lasts or if Comcast starts to fear the same thing that DirecTV did: that TiVo would become the valuable service and relegate them to a “dumb pipe” (therefore allowing TiVo to command a larger revenue share).

So what’s to become of TiVo? What’s their strategy?

First, let’s look at how TiVo makes money. Currently, the lion share of revenues come from hardware sales of boxes (fairly low margin) and service revenue (ARPU has been falling thanks to DirecTV and Comcast deals). It earns some revenue selling data (the information that they collect is incredibly rich, and therefore more valuable than Nielson, but currently only collects for a skewed population–TiVo owners). TiVo has been experimenting with an advertising platform that allows richer, more targeted, possibly opt-in, advertisements (mini infomercials or richer, in-program advertising). Finally, TiVo could offer content distribution (see recent talks about a deal with Netflix). Currently, these are all small businesses.

If you look at the players in the industry, you quickly realize that TiVo has the possibility to make an enemy of them all–which, as a startup, is a bad move (since the giants will take steps to protect their revenue streams). At the same time, though, the industry has recently realized that DVR penetration is inevitable–Forrester is predicting some sort of DVRs in 50M US households by 2009 (current penetration is about 10M households). This means that, with or without TiVo, the advertising industry is about to change radically (since the primary function of a DVR is skipping the spam-like 30 second commercials).

My bet, therefore, is that the future cash cow for TiVo is an advertising platform. There will likely be supply-side network effects in this industry: advertisers will want to write sophisticated, targeted ads for one platform, not many. The way to win here, therefore, is own significant market share, fast. (Additionally, the cash-strapped company needs to grow the user base, badly).

Hence, the recent moves to discount the box. You can get a 40GB TiVo series 2 for $50 these days. Additional moves are designed to distinguish TiVo from the generic DVRs that are now ubiquitous: the recently announced deal with Yahoo! means that you will be able to program your TiVo from the Yahoo website and even view pictures from the Yahoo website on your TV.

The game is surely not won. Customers generally can’t distinguish between TiVo and generic DVRs, which is bad for TiVo (since it’s generally more expensive). The better technology does not always win: BetaMax lost to VHS, Mac OS and OS/2 to Windows. TiVo is so much better that I’m rooting for them. I feel like TiVo is a sick relative in the hospital. I’m hoping they’ll pull through…

In the meantime, I need to go make sure I didn’t accidentally turn my Comcast box off again. There’s a West Wing episode on tonight that I don’t want to miss.

Disclaimer: I believe that all information herein is public. Most of it comes from the HBS case and Mr. Rogers (like all guests) was very careful about what he says due to SEC regulations (and good business sense). You can buy the HBS case online (it’s N9-706-421, a recently updated version of a 2003 case, so it’s not yet available).

Help Needed: Wireless NIC incorrectly reporting "Media Disconnected"

Friday, July 29th, 2005

I hate to do this on my blog, but I’m desparate, so I’ve resorted to an open plea for help.

Two nights ago, I installed AdAware SE Personal (1.06) and ran it. After that, my Wireless NIC started misbehaving in really strange ways.

Using Windows XP SP2 Pro. Via the UI, I can see (refresh, etc.) all local WiFi networks. Even tells me signal strength. When I try to connect, it fails. Here’s the strange part: IPCONFIG reports “Media Disconnected”. How can that be, if I can see the networks??

I’ve tried uninstalling and reinstalling the driver. No dice.

I found a guy who said he had a similar problem and fixed it by installing a “WinsockFix” freeware app. I tried that, but it didn’t help.

Any ideas?


Why My Cell Phone Reception sucked in Seattle

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

Apparently, there were no towers near me…

Cell Phone Towers on Google Maps (Seattle)
You can change the city to see how intensely you are being irradiated.