How I printed a chapter from a Kindle eBook

January 31, 2011

imageAs I mentioned before, I love my Kindle.  It single-handedly brought back the joy of reading to me.  Besides my Windows Phone & my FitBit, it’s the single most used consumer device I own.  (Not counting my laptop of course)

Recently, I’ve been finding great use however for printing a chapter or two of the eBook I’m reading.

WHY DID I WANT TO PRINT A CHAPTER OUT OF A KINDLE EBOOK?
I keep finding myself in situations where having printed DISPOSABLE 8.5×11 pages of part of the book I’m currently reading is very useful.  For example:

  • when you’re hiking to a location and don’t want to risk bringing a $200 reader with you, but a few sheets of disposable paper would be perfect to throw away later
  • you’re near a water source and/or a very hot, exposed area – like the pool – and you don’t want to risk ruining your eBook reader
  • you’re in a place where having a book wide open would be rude and/or frowned upon – or eBook readers & other electronics are prohibited from use, but having a few pages of paper in a portfolio might keep you “under the radar”

Most recently, I was on a long flight and I had my Kindle out, reading a particularly engrossing book called “I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics“ about the stories comedians have collected while on the road going from city to city, and despite the low wattage consumption of the Kindle’s digital ink electronics, I was sternly told to immediately shut the device down because we were about to take off.  So for the next 20-30 minutes while we left the gate, puttered around the tarmac, and climbed to 10,000 ft, I was to be held captive to SkyMall?  Not me… printed chapter to the rescue!

HOW DID I DO IT?
It essentially just required decrypting the eBook itself, then converting the eBook to a printable format.  First, I downloaded a set of tools:

  1. Kindle for PC/Windows 1.01 Beta
    Using the early versions of Kindle for PC makes this possible.  Newer versions are more difficult to deal with apparently – hence the reason I used the 1.01 Beta which is freely downloadable from FileHippo.
    http://www.filehippo.com/download_kindle_for_pc/
    download/2e24d3f4e48ab7ad69d1e21f46a54700
  2. ActiveState’s ActivePython Windows 32-bit Runtime
    This needs to be 32-bit by the way even if you have 64-bit Windows 7.  The 32-bit runtime can be installed without a problem,  When I attempted to try the decryption tools on x64, it resulted in errors that said, “Could not read from memory…”
    http://downloads.activestate.com/ActivePython/releases/2.6.6.15/ActivePython-2.6.6.15-win32-x86.msi
  3. Apprentice Alf’s decryption tools
    These tools are stored in an archive called “tools_v2.2a” and contain Python scripts that strip the DRM off of .MOBI formatted eBooks that my Kindle reads.  I unpacked the contents to a directory called "\tools_v2.2a” – including the directory hierarchy.  I have to admit that despite knowing very little about Python, the power of these scripts that are run in an interpreter is very impressive.  There is no binary code involved in the DRM stripping process outside of the Python runtime engine which should have been previously downloaded.
    http://www.mediafire.com/?8mzrezba1bvmuqd
  4. Calibre eBook Management Software (Windows XP/Vista/7)
    This is, among other things, an eBook conversion tool that converts Kindle eBooks (.MOBI files) to other formats, namely Rich Text Format (.RTF files), a Microsoft Word readable & printable format.
    http://calibre-ebook.com/download_windows

    (NOTE:  When I clicked on the download link for Windows, I discovered that the browser doesn’t appear to do anything for a while.  The web site did something odd which is to immediately start downloading the entire 36.5MB software package to my machine over HTTP I got no notification that this happening.  Once it was downloaded, a dialog box appeared on my screen asking if I wanted to save the Calibre installer package file and where I wanted to save it to.  Once I selected a folder to save the package, it immediately moved the downloaded file to the selected folder and was done.

I installed the first 3 tools – all of which will be involved in making the eBook readable by Calibre – and then installed the Calibre software to perform the conversion to a printable, flexible document.  (Again, as a reminder, the decryption tools should simply be unzipped to "\tools_v2.2a” while MAINTAINING THE FOLDER HIERARCHY IN THE ARCHIVE so that you get the right files files grouped into the right folders) 

I did a little bit of preparation with the apps configuration before I proceeded:

  • KINDLE FOR PC (Windows)
    Once you’ve installed Kindle for PC, I signed in and downloaded the books I had access to.  Test that you can read the books within the desktop reader:  If you can’t read the books on the PC, you won’t be able to decrypt them.
  • ACTIVEPYTHON 32-BIT (Windows)
    I ran the 32-bit version regardless of whether or not you’re running a x64 version of Windows.  64-bit Python won’t run the scripts properly.
  • APPRENTICE ALF’S DECRYPTION TOOLS
    The directory you’re looking for is called:
    \tools_v2.2a\tools\Kindle_Mobi_Tools\Kindle_4_PC_Unswindle

DECRYPTING AN EBOOK
The “Unswindle” script is called “unswindle_v7.pyw”.  It is a little slow but it will automatically open the Kindle for PC application, then wait for the user to open an eBook.  Once I did this, I closed the Kindle for PC application & the script continued.

In the background, the Unswindle script captures the key necessary to decrypt the entire eBook.  Now that it has that in memory, it can process the eBook, decrypt it’s contents, and write a DRM-free version to my hard drive.  The script will open a dialog box that will ask for the name of the file to assign to my newly DRM-free .MOBI eBook.  I typed it in and it saved the eBook to disk without any DRM.

CONVERTING TO .RTF
Now that I had the eBook available without DRM, the rest was simple.  I had installed the Calibre software previously by double clicking on the downloaded .MSI installer package, at the time called something like, “calibre-0.7.43.msi”.  I followed the installer instructions just like any other new software installation.

The Calibre software is very easy to use. 

  1. Begin by running Calibre and keep it on the desktop. 
  2. From the desktop, I was able to drag & drop the eBook .MOBI file that I converted from its folder directly onto the Calibre application to add it to its library.  (Alternatively, I was also able to open Calibre and click the “Add Books” in the upper left hand corner to add the book to the Calibre library to start working with it – or more specifically begin converting it to a printable format.)image
  3. I right mouse button clicked on the title I was going to ultimately print.  A menu appeared that allowed one to select “Convert Books”.  I selected “Convert individually” from there which initiated a new window.
    image
  4. I changed the output format by clicking on the drop down list box in the upper right hand corner labeled, “Output Format” and changing this to “RTF”.  (Rich Text Format)

    image

  5. I clicked OK.  This apparently triggered the conversion process.  A “swirely” actively moved at the bottom right hand corner labeled, “Jobs: 1”.  When this was completed, it read “Jobs: 0”.
    image
  6. I clicked on the book that had been converted:  A new “formats” hyperlink had appeared for “RTF”.  I clicked on the RTF hyperlink and Microsoft Word started and it loaded up the book… ready to be printed.image

image

Now that the book is in a format that can be printed, I was able to have a single chapter on paper to keep in my portfolio for whenever I wanted to read… without taking out either my Windows Mobile/Phone or my Kindle.  This is particularly useful when the book’s chapters are disjointed and don’t depend on each other.  Printing an ENTIRE book is generally silly because you end up with so many unbound pages as to be simply too bulky to carry.

—————————-

WHEATON’S LAW APPLIES
It again warrants reminding people that just because the ability to print eBook content exists, doesn’t mean anyone should ever deprive hardworking authors of their livelihoods.  This process was for my personal use only & Wheaton’s Law most definitely applies.


A quick word on QNX & the Blackberry Playbook

January 26, 2011

imageFor the record, lest you think me biased against an operating system that 99% of the world doesn’t know by name or acronym:  I once worked on business critical development projects that depended on QNX.  Yes, I know its strengths.  QNX is the reason Playbook does multitasking so quickly and the interface is so smooth.

Back in my younger days, I worked for the #1 credit services provider in the world (you figure it out) and when you slide your credit card through that terminal at Ralphs/Kroger, your card information matriculates over a phone line (a asynchronous modem primarily back then) through a series of systems and ultimately, if it’s over a certain charge value threshold, gets authorized by the bank that issued the card to you.  That bank received the transaction through an Intel-based PC… running the QNX operating system.

LOW LATENCY, HIGH PERFORMANCE
QNX was chosen back then for its speed & immediacy.  It’s actually a really interesting & impressive operating system.  Unlike Windows 7 and most *NIX-based systems, it’s an ultra-quick, real time kernel-based operating system with single millisecond-level latency, suitable for heart regulators & other medical devices, fast twitch financial transactions such as trading floor applications, or mission critical operations on the Space Shuttle. (In this sense, it’s more closely related to Windows CE)  The maximum threshold for credit authorization transaction turnaround was 7 seconds so it was critical that there be absolutely no delays between the bank that maintains your credit, and the terminal you swiped your card at.

For all its performance, I should point out that QNX has historically had rather raw development tools.  Sure it’s gotten more mature over the years but it’s never been anywhere near what consumer electronics application developers get with Apple’s iOS Xcode, much less Microsoft’s Visual Studio Suite in terms of productive development.  It’s a fast, tight nimble OS… with very few users.  It was said back in the day that QNX – a Canadian company, hence the unsurprising acquisition by another Canadian company (RIM) – lived off the licensing fees from just a couple dozen licensees throughout the world – but because the OS was so absolutely critical to the operations of these licensees (like the aforementioned credit systems provider), QNX never had anything to worry about. 

Then one day, I guess it got acquired.  Not for medical devices.  Not for financial transactions.  But for consumer phones/tablets.  Yup.  A solid OS with strengths in performance… specialized vertical industry use cases… now being used for a PDA.  It just seem like a square peg in a round hole to me.

“I could be wrong.  I’m often wrong.  I’m good at being wrong.  But I don’t think I’m wrong.” – Jim Rome


Blackberry Playbook: Are you kidding me?

January 24, 2011

image

No, really – please.  Someone tell me what everyone is smoking?  Everywhere I go I hear people talk about the Blackberry Playbook as if it were better than sliced bread.  They talk about how pretty and fast the UI is… but then, NOTHING.  It’s as if they never really used it at all.  Nobody I’ve talked to can point to what makes them so excited over the device.

Now I sat down with this thing for over an hour and in Las Vegas and grilled the RIM booth team for the Playbook on the CES floor about this that and the other.  And in the end… I still don’t get it.  Very little about this device says ‘winner’ at all.  Check this out:

  • WiFi-only at launch.  I repeat – from RIM: the people that brought you the mobile email device – there’s no cellular connectivity on this device at launch.
  • Email only works by ‘pairing’ with your existing Blackberry.  This essentially provides a ‘new interface’ for the mail you’re already getting on your phone.
  • No physical tethering.  Only wireless.
  • No replaceable battery.
  • There will be cellular at one point & it’ll be exclusive to Sprint once it’s available.  CDMA.  This of course means that Blackberry customers on AT&T & Verizon – the business networks – are out-of-luck.  And International travel is out the window.
  • US-only.  No Canada.  No Europe.  No Far East/Asia.  No LATAM.  Did you catch that?  RIM’s own home country of Canada won’t be seeing the Playbook available.
  • QNX OS-based Part 1.  This isn’t Android or iOS:  There’s no existing application library.  Worse, there’s zero compatibility with existing Blackberry applications.  Not even an emulator.
  • QNX OS-based Part 2.  Completely new 1.0 development environment, meaning existing Blackberry developers will need to learn to develop to a new platform.

Now in fairness, here’s a few things that might turn your eye:

  • Dual core TI OMAP processor (Ooh)
  • 3Mp front facing camera; 5Mp back facing camera
  • Small form factor with a quick, smooth, multitasking UI

…and that’s all I got. 

Someone tell me what I’m missing that’s got everyone hot under the collar for this thing?


Observations about LG at CES2011 & their recent comments in the media about Windows Phone 7

January 16, 2011

Y’know, recently I’ve been reading a lot about LG Electronic’s comments regarding Windows Phone 7.

The quote that’s getting a lot of airplay is this one in particular:

“From an industry perspective we had a high expectation, but from a consumer point of view the visibility is less than we expected”, James Choi, marketing strategy and planning team director of LG Electronics global said.

When I first read this, something about it bothered me because I just got back from CES 2011 in Las Vegas and in perusing their booth  – which incidentally, was one of the top 5 largest in the Central Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center (it took a couple minutes to walk across it at a steady pace) – and despite allocating about 25% of their booth space to their mobile phone offerings, they had almost no floor space dedicated for their lone US entry into the Windows Phone 7 space as far as I could see.

REALLY?
To put this into perspective, the following photo is the only place that the LG Quantum was even on-display, much less available to the public to touch, try, use:

image

Youi’ll notice that the device on display is BEHIND GLASS.  It’s also not even on.  There’s no literature available and had no one near it from LG representing the device to talk to anyone about what it does.  In fact, the only indicator that it RAN Windows Phone 7 as an operating system was the Windows logo on the glass and the TV ad that ran in the white screen below the logo.  Naturally, there was no one interested in the phone at all since they didn’t know what it was.

To put this imbalance at CES into perspective, imagine your entire house being covered with Android phone marketing & representatives from LG talking about Android.  The walls, the coffee table, the shelves, the cabinets, the windows, etc. would be covered with demos & booth staffers holding LG Vortex devices & other Android phones. Now imagine all of your family members talking to people that come through your house about the Vortex or another Android offering LG has.

Now at the same time, imagine the bathroom sink console in the guest bathroom having a Windows Phone 7 on it, but behind glass with no one around it.  That’s about the extent of LG’s marketing for the device, yet they go and say, “…the visibility is less than we expected.”

Understand why I’m a little tweaked?

I HEART LG QUANTUM
Now, for the record:  I LOVE THE LG QUANTUM.  I have one, and it’s the first Windows Phone 7 device that I’ve owned and I don’t regret it one bit at all. 

For anyone reading this, here’s why:

  1. KEYBOARD
    It’s the only Windows Phone 7 device on AT&T with a keyboard.  Done.
  2. BATTERY LIFE
    The battery life is clocked at being at/near the best of all Windows Phone 7 devices offered in any market – US or International – and on any network – AT&T or T-Mobile.
  3. SOLID CONSTRUCTION
    Despite providing a slide-out keyboard, the unit feels good in your hand with a good weight and interestingly enough, a cold, brushed metal plate protecting the battery.  If the capacitive screen had Gorilla Glass like it’s bigger brother the LG Optimus 7, I’d be in hog heaven because it’d be near-indestructible.
  4. DESIGN TOUCHES
    USB connection on side, brushed metal plate on the back, large landscape keys on the keyboard, physical Windows/Start Page button.
  5. DLNA SUPPORT
    This is the unique ability to transmit stereo audio wirelessly over 802.11g to my Xbox 360 and play the music over my Bose home theatre stereo system.  My new phone is a “Zune” and is now fully connected to my living room’s home audio.
  6. EXCLUSIVE SOFTWARE
    There’s one application that comes exclusively with the LG Quantum that I want to highlight and that’s “Voice-to-Text”.  It’s a simple tool that allows you to speak into your phone and translate your voice to text for immediate use in a SMS Text Message, Email, Memo-to-yourself, Twitter Tweet, or Facebook Status.  Yeah.  Awesome.  And only on the Quantum.

So LG?  Amongst all the SmartTV stuff, vacuums, washing machines, prototype closet organizers, all of which had a lot more people & floor space dedicated to them… next time, y’think you might be able to spare at least ONE table for your Windows Phone 7 device with a staffer that knows something about it?

Please?  Just a thought.


Amazon allows Kindle eBooks to be loaned to others… and I yawn. (Part 2)

January 16, 2011

imageSo I’ve talked about the inequity that exists between physical books and Amazon Kindle’s eBooks.

YEAH, SO WHY ARE YOU BITCHING ABOUT WHAT’S ESSENTIALLY A FREE FEATURE?
Because I WANT book publishers to be successful.  I don’t want to see what happened to the music industry happen to the eBook industry.  Very simply, the plodding & unfriendly manner in which book publishers seem to be adopting digital technology is symbolic of other media industry leaders that just… don’t… get it.

If you don’t make it easy & desirable to buy digital versions of your content and make it flexible enough to use in place of the prior/legacy format, individuals will STEAL YOUR CONTENT.

The book publishing industry is on the precipice of a booming industry – possibly even a revitalization of reading.  I myself rediscovered the joy of reading through my Kindle.  And I will readily spend a LOT of money to acquire eBooks legally and properly.  (I’m up to 22 books & 2 periodical subscriptions)

But I won’t respect anyone that tells me that I have to pay the same amount of cash for an eBook as a physical paperback, yet I can’t loan that book to my friends (one at a time) without restriction. 

Meanwhile it is TRIVIAL to disable the copy protections used to protect Amazon Kindle books from being freely copied.  Add to the fact that each book is generally only about 1MB in size, and you can see how incredibly easy it would be for piracy to occur.

Sure sounds to me like the same situation the music industry was in & how they got decimated by MP3 piracy because they refused to bring parity between digital media & CDs.

ISSUES WITH KINDLE EBOOK LENDING
Now that being said, here’s some things to know about the new Amazon Kindle eBook lending feature:

  • Loans are limited to 14-days
    People that accept loaned Kindle books are limited to 14-day loans after which, the book is disabled on the recipients device and is accessible again on the loaner’s device.  This might be a bit harsh a time limit considering real books have no time limit on them.  Also – what if the book is War & Peace?  14-days just doesn’t seem to cut it, does it?
  • Book unreadable until returned
    The book gets disabled on your Kindle or eReader while the it is on loan.  This is completely fair.  The book is being loaned out to someone else.  You shouldn’t be able to read/use it while someone else is in possession of the book right?  I eBook per person.
  • Only SOME books are loanable
    The book to be loaned as to be listed at Amazon as “Lending enabled”.  This is completely up to the publisher to enable – and most DO NOT, so the actual books this “lending feature” works on is negligible.  For most Kindle owners, they will find that their books are NOT loanable, (none of my books appear to be loanable) which of course ultimately makes this feature completely useless.  But that’s not the biggest problem in my mind.  The next bit is the galactically stupid deal breaker…
  • One single ‘loan’ allowed per book purchase
    Let me repeat that:  You can loan a book out once and only once in your lifetime.  Once the loaned book is returned to you, you will find that you can’t loan it out any more to anyone, period.  Ever.  As if the book were now super glued to you and couldn’t be lent out to anyone ever again.

CONCLUSION
Put simply:  Get to parity soon, book industry.  Really soon.  Because if you don’t, prepare to be looking at losing 90% of your revenues today because the book pirates are going to eat your lunch. 

The music industry took their sweet ol’ time with getting to a customer-friendly means of distributing their product electronically and eventually, they had to resort to unrestricted MP3 because their no one would use their old ultra-restrictive DRM-based systems.  I’m not saying DRM-based systems can’t work – to the contrary, I think they can and should.  But you can’t limit usage unreasonably to the extent that people can’t see the parallels between physical media & e-Media. 

And no value-add that you put on the e-Media versions of your product will compel people to choose it over print.  They’ll simply illegally pirate the e-Media version and purchase the physical version.  If they purchase the physical version at all that is.

eBooks are inevitable.  And the good news is that it’s ultraeasy to get people to buy eBooks if they’re available for purchase in a consumer-friendly medium.  The question will be, “How much money are book publishers going to make off of them?”

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References:


Amazon allows Kindle eBooks to be loaned to others… and I yawn. (Part 1)

January 13, 2011

Yup.  Amazon now has a feature for Kindle book buyers that allows some Kindle books to be temporarily shared with other people.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I strip the DRM off any Kindle eBook I buy not for the purposes of file sharing or piracy but to enable me to privately read the eBook on my Windows Mobile 6.5 device – a Verizon TouchPro 2 which lacks a Kindle client.  My TouchPro 2 is a phenomenal eBook reading device and I’ve plowed through a lot of Kindle content on it.

THE EBOOK PIRACY DILEMMA
In theory, I could hand the DRM-free file over to whomever I wanted to “share” the book, but I don’t – that’s piracy & theft.  But the files are .MOBI files (a popular eBook format acquired by Amazon) that are usually anywhere from 500k to 3Mb in size.  Note that this means, most eBooks aren’t even the length of a typical .MP3.

My point is:

While I think this “eBook lending” feature is a good step in the right direction, it doesn’t look like this is going to be very useful any time in the near future.

And when I say it’s a step in the right direction, I don’t mean by Amazon:  I mean by Book Publishers like Harper Collins.   However if they don’t get serious about moving more aggressively in this direction they’re going to find themselves losing 90% of their revenues… just like certain other media publishers.

TRUE or FALSE?:  MUSIC CDS : MP3s :: PAPER BOOKS : eBOOKS
Remember your SAT relational questions?  If so, the above statement should make the issue abundantly clear.  Music publishers, slow – nay GLACIAL – to accept electronic distribution of music as a means of selling music, desperately clinging to old, user unfriendly methods of controlling distribution.

To be clear:  I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST DIGITAL RIGHTS MANAGEMENT (DRM).

I’m not one of these anti-IP protection psychos that rage on DRM 24/7.  I think it’s a perfectly good way to control the distribution of one’s intellectual property whether is music or eBooks.  The problem I have is that legacy physical mediums such as CDs or Paperback books are usable in a variety of contexts that aren’t available in their digital forms and vice versa… yet charges the exact same amount of money for the digital version:  That’s very sketchy.

WHY ARE EBOOKS AS OR MORE EXPENSIVE THAN TRADITIONAL BOOKS?
The claim of course is that there is added value for digital versions that paper books lack such as:

  • scalable fonts w/ word wrapping on pages
  • multi-device installation
  • searchable content
  • text-to-voice on publisher-permitted eBooks
  • last-read-page sync with Amazon
  • tweeting/Facebooking highlighted paragraphs
  • digital just-in-time delivery services
  • downloadable book samples i.e. try before you buy
  • etc.

And on top of all of this, there are the claims that the publishing process of eBooks has costs associated with them above and beyond the engineered costs of the book’s original formatting.  It’s these ‘additional costs’ that negate the cost savings associated with no longer needing physical distribution of paper books.

IT’S JUST NOT VALUE PARITY
Sorry.  I just don’t buy it.  The electronic processing of existing digital master content to create an eBook does NOT cost the same thing as physical book cost-of-goods, creation, distribution, marketing, and warehousing.  There is just no way – I reject that notion completely.  It’s been my understanding that the actual production & distribution of physical product is always the most expensive aspect of producing a book.  Going digital should simply reduce the costs of books – but the publishers control the advertised cost of the book as it’s priced on Amazon.

Additionally, the capabilities are purportedly the value you trade for book sharing, aftermarket reselling, etc. but I just don’t think the value is on par with physical books.  When you buy an eBook from Amazon, there’s a couple of serious ‘gotchas’ you need to know:

  1. IT COSTS THE SAME AS PAPER BOOKS… OR MORE.
    It’s weird but electronic versions of books cost the same OR MORE than their paper counterparts.  Despite the fact that no physical material is involved, the eBook can sometimes cost more than buying a physical book.
  2. NO LOANING TO FRIENDS
    You really can’t loan the book to friends.  Contrary to this announcement, this newly announced functionality is so  doesn’t really exist for all intents and purposes.  (I’ll go over why in Part 2)
  3. NO TRADING BOOKS
    Once you’re done with a book… what good is it?  Reference?  Really?  Like you’re gonna refer back to that copy of Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol over and over?  No.  You want to be able to trade that book or give it away so that it gets a new home and that the investment you made continues to see growth… in the happiness of others that get to read the book on your dime.  But without the ability to gift the book to someone else once you’ve read it?  No dice.
  4. NO RESELLING
    The used book market is LOADED with books that people read and want to sell for pennies on the dollar.  But because the process of stocking and distributing used books is so laborious, it’s difficult to accomplish – even by Powell’s and other large resellers/overstock sellers.  The digital market is perfect for reselling value.  And heck – there could even get a ‘vig’ (tax) on each resale that would be redistributed to both the publisher and Amazon.  Maybe if there’d be a 20% vig on the resale of a $5 book (originally $10 book) that would amount to $1 extra for the publisher/Amazon.  And that resale could maybe limit the capabilities of the used book – no lending.  No bookmarking.  I dunno.  Something to exhibit ‘wear and tear’ on the digital property.

Windows on ARM Processors: Reasons why this is BIG

January 13, 2011

imageI’m no genius when it comes to hardware.  And I should probably state up front that I don’t work in the Windows product group nor do I have any insight as to their roadmap. 

That being said, I’m getting a little tired of folks with few technical credentials declaring “Windows on ARM” a non-starter… that it’s a strike against Intel & that the Wintel monopoly is crumbling… that it’s too late and that Microsoft is irrelevant in the mobile or tablet space.

I gotta laugh at the pundits that casually declare that “Microsoft doesn’t get it”.  I think these armchair experts really do believe in their minds that:

  • Microsoft doesn’t understand that the finger/touch interface is important
  • Microsoft doesn’t realize that the online app store model is important
  • Microsoft doesn’t see the value of consumer friendly hardware
  • Microsoft doesn’t comprehend how relevant the user interface experience is
  • Microsoft doesn’t get how important weight, thinness, and portability are

How about we all just consider that this is all blatantly obvious?  No – it’s more than obvious:  IT’S OLD.  It’s something that’s been known by Microsoft and naturally the “industry experts” for a good while now.  This is not new and should we all just take it for granted that it’s being worked on?  You’d think these folks that live in “media time” (Media time = “Gotta get my copy in by my editor’s deadline”) would just assume that instead of droning on about “why is it taking so long” & “Microsoft doesn’t get it”.

imageKINECT VS WIIMOTE & “GOING WHERE THE PUCK IS HEADED”
Consider another apparently ‘obvious’ market space for Microsoft to engage:  The Motion Gaming industry – i.e. the space previously uniquely occupied by the Wii & the Wii Controller.  What did Microsoft do to compete in this space?  Like Gordie Howe used to say, “I don’t skate to where the puck is now; I skate to where the puck is going to be next.”  Microsoft didn’t just copy the Wiimote like Sony did with the Playstation 3:  It deliberated, made careful decisions, & foresaw the next generation of motion gaming by releasing the Kinect, which has become the fastest selling consumer electronics product in history.

Now it’s commonly held that the Wii is on a severe downward trend.  Xbox 360 for the first time ever outsold the Wii every month starting back in August 2010, I believe.  While maintaining its leadership as the premier platform for advanced console gaming, it usurped the mantle of motion gaming from the previously unbeatable Wii with a single, well-calculated move.

imageWANNA HINT ABOUT TABLET INNOVATION?  IT’S IN YOUR XBOX.
What does all of this this have to do with Tablet innovation?  Simple.  We know that hardware gets commoditized – it gets cheaper as long as there’s competition.  The future lies in commoditized devices where larger production results in cheaper costs.

Take the Xbox:  The Xbox Classic tried to leverage commoditized parts like off the shelf Intel P3 processors, off the shelf Nvidia GPUs, off the shelf hard drives, off the shelf PC components, etc.  The original tact was to use highly commoditized parts to leverage economies of scale and a reduction of cost through volumes.  This turned out to not be so good because there was a ceiling at which volume discounting could reduce the cost of the box’s manufacture.

Everything changed dramatically with the Xbox 360 where the processor was a custom Microsoft design, the GPU was a custom Microsoft design, and all the rights to the processors were licensed from their respective licenses – in this case, IBM and ATI

This last point is incredibly important:  What this did was provide Microsoft with the ability to gradually shrink the size of the CPU & GPU.  This has the benefit of:

  1. Increasing the quantity of chips created per plate of silicon, cutting the price by nearly 50% over time. 
  2. Decreasing the power consumption of each chip, reducing the heat dissipation of the processors and simultaneously making the console more power efficient & minimizing the cost of cooling components.
  3. Ultimately, converging both processors into a single piece of silicon (i.e. 1 chip with CPU/GPU), reducing system support requirements and overall materials costs associated with the most expensive component of the Xbox by another 50%.

This process was essentially borrowed from Sony and the PS2, which is so successful, it’s sold to this day.  Imagine applying the same fundamental “license/cost reduce/converge” concept to Windows tablet hardware.  Imagine:

  1. Licensing the rights to a CPU & GPU design
  2. Producing a custom designed CPU/GPU that’s optimized for power, portability
  3. Integrating additional tablet components into the optimized chip design

DON’T FORGET THAT ARM HAS INHERENT OPTIMIZATIONS
Note that this is all putting aside the inherent benefits of the ARM processor platform itself – being generally better optimized for mobile scenarios.

  • POWER EFFICIENCY – Low power utilization means longer battery life for mobiles
  • HEAT DISSIPATION – ARM processors don’t generally need cooling systems
  • CUSTOMIZATION – Designs can be licensed
  • CHOICE – Numerous ARM vendors means competitive innovation

HOW IS THIS COMPELLING TO MANUFACTURER’S & CONSUMERS?
Easy.  Imagine ARM CPUs… with Windows Embedded in the firmware.  Heck – imagine Windows shipping in the same strike as the CPU.  “Windows Processors” designed by Microsoft, produced by OEMs in the same way that the Microsoft-designed Tri-Core IBM PowerPC processor is for the Xbox 360.  Windows Processors that get firmware based updates that simply override components on chip.  Imagine pricing that’s extremely low since piracy issues are controlled, the license is hardwire-tied to the processor, and the profit from the CPU co-funds the Windows license.  Going a step further, imagine the cost of the OS being completely engineered into the cost of the CPU itself.

Imagine Office ported to Windows on ARM – a specific version for mobile class machines.  Because it’s a new port it can be scaled down for the processing limitations of ARM while being optimized for things like touch, always-connected devices, etc.  Because it’s a different SKU it can be priced differently & attractively without diluting the existing market for Office on desktops/laptops/netbooks.

Imagine the .NET framework being implemented in hardware.  Abstraction is suddenly not a bottleneck and managed code can be run on devices that are specifically designed for managed code – running at breakneck speeds.

Think about the cost advantages.  The development advantages.  The multi-platform code usage advantages.  The market advantages for application developers that have access to ARM & x86/x64 customers.

All in all – the Windows on ARM announcement had much greater implications in my mind that I think much of the media have inferred. 


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