The world's richest man just assigned the world some summer homework
The richest man in the world still makes time to squeeze in a good book now and then.
Bill Gates—he of the $79 billion net worth, per Forbes—released his annual summer reading list on Tuesday. In between running one of the world’s largest charities and serving as technological advisor to the company he co-founded, Microsoft [fortune-stock symbol=”MSFT”], Gates has made a habit in recent years of letting the world know what he’s reading.
Gates unveiled his new 7-book summer reading list in a post titled “Beach Reading (and more)” on his personal blog, Gates Notes. Included in this year’s list is The Magic of Reality, by Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. There’s also On Immunity, by Eula Biss, which fits in well with one of the goals of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by tackling the issue of childhood vaccinations.
The billionaire techie also noted that he’s trying to lighten the mood a little bit this year. “This year I tried to pick a few more things that are on the lighter side. Each of these books made me think or laugh or, in some cases, do both,” Gates wrote in the blog post.
In that vein, Gates includes a book adapted from Allie Brosh’s popular comic blog, Hyperbole and a Half, which Gates calls “funny and smart as hell.” Another item with a more graphic option is Randall Munroe’s XKCD, which draws from Munroe’s webcomic of the same name, which features a lot of mathematical and scientific humor. “It’s that kind of humor, which not everybody loves, but I do,” Gates writes.
The rest of the books Gates recommends reading this summer are: What If?, also by Munroe; How to Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff; and, Should We Eat Meat?, by Vaclav Smil.
To celebrate the Windows game's 25th birthday
Microsoft has challenged the world to a Solitaire tournament that will pit the company’s strongest players against the game’s biggest fans.
The tournament will launch on June 5 to mark the 25th anniversary of the game, which has long remained a permanent fixture of the Windows operating system.
The battle begins with an internal match among Microsoft’s employees. The winners will then lead a worldwide match against the general public, or as Microsoft put it in an official post: “you’ll be challenged to bring your best to defeat our best.”
Microsoft walks back a previous suggestion that pirates could upgrade for free
Microsoft will not give pirates a free pass to Windows 10 this summer, clarifying in a new statement that unlicensed users could either pay for a valid version of the software or live with a permanent stamp of inauthenticity on their desktops.
“When we can’t verify that Windows is properly installed, licensed, and not tampered with, we create a desktop watermark to notify the user,” Microsoft vice president Terry Myserson wrote in an official blog post.
The statement appeared to walk back a suggestion several months earlier that “non-genuine” users would qualify for the free upgrade. Instead, Microsoft will attempt to flip pirates into paying customers with an “attractive Windows 10 upgrade offers.”
In other words, Windows users? Pay up.
No longer can we boast about 12 seconds of coherent thought
The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but according to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.
Researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs). Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.
“Heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli — they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media,” the report read.
On the positive side, the report says our ability to multitask has drastically improved in the mobile age.
Microsoft theorized that the changes were a result of the brain’s ability to adapt and change itself over time and a weaker attention span may be a side effect of evolving to a mobile Internet.
The survey also confirmed generational differences for mobile use; for example, 77% of people aged 18 to 24 responded “yes” when asked, “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone,” compared with only 10% of those over the age of 65.
And now congratulate yourself for concentrating long enough to make it through this article.
Why did Windows 10 skip a number? Microsoft buries a clue in a t-shirt
Microsoft staffers arrived at last week’s Build developer’s conference wearing mysterious blue t-shirts emblazoned with the company’s four-paned Windows logo — only each pane was constructed out out of tiny strings of 1’s and 0’s.
This being a developer’s conference, the attendees immediately recognized the numbers as binary code. One enterprising developer, Kevin Gosse, translated the code back to plain English and posted his findings on Twitter Saturday. He discovered four hidden messages:
“There are 10 types of people in the world,” read the first message, an old coder’s joke that switches out the number “2” for its binary equivalent, “10.”
“Windows 10, because 7 8 9.” That would be a joking reference to the fact that Microsoft skipped a number in the upgrade cycle, leaping from Windows 8 to Windows 10.
“Congrats on being one of the first.” That’s a message for Gosse’s eyes only.
“Windows Insiders help us develop the future. Talk to us @ Windows.” That’s a message for all developers to help build apps and add-ons for the Windows 10 platform, which releases this summer.
CEO Satya Nadella has turned an aging tech giant into one of the hottest stocks on the market.
On Tuesday, Salesforce.com saw its shares skyrocket as rumors spread of a possible Microsoft acquisition. While Bloomberg has said no deal is imminent, a Salesforce sale would make a lot of sense for a company that has staged an improbable comeback through a newfound focus on cloud services. (Our sister publication Fortune.com made just that case a few days ago.)
When Satya Nadella was named Microsoft’s CEO on February 4, 2014, he was taking over an aging tech giant long known for muddled priorities and a fear of any internal innovation that could challenge the dominance of its Windows operating system. Since then, Nadella has given his company a clear objective—even killing off established but musty brands like Internet Explorer. As the Economist noted in April:
Mr. Nadella’s biggest achievement so far is that he has given Microsoft a coherent purpose in life, as it enters its fifth decade. He sums it up in two mottos. One is “mobile first, cloud first”: since these are where the growth is going to come from, all new products need to be developed for them. The other is “platforms and productivity”.
On the cloud side, Microsoft’s business has been flourishing. Profits from the cloud—that is, software and services available via the Internet—more than doubled in the past quarter, and revenue has increased to $6.3 billion.
Investors are liking the new clarity too. Microsoft’s stock price has surged under its new CEO. Since Nadella took the reins, Microsoft shares are up over 30%, 10 points ahead of the S&P. In comparison, Microsoft’s stock dropped nearly 12% during Ballmer’s tenure and underperformed the market.
Here’s Microsoft’s stock performance under Ballmer:
And here’s its performance since Nadella started:
This magical-seeming recovery is still a short-run thing—we’re talking a bit more than year. But Wall Street seems to have Nadella’s back for now. Earlier today, the Wall Street Journal‘s “Heard on the Street” column praised the company’s cloud efforts and called its stock one of the cheapest ways to gain exposure to cloud business. Just a few hours later, as though to confirm the endorsement, Salesforce.com shares jumped on merger news.
It's coming to Windows
The long-awaited middle finger emoji will be included in Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system, according to Emojipedia.
The emoji is officially called “Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended.” The one-finger salute emoji has been available for tech companies to pack in their products for almost a year — emoji are an industry standard set by a non-profit group; individual tech companies like Apple and Google are free to adopt and interpret the group’s selections largely as they see fit. No major tech companies have yet adopted Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended.
Windows 10, Microsoft’s upcoming cross-platform operating system, is due out sometime this summer. It replaces Windows 8.1 — Microsoft skipped a number for undetermined reasons.
Paul Allen reflects on the company's 40 years of history
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen expressed amazement in a new interview at how large the company has grown since he and Bill Gates founded it on a scrap of computer code 40 years ago. But he also warned of a long, hard slog to reclaim the mobile market.
“It’s possible,” Allen told the New York Times, noting that Microsoft would have to lure customers and developers away from highly popular smartphones and tablets that run Apple and Google’s operating systems. “It’s very challenging to carve back market share,” Allen said.
He also said he offered the same sympathetic advice for anyone who takes the helm of such a sprawling company. “You have such a challenging job because you have more competitors than any major CEO in the world has,” Allen said. Satya Nadella took over as chief executive of Microsoft in early 2014; Nadella has since followed a self-described “cloud first, mobile first” mentality at the company.
CEO Satya Nadella has changed the software giant's modus operandi. And investors are loving what they see
Remember Borg Microsoft, the bullying juggernaut that ruled the software industry with an iron fist? The Microsoft of 2015 has strayed so far from that original incarnation it might as well be called bizarro Microsoft.
Gone are the days when Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer mocked Linux or called it a cancer. Or when Ballmer laughed at the iPhone. Or when Ballmer dismissed Android was too hard to use. (A billion Android phones shipped last year.) The new Microsoft has shed its arrogance. These days, it works hard to play well with others.
And the new, more open approach is working. Microsoft’s stock is up 53% in the past two years after a very long season of stagnation. While the stock stumbled earlier this year, it’s up 14% since the company reported earnings on April 23, largely because of growth in its cloud business, such as its Azure computing platform.
Investors, flush from a strong year in tech stocks in 2014, are looking ahead to the end of 2015 and 2016. In some cases, they’re not liking what they see, but Microsoft is persuading more and more shareholders it’s ready to deliver on the cloud-first, mobile-first world that its CEO Satya Nadella has been touting. Unlike Netflix, Spotify or other companies that are thriving on cloud-based services for consumers, Microsoft has focused its cloud efforts in the enterprise market. Nadella said last week Microsoft’s enterprise cloud revenue, including hardware and software, would reach $20 billion a year within three years from about $6 billion now, an audacious goal but one that brought few snickers of disbelief.
Of course, much of this will come as its clients migrate from legacy products (like Microsoft Office) to cloud-based offerings (like Office 365), so there’s some cannibalization involved. And the shift is a project that Microsoft has been working on for years, thanks to moves made by Ballmer. Ballmer, it seems, was better at building an enterprise business than effectively bashing rivals in consumer tech.
Under Nadella, Microsoft is emerging as one of a handful of big names poised to thrive in the cloud economy alongside Amazon, IBM, and Google. But last week, as the company held its Build developer conference to announce details of Windows 10, Nadella made a pitch for Windows to become a platform where developers from other platforms–iOs, Android, Linux–would not only be welcome, but actively courted.
Windows 10 is designed to build “universal apps,” meaning a single app working on phones, tablets, PCs, consoles like Xbox and even one day a augmented-reality platform like HoloLens. App purchases can easily be billed directly through carriers, simplifying payments to developers. Microsoft also introduced Visual Studio, a free, cross-platform code editor that can write apps for Windows, OS X and Linux.
But the bigger surprise–and, depending on how developers respond, the potential game changer for Windows–is that Microsoft announced Islandwood and Astoria, two middleware projects that allow developers to easily port their existing apps into the Windows platform. Islandwood will let iOS apps work on Windows with a minimum of changes, while Astoria will do the same for Android apps.
In recent years, Microsoft has talked more and more about opening up its software ecosystem to developers working in other platforms, but much of the rhetoric has sounded like lip service. Visual Studio, Islandwood and Astoria moves show that Microsoft is dead serious about doing just that, retooling its offerings to actively reach out to the iOS and Android communities.
The idea is to make it simple for iOS and Android developers to port their existing apps into Windows. In the mobile world, more apps can mean more users, which in turn gives developers more incentive to work with a particular platform. But the plan comes with risks, such as the possibility that some iOS/Android apps translate into inferior or buggy versions on Windows Mobile. Or that developers may be too busy or indifferent to try.
Microsoft is also doing what it can to upgrade users of Windows 8. Windows 10 will be free for the first year, which could interrupt the way Windows sales are recorded as revenue but has a much bigger draw: consumers and businesses will be more likely to upgrade quickly, giving Windows 10 developers a larger audience early on.
All of this is aimed at making Microsoft a single, unifying platform for developers. In that way, it’s not unlike the original goal Microsoft set out for itself. What’s fundamentally different is how Microsoft aims to reach that goal: not through brute-force coercion, but through creating an open and inviting platform that plays well with others.
In some ways, the open, cross-platform world of software today evolved in direct opposition to Microsoft’s arrogant dominance in the 80s and 90s. Now it must adapt. Nadella’s plan isn’t likely to make Windows dominant in the mobile world right away, but in time it could give it a more equal footing in mobile OS alongside iOS and Android. And that could keep Microsoft’s revenue growing for years.