James O'Neill's Blog

September 20, 2008

Supercomputers and adverts.

Filed under: Exchange,Windows Server — jamesone111 @ 8:01 pm

One of those Saturday morning serendipitous link chains.

Sometime in 1988  I was talking to Mike, one of my colleagues at Research Machines. It’s impossible to keep using increasing computer for ever I said. He had 16Mhz 386 computer on his desk with a 387 maths co-processor and a special cache board in it and people were cooing over the power of the thing.  Mike said however much power the hardware folks gave us, the software folks would find a way to use it: way beyond his awesome 386 he said. But there has to be a limit, I said "Even if you could give everyone a Cray ?". Even then said Mike….

You might have heard that we’ve been running some new adverts. The first couple were to get people thing "Oh Microsoft have something to say do they"… I greeted these with some skepticism. Bill transitions out of this full time job at Microsoft and we start running adverts with Bill as the star. Even now I can hear someone pitching "Bill" to TV studios , a sitcom about a guy in Seattle, "Think Frasier, but instead of Psychiatrist he’s a computer geek. And the great thing is the real Bill is available. We can bring in guest comedians from all over…"  Reflexively my toes began to curl when I saw Bill in an ad because I learned a little rhyme when I was young.

When the client moans and sighs
make his logo twice the size
If he still should prove refractory
show a picture of his factory
Only in the gravest cases
should you show the clients’ faces

The first ad passed me by. Part of recent Microsoft folklore (if you can call blog posts that) was someone asking Steve Ballmer "When will act like an international company and not like an an American company which does business overseas". I didn’t think people in Britain would get it. It seems a great many Americans didn’t get it either: it’s an advert so what does Microsoft want us to buy ? Vista, office, Exchange, Mobile , the ideas of Live ? Or just open our minds enough to accept that Jerry Seinfeld who is famously from New York and Gates – famously from Seattle – could possibly be in the same shoe shop. The second one did raise a laugh but would a British Audience get it ? Was there something to get ? Or is just the most expensive clearing of the throat in recent corporate history ?

My smoke alarm went off a couple of days ago. It does it every so often – this time was because I left a door slightly open and steam from the shower was enough to trip the thing. Burnt toast or frying some things can also set it off if the kitchen door is open. The thing is a nuisance, so why don’t I just take its battery out ? You know why. I mention this because its actually quite a good metaphor with User Account Control in Windows Vista. Most of the time you forget it’s there. When you’re doing some things it’s a nuisance… But one day it might save you. Granted UAC won’t save your loved ones from death by smoke inhalation. And I’ll take rebuilding an infected computer over even minor fire damage any day.  Trust me on this: I’ve caused a kitchen fire at home which needed two fire engines and men in breathing apparatus.

I mention this because Apple’s ad campaigns got the skin of Microsoft folks so much, that they get into any internal talk about our own ads in first few seconds. Someone brought up this mac ad which is the most inaccurate representation of UAC I’ve seen to date.  Just like the ad agencies take on Viruses – Apple have more published vulnerabilities than Windows but – even virus writers don’t bother with it as a platform. This one seems to be saying "Apple OS-X :  like a house without a smoke alarm".

As a Microsoft shareholder there are times when I think the money we’ve spent with advertising agencies has been wasted – worse than that: I can think of cases where it would have done us less harm to spend the money buying air time for those Apple ads. And for pity’s sake why can I do I see ads like this one for the first time when trying to find something on youtube ? Watch it …. Notice it says 25 years ago a company was founded: that dates it to 2000. And the breaking down barriers bit … well we might see more of that in the "Without walls" campaign. I tell you this because I think the latest ad might turn out to be a master stroke. 


They’ve taken Apples "PC" character and given him half a dozen words "I’ve been made into a stereotype" and shown a diverse set of people who are PCs. One of the comments I read  – and can’t find now – said Microsoft had missed that the "I’m a Mac" adverts asked "Who would you rather work with."  This ad tells people the PC is people like them, not just the guy in the Apple ad. It makes him look like that guy we’ve all met at some point in our working lives, the one with the ill-deserved superiority complex – the one who thinks the designer logo on the shirt he wears to work matters more than what he does when he’s there, the one who thinks constantly disagreeing with the consensus is proof of his creativity and superiority, when everyone else thinks its a sign of being a jerk. Long term readers might recall I linked to a Grauniad piece  which says the Adverts characterize  Macs as "Smug Preening Tossers". If people turn round and say "you know, the Mac guy isn’t someone I’d want to be around, much less someone I’d want to be " Apple can never run an advert with him in it again.

Whilst using Google’s (youtube’s) bandwidth to show the ad in flash form is all fine and good, the version above is the silverlight version which I got from my colleague Keith Combs. Keith has a couple of interesting links on the front page of his blog right now, he’s got the advance spec for Dell’s new monster laptop: with 3 times the CPU grunt and 4 times the memory of what I have now, in a package which can go in wheel on luggage – is could be the core of event delivery for the next couple of years. Since I’m going to be helping out with an HPC (nee Computer Cluster Server) event in October, his piece on the Cray CX1 caught my eye. With 8 nodes with 8 cores in a single box, and it would have made it onto the top 500 supercomputers in the world in 2004.  Which thinking about the power of those weird and wonderful beasts with the Stonehenge-inspired design that I was thinking of in that chat with Mike. Lordy, you have to love Moore’s law. According Wikipedia the Cray X-MP which was the top dog in 1988 was introduce in 1984 at a cost of $15M (call it £25M in today’s Money). It had 1/5 of the power of each core in my Laptop. And if you’ve got £50K to spend on the CX-1 it will buy you the equivalent of 500 X-MPs for 1/500th of the price (£100 a go, a 250,000 fold improvement. Based the traditional doubling every 18 months Moore would only give about 65,000 times improvement).  Watch Cray’s video which ends with the description "Unprecedented personal computing capabilities".  If a machine like that had a voice it would sound like James Earl Jones and it would be saying "AND I’M A PC"


This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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