Tag - microsoft

Seriously, Entourage

I’m being forced to use Entourage, the Mac version of Outlook, on my work computer. And yes, it’s a major hardship. Not quite up there with communicable diseases or debilitating illnesses, but approaching. Definitely approaching.

First of all, it looks like a pilot’s dashboard. Simplicity is not part of the plan. This is after some serious effort to tone down the menus and email fields that display:

Worse, it’s stupid. I mean that quite literally. As an example, see this pop-up question:

That’s in response to a double-click on a recurring event – a weekly recurring event. Would it seriously open up the hundreds of recurrences over the next couple of years if I selected all? Is it not fairly obvious that generally users might want to see the details of the event, not to open up 52 copies of the event as it stretches out over the next calendar year?

Alas, iCal is not on speaking terms with our Exchange server … somehow the month field is being represented by a single digit in the details it’s sending up the line. Until I get that fixed, I’m stuck in 1998.

At least for calendaring.

Why a 30-minute Google Docs outage isn't "a major blow to cloud computing"

So, Google Docs had a 30-minute outage today.

This has C|Net saying that the sky is falling:

No matter how brief this outage, this is likely to be a major blow to the growth of cloud computing, as it reminds IT managers of the danger of relying on a unified product to serve all a company’s users. With traditional installed software and local storage, it’s almost impossible for a single outage, outside of a bad operating system upgrade, to affect an entire workforce at once.

Umm … no.

A major service such as Google Docs, which millions of people use around the globe, is a big deal. So going down – even for 30 minutes – is a big deal. Agreed.

But that’s exactly the reason why our response to it is disproportionate to the actual problem.

Consider how many times you’ve had issues with Microsoft Word, or whatever else you use as a word processor. Oh wait, you don’t use anything else (well, most of you). Word refusing to format properly, Word quitting unexpectedly, Word running slowly, Word eating your document. Or Word behaving like a perfectly gentleman, but your PC deciding to eat a document or two for lunch.

Never happened to you? You must the be the luckiest dude on the planet.

But it happens to most of us. And if you add up all the little annoyances and grievances … they crowd out a couple of outages here or there by Google Docs.

At least, that’s my opinion. Yours may differ!

Microsoft & Skype: the great cosmic joke … and an $8.5B investment in yesterday

It has become increasingly clear to me over the past few weeks that Microsoft has made an astonishingly bad decision in buying Skype. But that’s that the worst part.

The worst part is that it is now completely obvious that the top people at Microsoft, Steve Balmer among them, have no clue about the future of technology.

Here’s the deal: all value is moving to the cloud.

Look at the top valued companies today. Google. Facebook. All the hot new startups that are building value. Zynga. LinkedIn.

They are cloud companies.

They live in the cloud. They take us into the cloud. They work on the cloud. They make the cloud meaningful.

And what about Apple? Apple, which is now trending toward a more than 2X valuation over Microsoft?

Don’t they make a lot of stuff? Things? Devices.

The answer is yes, of course. But first of all, those devices are on-ramps to the cloud. No-one has made the cloud relevant to average people (who don’t have a clue what the cloud is) than Apple. Mobile apps virtually didn’t exist before iPhone. Mobile data is dominated by iOS (and now Android). iPad is a perfect vehicle for cruising the virtual road.

Value started in hardware (IBM etc)
Value moved to software (Microsoft etc)
Value is now moving to the cloud (web 2.0 and 3.0 companies)

The cloud is not magical. It includes hardware. And it includes software. Of course. But it is the opposite of installable software.

One guess what Skype is …

Buying Skype is a great business decision … in terms of technology, in terms of clients, in terms of integration into core products.

But all of these tactical reasons that say YES are vastly outweighed by the massive strategic reason that says that Skype, even though it’s P2P, even though it has added a small cloud-ish component via Facebook … is fundamentally old-fashioned software.

Which makes Microsoft’s $8.5 billion dollars an investment in yesterday. Which follows so many of their other recent investment decisions. Which signals yet another death-knell (did you need one more) for Microsoft’s domination in the world of technology.

Microsoft, quite simply, is v2.0.

The world is moving forward 3.0 is upon us. Google+ is showing the way. 4.0 will come. And a company that is optimized for surviving and thriving in a 2.0 world is de-optimized for surviving in a 3.0 world.

It’s raining in Seattle.

Apple to be the first trillion-dollar company?

Not enough that market cap has pushed past old rival Microsoft? Not enough that profit is more than Portugal’s GNP? Not enough that the world eats off iPads?

At least one fairly savvy analyst thinks Apple is a trillion-dollar company:

Perhaps yes. But I think there are other reasons not mentioned by the interviews that APPLE is not pushing the boundaries of space yet.

One is Android, which many believe is the new PC to Apple’s iPhone. Another is sheer disbelief that any one company can go on such a sustained run. And finally … the world of finance is probably changing, like other industries. But it is not one of the trendy industries that has immediately jumped on the Apple bandwagon. So analysts will see fewer Macs and iPhones and iPads in meetings and daily work that your average web worker, professional, or manager.

So there’s essentially an “Apple discount.”

Sounds like a buying opportunity?

Windows Phone 7 doesn't suck (and it has a good core concept)

I’ve had a chance to play with Windows Phone 7 at South by Southwest for the past couple of days, and it’s confirmed an opinion I’ve had for a while:

Windows Phone 7 doesn’t suck.

That may sound heretical to those who know me as an iPhone-carrying, Mac-using, iPad (and iPad 2) owning Apple fan. I love the Mac OS. I love my iPhone. In fact, I’ve used Macs for over 20 years.

But still, it’s true.

While Windows users such an infrequent sighting at SXSW (I think I’ve seen 11 so far) that I almost feel sorry for them, Microsoft has a decent-sized booth on the trade show floor and a couple of other demo areas around the conference session areas. And there’s plenty of demo units to play with.

The core idea of Windows Phone 7 is unification.

The panes (yes, window panes …) on the front of Windows Phone 7 integrate information from a variety of sources and attempt in aggregate to present a holistic version of your digital phonish self: what you’re doing, who you know, news you follow, games you play, people you’re connected to, and so on.

That core idea is smart.

It’s directly opposed to the iPhone/Apple current app-centric model. The opposition is visual, branding, marketing, and some reality: there is a lot of sharing built into the Apple iPhone model of common data such as calendar and contacts … but not as much.

I’m sure Apple will address this to a degree: siloing our lives into apps is problematic. Not because we don’t want great apps that are entirely internally consistent and solve a specific problem in a comprehensive, elegant manner … but because we want our apps to be smart not only about what we’re doing in them, but in other apps, sites, and places as well.

I still MUCH prefer my iPhone. But props to Microsoft for smart positioning.

BlackBerry: Mac users not wanted

Does BlackBerry hate Mac users this much?

I can understand not loving Apple, who dethroned RIM as the smartphone leader. And I can understand not promoting BlackBerries to Mac users, who are much more likely to use iPhone.

But actively discouraging Mac users from even exploring App World? It’s passive aggressive nonsense that does nothing to evangelize their platform or their product. And … did RIM not notice that Microsoft now has their own phone platform out? Will App World block Windows next?

Who are you going to sell to then, RIM?

Google Contextual Search and Microsoft Paperclip

Marissa Mayer, former head of the Google search team and now head of the Google’s mobile/social ambitions, has made no secret of her goals. Lately she’s been hyping “contextual discovery” … or search without search.

The idea is simple and compelling: you happen to be at the office, you often go out for a coffee at 10AM, and your phone mentions a new coffee shop around the corner. Or you’re in a new city halfway across the world, and your phone finds a coffee shop to wake up in … without being asked.

The challenge lies in execution: how to be helpful without being annoying. Basically, how to avoid being Cliff Clavin in a pocket.

Microsoft faced a similar challenge a decade ago. After all, 90% of the features in Word and Excel are used extremely occasionally – 10% of the features meet 90% of our needs. So there’s a discovery problem … if you’re Microsoft and want to justify new versions with increasingly more options and features.

Microsoft’s answer was Office Assistant, building on the foundations of Microsoft Bob. The visual representation of Office Assistant was a paperclip … hence Clippy … hence Microsoft Paperclip. Clippy would “notice” that you were doing something (like writing a letter) and offer advice or assistance. Unfortunately, Clippy was intrusive and annoying, and its assistance was wrong, stupid, or just plain obvious – a user experience disaster.

Here’s the question: how will Google avoid the Clippy fate?

Getting the right information at the right time is wonderful, excellent, and good. But there’s more opportunity to fail than to succeed:

Right fact Wrong fact
Right time Party time! Woohoo! Annoyance & anger
Wrong time Annoyance & anger Annoyance & anger

At first glance, it looks bad, but not too bad. After all, it’s a 25% change of hitting pay dirt right? But actually, it’s much worse than that.

How does Google know what is the right fact … one you’ll be interested in? And not just interested in generally, but interested in now? Can a smart contextual search app trace the route you’ve been following and the speed you’ve been maintaining and make some judgements about whether you’re being hurried and purposeful (and therefore not too interested in random desiderata this morning, but maybe very interested in traffic data) … or leisurely and rambling (and therefore maybe touring, and perhaps interested in historical facts that add color to your experience).

These are not trivial problems. And they’re just the beginning.

How, for example, will Google send the notifications? Will they use the same channel/interface as text messages? Will the user need to set a preference that “now I’m interested in various facts?”

I don’t have the answers … but there are a lot of questions to answer before a truly useful and non-annoying tool can be successfully launched.

Android can win … but Google may still lose

There is only one reason why Google is investing in Android. And it’s the same reason that Google invests in just about anything else:

To gain access to (and if possible to control access to) information … so that it can sell ads and otherwise monetize data flows and resultant behavior.

Android is of course a mobile play, and mobile/social is where there is tremendous growth. So if Google is going to parlay its amazing success in traditional search, Google needs to be on the phone. In Apple’s new mobile garden, data access and behavior flows are app-centric … not web-centric. They use the internet, but not the WWW.

That’s deadly for Google, because it conceals activity and favors silos of data over the all-knowing oracular Googleplex. This is precisely the reason why Android development kicked into extreme high gear well after the release of the Apple iPhone … when it became clear that apps and not the web was the focus. So Android is a power play to ensure that the mobile internet/web is open to Google (and perhaps favors Google).

But Google has a problem.

And the problem is this: Android is open source and anyone can do anything to it that they wish. More precisely, Android uses an Apache-style license, not a GPL-style license (see a good explanation here). Most precisely of all: organizations that want to modify open source software released with an Apache-style license can integrate it with closed-source code and do NOT have re-release their modifications.

Mix that together with a carrier-centric distribution model where the telcoms all want to do exactly what is in their own best interests … and you have a recipe for fragmentation, for forking, for slowing development (or at least release), and many (slightly) different proprietary forms of Android – if not significantly at the code level, at least at the user interface level.

And that means that Google’s attempt to remain the arbiter of all information in the mobile world is at the tender mercies of the telecoms’ desires to make money. Hmm … smell any problems yet?

MG Siegler laid out some of these problems in a TechCruch article recently: Android Is As Open As The Clenched Fist I’d Like To Punch The Carriers With. Imagine multiple apps stores, where developers have to add and validate their apps in 5-10 stores instead of one. Imagine crapware pre-loaded onto phones, just like cheap PCs at Circuit City, because the carrier will be paid for placement or use. Imagine limits on what software you can or can’t install. Imagine funky UIs dreamed up by HCI neophytes who thinks it “looks cool,” even though it’s completely unusable. All this adds up to a bad user experience and an annoying client/provider relationship … none of which will help in a fight against the iEmpire.

But the worst possible news from Google’s perspective is getting kicked off their own phone platform. And that’s precisely what might happen, if Microsoft’s marketing and financial muscle is put in play. There’s already rumors that Bing will replace Google on Verizon phones. Just imagine the consequences for Google.

And yet, it might serve them right.

Google has gotten to where it is by destroying a lot of business models. Gmail commoditizes email; Android and Chrome commoditize operating systems, Google Docs commoditizes productivity apps … the list goes on, and on, and on.

Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if Android ended up commoditizing Google?

Microsoft and the future: doesn't look too good?

Everyone’s favorite kicking-boy lately is Microsoft, and it’s easy to see why.

Mobile is a disaster, Bing is having issues catching Google, the slate/tablet revolution started by Bill Gates has bypassed Windows … in so many ways Microsoft just feels so yesterday.

Last week Microsoft execs clarified how they view their business, and how they’ve structured around future growth and relevance. They’re focusing on 8 core businesses, they said:

  • Xbox and TV
  • Bing
  • Office
  • Windows Server
  • Windows Phone
  • Windows
  • Business users
  • SQL Server

Let’s leave alone for now the question of whether a company can focus on 8 things simultaneously. It’s pretty clear Apple doesn’t … but Microsoft is a big company with a lot of people. Perhaps they can make it work.

Which of the 8 look like good opportunities and growth areas?

Xbox and TV
Xbox is a runaway success for Microsoft. It hasn’t totally crushed Sony, but it has done very well. And the online revenues seem incredibly strong … a billion-dollar yearly take in online revenue alone. TV? Hmmm … not so much. I imagine there will be some convergence here, however, and with expanding online connectivity, Xbox is a growing franchise.

I think the whole tech world is a little surprised by Bing. No, it’s not grabbing huge share with both hands … but it does seem to be growing share slowly. The key question to me is: will Bing ever shake off the dust and start growing 2-3% of market share per month? That is what would seriously threaten Google … but it doesn’t seem likely. That said … Bing is a qualified success so far with decent prospects.

Office is the office today … almost every professional in North America and Europe, and plenty beyond those places, uses it. In my mind this is one of the most threatened Microsoft business pillars: OpenOffice, Google Docs, and numerous other wannabes threaten the huge Office revenues. This is a decreasing business, even with Office live, IMHO.

Windows Server
Somehow, Windows Server has been taking share from Linux over some of the past few quarters. That said, I’d put Server in the same category as Office: not going to be a significant growth engine of the future for Windows.

In an increasingly heterogenous desktop and mobile environment, and with much cheaper alternatives … good luck.

Windows Phone
You cannot count out a contender with the resources and partners that Microsoft still has … but seriously. iPhone on the high end, Android on the middle and high ends, BlackBerry, Symbian, WebOS … this is an increasingly crowded marketplace. And Windows Phone is WAY behind. Ditto the previous comment … good luck!

Windows is still a massive enterprise, but most of the installed base is XP. That’s in one sense an opportunity for Win7, but in another sense a testament to the growing irrelevance of desktop applications. The browser-based operating system is a growing reality.

Google will merge Android and Chrome. Apple will continue its hold on the high-end and aesthetically-conscious consumer. Linux is fighting at the low-end and the ideological fringe.

And meanwhile … the web keeps absorbing more and more of what used to be desktop functionality. Windows is a great cash cow, and will remain as such for a long time, but it’s not the growth engine of the future.

Business users
Selling to business is hard, but Microsoft has it down pat. And, with business intelligence tools and other enterprise pick-ups acquired over the past 5 years, Microsoft has the potential to really grow this space.

There are still many competitors, but not everyone is going to outsource their business apps to Marc Benioff, or run everything on SAP or Oracle … and even if cloud computing starts to dominate, Windows has a pretty capable answer in Azure. I’d put this as a growth engine for Microsoft. The downside is that I think it will be harder to achieve lock-in here than on the desktop, so this may not be as secure a business as Office and Windows have been for the past 20 years.

SQL Server
I’m a little biased here, being most web-based, but I don’t know anyone who’s doing anything cool who is using SQL Server. There are just so many cheap/good options available right now, and expensive/good as well.

I’d have a hard time rating this as a growth opportunity for Microsoft … especially as they are losing the developer-lockin that they once had, since the mobile revolution is sucking them all into Apple’s and Google’s universes. Good luck here too.

. . .
. . .

Tallying it up …
5 of the 8 are not obviously going to be growth engines for the future … at least not at the scale that Office and Windows have been for Microsoft … and significant threats face their other 3.

In other words, don’t expect Microsoft to stop being the favored kicking-boy of technology pundits anytime soon.

Facebook Declares War On Google; Apple and Microsoft cheer

If I am Microsoft or Apple today, I’m fairly happy.

It’s obvious that Google is a huge threat to both Microsoft and Apple. Using its massive cash surpluses from owning the high-volume, high value search ads industry, Google is funding investments that are commoditizing both mobile and “desktop” operating systems … and significant chunks of the native application industry … programs that used to be developed solely for installation in an operating system environment.

The only defense is to attack the cash cow that is funding these efforts. Microsoft’s attempt is Bing. Apple’s attempt is owning the mobile OS and owning the advertising platform. Both are going to fail to significantly dethrone Google.

But Facebook might be another matter:

Facebook wants to launch the social semantic search engine as we alluded to during f8. Now that the search results are officially showing up as Facebook search results, the war has begun.

We’d expect a lot of developments in this space to emerge over the coming days, weeks, and months. We’ll be following Facebook’s entry into search closely.

via Facebook Unleashes Open Graph Search Engine, Declares War On Google.

With Microsoft attacking on the search engine front, Apple attacking on the mobile interface and advertising front, and Facebook now getting into social search … things get interesting. I wonder if Google is making so many enemies that it will have long-term trouble in spite of its apparent short-term invulnerability.

All I can say is: I can’t wait to see what will happen.

The Last Mogul: Has Steve Jobs Won?

From Michael Wolff’s excellent post on Newser:

For the machine-loving consumer, Jobs’ triumph over Microsoft and Bill Gates is a marvel. Life seldom turns out this way. It’s a first in the history of architecture, where, in the mass market, the sensuous and beautiful triumphs over the functional and economic. The cost of such beauty, however, is having to accede to Apple’s world.

via The Last Mogul: Has Steve Jobs Won?.

Chrome is the future, Android is the past?

This is significant and insightful:

“Android is a bet on the past. Chrome is a bet on the future.” Android is still about installing applications on a specific device. Chrome OS is designed for a future where everything is online, in the cloud.

You can also argue that it’s great execution by Google … to have a foot in both camps while the ground continues to shift.

via Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie says Chrome is the future, Android is the past | VentureBeat.

Google: how many enemies can you afford?

I was wondering this morning: how many enemies can Google afford?

There’s of course Apple, which Google poked with a stick when they brought out Android, their OS for mobile communication devices (or: smartphones). Apple is less concerned about Chromium and Google Apps (see below) … but any other operating systems and productivity apps are inherent competitors.

Microsoft is an enemy not only due to Android but also due to Chromium, another Google OS for not-quite-so-mobile devices (or: tablets). And, of course, Microsoft just loves Google for Google Apps, which threaten to someday replace Office.

Not least of all, Microsoft, which has been trying for a decade to win on the web, is fighting Google for mind and marketshare in search with Bing.

Facebook is emerging as a major competitor for Google for two reasons: sheer scale in terms of audience and pageviews, which diverts users’ time and attention away from Google … and the fact that Facebook controls what Google sees of all that fascinating and mine-able and rich user action and interaction.

Facebook, of course, is really happy that Google’s Orkut is big in Brazil and India …

Twitter, FourSquare, etc.
The whole social world that is exploding in Facebook and on Twitter/FourSquare and many other similar sites watches in dismay as Google experiments with Buzz. It’s abundantly apparent that Orkut notwithstanding Google isn’t really getting social right now, but the giant with deep pockets cannot be ignored. Even its accidental footsteps kill many trees.

Hmmm … Google really knows how to pick ’em. As much as we may admire Google for its principled stance on freedom and censorship, fighting with the more-or-less totalitarian government of the most populous nation with the fastest-growing economy on earth is a bit sobering.

Old media, Magazines, Newspapers, Publishing, Rupert Murdoch, New York
As much as we may laugh at Rupert Murdoch’s understandings of links, traffic, and value … there’s no doubt that aggregation and search have sucked huge amounts of value out of traditional media. And they don’t like one little bit of it … and are searching furiously for ways to re-monetize their content. (Maybe the iPad will save them? Don’t hold your breath.)

. . .
. . .

Who else? From a certain perspective, almost EVERY company on the internet competes with Google, at least somewhat.

So the question becomes … at what point does Google’s insistence on poking their nose into everyone else’s business model – which they can only afford to do because of a de facto monopoly on search revenue – start to damage Google?

One would have to imagine sometime soon. You can only fight so many Lilliputians (and behemoths) at once.

Open Office for Kids

Just saw this today – an Open Office for kids. Essentially, it looks like a slimmed-down set of features that would be simpler for kids to useL

Would be nice to see them go the extra mile and completely redesign the interface from the bottom up for kid friendliness. My company is currently releasing exactly that – more details later!

Windows Phone 7 Series Preview, Part 2

Windows Phone 7 utilizes a start screen built from tiles, all of which are dynamic and customizable. Tiles can be used as-is, as “glanceable” heads-up displays to the information you care about, or you can jump into specific topic areas, task-specific destinations, called hubs, by clicking on one. Some hubs include People, Music+Video, and Pictures. You can also promote (“pin”) apps and other things to your start screen. This means that a tile for that app will appear there, and you can of course move it around, positioning it wherever you like. The list of things you can promote is pretty vast. For example, Belfiore pointed out that you can even promote a playlist. And apps? They’re not really called apps. They’re called experiences.

via Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows: Windows Phone 7 Series Preview, Part 2.

Windows Phone 7 Series: Everything Is Different Now

The mobile picture is now officially a three-way dance: Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The same people who dominate desktop computing. Everybody else is screwed. Former Palm CEO Ed Colligan famously said a few years ago: “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.” That’s precisely what’s just happened. Phones are the new PCs. PC guys are the new phone guys.

via Windows Phone 7 Series: Everything Is Different Now – Windows phone 7 – Gizmodo.

Big question: Microsoft on the iPad

I’ve been wondering lately what Microsoft will do for the iPad.

As everyone knows, Microsoft is one of the major software developers for Mac … Office being the most obvious example. They’ve also dabbled in iPhone applications.

But now we have the iPad. And now mobile apps have an opportunity to be more and do more than ever before. And … Apple has thrown down the gauntlet by developing special (and cheap!) versions of its own office applications for iPad – the iWork suite.

iWork includes Keynote (PowerPoint), Pages (Word), and Numbers (Excel). How is Microsoft going to respond?

Putting their own apps on iPad is a big, big move, from a lot of perspectives:

  • It would require huge redesign (lots of work)
  • It would implicitly be blessing Apple’s new semi-mobile platform (both annoying and strategically dangerous)
  • It would be at a much lower price point than desktop office … iWork is about $15 on iPad, versus about $100 on a Mac (also strategically dangerous and very financially risky)

And yet, to not do it risks being left in the starting gate as the race for mobile software really starts taking off. Above all else, after all, Microsoft is a software company.

What will they do? My guess: not get in until it’s too late, then jump in with both feet.

By then, Microsoft risks becoming irrelevant.

I need to talk to you about computers

The bet is roughly that the future of computing:

1. has a UI model based on direct manipulation of data objects

2. completely hides the filesystem from the user

3. favors ease of use and reduction of complexity over absolute flexibility

4. favors benefit to the end-user rather than the developer or other vendors

5. lives atop built-to-specific-purpose native applications and universally available web apps

via stevenf.com – I need to talk to you about computers. I’ve been….

Is Microsoft Distracting Itself to Death?

There were just so many choices for this column. Eventually I went for the one you see above, semi-reminiscent of Neal Postman’s famous anti-TV Amusing Ourselves to Death. But “John Dvorak Writes Good Column; World’s Jaw Drops” was a real possibility.

Dvorak, of course, has been tilting at Macs for some time. Now, apparently, he’s advancing in reverse and shooting some of his outrageous slings and arrows at the second incarnation of the Borg.

To put it simply, Microsoft makes money on Windows and Office, and loses money on everything else. And now … Windows and Office have developed an annoying little cough, are sporting some nastly little red spots, and are complaining of pain in the glutes. Free software on the low end and Mac on the high end are eating their lunch and sticking out their tongue at the former playground bully.

But why the cracks in the giant’s armor? Dvorak, like others, highlights that Microsoft has for over a decade behaved like Hammy in Over the Hedge, a microencephalic squirrel who is distracted and distractible by anything shiny, round, black, white, hard, soft, fat, skinny, blue, or angular … in short, anything at all.

Dvorak’s list is possibly the best-laid-out that I’ve seen, however, and funny besides – it’s certainly worth a read …

Here’s just a few on the money pits he mentions:

  • Years ago in the pre-Internet era, AOL was the talk of the town, so Microsoft had to copy it with MSN. No money was made; no strategic advantage was gained.
  • Netscape was the rage for a while, so Microsoft threw together a browser and got in that business. The browser was given away for free. No money was made; the strategy got the company in trouble with government trustbusters.
  • During the early days of the Internet, new online publications appeared. Microsoft decided to become a publisher too, rolling out a slew of online properties including a computer magazine and a women’s magazine. They were all folded.
  • Computer books became popular; Microsoft began Microsoft Press. After an early splash and success, the company soon lost interest and the division now languishes.
  • Teddy Ruxpin became a hot toy. Microsoft rolled out a couple of robotic plush toys, including the creepy Barney the Dinosaur who sang “I love you and you love me.” The company soon lost interest and dropped the whole thing.

A valid point that might be made is that many big companies start hundreds of projects. Just like start-ups, most fail, but the ones that hit, hit big, and finance future growth.

I’m not sure that Microsoft, however, has hit anything out of the park other than its big core franchises. Which might make Microsoft the next bird to cross Randy Johnson’s path.

FAQs that are not frequently asked (but companies wish they were)

I signed up for a Windows Live Messenger account this morning and was struck by the infrequently asked questions:


The title says frequently asked questions, but they’re obviously not. They’re actually questions Microsoft wishes people would ask …

What ordinary person – Joe in the warehouse, Betty in accounting – has ever asked: How do I create a strong password? Betty is much more concerned about creating one that she can actually remember.

And Joe has never wondered: How can I create my mobile credentials?. Seriously now … what on earth are those? I’m not sure I know, and I’m a COO and architect for a software company!

These are FAQs that have never been asked. Someone, somewhere, has been told: write some FAQs so we have some help on the website. Go figure out what people might want to know.

It might be easier to … just ask people what they want to know. Or check your logs and figure out what seems hard. Or watch a couple of users interacting with the system.

It’d certainly be better.

Microsoft Retail Experience: Boring, Derivative, Shallow

As anyone who follows tech news knows, Microsoft is planning its own retail stores. Presumably, having seen the success of Apple’s stores, Ballmer thinks there’s a model to follow here.

Key to almost every new business venture is a question: how is this differentiated from the competition. But based on what I’m seeing in Microsoft’s Retail Experience Center … please help me understand: how is this any different than Best Buy?


OK, so I get that there are digital displays for product shelves. I get that everything is Microsoft, Microsoft, and more Microsoft. I even see the mini-computers on the shopping cars (and wonder how long they’ll last).

But those are details. On the big picture … the whole metaphor of the store … nothing has changed. It’s a nice, plastic, pastels & neutrals, soulless big box store. How Microsoft!

And how appropriate that their recently-hired VP of Retail, David Porter, is a 25-year Wall-Mart veteran. His latest gig was much sexier, at DreamWorks Animation … but the role was head of worldwide distribution.

Are you excited yet?

We're on the BBC

Many months of hard work are culminating at BETT as Intel is announcing the new Classmate PC, for which my company is building a critical component.

And it’s nice to see the world take notice. Here, from the BBC:

The laptop comes preloaded with educational software, including Algodoo, a 2D simulation environment designed to explain physics, and the Easybits Magic Desktop, a simplified Windows-based interface.

Emphasis added by me, of course. Of course, it’s much more than a simplified Windows desktop. Much, much more. But I’ll let the details come out on the EasyBits website.

There are some nice screenshots (well, actually pictures of operating Classmate PCs) on the recent ArsTechnica post from CES … particularly the one half-way down.

That’s featuring something a little different than Magic Desktop, but it’s also from us. Again, there will be more details from the corporate website fairly soon.

Usability: Visceral and behavioral emotional response

This is a great quote on usability from Whitney Hess‘s recent article on Mashable. She’s actually defining usability in reverse … by saying what it is is not:

David Malouf, professor of interaction design at Savannah College of Art & Design, explains that “while usability is important, its focus on efficiency and effectiveness seems to blur the other important factors in UX, which include learnability and visceral and behavioral emotional responses to the products and services we use.”

I like that:

  • usability (including efficiency and effectiveness)
  • learnability
  • visceral and behavioral emotional responses

It includes a lot of overlap from my recent post, User-friendly: how to know your software is usable. Satisfaction however, which is the work I used in that post, is a pale reflection of “visceral and behavioral emotional response.”

The one thing I’d add: there are a lot of visceral emotional responses that Are Not Positive. (Using some features in Windows come to mind here, unpleasantly.)

Creating a user experience that people love and want to share … now that’s money.

QOTD: I'm not dead yet!

It’s a little dated, but I ran across this today and couldn’t help but laugh:

Microsoft is clearly out to wed the Zune with Windows Mobile in a effort to get the two failures to prop each other up in its “I’m not dead yet!” fight against the iPhone.

Of course, it’s really only funny if you know the Monty Python skit the author is referring to …

The worst thing about Windows

I’m using a lot of Windows lately, via VMware Fusion … recently installing both Vista and XP. It’s for work, and it’s for certain apps that need to be tested on a PC.

The most annoying thing I’ve found so far – besides the way Windows is always mothering me to death me with little messages, asking me if I’m really, totally, quite absolutely sure I want to do something – is that fact that there are no visual cues that an application is launching.

You double-click an app … and nothing happens! Or so you think. Actually, it is launching (usually). But it’s entirely invisible until it appears, fully loaded, on your desktop. In the meantime, of course, you’ve double-clicked it a couple more times … and more of the same open like jack-in-the-boxes.


Mac OS X tells you an app is launching. First by changing the icon background color, and most importantly, by bouncing the icon in the dock until it is fully launched. Plus, if you double-click the app again by mistake, OS X is smart enough to not launch the same app twice.

Now that makes sense.

. . .
. . .

I’m sure this is in actual fact not the most annoying thing about Windows. But it is the most annoying thing right now for me.

YAOU (Yet another Office update)

Last week I bought and installed Office 2008 on our new iMac … and immediately had a 400+ MB download to update it. Tonight I started up PowerPoint … and am immediately confronted with a 158 MB to update it again.

I can only assume that Microsoft screwed up something in the initial update horribly, and needs to rectify its error with yet another massive update.

Not cool!

To date I have spent more time updating Office 2008 than actually using it.