If you were to ask someone on the street who the top technology company is, you'll likely get one of three answers: Apple, Google, or Microsoft. Whether you agree that these are the best technology companies or not, you have to admit these three own the broad mindshare. While I listed them alphabetically, I'd bet you'd hear them in that specific order. It all comes back to mindshare. IBM and Oracle are definitely top technology companies in the enterprise, but without a consumer focus, both are sacrificing this all-too-valuable metric. You can see how important this metric is by looking back at how technology was driven in the past. 15 years ago, technology was driven by enterprise needs. Over time, however, technology has become less expensive and more accessible, which has flipped that trend. Now, most technology trends are driven by the consumer market. But what did these three do to get that mindshare?
Ask anyone with an Apple product what they like the most or what their first impression was and they'll comment on how beautiful the device or interface is and how easy it is to use. Apple's core competence is exactly this: visual design and, to some degree, user experience.
Taking the same look at Google, first impressions are typically on simple interfaces and speedy responses. Alone, this doesn't tell us much, but if you take a deeper look, you see that Google is driven by algorithms. After all, search and advertising can only succeed with solid algorithms. This is Google's core competence: engineering.
To put it simply, Apple and Google represent the art and science of technology. As such, those are the crowds they attract. Apple attracts artists and creative professionals and Google attracts engineers and hard-core geeks. This is the key to both companies' success -- a targeted audience.
Having a targeted audience allows these companies to build precise, unambiguous experiences aimed at a specific type of user (or persona). You might say that neither Apple nor Google can do this because their products are used by a wide range of users. That's very true, but just because you target a specific persona, that doesn't mean your user base will never grow beyond that. In fact, it's just the opposite. By targeting a specific persona, you're able to focus your efforts and not only meet, but exceed that persona's expectations because you truly understand what their needs and goals are. With this, you're affording yourself the primary key to product success: passionate users.
Take a look back at the iPhone's debut. Were people not passionate about its sexy interface? Of course they were. And that passion was a virus that spread like a pyramid scheme. Google had the same effect, albeit much slower.
When Google first launched their search engine in the late 1990's, there weren't too many people using it. Yahoo was the most popular search engine at the time, with it's gaudy interface, attempting to be everything to everyone. Perhaps the biggest interaction mistake Yahoo made was attempting to follow the mythical 3-click rule, where users "must" be able to get to any feature within 3 clicks, or they will stop trying. I don't want to get into it here, but this is completely wrong. The way Google succeeded was by getting all the crap out of the way. By focusing on finding what you want, Google attracted geeks -- and a lot of them. Geeks told other geeks who told their family and friends and before you know it, less than 5 years later, Google was the #1 game in town -- all because they drove passion in a small subset of possible users. Of course, passion alone isn't going to earn you a multi-billion dollar business, but passion in the hearts and minds of the right audience can. Passion can also be dangerous.
If you're reading this, you're probably well aware of the stigma of Windows Vista. It's the worst operating system in the world, right? Not so, but the passionate few who did have bad experiences sure did let everyone know. As with the passion of the iPhone and Google search users, Vista haters shouted it out, loud and proud. But I'm not here to defend Windows Vista; I want to show you the value and impact of passion. Speaking of which, if Apple is #1 in the hearts and minds of artists and Google fills that spot for engineers, where does Microsoft fit in?
We can all agree that Microsoft isn't known for its superb aesthetics or engineering prowess, but it is good at both. And, when it comes to these three companies, Microsoft is arguably second in both areas, despite the fact that neither artists nor engineers will accept or admit it. Don't get me wrong, there have been some major blunders on boht fronts, but this is exactly my point. By not excelling in the art or science of technology, Microsoft is taking a back seat to both Apple and Google. When it comes to end-to-end user experience, Apple has the most mindshare, as I mentioned before; but I'd argue that Microsoft is second in this game. Yes, Google does have some wins in this space, but Google is nowhere near as dedicated to or capable of delivering the end-to-end user experience Microsoft is -- just look at Bing and Windows Phone. Admittedly, Microsoft has only started showing its ability in this space over the past few years. On the other side, Google drives mindshare for technology engineering; but once again, Microsoft comes in second. I can cite examples of why Apple sucks at engineering and Google can't quite cut it with end-to-end user experience, but I want to focus on the culmination of all this.
Microsoft has a tendency to attract people who want both beauty and brains; people who understand that beauty alone will get you nowhere and brains alone will leave you as exactly that -- alone. Together, beauty and brains will reach an even broader audience. This is the 80% Microsoft is known for targeting (for better or worse), which is exacly why Microsoft is as popular as it is. Everyone like to look at pretty pictures or solve problems .6825 seconds faster than the next guy, but the vast majority of the populations doesn't care -- as long as they can figure it out and their problem gets solved, they're happy. Let's face it, the best interface is no interface. If human beings could achieve their goals without interacting with your product, they would. Your product is a necessary evil.
Microsoft hasn't been successful by purely being a runner-up, tho. Microsoft has their own niche: developers. I know of absolutely no company that has ever had the ability to drive passion in developers as much as Microsoft has. Sure, iPhone development has seen a great boon, but that was forced (on Apple) and it wasn't because Apple had a great development platform; it was because users were flocking to the product. Microsoft has continued to deliver compelling platforms for developers to take advantage of year after year. This is only heightenedby the fact that Microsoft's partner ecosystem is fiscally 10 times the size of Microsoft itself. Said another way, partners make $10 for every $1 Microsoft earns. Given Microsoft's gross earnings, that's a huge market. I'd say that's definitely something to be passionate about.
While having 80% of the market sounds outstanding, this group is quite fickle and has no allegiences. They aren't opting out of the artistic and scientific approaches; they just don't care. So what drives them? Each of us has something inside that motivates us. If you want to be successful, you need to start with a core demographic, the primary persona you want to target. Remember that, by meeting everyone's needs, you meet no one's needs. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it's been proven time and time again. If you target a specific type of user, you're giving your primary users an opportunity to get passionate. There's no mathematical formula to cultivate passion -- if there was, Google would've figured it out by now -- but it all starts with targeted experiences. If you want to win in your market, drive passion.
To bring this back to those top 3 companies, Apple and Google are both fairly stuck in their ways. Both companies have art and science built into their DNA. I don't expect to see either company change. Microosft, on the other hand, has an immense amount to learn and I think they're on their way to correcting those. I can't say I expect Microsoft to surpass Apple in artistry or Google in engineering anytime soon; but I do expect Microsoft to give both companies a run for their money. We've already seen Apple reacting to Windows Phone 7 and Google reacting to Bing. As slow as the company is, Microsoft is a huge innovator. We've seen it in the past and I suspect the next 12 months will be full of opportunities for history to repeat itself as Kinect, Windows Phone 7, and IE9 come to fruition. Okay, there's some wishful thinking in that last one, but each of these platforms has developers chomping at the bit, eagerly awaiting their release. And, with each of these combining best-of-breed user experiences with solid, top-notch engineering, Microsoft is giving us something to be passionate about -- on all three screens (phone, computer, and TV), no less.
For the developers out there, how about your products? How are you driving passion in your users? For everyone else, what makes you passionate?
It's been almost a year since my plea to the IE team. Windows 7 has rocked, Office 2010 is looking very nice, and, most recently, Windows Phone 7 Series has amazed the world. All these great things coming together are really putting pressure on the IE team to deliver something revolutionary. Back in Nov 2009, the team talked about the tremendous performance improvements, sub-pixel text rendering, and HTML5/CSS3 support. All-in-all, there was a quick burst of information and buzz around what IE9 could become, but then it died off very quickly. I admit, I was quite skeptical -- and still am -- but at least it showed the team is heading in the right direction. In what seems to be the IE team's typical process, silence happened and annoyance returned.
Today, Microsoft announced the release of an early IE9 developer preview. I was pretty excited about this, since I've been waiting for it since they first started talking about IE9 in November -- well, maybe since IE8 was released without some of the big features I was hoping for. Nonetheless, I was grounded pretty quickly. For better or worse, there are some interesting things that came out of the preview.
1. Uhh, What's This Window?
I'm pretty willy-nilly with new software. Not too smart, but whatever :-P I installed the preview and expected magic. As it installed, I started closing other IE8 windows. All of a sudden, a new Window popped up. "Woo-hoo, it's done! IE9, here I come!" Then I noticed I left one IE8 window open. I switched over to close it and hesitated -- "Why is there an IE8 window still open?" I switched back to the new IE9 window and thought, uhh, this isn't a browser. There's no back button; no address bar; nothing. "Ah, maybe it's just a 'Welcome to IE9' dialog before the IE9 greatness kicks in!" I close the IE8 window, open another with the pinned icon on my taskbar. "Uhh, nothing changed." *Help > About...* Still IE8. WTF!? I guess this is more of a literal "preview" than I thought. No browser; just a chance to see how their pre-built tests work. Meh.
2. The Tests Work... Mostly
I've said it before and I'll say it again, just being part of the game isn't going to fly. And, if this is all the IE team has to show, I'm not impressed. Don't get me wrong, I love everything they show, from performance to sub-pixel text rendering -- seriously, this isn't something to scoff at, it's a very noteworthy improvement for any browser -- to all the HTML and CSS improvements. But it's not enough. Heck, the "Falling Balls" example didn't even work. I really want to bash the performance improvements. I even wrote this paragraph a few different ways to express my disapproval in different ways, but it all comes down to this: you won't realize how drastic the improvements are until you see IE8 and IE9 running side-by-side. The Flying Images example seems obvious, when you see it in IE9, but when you go back and watch it in IE8, you think, "Is this seriously what I'm putting up with today!? I feel lied to; cheated. How dare you, IE team; how dare you!" With all that said -- and seriously, the perf improvement is tremendous -- I'm still not happy (here's where my desire to bash performance comes in). While you definitely notice that aspects of performance have improved, the perceived performance really sucks. It's not the page loading that I'm talking about, tho; it's the standard page interaction that's defunct. Even clicking some of the links used by the examples were ridiculously buggy. I guess there's a reason they called it a "developer preview"... wait, that doesn't say "developer," it says "platform"...
3. "Platform Preview"
In an effort to find the hidden navigation controls, I scoured the lifeless window edges. The best I could find was the Page > Open... menu option. Well, at least that's a way to test out other pages. I figured, what better way to test out the new browser than to write a blog post. Let me just tell you that I'm dying here. I mentioned the perceived performance sucks already. Try typing in this thing. I feel like I'm clawing my eyes out -- and I'm talking about with freshly trimmed fingernails. You know what I'm talking about, when you trim your fingernails down to the nub and putting even the slightest pressure on them hurts. Now, try to claw your eyes out with that. That's why I feel like I'm doing right now. Every character is painful. *Ouch, oooh, ouch...*
Okay, I'm exaggerating; but it is painful. But, now that I'm able to get past the examples, I'm realizing I have two versions of IE installed. Hmm... very interesting. Remember the days when IE was a crucial part of Windows and couldn't be unbundled? Well, they seem to have figured out how to install a new rendering engine without touching the old one, hidden deep in the innards of Windows. Of course, they did introduce the ability to completely uninstall IE in Windows 7, so maybe that's a moot point nowadays. Either way, this is a first for IE, as far as I know. Then it hit me... "platform preview." Are they saying something with that? Are we talking about a rendering engine completely detached from the Windows desktop OS?
4. IE9 on Windows Phone?
In the original Windows Phone 7 Series announcement at Mobile World Congress 2010, Joe Belfiore commented that the phone is more than just the Mobile IE we see in Windows Mobile 6.5 and its predecessors. He said it came from the desktop browser code-base. This alone doesn't mean much, but when he called out the sub-pixel text rendering, my mind started adding things up. Is this IE9 on Windows Phone!? Nobody has said that, but you have to wonder. I've read that Windows Phone 7 Series is based on IE7 with some back-ported features from IE8, but that doesn't really make sense, when you consider that sub-pixel rendering is only coming in the next version of the browser. I still have to wonder about this. It doesn't make sense to back-port that feature two versions. Maybe it's IE8 with that one feature back-ported, but maybe it's IE9. If that's the case, IE9 will need to be on a hyperactive beta period and, as I mentioned before, they definitely aren't close to being done, yet, and I'm admittedly not confident they even know how to do that.
5. Where's the Navigation?
I really want to get back to the preview. I'm still annoyed at the fact that I have to get to sites in a hacky way. Why would the IE team do that!? Do they not want us to use the browser? That can't be it. Maybe they didn't have time to finish out the preview and just crammed some stuff together to make the Mix10 keynote. Maybe, but I doubt it. I didn't notice this at first, but the menu options aren't standard. Specifically, there's a "Page" menu instead of a "File" menu. Perhaps I'm reading into this too much, but "Page" sounds like more of a ribbon tab than a menu option. Maybe the reason we're getting such a scaled-back browser is because the old chrome isn't there anymore -- we could be getting the first ribbon-based browser. I'm very excited about this possibility. At the same time, I can't ignore the fact that this will be a very touchie UI, given the ever-popular tab-based browser. IE7 brought me back from Firefox because the UI was slim and just looked and felt more professional. IE9 with a ribbon done right -- extra focus on "done right" -- could seriously bring people back to IE. At the same time, it's an opening for haters to complain about the ribbon. I whole-heartedly believe the ribbon interface is demonstrably better than menu-based interfaces. So much so that, if I had my way, I'd never use another menu-based interface again. I'm not saying the ribbon is the way to go in every case, but I don't know why a traditional menu would ever be the "right" experience. It just isn't optimal.
With all that said, maybe the ribbon isn't the IE team's target. Maybe they've put a lot of thought into how users should be interacting with the browser. In either case, I welcome the change. Chrome took an interesting move with minimization, but I don't think it was drastic enough. Google played it safe with Chrome. Microsoft's not afraid of taking big risks when it comes to user experience -- just look at Office 2007, Windows Phone 7 Series, and even Visual Studio 2010 to a lesser degree.
No matter what happens, I'll be eagerly awaiting either the next preview/beta. At the same time, I'm not holding my breath. The IE team has a lot to prove with respect to being agile and, if they really are creating a new UI, that'll just complicate things more. I'd like to say we'll see something by the end of June, but who knows with that team. All I can say is, IE team, prove me wrong; please, prove me wrong!
Microsoft is out to prove a point with Windows 7. I can see the message clearly: "See, we can deliver on time; and earlier than most expected. And to top it all off, we did so without drastically changing the OS. That 'polished' OS you're looking at... yeah, it's Vista; 'Vista-point-1' to be exact. Sure, we tweaked it; but that's just to prove another point: Microsoft software isn't about bloat." I could probably go on for a while, but the signs are all there. Sinofsky has done a great job taking the Windows team under his wing. I've been very happy with some of the decisions they've made. As a matter of fact, I'm hoping to see some of the same changes on other fronts. Enter Internet Explorer.
IE8 is a big flop in my book. Don't get me wrong, it's my default browser and I love the enhancements; but it's just hiding the real, underlying problem: the foundation. I apologize for the analogy, but you can only mold a pile of crap so many ways before it just starts falling apart. Arguably, the same can be said about Windows, but Windows 7 has really given it a refresh. It's hard to explain how much better Windows 7 feels. I have to say I'd liken it to the first day I got Windows Vista, to be honest; but the key differentiator there is that I had quality hardware that was up to the challenge and no legacy software or devices to be concerned with. I'm not the "normal" user, of course, and I feel bad for those who had bad experiences. It's not because the software is bad, it's because your circumstances around which you experienced it were wrong. Not that Microsoft isn't to blame, tho; but I'm getting way off topic. It's time for a major change with IE.
I remember seeing some early concepts around IE8. At first glance, I was confused at a few of the ideas -- I'm thinking of one in particular -- but after I paused to really mull it over, it hit me. The power users would have at their fingertips would be astounding. There's a common root to the booming growth of Google and Firefox. This is exactly what Microsoft would've seen with this feature. Guess what: that feature never saw the light of day. As a matter of fact, I don't even know that it made it past that slide deck. Admittedly, the idea was rough, but it had some real potential. What's funny is that I just read something about the same concept being applied to another browser. *sigh*
Before IE8 beta 1 hit the streets, I saw another slide deck about what would be included in IE8 and 9. At first, I was excited, but it didn't take long for that to wear off. I actually began to question some of the decisions. There was (once again) one feature loved, but then I started to wonder if it even made sense. Depending on whether the team takes a left or a right out the gate will be the deciding factor for that feature... if it's still even a possibility. IE8 was pushed back so much that the IE9 time frame and feature set is completely out of the picture for what I saw. It's too bad; I was looking forward to a few quick revs. At the same time, this could be perfect timing.
Opera's doing it's thing, although I'm not sure why it even bothers; Apple's giving Safari on Windows a go, but not doing well; Google's got juice, but I don't think they have the right talent-mix to succeed; and Firefox is leading the pack against IE, but hasn't really made any significant innovations and is growing more by perception than anything. Microsoft (read: IE team), the browser market is yours to lose [which you're doing]; but it's also yours to dominate. Take a step back. Review the history books. There is one constant in what drives the up-and-comers of today. See that and feed into it. The world is asking for simplicity, speed, and all-around usability. IE8 isn't the answer. IE9 could be. You can do better. I know it; you know it.
Since the debut of Windows 7, there's been a lot of talk about whether or not Microsoft would listen to feedback from the field. This sounds odd, but the question is a valid one, due to how Steve Sinofsky is running this release of Windows. The major departure from past releases is that the Windows team isn't introducing features into the build until they're "done." Sure, there may be some small issues, but nothing like what we saw in the pre-release versions of Vista or XP. This, along with only 2 pre-release versions of the OS making it out to the field -- beta and release candidate -- will make anyone question how much will really change between the beta and official release. Well, the Engineering 7 blog lets us know about 36 things we'll see in the release candidate based on feedback from the beta. This is very refreshing, even if a number of them are qute trivial.
- Task Switcher (Alt+Tab) now with Aero peek -- excellent enhancement to really bring focus to the app you're thinking about switching to
- Win+# will open or launch, not just launch -- I'm very excited about this one; I'll finally have a Win+1 shortcut to open my most important window: PowerShell
- Apps wanting your attention will be more obvious
- Dragging a file onto an app on the taskbar will now open the file in the app
- 25-40% more icons will fit on the taskbar before scrolling
- Clearer mapping of what app thumbnails are related to in the taskbar
- Newly installed programs will show up at the bottom of the start menu
- Increased the number of items in the taskbar app's context menu (aka jump list)
- More flexibility when pinning items to an app's jump list
- Separation of desktop icons and gadgets
- Aero peek now touch-enabled
- Multi-touch capabilities added to the virtual keyboard to make it more realistic
- Summon the context menu with a 2 fingers -- this isn't quite as simple as it could be, but there are some reasons why a 2-finger tap isn't viable
- Touch enhancements to select and drag/drop content
- Simplified networking options in system tray and return of the connected-but-no-internet indicator
- User Account Control (UAC) tweaks
- Auto-lock a machine without applying a screensaver
- Return of the high performance power option from the system tray
- Clearer communication about preview vs. saved theme changes
- Reliability enhancements to Windows Media Player for internet radio
- Digital camcorder/camera video playback improvements
- Cleaner "now playing" view in Windows Media Player
- Content that Windows Media Player cannot play won't show up in the library -- this might be confusing to some, but it sounds like a good option; I'd probably opt for a dimmed color and icon depicting its unplayable status
- Changed Windows Media Player to resume playback of content after returning from sleep
- Introduction of Windows Media Player sync relationships dialog will be reverted -- classic case of why betas are important
- Easier, quicker access to advanced playback settings in Windows Media Player
- Windows Media Player's jump list now includes content launced from outside of WMP
- Worked with hardware vendors to make it easier to get more devices to support Device Stage -- if you don't know what Device Stage is (I didn't), watch this
- Improved headphone experience
- Increased audio reliability
- Improved Windows Explorer header to enhance new "libraries" capability
- Drag and drop enhancements when dealing with libraries
- Win+E was opening libraries, but will return to open My Computer, as it does today -- I'm glad to see this because I haven't found a use for libraries, yet
- Added FAT32 support for libraries
- Arrangement view enhancements for libraries
- Performance enhancements abound
There are really only 4 of these that I'm looking forward to, but it's still a surprisingly large list. I'm looking forward to the RC. Rumor has it we'll see a public release in April. Part of me expects it to be sooner, but I have no idea.
I was thinking about the Dec 31, 2008 debacle Zune went thru, where the devices didn't work for a 24 hr period. If you didn't hear about it, the problem was due to a device driver, which wasn't controlled by Microsoft. This is exactly the problem Microsoft has to deal with: crappy hardware vendors. I remember the sad, sad day I found out the Zune was built using Toshiba hardware. I have hoped so much that this would change, but it hasn't, yet... yet. I say that, not knowing of things to come, but hoping that Microsoft will realize the err in its ways. Microsoft should take tighter control over hardware by using quality hardware vendors. Hell, the Zune issue is nothing compared to the red ring of death issues the Xbox faces. I don't know anything about the Xbox hardware, tho, so I can't say much about that. Heck, Microsoft can't either, considering they haven't fixed the problem yet, as far as I know. I'd like to see Microsoft either form a division focused on delivering great hardware -- like phones, Zunes, Xboxes, desktops, and laptops -- or pony up and buy a company. There has been a lot of speculation to that effect with the purchase of Danger in early 2008, but Microsoft has claimed the "Zune Phone" won't happen. That doesn't stop the rumors from piling up, tho. All I can say is that, if my vote was worth anything, I'd be voting for Lenovo. I've purchased 2 and am about to get another. I've even thought about replacing my desktop with a Lenovo. What's even better, tho, is the idea of having a Lenovo phone. As much as I like my HTC Touch Pro (AT&T Fuze) -- minus the crap AT&T does to it, that is -- my love affair with Lenovo laptops really has me lusting after their new phone. If only it'd make it to the US... along with the HTC Touch HD, which I still want. All this really boils down to one question, in my mind: Will Microsoft reconsider a higher level of control after dealing with one problem after another from hardware vendors? I kind of doubt it, but I'll keep hope alive.
Every year, there's one underlying theme that seems to be pushed in the technology arena more than anything. This year, I feel like it's the year of the cloud. The last time I did this was five years ago, so I'll have to back-fill a few years, but here are the themes I've noticed over the past 11 years.
- 2008: Year of the Cloud
- 2007: Year of User Experience
- 2006: Year of AJAX/Web 2.0
- 2005: Year of SaaS
- 2004: Year of Offshore Outsourcing
- 2003: Year of the Architect
- 2002: Year of Web Services
- 2001: Year of XML/.NET
- 2000: Year of Enterprise Java
- 1999: Year of Linux
- 1998: Year of the Web
It's easy to look back and see how we got here. Trends show that architectural changes typically take two or three years to gain momentum in the community, so we'll probably have a couple of years before the next major architecture peaks. The trend towards distributed computing has grown more and more, but I have a feeling things are going to start coming back a little. We've been pushing out to the web for a lot of reasons; one of which is the rise of the Mac. What we've been losing out on, however, is the power of the desktop. I see the S+S push to continue, but more as an underlying theme than a strong focus. Services will continue to be the foundation, maintaining the importance of cloud computing, but the desktop will be where the processing occurs. I see Silverlight proving a huge success, which will eventually bring .NET to the Mac. This will probably bring Novell and Microsoft a little closer together, with respect to Microsoft's relationship with Mono, but this may simply be a change in focus for Mono. Oh, and when I say, "bring .NET to the Mac," I'm not talking about the scaled-down version in Silverlight. I'm talking about the real deal. I see WPF and Silverlight merging along with the smart client architecture built into .NET today. This will take more than a few years, but it seems to be inevitable. Most likely, by the time all this happens, multi-core will be a way of life, as opposed to the we-should-be-thinking-about-threading thoughts most developers have today. Armed with a strong multi-threaded foundation, which is easy to use, the combined WPF/Silverlight presentation tier will quickly overtake Flash and Air. By this time, we should also start to see more integration into our everyday lives...
Okay, I'm probably getting a little out of hand here. If I go much further, we're going to be on the USS Enterprise, so I'll stop while I'm ahead. I'll just leave it at, it'll be interesting to see what's next. My money's on the power of the desktop, which we've lost over the past 10 years.
Yesterday, the IE team posted a comment about what's next for IE8. I didn't get much out of this except for the fact that the next set of bits will be available in early 2009 and will include all the major enhancements, which includes feature adds and performance tweaks -- and let's hope they're significant because IE8b2 is slower than IE7 for me. It sounds like this next release will be a release candidate (RC), but that statement was very non-commital, so it may end up being beta 3. Either way, it sounds like this next one will be the last pre-release before the final version. There's still no word on when that will be, but with speculation that Windows 7 will be out in late 2009, it would make a lot of sense to see it just a little earlier than that release, so it's bundled with the new OS.
I won't confirm or deny anything about what I've heard about the Windows 7 release, but IE8 has most definitely slipped past internal deadlines. I know the team has thought about IE9, but as we drive past one milestone after another for IE8, there's no telling when that'll happen -- not that I don't have a guess I can't say I'm surprised, tho. The timelines I saw for IE8 and 9 were very ambitious; especially, when you consider how long it took IE7 to come to market. Of course, that comes more from neglect than anything. I should say that those timelines were very rough and only touched on some high level things to look forward to. What's surprised me with IE8 so far is that it's missing one of the things I could swear I heard about over a year ago. Maybe it was pushed back -- although, I didn't see it in the IE9 slide deck -- or maybe I'm just crazy. Either way, I hope it sees the light of day, because it sounded extremely exciting from a productivity standpoint.
In the past, many have talked about the desktop vs. cloud wars -- is it really a "war?" -- by comparing productivity suites like Microsoft Office and Google Apps. People have had a lot of speculation about what web apps are capable of and what is truly needed when it comes to admittedly bloated apps, like Microsoft Word; but this is the first time I think we've seen two "friendly" competitors go head-to-head: Google Apps and OpenOffice. I say, "friendly," but use that term relatively loosly. Google is very open source friendly and some may say they operate in the spirit of open source, but there's a big difference between free and "open source." Either way, the results aren't too surprising: Google Apps gets spanked. While nobody has ever said Google Apps was better than Microsoft Office, it's a pretty well known fact that Microsoft Office beats out OpenOffice. Based on the transitive property of inequality, that pretty much says Microsoft Office kicks the livin' hell out of Google Apps. And, with Office Web Access just around the corner, that's pretty much game, set, match on Google Apps. I think Paul Thorrott said it best when he talked about the "small" web-based rich text editor in Office Live and how it was better than what Google Apps had to offer.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not against web-based apps. I actually think we're a long way away from hitting the roof of what the web has to offer... and that's just the current incarnation. The platform itself needs another rev or two, tho. In the meantime, I'm excited to see what Google will come back with. We haven't seen Google react to competition much, other than speeding past very little, very sparse competition at 100 miles an hour. Google has vision, but Microsoft is one fierce competitor. The sleeping giant doesn't sleep for long.
When I first heard that the next version of Windows was going to be Windows "7" -- back when that was just a codename -- I thought, "What? Wait... no!" I don't have a holistic problem with the number. My problem is more with what "Windows 7" was really supposed to be based on early talks. The chatter led me to believe it was going to be a pretty drastic change from where we are today, in the Windows world. I envisioned some drastic changes from the ground up. Then, after a few months, there was talk about the next version of Windows being codenamed Windows "7." Don't get me wrong, I'm as excited about the OS as the next guy, but it just doesn't feel like a major release. The name and version number seem to be more about correcting people's invalid perceptions about the state of Windows than actually being a major version jump. Heck, Microsoft has even waffled on whether this is a major vs. minor release. That still seems more about PR, tho.
If that wasn't enough, there's one thing that really seems to be the final "nail" in the coffin to me: Windows Server 2008 R2 will coincide with Windows 7. An "R2" release, is essentially a major service pack with a couple features thrown in. At least that's my opinion. That's been turned on it's head with the .NET 3.5 and Visual Studio 2008 SP1 of late, but historically, that's how it's worked. Above all, an "R2" release is not a major release. Of course, this isn't the first time Microsoft has fallen into the version number debacle.
What's wrong with Microsoft advertising? We all know they have an issue, but not all of us know what they're capable of. Microsoft has some truly hilarious videos they share internally and at conferences, but they don't always make it out to see the light of day. It's too bad, because that would go a long way. These videos aren't about selling products, they're simply about having fun. That's kind of what the Apple switch ads are, but what's annoying about those ads is that they're far from truthful, in most cases, and aren't about what's good in Mac. I can only remember one of two dozen or so ads that even talks about features of the Mac. Those ads are more about spreading FUD than truth... albeit in a humorous manner. You won't see this kind of ad campaign from Microsoft. Microsoft has a policy not to talk about how other products aren't as good as theirs. Instead, we talk about the strengths of Microsoft's product line.
I will say the Gates+Seinfeld ads (1, 2) threw me off -- like they did most people, it seems -- but I've also heard a lot of people enjoying them. Sure, it didn't make anyone run out to buy a new computer, but I don't think that was the purpose. I can only assume the purpose was to entertain and create some buzz. That's exactly what happened. I have no idea why they stopped after 2 ads, tho. Switching it up to the "I'm a PC" campaign was very awkward. Don't get me wrong, I like the ads; I just wanted to see where the other ads were going. This is all too familiar to me, considering the number of TV series I've watched that were mysteriously cancelled in mid-season. I was curious where they were going and hope they aren't done, yet. All I can do is assume they're trying to build up anticipation for a miraculous return. I just hope the break isn't too long, because people will forget. We have lives; we move on.
On an old episode of This Week in Tech, there was a discussion about Microsoft's ad campaign. I remember it because one person essentially likened the Apple switch and "I'm a PC" campaigns to a high school bully (Apple) stuffing a geeky kid (Microsoft, or, the "PC") into a locker. Actually, he phrased it as, "stop hitting me, stop hitting me," speaking to the "I'm a PC" ads in response to the switch ads. I totally agree. I don't think that's what the ads were supposed to mean, but that is exactly what they look like. I say all this, but I do like the ads. They show the diversity of Windows users.
With all that, I wish Microsoft would bring it down to a human level, which is what Google does. I recently saw a video about Google 411 and thought it was great. I just don't know why Microsoft can't do things like this. We have some great talent within the company -- very creative and innovative people that want there to be a better view of the company, but there's not much we can do, it seems. It's a sad state for ad agencies, if they can't come up with better concepts.