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Visualization – Microsoft Pivot

Microsoft previewed one of its new technologies from the labs, the Pivot.

(on a separate note, while watching the video I realized that till now I didn’t know how to spell pivot correctly)

From the video, it seems that new Pivot does the same thing as it’s desktop older brother in Excel, namely allows to slice a collection of data along available dimensions.

What new Pivot seems to offer on top of that is a more immersive way of exploring data sets, especially those whose items can be visualized somehow. So it’s like a very visual drill-down capability.

Google Waves goodbye to email (and Microsoft)

Google revealed its stealth Wave project, with the announcement timed, by the way, within minutes after Microsoft Bing’s coming out.

Wave is an attempt to redefine and merge communication media, possibly replacing email, IM and others.

The demo looked really cool. Sadly Wave is not available yet – but I am really eager to check it out when it opens.

Demo lasted more than an hour, the video is available at project’s homepage.

Briefly, Wave aims to replace exchanging messages back and forth, which is the current practice, with single threads, called waves.

Different stuff can be added to waves – messages, but also photos and instant messaging.

In fact they implemented IM in a way that allows to follow each keystroke of the counterpart – like in good old days of Talk sessions on unix systems.

Meanwhile, Microsoft rebranded its search engine to “Bing” and tries to promote it as a “decision engine”, tailoring search results layout depending on the recognized query context (e.g. travel related search) and presenting structured information on its own page, rather than rely on user to go to any of the results.

I like the direction Microsoft is taking, but at this point I would be more excited about Wave’s ability to change my daily routing rather than Bing.

Bing is at most evolutionary step in the right direction, while Wave has more revolutionary feeling to it.

Note: this doesn’t bode well for Microsoft, which is an underdog compared to Google. In this position it should be Microsoft coming up with revolutionary ideas, not Google. Microsoft fails to show real innovation for all the dollars it sinks into search (for years already).

Another note: Wave makes me think of tremendous advantage Google has thanks to it capabilities in mass scale, real time processing. Building a system like this would be a challenge for a small startup.

I think Microsoft products are pollution, but I like #2 ad

Latest ad with Gates and Seinfeld (they paid Seinfeld $10m to participate… I try to imagine how much they would pay to air an ad that long):

I’m quite alone in being positive about the ad.

Techcrunch: “I’m starting to feel bad for Microsoft PR, who’ve been tasked with defending these Microsoft ads featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.”

Wired: “feels a bit like an aimless sitcom pilot at 4.5 minutes with little mention of Microsoft”, “It’s hard to see how this set up is going to portray Microsoft’s products in a positive light”

All about Microsoft: “the latest Microsoft consumer-focused ad does little, if anything, to endear Microsoft or Windows to consumers”

Everyone complains that clips make no mention of Microsoft products. And that they even create self-inflicted damage by portraying Microsoft (personified by Gates) as out of touch with real people.

In fact that’s why I like the ads. I don’t see how Microsoft could win direct confrontation with “mac vs pc” campaign. Pushing Vista marketing would be like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s hard to imagine convincing people that it’s an inspiring product – through an ad.

I think what they can achieve with the ads is humanizing Microsoft’s image. It can only be done with a real person in the spotlight, and they selected Gates for the role, which seems a good (only?) choice. Gates symbolizes the evil empire, is not known for being entertaining or social (which adds element of surprise and creates buzz around ads) and making him likable will affect image of all Microsoft.

How to make Gates likable?

“We like people who are not perfect and make mistakes”. I thought it was out of Cialdini’s persuasion handbook, but I can’t find the exact quote.

In the end, Apple’s marketing might start to seem arrogant and snobbish, now that people begin to sympathize with awkward – but human – Gates.

Google solved 90% of search: Microsoft has a problem

Microsoft believes that search is still far from maturity. Steve Ballmer emphasized how much search sucks currently at recent analyst day presentation. “It’s still 10 blue links on a white page”. “50% of searches don’t solve the problem”. And so on.

It’s important for Microsoft to believe that search is still a space for radical innovation, because to say otherwise would be to admit that the game is over and that Google won it. Customers are unlikely to switch from Google, unless other vendor presents a serious advantage over Google’s search.

On the other hand, Marissa Mayer just described a slightly different view on future of search, a future of incremental (and laborious) improvements rather than disruptive innovations:

(afterward she softens this point somehow – guess the original message might have not resonated well with Google’s investors)

Search is a 90-10 problem. Today, we have a 90% solution: I could answer all of my unanswered Saturday questions, not ideally or easily, but I could get it done with today?s search tool. (If you?re curious, the answers are below.) However, that remaining 10% of the problem really represents 90% (in fact, more than 90%) of the work.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, it is Google who is best positioned to use its critical mass to slowly but surely improve search.

Google might be actually right in its view of the market, but search (information retrieval) is not the end of the story, right…

Microsoft to take over Yahoo!, aim for more failure

Strange, but sometimes things that are expected to happen, actually do happen. Microsoft announced a hostile bid for Yahoo.

I so like the bid to succeed. That’s because I feel strongly about the result of this take-over and I would love to verify my hypothesis.

My hypothesis is that the market shares of the two do not sum up. MSFT will lose focus and instead get entangled in restructuring of Yahoo!. Users will get the combination of the two worst, in my personal view, experiences – Google will be able to differentiate even more strongly through simplicity and focus, playing contrast to the new behemoth with combined dna of committee-driven software factory and a portal.

Or maybe the above will be proven wrong and Google will at last get a worthy competitor.

(Even though falling price of MSFT stock indicates that I’m not alone in my opinion of the contrary.)

In any case, this merger going ahead will be decisive, this way or another, for both Google and Microsoft.

Why sounds glitches in Vista

Nick White explains why users encounter sound problems in MS latest and greatest OS.

Thoughts…

1) It’s nice thing that such communication occurs at all and MS should be credited for it

2) However, nothing can explain why people who bought new expensive hardware and new operating system from MS get worse experience than what they had 5 years ago… and, as people comment, other OSes deliver better experience on the same hardware

3) I wonder how MS images anyone buying into “PC as entertainment hub” if they can’t even get the simple audio playback right

4) All this makes it scary to think about need to buy a new computer in the nearest future. But new computers should fare better than old ones upgraded to Vista, and hopefully some of these problems will be solved by then.

Music wants to be free

Apple did it again. Reached agreement with EMI and will offer its music library unprotected (and higher quality, though more expensive) in May. So in the end I finally might buy something from iTunes, since EMI’s portfolio seems to include also Radiohead.

It’s just funny how Apple is able to leave Microsoft far behind on every turn. First with its closely guarded DRM castle, now, when Microsoft copied its approach (poorly), it comes out of the castle and scores as a digital freedom fighter. Microsoft, following Mini-microsoft description, like a “lumbering idiot”.

Still, already 6 years into digital XXI century, and still the only idea to get more songs of Budapest Klezmer Band seems to go to Budapest and buy some CDs.

Microsoft’s “experience” strategy

It’s either because I didn’t think about it, because I didn’t care, or simply because Mike’s Torres post does such a good job in explaining it, that only today I started to appreciate the grand idea of Microsoft’s “experience” (emphasis mine):

It isn’t about Windows Vista vs. Mac OS X or Google vs. Windows Live. It’s ultimately about the digital lifestyle and convergence. It’s about the complete “stack” from your PC to your mobile device, television, the web, and beyond.

The thing is: Windows isn’t just a PC operating system anymore; it’s quickly becoming the best seamless end-to-end experience. Windows Vista, Windows Mobile, Xbox 360 (Windows Media Center Extender), and Windows Live. One without the other will work just fine, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

It isn’t about the web any more than it’s about the office… or the mobile device… or the living room. The key is to make it all work together like magic. And Microsoft, more than any other company in existence, is in a fantastic position to do this.

And why shouldn’t be Microsoft pursuing this “experience” strategy. Like Google, which started online, then moved to desktop, and then started to put itself on the mobiles. Like Apple, with its “iPod lifestyle” environment.

However, while the other guys can leverage on the reputation based on simple and elegant solutions which “just work” and try to stretch them further, Microsoft might have more difficult time trying to convince people that experience with Windows is the one they want to see extended.

Origami: story behind the buzz

Dustin Hubbard, Microsoft’s Mobile PC team Group Manager, gives some background for the buzz generated around “Origami” project:

http://origamiproject.com/blogs/team_blog/archive/2006/03/09/19.aspx

The buzz started when the “leaked” video featuring device was discovered, however, Microsoft claims this was not staged:

Myth #2, we leaked the Origami video to create more hype. I can guarantee you that the discovery of the Origami video created by Digital Kitchen was completely unexpected. No one at Microsoft even knew that video was publicly available until someone posted it after finding it by doing an Internet search.

Anyway, the story makes an interesting case study of the viral marketing.

When the device was finally unveiled at Cebit, it turned out to be a smaller version of Tablet PC:

UMPC Origami

In the meantime, quite interesting “Origami” turned into a dull, but not unexpected given Microsoft’s record in (un)inspiring naming, “UMPC” for “Ultra Mobile PC”.

Not that the product itself is much more exciting than the name – it is reported to have a battery life up to 3 hours and cost around 1000$; why it would be better than the smartphones, PDAs and portable game consoles already on the market is anyone’s guess.

Google way vs. Microsoft way

Sanaz Ahari is a program manager at Microsoft, working on live.com portal; originally it started as start.com but then was included in “Windows Live” branding push. Nowadays, as far as I can understand, start.com is supposed to be a testing groud for components to be included in live.com, which is, however, still called “beta”.

Anyway, I just read an entry on her blog, with some comments comparing her today’s work to the start.com days:

one thing i would say is:
during start.com it was all about: experiment, iterate and improve a concept and make customers happy by listening to them. and who did everything: a few ppl, end-to-end for design, pm, dev, test, planning, marketing – everyone basically wore all the hats.

live.com: it’s different. there are many more stakeholders, some justifiably so and some maybe not. so many stakeholders that it’s hard to keep track. some are stakeholders and some think they are. the biggest challenge is making sure the right ppl are involved – the more ppl the longer it takes to just get shit done. and that is hard – very hard, but absolutely crucial. it’s the balance of how do i keep the project going, while keeping everyone happy. and keeping everyone, or at least most folks :) , happy is crucial if you actually want to succeed in the corporate world…

it’s almost like start.com had one set of customers: our users, live.com has two, the internal teams/stakeholders and our users :) so my rule of thumb is, if the teams/stakeholders can help us build a better prodcut for our customers then that’s great! if not, let’s not waste eachother’s time.

It reminded me an interview with Marissa Mayer of Google, in which she elaborated on how it works in her camp. I read the article half a year ago, but one or two search queries located it in Businessweek: (read more…)

Services are already here

Salesforce.comMicrosoft announced it’s next “bet the company” move and declared embracing web services with its “Windows Live” platform. Even if I failed to see any value in MSFT’s site at this moment, the news got me interested in some of the web services guys whom Microsoft is targeting and trying to “innovate” from with this another “me-too” initiative of theirs.

I paid a visit to Salesforce.com, which had me quite impressed. In case you didn’t know it already, the company is providing an online CRM application. No software required. No integration projects needed. And it seems that it’s working:)

I wonder if someone is already doing this kind of stuff in Poland.