Monday, February 27, 2006

at Apple event tomorrow

I'll be at an Apple event in Cupertino tomorrow. In my 9 years at Microsoft and the 5 years afterwards, I've been to many Bill Gates keynotes--backstage, on stage, and in the audience--but this is the first Apple event I've attended.

I look forward to comparing how the two companies approach events like this and I'll post my thoughts tomorrow or Wednesday, depending on how the day works out.

On a related note, my colleague Matt Rosoff is putting the finishing touches on a major report that covers Microsoft's Home Entertainment strategy and will help Microsoft partners and competitors understand the strengths and weaknesses of the company's approach. Directions online clients will be able to access it through the client site.

Vista SKUs: losing the forest for the trees

Microsoft’s SKU plans for Vista are out and I’m disappointed with the complexity. It’s an example of the importance of keeping an eye on the big picture. The SKU plan is the result of a series of decisions--each looks rational and reasonable when viewed in isolation but when you add them together, you get a mess.

First: Microsoft wants to promote Media Center features to all consumers but many large corporate buyers don’t want those features on their desktops. Result: Microsoft breaks the traditional superset-subset relationship between the business and home products by removing media center features from the business line.

Second: Vista has steep hardware requirements that many bargain PCs won’t meet. Plus, Microsoft wants to charge more for the new consumer features and cost-conscious PC buyers are likely to balk. Result: the home line splits in two with a Basic edition, likely to be priced the same as today's XP Home, and a Premium edition likely to carry a premium price.

Oh, and SA is controversial and Microsoft feels like it needs to add more value to it. Result: the BitLocker encryption features appear in an SA-only Enterprise edition.

Next: Having removed Media Center from the business line, Microsoft no longer has a product to offer to home users who want Media Center features but also need to access their corporate network or use the advanced security features. Result: add an Ultimate edition that has everything.

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm ignoring the "N" editions that the EU forces Microsoft to produce. OEMs don’t want to sell them so they really are just an exercise in pleasing the bureaucrats. I'm also ignoring the Starter edition because it has very little overlap with the other SKUs. Customers in emerging markets aren't likely to be able to afford any of the other SKUs and customers who can afford the regular SKUs aren't likely to choose Starter.

What’s the likely outcome? While some OEMs will opt for Home Basic in order to keep rock bottom prices, I think most OEMs will standardize on Premium. Many of them already offer a bewildering array of product lines that are hard for customers to understand. (Quick quiz: go to HP’s site and try to explain the differences in the zd, dv, ze, and zv lines of Pavilion notebooks. Now add on the Presario line they also sell. I don't mean to pick on HP, most OEMs have a similar problem.) There's just no way these OEMs can offer each of those models across this many SKUs. They are going to have to do some editing or they will risk turning off buyers.

And don’t forget that ISVs will likely have to test their applications against each of these editions, in addition to still testing on the XP variations. If I were a QA manager for an ISV, I’d order a Costco-sized bottle of Excedrin.

In the end, although I understand the rationale for each decision, Microsoft could have found other ways to solve some of these problems that didn’t introduce this complexity. Why not make Media Center features subject to group policy? Why not give SA customers a couple of add-ons instead of producing a whole new SKU? Those two moves would eliminate the need for Enterprise edition as well as Ultimate, leaving a much more manageable set of three: Home Basic, Home Premium and Business.

But simplicity wasn't the goal here. Rather, the goals were increasing Windows revenue by shifting customers to more expensive editions and shoring up the percieved value in the controversial SA program.

There's a lot to like about Windows Vista, but Microsoft's packaging isn't one of them.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Microsoft is the most trusted global company - just ask it's PR firm.

Scoble posts a link that says Microsoft is the most trusted global company.

Well, I might take this a tad more seriously if it weren't from Edelman -- which is one of Microsoft's PR agencies.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Apple event Feb 28

I just got an email invitation to a Feb. 28 Apple event in Cupertino. I don't think it's iPod related because previous invitations for iPod events have had a different look to them. Perhaps the Intel iBooks or the home media Mini?

Disclaimer: Apple may invite me but they don't prebrief anyone so I have absolutely nothing to go on but hunches and guesses. But hey, that's what makes it fun.

I guess I'll spend the next few days cruising MacRumors and Apple Insider.

Friday, February 17, 2006

New Office UI: better for some users, but not me

Jensen Harris has an interesting post defending the size of the ribbons in the Office 2007 UI. He makes some interesting points but his comparison is with the default Office 2003 toolbars, but the majority of users don't use those settings. They are probably sitting on Office 2000 which has a much smaller area devoted to toolbars.

On a related subject, at first I was very bullish on the new UI and although I still applaud the Office team for "swinging for the fences" and appreciate a lot of the improvements to things like tables, I'm coming to the conclusion that the new UI is less efficient for me and I'm going to have to change the way I work to accommodate it.

The biggest problem centers around the inability to combine elements of separate ribbons in to my own personal ribbon. At Directions on Microsoft, we do most of our work in outline view, from preparing a "scope" (which defines the scope of a report) through to writing the text, and on through the editorial review process. But in the new UI, outlining tasks are one ribbon, writing tasks are on another, and reviewing tasks are on a third. During a typical writing or editing session, I need to move between these areas many times and the new UI adds a significant number of clicks. So we, as an organization, either need to alter the way we work or take a significant productivity hit in order to upgrade.

I suspect there will be quite a few users who have developed their own particular combination of tasks and who will find they now have to switch between ribbons.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

shameless plug

I'm preparing a short report on changes to Microsoft development processes, focusing primarily on their use of Community Technology Previews. In the process, I remembered one of the best books on software development: Jim McCarthy's Dynamics of Software Development.

Disclaimer: I worked with Jim at Microsoft during some of the dark days of Microsoft C++ as well as in its renaissance. My first job at Microsoft was as a developer on the AFX team, which produced the Microsoft Foundation Classes and AppStudio (the visual resource editor).

Most people are familiar with Frederick Brooks' (justifiably) famous "Mythical Man Month" but I think Jim's book deserves to be equally well known. His 54 rules of thumb for shipping great software were the product of some painful lessons in building Visual C++, but they apply to any software project. In fact, even though I no longer write code for a living, most of the rules still apply:

Don't flip the bozo bit
Beware of a guy in a room
Don't trade a bad date for an equally bad date

Highly recommended.

Office Live - brand extension of dilution?

Lots of activity about the Office Live details. Michael Gartenberg at Jupiter says that Microsoft is "leveraging" the Office and Windows brands.

I respecfully disagree. I tend to Mary Jo Foley's view that this is Microsoft branding run amuck. Remind me again how free domain name hosting relates to Microsoft Office? It doesn't.

And despite the presence of "Live" in the name, it has precious little to do with Windows Live. But that just further strengthens Mary Jo's argument: Live is the new .NET which was the new Active: a term that originally had a specific meaning (as in .NET Framework or Xbox Live) but which is quickly stripped of any meaning as it gets applied to far too many products.

A friend of mine read the Blake Ivring quote in Mary Jo's piece which said "When I explain Windows Live, I describe a service that seamlessly brings Web experiences together with Windows software and provides greater relevance in people's lives" and "This isn't about rebranding MSN, it is about building holistic and unified experiences" and noted that it isn't a good sign when your product explanation could pass muster as a mission statement for the Church of Scientology.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Yet another Borland strategy

Sigh, yet another strategy from Borland. This is just sad to watch. I remember working at Microsoft in the C++ product group and during our low point Borland was kicking us up one side of the street and down the other. Borland C++ was an obviously better product with a Windows hosted IDE while our C++ 7.0 used the DOS command line. At the same time, Delphi offered developers VB ease of use with a real programming language.

But I think this latest move reflects reality more than it changes it. The vast majority of Borland language customers jumped shipped years ago when Borland tried to rename itself Inprise and began a hopeless quest to be an Enterprise software vendor. Borland had no realistic hope of winning them back and this move reflects that recognition.

I wish Tod Nielsen the best. I knew him at Microsoft and worked with him during a brief stint in Developer Relations, but I don't think Borland is going to find competing with Microsoft and IBM in lifecycle tools any easier than it did with programming languages.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

nervously moving to Comcast DVR

I've been an extremely happy user of ReplayTV's DVRs for several years but on Friday I'm switching to a unit from Comcast and I have to say I'm nervous about it. My biggest concern is will my wife and I be able to live without Commercial Advance.

Commercial Advance is a feature that Replay put in to a few model of DVRs. It takes the "30 second skip" one step futher and automatically detects and jumps over commercials. Being able to watch a show without commercials and without having to do anything is nothing short of addicitive. It's so good, that Replay was forced to drop the feature in the face of lawsuits from the entertainment industry.

So if it's so good, why am I switching? The simple answer is HDTV. I was a very early adopter of HDTV (circa 1999) but got turned off by the lack of programming and finally decided that a DVR for regular TV was better than having to watch HDTV live.

Now that Comcast has a dual tuner DVR that handles HDTV, it seems like it time to put my toes back in to the HD water. That and the fact that the Seahawks will be in HD in the Superbowl and the Winter Olympics will be in HD.

Here's hoping that my wife and I can live with the "fast forward" button instead of Commercial Advance.

RSS Platform coming to XP

This is a very interesting blog posting where a PM from the IE team says that the RSS platform will be part of IE7 on XP as well as on Vista. Up until know, Microsoft has said only that it "wanted" to make the platform available on XP but this is the first committment to do so. This is important because it means there’s a fighting chance that ISVs will use it.

Now, the RSS focus turns to other Microsoft groups. I see several important next steps:

First, Outlook 12 really should stop using it’s own feed store and sync engine and use the one in IE7. Outlook is a good place to read blogs from but it has no business maintaining an independent feed list and doing it’s own synchronization on XP or Vista.

Second, the photo tools going in to Vista really have to support RSS subscriptions at least as well as Apple’s iLife ‘06 does. If you aren’t familiar with what Apple is calling photocasting. Apple has taken flack over the technical details of some of its RSS extensions, but there’s no denying the coolness of the feature.

Third, Microsoft needs to provide some kind of registry or directory of audio and video podcasts. Their current approach is based on the idea that you find them by browsing the web in IE but Apple has shown the power of having an organized list that users can search and navigate. Windows Media Player 11 needs to offer a similar capability.

Updated to fix links.
And to enable comments.

First post

I'm an analyst at Directions on Microsoft (, a small, independent firm focusing on Microsoft's products and strategies. Prior to working at Directions, I spent 9 years in the Developer Tools division at Microsoft, but I'll talk more about that later.

For now, I'll just keep this obligatory "first post" short.