Thoughts on Microsoft Surface

Okay, you know my opinions on Microsoft. They’re not exactly private. So yes, I definitely went into yesterday’s announcement with low expectations.

Microsoft has really only done one thing really well in the last decade, in my opinion: Xbox. That was a helluva gamble — I was in the gaming industry still when the first rumours surfaced — and Microsoft could have gone down hard. But the gamble paid off — they invested heavily in content, and (in the end) content helped win their position in the video game battlefield.

But on their software end — their traditional business — it’s a very different story. It’s been a long wait for something “better”. Windows XP has been around for a decade; it finally goes away in 2014. Windows Vista was an utter mess. Windows 7 appears to be decent, but the adoption seems to be more about having to leave XP than “oh, this is so much better than X”. Windows 8? Haven’t played with it yet, admittedly, but I just don’t hear the buzz about it. Office is an ancient standby that’s in need of a serious overhaul (really, a word processor shouldn’t occupy so much RAM). Internet Information Server (IIS) is so overcomplicated as to make me wonder if someone wrote it on a dare. Don’t even get me started on IE.

Microsoft has rested on its corporate laurels for most of its life, continuing along without any real serious change. (Debate me, please! I would love to be proven wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.) We’ve not seen anything truly new.

That includes the Microsoft Surface tablet. It’s a mobile device that runs Windows. It’s been done before — the Microsoft phones, for example. (Windows RT, CE, 8, etc. It’s still Windows, regardless of the flavour.) They’ve not exactly taken off with the popularity of the iPhone or Android-based phones. The platform seems solid, but the overall environment (media integration, for example) is absent.

The tablet itself is … well, just another tablet. There was not one innovative thing announced yesterday. Oh, the keyboard? That’s not part of the tablet — that’s an accessory, and it’s already been done. It’s a smarter implementation, yes, but nothing truly new. The Surface tablet, in fact, reminds me much more of the RIM Playbook than anything else — too complicated to be a simple device, which is what makes the iPad so brilliant.

And this morning, I realised the other thing Microsoft has failed upon — releasing it. They’re taunting people with the next-nearest thing to vapourware: an unfinished product. It was so bad at the launch yesterday, that demo devices were snatched away before anyone could get any significant details on them. By comparison, Apple — the very company Microsoft is attempting to emulate, here — announces hardware by saying you can buy it today. There’s a lot to be said for immediacy. Microsoft’s announcement was the marketing equivalent of premature ejaculation.

Okay, now in Microsoft’s defence — because, yes, I do see where they’re coming from. Although Microsoft has never released a real computer of its own (they’ve done some excellent peripherals; my favourite keyboard next to the original heavy-click IBM PC keyboard was a Microsoft split keyboard), they have heavily influenced PC manufacturers for years. But that influence has … well … if you’ve gone around and looked at the recent PCs, you really have to wonder if anyone has thought outside the beige box. PC designs have changed little, and, frankly, they just ain’t sexy. They’re even more boring now than the old towers of old.

So this is Microsoft telling all their vendors that “enough is enough” — if you’re going to do something right, do it yourself. So kudos to Microsoft to stepping up to that plate, and driving it hard. This is where Microsoft could potentially change the game again — as they did with the Xbox (yes, pun intended) — and revitalise an industry that is sagging like … um … see my above comment about “premature” and draw your own conclusion.

As for my conclusion on the Surface — it changes nothing at this point. The announcement was too early, the environment undefined, and until someone antes up with a real-world demo of how awesome everything together can be, I’ll remain wanting.

Wanting Microsoft to be awesome again. I’ve been waiting a long time.

 

Flash: I’m not dead yet!

I’m getting a little tired of this topic. I was tired of it about a day after Steve Jobs first showed the iPad to the world, and the infamous blue LEGO appeared where a Flash plug-in should have been. It wasn’t really so much a shock to the world — Apple had been denying Flash applications on their iPod/iPhone platform all along. But this seemed to start off a little maelstrom the likes of which I haven’t read since people argued over on which end to start eating a hard-boiled egg.

The events of the last few weeks have been extremely tiresome to say the least. Far too many people and groups have been  prognosticating  the future of personal computing, and there’s been far too little in doses of reality. The future is coming, but it’s not coming nearly as quickly as everyone thinks it is, and rushing to meet the future will likely only harm the present. A little rational thought would be appreciated.

Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room, first. Steve Jobs hates Flash. There, I’ve said it. Now let’s move on.

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Make April 1 “IE6 Dies” Day

At the moment, IE6 still holds about 20% of the market (according to today’s metrics from NetMarketShare). That’s far too large a share for a 8.5 year old browser, especially one that has been  superseded  by successive releases of its own code by two versions. It’s far too much for a browser that costs too much to support, and despite several service packs still bears significant security issues. It continues to haunt the internet, acting like a lazy bouncer allowing the seediest of activities to go on unchecked.

I propose April 1st be “IE6 Dies” Day.  It’s time that IE6 be shown the door. But we’ll need help.

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Greed kills innovation

I was sitting at my kitchen table, poring over recommendations I’m writing for my client (partially communicative, partially CYA), when I had one of those sudden thoughts: I need tea.  While I was drinking my tea — a pomegranate green tea, if you must know — I had one of those epiphanal moments when something becomes radically clear.

Greed kills innovation.

It’s short, it’s simple, it’s sure to raise the ire of a lot of people, but it’s also a major problem we’re seeing lately, especially in internet technologies. It’s a problem that’s dogged humanity for generations. And it’s getting worse.

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You can’t kill IE6

There’s been a massive upswelling of support for eliminating Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), the much-maligned former-heavyweight and former-saviour of the world that now lies as one of the worst pieces of web browsing software in common use. It started more grass roots, but now includes such fan-favourites as YouTube, Digg, and a whack of other Web 2.0 firms.

The hope, particularly around the web development world, is that this upswelling will finally put nails in the coffin of IE6 and eliminate the bugger from the software world, thus heralding in a new era of (near-)web standards.

There’s only one problem: Web 2.0 companies don’t mean jack to Corporate America.

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The “Power” of Word in Outlook

You may have come across a URL for a webpage that is (effectively) building a petition to Microsoft to correct HTML support in Outlook — and if you haven’t, just click on the link. The petition’s purpose is quite simple: Please, Dear Microsoft, replace the HTML rendering present in Microsoft Outlook 2010 with something better.

Microsoft, to their credit, has seen this petition and has authored their own response: The Power of Word in Outlook.  The sad reality is that, even though written by William Kennedy,  Corporate Vice President, Office Communications and Forms Team, that  team has completely missed the point of the petition.

And it raises the question: Why is Microsoft — yet again — refusing to listen to the people who know best? Not the developers of a system, but its users.

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I (heart) Google Chrome

Not 45 minutes ago, Google released their latest contribution to the internet: Chrome. This effectively ended years of speculation that Google was writing a browser, that it would throw its hat into the ring and kick off another heated browser war.  

Figures that Google wouldn’t just drop a bomb, it would lay waste to the expectations of a browser. My hat is off to the Chrome development team — you guys pulled off a doozy.  

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Why I pick on Microsoft

You’ve probably noticed a few posts about Microsoft on this site. Most of them are rants. And, indeed, there are those who’ve noticed me picking on Microsoft on Experience Matters as well. (Certainly, Neil‘s noticed it and taken me to task on that.)

But I don’t do it for the sake of doing it. Ranting (bitching, complaining, whatever you want to call it) is pointless without reason. And it’s only with a bit of retrospect that I’ve come to the root of my problem with Microsoft.

In short, Microsoft doesn’t suck. But it could be a whole lot better.

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