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AAPL v MSFT - lies, damn lies and marketing.

An interesting discussion on Twitter last night got me thinking. It started with a tweet by Shel Israel (co-author of with Robert Scoble) asking if anyone actually had a good word to say about Vista.

Now, I must be one of the lucky ones. As on Twitter I've never really had any problems caused by Vista itself. I've always liked it from the early betas (even the Longhorn alphas but it was a different animal back then) and think it's a shame that Microsoft have had to cave in over things like removing the search from SP1 etc. Yes, I experienced issues during the beta with the installation of SP1 but that's _why_ it's a beta right? The only other major issue was due to Lexmark not sorting out their printer drivers (which I still get lots of hits on even now!)

Shel went on to say that Vista has done more for Apple than anything else but I disagree. Vista itself is a good product but with a bad rep and poor (or almost non-existent marketing), . In my experience consumers hear a couple of horror stories and everything becomes a bit like chinese whispers. The tales of woe are recounted by ever increasing circles of people without any of them actually installing Vista (). How is a product supposed to compete with the likes of that when no-one is actually standing up to say that it's actually pretty good.

The problem is, however, not just the fact that Microsoft just but that we have the likes of Apple putting the PR train in to overdrive. Yes Apple make nice products and they capture the imagination but I think we can all agree that their advertising sails very close to the wind.

Take the MAC vs PC ads for example.

Apple have made an art out of bad mouthing the competition that would make a politician during an election campaign cringe. Microsoft may have been described as arrogant in the past but the torch has been well and truly passed on. people seem to respond to the smug arrogance employed by Apple in their ads - this may make them entertaining but they are definitely not entirely accurate. In fact, they are blatant exaggerations. Is this ?

Turn things around for a moment. Would people cry foul and demand for heads to roll if it was Microsoft bad mouthing Apple? Most likely. It seems to be one rule for one and one for another. Whatever happens, Microsoft really need to make a point of upping their game when it comes to marketing. They may still be in a monopoly position but they need to be talking to the man on the street, the consumer and not just those organisations that will be signing the big deals.

What's your take? Do you think this is all fair game or should the playing field be levelled when it comes to advertisements?

Opinion: Mobile Zune portal and EU zunes in 2009 - too little too late?

The recent news that Microsoft will be launching a mobile portal for the Zune Marketplace and also bringing their version 3 device to Europe is, on the face of it, good news but as these are not due to happen until some time in 2009 is it going to be too little too late?

The mobile portal is set to coincide with the release of devices running Windows Mobile 7 and it appears that Zune users will be able to download content directly to their Windows Mobile device as well as directly to their Zune (presumably Microsoft will be opening up the Wi-Fi connection for more than just squirting tracks between Zunes). What we don't know yet, however, is exactly what type of content Windows Mobile users will be able to put straight on their phones but I would suspect that music will not be included unless Windows Mobile 7 uses a Zune based player instead of WMP.

Regardless of what form the v3 Zunes take you have to ask if the iPod will have become too embedded for a 2009 release to have any great impact, especially now that we have the iPod Touch which will only keep getting better and better. Microsoft are playing catch-up here in a big way and may not be able to establish the sort of market share that they need.

I do sometimes wonder if there is an iPod backlash on the way, though. Travelling to and from work I am seeing more and more people using other branded MP3 players (such as iRiver and Creative) or just using their mobile phones to listen to music (no, not iPhones) so perhaps there is room in the market for the Zune or even a Zune based Windows Mobile phone.

What do you think?

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Are we any closer to WMP 12?
Not yet, at least that's what we can say when looking at the screenshots from the M1 build of Windows 7. Over at they have a series of screenshots from the Milestone 1 build and, while it is obviously far too early to comment on anything that may or may not be in the next Windows incarnation, as things stand the current build of WMP in Windows 7 (which has been tweaked from the Vista version) is still a variant of WMP 11 (11.0.6519.1).
So, there we have it. At the moment there is not a WMP 12 which still leaves the door open to a combined WMP/Zune alternative that can sync with both Zunes and Windows Mobile.
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Opinion: Microsoft + Danger = Zune Phone?
When discussing whether we would have a Windows Media Player 12 in its current format I proposed that Microsoft should really be heading the route of a combined WMP/Zune player to maximise the syncing capabilities with different devices. At present if you have a Zune and a Windows Mobile device you need to sync them in different ways so wouldn't it be great it we then subsequently had a convergence device which mixed the capabilities of Windows Mobile with the media power of the Zune.
Microsoft have denied that there will actually be a "Zune Phone" per se but that doesn't mean we won't head in the direction where Windows Mobile will, in future, be able to sync with the next generation of Zune software, whatever form it may take.
The acquisition of Sidekick manufacturer Danger by Microsoft makes this next generation convergence device a distinct possibility.
Having the phone manufacturer "in house" means that, like Apple with the iPhone, Microsoft will have full control over the design and development of the device and will be able to trade on the brand recognition already established by the Sidekick range. The Sidekick is very popular in the US amongst the young as it is easy to type on and therefore makes a great messaging device and a good illustration of this popularity was the very prominent production placement in the first series of the TV show Heroes. I lost count of the times we saw Claire Bennet using her Sidekick II.
Microsoft have a great opportunity here to come up with a real winner providing the vision and subsequent marketing are handled properly. Any new device needs to be sleek and stylish whilst retaining the classic functionality and simplicity offered by the Sidekick range. As is often the way with these things a new device will take some time to develop so would be an ideal candidate for Windows Mobile 7 which is also designed to make things easier to use - a marriage made in heaven.
Part of the attraction of the Sidekick has always been the price; getting a Sidekick on T-Mobile in the UK will set you back no more than £29.99 for the device when bought with a contract whereas the vario III (aka HTC TyTN II) could cost you as much as £269.99. Microsoft will need to retain the price point of any new sidekicks in order to stay attractive and stay competitive.
If Microsoft and Danger can combine to produce a great device at a low price then Windows Mobile will be firmly established in the mobile phone market.
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Sticks and stones - MSFT, YHOO and GOOG

It seems that people are divided or even non-committal about the proposed $44.6 billion buyout of Yahoo by Microsoft but the one thing just about everyone agrees on is that Google is acting like a spoilt child with it's response to the impending takeover.

It is hard to say whether the MSFT/YHOO merger would be of benefit to the end user but Microsoft would obviously stand to benefit from the additional search traffic generated - would Yahoo search be outsourced to Live?

There is a large amount of duplication in services between the two companies so you would hope that users of one would be seamlessly migrated to the other rather than being cast aside in some sort of shake up or down-sizing. Would the Yahoo brand be absorbed with everything become a Live service, or is that brand too valuable to destroy meaning everything becomes "Yahoo, powered by..." - probably the later.

Many are calling out Google as hypocritical and it is hard to reconcile the comments of David Drummond on the in which he states that it is all about "preserving the underlying principles of the Internet: openness and innovation" - or rather openness and innovation as long as it comes from Google or one of their bed fellows.

Google has such a significant advantage in terms of web search (it's apparently over 85% over here in Europe) that a combination of Microsoft and Yahoo cannot hope to dent the monopoly of the company that is also a verb. Google is just running scared and wants to maintain it's position; exactly what Drummond suggests Microsoft may :

"Could the acquisition of Yahoo! allow Microsoft -- despite its legacy of serious legal and regulatory offenses -- to extend unfair practices from browsers and operating systems to the Internet? In addition, Microsoft plus Yahoo! equals an overwhelming share of instant messaging and web email accounts. And between them, the two companies operate the two most heavily trafficked portals on the Internet. Could a combination of the two take advantage of a PC software monopoly to unfairly limit the ability of consumers to freely access competitors' email, IM, and web-based services?"

Drummond calls for regulators to look at the proposition but that would go without saying and the Redmond giant would never be allowed to use its PC based monopoly to restrict access to other products (just look at what happened to search in Vista) - his calls are therefore redundant and amount to little more that stirring the pot.

Brad Smith from Microsoft that the combination of the two companies will improve competition by establishing a clear second place runner in the areas of internet search and advertising - it's not so nice when the boots on the other foot is it?

If the deal does go through we will most likely not see any changes for quite a while but, as with so many things lately, the reaction of people to the event is far more interesting than the event itself and the mud slinging will keep us all going until long after the legal dust blows over.

Can Windows 7 keep everyone happy?
She is talking about the problems Microsoft face keeping both the business and consumer markets happy - a problem they have faced since deciding to merge both windows strands with XP.
Were things easier when the two versions of Windows were separate? A tricky one to answer.
Should MS build a Windows Seven core for stability and compatibility aimed at the business market and then look to add the extra bells and whistles that would appeal more to the consumer market and fend off the Mac OSX insurgence?
Currently with XP (and no doubt as Vista adoption takes off) businesses tend to turn off the flashy UI - I've heard both save resources and reduce distraction given as reasons - so should MS save them the trouble? Do they need to differentiate further between the consumer and business SKUs?
Is it realistic in the face of increasing competition to be able to produce an OS with enough glitz to tempt people to upgrade again so soon after Vista (many haven't even taken that step yet) whilst still remaining staid enough for the business market to upgrade smoothly?
If I was shipping Seven I would want to see the consumer product give OSX a real run for it's money. Apple will no doubt take the success they have had with the iPhone interface and see how the slick styling can be applied to their desktop OS (especially now the MacBook Air has multi-touch) and you can't deny that Apple do style very well.
Aero in Vista was a good start but by 2009 I think MS will need to really pull the stops out to make Windows Seven an OS that people will WANT to use. MS needs to develop that religious devotion to products that Apple commands and this will only come from creating something so compelling in appearance and functionality (read intuitive) but this will not come from Windows Seven or even Windows 8 as long as the different SKUs are developed in tandem.
It made sense to pull Tablet PC functionality in to the core OS rather than keep it as a separate edition of Windows, the same with Media Centre, but the needs and expectations of consumer v business are radically different and I'm not so sure that they can fully co-exist and do justice to both.
More thoughts on office suites as Saas.
When looking at online document creation I think it is plain to see that Google will tie up the consumer market - Google Docs is free and quickly becoming well established. As with Google Search and Reader it will become the de facto standard and community offerings/mashups will draw from it, further reinforcing its position.
Even if Microsoft made a consumer offering (read Live Service) it would most likely be badly marketed and suffer from poor branding - it would get lost.
Instead, any Microsoft offering in this area would be in the form of a full Office Server Suite. You could do away with a lot of the need for VPN, terminal servers etc. Simply go to one website and do it all: Outlook Web Access, Groove or some other collaboration tool, office applications to create/edit documents etc. in an online repository such as a SharePoint library.
This would be the ultimate in cloud computing except that everything is held on your own servers rather than being trusted to a third party. Businesses that currently block Google Docs due to security concerns could then easily enable their staff whilst mobile.
Being able to, not just access but, actually work on your documents from anywhere irrespective of the PC you are on and the software installed on it would be fantastic.
Ben left a comment to my previous post saying that MS may not have yet gone this route to the income they would lose from the desktop suite. If their SaaS offering is a server based product rather than a free-to-web service then they will get the initial product cost and CALs (as well as a possible Internet/Extranet licence fee).
OK MS, do you want to pay me now or later ;)
Why haven't Microsoft started producing Office as SaaS?

We have Google Docs but that is limited. We have the Office Live stuff for web presence.


Why have we yet to see, or even hear, anything about Microsoft making its Office suite available as SaaS (Software as a Service)?


It is a natural extension for the Office platform. Office currently interacts with SharePoint and Office Servers but you still need the client application tied to the desktop. Imagine the experience of being able to log in to your workspace from anywhere, check out a document and begin working on it on any machine even if you don't have the Office suite installed.


Yes, Google docs is on the right track but an online client linked directly in to a SharePoint workspace, Excel services and Groove would seriously rock!


It is obviously Microsoft's intention to head in this direction as the Office 2007 servers indicate but I'm surprised at the lack of progress.


The Exchange team has shown that you can have an almost fully functional online recreation of a desktop application with OWA which has just been getting better and better but what about the rest of Office?


Perhaps this is something under wraps for Office 14 but it is too early to say anything. All I can say is, that if Microsoft don't take this area seriously they will beaten to punch by someone like Google who will only develop Google Docs even further.

Opinion: Microsoft not planning to build their own PCs.
A post over at the Game Tazer Blog alledges it can be interpreted that Microsoft are planning on releasing their own branded PCs. Would this ever happen? Very doubtful.
What is this being based on? A quote from an interview with an anonymous "inside source" over at
"You should check out their jobs site sometime. You can learn a lot about what they are doing. And their patent applications. They have a team working on making PCs now. That voice activated thing they did for Ford? Where do you think you will see that next? MS devices and sw is my guess."
The last two words says it all - it's a guess and, in my opinion, not a very good one. Too much is being read in to a failure ambiguous statement.
Microsoft already have a hard enough time from the likes of the DoJ and the EU just on the software front. They have been fined repeatedly for abuses related to their monopolistic position just on the software front so there is no way that an own branded Microsoft PC project would even get off the ground. It is considered an abuse of position to include a media player or browser within the operating system so I hate to think of the outcry if the Redmond giant decided to start bundling that OS with their own PCs.
Putting the potential legal implications aside would it even be in Microsoft's best business interests to release their own PCs? When I asked if my readers would support Microsoft making their own PCs even though it could mean an end to driver hell and battery life issues on these devices the comments were definitely not in favour of MS taking this next step. If this is the response from bloggers then how are the OEM partners going to react? Microsoft have built good relationships with their OEM partners and could risk alienating them were they to go the full PC hardware route.
That "voice activated thing they did for Ford" could well turn up in new Microsoft hardware and software combinations but this does not imply that MS are building PCs - more that, just as with the surface computer, they are looking at additional ways to enhance the end user experience and that need not start and end at PCs. Could we not be seeing a version of this technology used to improve future versions of Windows Mobile and the Zune?
Just because Microsoft are taking steps towards getting Windows in to the living room it doesn't determine how they plan to do it.
Opinion: Further thoughts on the new EU anti-trust cases.
Many people are picking up on the two new EU anti-trust cases and with different opinions ranging from "it's about time" to "not again!"
The problem Microsoft will always have is scale; because they are in a monopolistic position any actions they take affect such a vast proportion of the population that it is deemed in the public interest to have a look. Despite the changes over the last few years (transparency, willingness to cooperate, working with third parties) there still seems to be a culture in place to punish success.
The investigation in to Internet Explorer has been instigated after a complaint from rival Opera and is based around the inclusion of IE with Windows and the "willingness to not comply with standards" in order to force people to stick with a proprietary solution.
In a piece in the New York Times Dennis Oswell, managing partner of a Brussels law firm specialising in antitrust cases, is quoted as saying:
"the fact that the commission would find something to go after Microsoft does not surprise me ... But the fact that they have acted so quickly on a complaint from a small company without clout is surprising".
I don't find this is surprising at all. Ever since the whole Microsoft v Netscape soap opera people have been looking for additional ways to get IE out of Windows in the "interests of competition". The EU having actually received a direct complaint on this must be like music to their ears, especially after the success they achieved in getting Windows Media Player removed for Europe (not that it had much of an effect).
What remains to be seen is how far the EU will take this in light of the developments coming with IE8. Having now passed the Acid 2 test it will be hard to take a punishment on interoperability too far when change is (relatively) just around the corner. The real issue here is going to be the bundling of IE.
Over at the blog a post says:
"Just a little point to remember, Linux is bundled with Firefox and Leopard is bundled with Safari. What's the difference?"
Whilst I agree with the sentiment in the statement the difference is that word I mentioned earlier: scale. Smaller companies can get away with so much more as the impact is far less; could you imagine the outcry if Microsoft made a phone and then forced draconian agreement on to carriers if they wanted to sell it?
Scale is why I always say that it would not be in Apple's best interests to become truly competitive with Windows and PCs. At present, they may be growing, but Apple is a small fish not really seeming to offend anyone but if they approach a similar market share to Microsoft things may change. Apple always like to retain full control over everything and, while this may be okay for iPods, a few alarm bells may start to ring in relation to Macs. Having one company make the hardware and software and bundle them together may not look so appetising once the numbers get bigger.
The larger you are the bigger target you present and few have as big a target as Microsoft. Don't expect these to be the last cases we here about.
One mans meat...
The old saying goes that one mans meat is another mans poison and this certainly seems to be true in the world of software development and standards.
We have recently had Becta advising UK schools and colleges to avoid Office 2007 due in part to the interoperability issues surrounding Microsoft's creation and implementation of OOXML (Office Open XML) as opposed to the existing standard ODF used by other applications such as OpenOffice.
Hot on the heels of this we have the Burton Group concluding in an independent study that OOXML is the way to go. There conclusions include that OOXML is more capable that ODF in it's current form.
Now, however, we have the ECIS (European Committee for Interoperable Systems) investigating, among other things, those afore mentioned interoperability issues despite Microsoft working with third parties to establish reliable translators such as the open source translator project on SourceForge that I mentioned in my previous post.
Now those behind ODF feel that Microsoft is trying to muscle in on the ODF standard and, as the Burton Report puts it, "go to extremes to protect its phenomenally profitable Office business" but the report goes on to say that "Microsoft appears to be sincere in its efforts to make OOXML a meaningful and global industry standard" rather than a tool to simply further their own ends.
Of course Microsoft is going to invest in ways to encourage us to upgrade from one version of an application to another but why, I hear you ask, didn't they just go with what was already there? Simple, Microsoft have been treading the XML path long before ODF actually became an OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) standard in 2005. If this was the other way round Microsoft would be hung, drawn and quartered for suggesting that another organisation drop what they are doing and go with their standard. Add to that the fact that ODF currently can't do what Microsoft are aiming at and you have reason enough for Microsoft wanting to go their own way. As long as interoperability is addressed then there should not be much of an issue.
As far as standardisation is concerned we must remember that all Microsoft can do is submit the proposal, it is the ISO (International Standards Organisation) who make the decisions and they are certainly no Microsoft lapdog as was displayed when they rejected the request for fast track approval with, conversely, thousands of improvements being suggested.
The bug bear with all of this is that regardless of ISO standardisation or not ODF advocates are, quite rightly, concerned that OOXML is going to become the de facto standard due to it's inclusion with Office 2007. The thing we must all remember, however, is that Microsoft will not be solely responsible for the death of ODF should that occur; Apple and Novell have both already built their own Open XML implementations with Novell even providing "translators that make it possible for users to save to OOXML on non-Microsoft platforms". How can you blame Microsoft for that?
The final ISO ballot is next month but as the Burton Report says we should not expect it "to have market-altering ramifications" as standardisation will merely make it easier for Microsoft to do business with organisations and governments that demand an ISO standard - there is still no guarantee that these organisations will make the switch; if interoperability issues are resolved then there is no real need.
Will There Be a Windows Media Player 12?
Note: if you're here looking for a beta of WMP12 you're in the wrong place and the supposed private beta 1 is a fake. This post concerns my opinions as to the direction MS should take with their next gen media player.
Michael Gartenberg asks if there will be a Windows Media Player 12 in the future seeing as it's been around a couple of years and we have news of IE8.
Personally, I think a new incarnation of a music player for Windows will be a while coming and will be a departure from what we have come to know as the WMP format. Why? Well, the Zune of course. Microsoft's own PMP (portable music player).
Zune software
The Zune is slow to roll out beyond the US - we had it announced at CES that Zunes are coming to Canada this year - and without localised Zune Stores around the world there is little incentive to really push on. Once Zunes are available in a lot more markets around the globe I can see a shift in the Windows media playing environment. I envisage that the Zune software will grow and take over from Windows Media Player meaning that everyone is instantly ready to start syncing with a Zune if they get one. Why have two Microsoft media players on your PC when you can have just one that does it all.
A single player will need a few changes, however. The updated Zune/WMP software will need to be able to sync to different types of devices so that Windows Mobile users are not left out but, by the time all this happens, we could have entered the era of the "Zune Phone" anyway. Now, Microsoft have said they will not be creating an actual Zune Phone but, let's face it, it's only logical that future versions of Windows Mobile will have their media playback provided by a Zune style player on board.
Whether the new version is called WMP or Zune or something else I feel the current player is on it's last legs
Related Posts
2007, the year in review: October - December.
Also see: January - March, April - June, July - September.
2007 has been a very mixed year for me with some very good times tempered with some dire times and a string of bad luck for the family. I am going to be running a series of posts looking back at the last 12 months from a tech Perspective and a personal one. I'll be looking at the things I consider to be the most important developments in the tech world as I have covered it.
As mentioned before, I had to remove beta 1 of Vista SP1 from my PC due to issues but we soon had the first build of Windows XP SP3 to keep us occupied.
Acer bought rival OEM Gateway in October and I immediately wondered what impact that would have on Gateway's line of Tablet PCs seeing as Acer had already axed their own previously. Luckily, things turned out okay with some Tablets being retained and others now being sold by MPCCorp.
The Queen described 1992 as an "annus horribilis" in her speech that year, well November was our bad month. Chloe developed Meningococcal Septicaemia and ended up in hospital on a course of intravenous antibiotics. Things were touch and go and if we had delayed any longer it could have gone in to full blown meningitis. We were all deemed at risk until a second round of blood tests came back negative. We were given the all clear but 10 days later we were involved in a car accident when a woman lost control the other way and hit us head on. Luckily no-one was injured too badly - bruising, whiplash and a good dose of shock all round. They say bad things happen in threes: our third thing was the main desktop PC dying and needing the motherboard, CPU, memory and graphics card replaced - wonderful!
As expected, the iPhone came to the UK on November 9th which prompted me to run a series of posts called "2G for a day" in which I turned off my high speed connection on the phone to see what difference only having GPRS would make - not as much as you would imagine.
On the beta front Vista SP1 hit a Release Candidate Preview build and Windows Messenger 9 was released to testers but then leaked within 48 hours.
One positive thing to come out of November was for me to reach my 4th anniversary blogging. The blog has been through a number of incarnations and most of the posts before June 2006 no longer exist on the web, although I have recreated the most common old items elsewhere on the site.
The PC failure meant I had to reactivate Vista and I then started experiencing a number of issues with Vista SP1 but I originally put these down to the hardware issues I had experienced.  It wasn't until a lot of other people starting reporting the same problems that I realised the issue was actually with the SP1 RC Preview build AND the actual RC build itself. Bugs were being closed on Connect as "won't fix" without any explanation so I posted about the issues and accused Microsoft of sweeping the problems under the carpet. It turns out that the RC builds were causing problems with activation so Vista was entering "Reduced Functionality Mode" despite Microsoft saying that this would be removed from SP1 - obviously not yet.
In December Dell finally entered the Tablet PC arena but were immediately slated for releasing a product which was far too expensive. They're response? We're dearer because we're better - hmmmmm.
HTC announced that the long suffering Shift would be delayed further with mixed reports as to why (software, hardware, battery life) causing people to cancel their pre-orders in the fear that the Shift may never see the light of day or, when it does, be obsolete. Let's see what UMPCs come out of CES 2008. Problems also confronted Windows Home Server with reports that certain types of files were corrupted when stored on a WHS machine - defeats the purpose when you have to take a separate backup as your backup solution doesn't work properly.
Aside from all of this December was unfortunately dominated by the tragic loss of Marc Orchant who died a week after suffering a massive heart attack and never regaining consciousness. Marc had a big impact on anyone who came in to contact with hmi and is a big loss to the tech community and the world at large. Rest in peace, Marc.
2007, the year in review: April - June.
Also see: January - March, July - September, October - December.
2007 has been a very mixed year for me with some very good times tempered with some dire times and a string of bad luck for the family. I am going to be running a series of posts looking back at the last 12 months from a tech perspective and a personal one. I'll be looking at the things I consider to be the most important developments in the tech world as I have covered it.
April saw more Windows Home Server goodness with a CTP build. Ed Bott over at ZDNet wrote a really good overview of what WHS does which is still worth checking out now.
The best news in April, however, that my article entitled "Microsoft: Fried or Foe" was published in Micro Mart magazine - you can read it here if you've not seen it. The article garnered some mixed responses on the Micro Mart forums but I was generally accused of being a Microsoft fanboy due to my view that MS have been treated unfairly at times just because of who they are. The article was called a "gag inducing ode to Bill" and that it essentially said Microsoft = good and Mac = bad - not the case at all. At least I achieve my goal in getting a conversation started.
May saw Tabby (my old Acer Tablet PC) come home to roost after spending a long time with my father in law and, while we're on the subject of Tablets, Dell finally announced that they were going to be releasing a Tablet PC. Despite Dell being perhaps the most recognisable consumer brand of PCs they were determined to focus on education, healthcare and business - I feel they really missed the mark. 
June came and went with the new TouchFLO interface from HTC and the release candidate of Windows Home Server while I introduced a new feature on the blog: posts called "From the front line" where I would relay specific issues working in the IT industry and resolutions where appropriate.
And then came June 29th - iPhone day. Will the iPhone change the world?
Third quarter to follow.
2007, the year in review: January - March.
Also see: April - June, July - September, October - December.
2007 has been a very mixed year for me with some very good times tempered with some dire times and a string of bad luck for the family. I am going to be running a series of posts looking back at the last 12 months from a tech perspective and a personal one. I'll be looking at the things I consider to be the most important developments in the tech world as I have covered it.
Let's get started with the first quarter:
January saw me open the year with my "open letter to Micrsoft" which was a plea for MS to lead the way in the UK and actually try to get technology to the masses. UK tech adoption always seems stunted - we don't have the major OEMs with a presence here, there are no opportunities to get hands on with new devices etc. - so I thought that MS would be in a perfect position to start partnering with OEMs or even retailers to get the technology out there by way of road shows, demos, decent retail opportunities etc. Some great products have come our way from the MS stable (Tablet PCs, UMPCs, and now Windows Home Server) but even the best products fall flat without the marketing to support them and this was sorely lacking, and still is.
January was also dominated by CES and MacWorld with two big announcements. Firstly, Windows Home Server was officially announced and got a lot of people (myself included) very excited about what was to come. Next, however, came the big one - the story that took over the web: Steve Jobs revealed the iPhone at MacWorld and I ran some initial thoughts about the device.
We also saw a report from Forrester Research giving details that companies were finding the move to Office 2007 harder than expected and having to invest in more training for the new "Fluid Ui" than first thought. Around the same time we caught a first glimpse of an add-in being developed internally at Microsoft called "Scout" which would help users migrate to the new UI but this failed to materialise. A big shame.
The start of the year witnessed an explosion in the Vista/Lexmark saga that began at the end of 2006. The issues that I, and many others, experienced with Lexmark printers drivers on Windows Vista were indicative of the problems faced by many when OEMs did not do a good enough - or quick enough - job of getting their drivers out of the door in time for Vista to go RTM. In my case there were repeated delays in releasing a driver for my printer and when they finally did materialise they wouldn't work. Not only that but an uninstall utility from lexmark trashed my system! Lexmark printer driver issues on Vista are probably the single biggest reason people find my blog in search engines.
January ended on a low note, on the 30th we were burgled and had our keys, wallet/purse stolen which meant we had to cancel cards etc. and get the locks changed on the car so that the thieves couldn't come back and steal it. This coincided with the RTM launch of Windows Vista which meant I obviously had far more important things on my mind than blogging about the launch of the new OS from Microsoft.
After the Vista launch the tech press was full of "should you, shouldn't you" articles which all seemed to be saying the same thing: that it just wasn't worth the upgrade yet. One particular magazine which caught my eye was Micro Mart here in the UK running the cover story "Is this 2007's most pointless upgrade?" I blogged a knee jerk reaction not having read the actual article (bad form I know) but felt incensed that customers would get a wrong impression. In response to my post I was contacted by the editor of Micro Mart about writing a piece for them so it all worked out okay in the end.
February included the beginning of the Windows Home Server beta program on Connect. I was lucky enough to have been contacted when it was invite only but the program was opened up and people registered in their thousands - 40,000 by the end of Feb to be exact, with 10,000 invites being sent.
I finished my article for Micro Mart and now just had to wait for it to be published but March was HTC Shift month. The news about HTC's UMPC offering was everywhere and, having both Vista and Windows Mobile 6 on board, really captured the imagination. The Windows Mobile 6 side of things turned out to be a cut down offering called SnapVUE and there are concerns over battery life - even now the device still hasn't made it to production.
Second quarter to follow.
Unusual entry in my referring URLs.
For a little while I have been seeing the URL in my referrals. Nothing overly unusual you might think except that following the link takes you to the Technet article "Deploy software updates for Windows SharePoint Service 3.0".
I just don't see how this can be showing up in my referrer stats on a regular basis.
SkyDrive changes.
This is old news now but Microsoft upped the storage limit on SkyDrive to 1GB a little while ago and have also added RSS feeds to public folders so that you can keep an eye on changes to them.
There's not much in my public folder at the moment but you can keep track of it here:
I've also added this feed to the Syndication section at the top right of the page.
So, Microsoft lost their appeal. And?
Mary Jo Foley asks "What will Microsoft's loss in Europe mean to customers?" What will it mean indeed, if anything.
There has been a lot of talk about who the ruling benefits.Is it the customer? Is it the competitors? Or does it just serve the purposes of the EU itself? Let's face it, Microsoft is a BIG scalp to take, possibly the biggest, and the case sets a huge precedent.
Where  do we go from here?
The EU maintain that the ruling will open up competition and allow the companies with a smaller market share the ability to compete on an equal footing. Consequently, there is the feeling that we could see a wave of innovation as Microsoft's competitors will be able to build applications that hook in to the OS just as efficiently as Microsoft's own. Is this really going to be the case?
Could it be that the competitors may, in fact, sit on their laurels in the knowledge that the have "won" and won't feel the need to innovate as they no longer need to constantly go one better in order to get their products noticed.
If Microsoft feel that any innovation may just get opened up to the competition then will they take a step back? So much for trade secrets.
Whatever happens as far as the actual products are concerned the ruling will be quite irrelevant for a while. Why? Because applications such as Windows Media Player are already stuck firmly in the mind of the consumer. The onus will now be on Microsoft's competitors not to develop better applications but to market what they've got more effectively. They have to overcome the collective unconscious and get their own products ingrained in the same way - not an easy task.
In a way, what the EU and software companies want is irrelevant - it's all down to what the consumer actually wants. Just look at Windows "Null" - the version of Windows MS produced for Europe in response to the original ruling in 2004. The EU demanded a version of Windows without Windows Media Player and the media functionality hooked right in to the OS. Microsoft duly obliged but nobody wanted it; not the consumer nor the OEMs.
So, while the case itself has sent huge waves throughout the world of big business the impact we see may be more akin to a small ripple.
Apple shows the way.
The web is full of commentary on the new iPod Touch and price drop for the iPhone so I'm not going to say much about it except this:
Microsoft really dropped the ball on the Wi-Fi front.
Wi-Fi in an MP3 player? Genious! As soon as it was announced that the Zune would include Wi-Fi so that you could "squirt" tracks to friends everyone immediately thought that full Wi-Fi capability was the way to go and wondered if Microsoft would be able to unlock the functionality in a firmware release.
Whether or not they can is now largely irrelevant: Apple have blown them completely out of the water with full Wi-Fi including the ability to download music from the iTunes Wi-Fi Store and use the onboard Safari browser to surf the web.
The iPod Touch is essentially an iPhone without the phone. So, not only does it have more functionality than you can shake a stick at but it looks good too!
So far I've been dismissive of the whole iPod phenomenon an have seen no reason to even want one, let alone buy one. The iPod Touch is changing my mind.
Microsoft: Friend or Foe? My article republished here.
As you may remember, I had an article published in Micro Mart magazine back in April. It was a look at whether the criticism levied at Microsoft was justified.
Well, the 3 month exclusivity period has been up for a while so I now present the article in full here.
You can read it online here, or download it as a Word document here.
Reaction was mixed at the time and you will no doubt have your own opinions but, as I said before, that's what's great about the web.
Give it a read and let me know your thoughts.
Windows Live OneCare v2 Beta starting soon.
Despite the email to testers advising not to post any info about the impending v2.0 beta of OneCare the details on how it will shape up have been posted to numerous blogs and news sites (I'm not going to link to any). It is initially to be a closed, private beta.
Hopefully, the update will hit soon as I'm currently getting "Service Unavailable" when trying to do updates.
Microsoft "Shift" alternative touch input.
A couple of places have posted about a Microsoft Research project called "Shift" which is being likened to Apple multi-touch.
Shift looks to improve on the touch experience especially where you are trying to target small areas that would normally require a stylus. In the example above an area with a number of possible inputs would pop-up a "callout" area which lets you target the correct point on the screen by moving a cursor (in a similar way to the offset mouse in Vista on touch screen devices).
This looks like it could be a winner. Check out the Shift page here: Microsoft Research - Shift.
Reflection on the response to my article.

Since my article was published in Micro Mart it has drawn a number of comments on their forums (see the thread here) and generated some interesting discussion. Apologies to those who have not yet seen the article

As I posted recently, the initial reaction was to call it a "gag inducing ode to Bill" and accuse me of thinking "MS = Good Mac = Bad" in some kind of strange Orwellian way – not the case at all. So, I have finally posted over at the forums to explain my position, even though I feel that I shouldn't have to.

To put things in to context I was ask to pen a piece within the following approximate guidelines:

  • General perception of the firm
  • How much users actually owe Microsoft
  • The Vista launch and the press it attracted
  • Are Microsoft their own enemy?
  • Are they being criticised because of who they are, and should they be given more respect?

This was prompted by my criticism of Micro Mart and other publications for the way they were presenting their reviews of Vista. So, given the remit and what you know of the stuff I blog about, this was always going to be a fairly "pro-MS" piece.

My main goal was to point out that Microsoft are not always given the credit they deserve and are often criticised just for who they are, as one forum member put it: to get the "knee-jerk MS critics to think again". The one thing I did achieve, which I am glad about, was to get a conversation going – and long may it continue.

Would you support Microsoft making PCs?
Those cats over at GottaBeMobile keep asking a question of the day and todays question from Rob Bushway is "If you had the opportunity to sit down for a meeting with Microsoft’s Mobile PC Team, what would you say?"
A big bone of contention among mobile PC users is battery life but it was interesting to note a couple of comments calling for MS to make their own PCs so that they could "make a perfect integration with its softwares and OS, just like APPLE".
Well, that's a controversial viewpoint if ever there was one.
The main grievance with Microsoft is that they abuse their monopoly position so what effect would it have if Microsoft were to be building their own hardware and work with component manufacturers to tailor it to create a seamless blend with the software?
Assuming that the DoJ and European Union would allow it how much of an impact would this have on the existing PC market? Perhaps not as much as you think unless Microsoft could offer cut price bundles due to the obvious economies of scale they could muster, and the fact they they would be supplying the whole bundle themselves.
The advantage that the PC market has is that it is wide open - unlike with Macs. Standards mean that anyone can manufacture components and that they will be compatible with existing systems and an operating system designed for one will work on a PC from any OEM.
If Microsoft, however, tailored their software to fit their hardware we could be left in a position where peculiarities of an MS PC would prevent an operating system from working on a non-MS PC. Do they produce two versions of their software? Are we all forced to buy MS PCs? Or, do the other OEMs club together and assist in the development of an alternative OS for non-MS PCs? (A thought which is also suggest in the comments to the GBM question).
One advantage of an MS PC seamlessly running MS software would be drivers. Microsoft are often mistakenly accused of writing bad drivers when it is in fact the responsibility of the OEM to produce them. An MS hard/soft combination would surely solve this issue once and for all.
So, in light of all this I ask my own question:
If Microsoft were allowed to supply their own hardware/software combination without fear of being punished or split up, would you support it? Especially if it meant a more stable system and reliable drivers.
[Edit: without turning it in to a flame war if you don't mind!]
The article is published!
That's right! My article for a proper publication has now been published and is available in print at all good newsagents.
The article is in the UK magazine Micro Mart (Issue 948 12th - 18th April) and is called Microsoft: Friend or Foe? and is a look at how Microsoft is perceived as a company and whether the negative criticism levied at it is justified.
Unfortunately, I wasn't notified before it went in to print but got an email from Ben last night (thanks mate) letting me know that he had just read it.
The article has caused one reader to respond on the Micro Mart forums with quite a vitriolic rant against my "gag inducing ode to Bill" but that what's I love about the internet - everyone has, and is completely entitled to, their opinion. What really matters, however, is how you air your opinion.
I have been given permission to reproduce the article here but will hold off for a little while.
Finally completed my article.
Well, it took a while (and a major re-write) but I've gotten my article finished and submitted. I'll just have to wait and see if it gets accepted.
Windows Vista vs Mac OSX - the debate.
You may recall that I posted a while back that Robert Scoble was planning on getting a few people together for a "smart person's debate of OSX v Vista".
He's only gone and done it and in a BIG way! There have been 2 hours of video posted. WOW!
If you're interested in hearing the thoughts of Fred Davis, Harry McCracken, Sam Levin and Jeremy Toeman (check Scoble's blog for details of who they are) then head straight over and get all the gossip: Windows Vista vs. OSX debate now up.
Talking Microsoft.
I meant to link to this earlier but decorating got in the way and I forgot.
Anyway, Eileen Brown has linked to the Talking Microsoft website which is a bit like Channel 9's cousin; devoted to providing interviews etc. to show how Microsoft operates in the UK.
This is great news. It is about time that we have something not focused on MS in Redmond. I said that MSUK needed to start engaging a bit more and maybe this is a way to kick it off.
So far we have interviews with Gordon Frazer (MD of MS UK) and Christine Betts (a Senior Director) and, according to Eileen, there is a backlog of videos that we can look forward to.
If you're in the UK I urge you to subscribe to the feed.