Microsoft. Saves You Time

I’d love that as a new tagline.

I’ve really enjoyed reading some of the analysis of Satya’s memo. In addition to the ones I mentioned in my earlier post, I’ve found these to be particularly interesting: this, this and this.

There seems to be three main areas people are focussing on:

  1. It’s wordy and bloated
  2. There’s going to be job cuts
  3. Oh, and we’re not selling Xbox

I’m only interested in the first point, since it was the main reaction I had as well. There’s so much talk of experiences and productivity and empowerment, that it quickly becomes meaningless. The most obnoxious get their own callouts in the memo as well:

“Developers and partners will thrive by creatively extending Microsoft experiences for every individual and business on the planet.”

and the ‘core’ message seems to be:

At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.

Which is fine I guess. Unless you try to work out what it means.

When I try to make it meaningful, the main summary I’m getting is that Microsoft wants to save us time. After all Satya is right to highlight that attention is our scarcest resource. And thus, when I think of Microsoft, I’d love to think of it as a company that saves me time.

As a consumer, as a home user, as a business user, as an administrator, as a developer, as a gamer.

Forget creatively extending digital productivity via reinvention and empowerment.

Instead, just Save Me Time.

Microsoft Patches IE Security bug on XP too. Gets Criticised

Microsoft fixed the recently advised IE security bug today (the bug affects IE versions 6 through 11 and is pretty bad).

They decided to release the fix to XP as well, even though XP is officially no longer supported. Seems like a ‘good guy’ Microsoft approach to me.

But not according to Emil at The Next Web. Emil instead notes:

This is a poor move on Microsoft’s part. Just because the flaw was discovered soon after support ended, doesn’t mean the company should backtrack on its stance. The company be encouraging users off the ancient OS, which still has over 26 percent market share, not giving them a reason to stay on it.

Seems like a ruthless attitude – he’s suggesting they should be using this security exposure as a way to ‘encourage’ upgrades. I much prefer the Microsoft attitude of looking after their customers, especially these XP customers who are the very definition of ‘long term’ customers.

UPDATE: Ars Technica thinks Microsoft made a mistake as well (ie they agree with Emil). I still disagree. Their point seems to be that there will always be other security issues with XP, and they won’t be fixed, so fixing this one gives XP users a false sense of security. I can see that, but that’s a perception issue that can be (and is) being addressed by Microsoft via other means. This particular Zero day exploit of IE is being actively targeted, so fixing it is more important than some of the lesser exploited security issues. I still think Microsoft made a good choice here. Does it mean XP is still safe? No, of course not. But at least XP users who patch this will be safe from a widely publicised IE exploit, so it is a net improvement.


Should Office for iPad be free?

It will be interesting to see what Microsoft’s pricing strategy is when they release Office on the iPad soon. Already talk of the release has positively affected their share price, so it’s all down to their release strategy – will they charge for it, will they require an Office 365 subscription, or will it perhaps, be free?

I’m dreading Microsoft forcing users into having an Office 365, not because I’m against a subscription (I personally have tons of monthly subscriptions for all the tools I use), but rather because it will significantly decrease the appeal down to already existing Office 365 users. Microsoft can either see the iPad release as:

  • A way to drive Microsoft usage, OR
  • A way to drive Office 365 signups

I’m  hoping it is the former, and with that in mind I hope they simply make Office for iPad (and iPhone) apps free. In doing so, they have everything to gain, and only a little to lose.

As with their OneNote release, the appeal is in having all devices covered (so I’m hoping that there’s an Office for Android release not too far behind the iOS release). Microsoft has lagged for so long in providing cross-device coverage, so it’s important that their Office for iPad release gets as much traction as possible. I’m hoping it hits the Top 10 AppStore charts early and stays there. Having Microsoft in there constantly will be a powerful confidence builder:

AppStore Productivity

And since each of the apps will likely be separate, wouldn’t it be good to see OneNote, Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps regularly crowding out the top charts.

To achieve that, it’s probably going to have to be free, or a minimal one-time charge. Requiring an Office 365 subscription will be an adoption killer. And especially if the Office 365 subscription has device count limits (but that is unclear at this stage).

The benefits of a free release will be significant though – widespread adoption will drive people to using OneDrive (ie actually using it, instead of just having a dormant account), and from there greater confidence about Microsoft’s desktop apps.

As Microsoft is well aware, people in the Android and Apple ecosystems are actively looking for alternatives to Office, due in large part to the lack of device coverage. As the share price boost shows, there’s a lot of opportunity if they get this right. I hope they don’t blow it.

OneNote for Mac

I’m gonna take back something I said in a recent post about Microsoft’s OneNote strategy. In that post I said I reckon hardly anyone would use OneNote for Mac. But I’m rethinking that today, after trying the new OneNote for Mac release. Here’s why:

OneNote on all devices

Not the Free part (although that is good), but the availability. With Microsoft putting in the effort to make OneNote available on every device, they’ve removed the biggest hurdle I had to embracing their stuff: fear of future unavailability. With that clear device coverage I know I can confidently use OneNote and not have any issues when/if I change my OS in the future. Currently I’m on Mac and iOS devices, but that’s not indefinite. A year ago I was on the Android platform for a while – and when I moved back to iOS it was hassle free. All my main services and apps were on iOS and the changeover was relatively painless. Most of my work is done with Google services these days, and they work seamlessly on Android, Windows, Mac and iOS. Moving platforms isn’t an issue for me.

Microsoft has been noticeably lagging in this area, and Apple are deliberately not even trying (it’s one of the reasons I hardly use any Apple only tools). I love Apple’s devices (Mac, iPad, iPhone) at the moment, but their ecosystem lock-in is a little off-putting for me.

Hopefully Microsoft is going to be embracing the cross-platform coverage in earnest now. I’m really keen to see what they deliver with their Office for iPad release at the end of the month. My only concern is that they are going to fuck it up by insisting on Office for iPad having an Office 365 subscription… I hope they don’t do that – and instead just release them as simple, good value paid apps (UPDATE: or perhaps for free).

This OneNote release also has me reconsidering OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive). Perhaps I’ll actually have a use for it now.

This could also be good timing for Satya Nadella – although I’m sure these releases have been in the works for a while – their release timing works well for his new role and strategy.

Oh, and I should actually mention – OneNote itself is pretty good. Not as feature rich as Evernote (I’m an Evernote Premium subscriber) but certainly good enough for me to consider switching down the track.


Mozilla’s announcement last week that they are mothballing their Metro-specific version of Firefox for Windows 8 is pretty much a non-event in my mind. Although people will try to read into it all kinds of things (just take a look at the comments), surely it’s just an example of good resource allocation based on data. The data said this particular implementation wasn’t being used. So instead they’ll focus their resources on other areas. Seems wise to me. If only more companies/product departments/teams did this!

However, that’s not to say the announcement isn’t interesting for other reasons. The main thing for me is it shows just how attached everyone still is to the term ‘Metro’ – including tech companies, and the tech blogs that cover them. Microsoft really did have a brand winner on their hands with that one – such a shame they had to lose it.

Microsoft Office and non-Windows platforms

Good to hear that Microsoft is supposably releasing an updated version of Office for Mac later this year. When I switched to Mac a little over a year ago, I thought I’d spend most of my time running Windows (eg on Parallels), but I actually found myself surprisingly content with the Mac OS. Pretty much everything I do now runs in the browser, with the exception of a few programs: Word and Excel being the main ones.

No matter how much I turn to Google, Apple and a bunch of other vendors for my main tools (and frankly most of my life runs on something Google related now), Microsoft still remains there, kept in by their Office suite. The reason for this of course is that nothing really compares to the user experience of a desktop app for document and spreadsheet functionality. I’ve tried (really tried) to be productive with Google docs and  Microsoft web versions of Office, but they never have the same responsiveness or utility for me.

And so I still stick with Microsoft for this reason alone.

Which makes it all the more puzzling that Microsoft still haven’t brought out iPad versions of their main Office apps (Word, Excel) – one can only hope the rumours are true that they are close at hand.

Just as Office on Mac has kept me  as a Microsoft customer even though I’ve abandoned everything else they provide, so too would Office on iPad keep me connected. The OS doesn’t matter, but the tools do.

I’ve heard a number of reasons over the years as to why the iPad versions have been slow to come, and most seem to be based on internal politics (ie divisions having competing KPIs) than any kind of lack of resources. Which is a shame, and also strange given they did put their toe in the water with OneNote on the iPad.

Speaking of OneNote, looks as though they are preparing a OneNote for Mac release. Which I’m going to predict almost no-one will ever use. Same thing with Outlook on the Mac – I’d love to see the telemetry data for that – I’d be guessing it’s usage is probably a quarter of the Word for Mac usage at best.

It’s easy to be an ill-informed, arm chair critic of course. I get that (I am). But surely these are strange priorities. Focus on getting Word and Excel working beautifully, seamlessly and powerfully on every main OS (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android) and then look at filling in the gaps.

Windows 8.1 Free Edition experiments

A free version of Windows 8.1? Perhaps. Gotta say that I think the idea of Microsoft experimenting with vastly different pricing models is a good idea. Experiment away. Some good thoughts here.

The issue of course will be setting the balance between forcing apps and Bing bars and other shite on users, as opposed to just letting them get used to (and hopefully liking) the stigma-ridden version that Windows 8 has become. Penetration is a key metric of course, but user love is far more important. Challenging times, but I’ve got faith in Satya.

Microsoft, Community Engagement and Being an Underdog

Bing for Schools

Here’s a good example of what Microsoft should be doing more of – constructively engaging with the ‘haters’ on a prominent The Verge post about the recent Bing for Schools initiative. Watch and learn from Matt Wallaert as he skilfully changes the whole tone of the comment stream from what could have turned into the usual MS hate-fest.

Read the story, and then read the comments. If you’re like me, then perhaps your first thought was that Microsoft, by giving away Surface RTs to schools (or, more correctly, allowing schools to ‘earn’ them), had found a neat way to hide even more Surface RT losses – just pop them in the Bing ‘promotions expense’ bucket. I mean, Bing makes such a huge loss anyway, so a bump in the size of the losses probably won’t raise too may eyebrows.

But, that’s just me being cynical. Reading the comments Matt Wallaert clearly states that’s not the case:

Glad you like the program; as the guy who owns it, I can tell you that it isn’t about avoiding a write down. How do I know? Because I designed the program six months ago and had only been here about three months, so had no clue about how many RTs we might have sitting around. I just looked around and said “OK, what do we have that I can use?”

Matt Wallaert comment on The Verge

It’s worth reading all his comments and replies to people. Although he gets drawn into criticising Google a few times (which is a mistake IMO – it distracts from the main point and only ends up making him seem overly defensive) for the most part he does an excellent job of engaging. There’s honestly, warmth and a little humour too. But most of all, he’s putting himself out there – taking it on personally, instead of leaving it to the clowns in the marketing departments. After reading his comments I went and followed him on Twitter, and actually had a higher view of Bing than I did before.

And it’s this kind of thing Microsoft should be doing more of. It’s clear their shitty ads aren’t working – I really hate those ads that try to make out that users of one product are superior to another. I hated it when Apple did it with their Mac vs PC campaign, and I hate it when companies do it now. (I realise the Apple campaign was wildly successful, but I still hated it.)

Part of the problem with criticising competitors is that you set yourself up to look like idiots. Microsoft’s Bing comparison (Bing It On) was an example – claiming that a majority of users preferred Bing over Google in a taste test just looks silly, when  the market has clearly shown that Google is an order of magnitude more popular in most countries. Likewise Windows Phone speed tests, and silly Surface versus iPad functionality comparisons just raise a trust issue in consumers’ minds: effectively Microsoft is telling people that their product is better than that competitor product… but the overwhelming data on every single market statistic is saying that people don’t agree – which only serves to create a further lack of confidence in Microsoft.

Ditch the crappy ‘we’re better’ attempts, and instead go for the humble, hardworking, underdog approach like Matt demonstrates – people love an underdog who’s trying.

Social Intent

Intent - Rage

Back in 1971 Herbert A Simon noted the rising abundance of information and, in turn, the scarcity of attention:

…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

His views are likely the foundation of what we refer to now as the attention economy.

If we agree with the notion (and I do) that attention is one of our scarcest resources, then it it’s interesting to observe where people ‘invest’ their attention. Which is why it puzzles – or perhaps bemuses – me when something like the recent Adam Orth tweets get so much attention. Of which so much is vitriol.

This post isn’t a discussion about what Adam said and whether he was joking/trolling or not, nor is it an analysis of whether there’s a good or bad xbox strategy in play (frankly, the market will sort that out, if or when it comes to pass). Rather it is an observation on the loss of social intent.

One of the problems with how people often use social, is that they don’t get the opportunity to understand the context or intent of the status updates they are so quick to consume. This isn’t surprising though, because in an attention scarcity, there’s not many spare cycles you can apply to verification. It’s quicker and easier to jump to conclusions, vent, express outrage and then move on to the next internet snack.

Intent is uncertain

Let’s say I tweet something like:

I could murder a steak #nomnom

There’s a pretty reasonable chance (I’d hope) that you’ll understand I’m hungry. ie I’m not contemplating breaking any laws. This is just common sense. You’ve understood my intent.

But let’s say it gets a little bit more awkward, and you see someone tweet the following:

I could murder that crying child #shutthatkidup

What are you thinking now? Well, if you know the person, and especially if they’re a parent, there’s a good chance you’ll know they’re joking (they’re frustrated yes, but they’re joking). Inappropriate tweet? Probably. Concerned that they are going to actually kill a person? Probably not. That’s context and intent in play.

But isn’t always that simple. What if they were really contemplating doing something bad? Should we perhaps preemptively act. You know, just in case… better to be safe than sorry right?

Depending on your outlook on life, you’ll act accordingly. Thus, if you (or your government) live in fear, you’ll likely completely overreact when someone tweets about ‘destroying’ you. Jokes it seems don’t always translate well.

Which also goes to show that it’s not just the well known who need to be careful. I used to think that only politicians, celebrities and the extremely wealthy needed to be worried about their comments being taken out of context and bandied about on the latest internet witch hunt. But that’s not the case. No matter who you are you need to be mindful. Or perhaps turn your Twitter account to be private before it’s too late

Aside: Influence Scoring

By the way, I think there’s an opportunity for Klout and all the other silly social influence scoring platforms to include new signals here. Consider this: even though you might not have many followers, or not make many updates, or not be on many social networks, there’s really something to be said about your influence when you can create such massive fallout from just a few tweets.

There’s no such thing as social intent anyway

Sadly though, the bottom line is that there’s no such thing as social intent anymore. In an attention economy there’s simply not enough attention available to consider intent, think through, check and query comments people make. The correlation between your intent, and the way it is understood, can easily be zero.

And whilst there have been attempts to help with this – it’s one of the reasons hashtags have been so useful on twitter – they can only imply intent. What the reader infers is out of the creator’s control. It’s also why a hashtag of #dealwithit was so divisive.

But it’s actually worse than that.

Because the irony in all this is that we actually don’t have as much information as we’d like. In a world that is overflowing with too much ‘information’, we actually don’t have much ‘real’ information. Thus, when it comes to the Xbox 720 we actually don’t know much about it. We don’t know whether it will be ‘always on’. We don’t know the specs. We don’t know the games it will play. We don’t even know if it will be called the Xbox 720. We just don’t know. But we wish we did. We’ve invested so much of our attention into wanting to know more. And in the absence of real information, the frustration grows. Our attention is not giving us a return on investment, and we don’t like it. We need an outlet for that frustration. Thankfully we have the tech blogs, reddit and a smorgasbord of other social snacking options to ease that pain…

More ‘information’ + less attention = less real understanding. And it hurts.