My conversation with Microsoft

Scoble recently wrote an inspiring piece about the new conversation Microsoft needs to be having with its customers. There’s so many things I wish Microsoft was doing that it isn’t that I think I’m going to have a hard time framing my ideas into something short enough to be called a blog post, but I’m going to give it my best effort. I’ll apologize to Scoble in advance for pinging his name several times today, as I have another post to write today that also involves him, and although I do at times shamelessly use his name to show up on his PubSub feed, today I hope he reads them and doesn’t feel like I’m abusing it :).

I think more about what I want from Microsoft is what I want from the entire industry, but if anyone can deliver it it’s gotta be Microsoft. I hear they’re hiring 10,000 more programmers here. How come they’re not writing software that will make my life better? Surely not all those people are writing device drivers!? They have more products than I can name, but I only use two sets on my machine, and that’s Windows XP and Office. Where’s the consumer focus?

Microsoft always sells on integration. So integrate the Internet for me. But don’t integrate it into the operating system. That’s so 1997. I want to be a Microsoft customer, but I just don’t like their operating system all much for day to day use and I want them to win me back with their innovative software instead of trying to keep me locked in with their operating system and proprietary formats (not that they’re the only ones guilty of this…ahem, Apple, where’s my OPML export from iTunes?). I want to see something come out of Redmond that I look at and say “Wow! No one has ever done that before!” I’d be happy though if I could just get some stuff out of Redmond that makes me click less. I want rich web applications but I don’t want to be locked into their CLR implementation. I want to them to let go of the reigns and sell me on their software’s features that will run in any browser on any platform and not write a platform that only works on their runtime on their browser on their operating system. If your software is good, it’ll stand on it’s own two feet without forcing me to stick with an operating system. Flickr has proven this. Yahoo has proven this. Google has proven this.

I don’t want to just reprise what Scoble said, but I need someone to simplify the amount of work it takes to make me an online persona. My presence on the web takes far too much work to make it all work nicely together. This is where MSN in comes in, but I want them to give me flexibility that Spaces isn’t giving me now. I don’t want to be, I want to be hosted at MSN Spaces. I’m also picky, and I want them to ask me what I want before they implement it. I don’t want a traditional integrated solution that basically does everything I want in one place but doesn’t any of it near as well as the best of breed tools, to the point that I’d rather use the best of breed tools and integrate them rather than use the integrated solution. Let me detail exactly what I have to do to be me online:

  • I blog with WordPress
  • I put my pictures up on Flickr which posts to my blog through XMLRPC
  • I edit my audio in Audacity. Podcast coming soon. I FTP it up to my server manually.
  • I edit my video in iMovie. There’s nothing on the PC like it I’ve found this week. I upload the videos to VBlogCentral so that they can be transcoded to three different formats. It posts to my blog through XMLRPC
  • I edit my MediaWiki (not 100% done yet, sorry, it’s coming)
  • I read my email in Thunderbird and I read my news in Outlook (kinda funny when you think about it) and NewsGator Online
  • I IM through Trillian so I can be on all the services

So what does this tell us? I want some integration! I want an integrated application that aggregates news, blogs, re-blogs, edits audio for podcasting, edits video for vlogging, and uploads it to a host, all easily and cheaply! More importantly though, what does this tell us? I want openness and standards. I want interoperability! My email is on IMAP so I can switch to another mail program at a moment’s notice or use any of a number of webmail apps that understand IMAP. I’m on all 3 major IM services because people can’t seem to make them interoperate. I’m on Flickr, so I’m obviously willing to host my data elsewhere, but I want to be able to get it back onto my harddrive easily, preferably through point and click. I do a lot of video editing, but nobody offers an application that isn’t fucking totally picky about the video formats it will important and export. If everyone can’t agree on MPEG4, then for God’s sake will Microsoft and Apple at least agree to allow their applications that do editing to interoperate with each other’s formats?!?! Will they both at least agree to pre-load each other’s codecs on the other’s operating system!?!? I’m seriously thinking about not supporting any company in the future in which enabling collaboration between people isn’t their primary goal, and any company who attempts to lock my data into a proprietary format is the antithesis of my goal for collaboration. I want to see Microsoft become become the open standards company it should be. I want Microsoft to free me from the data lock-in that they’ve been the purveyors of since they wrote Office and I want them to understand that whatever computer I sit down at, whichever OS it’s running at the time, is the tool I’m going to use for that session, and that I should be able to get to my data in an open format from any place I am in the world on anybody’s OS. I want Microsoft to think Wiki, not Word!

I haven’t been excited about Microsoft in years, except for the possibility that I might go to work for them at Channel 9. The reason I was excited about that? I thought I might actually be able to make a difference, to push Microsoft to excite people like me again. I am an online persona. I am a media hacker. I am a thought leader. I am the customer that everyone should be talking to. I recommend products for everyone I know, and if companies aren’t pleasing me now, they won’t be pleasing the people I know in a year. Microsoft, forget the enterprise for a year or two, they’re fine, I know, I work in one, and focus your attention on the thought leaders, and tell me if your sales don’t skyrocket. If it doesn’t work out, most likely you’ll only be a bit cash poorer, but if it does work out, you’ll have gained a rabid group of customers and you’ll have more to add to your warchest.

Scoble’s gotten the ball rolling, and I’ve helped it along, but it’s in your court, Microsoft. Go lead!

4 Comments on “My conversation with Microsoft”

  1. Clint – I am right with you on integration and data portability. I was really excited to see Dave Winer’s OPML Editor at Gnomedex. Can’t wait to get my hands on that puppy. I’ve been looking for months for some service or combination of services that would let me have my data on my desktop, at work, on my Palm… wherever I happened to be and whatever device I was using. The OPML Editor looks like it’s pretty close to that kind of tool.

    I guess I’d also join you in echoing Scoble’s exhortations. Microsoft has the power, the influence, and the opportunity to lead the world into this new online paradigm. I’ve got a lot of friends at Microsoft, and for their sake I’d like to see the company thrive. I’m just not convinced that it will.

    Microsoft seems, for the most part, incapable of innovation. When they do innovate (Longhorn [heart] RSS is a killer idea), they seem too burdened with their own monopolist legacy to truly let their ideas take wing. It’s great to have guys like Scoble out there pushing, but it’s the guys at the very top who ultimately set the tone, and Balmer and company just don’t yet get that now is the time for them to yank the reins and gallop off in a different direction.

    BTW, it was great meeting you and Melanie at Eric’s Podcast Roadshow on Sunday. Hopefully we’ll ahve a chance to hook up again at a blogger or podcast meetup.

  2. Great post, but Clint you’re asking for a world that not even a genie could deliver — “I have a dream and in that dream I want it all and I want it free and I want it all to work flawlessly and easily and be centered around me, me, me.”

    Meanwhile, many have been channeling Howard Beale in the movie “Network”: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

    Every single thing could be built better, no doubt. But without the traditional control that Microsoft has exerted, viz., over its OS, it cannot be made to happen. Much like Heisenberg, the more you control for one thing, the more another changes — you cannot, however, have it all. Yet I wish you could.

  3. Sparks says:

    Amusingly, I stumbled onto this by searching for info on VBlogCentral. (It’s amusing because I’m one of the folks who writes Trillian, which you also mention.)

    It’s an interesting idea, coming up with a online media-and-text-publishing solution to let you do video/podcast/blogging all in one convenient package. It’s been tossed around by various people that I know of, but no one’s really tackled it. Unfortunately, I think such a solution would be even more difficult than Trillian is to write (and believe me, we have our headaches).

    Zine Ridling’s comment above is fairly insightful: we don’t control the networks we connect to, so we’re constantly aiming for a moving target. Microsoft, through their iron-fisted control of their OS, does at least ensure for them that their stuff usually interoperates with their other stuff. Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a *good* thing, but there you have it.

    The only way to do it would be to establish standards for vblogging, audio-blogging, a ‘posting’ method for podcasts, etc. (XML-RPC sort of vaguely passes as an established standard for straight text-blogging.) Otherwise, whoever tries to make such a tool will be facing the same issues that we do with Trillian, or Sean and the Gaim folks do with their code… namely, trying to hit a moving target you don’t control. Or rather, several moving targets. (Multiple IM networks, or multiple online publication services…)

    Which can be an interesting challenge, but is rarely an easy task.

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