March 22, 2006

The New New Microsoft

Posted in Innovation, management, Product Development at 12:32 pm by scottmaxwell

I spent the last couple of days at the Microsoft Mix Conference. In a nutshell, they get it and are coming on strong.

What is new (besides the new healthier snacks and lack of Microsoft Backpacks) is that the competition and market results from companies like Google and Salesforce.com has unlocked the latent innovation potential from Microsoft and they are currently going through an extreme cycle of innovation (they have always had a very large group of very talented people, but, like all other companies, need the outside competition to drive the innovation).

Yes, there is still lots of vapor, but that doesn’t bother me at all. The fact that the entire platform (operating system, browser, Windows Presentation Foundation [guys, please get a better name, Avalon was a lot better!!], new design/development tools, Office etc.) is going through the innovation cycle all at once gives Microsoft a huge opportunity to string together a set of products that, together, will offer their customers a significant, new new platform. I was at the Microsoft PDC when they started pushing .NET, and my sense is that this new new push is going to be even better…

Vista is late (already predicted) and the rest of the products will probably be late as well…it doesn’t matter. When they do come out, they are going to be awesome, low cost, work together, and offer ISVs and continue to offer innovators a platform with great tools to increase development productivity while offering end-users a user experience that is an order of magnitude better than the current experience. (My view is that Microsoft should delay the products as long as possible and make sure that they meet the bar that they have set for themselves…nothing but upside in taking this approach).

What to look for:

New operating systemVista is now delayed until January ’07, but it is an awesome operating system. While I will continue to work primarily off of my Apple laptop (I like the entire product including its operating system), I will also buy a new Vista machine and will continue to run Microsoft in the office.

Flash-times-100 presentation platformWindows Presentation Foundation (formerly Avalon) is a bad name, but great product. Essentially, Microsoft is building a platform that will work on Microsoft products AND on other products (at least this is the vision). Assuming it works (I think it will), this presentation foundation is going to change the user experience by an order of magnitude (possibly 2 orders of magnitude). It will take a while to get user adoption (and it will probably strain the bandwidth of internet connections), but they demonstrated the product working using Firefox (my preferred browser), Safari (not sure why, as this product shouldn’t exist), the new IE7, and native Microsoft executables on the Vista operating system. Everything blew my hair back.

New BrowserIE7 has some great new ideas built into it. Since they no longer support Apple, I won’t be using it, but I do like to see the competition between Microsoft and Mozilla, as it keeps both of them innovating!

New “Development” toolsExpressions is actually three products that brings design aspects of the development process into the Visual Studio development platform (note: others would say that these are designer productivity tools, but my view is that Expressions is the missing link that FINALLY fixes the interface gap between the user experience and the back end development…this should be a HUGE advantage for development productivity).

Have I been drinking too much cool-aid? Possibly, but the fact is that I think the New New Microsoft offers a huge advantage to people who make software, whether it is installed on the user’ machines or offered on-demand. I will continue to push to have my portfolio companies actively consider it and I think the new products will make the benefits that much better over the next few years.

End-note: In case it is not clear, I am also a huge fan of point solutions, open source, and other platforms (I particularly like Apple for my platform and use an Apple laptop exclusively at this point (with a built-in Verizon card)…I am looking forward to a product that will allow me to run Vista and OSX on an Apple/Intel laptop and my sources tell me at least one product will be coming out this year. My strong belief is that these other products and services have helped Microsoft get its creative juices going again AND Microsoft helps get the rest of the ecosystem’s creative juices going.

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March 9, 2006

Keep it simple!

Posted in Product Development at 6:45 pm by scottmaxwell

I spend a significant amount of my time with portfolio companies ranting about simplicity of product, particularly with respect to the user interface. I touched on the issue in my David vs. Goliath series, this one in particular.

Firas Raouf forwarded me a link to a YouTube video that brings the point home (at Microsoft’s expense). It highlights packaging rather than user interface, but the general point is the same. Check it out here. Pretty hilarious…

March 5, 2006

Coolest AJAX UI ever built!

Posted in innovate this!, Innovation, Product Development at 12:13 pm by scottmaxwell

With the recent snow in Boston (some of which is still around) I found the time to build the coolest AJAX UI that I have ever seen. Some of the characteristics of it:

  • Built 100% with off-the shelf AJAX components (7 in total)
  • Each component is fully encapsulated with an off-the-shelf wrapper
  • The interfaces between the components were so simple, I only needed to literally place each component (they were designed to be stackable).
  • The total cost of the components was $8.41 (U.S.) and I had a few components, included in that price, that turned out not to be necessary to use.
  • The only real trick to the entire exercise was getting the foundation stable enough to stack the components on top. I found that the initial foundation caused the components to crash, but with a few minutes of configuration adjustments the foundation was completely stable.
  • I tweaked the alignment of the stack to try to get to optimal alignment. I could probably have spent a little more time perfecting the alignment, but the UI still looks very good.

Take a look at the UI here. It is extremely intuitive and you do not have to be familiar with AJAX to get an appreciation for the construction technique.

I think that you will agree that this is the coolest AJAX UI ever!