Some random thoughts about Microsoft (2)

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I’ve ended the previous entry with a hint I would ridicule Microsoft in this follow-up.
And how could I not?

So, a few weeks ago the Internet exploded with chatter about the Windows 10 keynote. One thing was the new operating system, of course, but what people really talked about were the new 84″ productivity display and especially the Hololens.

Nothing of the content needs to be really commented here: you’ll have better places for a thoughtful discussion in much more detail, so just a few tidbits from me:

  • Windows 10 looks very good. Many cues have been taken from OS X, but the feeling I got was that Microsoft might execute some of them better than Apple has so far. This will be interesting to watch over time, in particular with how Apple is improving their cloud services from a pricing and reliability point of view.
  • The large screen display is interesting, but I do not think it will take corporations by storm. Looking at the demo, it does not seem to be such a great enabler (which might be just the impression I had to get from the nature of the demo, but I’ll get to that in a moment).
  • The Hololens is very interesting. If Microsoft can really pull it off with decent pricing at the Windows 10 launch, that’s an amazing achievement. I did not read up much about the sort of competing Oculus Rift except an older feature in Wired, but the Microsoft Hololens looks more sleek. I do not think this will sell that massively, to be honest, because while it can produce stuff that half cooked prototypes like Google’s Glass cannot do, you still need to wear rather bulky goggles on your head. This is clearly meant for home use, which you could argue makes it okay, of course. But do you really see yourself putting one of those on in your daily routine (particularly if you have a family you want to interact with)? Yes, maybe for a game. Maybe for a TV show. But in that casual manner they show it in the demo video? Meh! – I don’t think so!

But then again it does not matter what I think so much, of course, so don’t fret.
What I wanted to comment on was the principle keynote. I’ve sort of done this before, but the interesting thing for me is that back then I did not think much of Microsoft’s products besides my point that the keynote was terrible.

This time I’ll admit that Microsoft has done some pretty amazing stuff.
But they undersell themselves and it made me cringe watching that.

First, Terry Myerson who is VP of the Windows OS Group kicked things off and he is just not the guy who should do this. See, I understand when people are nervous and a little “off” when they speak at such an event. I feel the same when I present at much smaller venues. But, heck, anytime he was on stage he had a weird timing. I guess someone told him to speak slowly and build in pauses for bigger impact. The problem is: if you’re speaking too slow the whole time and you pause every other sentence and make these pauses last far too long (I checked often whether my stream stopped), you are killing the effect and your audience.

Another thing becomes awfully clear in the first 20 minutes: the video of the keynote itself is poorly produced. Often you cannot see what’s on screen. The speakers are sometimes far away and you cannot really see what they are doing, which becomes particularly annoying when they demo the large 84″ screen and the Hololens. Also, videos they are playing during the event are also not well done. The “Windows 10” video which features lots of people who worked on the system (and rightfully should be proud of it) feels clumsy and bumpy. Lastly, everybody on stage and on video must have been told to say “Windows 10” every 20 seconds. Again: this makes sense when you do it in a measured way for greater impact. Here, it was just painful.

Joe Belfiore did a nice job talking about the new system (though also repeating “Windows 10 – Windows 10 – Windows 10” far too often). I liked him and I liked what he showed. Sure there are things which reek of OS X, but they look in many cases very refined. And if I look at Cortana, she seems miles ahead of Siri (though she did not predict the result of the Superbowl correctly). Very well done.

I want comment much about Phil Spencer who was walking the stage as if he had a broom stick up his ass. He is the head of XBox development and what he showed was pretty cool nonetheless. I am not an expert and might have gotten that wrong, but it sounded to me that there is no need for a new Xbox anymore in the future – every PC with Windows 10 should be able to replace it in the future.

Then there was Alex Kipman who presented the cool stuff with help of some of this colleagues. Again: what they presented is technically very impressive. But they did not sell it well. Maybe here is where you see the difference between a crazily rehearsed Apple keynote and a normal keynote like this one from Microsoft. The large screen is sort of good, but I still was wondering what’s the point. Yes, the problems they described are indeed very real and typical for meetings in a company like mine. But I did not really see why this screen would really help solve them. And I felt physical pain when they said:

… and if you want to end the call, you just go to the “Start” menu…

Ouch!

Finally, the Hololens. I would call it “Holy shit! Lens”… I mean, if you get around having a poor man’s Darth Vader helmet on your head, this is bloody amazing! It’s a big “if” I would say, but I like how Ben Thomson talks about the pain of using a new technology like a smart phone. In principle he says that we only accept that we have to charge our phones every night  because the value we get out of them is so huge. Before the iPhone, nobody would have accepted a phone having battery life for only a day (if I recall right the cell phones I used to have before my iPhone lasted easily days or maybe a week).
So yes: if Microsoft can deliver a value with the Hololens so that users do not want to live without it anymore, then my bickering about those big goggles are completely irrelevant. If I base my assessment on the Hololens demo (and even the promo videos), however, I do not think they have figured that out, yet, and I’d be concerned about that if I was a product manager at Microsoft (by the way: this is also valid for the Apple Watch where Apple owes us much more context and meat – it’s only that Apple has earned itself more loyal followers by delivering a stream of great products in the past, which is why I am more inclined to give the Apple Watch a chance).

At the end Satya Nadella wrapped everything up, though he suffered from the same weaknesses has the speakers before him. His goal to have people “love” Windows sounded a little too desperate to my ears. But then again, I have never been as impressed with a Microsoft product line-up – even despite the overall consistently poor delivery of the message.

Nevertheless, they might turn the world upside down and Microsoft has shown they still got some mojo.
So yes: some ridiculing, but at the same time I think there is a real chance Microsoft will turn into a player on the board again that people will look at with much more interest and excitement.

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