Disruptive Google

I have a theory on why Microsoft acquired Groove Networks, and it’s all about Google.

What if Google decided to release an office productivity suite?  What if they took it a step further and made it an internet-accessible sharepoint clone, with online document editing, spreadsheets, presentations, project planning, and collaboration.   Here’s the disruptive kicker:  What of Google’s suite of tools was a “good enough” replacement for Microsoft Office?  These tools might not be as full-featured as their Microsoft Office counterparts (when was the last time you heard someone praise Word for being so full-featured?) but what if they’re good enough, and free?  Google could follow their common practice of generating revenue with unobtrusive relevant ad overlays, and give this to consumers for free.  The only price is that you check your privacy at the door.

This could mean big trouble for the Microsoft Office cash cow.  People still use Office 95, and even Office 6.0 when they can get away with it. Office has been good enough for quite a while.

My bet is that Microsoft picked up Groove to try to compete better in the online collaborative workspace environment.  Whether they can integrate the technology into a compelling platform to compete with Google is a story for another day.

Update: InformationWeek has some similar thoughts in this article: http://blog.informationweek.com/windows/archives/002914.html

My Wishlist for Windows Mobile 6.0

Double-tipped Stylus: Make the stylus do something different if I flip it around.  Erase, copy, etc.  You could probably sense this with some kind of near-field RF sensor.

Finger friendly interface:  If the stylus is docked, enlarge the icons, make it easy to do simple things like reading email, checking my calendar, etc, without having to pull out the stylus.

Tabbed browsing in IE Mobile: I hate that I don’t have “Open in new Window” on my Axim, but tabs would probably be better since task-switching is such a pain on Windows Mobile.

Autocomplete learning: Give me the option to automatically add any manually entered words/phrases into the autocomplete dictionary. (email addresses come to mind…)

WiFi Sync: I get the security thing, you guys did what you had to do.  If you can’t get this back in as a patch in Windows Mobile 5.0 with ActiveSync 4.0, please get it back by the time Windows Mobile 6.0 comes out.

Podcasting in Windows Media Player Mobile:  Both publish and subscribe.  Integrate with MSN spaces if you must, but give me the option to autopost to custom blogs when I sync/connect.

Multiple Profiles: Let me set up multiple personalities and/or profiles on the device and keep them isolated.  Families could share devices, work teams could too.  This would lower the barrier to entry for the Windows Mobile platform, and eventually everyone will want their own device.

That’s all for now…

Interview With Mike Hall

Mike Hall, Technical Product Manager for the Mobile and Embedded Devices Group at Microsoft, was gracious enough to answer some questions over email about Windows CE, XP Embedded, and the direction of the product lines.

Rick: Right now, the line between XP Embedded and Windows CE as an embedded platform seems to be mostly hardware related.  What’s your “short answer” to the question: Should I use CE or XPe for new projects in the embedded space? 

Mike: Windows CE is a hard real-time, componentized operating system with great power management, designed for small footprint, real-time embedded systems. Windows CE should be used when you’re building a large number of consumer electronics or mobile devices, typically, these devices need to use custom hardware to reduce ther overall bill of materials on the system, OEM’s in the consumer electronics space are looking to save dollars and cents on their device design, building a device based on Windows CE provides the OEM the ability to tweak the hardware and software to meet their needs. Also, a system that needs “hard real time” out of the box.

Rick: If these systems are competing in the same space, do you see XPe overtaking CE as mobile and embedded hardware becomes more powerful?  ( I know this issue was skirted in some of the MEDC podcasts, just looking for another angle) 

Mike: Interesitng question, more powerful isn’t the issue here, more devices are becoming portable and are combining flexibility, think of a Windows Mobile 5.0 device, it’s a phone, a media player, your inbox, calendar, web browser, and game player, and, can also run your own custom applicaitons – The more powerful the processor you put into a device the more power needed to run the device, and the more issues you have around cooling. So, I see there’s a place for Windows CE *and* Windows XP Embedded. 

Rick: You seem to be very effectively leveraging blogs, podcasting, and RSS to connect with developers.  Can you give any hints as to when and how RSS technologies might actually make it into CE, XPe, and the Windows Mobile OS, or is this being left to 3rd party developers? 

Mike: Good question, blogging, podcasting, MSDN Channel 9 are great ways to have a real conversation with people that are interested in the technologies we’re working on, Windows CE, Windows Mobile, and Windows XP Embedded all contain the “core” functionality needed for applicaiton developers to write their own RSS readers to a device, in fact, there are already a number of examples of blog/podcast clients for Windows Mobile – FeederReader is a good example of this. There’s a large and thriving applicaiton development community living around the Windows Desktop and Windows Mobile/Embedded platforms – it’s great to see that developers are already building blogging tools and RSS/Podcast readers for mobile and embedded devices.

Rick: What other Mobile & Embedded bloggers should developers subscribe to? 

Mike: check out the blogs.msdn.com web site, there are a number of mobile and embedded bloggers out there at Microsoft, and a number of 3rd party blogs that are really interesting to read about Mobile and Embedded technologies. 

Rick: Any chance of getting Ya-Quin Zhang or any of the other senior leadership in the group to start blogging?
Mike: I would LOVE to get some of the senior leadership blogging, perhaps a way to get started is to schedule a regular podcast interview with these guys – this would give you the ability to ask “live” questions and also have the interview broadcast to the wider audience. 

Rick: How would you convince a college student working on an embedded device for a class project that CE is a better choice then Embedded Linux?  Could you point to an inexpensive reference board that would be a good fit for beginners, hobbyists & students? 

Mike: ok, let’s take a look at the Windows Embedded Student Challenge (http://www.windowschallenge.com ), there are over 250 teams worldwide that are taking part in this years competition, which is great to see, all the teams are using Windows CE, and an x86 based reference board from a company called ICOP http://www.icoptech.com/products_detail.asp?ProductID=170 that’s pretty low cost but also has a fairly good spec.

Rick: Other than the “Developer Experience” that we’ve heard so much about, what are some other advantages that CE and XPe have over Embedded Linux, Symbian, and the other competitors? 

Mike: There are perhaps a number of reasons, it’s not just about the developer tools (although they are excellent!) – evaluation kits for Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded are available free to download from http://www.windowsembeddedkit.com – it’s also about the breadth of technologies, speed of development, cost of development, support, training, 3rd parties that can provide technologies to assist your project, and the fact that both Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded have a really well known API, if you can code for the desktop you can also develop for Windows CE, Windows Mobile, and Windows XP Embedded. Plus, there are a TON of developers out there that build Windows applications and solutions every day – all of these developers could write code for embedded systems without any learning curve – so it’s more than tools, it cost of development, time to market, support, the eco-system that lives around Windows Embedded techologies and the fact that the entire development process is ‘familiar’.

Rick: What is the most common reason you hear for people choosing competing platforms, and how is Microsoft working to address that? 

Mike: There’s an assumption that other operating systems are free, but what exactly does that mean, sure I can download some source from somewhere, but I also need to build the tool chain to build/debug the operating system, and am then in the operating system business, you are responsible for the up-keep of the code you’ve downloaded – I’m pretty sure most OEM’s are interested in adding their value to an operating system rather than being in the operating system business themselves. If you look at answer #4, and also read the *interesting* thread from my blog – http://blogs.msdn.com/mikehall/archive/2005/01/13/352470.aspx

Digital Convergence

I’ve been reading a lot about the next version of Windows Mobile, and It’s gotten me thinking about what our digital lives are going to be like over the next few years. 

In the past, there have been unique categories of devices.  I believe that we’re moving toward a continuum.  Already we’ve seen that the line between a tablet and a notebook is getting very thin.  The Micro-tablet mock-up shown by Bill Gates at WinHEC shows that the line between Handhelds and Tablets is going to get very thin as well.

If tablet technology takes off, then you may have users calling for ink, and moving forward, touchscreens in the desktop environment.  If people get used to interacting with their data in certain ways, then they’ll want those ways to be available wherever they connect with their data.

It’s going to be an interesting five or ten years, as the hardware manufacturers tear down the hurdles of power, miniaturization, and integration, and we come to a time where the form factor is a matter of design & function, versus engineering limitations.