Monday, January 08, 2007

Upcoming Innovative Technologies from Microsoft

We have a new year, with it new experiences and opportunities are awaiting. This optimistic state when we are all gleeful is an excellent mindset to check out the new technologies which are presented every year at CES. For those of you who live under a rock, CES is one of the most important trade shows of the year. Thousands of companies display their new concept technology to thousands of journalists. The trend setters in each market generally give a keynote during the event, which will serve to give the rest of use some sense of direction as towards where their products and services will be headed in the near future. With our recent advancements in telecommunications, the average Joe can now participate in these events in real time, or with a couple of hours of delay.

Microsoft took the lead this year being the first company to lead in the series of keynotes. They generally have a big show, lead by the man, Mr. William Henry Gates himself, where something generates at least one BSoD before the show is over. The show all in all was not bad. No BSoD :(. There were some new "innovations" that seem fairly interesting, but I couldn't help but be amazed at the section where they were announcing never before released, new and exciting details about Windows Vista. Justin Hutchinson, the gentleman which was responsible for this section of the presentation showed the public not only their advancements in technology, but their great efforts in research and development as well.

Now, keep in mind that Microsoft has been attacked relentlessly in the past for just buying out or shamelessly copying existing technologies or concepts and selling the in their name. There has been a joke going around for some time now that Apple is Microsoft's R&D department. Never the less, I went into the presentation with out any biased expectations (or as little as possible). It is the optimist season of the year after all.

The first feature which was displayed was the start menu's integrated search. Before long there was a small smile on my face. "They are finally making a preactical search that works", I thought. Sadly all good things must come to an end; this one much too abruptly. "If I just go in and type the first couple of letters of the item I'm looking for, Windows Vista will look across all my programs, websites I've visited, my files, my folders and even my email to bring me back the results I'm looking for...", said Mr. Hutchinson. Then the strangely but unmistakable sensation of deja vu hit me. Wait, isn't this just like the gnome deskbar? Which I have been personally using for quite some time now. Here is a snapshot of the ingenious start menu search followed by deskbar.

The presentation continued with the showing of the marvelous preview pane integrated into the file explorer. The preview pane basically let's you see the contents of a file, without the need of invoking an application. The user doesn't know that in fact his documents being read anyway, not by Microsoft Word, just by the file explorer, but in the name of instant gratifications little fibs like that can be told every now and then. Before I could start thinking of good uses for the this feature, there it was again. Just like when Neo saw the black cat for the second time in the Matrix. Hasn't KDE's Konqueror been offering this functionality for a couple of years? Here are pictures of Microsft and KDE's respective offerings.

He continues with a story of how he mistakenly overwrote an important document. OK, it's plausible. It's happened to all of us at one time or another. "I made a mistake last night. I saved the wrong document. [...] Making a mistake like this before Windows Vista would be a problem, but thanks to a new feature called Shadow Copy I can restore a previous version of this document with just a couple of clicks". Hey, that is a good idea. It's hard to imagine coding without a versioning system at this point. The organization and piece of mind it brings you is important. In a business world, a similar concept for office documents should be a good innovation. But wait, there's a memory creeping in the back of my head. I've seen this before... somewhere... oh wait! This is just like one of the new features in the next version MacOS X, called Time Machine. Only it was thought up and announced months in advance.

I will admit that the features they are offering in the media center variant of the operating system look quite interesting. They don't necessarily have revolutionary concepts, but they do have a very appealing look and feel to them. It doesn't matter how good your product is. If it doesn't have a good presentation, there is very little hope for you selling it. Doesn't matter what google tells you.

I don't even want to start talking about the striking and uncanny resemblance between windows live search and google earth.

They also developed a partnership with Ford that lets you control by voice mobile devices like cell phones and MP3 players utilizing bluetooth as the communication bridge. There are already navigation systems and other offerings which give you similar functionality. This is just a play by Ford to try to kick up it's sales. It's Japanese counterparts are kicking it's ass on it's own turf. Also these efforts seem minuscule when compared to advancements made by Lexus and BMW, each of which have self parking cars. This can eventually evolve into self driving cars. Maybe we are not as far from the future as we think.

Even if these concepts are just "similar" or in the end are intention blatant copies of it's counterparts, the argument and/or it's result will bring little fruit. Whatever it's outcome will be, I would prefer on the positive side effects of these events:
  • Microsoft is clearly building a software stack that will is rival to none. From the operating system, to the applications and right up with the on line services. This tight integration will give it's users better and more reliable experiences.
  • The vast majority of windows users are simply clueless. They use something when and if it is presented to them. They have no idea what are the developments in other products or operating systems. I have met a few that aren't aware that Windows doesn't need to be on a computer or that there are existing (and superior) alternatives. These enhancements to Windows will be received by open arms by it's community simply because most of them don't know any better.
  • Many of these features are inherently integrated with window's network capabilities. The "Digital Home" or the "Digital Decade" as Mr. Gates and others try to sell us, emphasizes on the ability of accessing your content where ever with whatever. Watching a movie on your Xbox, that's on your computer, seeing photos on your TV that were taken by your cellphone. All with relative ease for the common mortal.
  • Even though I've been on the other side of this argument many times, I know publicly admit defeat. There is nothing like Microsoft Office. There are many copies, a lot of them offer similar functionality. A lot of them can be used day in and day out, and will perfectly serve all your needs. Having said that, none of them come close to Microsoft's.

In the end the combined voices of joy of the many will drown out the concerned pointing fingers of the few. The world will have it's new Windows, the IT economy will get a an economic boost as a result of the avalance of upgrades. This innovation will be the base that will drive other companies to give us better aplications, games, security, integration and hardware. All will be well, or will it?


Elvis Montero said...

Microsoft is, despite its bad reputation among power/advanced users, a company with lots of good products (you mentioned an excellent example: Office). The point of these features is to make their OS "better" -- note that better does not necessarily mean securer or faster, but more appealing to the average folks (i.e. regular users). If Bill and his gang can convince my mother that using Vista will make using her computer easier, I know as a fact she'd want me to buy the OS. It's all about targeting the right demographics.

These changes are not for users like us my green friend -- although they're very much welcome -- but rather the average, non-technical users. They may have been "borrowed" by Microsoft, but it's definitely a step forward.

Saotome said...

I understand you argument Mr. Montero, and believe me I agree with it. Windows is for mortals, it makes mortals life with a computer (and now more devices) gratifying.

Now, this was never my initial argument. My problem with them is that they have a 50+ BILLION (with a B) dollar company. Can't they throw a couple of more dollars into research and development? And if they are going to steal something from someone else, can't they acknowledge it's not their original idea, instead of mocking it? It's a total lack of respect.

There are instances where saying things like "we got this from apple" is going to get you into legal issues. But think about something like "the start menu was inspired by the work of the folks at gnome". There are not GPL issues, they haven't integrated any code (that we know of). Just acknowledge someone had a good idea and you improved upon it. Saying that you came up with something that's been around for some time, is arrogant and dishonest to say the least.

That's my problem.