Mozilla gives the passionates one with Ubiquity

Mozilla just ensured I won’t use IE8 because it released Ubiquity.

What is it? It’s a box that lets you ask different questions and get answers. It’s sort of like search. But far more powerful.

It’s not for non-passionate Internet users. They won’t get it. It takes some time to learn how to use this feature. (To get what I’m talking about when I use the term “passionate” you should see my previous rant about passionates vs. non-passionates).

To really learn about how to use Ubiquity you need to:

1. Watch the video.
2. Read the instruction manual.

How many “non-passionates” will do either of these?

But for someone who is radically passionate about the Internet this is a feature that’ll keep us all using Firefox and will deepen the divide. I was talking with a group of journalists from USA Today and Business Week here in Berlin and they admit that most of their readers are on Internet Explorer. One told me that his family members didn’t know why they should use Firefox and don’t care to learn about it. They’ll just stick with the defaults on their computer and not question them.

I doubt I’ll show this feature to too many “non-passionate” people. It’s too hard to explain.

But when I get to a group of people who want to more productively use the Internet? You bet!

Oh, and Microsoft, you could easily do something similar and not just for Internet Explorer, either. Look into ActiveWords. Hook that up to Web services and you could have the same thing.

Why hasn’t Microsoft purchased ActiveWords? For the same reason they won’t do something like Ubiquity in IE8. Microsoft doesn’t really care about the passionates anymore and cares more about the people who read USA Today.

Oh, Over on FriendFeed they are talking about Ubiquity.

Ubiquity is also at the top of TechMeme
, which shows that passionates are the ones who still control that tech blogging site.

UPDATE: Brandon LeBlanc disagrees with me about IE8 and says that its “Activities” feature is proof that Microsoft cares about passionates.

Off to study consumer electronics and "Mr. CES"

Rocky (my producer) and I are heading off tomorrow to Berlin for the IFA show. This is one of the biggest trade shows in the world, focused on Consumer Electronics. I’m lucky to be traveling (and studying) Stephen Leon. He runs Showstoppers at the CES show in January, which is the most important place for startup consumer electronics companies to show off first. The last few years I’ve seen everyone from Walt Mossberg to the Gear Live team walking around.

Anyway, if you’ll be at the IFA show, drop me a line.

Oh, and you can always look at my Dopplr calendar to see where I’ll be next in the world. Over the next four weeks I’ll be in Berlin, Washington DC, Boston, Las Vegas, and New York. Whew!

UPDATE: Looks like I’ll be guest blogging over at Gear Live this week since talking about consumer electronics’ news is more appropriate there.

Story Pitch: Microsoft's "flattened" Windows 7 team and what it means for business

Dear Steven Sinofsky, Jon DeVaan, and Frank Shaw:

(For those who don’t know, Frank Shaw is the guy who, at Waggener Edstrom, runs the Microsoft PR account there, and Steven Sinofsky and Jon DeVaan runs Microsoft’s Windows team. Steven and Jon blog on the Windows 7 engineering blog and Frank keeps a personal blog too).

I’ve been keeping in touch with a few of my friends on the Microsoft Windows 7 team. The sources I have are developers, not leaders, but they’ve been telling me about how Steven changed some major things on the team (they aren’t willing to go on the record yet, which is what this note to the three here is about).

Here’s a list of structural changes to the Windows team at Microsoft I’ve heard about:

1. The teams now are flatter. There are far fewer levels between developers who build the product and you (er, Sinofsky).
2. You’ve moved all the developers onto a single floor. You’ve also done that for program managers and testers.
3. You’ve asked for, and gotten, teams to stay silent in public about coming features.

These three changes are, I hear, bringing huge changes in terms of team morale and getting stuff shipped faster and in better quality.

Here’s what I’m hearing:

1. Developers no longer need to “escalate” up problems four or more levels. That’s because they usually are only two or three levels away from you. This provides a few major benefits. First, more things are worked out lower down. No one wants to be called into your office to decide on things. Second, even when an escalation is needed things get settled out much faster. One guy told me about a time when he was eight levels away from Jim Allchin. He told me that devs aren’t more than four levels away now.
2. Moving all the devs onto a single floor has changed Microsoft’s culture. It used to be that the “program manager, tester, dev” team structure was very important, today, thanks to email and other communication systems it’s less important. Now I’m hearing that devs are sharing information among themselves, which is making things move faster and keeping morale higher.
3. I’m hearing that the reason that things haven’t leaked about Windows 7 yet (Microsoft used to leak like the Titanic) is that team members feel much better about the management lately and are less likely to play political games. I remember hearing about political games where teams would leak details about what they are working on to provide some public pressure to ensure their stuff would get included in Windows in the past. Even if that’s not true, it’s interesting that the leaks have stopped.

So, why is this a story pitch?

Well, it goes back to my “how do I want to work with PR?” rant a couple weeks back — I’m trying to innovate my relationship with PR teams, and thought it might be fun to try doing this in public instead of doing the usual thing and trying to find a cool story angle and begging for access in private. There are upsides to that approach (other journalists don’t get wind of a cool story) but I’ve always liked doing things in public. Fewer misunderstandings and, also, my readers get to see what’s going on so my reporting both gets better and also has fewer conflicts of interest in it.

To those from other companies, Twitter me if you’d like me to take this approach with you, too. 🙂

This is a story that I think needs much more research than talking to a few devs over beer.

I don’t have enough sources, and don’t have anyone willing to go on the record with attribution yet. So, that’s why I need your help to really understand if these changes are correct (I might have them wrong since I only have a handful or two of sources who are helping me get ready for the PDC and are telling me about some of these changes).

I would love to spend a few months researching this story and would love to write up an article for Fast Company Magazine (or have a journalist come along with me to write that up) as well as get my video cameras a look into how Windows 7 is being built and how these management changes are totally improving how employees on the Windows team are seeing their roles.

Some other parts of the story that I’d like to cover:

1. I’m hearing that there’s some very cool stuff that will be shown at the Professional Developer’s Conference (Microsoft’s big developer conference) and that, unlike when Longhorn was shown off, that this stuff will actually be based on shipping code — so the chances that we’ll get shown something cool, then have it pulled from the product later because it couldn’t be built are non-existent. I’d love to have a look at the new stuff before the PDC so that I could have a video ready to run at the PDC about the new technologies that are coming.
2. It’s clear that Apple has had a deep effect on the Windows 7 team. I’d like to interview team members and executives about the discussions you’ve had internally about Apple (we’ve seen some emails here and there leak out from execs) and discover how you’re going to compete (and market against) Apple.
3. Since I work for FastCompany magazine, I’d like to understand the changes on the team, how it made (or didn’t make) you more agile and how the changes delivered (or didn’t deliver) value to customers. Translation: how is Microsoft using these changes to be “fast” again (something I didn’t think would happen so soon, truth be told). I’d love to have interviews with you and other team members about key learnings and what could be passed along as “best practices” for the entire tech industry.

I can hear some objections.

1. You might not be ready to let an outside journalist into meet with team members because that would increase the chances that stuff would leak before you’re ready to have it leak. Well, that is a chance, yes, but I plan on being around the industry for a while and would rather be invited back to cover other versions of Windows and other things Microsoft is going to do in the future. I promise I won’t even do a “this made me cry” blog post, like I did with the WorldWide Telescope when I saw that early.
2. You might think I am not a good fit for such a story. That’s a risk I’ll have to take in going public in this way (cause now I’ve tipped everyone off to what will probably be one of the most important business stories of 2009/2010). If you don’t think I’m good, there are lots of journalists who cover the tech industry who would love the chance to study the Windows team in detail and understand these changes. I can think of tons of names of journalists who would love to cover this story. Some of whom include (not a complete list): David Kirkpatrick at Fortune. Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch. Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read/Write Web. Chris Anderson at Wired. Dan Farber at CBSi. Or, Fast Company’s own Ellen McGirt, who does a lot of the cover stories there. And, let’s not forget Microsoft’s own Channel 9 team. In fact, it’d be fun to do a joint project with them since I expect that an internal team would get a LOT more access than anyone from the outside would.
3. You might want to hold such a story because of the chances that it would hype up the world too early, too soon, or would reveal some new technologies before you’re ready to evolve that. That’s true, but this story needs to be reported on over the next 12 months to really understand the changes and build up a good database of stories to edit into a piece, either for the magazine or for online video. That’s why a joint project might be good, along with an embargoed blogger/journalist you trust.
4. You might not want the world to see how the sausage is made, especially if it is giving you a competitive advantage. Apple’s secrecy, for instance, does more than just build hype for its products: it keeps you from really studying their teams and management decisions to look for best practices. That’s a risk you’ll have to take and maybe that’s also something that Microsoft might like to donate to the industry anyway just to be a good leader and to give business students a new thing to study. It’s not everyday that someone gets to reorganize a team of such size and scale.

My plea to you is to let someone into study these changes over a long range of time (I’d love to come up and hang out with the Windows 7 team a half dozen times over the next year, if I was given a chance) because these changes are simply too important to not let the world study them. If you don’t like me for the job, invite one of the other journalists in so that this knowledge isn’t lost — I’m sure it has impacts to other business leaders who are managing large teams and who are trying to remake their companies to be more agile and ship higher quality products. Imagine if General Motors or Procter and Gamble wanted to study the changes you’ve made and what impact they had. How would they if you don’t let a journalist in to document what you’re trying to do.

Anyway, keep up the great blogging, it’s fun to get looks into what you’re trying to do, and either way I’ll see you at the Professional Developer Conference in late October.

Who should be USA's CTO?

UPDATE: The video that caused this post is now up on FastCompanyTV.

Today I visited Larry Lessig. He’s the founder of Creative Commons. A professor of law at Stanford University. And does many other things.

He is one of those guys who is just interesting to talk to. Why? Whip smart and has a view of things that very few other people have.

On the way over to the interview I kept thinking back to our Washington DC visit. Both Republicans and Democrats told me they wish there were someone in the White House that they could talk to about tech and science issues. That seemed to support Barack Obama’s tech policy, which calls for a national CTO position.

There are two views of the CTO position and Larry laid out both views in his interview and explained why he didn’t want the job (which, personally, is the best reason to want him in the position).

View #1 is a person who could help shape our nation’s tech policies. This person would need to be a great speaker, because he or she would need to go to places like the World Economic Forum and communicate what our tech policy should be. She or he would also need to be up to date on law, since they would be talking with congress about what could or couldn’t be done and would help shape policies and laws. She or he would also need to be both trusted and accessible to the tech industry, too.

That sounds like Lessig would be a perfect candidate.

But he laid out the other view of what a national CTO should do and explained why he wouldn’t be a good choice. That view is: be a traditional CTO and get more of our government to use technology to be more efficient and transparent. Lessig is much more interested in seeing a CTO take on that role and says for that role you’d need a geek who understands the technology.

That got me thinking. If you were the next President, and you wanted to have a national CTO role, who would you put into that position?

Here’s a few names to get you thinking:

Mark Andreessen?
Dave Winer?
Joel Spolsky?
Tantek Celik?
Molly Holzschalg?
Meg Whitman?
Bill Gates?
Steve Wozniak?
Caterina Fake?

Overall, though, I still like the idea of Lessig in the White House.

Oh, and wait until you hear what he says about how he’d retard corruption in the Capitol. The interview will be up in a couple of weeks on FastCompanyTV.

How I Photosynth'd my family room

I just put up a Photosynth of my family room. Unfortunately you need a Windows machine to view it. But, this is a combination of 50 images I made this afternoon with my Canon 5D.

It took only a few minutes to upload them all and complete the Photosynth. Very easy to do. Anyone can do it, you just need to plan out your Photosynth a bit. Sort of like a big stitched panorama, except that people can “walk” through the images and zoom into different ones.

Can you find the photo of our 11-month-old son, Milan?

"Demo of the year" of 2006 released by Microsoft

If you go to Google and search for “demo of the year” you’ll find my 2006 post about Microsoft’s Photosynth. It was that good. The demo is still among my favorite I’ve ever seen (and I’ve sat through thousands of demos).

A few minutes ago Microsoft released Photosynth for all of us to use.

What does Photosynth do? You take a bunch of photos of something, like the outside of your house. Shoot a bunch from different locations. It’s best to have between 20 and 300 photos, the Photosynth team tells me. Then it creates a 3D mesh of all the photos that you can “walk” through. There are several demo Photosynths on the site.

I am uploading some of my family room right now, will let you know how that works later tonight. Just wanted to let you know you can play with it too.

UPDATE: My images are now uploaded so you can see a Photosynth of my family room (can you find baby Milan?) and O’Reilly has a nice writeup on the release.

UPDATE2: There’s even more on TechMeme.