Microsoft=Success; Google Docs=Fail?

I’m usually on the lookout for new shiny objects. New ways of doing things that turn out to be better than the old way. A post on ReadWriteWeb demonstrates why Google’s online word processor and spreadsheets aren’t as good as Microsoft’s stuff. Richard MacManus said it brought about one of the funniest quotes on a blog comment ever: “Google docs is chock full of FAIL.” I can see where Karim, the guy who made that comment, is coming from.

On the other hand, I’m moving my stuff online increasingly. Why? First of all I have several computers. Second of all I erase their drives frequently and installing stuff just is a pain in the behind. Heck, just finding the DVDs for installing is a pain (I’m not that organized).

Also, I need to work with people all over the world now. Some of my editors are in New York. Others are in San Francisco. Rocky is an hour away in Pacifica. Shel is an hour the other way.

So, sending more docs and spreadsheets via email is just not going to do. Yeah, I know that Microsoft has online collaborative stuff, but it requires installing Office and pretty much having Windows (half my computers are Macs, which makes going back and forth even tougher).

Is Google’s stuff chock full of FAIL? Absolutely! Hope they are listening to Karim, cause if Google made all that stuff better it’d certainly be a shiny object worthy of our attention.

Misreading Scoble on Microsoft cry

I agree with Ethan Eismann that TechCrunch took my post a little too far in an incorrect direction. It’s my fault for getting everyone worked up. In hindsight, I probably should have kept my mouth shut until I was released from an embargo.

It’s interesting where people are going with this. TechCrunch even followed up its earlier post (but took my post into a new, also incorrect, direction). The problem is that Microsoft brings so much baggage to any conversation about it. When you say “Microsoft is doing something cool” then people’s imaginations run too wild to things like operating systems, productivity apps, data centers or databases, video game consoles, or other things that you’ve seen Microsoft do in the past. Some over on TechCrunch are even talking about Photosynth or the Touch table-top device. The thing I’m talking about is NOT anything you’ve seen Microsoft do before. I also shouldn’t have associated it with things like the World Wide Web. It +might+ be that significant, but if we all met in 1994 and met with Tim Berners-Lee, very few of us could have guessed that the Web would have the impact that it ended up having. Heck, even Tim didn’t know the real impact. If he had, wouldn’t he have started something like Google or Netscape? It’s too premature to put that kind of baggage on a team that’s built something cool and inspiring, but is only two people big and hasn’t yet shown very many people their work. That’s unfair of me and I’m sorry about that. That said, I think it will stand up to the kind of hype I unleashed yesterday. It is still inspiring me and I still want to get my hands on it as soon as possible.

Instead of letting your expectations run wild, let’s stay calm. This is just a service that inspired me and made me react emotionally, in a way that few things I see make me react.

A few other things.

1. Sometimes, er, often, I get it wrong. I thought Tablet PC and Origami (and Vista) would be far more significant than they turned out to be (several people pointed that out, and they were right to do so).
2. Remember that I’m talking about a two person team, along with a few others. That limits the scope as to what can be done. Remember, Facebook is about 500 people now. Google? More than 10,000. Etc. Etc. So, what I saw is something small. Like I said, if I told you what it was a lot of you would say “Scoble, that really is lame.”
3. I believe that attendees at TED will get a quick look at this, but I’m not sure. Employees (and possibly others, including the press/bloggers) at Microsoft will see it at the Microsoft Research Tech Fest on March 4th. I won’t say anything else about it until March 3rd, when our video show starts up at Last year Microsoft invited a few bloggers and journalists to come up and tour the TechFest, I’m not sure if they are doing that this year, sorry.
4. Valleywag told me off and said I should keep my mouth shut because this kind of hype can kill a product. That’s true. But, remember what Steve Jobs said about hype about the iPhone? He said that if the product delivers on the hype no one will care. On the other hand, see #1. That said my friends tell me that this service is deserving of the hype that I gave it.
5. Sometimes I just get so excited about things I see that I have to tell you and damn the consequences. This is one of those times.
6. I don’t believe this service will ship or be usable anytime soon. Remember that this is a Microsoft Research project and that they build things that aren’t meant to be production quality. We’ll talk more about what it is and when you’ll get to get your own hands on it on March 3rd. When I first saw Photosynth it was quite a few months before it was out in people’s hands.
7. Some have pointed out that the Segway didn’t live up to the same kind of hype that I gave this service. Good point. Let’s get together on March 3rd and talk more.

Anyway, back to regular postings…

UPDATE: Kevin Schofield, after I posted, wrote that I did cause his team some trouble yesterday.

Microsoft researchers make me cry

It’s not often that I see software that really changes my world. It’s even rarer that I see software that I know will change the world my sons live in. I can count those times pretty easily. The first time I saw an Apple II in 1977. When Richard Cameron showed me Apple’s Hypercard. Microsoft’s Excel. Aldus’ Pagemaker. And something called Photoshop, all in his West Valley Community College classroom. Later when I saw Marc Andreessen’s Netscape running the WWW. ICQ and Netmeeting which laid the ground for Skype.

Like I said, these things don’t happen often.

Yesterday was one of those days. Curtis Wong and Jonathan Fay, researchers at Microsoft, fired up their machines and showed me something that I can’t tell you about until February 27th. I’m sure you’ll read about his work in the New York Times or TechCrunch, among other places. It’s too inspiring to stay a secret for long.

While watching the demo I realized the way I look at the world was about to change. While listening to Wong I noticed a tear running down my face. It’s been a long while since Microsoft did something that had an emotional impact on me like that.

Why torment you with a post like this? Because it’s my way of making sure that stuff that really is extraordinary gets paid attention to. And because I wanted to get down the emotional impact of what I saw before that feeling totally wears off. I also wanted to get down some lessons that others at Microsoft might learn from so that they can have this kind of impact in their own work. Imagine if Microsoft did 10 things a year like what Curtis and Jonathan showed me yesterday? If the innovation engine at Microsoft were working that well there wouldn’t be any pressure to buy Yahoo. Heck, and if there were a constant stream of stuff like what I saw yesterday Yahoo wouldn’t be resisting going to Microsoft. They’d +want+ to go to Microsoft. Yesterday is the first time since leaving that I wish I were back working at Microsoft.

Now, I can hear Christopher Coulter in my head. The thing these two guys did won’t have a business impact the way, say, Microsoft Office did. There isn’t a business model here. But does every damn thing need a business model? Does a scientific paper that changes the world need a business model? Does it need more audience than just the other 50 scientists in the world who care about that topic? No.

But back to that tear.

Note that it wasn’t a team of 100 people who did it. Two guys with a supporting cast of maybe a dozen. I’ve noticed a trend at Microsoft: that the coolest stuff is done by small teams without a ton of resources. Down the hall from Wong and Fay was researcher Andy Wilson. When I walked into his lab he was working on another cool surface computing technology for Microsoft’s upcoming Tech Fest (which happens March 4). He, and another researcher, were playing with a cool round screen. You might know of Andy’s work: it was his research and demos that convinced Microsoft to build the Surface device which you touch with your hands.

No need for big teams. I never sense a lot of bureaucracy or politics in either of these two guys’ offices.

Back to Wong and Fay’s work.

Could they have done this at a Silicon Valley startup? I doubt it. Venture Capitalists won’t see enough business value in what they are doing. Plus they would need to build a team around them, work out a business plan. Invest their own capital and time building a prototype so that people “get it.” If I told you today what they were doing, without showing you the video we’ll have up on March 3, you’d tell me “that’s lame Scoble.” But when you see it face-to-face everyone I know who’s seen it say they’ve had an emotional reaction to it. Buzz Bruggeman, CEO of ActiveWords, was the first to tell me about it and said it was the best thing he’s seen in years from Microsoft.

Maybe it could be done, but they’ve been traveling all over the world working with researchers from other institutions and getting data for their new thing. It’s a lot easier to get access when you say “I’m a researcher at Microsoft” than when you say “I’m building a startup.”

Other lessons? Keep up to date on the latest things happening in your industry. In Wong and Fey’s work you’ll see techniques that lots of startups are using and, even, that the Google Map team is using. This isn’t stuff that was possible in 1995 so it requires 2008-style Web services and data centers.

Anyway, I’m getting all geeky on you (today Rocky and I are heading to Amazon to talk with Jeff Barr of the team that built its S3 and EC2 services, among others, so that’s probably why I’m ramping up my geek level) but that shouldn’t take away that these two guys got me to cry yesterday.

And that was a good thing. Two guys working inside a big company still can change the world. Can’t wait to talk more about what they’ve done. They’ll have a bunch of press on February 27 and our video will be up on on March 3.

UPDATE: I’ve updated this post with a few additions here.

Maryam on Yahoo's rejection of Microsoft

I just got back from my day in the Swiss Alps hanging out with Laurent Haug and friends and Maryam just asked me if I had heard that Yahoo rejected Microsoft’s offer. I answered that I did and then she asked me:

“Are they crazy?”

I said “probably, and arrogant too.” Then she wondered why they would do such a thing. I told her that I agreed with Philip Greenspun, who says that to reject this deal is lunacy. Since I know Yahoo’s board members aren’t lunatics, I figure there must be some other answer. I told Maryam “they are probably trying to see if the offer will go up.”

This is the first time since Pointcast rejected a buyout deal (that turned out would have been the right thing to do) that I don’t see a good outcome for Yahoo if they really do end up rejecting this offer.

I see lots of bloggers over on Techmeme are disagreeing with me, though. Hmmm, maybe I’m the lunatic!

What you all are missing about Google

I’m surprised that even Kara Swisher has missed this. The bloggers are going nuts, once again, over the email that a Google lawyer sent to Microsoft regarding Microsoft’s proposed purchase of Yahoo.

Here’s what’s really going on:

1. Google doesn’t mind this deal going through at all. Google knows they will be able to outrun a “Microhoo.” Why do they know that? Because they’ve been able to outrun them both separately. As I said on Channel 5 news on Friday night: put two turkeys together and you don’t get an eagle.
2. Google stands to gain HUGE by slowing down this deal. Every month longer that this deal takes is tens of millions in Google’s pockets. Why? Well, the real race today isn’t for search. Isn’t for email. Isn’t for IM. It’s for ownership of your mobile phone. I met the guy who runs China’s telecom last week in Davos. He’s seeing six million new people get a cell phone in China every month. So, every month that Microsoft and Yahoo will be stuck in some courtroom arguing out why this is a good deal means money in the bank for Google as they close mobile phone deal after mobile phone deal.
3. Email is not where the money is. Google knows this. So, who cares that Microsoft and Yahoo have a monopoly there? There’s only one way to make money with the 600 million who are on either Microsoft’s Hotmail or Yahoo’s email: get them to join other services where there ARE ways to make money. Danny Sullivan told me that this deal is all about search. He’s right. But you gotta be able to get those 600 million people to not just use your email, but come over and use your search. Google is trying to slow down these teams from doing that. But Google knows that even if Microsoft and Yahoo join email and do a pretty decent job of integrating search into there that Google will still see more growth in both email and search than Microsoft and Yahoo together will see. Why? Have you compared Google’s offerings to the others? I have (I am a Hotmail user). Even though I am locked into Hotmail cause my email address is all over the Web I’d rather be on Gmail and Google’s offerings are better integrated and better designed.
4. IM is harder to monetize than email is. Do we really think Google is concerned about either email or IM? If they were they’d be pouring lots of resources into Gmail and Google Talk. Hint: Google isn’t doing that. Why not? Because they aren’t taking their eye off the mobile ball. They are hoping that everyone else does, though, by sending this note. It sure did work, too. Damn the bloggers all took the bait and either called Google arrogant or hypocritical or annoying. Google is all of those things here, for sure, but they are damn smart and are doing this for their own purposes.

Now, we can argue about whether this deal is good or not, or whether it’ll work out for Microsoft or not, but people, don’t take your eye off of what Google is really up to here. Google is having fun by causing Microsoft to react, not to mention that if its little note is taken seriously this deal will be slowed down by six months or more while government regulators look it over. Even in the best of situations it’s going to take a year for these two huge companies to integrate and figure out how to work with each other. So, every month that this gets delayed is gold in Google’s pockets.

Microsoft to buy Yahoo: Ray Ozzie roars

OK, everyone is already talking about Microsoft buying Yahoo.

But what I find interesting is that Bill Gates is out and now Ray Ozzie is roaring. Microsoft has been so damn boring since I left in June of 2006. This shoots the boring in the head.

Why is “Microhoo” not boring?

No, not my pet service Flickr. But, damn, Gates could have bought that for $40 million. Instead Ray and Kevin had to spend billions. Wow. Nah, what makes Yahoo/Microsoft interesting is the email audience. That’s another 300 million people to add to Hotmail’s audience of close to the same. Yahoo has a ton of interesting Web properties that are far more interesting than anything Microsoft has done lately. Groups. Finance. Upcoming. Etc.

This gets Microsoft back into the Web game in a big way and puts a defense around Microsoft’s Office cash-generating-machine. I bet that some of Yahoo’s smartest engineers get moved over to the Office team to help build an online Office that’ll keep Google’s docs and spreadsheets from getting major marketshare inroads.

It’s the fear that Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets might someday take marketshare away from Office that I think was driving this deal.

Sad thing? I still own Microsoft stock, which went down today on the news. But I think that long-term this is a good deal for Microsoft’s shareholders too. With one caveat: Microsoft and Yahoo employees need to work together to create value, not destroy it. That’s going to be pretty tough since the cultures of the two companies aren’t a total fit.

Both companies also have lots of fat that can be cut, so it’ll be interesting to see whether Microsoft keeps the fat around (on both sides, as they have done so far) or if they cut back to make both companies together leaner and meaner.

Microsoft has a world-class advertising sales team and this gives that team a ton of new inventory to sell.

Anyway, this is what happens when a blogger tries to get some sleep: the entire world changes and he misses the boat. 🙂

Microsoft PR guy trash talks Apple

Ahh, now you know why I still read my feeds. TechMeme doesn’t catch stuff like this, invaluable as it may be.

Frank Shaw works for Waggener Edstrom and heads the Microsoft account and has his take on Apple’s week at MacWorld.

I agree with his analysis and I too had the reaction “Apple’s doing a book reader” after Steve Jobs told a reporter that the Kindle would fail because no one reads books (he said the same thing about video on the iPod, remember?)

Along these lines, I can’t believe how some companies treat bloggers. Target, for shame! I guess I’m not a “core guest.” Funny enough I once had a Target credit card cause I spent so much money in Targets.