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<br /> <b>Strict Standards</b>: call_user_func_array() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, non-static method unfancy_quote::strip_quotes() should not be called statically in <b>/home/martingo/</b> on line <b>166</b><br /> Martin Gordon's Blog / microsoft

inboX yuB yaM tfosorciM

Xobni is an Outlook add-in that basically adds search, conversations and profiles to Outlook. When I first heard about Xobni, I was really excited to try it and was ecstatic when I got an invite a few months ago (I still have a few invites left, if anyone wants one).

That said, I'm about ready to give it up. The search, while better than Outlook's default search, is still no match for anything Google or Apple offer, and almost painful to use since while in "search mode" almost a quarter of the sidebar is covered in a completely out-of-place Yahoo web search. Conversations are also nice, but limited in usefulness due to their being restricted to the sidebar. Further, since I deal with only a limited amount of people via email, the profiles lack utility (though the auto-discovery of phone numbers is nice). To top it all off, Xobni often makes Outlook unresponsive (though responsive enough to tell me that it's not responding).

I still like the product, and despite it's flaws, I'm still using it since it's features (ever so slightly) outweigh its drawbacks, and was glad to hear that Microsoft may buy Xobni. This can only be good since proper integration into Outlook would likely fix any performance issues and enhance Xobni's feature set. As a lukeworm fan, I can only hope that Xobni continues to see improvements and a Microsoft acquisition looks to be one pretty sure way of making that happen.

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Microhoo: Microsoft Offers $44.6B to Acquire Yahoo

Yesterday I was meaning to write about Amazon's $300 million acquisition of Audible, a match made in heaven, but today comes news that Microsoft is offering $45 billion for Yahoo, which pretty much eclipses the relatively straightforward Amazon/Audible deal.

There were no shortage of rumors regarding a MSFT/YHOO merger/acquisition in 2007, but no formal proposal was actually ever made public and Yahoo came out and said that a deal didn't make sense on account of the potential upside of the restructuring and strategic initiatives set for 2007. As Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer states, a year has passed and the competitive landscape still hasn't changed. Indeed, Project Panama has done little to improve Yahoo's situation in the advertising space and search seems to be in the place that it's been in a while - an ever more distant #2 to Google. Perhaps even more indicative of Yahoo's true status, however, was this week's announcement of plans to layoff 1,000 employees.

In the eyes of most consumers, both Microsoft and Yahoo provide second-rate products. In the operating system space, especially with the lukewarm reception Vista received, Microsoft only has their incumbency to stand on. In the internet space, MSN is to Yahoo what Yahoo is to Google, if that. Yahoo does have some great properties, but they aren't the cash cows that search and advertising are, and receive both media and internal attention according. The growth opportunities of the workhorse properties, however unglamorous, are still growth opportunities and still have yet to be harnessed and perhaps this deal is the only way that these properties will get attention.

The deal makes sense to me from a competitive perspective, but does it make sense internally? Can these two behemoths really merge operations and culture well enough to come out a stronger entity? Or will their internal focus distract them so much that Google will be able to distance itself even more from Microhoo? I don't know enough about the internals of Yahoo or Microsoft, but I know that the success of this merger will depend on a few factors, including the compatibility between the cultures and structures of both companies and the appropriate handling of redundant properties.

In the end, I look forward to this deal going through. I think it will revitalize both companies, which appear to have been operating at less-than-full capacity over the past few years. In this sense, although fewer competitors in a market tend to decrease competition in that market, I think we'll see the opposite here. Though there's a very subtle feeling out there that since both are so behind the competition, both Microsoft and Yahoo are about to, or should, give up. This acquisition will give the resulting entity a much better leg to stand on against the competition.

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The Anti-37signals

This Official Google Docs Blog post title ("We can't stop adding features!") struck me as the complete opposite of the 37signals/Getting Real philosophy.

Now granted, I'm sure the title was tongue-in-cheek and caters to the general populace's "more features = better" mentality, AND the three features they added are actually quite useful (Save to PDF, better printing options, and vector shapes), but the title just struck me so much that I wanted to comment on it. Still, I think it's worth mentioning that I hope they can stop adding features, lest Google Office become too much like Microsoft Office.

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Windows Mobile 7 Details - It's Not Pretty

Inside Microsoft has exclusive details on the next major release of Windows Mobile. As expected, Microsoft has taken notes from Apple and Windows Mobile 7 will feature touch controls and motion sensing technology. Reading the notes from the document raises a bunch of issues regarding Microsoft's take on this-gen (for the iPhone) and next-gen (for everyone else) phone OSes:

  • It seems to be meshing too many interaction paradigms - in addition to the new touch/motion controls (flicking to scroll, tiliting and shaking, etc), they're also leaving in button controls (the old Windows Mobile menus everyone loves to hate) and finally "[a] stylus will be required on devices meeting certain screen size, orientation, DPI and resolution marks." Three interaction paradigms makes for a steep learning curve and a lot of energy wasted by users when they have to remember to switch input methods because an action can't be performed in the current interaction mode.
  • Shaking to wake up your phone? Definitely not as classy as sliding to unlock.
  • The phones will use the camera as the motion sensor. I can't see how well this will work in a dark room or when the camera is obscured, such as when you're holding it in your hand.
  • It's coming in 2009. This should be out mid-2008 at the latest if Microsoft has any hope of stopping the iPhone juggernaut. By 2009, Apple will have had a two year lead. Competing with the 2007 iPhone in 2009 makes Microsoft look foolish and reactive; similar to how they looked when Vista was released to match features with an Apple OS that came out two years prior.

So while it's nice to see that Microsoft is actually doing things to advance it's mobile offering (unlike Palm), again, my criticism of Microsoft's efforts boil down to too late and too complex. This report makes it seem as though they're making Windows Mobile 6+1 by bolting on iPhone features to a broken UI instead of doing what they should be doing: starting from scratch and developing a consistent and enjoyable user experience.

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The Ultimate Steal: Office 2007 - $59 for Students

Microsoft will begin running a promotion later today aptly named "The Ultimate Steal" in which it will offer Office 2007 Ultimate for $59, less than 10% of the $679 list price. The catch is that you have to be a student (or at least have a .edu email address).

This is an excellent move by Microsoft. Students with fast university internet connections and limited income are more likely to pirate expensive software, something software vendors try to curtail by offering student discounts for their software (with the added benefit of potentially gaining life-long customers). This promotion takes that strategy to an extreme. At $59, the "too expensive" excuse flies out the window. For non-freshmen (as this was the first back-to-school season where Office 2007 was available), this is a good motivator to upgrade from Office 2003 and will most likely drive Office 2007 adoption through the roof.

Office 2007 is one of Microsoft's flagship products and perhaps the best product they've ever shipped. I've written about the new ribbon UI back when the product was in beta, and though I'm using Office 2003 at work, every time I come back to Office 2007, I realize how big the differences between the two are and how less stressful it is to use the newer version. While deciding to "upgrade" to Vista is a difficult choice to make (the quotes around "upgrade" should be quite telling), upgrading to Office 2007 is a no-brainer and I highly recommend doing so to anyone, especially at this price.

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On The iPhone Not Being IE4 and How iPhone Web Apps (Still) Suck

Scott Gilbertson of Wired writes on how the iPhone is breeding the next generation of IE4-only web sites in the context of iPhone-optimized sites:

In suggesting that developers use the web to build iPhone applications, what Apple has done (perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not) is force the creation of a subset of the mobile web that only works with the iPhone’s unique features — namely the touch-screen interface.

While Apple is pushing HTML and JavaScript for iPhone app development, they aren't (inadvertently or not) forcing the creation of sites that only work with the touch screen. In fact, I recall reading (correct me if I'm wrong) that the iPhone browser doesn't even support draggin or hovers/mouseovers. There's very little in the way of iPhone-only features (only a few CSS attributes and the tel:/map: protocol for dialing and Google Mapping, as I recall) and so the only way sites are being iPhone-optimized are that they're being dumbed down for the device, thanks to a lack of support for Flash and some JavaScript events (and possibly more). Furthermore, most iPhone-optimized sites are extensions of existing sites. There's no killer app for the internet out there that we're all missing out on because it only runs on the iPhone; hell, there isn't even a web-based killer app out for the iPhone (and I saw this as a launch day iPhone owner).

To be honest, I find all these iPhone-optimized web sites to be completely garbage. This stems largely from one thing: the sites are attempting to mimic Apple's native UI. Of course, the web apps have two huge disadvantage when compared to Apple's apps: they're loading data over a (potentially) slow data connection and JavaScript performance is atrocious on the iPhone.

For something I truly wanted to use heavily, I would go out of my to find a mobile, but not iPhone-optimized, site to use over its iPhone-optimized brethren. The two big winners in the mobile but not iPhone-optimized category are Google Reader and Twitter. I use both daily primarily because they're lightweight (prettier, slower competitors to both are out there). The most recent loser: Facebook – and I'm sure there are many others, but I stopped using them so long ago I can't even remember any of them.

The shoddy state of the mobile web being what it is, I went and jailbroke my iPhone last week, allowing for third-party apps to be installed. It was fairly straightforward, though I had to piece together instructions from a handful of websites to actually get it done. Tonight's release of the Mobile Twitterrific proof-of-concept also spurred me to get the iPhone development toolchain installed. Also, fairly straightforward except for finding out what the hell a "heavenly dmg" was (it's an unencrypted version of the iPhone restore image). There's nothing absolutely must-have out there yet, but it's only a matter of time. You don't really get a sense of how powerful and extensible the iPhone really is (or could be) until you've run a terminal on it or ssh'ed and sftp'ed in.

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Google and Yahoo Afraid Of Microsoft?

I can't believe I missed this: Google Gears is available for WebKit. This was announced three weeks ago, but I just found out about it on this TUAW post regarding future Google/Apple iPhone-related announcements.

News of this makes me feel better about AJAX/HTML based apps on the iPhone, easing my concern over offline access to these apps. I also haven't seen many developers complaining about the lack of a "real" SDK on the iPhone, which makes me believe that offline access and home screen placement was discussed at NDA-covered WWDC sessions.

A big question I have is that amongst all this Google/Apple collaboration, Apple decided to go with Yahoo for the iPhone's bundled email solution and widgets (you'll note that the Stocks and Weather widgets now sport Y! icons). Could Apple be playing both sides? If Google and Yahoo were desperate to get placement on the iPhone, then perhaps they didn't want to (or couldn't get) exclusivity. Google and Yahoo are currently tied on home screen icon placement at two a piece (Yahoo is slightly ahead overall because of the mail tie-in, however).

The biggest loser in all of this is of course is Microsoft. The one-two punch: iPhone is going to take away customers from the Windows Mobile platform (RIM sure isn't helping them out either). Thanks to the Google/Yahoo integration, iPhone users will have an investment in Google and Yahoo's online services, driving usage away from MSN/Windows Live/whatever it's called now. After the iPhone, Microsoft will be facing increased competition from both the mobile space and the internet space.

There is a bright side to all of this for Microsoft. From any way you look at it, Microsoft is seen as the biggest competition to Google and Yahoo: Either Google and Yahoo compromised to "share" the iPhone, in which case they don't think they can handle Microsoft alone, or Apple didn't want only Google or only Yahoo on the iPhone, in which case Apple thinks that Google and/or Yahoo are vulnerable to Microsoft.

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Two Wows and a Yawn

I was wow'ed twice this week: First with Google Maps Street View, then with Microsoft Surface.

Street View is a fun little tool. It's got the fun factor that Google Earth did when it was released, where you could get lost for hours discovering little things all around the world. It also has some utility, where you could find the name of that restaurant you drove by today but can't seem to remember the name, and who knows what other things Google will be able to do with it.

I think Surface could have a huge impact on the way we compute. Then again, it could be another Origami. Either way, the videos of it floating around the web are impressive, but we'll have to see how often we'll come across one in our daily lives (especially when they're $5-10k and for businesses only). Once we can get one for the same price as a separate PC and coffee table, that's when it'll make an impact. At the very least, Surface looks cool and could be useful.

In contrast to those two is Palm's Foleo, which was announced today. The Foleo is a thin, 2 pound sub-notebook with a 10 inch screen. It runs a custom OS based on Linux and syncs to your Treo seamlessly. This is supposedly the answer to all those complaints that smartphone keyboards and screens are two small. What complaints? I haven't heard anything from the roughly 50 million smartphones shipped year to date. The reason why the Handheld PCs of the 90s failed and why UMPCs were slow to take off is the same reason why Foleo will fail: If it doesn't fit in your pocket, then "it" might as well be a full-featured notebook.

As Ars Technica put it, the Foleo is a 90s device that took a design note from 90s Apple notebooks (the logo on the lid is upside down when opened). What the hell is wjad?

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Penn Picks Microsoft Over Google For Email

Seventy-eight days after the self-imposed deadline, Penn has chosen Microsoft over Google to replace the aging SAS (School of Arts & Sciences) mail system. The new "Penn Live" offers 2 GB of storage and integration with other Windows Live services. The Wharton School has also adopted the new service, although I'm not sure what's different between "Penn Live" and the already-existing Exchange system.

Many comments left on the Daily Pennsylvanian's site are criticizing the decision to go with Microsoft over Google, but I think anything is better than the system currently in place. As a Wharton student, we've been (relatively) blessed to have Exchange as our backend (I don't know what the College (what we call SAS) is using, but it looks like HoTMaIL circa 1997). Here's some history: coming in as a freshman in 2003, I was afforded with 50 MB of email/storage space. GMail launched with 1 GB in the spring of 2004 and sometime between then and now our quota was raised to 250 MB. For all my time here at Penn, I can't remember a single time that our email servers had gone down. What I do remember is reading in the paper every few weeks about yet another SAS email outage.

I don't have enough experience Windows Live products (which may or may not say enough about the product), but it's got to be better than what the College kids have been using. That said, much of the complaint has been about the choice over the time it took to make that choice. I'm as big a Google/Apple apologist as anyone, but I see the decision to go with Microsoft as a non-issue per se. Again, I'm not sure if Penn Live or the old system provide IMAP access, but I know Wharton provides it. I also know for a fact Google does only POP, so inbox syncing is at the very least equal to the Google solution. Most complaints contend that many Penn students already have Gmail accounts, so why change over? I see this group as a very small minority, as I know people who use their school emails as their main addresses and people who keep school addresses for school matters only.

I trust that Microsoft can do as good or an even better job than Google at providing email and collaboration services to the University (they definitely have more experience with large organizations). My only hope for this is that Windows Live can be truly platform agnostic. I don't have any stats on actual Mac adoption on campus, but from anecdotal and personal evidence I know that it is rising. I just hope Mac and Linux users aren't treated with a second-class experience as is the case with Ruckus.

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Microsoft Brain Drain 2007 and a Vista Non-Vulnerability

Two very important people are leaving Microsoft. First is Bryan Lee, former VP in the entertainment and device division, who oversaw the Zune launch. Second is Jim Allchin, former Co-President of the platform and services division. The latter had an excellent blog post on a day in his post-Microsoft life. Neither are going to competitors, however, instead both are going to "pursue personal interests," as the Reuters article linked above puts it.

In other Microsoft news, a so-called "vulnerability" has been found in Vista. The vulnerability involves having voice commands from a third-party being played over speakers and doing nasty things to a PC. I don't really see this is as a new problem, as it could have been done on any other OS that had voice recognition (e.g., XP or OS X). The easy solution is to disable voice commands (who really uses them anyway?), but a more long-term solution for people who do want voice commands is to have it require a passcode to be said before the OS runs a command.

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