Oct 28, 2008

Office 14 Sneak Peek

As a lapsed programmer at a developers conference (Microsoft PDC 2008) I am feeling, as Peter O'Kelly aptly described, snow crashed by all of the code I witnessed today. Despite all the pixelation, my focus (and really all my career) is mostly on the run-time and how it helps users to perform their work (I told you I was hanging out with programmers all day). For those of you who know my more than 20 years background in communications and collaboration, you know that my point of view is always rooted in productivity tools and improving how individuals and teams work together.

The keynotes the last two mornings have focused on the platform and run-time environments that support the applications the PDC attendees build. Yesterday (Monday Oct 26) Microsoft introduced Windows Azure a Windows server and service interfaces for hosting applications in the cloud. Ray Ozzie described Windows Azure as "Windows without walls." Today Microsoft filled our buffers, and show bags, with:

  • An introduction of Windows 7 (dropping the "Vista" millstone with a mea culpa) and gave attendees a beta build
  • A preview of the next version of Visual Studio - also in limited beta for attendees
  • Demos of the Live Mesh device synchronization services- beta due later this week
  • A sneak peek at Office 14 - not in beta yet

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on Windows 7 other than I think it looks like what everyone was hoping Vista would be. There are a few things I'm concerned about, such as being able to turn off task bar notices, and I'm sure more will come up once I try out the build. The same goes for Visual Studio, although some of the new features garnered applause. I started this out saying I am a run-time person.

The Live Mesh demos showed how users can share and synchronize content in near real-time with other users and devices over the Internet. One demo included taking a picture on a smartphone that was saved into a shared library on the mobile device. Saving the new photo set off an automatic Live Mesh sync with the cloud server, which automatically synchronized the image to another user's desktop device. This "real-time" syncing is powerful and will have significant impact on managing personal and shared content.

The Office 14 preview included the introduction of new web-based Office editors. The image (source: Microsoft) below is the Office 14 web-based Word editor in a browser complete with ribbon controls and rich-text editing.













Office 14 will include four web-editors including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

Where the rubber meets the road here is the combination of Live Mesh with Office 14. In what Ray Ozzie describes an "office without walls," users create content using familiar editors from where ever it makes sense - the PC, a browser, or a mobile device - and where collaboration is done on the Internet with high scale, real-time synchronization across devices. The key is the collaboration bit. Today collaboration requires launching an interface that includes its own editors so users can synchronously (e.g., web conferencing, application sharing), or asynchronously (e.g., workspaces, store-and-forward messaging, blogs, and communities) collaborate on work. For example, I might use a web conferencing tool with application sharing to jointly edit a file in real-time, or use a wiki to share and edit documents asynchronously. With Office 14 and Live Mesh all users need to worry about is launching the Office editor that is most appropriate for creating their content.

There is a subtle shift here in the productivity world here. Small but significant. A common question that comes up within enterprises is how to instruct users when to use one tool over another. For example when do users use SharePoint versus a blog or a wiki to collaborate on content? Information workers generally know when they need a text editor over a spreadsheet editor. So instead of worrying about which tool to use to facilitate collaboration information workers only need to consider what they want to create and which users and devices can synchronize the end products. 

Being a collaboration-phile my mind swung to traditional collaboration solutions, like SharePoint. What does this mean? Actually I think it puts a more fine point on what SharePoint really does for purpose focused, team collaboration. It takes the burden off SharePoint as a place to compose content and makes it a content and activity manager for group-based work. SharePoint becomes a focused workspace where users can share and find content as well as coordinate group-based activities.

Ray Ozzie was in his element (literally a room filled with developers) this morning presenting a clear vision and showed leadership that was, quite frankly, inspiring. No, I'm not drunk on the kool-ade, it was a strong presentation. Ray also reminded the crowd that much of this seamless and integrated technology is nascent, even if the concepts aren't. Rightly so, it remains to be seen what customers will get in the first iterations. It takes a lot to decouple the back and front ends for more openness and then bridge everything in a useful way. Heady stuff I know, but this is what Microsoft has been up to since the last PDC in 2005. The demos showed that things are beginning to come together.

This Week In Digital Streaming: Netflix Joins Vudu Edition - Gizmodo

More good news on the streaming TV front.

For the past several week's we've been giving you Vudu's new release movie rentals in a handy list. This week, Netflix streaming clips join the mix. Given that Netflix has just signed to share Starz content, their formerly disappointing digital library is looking better by the second.

I canceled my satellite TV this summer and haven't regretted it. I watch TV over the Internet now. I either stream or download (depending on how attached I am to a show). Yea, early adoption can be cumbersome and finding streaming content can be patchwork these days. The choices are varied and the content is even more varied, usually depending on which production company has aligned with which on-line provider (e.g., Netflix, Apple, etc.). I exhausted the Netflix streaming content (at least the stuff I cared to watch) in a few weeks. I really like the Netflix player and the new Sliverlight-based one looks even better. I am glad to see more content and Netflix is aggressively going for more delivery methods through Xbox and now VuDu.

What gets me is how stingy the networks are with their content - at least in the US. This morning at the Microsoft PDC conference, the BBC demoed a prototype of the next version of their streaming player. It was gorgeous. The BBC's vision of personal and social program (e.g., show) scheduling was spot on! The thing that killed me was that the BBC post shows for streaming the day after they air. What enlightenment and sophisticated too. Only users in the UK can stream UK content. I really hope they lift that limit so I can catch up on Season 2 of "The IT Crowd". But really, modern, 21st century thinking. I also hope that someone from the US networks showed up at PDC which happens to be going on in downtown LA.

This Week In Digital Streaming: Netflix Joins Vudu Edition - Gizmodo

Oct 27, 2008

Netflix finally brings 'Watch Instantly' to Macs via Silverlight - Engadget

Woo hoo! All my Mac user Netflix subscriber friends can join in on the fun. BTW the viewer is one of the best out there right now. The only reason I launch IE these days is to stream Netflix.

"In a move that seemed like it would never, ever, ever happen, Netflix has finally managed to bring its streaming video technology (and decent library) to Macs everywhere, thanks to Microsoft's Flash-esque also-ran, Silverlight. It seems that the software will allow the rental house to safely DRM its content where ever it goes via Redmond's Play Ready, thus leaping the hurdle that has kept some 12,000 movies and TV shows off of non-PC systems. Netflix claims that the new implementation in Silverlight provides 'breakthrough navigation for fast-forward and rewind,' though fails to indicate exactly when this is all being rolled out (we assume immediately). Unfortunately for super-duper late adopters, the software will only work with Intel-based Macs, so if you've been holding onto a G3 for dear life, here's one more reason to finally can it, along with your Xbox 360 HD DVD player, Von Dutch trucker cap, and gas-guzzling Escalade."

Netflix finally brings 'Watch Instantly' to Macs via Silverlight - Engadget

When it comes to Azure skies, it's all in the timing

Today at PDC 2008, Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's CTO, announced Windows Azure an operating system platform in the cloud. First, it was so nice to hear Ray talk again. I have a long history working with Lotus and Lotus Notes and it's good to see/hear him again. No matter what I always enjoy hearing his vision of computing.

But back to Windows Azure. According to the web site Windows Azure is:
Windows® Azure is a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Azure Services Platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft® data centers."

So basically it's a Windows Server in the cloud with services to support the security, hosting, deployment, and provisioning of web-based applications. The Azure Services Platform includes core services such as identity and access control, database, workflow, programming platform, and a service bus to communicate at the middle layer. All of this is built using technology that is familiar to Windows Server users. There are deliberate parallels between Windows Server and Windows Azure Services which include Live Services, .NET Services, SQL Services, SharePoint Services, and Dynamics CRM Services. I'm still trying to get the skinny on how much of these services are simply taking advantage of available solutions (e.g., SharePoint Online) and how much the core solutions have been extended to survive in a cloud platform. I'll let you know if I find out more. And of course there is much missing, such as social software (e.g., wikis, blogs, feeds), which are popular web-based applications for interfacing with external users. But that is more a criticism of Microsoft's services (i.e., SharePoint) than the Windows Server platform.

Microsoft also announced that Windows Azure will be available as a limited beta to PDC attendees with a broader beta being opened up in the near future. No announcement for general availability was made but considering how rapidly Microsoft has been building up their Software + Services strategy (introduced in June 2007) I'm suspect customers won't be waiting too long. The vision behind the move is in response to what Microsoft considers the third tier of enterprise computing, the one where the company interfaces with the world outside the corporate environment. Accordingly, tier one is personal computing (Windows or Windows Mobile) with a scale of one user, tier two is business computing (Windows Server) with a scale of the size of the company, and the third tier web computing (Windows Azure) scales to the size of the Internet. The third tier is revolutionary and it's emerging now. Microsoft, for obvious reasons, wants to build the operating system for it.

But as this post title hints, the timing of this announcement is opportune. The current state of the world economy, enterprise needs to be innovative, converging communication and collaboration platform services, along with emerging Enterprise 2.0 with it's Web 2.0 capabilities are forcing a collective step back from the full speed ahead adoption of new technology. Every day articles are published on how enterprises and SMB are tightening their belts and thinking about how to make due with what they have. Still others are looking for significant cost savings to bloated environments. Meanwhile, cloud computing solutions (e.g., Google Apps, Salesforce.com) are challenging the on-premises status quo. The value proposition that most cloud solutions offer right now is lowered cost and overhead. The Windows Azure announcement offers another value proposition - in addition to cost containment and data center freedom - to take the applications and processes that enterprises use to run their business and bring them to a broader audience in a manageable form. That is likely to take some wind out Google's (and others) sails and give customers time to consider Microsoft's offer during this bearish time.

Ultimately it will come down to cost, since the current evidence to go to cloud computing is rooted in cost savings these days. With cloud computing, SaaS, hosted solutions, insert your favorite name here, the bottom line is that the enterprise customer will get what it pays for. Microsoft said it's Windows Azure business model, like other hosted offerings, will be based on usage and service levels. So the cost will depend on what the enterprise can tolerate. Still there are likely to be cost savings when cloud services are determined the right option for an organization. Keep in mind that an educated buyer is a wise buyer. Every enterprise that considers moving vital business applications to the web should have a good reason to and will do well to build the business case first.

Oct 22, 2008

Gmail Canned Responses - If I've Said It Once... - NYTimes.com

Don't let the name deceive you, you can also use canned responses to compose new messages. It's pretty simple looking and it only fills in the body of the message (not the address or subject lines) but this utility can be handy when you need to create standard messages. I like to use stuff like this for creating messages that I send on a regular basis, like invoices to customers.

Gmail Canned Responses - If I've Said It Once... - NYTimes.com: "You got that email again. You know the one. The one you've answered a million times. And even though you don't have anything more you can add to your response - time after time after time - you dutifully craft the same exact email, each and every time. If only Gmail had some way to save a standard response to that question.

Now, it does. Enter Gmail Canned Responses, a new release from Google Labs that lets you save that response as a template. With Canned Responses, you can answer that annoying question with a few clicks of your mouse. And you can do some other interesting things, too."

Google Launches U.S. Voter Info Site - NYTimes.com

A helpful mashup!

Google Launches U.S. Voter Info Site - NYTimes.com

Bill Gates Has Started a New Company, bgC3 - NYTimes.com

Looks like Bill Gates is joining the Microsoft ecosystem he created.
Bill Gates Has Started a New Company, bgC3 - NYTimes.com
: "Bill Gates has started a mysterious new company, called bgC3, possibly to be focused on creating catalyst business ideas to spin off to Microsoft, the Gates Foundation or elsewhere. Little is known about the company, which doesn't appear to have a public web page, but a fair number of details have been ferreted out by the Seattle area tech reporters Todd Bishop, Eric Engleman and John Cook.

Oct 16, 2008

Extended Gmail outage hits Apps admins

When you're a business that's a long time to go without e-mail.

A prolonged, ongoing Gmail outage has some Google Apps administrators pulling their hair out as their end users, including high-ranking executives, complain loudly while they wait for service to be restored.


At around 5 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Google Inc. announced in the official Google Apps discussion forum that the company was aware of a problem preventing Gmail users from logging into their accounts and that it expected a solution by 9 p.m. on Thursday.


...When the applications become slow or altogether unavailable because of problems in the vendors' data centers, IT administrators have little to do but sit and wait for the problem to be fixed. This often creates extremely stressful and tense situations for them if the outages are prolonged and their end users become angry.



Extended Gmail outage hits Apps admins (Computerworld)