Sunday, July 31, 2005

Thursday, July 28, 2005


The Register writes:

IE7 integrates search into the browser, but the only option is Microsoft's own MSN Search.

Really? Here's what my version looks like:

And guess what? My default search engine in IE6 was Google, and it bound the IE7 search box to it by default after upgrading. Way to respect, IE team!

About a month ago I had an interesting exchange via blog comments with a buddy of mine who works for Apple. The conversation eventually moved over to AIM... and he asked if I'd wager $50 against his claim that IE7 wouldn't easily let users change their default search engine. Having no insider information whatsoever (my pre-beta version at the time didn't have this feature yet), I agreed -- despite the fact that Apple's own browser, Safari, does not provide the same functionality.

Mike, how about donating the $50 to the Mozilla Foundation? It's no secret that their healthy competition helped bring about IE7 -- I don't mind helping them continue to push the limits.

It's also worth noting that while I can't talk about what's coming in Beta 2, Beta 1 isn't meant to be a showcase of flashy innovations for the end user.D on't believe the FUD in the meantime.

Scoble has more on this...

Update: The Register updated their story, but still don't cut Microsoft any slack.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Passionate customers make for passionate engineers

This morning I got an email forward from Jim Allchin. Apparently, an eager Microsoft customer FedEx'd two pounds of inscribed chocolate to one of our test managers, Paul Donnelly:

How cool is that?

In case you're wondering, the guy's invitation to test Longhorn Beta 1 was sent out yesterday, and the chocolate is being made available in the Longhorn shiproom for everyone to enjoy today.

Update: To be clear, Hershey's makes the tasty chocolate, but is not the customer. </disclaimer>

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Quick updates...

In the event that you were wondering about the moblog pictures of me in a tux, they're from another good friend's wedding in LA over the weekend. Look at my geeky dad and my sister's boyfriend taking pictures with their cell phones!

Unbelievable. A few years ago, my mother wouldn't touch the computer. Now she's asking me how to send photos to her friends and change the background on her phone to a picture of her puppy.

On the flight down to LA, I finally had the chance to finish Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. I like Gladwell quite a bit, and Blink was an incredibly quick and engaging read. I'll spare you the review, since there are undoubtedly thousands already online, but in short, it was a little less thought provoking and original than The Tipping Point, but still quite interesting (maybe even more interesting) and I'd highly recommend checking it out.

Anyhow, Blink was the only book I brought down to LA for the weekend. Finishing it on the flight down left me bookless, so I borrowed and started reading my dad's copy of Good to Great, which I'm quite pleased with so far. I've been getting so many great book recommendations lately.. I've got 9 waiting on my nightstand here at home (so please don't send me any books!), and 21 more on my wish list. What are you reading?

I found another podcast that I like - diggnation. It's by Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht, who basically follow the biggest stories from I've found that listening to podcasts really does make the morning commute out to Redmond bearable.

Finally, I recently saw Broken Wings and Born Into Brothels. The first is an incredibly moving Israeli family drama that won quite a few international film awards. The latter, which I just watched tonight, won the 2005 Academy Award for best documentary (among other awards). Born Into Brothels was incredibly depressing, and serves as yet another affirmation of the feeling I get sometimes that many of us live in a bubble, detached from reality of what's going on elsewhere in the world.

With that, I bid you goodnight.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

How Customer Focused Design Can Stifle Innovation

There's something happening right now that truly amazes me: podcast support in iTunes.

It's not an amazing feature, or a mindblowing leap in technology. And that's why I find what's happening amazing.

What the heck am I talking about?

It all started a couple of weeks ago, when Apple announced podcast support in iTunes 4.9. Since the week it was released, I've noticed that in many of the podcasts I listen to, the podcasters are beginning to constantly beg their listeners to switch to iTunes for downloading and listening to their podcasts.

Why do they want their users to switch to iTunes?

iTunes maintains a "Top 100" list of podcasts. Every podcaster wants his/her podcast to top the iTunes chart, which in turn means more eyeballs on the chart, which in turn means more incentive for the podcasters to want to top the chart, which in turn means more eyeballs on the chart, which in turn means ... you get the point.

So here, with this simple feature that in no way pushes the limits of technology, Apple has positioned itself as the number one source of podcasting content (and fueled use of the iTunes software and music store, and of course, fueled iPod sales, and maybe even fueled Apple's general "cool factor" thereby fueling other hardware sales).

Now, I'm going to take a step back, and talk a bit about the big picture. Last week, I spent two hours every morning in Customer Focused Design (CFD) meetings for a new software product. The CFD process was centered around the tried and true Kano Methodology (here's a more brief overview). In short, the Kano methodology is a way of understanding which product attributes are important to customers by discovering how the extent of their presence might impact customer satisfaction and customer dissatisfaction.

Attributes are then classified into four groups: "must haves", "one-dimensionals", "attractives", and "indifferents". In the end, attributes, and specific requirements to attain the attributes, are prioritized according to their classifications. So for example, "must haves" (i.e. "the car must have a stereo") and one-dimensionals (i.e. "the car must get good gas mileage") are generally prioritized above attractives (i.e. "the car stereo must have an iPod connector").

Here's where the process begins to break down. We sometimes become so focused on listening to what the customer wants, that we lose sight of the fact that the customer often doesn't know what the customer wants (or alternatively, what the customer wants is not good for our company or our product).

This is exactly what Clayton Christensen talks about in The Innovator's Dilemma. Business Week has a copy of what I'd argue is the most significant chapter online here.

Why were the leading drive makers unable to launch 8-inch drives until it was too late? Clearly, they were technologically capable of producing these drives. Their failure resulted from delay in making the strategic commitment to enter the emerging market in which the 8-inch drives initially could be sold. Interviews with marketing and engineering executives close to these companies suggest that the established 14-inch drive manufacturers were held captive by customers. Mainframe computer manufacturers did not need an 8-inch drive. In fact, they explicitly did not want it: they wanted drives with increased capacity at a lower cost per megabyte. The 14-inch drive manufacturers were listening and responding to their established customers. And their customers--in a way that was not apparent to either the disk drive manufacturers or their computer-making customers--were pulling them along a trajectory of 22 percent capacity growth in a 14-inch platform that would ultimately prove fatal. (Bolding added for emphasis)

So, here's a question for you. If a company spends all its efforts responding to the needs of its customers, to what extent can it truly innovate?

It can provide some technologically innovative solutions to meet needs expressed in customer feedback. But what about the needs that aren't expressed because they aren't known? Can a company create new markets this way?

Anyhow, I'll take this full circle back to the iTunes podcasting support. Let's see.. the first version of iTunes with podcasting support was released a few weeks ago. How long does it take a software feature to go from planning/design to implementation to release? 3 months? 6 months? 12 months? I think it's safe to assume that Apple made the decision to be the first to support podcasting quite some time ago - before there was a market - when customers might've rated podcast support as "attractive", or very possibly even "indifferent", but certainly not "must have" or "one-dimensional" (what % of iTunes users listened to podcasts 6-12 months ago, considering most of my friends still don't know what a podcast is?)

Apple saw past the needs of their customers and their market (potential customers). They set the bar, so that "podcast support" will now become a "must have" for their competitors.

They used a simple concept, a Top 100 list, to secure their position and get both podcasters and podcast listeners to almost instantly switch to their brand new service.

And that, I think, is amazing.

Monday, July 11, 2005


I really like what Rory Blyth has to say about innovation and what makes a product great.

I'm so tired of hearing the word innovation misused and abused, and I'll be the first to stand up and admit I'm as guilty as any.

I'm especially tired of hearing criticism against companies for "not being innovative". There are undoubtedly many cases in which specific products have stagnated, especially in markets where competition is nonexistent. But to claim an entire company is not innovative - I generally don't buy it (either that, or you're right, and the company's about to be driven out of all of their markets and go byebye).

In any event, I'll leave you with Wikipedia's definition of innovation, in case you're curious after reading Rory's blog posts. I think it's summed up pretty well.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

10 informal minutes with my CEO

I realize I'm a few days late with this one... spent all day Thursday and Friday in Engineering Excellence training and just now sitting down on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to catch up on some real work.

So, Robert Scoble got a great 10 minutes of talk time with Steve Ballmer. I agree with Gretchen... it is funny to hear Robert nervous. ;-)

It's interesting to think about... I'd probably be pretty nervous interviewing Steve Ballmer too. Last month, when my friend Dan asked him a question at a more formal talk, he was obviously quite nervous too (but not nervous enough to deter him from asking, so props for that!).

So I'm wondering, does anyone have any advice on how to get over feeling nervous in such situations? I mean, the boss's boss is just another regular guy outside the office. And I don't think the nervousness correlates to fear of getting in trouble or losing ones job. So what is it? And what can we do to get over it??

BTW, Robert, is SteveB the first interviewee to deserve a tripod? ;-)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

On music, magazines, and marriage

I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July weekend. I left work early Friday and flew down to Los Angeles to spend an amazing weekend with family and friends, and for a very special wedding of a close family friend.

It's funny, before my cousin's recent wedding, I don't think I had been to a wedding in about ten years. And now, friends seem to be getting married left and right. In two weeks I'm going back down to LA for another, and over the weekend, I caught up with a high school friend I hadn't seen in about 6 years who's getting married in October. Does this mark the beginning of a new phase of my life?

Anyhow, the LA weather was amazing, and I had the chance to catch up with family and a few close friends I don't get to see very often. One of them is my friend Joel, who now apparently goes by J.Period in the music world. He gave me a copy of his new Lauryn Hill remix cd.. Wow, the kid's got talent. So when I got back home, I checked out his web site.. the pictures with NAS, Lil John, Kelis, and other hiphop stars are friggin' awesome. So cool.

Let's see.. what else.. I found a new magazine I really like called Cargo - here's a brief review. Apparently the target demographic are "boys who like to shop". Perfect. So, the ingenious publishers decided to include a big page of sexy orange Cargo stickers at the beginning of the magazine that you can peel off and use to tab pages with interesting stuff. I've done this with my own book tabs on other magazines for quite sometime, so the concept of including a page of them in the magazine itself is just awesome. Way to think outside the box!

I've seen 3 more very cool movies recently (all via Netflix): All About My Mother, The Man I Love, and James' Journey to Jerusalem. In case it isn't obvious, I'm sick of American movies.

I'm also sick of American music, especially American radio. I've been enjoying Podcasts and a mix of random Israeli music lately. At the moment, I'm listening to Idan Raichel and drinking Revolution Tea. I've been waking up to Ivri Lider. And if you like hiphop, check out Hadag Nachash. The site I've linked to provides a nice selection of samples for the more popular albums. If you listen to great music from other parts of the world, I'd love to hear your recommendations.

Anyhow, that's about all the random thought I can muster up for tonight ... until next time!