Tuesday, February 28, 2006

New Windows Live Messenger Beta Love

The Windows Live Messenger team released a new beta version, and it's so much improved over the last one. They even took a bunch of my UX suggestions!


(Photo courtesy of Mark's Flickr collection :-))

Now, while I think its newfound simplicity is elegant, I noticed my friend Summer in Singapore has a personal message up of "OMG Why is MSN ugly again!". She thinks the big blue and green buttons were cute, and that the new version looks like MSN 4.0.

I guess it's really hard to please every demographic. :-)

Anyhow, I've gotta say that after years of using a million and a half IM clients - aim, gaim, trillian, icq, msn, yahoo, gtalk, (zephyr, talk... the list goes on and on) - I've gotta say that I'm quite satisfied by the latest Windows Live Messenger featureset and user experience. I actually found out recently that my first hiring manager at Microsoft (the guy who more or less hired me into the company) is now the Director of Program Management over there. Gonna have to ping him for lunch sometime soon.

By the way, if anyone else wants to try the latest beta, I've got 7 invitations - leave a comment or drop me a line with your email address.

Back to school for a day...

Today, my entire division at Microsoft headed off to the local mountains for a day of skiing and boarding.

Now, normally, I would've jumped at the opportunity to ditch work and hit the slopes. But today was a day I didn't want to miss.

What'd I end up doing today? Well, I went back to school. No, not back to the University of Michigan (brrrrrr!). I went to school (actually, I "got schooled") at Microsoft Research.

With TechFest coming up, a whole bunch of our researchers from around the world have come into town for the week. And today, I had the opportunity to spend over 5 hours listening to short presentations from a bunch of them on a subject very near and dear to my heart: location & software.

Some of the researchers I admire the most were there - John Krumm, for example, who's done a lot of work in the area of location awareness and software (you can read a bunch of his published work on his web site). Scott Counts was there, talking about SLAM and a few of his other projects (more info on SLAM on his web site). Jim Gray was there - you can try reading his papers, but they might make your head spin just a bit.

But, what also made it cool, was that in addition to some of the most brilliant researchers in the world, there were also developers and program managers from various product groups talking about real software applications of this type of technology. Jason Fuller was there from the Windows Mobile team (he builds the Virtual Earth Mobile client as a hobby in his spare time -- who says "20% time" is a Google-only thing!). And of course, the famous Steve Lombardi was there too! Current versions of these guys' products all incorporate some aspect of location (so I feel comfortable blogging about them here today), but perhaps the coolest part was getting a sneak peak at everything coming down the pipeline in the future from various other product groups at the company.

Anyhow, it was one of those days that reminds me why I love working here. Smart, bright people, at the cutting edge of technological innovation, doing research and shipping software that changes the way people all over the world live their lives.


Monday, February 27, 2006

If Microsoft created the iPod...

... here's what the box would look like.

(via Scoble's blog & Channel 9)

Ah, so sad but true, and I'll refrain from commenting further than that. :-)

Update: It's made the rounds to Digg and a bunch of other sites. Good old Mary Jo is reporting that Microsoft actually produced the video. Still don't feel commenting further on this right now, but I'm pretty amazed at the entire phenomenon. :-)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Microsoft Management Summit 2006

The MOM blog reminded me that the 2006 Microsoft Management Summit is coming up.

If you work in an IT organization, this is a great chance to learn about IT best practices and Microsoft management products. (And if you don't work in an IT organization, but know or work with somebody who does, forward this on to them!)

Plus, it's in beautiful San Diego towards the end of April, and I'll be there making friends with customers. ;-)

If you want to know more, or if you're planning to be there and want to meet up, drop me a line!

Be Humble. The Customer Should Always Think She's Right.

Let's face it. A good deal of the time, the customer is wrong. The customer just doesn't get the technical challenges stopping you from building her feature. The customer didn't take 3 seconds to just RTFM. And you... you just want to lay the smack down.

I spent a few minutes this morning catching up on my Bloglines clippings. One of the feed items I clipped was a Channel 9 video with the Microsoft Max team.

Last summer, I snuck into an intern presentation at work where Hillel Cooperman (one of my heroes at Microsoft) was giving a presentation on his new incubation project (Max). Very cool to see all the progress that kickass team is making.

So, after watching the video, I figured I'd surf around their blog and forum a bit, at which point, I came across this post:

Hello ,

I just finished installing your product, and might I suggest a final name for your MAX product.

VOMIT- would be very suitable, and actually happened once I used it, I wont comment further, other than give up your day jobs, and go back to QA or Beta Testing.

best regards


This team has been pouring their sweat and blood into building something from scratch for years. How many times have you spent 2+ years working on one one specific project (coding a single version of a software product, writing a book, painting a piece of art, ...)?

How would you respond to something like this? Would you delete it from your blog? Would you just ignore it? Would you succumb to the urge to get defensive and argue on behalf of yourself and your product?

I probably would.

How did Dave Citron of the Max team respond?

Hi LyinKing,

Sorry to hear you had trouble using Max. We definitely appreciate your name suggestion--it made for a good laugh :-).

If you provide additional information about the trouble you were seeing, we’d definitely like to investigate. Our team takes quality very seriously.

Dave (Max Team)

Wow. I'm humbled by this team's humility.

The product I work on is also v1, and I know that when it ships, it won't meet the needs of every potential customer, and it won't blow away the competing products that have been evolving for 10+ years. So, when I find myself in a situation like the one above, I hope I can look back and point out humble behavior like Dave's.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sick Sad World

"Phelps believes American deaths in Iraq are divine punishment for a country that he says harbors homosexuals. His protesters carry signs thanking God for so-called IEDs -- explosives that are a major killer of soldiers in Iraq."

Via CNN...

This guy is crazy. When I was in school at the University of Michigan, he would come by every so often and protest our graduations for the same reason.

On the flipside, the fact that 5,000 people have come together to protect soldiers' families from this nutcase is rather encouraging to see.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Virtually Present

I'm in the middle of having a REALLY cool experience!

A few minutes ago, my friend Ayush sent me an instant message through Google Talk. We chatted for a few moments, and he said he was sitting in a lecture by one of my favorite professors at the University of Michigan, Elliot Soloway.

Ayush started telling me what was being discussed in the lecture, and we started having our own side conversation about it. Then Ayush asked:

"Wanna plug into the class? I could set up chat and you could hear what's going on in class."

I didn't even think twice. I just clicked the Call button in Google Talk, and instantly I was a part of the audience of my old professor's lecture!

As Professor Soloway continued to lecture, Ayush and I continued to chat about the subject of the lecture.

It wasn't an "effort", a "product", or a "service" that people are spending resources to provide. It was my friend, sitting in the back row of a huge lecture hall with a Tablet PC (which generally happen to have great microphones), a WiFi network on each side, and a VOIP IM client, that's letting me participate in a University lecture while sitting on my couch in Seattle.

Ayush says, "if only my laptop had a built in camera", "wonder if this beats tuning into a lame radio channel when you are driving down the street".

Ayush suggests talking to Professor Soloway about podcasting his lectures. But in my mind, I'm imagining a big web-based map of the University's campus. I'm drilling down by clicking on a building, then a lecture hall. Instantly, I'm plugged into what's going on in the room. I can hear/see the lecture. I can chat with others in the room and others like me who are watching from afar.

Would it cannibalize the University's market? Would fewer people attend if they could just tune in for free from their couches? Or would we be giving the opportunity of an education to infinately many people across the country and the world. Do less people go to football games because they can watch on TV? Or is the football market bigger because ESPN can reach more people than can drive to or fit in a stadium?

(The lecture was on The Mythical Man-Month, and also included tidbits of Soloway's famous "WHAT'S NEW?" session.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Congrats Dawn & Hugh!!!

Until about 15 minutes ago, my Valentine's Day (aka Singles Awareness Day) was mostly uneventful... and then my sister called! She's getting married!

So congrats to Dawn and Hugh! I love you both!

Woohoo! Happy Valentine's Day!!!




It just occurred to me that they always look so happy when they're together. Aww.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A Product Placement Morale Event

This morning, my team at Microsoft had a "morale event". We went to see the movie Firewall together in Redmond at 9am.

The movie was like a big Microsoft commercial. It was so hilarious. Every time a laptop was opened or a desktop shown, there was a bright blue background prominently featuring the Windows XP logo. There were seconds of screen time featuring emails being sent in Microsoft Outlook. Even Visio made a short cameo. And when the shit hit the fan, Microsoft Operations Manager (one of my team's most popular products!) was there to alert Harrison Ford. Oh, and there was tracking of a dog using a GPS collar and Windows Live Local.

Someone in marketing is getting a big bonus this year. ;-)

It was a bit ridiculous. But hey, who can pass up some comic relief with the coworkers on a Friday morning?

Now, off to hit the Whistler ski slopes for the weekend (and yes, today does count as a vacation day)!

Multi-Touch Interaction Research

My buddy Ayush forwarded me a link to a research project video over at NYU:

Multi-Touch Interaction Research

Aside from being very cool technology, I love the way this demo video shows a variety of practical applications - manipulating photos and video, navigating maps, playing games, DJ'ing.

I've been seeing more and more of these demos lately. They always remind me of the movie Minority Report. Can't wait to have one in my living room.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

4 things...

My friend Eston tagged me with this 4 things meme on his blog. Usually I don't partake in such things, but I'm feeling dorky tonight... :-)

Four jobs I’ve had:
1. Program Manager at Microsoft
2. Consultant (aka "a suit") for 5 Fortune 500 companies
3. IT junkie at The University of Michigan
4. Bartender at Oz

Four movies I can watch over and over:
1. Clueless "Lucy, you know I don't speak Mexican!"
2. Office Space "I deal with the god damn customers so the engineers don't have to. I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people! Can't you understand that?"
4. Yossi & Jagger "Kal yoter l'zayen ba'tachat..."

Four Places I’ve Lived:
1. Seattle
2. Ann Arbor, Michigan
3. California (LA and SF!)
4. Jerusalem, Israel
(okay, I guess that was five.)

Four TV Shows I Love:
1. Lost
2. 24
3. Grey's
4. Housewives

Four Places I’ve Vacationed:
1. Eilat
2. Curacao
3. St. James's Gate
4. De Wallen

Four of my favourite dishes:
1. Crispy Chicken in Spicy Garlic Sauce from Jade Tree
2. Oreo Cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory
3. Double double, fries, and a vanilla shake from In-N-Out
4. Falafel from a hole in the wall near the Russian Compound

Four sites I visit daily:
1. My Bloglines feeds
2. Gmail
3. The Microsoft Corporate Intranet
4. The sexy new beta version of E12 Outlook Web Access

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. Beijing, per my roommie's recommendation, before it completely transforms and much is lost.
2. Tokyo, because it's the other center of the Universe and yet I've never been!
3. Tel Aviv, where the parties REALLY don't stop 'til 6 in the morning.
4. At home with my family in Los Angeles, because LA will always be home.

Four bloggers I am tagging:
1. Smuga
2. Joshie
3. Mark
4. Jon

Yeah... I'm a dork.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mobile Developers: Don't Screw The Early Adopters!

Saturday night, I got into a very heated discussion with my friend Mike over on the Windows Live Mobile team about developing interfaces for mobile device browsers.

Tonight, I noticed Mike posted about a related issue on his blog:

Mobile WL Mail and screen width

Anyone who has developed software or web pages for mobile devices has run into the challenge Mike discusses. I'll sum it up like this: 80% of mobile devices (think: the free phones you get with a new cell phone service contract) have very limited capabilities. Their web browsers support a very limited set of functionality, can only load pages up to a certain size, etc. You, the developer, need to optimize around this 80% of devices with crappy browsers. The side-effect and problem is that now your UI looks horrible on those cutting edge brand-spankin'-new Smartphone devices.

But I guess I think differently than Mike, Mike, and Tim on the Windows Live Mobile team as to the best way to conquer this challenge.

I agree that supporting the lowest common denominator of mobile browsers should definitely be the highest priority, especially since the large majority of mobile browsers fall into that category. And trying to detect every browser and every device's screen width would be like trying to move Mount Fuji!

But that said, a good compromise might be to detect the most advanced mobile browsers (like, through the IE Mobile, Opera, or other user agent), which you know do support tables and other advanced features, and then doing some work around optimizing for those as well.

That way, you support and optimize for the early/late majority of users carrying devices with sub-optimal browsers, but you also support the small but highly important group of early adopters buying Windows Mobile Smartphones and other 'smart' devices. These early adopters are not only highly vocal, but are also the developers building the next generation of mobile software. There's also a chicken and egg problem here. If you want people to buy expensive Smartphones with x, y, and z capabilities, you need to build software that takes advantage of those capabilities.

So, supporting 80% of the market is important. But the tradeoff doesn't have to be losing the other 20%. You can optimize for both.

And, for what it's worth, I still use Google's mobile search, not Windows Live Mobile's, because it's UI takes advantage of more capabilities of my Windows Mobile Smartphone. How ironic that Google builds a service that is better suited for a Microsoft platform. But Mike says the WLM team is working hard to fix this problem, so kudos to him and his team for that.

Some other interesting reading on this subject:

My previous post on Assumptions and Defaults in the context of mobile development
Mike's previous post: 'PC sites on mobile phones'
Scoble's one wish for 2006
MobHappy on Optimized Sites vs Optimizing Browsers
Russell Beattie Reformatting vs. Rethinking

Popular subject.

As a sidenote, Jill and I faced a similar issue over the weekend in developing Ping, and we're only developing for Windows Mobile devices. The challenge is that even within the family of Windows Mobile devices, each device can have a vastly different resolution and orientation. We settled on dynamically laying out every single UI element as it is loaded based on the width and height of the screen and other UI elements on the page. A bit extreme, perhaps, but necessary to achieve an excellect user experience in the context of a very limited UI framework (albeit one of the best available for mobile devices!).

Monday, February 06, 2006

Gmail + Google Talk Integration

I noticed tonight that Gmail now has Google Talk integration in a neat way! Users now have the option to save their Chats on Gmail (see screen captures above and to the left).

This is pretty interesting. Sure, many chat clients allow you to log your conversations, and then you can download a desktop search client that might understand how to search and display the files on your hard drive. But now, all of your chats are right there, easily accessible and searchable, through the unified Gmail interface. I dig it.

At the same time, I think it really changes the way I think of the chat medium. Traditionally, I've 'felt' IM chat to be more like phone chat than email. Email seems so permanent. Logged, stored on a server (maybe multiple servers) by the sender and recipient. Permanently archived. Sure, people can and do log IM chats (and phone conversations), but there still seemed to be less permanence and/or exposure, especially outside of a corporate environment.

Now, my chats will show up every time I search my email. That's a scary thought. Cool and potentially novel, but scary. I'm definitely glad Google decided to make it opt-in and disabled by default, at least for now.

Another scary thought will be the # of lines of chat I accumulate over time. Hehe.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


I've been feeling lately like there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do, leading me to the realization that it's time to re-focus.

So, in typical prioritized PM fashion, things that will remain in my day-to-day life:

- Work [P1]
- Social life [P1]
- Physical activity (gym, wallyball, racquetball, skiing/boarding) [P1]
- Ping [P1]
- Blog and magazine reading [P1]
- Writing in this blog [P2]
- Listening to Podcasts [P2]
- Reading books [P2]
- Learning Chinese from CDs in my car [P3]

And, unfortunately, things that will be cut:

- Location X (just not enough time in the day, and posts there could easily be made here instead)

Now, off to watch the Seahawks lay the smack down!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Welcome to the block, IE7!

Over the years, Internet Explorer has been at the center of quite a bit of controversy.

First, there were the browser wars, in which the 30,000ft giant (Microsoft) crushed the fan-favorite underdog (Netscape), party through innovation, and partly through dominance of the Windows operating system.

Then, as a market leader with no competition and little to lose, Microsoft let Internet Explorer stagnate. Over time, the internet community grew highly critical of Internet Explorer.

Until one day, Firefox emerged, and threatened to kick Internet Explorer's ass to to the curb.

And so, the sleeping giants at Microsoft awoke, and began working on a new version of Internet Explorer.

And now, today, you can play with their latest and greatest work: IE7 Beta 2 Preview.

You can also read lots more on the IE team's blog.