November 30, 2006

Vista v1, Office 2007, and
a preview of Vista v2 UI - lucky us!

Vista launches today, and so does (officially at least) the new version of MS Office. I have to say, from all appearances, the UI changes for Office look to be a gutsy, necessary, and successful revamp for the Office franchise. I often say "you can't lead by following..." (which is dumb, but you know what I mean :)) - and I have to hand it to Microsoft; the changes don't feel arbitrary (for the most part) and at a minimum have created the kind of buzz for Office we haven't seen in probably nearly a decade.

Again, sounds dumb to say, but change doesn't mean "well really kind of the same"... so, kudos - to both Vista and Office launching (well, sorta), on the same day no less. Both products genuinely are a major achievement that balance familiarity with forward movement pretty well. I don't love the real estate compromise(s), but I'll get over it - it does bring forward a LOT I didn't tend to remember to use in the Office Suite.

Interesting in all of this is MS's attempt to proactively control the IP surrounding the product's "look and feel" with their Office UI licensing program - I particularly like how they're willing to "share their invesment". Thanks guys! (*cough* zune *cough*)

I also particularly like the last answer in this interview with the PM for MS Office:

"A: Historically, most of the more substantial UI breakthroughs have happened in Office and later moved to Windows. We continue to talk to the Windows team about what aspects (of the new Office UI) would make sense for them."

That guy MUST have read How to Win Friends and Influence People :P
(kidding! - we knew what he meant... at least, I'm sure the Window team does :D)

November 28, 2006

Car Communication

Updated: Ask and ye shall receive (link courtesy of a commenter - thanks Chris!)

Its seems like the car horn has basically become an instrument of anger. I don't think you can honk it without seeming mad. Even a tap is a sign of impatience, not communication (think about whenever you're on the receiving end).

I guess CB radios were an attempt to create transient communities for commuters and the like - and cel phones have taken their place for fixed communities, but wierd to me that there's no good way to communicate with the folks around you when driving... maybe this will be one of the emergent expressions of location based services?

In of itself that's surprising - you'd think geography and technology would be a great(er) fit; look at the success of GPS. Like wireless computing, once you do it, you'd can't go back. So why is it so hard finding a behaviour pattern for location enabled computing that's more than a techno-fad?

Important factors (I think): ease of setup, discovery, of course, but more than that - what's the new behaviour eco-system this enables?

November 27, 2006

Vista Week

Updated: Yeah. What he said.

Microsoft officially launches Vista to businesses Novemeber 30 (Thursday). Pretty big news, considering the length of time since it was first previewed and number of reboots of what Vista is (heh :)). Its been 5(ish) years since the last major OS upgrade from Microsoft and though I think this will be a better upgrade than the technogeeks expect, there's no way it will live up to the hype.

Bottom line: its way overdue, so its going to be hard to be impressed.

That's OK though, in the scheme of things, but... can someone tell me what "release to businesses" means exactly? From what I can tell, there'll be nothing at retail; I guess people (IT folk that is) will be expected to download it from MSDN?

Its a shame - this OS launch strategy is really turning the Vista release into a limp whimper. Perhaps that's on purpose (worred about negative press?), but I don't think so - I think Microsoft is schizophrenic about what to do now (big-picture), and its coloring what, warts and all, ought to be a major event for them.

November 21, 2006

Reflecting back

This seems like the appropriate time of year for this..... :)

As I look back on my time at AOL, here's how I view the technology "periods" we, as a once-but-no-longer technology-team, rode through:

- Year 1: Stablize the base (and prepare for the future)
Basically, we cleaned up some significant technology architecture and cleared the ground for AOL on the web. Among many other things, the process slowed (too briefly) from feature competition to clean-up and we improved core business and product metrics (for example, what we call "Abnormal Disconnects" or "AD"s significantly; 25% to 60%) across the board. This is particularly significant when you imagine that in previous years the company struggled for every single percentage point gain (every percent of AD mapped to [EDITED FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION] difference in membership churn). Particularly, important in this was disconnecting Identity and Connectivity (capitalization intentional) throughout our application and content stack - one of the key things to prepare for the future.

- Year 2: Unwall the garden
In 2005, we went from one major product ship (with one slipstream update) to shipping a signficant number of new products, both on the desktop and on the web, including itself. Though it still required deep cross-coordination, AOL built out significant new infrastructure, transforming
as well as just force-fitting a lot just to gain the opportunity to learn, and have our products be available for the first time on the web-at-large. A lot wasn't right, but was necessary to learn what the company didn't yet know it didn't know.

- Year 3: Embrace the web
There is/was a lot that this idea implies, both technically and... karmically (for lack of a better word). Its why I had accepted the added responsibilities over the last year - to renew the soil of our core services (i.e., mail and IM), publishing and search infrastructure, and business technologies platform. This year has been about really embracing and evangelizing what the Web means from a development, deployment, and infrastructure perpspective. Its been not just about technology change (even the old in-client AOL "Welcome Screen" is - finally! - in HTML), but embracing the change in role implied by embracing the the web eco-system.

Overall, slower than I would like (and loooong overdue: as I tell my folks all the time - "not Rocket Science, barely Computer Science"), but ultimately valuable - growing pains and all.

From the product side of things, I'd say things were more muddled than I would like. Not that it wasn't enjoyable, but I had influence more than authority, and I've learned a few things in my time at AOL about that.

November 20, 2006

Amazon Web Services Strategy

Amazon's got an interesting new strategy they're pursuing: to become an infrastructure provider for the web-at-large. I'd mentioned this before - and its one of the places I had been trying to drag AOL for some time.

As this blurb in Tech Crunch mentions, its not without its substantial risks, but ultimately I think you want people rowing the boat with you, not against you. I think its why Yahoo still struggles, and Apple, despite flashes of brilliance, will always be (end up? :P) an underdog.

I think the biggest risk, in this area, is that your utilities get commoditized. Without some sustainable differentiated value, either in data services, user base, functionality, etc., its very tough over even the medium haul. Its great that Amazon is providing cheap storage for example, but more unique value propositions will be needed to create dependencies - otherwise their margins will get crushed.

Got to say this for Bezos - he rides the edge of the curve...

November 17, 2006

I'm leaving AOL

Some confusion over my last post - so allow me to clarify (this should be of no surprise to folks inside AOL).

Yes, I'm leaving AOL, and, no, its not connected to Jon Miller's departure, except in the zeitgeist-of-the-Company-atmosphere/sign-of-the-times kind of way.

I had first resigned some time ago, but was asked to help stabilize through a significant company transition and "keep an open mind through the process". I think I did that (really, I tried) - even running the Open Services Developer's conference, creating participation opportunities with external developer communities and helping accelerate the Company's (metaphorically and literally) thinking around what embracing the Web means.

That said, it became clear some time ago that where I'd want to invest and direct our technology and efforts just didn't align quite enough. I was offered some very generous senior opportunities inside the transforming organization - for which I'm very grateful - but after 7 bosses in three years, and having participated in and initiated quite a bit of transormation at the Company - I think its just time to move on, professionally and personally.

Officially, I'll be wrapping up next month - so don't be surprised to see me still wandering the halls. I had also been asked to ease the change - to make the transition smooth, and that's been going on for the last few months.

I'll still be blogging here, so don't expect any particular change in that arena - you'll see here what develops as I'm ready to talk about things.

Important footnote: My choice isn't a reflection of AOL's opportunity. I genuinely do believe that AOL can be signficant, relevant, and successful again as a leader on the Internet - I hope that it will. People like Jim Bankoff, Kevin Conroy, Mike Kelly, Joe Redling - these guys aren't dummies.

Anyhoo - it was a good time: met some great people (many of whom are also gone :P), took away some things, contributed some things, and hopefully left a positive wake.

Time for the next thing :)

November 16, 2006

AOL CEO Switch: Miller replaced by Falco

Jon Miller was a deeply thoughtful leader. There is no question he'll be missed.

I had resigned from AOL, back in June of this year (no surprise for AOL insiders), for professional as well as personal reasons (which still stand - I'll elucidate in the near future). But I had stayed on in my role because the (then) CEO and the
(then) CTO personally asked me to help through the significant transition immediately ahead - and to keep an open mind about the future through that process. I am/was senior enough, and had been entrusted with enough responsibility, that that seemed more than reasonable.

He certainly taught me, personally, a lot about what it takes to run an organization at scale, through significant transformation - I think people forget how differently the Company operated 3 years ago. For example, when I started we had 300+ developers still working on the upkeep of an aging AOL client and hitting quality targets for our Dial network. Now its a dozen or so, from our
Bangalore development center, no less - and all core development is about embracing the Web.

And more than that, Jon's a professional, in every positive sense of the word - and in culture of personalities and politics, that's refreshing. I appreciate the time I got with him - as well as the growth opportunities he offered me during his tenure.

Although it became clear by the fall that I was not long for AOL, and though I feel I've been able to positively impact the Company's fortunes, this kind of leadership change is a big deal. I hope they know what they're doing... and more importantly, what they're trying to accomplish. This level of turmoil without clear direction seems a little... I dunno, desperate - and, in my view, furthers AOL from the
battle field in which in needs to compete. I hope that's intentional, and that they have a plan (Good luck Randy :))

If I had one complaint of Jon, it would be that he was not able to be involved enough in the day-to-day execution and operations of the Company - AOL would've been better for it. I imagine his responsibilities with Time Warner made that difficult.

You can read more
here. Jason sums up the somber surprise well...

Updated: Some clarification on my status at AOL.

November 13, 2006

Bye Bye Mac

Update: Apparently a hoax. D'OH!!!!

Not not that one... I meant that, apparently, Justin Long is no longer "the Mac". Hopefully that doesn't mean the end of the ad campaign - which was just frikkin' funny... though, (as the Wired guy points out) not sure where it goes from here without being a little wierd.

Bad call! Bad call! (though I reserve the right to change my mind... :))

November 8, 2006

Adobe Flash AVM and Mozilla join forces

Adobe has open sourced the VM used in Flash Player 9. As I mentioned previously, its pretty good.

Even further, the Mozilla foundation plans to migrate their JavaScript engine, SpiderMonkey, to this VM in the future. This is a good move for both organizations- and it nicely cements a credible non-MS rich runtime for the Web.

It still all effectively proprietary (i.e. the direction is controlled by a very small few) ... but that's mostly OK.

November 6, 2006

Mac is back

I bought a Mac mini last week - my first Mac (personally) in maaaaany years. I started my professional life as a Mac programmer, so its something of a "return" for me. Its nice - Apple's really done a great job making a great out-of-the-box experience. And I'm really stunned by the design - its just frikkin' lovable.

There's a lot of prognistication about Vista's impact on the market (mostly negative for Microsoft) - the pricing structure and broken promises make it tough, even though the OS itself (not to mention the new Office) really have some very nice (somewhat overdue) features and robustness that will get overshadowed.

But there's an elegance and desparation that Apple finally shed before making its turn around which is instructive, I think, to lots of companies somewhat trapped by their own past success - it doesn't come quick and requires persistent commitment.

Its not that OS X or Apple are perfect - there's a lot that stinks and/or just doesn't work, and I don't think I'll be switching permanently anytime soon (and honestly, I think Safari's kind of poop-ish).

But... the video below is an oldie, but a goodie - and it embodies the "karma" of what I mean... If design is the new black of business - and it takes a leap to embrace, then its also requires more a holistic approach to the consumer; it's not just about the product itself. And, as always (and obviously), you can't lead by following.

And before you laugh too hard at those "MS losers" - remember that Microsoft commissioned the video; so there's not a self awareness gap, lack of intellect, or even a lack of humour there - doesn't make it much easier to actually do.

November 1, 2006

The Elephant Stampede: RIA and Standards?

Saw this article on slashdot discussing desktop/web convergence - and the elephants chasing to define the experience. There are some interesting points in this discussion - but one missing thought/question is that I'm not sure what role open standards play (if any); the contenders are (effectively) single source solutions: Flash/Flex (Adobe), XUL (Mozilla), WPF/.NET (Microsoft), Java (Sun), etc.

Previous posts on this:
RIA innovation?, Disruptive trends, Content Engineering, Orbit and Java, and RIA Battlelines.

Of course it could all
end up like this...