Monthly Archives: November 2001

10 Best Intranet Designs of 2001 (Alertbox Nov. 2001)

10 Best Intranet Designs of 2001 (Alertbox Nov. 2001). Quote: “After selecting the 10 winners from more than 50 nominations, it is clear why most design annuals focus on the graphical appearance of designs. It's easy to pick designs that look good. It's a lot of work to dig beneath the surface to assess features and usability. Our selection process required many months of effort because we wanted to showcase intranets that both look good and work well for employees. “

Comment: You can even download the report. [Serious Instructional Technology]

Alan Cooper

Alan Cooper: “My advice to Microsoft is to abandon the browser. The browser is a red herring; it's a dead end. The idea of having batched processing inside a very stupid program that's controlled remotely is a software architecture that was invented about 25 years ago by IBM, and was abandoned about 20 years ago because it's a bad architecture. We've gone tremendously retrograde by bringing in Web browsers… We have stepped backward in terms of user interface, capability, and the breadth of our thinking about what we could do as a civilization. The browser is a very weak and stupid program because it was written as essentially a master's thesis inside a university and as an experiment….”

Alan invented Visual Basic, which is the language we used for CityDesk, so it's no big coincidence that I agree with him so wholeheartedly. And it's true: from a UI architecture perspective, browsers are CICS + fonts. CICS is an extremely ancient interactive system used with IBM mainframe terminals. Basically, the server sends a text-mode, full-screen form down to the “smart” terminal. The user fills in the form and sends it back to the server. And that's about all you can do from a UI perspective. The mainframe is happy because it can basically be about as stupid as a web server: queue up all incoming requests and deal with them sequentially. The user suffers because the UI is abysmal and the programmer suffers because you can't MAKE a good UI no matter how hard you try. [Joel on Software]

Knowledge Logging with Conversant

Knowledge Logging with Conversant. Quote: “Most weblogs make aggregation of related information extraordinarily difficult. For example, I've visited a number of weblogs that have commentaries related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but none of the weblogs I visit have a page where I can visit to see all of the posts they've made related to the 9/11 attacks. Why? Because a) it's far too time consuming to do manually if you're posting more than once every couple days and b) weblogging software generally doesn't make it easy to automate this process.” [Serious Instructional Technology]

Screen

Screen, the new book by Jessica Helfand is very well written, insightful, and just simply beautiful. I read about half of it going to and coming back from a party in Queens (that's about 2 hours train time). I think this book will become one of the handful of design books in my library that hold a special place in my heart. [DesignWeenie]

Brent Ashley just wrote about that on his weblog

Robert Scoble: I see Microsoft is charging its developers 70% more this year than last year. Brent Ashley just wrote about that on his weblog (and notes that he's not likely to get on the .NET bus). Will Bill Gates take notice of the fact that his customers are complaining and are looking for alternatives? Yes, I might be arrogant to tell Bill Gates what to do, but my motives are pure. I just want decent software to use. Microsoft is forcing us to look elsewhere for it. Will they change in time? And who's more arrogant? The company that's raising prices 70% in a recessionary year? Or some powerless weblogger who's trying to tell Bill to get a grip? [Scobleizer]

Dan Gillmor

Dan Gillmor: “John Robb, who served in the U.S. Air Force special operations unit and is now president and chief operating officer at Silicon Valley-based UserLand Software, has been thinking about asymmetry and its consequences. I asked him how we could use the power at the edges of networks and society to counteract the bad guys.” [Scripting News]

Robert Scoble: I've been thinking about what I'd do if I were in charge of Microsoft right now and what I'd do to turn things around.

Dear Bill and Jim,

Here's how you can turn around public opinion of Microsoft.

1) Fire your PR firm. They ain't doing you no favors and we doubt you're listening to them anyway, so get another one. That'll trigger to the market that something is different about Microsoft.

2) Try something different. We all are stuck on Microsoft software. We ain't going anywhere (I keep wishing I could switch to Linux or the Mac, but I am not willing to give up ClearType, sorry). So, stop treating your customers like jerks. Get rid of product activation.

Give us choices of new features. I know that on the next OS you'll put in an anti-virus program. Instead of giving us only one choice (which will weaken your defense against viruses) give us a choice of three or four different ones. Pay three or four different companies a fair fee to include them into Windows. Same with camera integration, and anything else you feel like putting into Windows. Don't do the AOL thing, give us choices. Make Windows like a supermarket where we have to decide between 30 brands of soap. If you do that Windows will not be attackable by Linux and customer opinion will turn.

3) Stop taking yourselves so seriously. Whenever I meet a Microsoft employee lately they sound embattled. It's like they don't know how to have a conversation again. Hint: do you start a date by saying “I'm better than all the other guys” and then you force the woman to pick up the dinner tab? I don't think so.

So, let's turn it around. Admit your software sucks. Hey, it's proprietary. It's full of patents. It's full of security holes. It's full of bugs (well, OK, Windows XP is getting better on the bugs area, but enough folks are still having troubles so you can still admit it's shitty software).

Oh, and your developers have to talk to closed black boxes since you really aren't sharing source to Windows yet. (Linux developers get to see inside their OS, so they can better build apps that integrate with the OS well). Go to a bunch of shows. Admit your software sucks. Hand out T-Shirts that say “We Write Sucky Software.” OK, I know this is a little over the top, and not likely to pass muster with your shareholders (screw them!), but I'm trying to get you guys to show a little humility. There's no better way to do that than to self depricate yourselves. When someone at a conference stands up and says “Microsoft Sucks” say “yes it does, now how can we work together to make it less sucky?”

4) Help developers out. That doesn't mean leading a cheer at the company meeting of “
developers, developers, developers

Robert Scoble: I've been thinking about what I'd do if I were in charge of Microsoft right now and what I'd do to turn things around.

Dear Bill and Jim,

Here's how you can turn around public opinion of Microsoft.

1) Fire your PR firm. They ain't doing you no favors and we doubt you're listening to them anyway, so get another one. That'll trigger to the market that something is different about Microsoft.

2) Try something different. We all are stuck on Microsoft software. We ain't going anywhere (I keep wishing I could switch to Linux or the Mac, but I am not willing to give up ClearType, sorry). So, stop treating your customers like jerks. Get rid of product activation.

Give us choices of new features. I know that on the next OS you'll put in an anti-virus program. Instead of giving us only one choice (which will weaken your defense against viruses) give us a choice of three or four different ones. Pay three or four different companies a fair fee to include them into Windows. Same with camera integration, and anything else you feel like putting into Windows. Don't do the AOL thing, give us choices. Make Windows like a supermarket where we have to decide between 30 brands of soap. If you do that Windows will not be attackable by Linux and customer opinion will turn.

3) Stop taking yourselves so seriously. Whenever I meet a Microsoft employee lately they sound embattled. It's like they don't know how to have a conversation again. Hint: do you start a date by saying “I'm better than all the other guys” and then you force the woman to pick up the dinner tab? I don't think so.

So, let's turn it around. Admit your software sucks. Hey, it's proprietary. It's full of patents. It's full of security holes. It's full of bugs (well, OK, Windows XP is getting better on the bugs area, but enough folks are still having troubles so you can still admit it's shitty software).

Oh, and your developers have to talk to closed black boxes since you really aren't sharing source to Windows yet. (Linux developers get to see inside their OS, so they can better build apps that integrate with the OS well). Go to a bunch of shows. Admit your software sucks. Hand out T-Shirts that say “We Write Sucky Software.” OK, I know this is a little over the top, and not likely to pass muster with your shareholders (screw them!), but I'm trying to get you guys to show a little humility. There's no better way to do that than to self depricate yourselves. When someone at a conference stands up and says “Microsoft Sucks” say “yes it does, now how can we work together to make it less sucky?”

4) Help developers out. That doesn't mean leading a cheer at the company meeting of “developers, developers, developers.” (QuickTime required for that link, it's pretty funny). That means throwing cash around and getting developers excited about your platform again.

Imagine what would happen if the top 200,000 independent (ie: doesn't work at Microsoft) developers woke up one morning to a new IBM Thinkpad with every piece of Microsoft software loaded onto it, and a check for $10,000 saying “thanks for writing great software for the world.” I'd bet a lot of developers would have a very tough time not using that ThinkPad, and everytime they attacked Microsoft, they'd remember that $10,000 check that paid for their new shoes.

Think Microsoft can't do that? That'd take $2.5 billion. I bet that the DOJ action would disappear pretty quickly (and that'd be a lot better for the economy than a $2.5 billion fine that the government would suck up and use to build an aircraft carrier or something like that). Bill could even announce on Larry King “we decided to fine ourselves since we have lived off of the backs of independent software developers for so long now.”

5) Start a venture capital fund for small companies that are building cool software for the Windows platform — hell, make it even broader than that. Fund cool software for any platform and put a minimum of strings on the money. Companies like ActiveWords, AnalogX, Jabber, Trelix, Kuju, and, yes, even UserLand (our software runs on Windows, and I think it's cool).

The point is to start a new food chain of small companies that can get enough cash to survive the four years it takes to build cool stuff (most VCs only give companies two years). Microsoft needs a good food chain of small companies since it's far more expensive to build stuff in house (and far less successful due to the Innovators Dilemma that Clay Christensen writes about in his book).

This would actually be very inexpensive for Microsoft to do (most small software companies with five or six developers could survive for years on $2 million in funds, if they are trained to spend it wisely, and not on Aereon chairs like all the dotcoms were trained to spend it on).

Imagine if Microsoft funded 50 small companies like that — that'd cost Microsoft a piddly $100 million or so. I bet that in five years two of them will hit the big time and get valuations similar to ICQ or Vermeer (hundreds of millions of dollars). ICQ went from a $100,000 investment in mid 1996 to $280 million in 1998. Vermeer developed FrontPage and got bought by Microsoft for more than $100 million. Can that happen again? I think so.

The software industry is young. A lot of great ideas will come out of having 50 small companies with five or six developers going for four years. And, if they come out for Linux, so what? Microsoft will end up making a lot of money off of being involved in a new industry. Someday Windows will end up a commodity anyway, so Microsoft better figure out where its revenue streams are gonna come from in 10, 15, and 20 years. What a better way to ensure your future than to fund it yourself?

6) Break up Microsoft yourself. Why? Three Microsoft's are harder to compete against than one. And, they'll compete against each other, which will help make sure they don't miss “the next big thing.”

It'll also signify that you acknowledge that Microsoft has gotten too big, and too powerful (and too lazy and slow to keep up with the fast-moving economy). Think you're not too lazy and slow? Why did it take you 30 months to react to ICQ? Why did you almost miss the Netscape/Web revolution? What are you missing today?

Next time you might not be able to move your entire company to deal with the new challenges that inevitably will come. If you have three separate companies, you'll be able to deal with them much faster, and you'll also look a lot less threatening to people. Plus, how will the DOJ be able to say “break them up” if you already did that yourself?

7) Invite more people into Microsoft. Stop forcing all your developers and customers to sign NDAs just to get a peek into your future. AOL, Oracle, Sun can't react to it anyway. Hell, you gave them 18 months to look at .NET and they still are choking on their inadequacies. Why not invite us in to see what really goes on at Microsoft. Commission David Banks and friends to write 10 more “Breaking Windows.” Give them full access to Microsoft. Let them show the world how software is made. Let them poke holes at you. Have fun with it! “Come see how we make sucky software.”

Open the doors. Take the mystique out of software. Give your software a human face. I've met them. Start with the guys who wrote Train Simulator. They are a fun bunch. Or the guys who wrote PocketPC 2002. That's pretty cool stuff and they are nice guys and gals.

8) Buy up some more new ideas. You haven't bought a company in a while. That's dangerous for Microsoft. You need to bring new ideas into the company. Figure out what worked about the Vermeer relationship. The WebTV one. The HotMail one. The PowerPoint one. Look for other new ideas. They are out there. I've seen several great ideas lately that haven't gotten any attention from Microsoft (and, in fact, have been rebuffed by Microsoft).

9) When customers tell you “don't kill VB” or “don't include product activation” — listen to them. Lose the arrogance that says “we know better than you.” You probably do, but that arrogance is gonna bite you on the behind someday. I know talented folks who are playing with Linux today simply because you didn't listen to them. And for what? Did you appease any stockholders lately? Nah, all you did was get a handful of states angrier at you.

10) Bill and Jim: start a Weblog. Write it yourselves (see my first rule: don't let the PR folks run things anymore, they are screwing with you — we don't want to be “handled” we want to have a conversation with you). Tell us what you're thinking. Have a conversation with us. Tell us how you'll improve your software. Give us a preview of new features, and let us give you feedback about them before they get implemented (especially things like SmartTags).

Most of my frustration with Microsoft in the past 18 months is the lack of a conversation. They are trying to get a conversation started again (Jim Allchin has had two chats now with the MVPs) but it takes a lot to overcome years of neglect and it'll take years to overcome that problem.

11) Open up your strategy meetings. Does it really matter if Oracle, AOL, or Sun knows your strategy? Come on now, are you so naive to think that they don't have moles who are leaking information to them? I learned about .NET four months before it was printed in the mass media (and I didn't have the money to pay off informants, or have private investigators dig through your trash, like Oracle or Sun does — Larry Ellison actually did have someone dig through the trash of Jonathan Zuck's lobbying firm). So, let's get off of the secrecy. Lay out your cards, then listen to your customers. Focus 100% of your attention on pleasing customers. Don't give us crud like Passport, SmartTags, or Product Activation, without showing them to your customers before implementing them.

Anyway, I doubt you'll actually implement any of my ideas (hey, you didn't get to have $40 billion in cash by listening to Scoble, and I recognize that). But, I hope you change. I switched OS's three times in my life so far, and I'll switch again soon if things don't get better. I can't put up with a company that doesn't listen to its customers. One thing that got me to switch from Apple to Microsoft in the early 1990s is that you were listening to your customers back then (and in amazing ways).

In the past few years I've seen Microsoft switch from a fast-moving, customer-focused, organization, to one that's slow, arrogant, and difficult to deal with (the attempted murder of the MVP program being one of the major pieces of evidence in that perception — now that the MVP program is being paid attention to again, it'll be interesting to see how things go and whether Microsoft really is about to change the way it deals with its customers). [Scobleizer]