Friday, February 24, 2006

Products Designed For Nerds

I went ahead and bought MSFT today for my long-term portfolio. I'm a little aprehensive about this addition because having capital tied up in Microsoft stock is like watching paint dry. Even though this is a boring stock I think that Microsoft may be on the verge of some good things finally happening. Perhaps they will finally be able to get some press in the next year or two that moves the stock a little.

Among those good things is the "Origami Project" which I just read about on Slashdot . Could it be that amidst all of the headlines surrounding Research In Motions' legal troubles that Microsoft quietly developed a viable competitor to the blackberry? Just from the long list of features and looking at the picture of the "Origami" device, I'm inclined to answer that question with "NO". What really stands out to me from skimming this article is that it has a ton of features and that it looks kind of big and clunky to me. Of course it's hard to tell from the picture how big it really is. We will know more on March 4th presumably. My major concern here is that MSFT may have done what they always try to do with their products. They throw in a ton of features which are poorly integrated and cumbersome to use. For the most part, the blockbuster consumer electronics products lately have all been sleek, cool, and simple. Think iPod, Razor, blackberry...All small, intuitive, simple devices that look cool.

I think the problem with MSFT is that they are a company run by engineers, which is usually a good thing for a tech company, but when you want to market a consumer electronics device that will be carried around in the pockets of millioins of regular people you have to know what's cool. Most engineers just don't know what that is.

Because I am a computer programmer, and perhaps also because I am the type of person who reads Slashdot everyday, I know what goes through these guys heads when they visualize their ideal portable consumer electronic device. What really excites engineers is a product that packs tons of features above all else. They don't mind (and may even enjoy) having to read a manual to figure out exactly how to use all of these powerful features. When a normal person buys a camera phone for instance, if it takes an hour to figure out how to e-mail a picture to a friend, assuming they don't give up, they feel absolutely disgusted and angered by the process. An engineer on the other hand feels a sense of triumph when he (and I definately mean"he") finally figures out how to use a confusing new device. For the engineer complexity is a desired feature.

When the engineer gets a new electronic device he is excited by the thought of spending an hour or two exploring every single feature. Then after the thing is thoroughly explored he can't wait to hang the thing on his belt as a geek trophy and walk outside so that everyone can see that he has the newest and most powerful technology at his finger tips. In this respect, if the device is a little oversized it is percieved as a little bit of a plus in his mind because it makes this thing that much more visible.

As an aside, there is just something that I have to get off of my chest here. Since only my friends read this blog and most of them are engineers I'm hesitent to say this. I worry that I will offend many, but this is just too important to be left unsaid...I'm trying to think of a delicate way to say this...but...umm..I can't, so I'll just go and say it because you guys look like fucking dorks when you do these things: When you are out on the town if you feel the need to cary cell phones, pagers, or palm sized computers...these things all belong hidden away inside your pockets. They should not be hanging on your belt for all to see. No matter how expensive, state of the art, or technologically advanced the device is it not a cool fashion accessory. Period. It just isn't cool. Proudly sporting your new pager and cell phone hanging on your belt in a club says "I'm a huge Nerd". And for God's sake, please don't whip out your new cell phones and size them up across the table, side by side in bars and restaurants. That's especially pathetic.

Anyway, this is my concern with the new Microsoft device. My fear is that they have designed this thing for the "I wanna hang the latest high tech gadget on my belt crowd", rather than for the cool people who Apple, Research in Motion, and Motorolla design their products for.

However, there is one huge advantage that Microsoft has going for them. It is very expensive for a company to buy and set up the Blackberry infrastructure on the server side I am told. With a Microsoft product on the other hand, the only infrastructure the company needs is the Microsoft Exchange server which is allready paid for and running more or less just fine in the company's server room right now at this very moment. If a few employees want to try out the Microsoft product, it will allready be integrated with the companies information infrastructure without much new investment. Because of this fact, I suspect that Microsoft will be able to do what they have always done best. That of course is to leverage an existing monopoly to get their products into customers hands. This is why I think Microsoft has a good chance to compete in this venue, even if their product does end up being dorky and hard to use. Furthermore, I may be surprised. Maybe this thing will actually be cool too...

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