May 262010

M$ doesn’t have much of a presence in markets that aren’t inherited. As opposed to the Windows, Office and Server dinosaurs, Microsoft’s attempts at making things people actually want to use have been somewhat less successful. The entity known as the “Entertainment and Devices” division of Microsoft has been a balance sheet singularity responsible for, among other things, the RROD and the Zune each contributing to the copious effluence of red ink gushing from the division since it first appearance in the books. A series of mostly underwhelming and universally capital-hemorrhaging products and vapor paved the way for the latest slap against Ballmer’s flabby jowls. When SB appeared onstage at CES, he was groping an HP tablet called the Slate, a device meant to compete with the soon-to-be-shipped iPad. When HP bought Palm, they pulled the plug on the device a mere 5 months after SB fondled a demo in front of hundreds of frothing keynoters. The term I’m looking for here is “suck it”.

Making shitastic products is one thing; losing a major hardware host partner is quite another. Ballmer has put his foot down. After 22 years, Robbie Bach is hitting the bricks.

I want to spend a second on the HP-Palm thing. In the salad years, when Microsoft said “jump”, its hardware partners grabbed their ankles. Without question. Back then, pulling off an acquisition that could be perceived as competing with a M$ offering would have gotten you kicked off the Windows tit in a heartbeat. Now, in 2010, one of the largest PC builders thinks nothing of acquiring a company that competes directly with Redmond in the mobile space, potentially risking their status as a Windows OEM to do it. They pulled a product made for their Masters out of the pipeline – practically out of Ballmer’s hands – in the process. No wonder you can still see the skidmarks in Redmond where Robbie’s ass bounded to the curb.

A week prior, M$’s Chief Experience Officer and CTO for E&D J Allard decided not to return from a sabbatical, possibly due to the dirt nap taken by the Courier project, something J (just J, got it?) was personally championing. Apparently Allard was disappointed that the Courier never graduated from “design student animation thesis” to, you know, something with specs and stuff that could actually be built. Maybe he missed the Microsoft orientation video on vaporware.

Looks like some senior vermin are taking the plunge from the SS Borg. Maybe they see the future for Microsoft that everyone else in tech sees.

So who will take on responsibility for the latest sucking void within the sucking void that is E&D?

Effective July 1, Don Mattrick, who leads our interactive entertainment business, and Andy Lees, who leads our mobile communications business, will report directly to me.

The “me”? Steve Ballmer. If you’re a Microsoft competitor, this is liquid awesome.

Apr 082010

Like a bloated lion, Microsoft waits for other, more innovative companies to launch products before waddling to market, bellowing the entire saunter from their shaded tree about how awesome their product is going to be. The idea being that competition would be discouraged from mobilizing and people who still hadn’t made a purchase decision would be frozen, waiting for M$’s entry. Sometimes they’d make it to market; most of the time they didn’t. Back in the days of Longhorn, an OS that was slated to succeed XP and was heavily promoted with fanciful technologies yet somehow never made it to market, this trick worked pretty well. It essentially killed innovation in the computer and consumer electronics spaces, but what the fuck, it made Microsoft money – or it least prevented it from flowing to its competition.

Nowadays, everyone in tech is wise to Microsoft’s vaporware bait-and-ditch tactics. Yet incredibly, the company continues to juice markets with nothing backing up their claims to enter them besides a “concept animation”. If there’s anything in the market that smells a little like innovation, you can bet Redmond will announce their better, more powerful version coming soon, soon, soon! Commenters in Gizmodo and Engadget spring their collective wood, actually expecting a product to be released in their lifetime. Think Charlie Brown, Lucy and a football.

As a public service to the community, TMA has decided to keep track of some of Microsoft’s “coming soon” technologies that, although are still very early in development, hasn’t stopped the company from showing off celebrity demos and producing very detailed animations of how their “products” will work. I call this service “Operation Vaporwatch”. Let’s start with Microsoft’s latest gaming vapor…

Project Natal

Jun 1, 2009: In a move no doubt intended to staunch the arterial bleeding inflicted by Nintendo’s Wii on the XBox 360, Microsoft unveils a super-advanced motion-sensing set top device with the code name Project Natal (as in Nepal, not dreidel). The device is announced with no ship date and no price, but plenty of fanfare. Its demo videos and celebrity endorsements are the talk of the 2009 E3. In a follow-up confirmation from Ballmer himself, Natal is to be released before the end of 2010. You read that right: 18 months from the product’s announcement. Try to think of a product in the tech space – any tech product – that gets announced a year and a half before its scheduled release. TMA immediately calls horse

Jun 3, 2009: In what TMA will later refer to as part of “the Wonka Factory Tour”, during which Gizmodo editors are walked through Microsoft’s product development centers in exchange for fair and balanced reporting, Mark Wilson and Matt Buchanan are treated to exclusive access to Natal’s 3D Breakout and Burnout Revenge demos. A “small PC and camera that simulates the final Natal rig” are used. One would assume the PC will not come with Natal when it does ship. No specs of said PC are divulged. Also missing is any photo or video of the actual gameplay experience – something that might actually mark the performance of the PC-enhanced units or – you know – build an actual buzz. Regardless, both editors rave about “immersiveness”. The resulting unbiased review is titled “Testing Project Natal: We Touched the Intangible”.

June 2009 – Jan 2010: Redmond is overrun by crickets. Payload delivered.

Jan 7, 2010: According to a statement from Alex Kipman, Natal’s chief developer, Natal still exists and the add-on will consume a meager 15% of the XBox 360’s processing power, or in laymen’s terms 40 dB.

Feb 23, 2010: MTV clocks the lag between body movements and the corresponding on-screen output at 1/10 second. FPS games from 1995 point and laugh.

Jun 152009

First off‚ in the interest of full disclosure‚ I own an XBox 360.  Despite Microsoft’s involvement‚ developers have managed to take a hilariously deficient piece of hardware (my personal RROD hit about 8 months after purchase) and build a gaming library that allows me to swear at 10 year-olds a couple of nights a week.

Now at E3‚ Microsoft pulled one of its game-changing-breakthroughs-for-which-we-have-no-release-date announcements.  Haven’t I seen this kind of thing before?  Tell me if this doesn’t look familiar:

-Is the product being pounded into the dirt by competition that is either better-in-class (PS3) or through the use of innovative technology (Wii)?  Check and check.

-Does the announcement have a delivery date?  Not really.

-Is the speculated release date for the product make it look less like vaporware?  Ummm…late 2010?  18 fucking months? Jesus Christ: that’s the tech equivalent of 10 years!

-Despite not having any official release date for a real-world product‚ has that prevented from demoing the non-product as something that looks pretty goddamned finished?  Or having it announced by an academy-award winning director (by the way Spielberg‚ after what you did to the Indiana Jones franchise‚ shilling M$ vaporware was a natural next step for you)‚ pimped by celebrities and hyped on late-night talk shows?   Nah.

-Are said demos staged‚ if not downright choreographed?  You tell me.  (Please make a note of the camera time depicting actual gameplay vs. the time spent on everything else.  I get 4 seconds.)

This is a classic M$ vaporware setup.

1. Announce something that looks like you have a shread of creativity.

2. Do not give a release date or imply a date so far out in the future that hybrid hovercars stand as good a shot of coming to market.  That way the product might be out in 18 months‚ but it could be 6!  OMG – which one is it?!?!

3. Enjoy the benefit of having frozen purchases of your competitor’s superior products indefinitely.

4a. Turn 18 months into 3 years‚ then shrug your shoulders and claim the product was “a concept”.

4b. Release something that has 10% of the utility (or as they like to say in Redmond “Teh Wow”) intimated by your breathless initial demos/celebrity knob-gobbling.

I have to give the company credit: they work this bit more effectively than anyone out there.

Update: Gizmodo reports that Ballmer has confirmed 2010 as the availability…year.  And we know that Steve the Less never misses a projection, right?

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