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Is Microsoft still playing games and accelerating toward irrelevance?

My level of trust in Microsoft has always been incredibly low. From the crushing of Netscape to the “hidden” API’s to the games they’ve played to make any competitor’s software run poorly and ending with the lack of support for Web standards, I’ve never been at all interested in anything they do.

With Ray Ozzie coming on board and seeming moves to embrace an increasingly fragmented and disparate developer ecosystem — and an accelerating amount of choice with Web applications (and huge competition from Google) — I thought they’d learned their lesson. Maybe they have….maybe they haven’t. I don’t spend much brain energy thinking about them but I continue to simply have poor experiences with virtually every use of a Microsoft product or service.

As I’m scanning my RSS feeds (Note: in Google Reader), I just saw this post on Engadget about an apparent stumble on the Today show where Meredith Viera was unable to figure out how to take a call from Matt Lauer on the iPhone. Engadget mentioned, “We couldn’t get the video to play on a Mac, but we’ll keep an eye out for a YouTube version, let us know if you see anything.” I thought, “Nah….can’t be” and went there to try for myself on my MacBook Pro.

As you can see from the graphic, to view the video you need to “install free software” including “Firefox 1.5 (I’m on 2.0.0.4) and to “Download Macromedia Flash Player” (I’m using Flash Player 9).  Why don’t they just say, “Hello Loser. Why don’t you join the dwindling majority of the rest of the planet who are still using Internet Explorer 6 and our operating system?

Let’s suppose that the iPhone is, in fact, wildly successful and the best user experiences are with Web hosted sites and applications that work on this phone. Let’s further suppose that Linux iPhone clones proliferate (several already exist in some form like these)? Will Microsoft support them? Don’t count on it.

There are so many areas that Microsoft is increasingly irrelevant…like video. I understand that they’re beside themselves or the ubiquity of the Flash platform and that virtually every video (and video streaming) site uses Flash technology. According to this article, YouTube’s market share is greater than the next 64 video sharing sites combined and Microsoft isn’t a factor anywhere within this space. So, should Microsoft create and deliver an offense that focuses on the best, most ubiquitously delivered video platform in the history of mankind or play defense by throwing up obstacles and barriers? IMHO, the former is today’s recipe for success and the latter an accelerant toward irrelevance.

NOTE: I just re-read the error screen and tried it in Safari 3 beta and it worked. The kicker? I don’t use Safari since WYSIWYG editor toolbars (like I use in Typepad to do a post) didn’t work in Safari though do somewhat in Safari 3 beta.

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Future of Work is Gaming

For years my 12 year old son has expressed over and over again how he wants to be in the video game space. He’s stayed on campus at the UofMN for two years with ID Tech Camp’s summer programs in video game design and is immersed in gaming and virtual worlds.

At first, my bride and I were concerned by his rabid and passionate embrace of games. “Hey…go outside and ride your bike or something” was our constant refrain on beautiful summer days when he was opting to be inside gaming with a buddy or a team online. As a parent, the key to successful launching of a kid is to find and fuel their passion — whatever it may be and regardless of how we might feel about it — so we’re fueling his gaming passion (and still ensuring he is balanced and in the fresh air!).

I’ve been skimming articles for a few years now on the examinations of gaming theory on learning, collaboration, team building and educational process. Great minds are examining the power of video games — a power which even was being looked at as a possible psychiatric addiction…but the American Medical Association recently eliminated it from inclusion in a widely used diagnostic manual of psychiatric illnesses.

Now IBM has been seriously exploring the future of work and gaming (by way of 3PointD) with the firm Seriosity.

Figuring out the importance, the best practices and zero’ing in on the most powerful aspects of virtual work — and creating software systems and processes that are effective — make perfect sense for an organization like IBM and this study and their initiative is highly interesting. But I’m more interested in the fact that IBM is even looking at this category as I join other strategists and visionaries in determining what it means when business, education, social ties and human consciousness are connected and increasingly virtual.

How do we come together in teams virtually? What software can we use that is instantly intuitive and fosters collaboration and, especially, creativity and innovation? What are the protocols and behaviors we need to exhibit in order to make virtual connections trustworthy, meaningful and productive? How can coming together virtually be really fun and delightful so it will be attractive rather than a burden to participants?

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iPhone: Don’t forget the 1st generation iPod

I promised myself that I wouldn’t do an iPhone post, but I figure I may as well join in on the phun.

Six years ago in October of 2001, my (then) 12 year old daughter and I stood outside the Mall of America Apple store in anticipation of the release of this new music player called the iPod. I still own this device (and it’s still working) and when I hold it side-by-side with my current 60GB video iPod — or my wife’s nano — I’m stunned by how far Apple has come iterating this little music player and the category overall.

I expect nothing less from future iPhone devices.

In an increasingly mobile world, easy to use and fully functional computers on our hips or in our purses is key. When I did the post, “Mobile Global Grid: When the world is at your fingertips” I was really clear on the importance of having the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. The iPhone and the design bar Apple is setting will benefit all of us as mobile devices become more powerful, the network bandwidth larger and more of us with these devices.

I read Walt Mossberg (here) and David Pogue’s (here) reviews and it’s amusing to see how the blogosphere is leaping on to anything that smacks of a negative perspective. Mossberg’s “on balance it’s great” and Pogue’s seeming major concern about the AT&T network, “The bigger problem is the AT&T network. In a Consumer Reports study, AT&T’s signal ranked either last or second to last in 19 out of 20 major cities. My tests in five states bear this out. If Verizon’s slogan is, “Can you hear me now?” AT&T’s should be, “I’m losing you.” are clearly spot-on but many are leaping on them as harbingers of why the iPhone isn’t hype worthy and may stumble.

Look…any first generation “category killer” product has warts. There is no perfection but Apple has clearly entered with a disruptive device that will only get better as they iterate. Knowing Apple as I do, they’ve already got generations 2 and 3 well planned out and the mobile telephony device industry is undoubtedly shooting to meet-n-exceed the current iPhone design…

….but if they are, by the time they ship the next generation iPhone will be on the shelves.

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What if there is no equilibrium?

One result of an increasingly interconnected world — and we humans who are leveraging this network, adding ourselves as nodes to it — is that hundreds of thousands or millions of changes are occurring everywhere. Change is being accelerated because people can help people; ideas are propagated at the speed electrons can traverse the ‘net; and thoughts inform others thoughts which build upon one another quickly.

New companies are popping up all over, industries are being disrupted globally, and the fear most status quo holders have is about the disruption we will NOT see.

I’ve been observing this massive change enabled, in no small part, by the Internet-as-a-platform, Web/Enterprise 2.0 space and have slowly realized that no one, no analyst organization or set of thought leaders is going to be able to track and even identify disruption and emergence everywhere on our planet.

When I think about industries that have been disrupted by quickly emerging competitors in the past: railroads; vacuum tube companies; minicomputer makers; today’s newspaper and television providers; or even the printing industry my 94 year old father-in-law worked in for his entire career; I see now that disruption occurred but there was ample time for adaption. Companies adapted, industries figured out how to stay relevant or go away, economies discovered new revenue streams, and equilibrium was reached.

But what would happen if equilibrium is no longer within reach?

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Choosy thieves choose Dell….or do they prefer Apple?

Was delighted to have breakfast this morning with an old friend I haven’t seen in several years since he moved to Michigan. It was great catching up and sharing stories and some context around our lives currently.

One anecdote I’d like to share — with an appropriate dash of empathy for he and his bride — was his story about the two of them going out to dinner last night here in Minneapolis with a friend and they left her MacBook Pro and his Dell laptop in the car (I assume) partially covered up in the back seat.

When they came out after dinner, the back window of the car was smashed and her MacBook Pro was gone!

You guessed it….they left Tom’s Dell laptop on the seat.

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Discover Your Strengths

Marcus Buckingham

The more you know about yourself, the better able you will be to make the choices in life that will ensure you’re doing the right work, taking your optimal path and ensuring you’re working up to your potential.

Same thing goes with people you manage, those you mentor or even your kids. If you learn what makes them tick and fills them with passion, they’ll have a spring in their step and achieve their greatest potential — and be in the right place in or out of your organization.

I’ve been assessed, probed, analyzed and dissected by the best. I’ve done the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI); Myers-Briggs; executive-level assessments from the behavioral consulting group Spencer, Shenk, Capers; and many more. Thousands and thousands of dollars have been expended on my behalf to figure out how my brain is wired and who I am.

Here’s the funny thing: my bride has never thought anything accurately assessed the essence of Steve Borsch until my executive coaches, George Johnson and Jeff Staggs, had me buy a $35 book and take the online test that comes with it. The book? Marcus Buckingham’s Now Discover Your Strengths and the online test done by the Gallup organization.

When I came back from George’s place on Lake Superior early last year having my assessment results in my hands, I sat down with Michelle and read her the five paragraphs which laid out my top five strengths. When I finished, she grinned and exclaimed, “Steve, that is THE best description of EXACTLY who you are that I’ve ever heard!

Oh how this knowledge has helped guide my client choices; ensured I turned down job offers I previously would’ve leapt at; and the result is that I’m significantly happier with my work today than ever before (and I can also look back at high achievement past jobs where I performed but was miserable…because I wasn’t capitalizing on my strengths).

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Being dependent on applications in “the cloud”

Vonage’s dashboard page has been down all morning. This is the place where all features of the service can be tweaked like voicemail, forwarding phones and so on. Fortunately this hasn’t been a deal killer for us today, but it reminds me of my increasing dependence on service levels for applications that live in the cloud (i.e., hosted applications served via the Internet).

More of my life is entangled with Google (Gmail; Reader; Notebook; Analytics) and when there is a hiccup with email specifically, much of my communication grinds to a halt.

This Vonage “upgrading” is bothersome since there isn’t any convenient way to perform tasks with Vonage offline (I could do it via the phone itself, but the help system is online!). Google Gears is interesting as is other offline use for other Web applications, but if you haven’t sync’ed recently and the hosted application goes offline, it’s a moot point.

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Will Apple’s Safari become a rich, Internet application container?

When Steve Jobs put up the slide at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) last week that the Safari browser would be available on Windows, there was interest but not much discussion in the blogosphere of why Apple would do it. Some thought it was stupid to try and fight the browser war on Windows.

I see the logic of it and think it’s stealthy, clever and absolutely brilliant. Here’s why…

Apple announced at WWDC that there are currently 500 million active users of iTunes. Every iTunes installation has Quicktime in it. Thinking about the huge install base of Quicktime for some time, I’ve been puzzled why Apple wasn’t taking advantage of Quicktime as a delivery mechanism for cool online-n-offline functionality that is being delivered by Adobe’s AIR and Microsoft’s Silverlight.

But then Steve Jobs shows Safari on Windows and I had one of those forehead-slap moments and a “Doh!” utterance: Safari will be the rich, internet application (RIA) container, not just Quicktime alone!

In his keynote, Jobs emphasized over-n-over again that “the iPhone contains the exact same version of Safari as this one” when describing Safari 3, played up strongly that this same Safari runs on the iPhone and that developers can now create apps for the iPhone by delivering them inside of Safari!

Check out this at the 37Signals blog where Jason says, “That is a bold idea. Very forward thinking. A whole new product with the opportunity for a whole new platform. But instead Apple chooses simple and familiar: HTML and Javascript. Tens of millions of developers already know it. Instant developer uptake and an instant batch of apps that likely already work with the iPhone.” Then look at the first comment which says, “I fully agree. And these are scary times for those who try to push RIA  technology like Flex and Silverlight.” (Note: John Gruber has a much different take on Apple’s positioning of writing Web apps for the iPhone with Safari, “It’s insulting, because it’s not a way to write iPhone apps, and you can’t bullshit developers.

But it gets better.

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My Live TV Adventure…

Delivering live TV is always an adventure, but even more so when everything you’re using is free and the sheer act of using it is stepping out onto the ledge with a 20 story drop in front of you!

Last Friday evening, Malcolm Cohan delivered a live webinar to ~20 or so people that I set up (this screenshot above is from a later date and it’s only me in the chat room) scattered all over the US, London and Germany.

Though I’m not a developer, I knew what we were trying to achieve for Malcolm and that we’d be out on the bleeding edge a bit using the beta of this awesome video production platform, Mogulus, along with Malcolm’s incredible energy and his TV production background. The screenshot is of a web page for this first small event. I embedded the Mogulus player as well as live chat with a Meebo room I signed up for and also embedded in the page. The whole page was under 100k since the functionality was hosted elsewhere.

We set up lights, the shot with Malcolm with windows behind him, a microphone and mixer and a separate prosumer camcorder on a tripod so the video quality would be good. He ran the Mogulus platform and cued up videos he’d uploaded previously (which was really cool) so he could play videos and insert them directly into the live stream. I modulated the audio as I watched and listened (and recorded) the live stream to ensure that our audience was having a good experience.

When I wrote this post about Mogulus a couple of weeks ago I hadn’t yet used the platform. After our experience last Friday, I’m absolutely stunned with what power this brings to deliver Live TV *and* 24/7 playing of videos (which, by the way, is perfect to do before the live segment begins). I’m also acutely aware of my scale discussion since I could only imagine a hot show with thousands of people (or multiple tens of thousands) logging on to view and crashing the Mogulus servers. It could be ugly and there really isn’t any way to predict if a Mogulus, uStream or Stickam could even handle large scale events.

This was not without hitches. One person viewing didn’t have enough bandwidth (slow DSL connection) and another saw only a black square instead of the video (he didn’t have a current Flash install) so there are still hiccups which browser sensing could help overcome (to check bandwidth and look for the correct version of Flash).

The other piece to this is what you see above. Look-n-feel is important. I want to pay for a branded, skinned player that is mine and a branded, skinned chat room that works great (because of Internet latency of multiple second delays, chat is currently the best method of interacting with an audience). I also don’t want to pay more for monthly access to a live streaming platform than I do for my office space (most of the big providers: WebEx, Adobe Connect, charge hundreds or thousands per month) or have anyone insert their advertising into my live or recorded streams.  Bandwidth use as live TV shows take off and scale is going to be the #1 issue any of us who are dabbling in these technologies will face. Still, doing this event with Malcolm just made me grin as to the possibilities!

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The World is Awakening…

What happens when everyone becomes awake? I don’t mean from sleep, but rather have fully developed a level of consciousness that ensures they’re aware of human connection, ideas and possibilities in new and radical ways?

If you’re a C-level executive, strategist, marketer, in product development, sales, are a teacher or small businessperson (or frankly anyone), the accelerating shifts in consciousness will impact what you do or deliver…and probably already is whether you’re aware of it or not.

My work in Web/Enterprise 2.0, community and communications through the Internet-as-a-platform means that I am seeing and experiencing this awakening on a daily basis. Simple things like watching people come together in a collaborative space and discovering how important it is to have everyone see the same vision of a product so they’re in sync; understanding the importance of ritual in a virtual meeting (e.g., how to lead a session and ensure everyone has a voice); deepening their understanding of markets and the people within them; and the inner drive people are exhibiting to move toward a vision for humanity that they live by. Businesses ignore this at their own peril.

This article in Fast Company (a publication I’m respecting more than ever as they push against the membrane of the future with articles like this one) is kinda, sorta a mashup about new concepts in ‘green’, activist capitalism, and open source and is one of the most fascinating examples I’ve seen for some time about strategies and concepts tapping into this awakening world and an ever-expanding human consciousness.

It starts out, “Somewhere between the Oscar for Al Gore’s planetary-disaster epic, An Inconvenient Truth, and the canonization of Angelina Jolie by the United Nations (in association with People (NYSE:TWX) magazine), the message started sinking in: The cultural conversation around the environment, social change, and human rights is approaching maximum velocity. What is arguably urgent has become inarguably hip.” To me, the operative words are “cultural conversation”, “maximum velocity” and “inarguably hip” in that paragraph and it is blatantly obvious to me that the company discussed in this feature couldn’t have happened until now.

As I read I realized that all that I’ve been seeing and experiencing recently — both on and offline — is but a tip-of-the-iceberg of this global awakening.

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