How Microsoft extends the R&D model in India

Microsoft India Development Center, Hyderabad,...
Image by Marc_Smith via Flickr

Navi Radjou has an interesting post on how Microsoft approaches it’s global R&D over at the Harvard Business blog, excerpt:

Microsoft Reinvents Its Global R&D Model – Navi Radjou –

What impressed me most about TEM is its staff members’ multidisciplinary backgrounds. In addition to computer scientists and engineers, TEM also includes experts in the areas of ethnography, sociology, political science, and development economics, all of which help Microsoft understand the social context of technology in emerging markets like India. For instance, we met with Aishwarya Ratan, an associate researcher trained as a development economist, who is exploring the delivery of financial services to poor and low-literate clients using mobile technologies. Another researcher, Nimmi Rangaswamy, who has a background in social anthropology, is conducting ethnographic research in urban slums to identify the socio-economic needs of micro-entrepreneurs there — many of which can be addressed with technology.

By leveraging its multidisciplinary talent, TEM has developed some amazing solutions designed for emerging and underserved markets, both in rural and urban environments. For example, it has developed the MultiPoint mouse, which allows a single computer to be shared by multiple children in developing nations. My personal favourite is Digital Green (which I nicknamed “American Idol for Farmers”), a Web 2.0 initiative which tapes progressive farmers to disseminate their best practices across agricultural communities. Digital Green just won the 2008 Stockholm Challenge Award in the Culture category.

Undoubtedly Microsoft is pioneering the R&D 2.0 model that I discussed in my last post — an organizational model that relies on anthropologists and development economists to first decipher the socio-cultural needs of users in emerging markets like India and then use these deep insights to develop appropriate technology solutions. And it’s telling that Microsoft picked India as the epicentre of its global R&D transformation.

I don’t think Microsoft is alone in taking this approach in India or elsewhere, but it is notable that Microsoft recognizes that technological advancement alone will not lead to greater success in the future – particularly in emerging markets.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

SlideShare makes PowerPoint a social application

Microsoft PowerPoint (Mac OS X)
Image via Wikipedia

I hate PowerPoint.  Actually, I don’t hate PowerPoint, I hate how PowerPoint makes it easy for poor communicators to believe they can be the next Steve Jobs.  I’ve sat through excruciating 162-slide presentations done by ‘management’, in 10 point type.  I’ve nearly been blinded by awful color choices.  I’m sure you have too.  I think one of the primary reasons this happens is that most PowerPoint presentations are developed in a vacuum.  The lone PowerPoint ‘artiste’ slaves away, late at night, slapping together random thoughts and cheesy graphics into a massive deck that often misses the point.  SlideShare, the online slide deck sharing site (sort of a YouTube for slideware), has just released a PowerPoint plug-in, that may bring the lonely deck-developer into the social realm.  With the add-on, deck-developers will be able to share their works of art directly from the very non-social PowerPoint, and more importantly, be able to search for inspiration directly from within PowerPoint.  Appropriately, SlideShare has a slide deck to explain the advantages:

Now, sharing alone won’t solve the awful PowerPoint crisis, but hopefully if we get these people into group therapy, we can save at least one meeting from a cruel and unusual presentation.

SlideShare Presents Your Newest Social App: PowerPoint – ReadWriteWeb

Using the SlideShare Ribbon, users gain the ability to share presentations from within PowerPoint, update existing presentations with new content, search existing SlideShare presentations for examples, download SlideShare content for remixing, and view presentations from contacts and groups. User can also check their SlideShare statistics from within PowerPoint.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tim O’Reilly discusses web 2.0 and cloud computing

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison tells customers that ...

Image via Wikipedia

Over the last few months I’ve been asked, a lot, by some smart folks on how web 2.0 and cloud computing are defined, and what their impact will be on technology as a whole.  Since both terms are used very loosely, and often times by marketers who aren’t knowledgeable in either field, web 2.0 and cloud computing have somehow melded into one concept for many people.  This, however, is not the right way to look at things.  In a recent email to a friend I put forth my thoughts on the matter, and was busy recrafting a post from that email until I read Tim O’Reilly’s post this evening.  As expected, his definitions are much better than mine.  He also goes on to develop a case for the future impact of both concepts for the technology industry:

Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing – O’Reilly Radar

I believe strongly that open source and open internet standards are doing the same [migrating the point of profit] to traditional software. And value is migrating to a new kind of layer, which we now call Web 2.0, which consists of applications driven not just by software but by network-effects databases driven by explicit or implicit user contribution.
So when Larry Ellison says that cloud computing and open source won’t produce many hugely profitable companies, he’s right, but only if you look at the pure software layer. This is a lot like saying that the PC wouldn’t produce many hugely profitable companies, and looking only at hardware vendors! First Microsoft, and now Google give the lie to Ellison’s analysis. The big winners are those who best grasp the rules of the new platform.So here’s the real trick: cloud computing is real. Everything is moving into the cloud, in whole or in part. The utility layer of cloud computing will be just that, a utility, without outsized profits.

But the cloud platform, like the software platform before it, has new rules for competitive advantage. And chief among those advantages are those that we’ve identified as “Web 2.0”, the design of systems that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.

Read the whole post, it’s worthwhile.

The Powerset acquisition and what it means for Microsoft’s enterprise software business

Since the rumor about Microsoft’s $100M acquisition broke last week (now no longer a rumor, but a fact), I’ve had several people ask me on my take of where Microsoft is headed with this new tool in its search toolbox. First let me frame my angle here. Over the last four years I’ve worked in the small but interesting enterprise software space of knowledge management. One of the key elements of successful knowledge management is the ability to ‘find’ knowledge. As I recently wrote in a KM World article (Your Customers can Search, but do they Find?), finding implies a level of intelligence beyond simple keyword search. This is where natural language processing (NLP) technologies come into play. As with the field of knowledge management, NLP has been in and out of favor over the last decade. With the Powerset acquisition, Microsoft is clearly betting that NLP is not only back in favor, but Powerset’s brand of NLP is the best available in the market. That being said, here’s my take:

Most of the quick analysis of Microsoft’s move was focused too narrowly on the entire Yahoo acquisition drama, and Microsoft’s attempts to challenge Google, but Microsoft’s own Don Dodge stepped in with an excellent post of where the real potential of the Powerset acquisition lies:

1. Powerset technology is more about indexing the content and understanding its meaning, than the query itself. This has enormous implications.

2. There are many lucrative markets for this technology…not just consumer web search.

The second point is worth noting first. Of course Microsoft will use Powerset to enhance its struggling consumer search properties, but incorporating Powerset into its many enterprise applications has as much potential as a consumer solution. The enterprise approach can manifest itself in two of Microsoft’s most critical corporate infrastructure properties, Sharepoint and Exchange. Once a clunky file sharing server, Sharepoint has evolved into a venerable knowledge management platform that can also handle many modes of collaboration. If Microsoft incorporates Powerset’s NLP into Sharepoint, that platform will emerge as a serious threat to many of the pure enterprise knowledge management, content management software vendors that currently dot these markets. Many of these vendors routinely sell their technology as a replacement for the inadequate built-in search for Sharepoint. A Powerset integration could change the equation. Additionally, incorporating Powerset NLP into Exchange, Microsoft’s anchor platform in the enterprise, could add a layer of intelligent search that has yet to be addressed by other vendors. While it may prove impossible to regain significant marketshare in the consumer world, Microsoft has a significant opportunity to consolidate control in the enterprise knowledge management arena. Powerset’s technologies could play an integral part of this consolidation.

Now, back to Dodge’s first point. Indexing and enabling textual search on content is a relatively old, and easy task. Grafting meaning to that index is where the game changes. Intelligent search, or search with an implied meaning, will return ‘answers’ as opposed to ‘results’. There is a significant point to be understood here. In the traditional mode of searching, search engines are designed to bring back the entire subset of content where there are keyword matches. This can result in hundreds, thousands, and often times hundreds of thousands of ‘hits’ that are returned. Google’s strength is identifying these hits and then representing the most popular results at the top of the result set. Intelligent search is different. In fact a good measure of intelligent search is how few results are returned. Since intelligent search first attempts to find meaning on indexed content, the resulting hits returned by an engine like Powerset should only include that content which is in context to the entered query. This can have a huge impact in enterprise deployments of traditional search, but as Dodge says in his post, the utility of receiving ‘answers’ can be extended beyond content search to include advertisement targeting, and other enterprise focused solutions.

While it’s too early to know exactly what Microsoft will do with Powerset, I think it is as important to watch the enterprise software angle on this acquisition as the consumer angle.

Yahoo is the big loser, but Microsoft isn’t far behind

Unless you were living under a rock, you probably know by now that Microsoft decided to walk away from an acquisition of Yahoo! late yesterday afternoon. A great behind the scenes view of what happened was posted by Kara Swisher here. Earlier this week, a much smaller – almost insignificant – deal apparently collapsed as Microsoft was unable to purchase Xobni for what seem to be reasons that are similar to the collapse of the Yahoo!’s deal. Both Xobni and Yahoo! folks had an uneasy feeling of being absorbed by the Microsoft borg (of course price had a lot to do with it too). Fred Wilson seems to agree that Microsoft’s perceived pariah image in the industry hasn’t subsided. In fact, it may be getting worse under the antics of Mr. Ballmer. From my vantage point, it seemed that most technology folks were uneasy with Bill Gates’ Microsoft, but still had some respect for it as he was one of them. Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft is a different beast. Ballmer is first, and foremost, a salesman. Sales folks aren’t well regarded in this industry. Add to that Ballmer’s hard charging, and strange persona, and many techies just feel uncomfortable becoming a part of the borg. So far Google has escaped this problem, mainly because it is still a technology driven company. The famous “don’t be evil” line comes from an ‘anti-sales’ plea during the early days at Google (listen to Marissa Mayer’s interview on KQED here).

Ballmer the salesman wasn’t able to put together the package, financial and otherwise, that would have closed the deal. Sure it doesn’t make sense to bid up the price of an acquisition, especially if you just bidding against yourself, but Swisher’s post exposes the massive cultural rift between Microsoft and Yahoo…for that matter Microsoft and most other technology companies. That same cultural rift seems to have been a major factor in the collapse of the Xobni deal as well.

So, the general consensus is that Yahoo! was the big loser in the three month long saga, but I can’t believe that anyone would think that, this past week, Microsoft was a winner, at least not yet. $50 billion unspent dollars are certainly going to be used somewhere else, but Microsoft’s failures this week mean that any possible acquisition target will be looking for a higher premium to deal with borg assimilation.

Marc Andreessen’s analysis of the Microsoft – Yahoo drama

We all know Marc, a serial entrepreneur and founder of Netscape, right? Well, if you happen to follow his weblog, you’ll see that he also offers some very good analysis of ‘the events of the day’. Take, for example, his excellent post on the possibility of Microsoft going hostile on Yahoo. Here’s an excerpt:

We are learning that hostile takeovers have arrived in our industry. This is the second major hostile takeover so far — the other was Oracle’s takeover of Peoplesoft — but there will be more.

This is significant because historically hostile takeovers practically never happened in technology. Potential hostile acquirors assumed that hostile takeovers wouldn’t work because the target company’s employees would bail and the target company’s business would collapse.

It turns out that as technology companies become larger and more mature, acquirors are becoming increasingly convinced that neither of these assumptions hold. Perhaps employees of large tech companies aren’t that bonded to current management, and perhaps many of them would actually prefer to work for a larger, more dominant combined company. And maybe as a consequence, the target’s business would do just fine in the wake of a hostile takeover — in fact, maybe it would do better, due to advantages of combined size and scale.

Anyone who has been in this industry for the last five or six years knows that the early, go-go days, are well behind it. Andreessen mentions the Oracle takeover of Peoplesoft as the first hostile act, and that may be true. What we should also remember is that, by going hostile on Peoplesoft, Larry Ellison fired a shot across the bow of every major enterprise software company. Soon after the Peoplesoft acquisition, Ellison went on a tear, acquiring over 40 major enterprise software companies including my old employer, Siebel Systems. Just a few years before, this type of consolidation was not imaginable within the industry because the enterprise software vendors were living under two equally delusional assumptions, the first that double digit growth would not go away for a long time, and second – as Andreessen points out – hostile acquisitions would lead to a mass exodus of talent from the acquired companies. Unlike consolidation in other industries, a software company’s real asset is their human capital. The risk of losing this human capital, it was assumed, served as a natural ‘poison pill’ to hostile acquisition. But, as consolidation becomes a norm, not an exception, people have fewer and fewer places to flee to, undermining the bulwark of human capital flight.

At least through a Microsoft acquisition, Yahoo employees – those that survive the inevitable cuts – will have a management team that has some understanding of their business. Oracle has proven that such acquisitions can drive growth, now it might finally be time for Microsoft to do the same.

Great 67 point rant on why Outlook sucks

Outlook is one of those Microsoft applications than can shorten your life. I’ve seen people fly into rage because of some inanely stupid thing that Outlook did. I’ve had really powerful computers slow to a crawl while Outlook ‘does its business’. Even with substantial improvements under Outlook 2007, I still am amazed that Microsoft can’t get Outlook to close correctly, consistently – it seems like every other time I try to close Outlook, I have to actually go to the Task Manager to kill the process. Of course, that then forces a slow load the next time around, because as Outlook informs you, the last time I exited the application it ‘didn’t close properly’. Wanderingstan has taken great pains to pinpoint sixty seven such maladies that befall Outlook. Some excerpts:

  • 7. Mysterious selection of address for recipient (Outlook 2003)
    • Once a name is recognized (God knows when that magically happens), and the person has multiple addresses, you don’t know which one it picked. (Because it never shows email addresses) You have to double-click the name to find out what it picked.
  • 8. Broken auto-guessing of names (Outlook 2003)
    • You type in a name, and it doesn’t do any auto complete. In fact, sometimes you don’t know who it’s going to pick until you hit send (or proactively hit the “Find Names” button) if the person you want isn’t yet in your contacts, but someone of a similar name is, you’ve just emailed the wrong person!
  • 9. Outlook 2007 has removed keyboard shortcuts from the email editor.
    • Because you wouldn’t want people to be able to work any faster…
    • See this thread on Lockergnome.
  • 10. No concept of nicknames (like every other email program on the planet.)
    • Why can’t I email my friend Daniel Newman with just “Danny”, as I refer to him, without losing the fact in my contact info that his legal name is Daniel?
  • Read more here.

    My thoughts exactly

    Jerry Yang and David Filo, the founders of Yahoo!Image via Wikipedia

    Michael Gartenberg just posted exactly what I was thinking on the Microsoft offer to buy Yahoo:

    It should have been written

    Dear Yahoo Shareholder:

    How would you like to get Yahoo’s share price from six months ago back, tomorrow?

    Of course the deal will take longer to playout, but it’s already been months since Jerry Yang‘s promise to shake up Yahoo! in his first 100 days as the re-installed CEO and all shareholders have seen is an orderly demise of the stock price. This may be the best exit possible for all involved. As for the longer term play of a combined Microsoft-Yahoo, well that’s harder to predict.

    I’ve got several posts to upload in the next few days

    Vista’s annoying manner of handling IP connections has proven to be a greater challenge than actually getting high speed connections in India. As a result, I’ve got several posts sitting on my laptop that are waiting to be posted. I’ll get them out as soon as possible, now that I’ve got a connection finally working. Did I mention that I hate Vista?

    I’ve updated my twitter connection to work with my AirTel number in India, so I’ll be adding tweets faster than blogging.

    My last Windows based computer

    A few months back, I upgraded to a new convertible Tablet PC – the Lenovo X61T – replacing my workhorse tablet, the Toshiba M200. I had the M200 for three years, the longest that I’ve used any laptop. As the M200 approached the end of its useful life, I seriously considered migrating to a new Intel-based MacBook. The key factor that kept me from making the switch was the lack of inking capabilities on Macs. I wasn’t an early adopter of tablets, but by the time the M200 arrived, the technology was stable enough to be useful on a regular basis. The practicality and usefulness of a tablet led me to buy the Lenovo. Buying the Lenovo wasn’t a mistake, but choosing Windows Vista certainly was.

    Before I slam Vista outright, I want to recognize how well Microsoft integrated the tablet interface into Vista. Inking is at the core of the operating system, best I can tell, as reflected in the omnipresent Tablet PC Input Panel. Inking definitely feels more natural in Vista than it did on XP. Unfortunately, the instability of Vista, along with odd behavioral issues have made Vista increasingly difficult to deal with. Quite a bit has already been written about Vista’s quirks, so I won’t devote much space to those issues here. However, I can categorize my disappointments with Vista in two key areas, productivity and stability.

    First, productivity. Maybe it’s me, but I think most people assume full version upgrades of software should drive greater productivity by either adding a substantial set of new features or simplifying processes through better automation or functionality. Vista fails on all these fronts; in fact it feels more and more like a dot release of XP. To be sure there are a few features that have made me productive, but this has been offset by a loss of productivity on other features. All in all, I don’t see the vast improvement that was promised.

    Second, stability. Stability has never been a calling card of Microsoft operating systems. With the release of Vista, Microsoft promised it’s most stable operating system ever. Here too, I don’t see the improvements. Instead Vista has introduced some of the most annoying things I’ve ever seen in an operating system. For example, when docking or undocking my Lenovo, both the laptop screen and the attached external monitor go through a random screen flicker/rotation sequence that varies everytime I dock/undock. Rumor has it that the service pack that Microsoft is due to release will resolve this…I’m not betting on it. In the last few days I’ve started to get random lockups while working on the Lenovo. That is an absolute non-starter for a workhorse PC that I rely on to do all of my work.

    I’m seriously considering ‘downgrading’ the Lenovo back to XP. That isn’t an optimal solution, but XP has gone through two service pack releases, with another apparently on the way. Those patches did make XP more stable, and I’d rather wait for a similar set of patches to be released for Vista before returning to it. Vista’s Aero Glass look is slick, but that alone won’t keep me on a system that I can’t rely on.

    I don’t plan to replace the Lenovo anytime soon, but I doubt that I’ll keep this machine for three years like the M200. I am nearly certain that my next machine will be one of those Intel powered Apple Macs. Yes, I know that Apple’s laptops have issues of their own, but the operating system has proven to be more reliable than Windows. There is the added attraction of running both OSs on the MacBooks, another nice feature. Now if Apple could bring some of that touch technology from the iPhone to their laptops, we’d have the optimal solution.