I have recently been asked if Microsoft has a defined ‘go to market solution for a digital product Catalogue. So this catalogue idea (as i get my head round quickly developing thought patters) is a document management system, tightly integrated into the customers existing legacy systems that pan across the channels of their route to market such as stores, mail order and the internet. It ensures one, common view/product description and information out to the customer base and is known and a Product Information Management Solution within the industry. An effective Product Information Management (PIM) solution centralises the management of factual and descriptive information and assets relating to a company’s products. This provides increased control and communications consistency across whichever channel or territory the company is operating in.

While many companies have addressed organisational efficiencies from the supply chain perspective, many are yet to introduce the same concept to their marketing and sales operations. For most it doesn’t make sense to try and extend already complex supply chain technologies to offer these facilities due to the mission critical nature of these systems. It also makes no sense to manage such core marketing information in a channel-specific application such as a web content management system.

In a standard deployment this form of solution would take a data feed from a supply chain system (such as S.A.P. for example), which would supply core factual information which would then be enhanced and categorised by product, merchandising and marketing personnel.

Access to this validated product information is then opened up meaning that other stakeholders can collaborate and enrich the product information. This may be between internal departments or can involve external parties such as copywriting, media or photographic agencies.

A central single-entry data repository provides the consistency and discipline to mobilise product information as a strategic asset. You can rest safe in the knowledge that your product information is accurate and complete – ready to deploy across the business!

So do we at Microsoft have something to do this? The answer is no but we do have the component parts to make such a solution that would be bespoke to the customers requirements and have the richness of tight integration with their existing Microsoft investments. From a user point of view we would be familiar and the training implications would be negligible in comparison to solutions from IBM for e.g. I am going to discuss this idea and concept further with our Retail gurus to investigate whether this is something we should invest in – once I know more i’ll post the outcome.

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Convincing everyone that you should change something big is a lot harder than it looks. My hat is off to the Office team. Interviewing Julie Larson-Green about Office offers you the insight you wanted – enjoy.

Why Open XML?

June 21, 2006

I've been asked to provide more information on what features are missing from ODF and why it was that we decided to create our own XML format 'Open XML' – Brian Jones provides some very good bLog posts on this subject matter if you would like or need to know more than I can tell you. Most of you know that ODF wasn't even around when we first started working on our XML formats, so that's really one of the big reasons. Another reason is that we need to make sure that we created an XML format that all of our customers could (and would) use. We want our customers to move all their existing documents into this new format and we need them to be willing to use it as the default format. ODF just wouldn't have allowed us to achieve that both because of a lack of functionality as well as different optimizations that sacrifice things like performance, none of which i can comment on because i don't know the detail! – but i'll find out.

iPod Killer

June 19, 2006

It looks like those plans for our iPod rival arefurther along than anybody thought. Microsoft’s been having licensing talks with the music industry in order to provide songs on their iTunes-killer service. The service will emphasize pay-per-song purchasing, like iTunes, but will still offer a subscription service, like Napster according to a news article on the Reuters site.

People who have seen the device demoed and said the iTunes-competitor was actually better than iTunes. The man previously in charge of Microsoft’s Xbox division, Robbie Bach, is taking the reins of this project apparently. No idea on when the device or the service will be released and we've heard nothing internally yet – -i'll post something as soon as i hear.

Suprise Suprise???

June 19, 2006

The writing had been on the wall since January 2000 some say, when Bill handed over the reins as chief executive to his friend from university days, Steve Ballmer.

Bill Gates


Speech highlights

During the past few years Bill had already spent more and more time on the charitable foundation he had set up with his wife Melinda.

Some critics – and he has many – have described Mr Gates as a cold and calculating brainiac. But when he speaks about the good causes supported by his foundation, there is a rare passion in his voice. There are many links where you can listen to what he has to say about his panding departure and this is as good as any ;

Mending the ills of the world is indeed close to his heart.

Aids, Malaria, TB – the silent mass-murderers of the 20th and 21st centuries – are among the diseases that he hopes cutting-edge technology can beat.

Famous and notorious for his attention to technical detail, involves himself closely in many of the decisions about how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spends its massive $29.1bn endowment.

"This is a smart thing for Microsoft to do," Mr Malik told the BBC News website.

"It signals a change of attitude andhow we think about Microsoft as a company going forward," he said. "The company needs fresh thinking more than anything else."Before now, Bill Gates had overshadowed the way Microsoft developed, said Mr Malik. Many staffers at the software giant doubtless asked themselves what Bill would think before deciding what technologies to pursue.

"The ghost of Bill Gates is everywhere in Microsoft and that means they measure things to Bill's standards," said Mr Malik.

While it will take time for Mr Gates' influence to fade, his replacement Ray Ozzie has a very different outlook on the software world.

All of which are great points – the news that Bill is shifting his priorities did come as a shock to me late last Thursday night but it should not have done really. The guy has been running this joint for over 30 years and he has done an amazing job. That job he has done has made him a wealthy man, a wealth that not many of us can begin to comprehend and with that comes responsibility. I can see where the guy is coming from – he does not want to leave this world having had any regrets about how he has used his time, expertise, contacts and wealth to make an impression from not only a technology point of view but in the standard of health of many millions of people – Go Bill go i say!

Now i think that the manner and timing in which this communication has been managed is excellent and i'll come on to substantiate why but it also raised some questions for me too, such as why shout this so close to the end of our fiscal? On the up, we have a two year run to Bill disolving his involvement and ensuring he does a good handover – Crikey i managed 3 weeks when i left Energis, maybe that says alot! but the main thing is it will not come as a shock to anyone least of all the shareholders or City groups around the globe.

What was important to realise, said Mr Courtot (commenting to the BBC) was that these changes do not just herald a shift in which technologies are used. They also bring with them big changes in what these technologies make possible, how companies prosper and what customers expect.

Gone are the days when a company could announce what it planned to put in the next release of its software and then spend years developing to that plan, Mr Courtot told the BBC News website.

The development of Vista, the next version of the Windows operating system, was a perfect example of this old-fashioned way of working.

"16 million lines of code and four years of development? This is insane," said Mr Courtot.

"Qualys develop on a continuous basis," said Mr Courtot, "there is no project that requires more than three months work."

Unlike makers of mainframe computers, such as IBM, which had about 15 years to adjust to the changes that overcame them, Microsoft was unlikely to enjoy such a period of grace said Mr Courtot.

There were few markets where Microsoft led the way technically and on the desktop and in office software its hold is likely to be eroded swiftly, he said.

What was likely to change in the near future was Windows, he said, to help it adapt to the more networked world.

"The operating system could be simplified significantly," he said. "It's trying to do too much, it's trying to be everything."

A very interesting point of view and i'll always jump all over anyone unless they can really justify how they can critise the most successful technology company of all time. Bring em on.

Windows SharePoint Services – the version available today (v2.0) – already offers a blog facility. To add a blog to a WSS site you need to use FrontPage 2003, which contains the blog template here’s how .It’s fairly basic and doesn’t offer much in the way of RSS, but these capabilities can also be added – there are a number of custom or 3rd party blogging solutions for SharePoint that have been published to the web already for WSS here’s one . Of course WSS offers a lot more than just blogs… they may want to consider whether the other features are useful. overview here If you want to get going immediately that’s probably the easiest way – especially as WSS is “free” if you already have Windows Server 2003 licenses. There’s also a hosted 30-day free trial if you want to try before deploying.

SharePoint Server 2007 / Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 really beefs up the blogging capabilities, and also adds wikis, RSS feeds, and a lot more – if you are prepared to wait until the product is released near the end of the calendar year – you can try it out today with the Beta 2 version. www.microsoft.com/office/preview

No matter how good of a job we did organizing features in the new UI, there's always the chance that you might run into a feature you're having trouble finding for the first time in the new UI.

To help with exactly this scenario, we created a few security blankets. One of the coolest ones is a tool we're calling the "Interactive Command Reference Guide."

This tool is an interactive mockup of the UI for Word 2003, Excel 2003, and PowerPoint 2003 that runs in your web browser. You can click on the location of any feature in the Office 2003 menus or default toolbars and the tool will show you exactly how to get to it in Office 2007. You can also hover over the commands to see the Office 2007 location in a tooltip.

The below links will only work if you have already installed Office 2007 Beta 2.

Word 2003 to 2007 Interactive Command Reference Guide

Excel 2003 to 2007 Interactive Command Reference Guide

PowerPoint 2003 to 2007 Interactive Command Reference Guide

A straight cut on this subject from Jenson Harris' bLog which makes great reading; 

"First, some perspective: We started planning Office "12" (which later became known as the 2007 Office system) in earnest towards the latter half of August 2003. By the time we ship this version, we will have worked on it for over three years. The physics of software development dictate that there's no way we'll be making large-scale architectural changes during this last 15% of the product cycle. Not, at least, if we expect to ship the product later this year as we intend.

So, if you've been holding out hope that we're going to be replacing the Ribbon with a ray-traced speech-enabled version of Clipppy–or any other major change of overall direction for that matter–I’m sorry to say it won't be happening.

The UI concepts we put in place have been vetted over several years, over thousands of tests with 10,000's of people across the globe. We wouldn't have made this investment if we weren't convinced that the new UI was the right thing for people who use Office.

Back to the original question: does Beta 2 reflect the final product?

In many ways, yes. The general interaction model of the Ribbon, the mechanisms by which we lay out and scale the tabs, and the kinds of controls we expose are likely to remain the same. We're likely finished building galleries for features and finished hooking up Live Preview. The interaction design of the Mini Toolbar, and the general look and feel of the Office menu and Options dialog boxes are very similar to how they will be in the final product. In a sense, if you squint, most things already feel similar to how they will feel in RTM.

This doesn't mean that we’re not open to feedback… keep in mind that Beta 2 is actually the fourth pre-release build of Office 2007 we've given out to testers over a series of years, and we've made an incredible number of changes based on feedback in that time. Literally hundreds of major improvements have been made, most of them directly from the feedback people have sent and the real-world research being conducted.

From the beginning, we wanted to make Office 2007 really reflect "UI version 3.0", and we knew the only way we could do that was to get it in people's hands early and to iterate, iterate, iterate based on what they told us.

Now for the big question: What things in the UI will be changing after Beta 2?

Here are four examples of the scope of changes that will occur between now and RTM.

Visuals and Fit and Finish

Beta 2 doesn't quite reflect our final visual design. We have added an additional color scheme to go along with the blue and black of Beta 2. We've changed the upper-left corner (or the "Northwest corner" as we like to say) based on feedback to make it work a little better and to look great with Vista's glass frame. Hundreds of new icons and other visual tweaks will have been made by the time you get the final product. This is really the time when we do a lot of fit-and-finish work–making sure the pixels are perfect all around.

Ribbon Content

I mentioned that the Ribbon interaction design won't be changing much, but we have made a lot of improvements to the content within the Ribbon. Our XML-based architecture makes it relatively easy to move buttons between tabs and to change the scaling of the UI, and we've been hard at work taking all of the feedback we’re getting from Beta 2 and turning it into an improved design. I’m especially excited about improvements made to PowerPoint, but I bet we’ve made close to 1000 individual changes to Ribbon content since Beta 2 (many of them minor, of course.)

Finishing Features

There are a couple of places where we've done additional work to make scenarios feel complete. In the area of keyboarding, for instance, we've added affordances to allow power users to better use the Ribbon in its collapsed state. We continue to enhance the usability of the Office Menu, including adding many of the frequently-used save formats directly to the Save flyout. For the first time, I think we have the right design here.

Among other things, we've also added back the ability to close the window by double-clicking in the upper-left hand corner (you Windows 3.1 lovers!)

Performance

We're spending a huge percentage of our team on performance, both in lowering memory requirements and in taking up less CPU time to make the UI respond faster. We continue to make strides build over build and milestone over milestone, and we'll keep measuring and optimizing until the end.

Everything Else

While these are four big areas in which we've made improvements, they’re not representative of all the work we're doing in the UI, nor certainly of all the other teams in Office working just as hard as we are. We continue to work on getting the details right for all aspects of the product, making sure it's ready for the showroom floor. And there are a few flourishes still to come: One of my favorite things coming up is an updated Picture Styles gallery–some of the styles are just jaw-dropping. And new product icons, of course…

In short: don't expect the core concepts to change, but we're working hard on sweating the details. You will see many improvements in the time ahead."

Today, the world talks about Origami, a new and interesting device concept by Microsoft. My boss has the Samsung Q1 device and has recommended the wait until its launch with Vista which will enable an immediate cold start – i'm going to wait but at under a grand and not much more than a kilo it would make my travelling that much more bearable!

Here is a good bLog; http://origamiproject.com/default.aspx

Sources:
SeattlePI: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/260983_msftdevice27.html
Gizmodo: http://www.gizmodo.com/gadgets/portable-media/rumor-microsoft-teasing-origami-minitablet-157128.php
Kotaku: http://www.kotaku.com/gaming/psp/video-of-microsofts-pspkiller-157124.php