Posts Tagged ‘microsoft’

Google helps boost the future of the social web

These are really exciting times. Until recently it’s all been small standards-backed movements to build an open base for the structured web to live off of but now big players are really taking things seriously and embracing all these wonderful standards. We have all the people behind the standards pushing as hard as they can with things like OpenID, XFN, microformats, the web standards movement in general, the diso project. But now just recently amazing things have happened. First just recently Yahoo! adopted OpenID and now Google has created an API for parsing the social graph.

This is amazing. I’m speechless. I’m stoked that all this is happening so quickly and can’t wait to see how things evolve.

I wish I was working on a project right now that could utilize this new Social Graph API by Google. It’s fun testing it out but I really want to see some concrete stuff built off of it!

I sure hope that Microsoft’s recent offer to buy Yahoo! doesn’t hurt this trend. Microsoft really sucks at helping push the industry in the right direction and with the situation being as it is, I predict Yahoo! will take Microsoft’s overly generous offer and get sucked into a black hole after the fact. As Gruber mentioned, if Microsoft were to acquire Yahoo! they would probably sell off all of their properties worth anything and use it as an opportunity to gobble up new users. It sure would be amusing if people revolted and went to Google if an acquisition takes place — that would sure screw over Microsoft — I might even celebrate.

That went off on a slight tangent. Anyways, I’m happy to be experiencing all of this. :)

Universities are not traditional business customers

This last Friday I participated in a feedback session on PowerPoint hosted by a representative from Microsoft and held at the Information School where I was confronted with the distinction whether the University is primarily a business or a consumer customer. You could argue both ways.

During the discussion I was asked to express my opinions on Microsoft in general. I have fairly strong opinions anti-Microsoft and in most cases I don’t think they are un-warranted. I keep my mind open and try to evaluate their solutions as openly as I can. Even so, I’m continually frustrated with their inability to provide straight forward solutions that do what I need without a huge amount of hassle in terms of proprietary offerings, compatability nightmares, and their continual disregard for trends and standards. Instead, they constantly re-invent the wheel and impose stupid barriers to be able to inter-operate with their products.

I brought up the utterly irresponsible incompatibility that SharePoint 2007 has with anything other than IE. The WYSIWYG editor for content blocks doesn’t work at all in non-IE browsers but instead gives you Microsoft-ized HTML to work with — it’s completely absurd. The interface is filthy with UI glitches where boxes shift in size and location all over the page as you try to interact — sometimes I can’t click on links when I hover over them because the clickable area outside of my mouse pointers scope.

I mentioned that my harsh criticisms aren’t unfounded because incompatibilities like this prevent the widely varied audience of the University from using tools like this when they are being used to help people from all around the world collaborate from all age ranges and technical configurations. The users of this software includes so many people on different platforms with different browser preferences that for something like SharePoint to be embraced in the academic environment it has to work everywhere. Not just on Windows but minimally on Mac and Linux, Firefox and Safari.

The Microsoft representative responded that SharePoint is a “business solution” and the University is a “business customer” which somehow means these are not Microsoft’s problems. I disagree.

Also, when I mention employees of the University I’m more specifically speaking in terms of a school-specific environment (there are many schools within one University — business, art, information, etc.) rather than a University-wide environment which can be much more fragmented.

Faculty and Staff are employees of the “business”

Businesses are regulated. In most businesses, employees are provided a controlled computing environment to work in and they have to deal. If the corporate intranet only works on IE7 and the business gives everyone IE7 then all is well (arguable, but follow me here). If the business want everyone to use proprietary Microsoft solutions internally, that’s fine.

In general, these same statements hold true for faculty and staff at Universities because they are provided a specific environment to work in and as long as what the school provides works in the provided environment, there isn’t much of a problem.

The thing that’s different about employees at Universities is that they don’t operate in anywhere near as closed an environment as employees in a corporate environment do. They do research. They interact with students, faculty from other schools all around the world — many of which will not operate in the same prescribed environment that the employees of the university are provided.

Faculty are often heavily involved in outside organizations and projects where their computing needs and work environments can be heavily customized to the point that what the school provides (in terms of computing environment) does not suit them. In these cases the assumptions the school can make about its employees are broken and so they have to adjust what they provide to make sure everyone is accounted for.

Everyone else is a “consumer”

Faculty and staff aren’t the only ones using the tools the school provides. Outside collaborators, distance faculty, and students need to have access to a great deal of the schools resources as well. These people could have all kinds of computing environments. These people are much more like the traditional consumer market because their needs are random and often unexpected. They (or we, in my case) need loving too.

Not everybody can be completely pleased, but given the wide variety of environments and needs the school is obligated to make sure the tools they provide will work in as many configurations possible. People run Windows, Mac, and Linux. People use IE, Firefox, Safari, and many other browsers. At the very least, some configuration on each operating system should work with the provided tools. If not the majority of configurations, at least some configuration should work.

Where do you draw the line?

Of course, not everything the school provides needs to be accessible by everyone but for the things the school decides to encourage the students and others to embrace (Sharepoint for example) they should make sure everyone can use them. This means that people on Mac need to be able to work with the people on Windows and if teachers and/or IT requires/encourages use of specific solutions they need to be sensitive to other peoples configurations and choose wisely between solutions likewise.

The University environment is not as completely uncontrolled as a consumer one, but it does have to account for all types — at least for the tools which it expects everyone to use inside and outside of the organization.

If goals don’t align, it won’t work

For things like collaboration portals which the school has embraced and made available with the assumption that it will work for everybody, the people providing these tools should be sure that the company/group providing the solution they are making available aligns with the needs of the University. If not, then the school should look elsewhere. The person whom I spoke with last Friday about Sharepoint said that it was a “business solution” and that it is designed for environments where that fact can be embraced. If the goals of the technology provider (Microsoft in Sharepoint’s case) are strict and not lenient to the needs of the University then the University should find another solution or wait until the provider (Microsoft) can agree that the University’s needs are different and that the product will reflect those needs.

Universities are weird environments. They are so much like businesses but the needs of their users are much broader requiring them to be compatible with a much greater set of technical configurations and environments.

Microsoft, specifically, has conflicting goals

Microsoft, in many cases, is not designing products for the special University environment. They have made that clear. The reason Microsoft segregates its target environments is to have excuses for building products that don’t necessarily make everyone happy but will work in controlled environments like many businesses do. I’m not stating this is a flawed focus (even though I do in fact partially feel that way) but rather that many of Microsoft’s business solutions are not right at all for Universities. We’d all be better off if everyone was on the same page here. Yes they want to get their infrastructure products deployed at Universities, but if they aren’t going to play nice with everyone, then they need to stay out until they do. University IT deployers need to stand up and not suffice with ill aligned goals when they don’t meet the University’s needs.

Is Google (2008) Microsoft (1998)?

Lawrence Lessig appeared on campus this past Friday to lecture about the current trends of Google and the similarities it increases to have with the Microsoft of 1998.

He is an extremely bright individual. Everything he said was solidly reasoned and perfectly constructed grammatically. The speed and inflections with which he spoke lent just the right amount of focus and attention to each and every word. Even during the Q&A, his responses were extremely well-crafted. It was a moving and motivational experience. Also, his slides are some of the sexiest around.

Take-aways from the lecture

I’ve cleaned up the main points here but I’ve also published an unpolished outline of the full lecture.

  • We can’t look to corporations for help — they have their own objectives. Once we have lost trust/faith in government, the next place we look for guidance is corporations. It’s important to remember that corporations’ aim is to make money and maximize shareholder value, not to do “good”.
  • Google’s platform is in its data. While Google provides great value to its users, the environment is architected so that your work with their products improves their platform. It’s a well-designed ecosystem — as you get what you want, your use serves something back to the provider.
  • What broke Microsoft was not the anti-trust, but rather that people had a “lack of trust”. The US v. Microsoft case reminds us that industry is allergic to trusting monopolies. It’s useless to file a lawsuit in cases like this. Instead, companies should change the environment to encourage competition because knowing that there is solid competition helps build trust.1
  • Facebook is building a system where the platform has the right to control innovation. This is quite a bit more closed than what Microsoft provided — Microsoft built a technology that anyone had the right to develop for.
  • Network effects mean we can’t guarantee competition when we need.
  • Innovation and investment can freeze up in monopolistic cases because people are afraid others will take their options away.
  • There are three types of “hybrid”2 rights control
    • Invite people to create but all creativity is owned by the publisher.
    • Like Google or YouTube. The publishers don’t want to understand who they are or what they should be.
    • Examples: Flickr, Second Life. All rights to creativity are owned by the content creators. Uses ownership here to build trust among participants.
  • Resisting competition is a rational, sensible strategy for a monopoly. To not do this would be irrational.
  • Politics divert to corporate social responsibility. We need to recognize that corporations cannot work for the public interest. We’re stuck because we can’t trust the government, so the only entity we can trust is the company. Government exists to remove the necessity of having to trust in companies.
  • Corruption is not about bad people, it’s about good people being corrupt. Most people go into politics to do good but people will bend to money.
  • The political system is at fault. If people don’t recognize this, then the revolutionaries will abolish the system and we’ll be poorer for it. We need to do what’s necessary to fix the system rather than abolish it.
  • How do we educate people on their rights? Data in America has no property rights — we need to find ways to establish this in some way. We need to push the idea that people should own their creations.
  • The political campaign system can be fixed. One idea would be to have campaign finances be secret where people’s donations are not trackable. Lessig commented that we need better functioning politics before we can focus on the companies.
  • The young generation needs to be educated and engaged in politics to counteract the current trend of consumption and lack of interest.


Related to the talk

Others’ responses to the lecture

  1. Eg. Proctor and Gamble does this well.
  2. “Hybrid” meaning providing value both to the content creator and the content publisher — mixing read-only with read-write.
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