Daniel Lyons, the Forbes writer whose article on abusive blogging set off a blogospheric hissy fit a couple of months ago, has launched a rhetorical explosive device in Microsoft’s direction. He reports on Microsoft’s “People Ready” media event last week, which in a curious bit of timing was staged right before the company began announcing further delays in its new versions of Windows and Office. The delays came as no surprise, writes Lyons, given what he saw at the event:
The new programs are phenomenally complex, with scores of buttons and pull-down menus and myriad connections among various applications. A Microsoft VP zipped through a demo, moving information from Outlook to Powerpoint to Groove to some kind of social networking program that lets you see how your colleagues and your colleagues’ colleagues rate various Web sites. Meanwhile, 500 tech buyers sat there in the dark, their eyes glazing over from the sheer mind-numbing pointlessness of most of this stuff. The audience laughed out loud when the Microsoft guy showed off a kludgey system that lets you fetch Outlook e-mail messages using voice commands from a cell phone.
It sounds a lot like the “digital lifestyle” presentation that Bill Gates gave at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. That’s when Gates showed off a big, elaborate video screen for your kitchen that would enable you to, among other things, follow multiple personalized news feeds while tracking the second-by-second movements of your family members. “Neat!” blogged Robert Scoble, while all the other inhabitants of the known universe continued eating their bowls of cereal and wondering where they put their car keys.
Microsoft is not alone in overestimating people’s desire for Neat! software features. Even Google, Amazon, and Yahoo, not to mention all the Web 2.0 mini businesses, seem intent on waging feature wars that mean a whole lot to a very few and nothing at all to everyone else. At this point, the whole tired affair seems to point not to an overabundance of creativity but to a lack of imagination. Has the success of the Blackberry and the iPod and Netflix and the original Google search page somehow failed to register? Life and work aren’t all that complicated, folks. Deal with it.