Apple Outsider » Microsoft Buys Nokia for $0B

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So in the span of one year, we have Microsoft failing to acquire Nokia, “losing” a top executive, and now having one of the most recognizable mobile hardware vendors in the world under its thumb. There’s no question in my mind that the next generation of flagship Windows Phones will come from Nokia, and for that, Microsoft will have unprecedented influence over the hardware that runs its software. We like to think of Steve Ballmer throwing chairs when his executives leave. I think this time he told Elop, “Fine. Go get me some hardware I can own.” Elop did.

via Apple Outsider » Microsoft Buys Nokia for $0B.

Back in the 90s, at the height of the Platform Wars, experts pointed to Apple and said that their problem was that they didn’t know whether they wanted to be a hardware company or a software company. The received opinion was that Apple should get out of the hardware business and licence its operating system.

They did try the licensing thing for a while, but then Steve Jobs returned to Apple and put a stop to it.

For the past three years or so, as the iPhone has defined the smartphone market and the mobile web, the experts have been saying the opposite. The problem for Microsoft is that they can’t give consumers the best possible experience of their mobile offering if they don’t have control of the hardware.

One of the characteristics of the Google Android platform is that there’s no uniformity between phones that run Android. Hardware manufacturers use different versions of it; they don’t make it clear whether the software can be upgraded to more recent versions, and they sometimes put their own software on the phones on top of or beside the Android OS.

On Friday, Microsoft and Nokia announced a deal under which Nokia would more or less abandon its own operating system and start using Microsoft Windows Phone 7. As the Apple Outsider says in the quote above: this looks very much like Microsoft have just acquired themselves a hardware company – without having to pay anything for it.

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Why you should avoid .docx format

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Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that I requested that you not use the latest version of Word to send through your evaluations. I was referring to the .docx format, which Microsoft introduced with the most recent version of Office.

A .docx file isn’t your file, but your file wrapped inside another file. It’s an example of why I have always hated Microsoft software, or indeed anything that creates bloated, fat files, full of useless junk information.

To someone who hasn’t got the latest version of Word, a .docx file looks like this:
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What you can do, if you’re clever, is change the file extension to .zip, which gives you this:
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(Would be useful to add your name to the file, by the way, as I’ve now got about a dozen files called “Media Evaluation”.)
You can then unwrap (unzip) the package, and you end up with a folder (92KB):
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Inside the folder, you find all this junk:

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And inside the folder called Word, you find yet more junk:

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The only file in the Word folder we actually need is the one called “document.xml”, which you can open up in Safari to extract the text. If you then save the text through another application, you end up with what you wanted in the first place, a Rich Text Format file which is just 8KB on disk. In other words, a .docx file contains 84KB of completely useless information wrapped around an 8KB formatted text file.

Top 20 tracks remixed by Microsoft Songsmith

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microstces09-1

The Times Technology blog ha gathered together a Top 20 tracks remixed by Microsoft Songsmith, with predictably hilarious results.

This is a great example of user-generated content, with the audience using the software for something other than what it was intended to do. The original cheesy Microsoft ad was awful enough (you can see it at the bottom of the page), but what happens when people extract the vocal from a famous track and use that?

There’s some input here from the end-users, because you can tell songsmith what mood/style you’re looking for upfront, but it’s still a great example of crap ideas in software.

Incidentally, it’s also a great way of deflating the ego of a singer or indeed a songwriter, because it shows how much great songs rely on musical arrangement as opposed to a single performance or writing input. A side effect of copyright law has always had the composer(s) of songs getting the lion’s share of royalties, with the input of other members of the band (or the producer) going unrecognised, at least in financial terms.

But rock music is littered with great songwriters making bad records because they weren’t working with the right people. When Bob Dylan had the right personnel in the studio, he produced works of genius; when he didn’t, not. The contribution of George Harrison to the best of The Beatles is another classic case. George was no flashy guitarist, but always played for the song, his ego well under control. Yet he only got a royalty on the one-song-per-album (or side) that he was allowed.

There’s also a lesson here about what you might call embedded journalists, and how easily they can be persuaded to write puff pieces. As with any Microsoft attempt to do what Apple have already done (Garageband has had some kind of virtual backing band thing for a couple of versions now), it was always going to be horrible, but that didn’t stop “embedded” technology journalists like Robert Scoble from raving about how awesome it was.

His initial report (from his hotel room at the CES show in Las Vegas, which shows just how long he thought about it before posting) is a case of Flat Earth news – just repeating the PR/Press Release stuff without applying any kind of critical filtering.

Scoble isn’t alone in being a tame technology journalist used by major companies to boost their products. Dan Lyons, a journalist who satirised Apple with his Fake Steve Jobs* blog, has been very critical of the way in which – for example – California-based technology journalists allow Apple to feed them disinformation. You see, everyone’s afraid of losing access to free stuff, free previews, inside information (even if it’s bad), so they won’t be critical in public.

Free stuff is where it’s at. I used to get loads when all I was writing was catalogue copy. Imagine the life of a journalist writing reviews of tech gadgets. I only wish I’d pioneered one of the top camera review sites like Steve’s Digicams or DPReview. Problem is, can you ever trust the reviews when you know that Free Stuff is being supplied?

Look at the Ratings Index for DPReview.com. As you can see, there are HUGE numbers of Highly Recommended and Recommended cameras, but there are only six (6) Below Average cameras, and NONE since May 2002. There hasn’t even been an Average camera since September 2003 (over 5 years, fact fans). And what does “Average” mean, anyway, in this instance? It certainly doesn’t mean average, does it? It may mean “nothing special”, but when (almost) everything is “special”, it’s not really special anymore, is it?

*Talking of fake blogs, FaceBook are getting paranoid about all the fake celebrity pages being set up. You have to wonder why. Again, it comes down to ridiculous ideas about intellectual property. Is satire dead?

Microsoft Advertising Campaigns

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I’m a bit late to this story update, but Charles Arthur in The Guardian has been writing about the internet-famous adverts for Microsoft which feature Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.

Now, I only have to look at Jerry Seinfeld to start thinking of things that make me laugh. Just as some people recite Monty Python sketches from 40 years ago, my head is full of Seinfeld catch phrases such as, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” and “Serenity Now!” The headline in the Guardian story, “I’m out!” ought to raise a chuckle in any Seinfeld fan.

On the other hand, anyone who knows me knows that I hate the MS Windows operating system, which I have always thought an affront to good taste and functionality. I also dislike Windows software like Excel, Word, and PowerPoint: there’s always a better way.

So, these ads. The first one, set in a shoe shop, was self-consciously wacky. I quite liked it, because I like Seinfeld, and if there’s anyone who can make a virtue of acting with Bill Gates, it’s him. The second one, now, “New Family” is truly excellent. I watched it several times. I really like that strange little world they created there, in which Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates try to get in touch with reality by moving in with a regular family. It’s still trying very hard to be wacky, but it does work.

The ads also look absolutely fabulous if you watch them on the Microsoft web site.

But when Bill Gates says, at the family dinner table, “Didn’t we have this yesterday?” and Seinfeld mutters, “Put some cheese on it,” I can’t help thinking that this is a little too close to what Microsoft are trying to do with this advertising campaign. Like any great dictatorship, they’re less interested in changing the product/message than they are in banging on about it until everyone submits. It really is the same old Microsoft (Vista is still astonishingly unpopular, upgraded versions of Office won’t play nicely with older versions etc.), and these ads are, well, cheesy.

I’m also not sure why I’m seeing so much of Bill Gates since he supposedly retired. This is like Tony Blair turning up at the Labour conference. It’s time to move on, really, it is.

But the fatal error in these campaigns is that they’ve dropped them already and moved on to other things, one of which is the “I’m a PC” video you can also see on the MS site.

The problem here is that “I’m a PC” refers specifically to the Apple marketing campaign (which in the UK was acted by comedians Mitchell and Webb). By responding to this campaign, Microsoft are effectively admitting that Apple had a point. It’s defensive, and a great example of protesting too much. You’re in danger, with a campaign like that, of inviting people to make the same comparison that Apple were asking them to make – and getting the same answer.

Still, I really did enjoy the Gates/Seinfeld double act.

Friday Links

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The Bill and Jerry Show

The Bill and Jerry Show

A few quick links to finish off the week.

The Guardian’s Media page reports the latest newspaper ABC figures – and the news is not good for all of the quality dailies: circulation down across the board.

Link..

The Guardian also reports that smart operator Jeremy Clarkson has made a killing through his involvement in a co-production deal for Top Gear. This is all about the successful marketing of a TV format across the world. The amount of money it’s making is mind-boggling.

Still at the Guardian, there’s some discussion (and across the web) about the fruits of Jerry Seinfeld’s collaboration with Microsoft on some advertising. The back-story for Mac-using Seinfeld fans is that there was always a Mac sitting on Jerry’s desk in his apartment in the show. The model changed with the years, and it was never mentioned, but the hint was that Seinfeld uses Macs.

Now he’s advertising for Microsoft in a head-scratching campaign that begins with an encounter in a shoe shop. As one commenter on the Guardian story puts it,

This ad also points to Microsofts habit of promising stupid future features that never happen, in this case an edible computer – it might be funny coming from someone else, but not these chronic “promise and not deliver” guys.

Link. (As the Guardian story points out, the best version of the ad is on the Microsoft web site, where the quality is high and the sound doesn’t jitter.

Courtesy of BoingBoing, we learn that Michael Moore’s next movie will be a free download.

Finally, my favourite topic: science in the news. As you may be aware, next week at CERN in Swissland, the Large Hadron Collider will be switched on in an experiment designed to recreate some of the particles that only existed in the nanoseconds after the Big Bang. True to form, the Daily Mail’s reporting of this event is inaccurate scaremongering, full of the kind of stuff paranoid schizophrenics come up with:
Landmark experiment to unlock secrets of Big Bang could cause end of world, say scientists in court bid to halt it | Mail Online.

Meanwhile, Science Daily points out that the Mail’s reporting is “completely unfounded.”

The truth is, if the average Daily Mail journalist/editor really thought the world was going to end next Wednesday, they wouldn’t bother to show up for work, would they?

I’m hedging my bets. I’m going to work, but I’m not planning any lessons.