Scoble Blogs the Exchange Between Charlie and I

Scoble blogged the recent exchange with regards to Media Center that Microsoft’s Charlie Owen and I have had and I started commenting at his blog today and then realized that my comment was turning into another rant and thought I’d publish it here as well. I originally started the comment in response to someone who thought that Charlie had been somewhat arrogant and patronizing which I don’t think is fair at all, but the post quickly turned into another rant instead. Here goes:

I may be disappointed with the speed at which I’ve felt Microsoft has moved with regards to improving the Media Center platform but I am pretty happy with Microsoft’s responsiveness to me as a customer. Although I am aware that the responsiveness is based entirely on the fact that I blog about the product and carry influence, it is still refreshing to see it. Linda O’Neil at Waggener Edstrom (Microsoft’s PR agency) had a Vista DVD sent to me which I’m actually installing on another machine as I write this. Vista is supposed to address two of my concerns, the WMP library and Explorer’s poor performance on large batch copy jobs. Microsoft was quick to point this out and I think Matt Goyer’s post on the large digital library performance improvement in Vista was the first time I’d seen this anywhere out there.

Matt also recently responded to a complaint I had about the random photo slide shows not being random by reversing a previous decision to keep this “by design” and move it back into bug status.

I’d say that in general Microsoft is very responsive and I didn’t view Charlie’s response as arrogant. Charlie is in fact much closer to the product than I am and although I follow the product pretty closely he is bound to know more than I do about it.

I’m pretty passionate about Media Center technology and really view this product as the best chance Microsoft has to own the living room and to centralize all digital media. The promise of digital centralization is so compelling and so powerful to me. I’ve somewhat built this product up in my own mind as being the ultimate salvation for the digital consumer. So it pains me when I feel that it is losing grip on the promise of this digital centralization.

So many cool things are happening with digital media. HDTV is amazing. Talk to anyone who has it and they are pretty impressed. As Scoble points out, watching Kramer with his Slingbox is probably just as good and others have pointed out to me before that Jay Leno is no funnier in HDTV (well he was no funnier before HDTV either) these are ok solutions for remote viewing. But when you want to watch the Sopranos or CSI Miami or any of the shows out today that are doing stunning things with production you WANT HDTV.

HDTV is hot. Just walk inside any home electronics store today and you can see that. We are quickly integrating it into our digital consumption. The problem is though it’s not being consumed through Media Center, it’s being consumed through DirecTV and Comcast and their weak and lame digital boxes.

Today I have a bifurcated system. An HDTV TiVo from DirecTV and a Media Center PC. I hate that I need two systems. This is NOT what centralization is supposed to be about and it weakens the Media Center prospects immeasurably. So my impatience is that I feel Microsoft is losing its grip on the future of the living room even as the cable companies and satellite providers are strengthening theirs.

Also though it’s important that Microsoft stay ahead of the curve on cutting edge content. Part of the problem here is that Microsoft is not in the content business, they are in the software development business. They build platforms for others to write software to. Yes we have MSN and perhaps that’s where the content improvement for Media Center should come but I’m convinced that Microsoft needs to take a more active role in making sure this development gets done.

Flickr is hot. Every blogger knows this. Scoble knows this. People at Microsoft know this. For the life of me I can’t figure out why they didn’t scoop them up before Yahoo! did but that’s another story. Perhaps too a story about speed of execution — perhaps not. Right now TiVo offers a plug in for their home media option to get Flickr on your TiVo. Little small ant TiVo’s got this and Microsoft does not. A little company that is less than 1% of the size of Microsoft has had a satellite HDTV solution out for over a year — yes they gave up control and I’m sure quite a bit of the financial profit on the deal but they did it.

Media Center’s Online Spotlight highlights digital content available through the Media Center system. The problem is that by and large the content sucks. It’s not what we want. A four minute clip of war from Reuters, a movie download service with poor quality display (and a few super boring HDTV titles), an art service that will give you 15 paintings for $15 (how soon until you get tired of looking at those and how much easier is it just to do a Google Image Search and get 100 paintings for free), etc. Didn’t Bill Gates buy up all of the digital rights to a bunch of great artwork a while back. Give it to us. Microsoft should be archiving every single painting in the public domain. Don’t give us lame Gallery Player. Give us the complete works of Rembrandt. He’s been dead for how many years now? And give us every other public domain artist who’s ever lived. No copyright issues there.

Give us quality. Figure out a way to unlock the power of the Internet Archive and give us a compelling way to find new creative commons content. Get Flickr up there. Get us true HDTV movie downloads (even if your movies have to download overnight while you sleep). Look at what Yahoo! is doing right now. Creating all of this new content. Microsoft (or call it MSN if you must) should be watching that very closely.

Figure out how to tie Media Center into community. Instead of a lame weather plug in (sorry for those that developed it I know it’s cool) use Flickr to let me see the latest photos of my sister’s kids while they are living in Egypt a half a world away. Develop a Napster like community for music on the Internet Archive — not the hosting part IA does this, but the community part. Let me find cool people and see what they are listening to and play their playlists via the Internet Archive right there on my PC.

Don’t give us AOL music downloads to buy. I don’t want this. Give us Pandora.

Don’t rely on others to simply build to your platform. Incent them to build. Set up a VC arm and finance the companies
if you must, buy them if you must, whatever. But Microsoft should have finely tuned radar for the hottest new digital technology today and however they must, get it into Media Center.

Turn Online Spotlight into the true Long Tail promise. And do it quick.

Robert’s written a lot about Memeorandum. Gabe’s got a hit on his hands. Create a version of this complete with video and audio and you’ve got yourself an even bigger hit. Yes it may mean that Microsoft has to set up a news division and more quickly aggregate video found elsewhere on the internet and deal with all the legal aspects, etc. but it would be hot.

Get Howard Stern in Media Center. Yes, I know it’s not that easy. So make a deal. Microsoft is good at making deals. Send a couple of guys in suits somewhere and make it happen.

If DirecTV and TiVo can make a deal (notice the date on the story linked) to get us an HDTV PVR surely Microsoft can as well.

There is so much potential for this product and my “rant” that Charlie pointed out was more than anything directed by my disappointment in seeing the full potential of this product realized as quickly as I’d like it to be.

The Xbox is great. This moves your digital content off of the Media Center and throughout your home and allows you to hide your Media Center anywhere in your home which is aesthetically more desirable for most. But we need so much more and we need it yesterday.

The quote that Ballmer used for the executive realignment at Microsoft was a good one. I think I’m going to refer to it frequently in the future. And I hope more than anything this is what the Media Center team reads into my rants. “These changes are designed to align our Business Groups in a way that will enhance decision-making and speed of execution.” I like the idea behind this.

I’m looking forward to blogging about all of the exciting things that are undoubtedly coming down the pipeline in the months ahead. I am rooting for this product to win. While the competition out there is fierce the rewards are vast.

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  1. Jeff Key says:

    Amen, brother! Keep posting what the rest of us are thinking.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Go on with your bad self Thomas! I hope MSFT finds your examples helpful. They actually expanded my thinking of what MCE could become as well. I love the possibilities. I am sure that MSFT struggles with these types of issues (to become a content company similar to where Yahoo is going or to twist arms to get others to do it for them) all of the time, but what is important to understand is that in order to get the convergence the so crave (the victory in the living room if you will) they are going to have to step it up on both fronts. Let me just say this — MSFT — it is ok that others get rich in the process of you dominating the living room (you will always be richer than them 😉

    On a side note, Thomas, I took the plunge wrt the Comcast HD-DVR (Moto 6412) after being a D* customer for over 7 years. Let me just say that for someone that enjoys HD as much as yourself you are doing yourself a disservice by not seeing how wonderful uncompressed HD is. The difference in quality b/t cable and D* HD is unbelievable. Let me know if you need a place to view it 😉

    Disclaimer: the DVR is just allright and analogue quality is an embarrasment.

    Teamills (aka Mike Mills)