Bill Gates: “We predicted at the beginning of the decade that this would be the decade that the digital approach would be taken for granted, whether it’s photos, music, communicating. There was a lot of work to do, getting the software breakthroughs, the hardware breakthroughs, the ease of use, the security, all those tough problems.” – CES 2005
Bill Gates has been a passionate advocate for the digital home over the last decade. More recently he has been showing off Microsoft’s latest effort to push the PC into the living room, Microsoft’s Media Center Edition Software.
From its initial launch in 2002 to it’s most recent upgrade to Media Center 2005 last Fall Microsoft’s product has continued to evolve. Getting all of this digital content on one platform to operate seamlessly has been no simple challenge.
Today I’d like to introduce you to three of the individuals who have had and continue to have significant roles in Microsoft’s big push into our living rooms.
Charlie Owen (CO), Matt Goyer (MG) and Sean Alexander (SA) (yeah, you remember Sean, the guy who did the Media Center Demos with Bill Gates), agreed to take some time out to discuss their product: where they’ve been, where they hope to go, and how they will get there.
As is increasingly seen at Microsoft, not only do these three maintain significant positions at Microsoft all three also blog regularly about their real life
This is the first in a four part series of interviews with members of this Microsoft team. On to the interview.
Part One: Introductions and Lets Talk About
Charlie Owen (CO): Well, I’m Charlie Owen and I’m a Program Manager at Microsoft working with third party extensibility partners — companies featured in Online Spotlight plus many others. I’ve been at Microsoft just over five years, since December 1999.
My journey at Microsoft so far has included stints in Product Support Services and the
Products I’ve worked on at Microsoft so far include Windows XP Media Center Edition, Windows Media Encoder, Microsoft Access, Visual Basic .NET, Content Management Server, Commerce Server, and Microsoft Solution for Internet Business. I also had the pleasure of coding the Batch Encoding sample for the Windows Media 9 Encoder SDK (link and link).
Prior to Microsoft I was Operations Manager for a large-format graphics company.
(TH): Great Thanks. Charlie, Sean?
Sean Alexander (SA): I’m Sean Alexander and I’m the new Group Product Manager for Windows Codename Longhorn at Microsoft. I’ve been with Microsoft going on eight years, having started in Developer Tools working on Visual Studio 97 and VB6, and then moving over to the Streaming Media Group back when Windows Media Player 6.4 was just released.
I most recently launched Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and was asked to take a new role working on the next generation of Windows in December.
(TH): Thanks Sean. Matt?
Matt Goyer (MG): I’m Matt, a user experience program manager working in Microsoft’s eHome division on Media Center (MCE). I started here a year ago just after graduating from the
(TH): Ok, thanks guys. Bill Gates has spent quite a bit of time personally promoting Microsoft’s
ls over the course of the next three years?
(CO): Projections are just that – and I hope we exceed all of them. There are challenges though. At present I’d say that the primary challenges are:
One, Making sure the platform is usable by both content owners and content users. If we can’t connect both the producer and consumer the platform is dead.
Two, Helping Joe Consumer understand the value proposition of the digital home with
Three, Encouraging innovation by large organization third parties on our platform.
And finally four, Making sure our development pace — keep in mind so far we’ve done three major releases in three years — does not stifle innovation by partners because they can’t respond to the quickly changing landscape.
(SA): Right Charlie, and it’s also about the independent developers too. We’ve seen some really interesting third party applications come out in recent months that are designed for
(MG): I’m confident that our product is and will continue to be successful. The biggest challenges that we face are:
One, we need to take our HDTV support to the next level.
Two, we need to keep our user interface simple and clean while adding more functionality and features.
Three, we need to create buzz around our product.
(TH): Matt, I couldn’t agree more. Especially about the HDTV part. Charlie, you really stressed the third party development as being critical to the success of
Many companies are creating plug-ins for the software that will do everything from tell you the weather and forecast to provide full home automation. Can you share with us about some of the third party development that is going on at present and some of the exciting new things we might see brought to the Media Center PC in the future?
(CO): I can tell you that the number of people and companies developing for
Personally, I love it when things grow larger than myself and enable others to join in the fun. These are some pretty basic facts, but quite an indicator of the momentum.
At the Media Center 2004 Launch, the first with an SDK, we introduced 3 partners in a US Online Spotlight only: Napster, CinemaNow and Movielink
At the launch of Media Center 2005 a year later we had 30+ partners in 8 geographies and introduced some great brands such as Reuters, Kodak and AOL- and at CES 2005 we introduced more major brands at CES doing
I really expect this trend to continue and accelerate — I believe we have only begun to scratch the surface of what is to come!
(TH): Well those are exciting developments Charlie and I agree with you that outside development will be key to enhancing the product ongoing. Personally, as an early Media Center adopter I was literally calling CompUSA every single day in October of 2002 trying to get my hands on one of the PCs. As you have improved and enhanced the product over the past few years, the stability of the system has significantly improved with each new upgrade and release. My own opinion is that 98% or more of the problems that I found in the early initial release are now completely corrected and the platform is amazingly stable overall with the MCE 2005 upgrade.
How will you convince people, sometimes skeptical people, that having a PC in the living room is as easy and as trouble free as say a TiVo box?
(CO): For what it is worth, my personal experience with
(TH): Yeah, tell me about it with the kids, with four of my own I had to settle a fight tonight between Caillou, Dora or Baby Einstein. I definitely hear you there.
(SA): In my family, my son watches Thomas the Tank Engine and Caillou as well. I can burn episodes to DVD so as not to take up space on my system, and my son can watch his favorite episode with Gordon going up the hill over and over.
(MG): Hopefully, we are changing people’s perceptions about what a PC is and/or can be. Of course this means we still have work to do in terms of improving our reliability and stability. But it also means that Media Centers have to look good, be quiet and be easy to setup.
The other way to convince people that the PC belongs in the living room is to allow users the ability to perform tasks that they just can’t with a TV. For instance, we need to show them how easy it is to hook up their digital cameras to their Media Center’s and not just view their photos on their TV but to actually transfer, and edit those photos on their Media Center PCs. For instance, did you know that you can not just rotate your photos on your TV but also remove red eye, crop them and then burn the final results to a CD or DVD to distribute to friends and family?
(CO): Also by the way, You might be surprised to hear me say this, but if you try and like a TiVo, buy a TiVo. If, on the other hand you want something with more power, flexibility, adaptability and upgradeability choose a Media Center PC.
However, and a big however, I don’t believe this is a entirely a Media Center vs. TiVO choice — I know lots of people with both in their homes, peacefully coexisting (including eHome team members). I believe the market is big enough for both to thrive.
You should also keep in mind that having a Media Center PC in the living room is only one of a bunch of scenarios for a Windows Media Center PC. I encourage people to make a Media Center PC their next or Nth PC in the home.
For example, we have ours in the home office (not the living room) and my wife uses it for all of the traditional Windows tasks and TV or
(SA): Speaking of wives, there’s something what we call internally here at Microsoft the “SAF”- Spousal Acceptance Factor. It’s a very important informal metric we use internally just like the “eating our own dogfood” metric where we take builds home to test in addition to formal betas and usability testing.
In general I’ve noticed that my wife’s friends really gravitate towards the photo and home video features in
I’ve found in either case after a few minutes of just letting people use the remote and get comfortable,
That said though your comment about getting people to accept the PC in the living room is a good one. As an industry, we still have a lot of work to do. Setting up any DVR is still too complex and for a mainstream culture that still jokes about the blinking on your VCR, we can and will do better. Fortunately, we’ve solved that blinking on your VCR with
(TH): Well if getting your VCR to automatically set it’s clock to atomic clocks on the interent is not progress, I’m not sure what is. Thanks guys.
This series will be continued. Stay tuned for part two which will provide more indepth questions about the significance of partnerships in building the