Good things will might never come

Duke Nukem ForeveIt feels like Microsoft is suffering a little bit of the ‘Duke Nukem syndrome‘ – that is, announcing really cool and exciting products way ahead of its time, building up as much hype as it can get, ignoring it, letting it gather dust and stretching the release date longer than most people’s attention span until, well, the rubber-band breaks and no one cares anymore. Why are great products left rotting?

I know you’re thinking about the infamous Utopian file system, “WinFS“, but that’s not what I’m referring to. There’s plenty of other goodies down in the Redmond attic – including a bunch of Live stuff and Viridian. I’m referring to of course products much more tangible; one is a keyboard & mouse, the other is an instant messenger software. Remember these?

Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000 - Yahoo Messenger for Windows Vista

The “world’s-first” backlit rechargeable keyboard, the Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000 and the “world’s-first” WPF-powered instant-messenger application, Yahoo Messenger for Windows Vista. Two great products that would have blown away the competition, had it ever shipped when anyone still cared.

Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000The thing that annoys me is how they unimaginably screwed up the launch of the Wireless 8000. What they had what a thing of beauty – everyone loved the design, quite an achievement coming out of Microsoft. They also had the hype, because this thing was so unique at the time, it spread like wild fire – everyone wanted one. First, it was rumored to launch in holiday 2006, then officially announced to February 2007 to coincide with the launch of Vista. And now, it’s all the way back to September 07. Why?

This was not simply just a cool prototype that had problems realized, it was as real as the iPhone. They had no problems sending these out to reviewers, I even touched one at CES. I can’t imagine they would run into any manufacturing problems, but obviously they have. If this product ever ships, it wouldn’t surprise me there’ll be also plenty of (cheaper) alternatives like it. In my opinion, missed opportunity for Microsoft to hold on to their keyboard & mouse market lead.

Yahoo Messenger for Windows Vista
An example of a conversation on Yahoo Messenger between tight-ass employers and sun-deprived employees.

On the other hand, I’m willing to make some concessions for Yahoo Messenger since it’s not under Microsoft’s control. First shown at CES in January, Yahoo said they have been developing on a version of their IM application exclusively for Windows Vista to take advantage of the fancy Windows Presentation Foundation framework. It was demoed to us live pretty much fully functional – if not all complete. Of course, Yahoo never announced a release date, but “coming soon” shouldn’t be “see you next year” either.

Frog Design, the designers behind the WPF user interface insists “This process of overlapping work streams enabled the application to be built in a dramatically shorter timeframe than possible in the traditional software process.” Oh really? However, I can’t imagine a top-notch design company like Frog not delivering on their schedules. Even with all the fancy new Microsoft frameworks, there’s some geniuses at Frog who have no problems doing cool stuff within some really tight time constraints. If I were to speculate, I’d say Yahoo’s not putting in what they ought to.

No, I’m not trying to say “don’t talk about anything until you can actually deliver” because that will just undo all the hard work that made the great transparent company Microsoft is. What I insist is, as well to the Ultimate Extras team if any of them still live to bear the title, “tell us your problems and keep us in the loop”. No one’s making a chirp about the Wireless 8000, and no one wants to set any targets for Yahoo Messenger. Are we so afraid to missing the deadline that we’re going to abandon ‘hope’ altogether?

If the iPhone has shown us anything is that release dates still work. Just because it might get pushed back a week doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set one to begin with. If you’re that unsure, bundle the Wireless 8000 with Duke Nukem Forever.

32 insightful thoughts

  1. Hi Long!

    Do you remember Athens PC back in 2003? 21st century design, good concept, reverted back to 80’s AV styling :(

    Now… fast-forward to 2004… awesome design, cutting-edge functionality, never released… :(

    It really intrigues me why companies like Microsoft and HP spend $$$$$ on great *workable* prototypes YET they always throw all the hard work in the trash as the end? :S

    Some pees at the manaagement level need to be sacked…

  2. a couple of problems with your article…

    1)”Microsoft is suffering a little bit… ”

    A little bit? Are you for real? When you look up “over promise and under deliver” in a phase book, Microsoft will inevitably come up next to it… Vista, Xbox, Zune… the list goes on and on…

    2)”there’s some geniuses at Frog who have no problems doing cool stuff within some really tight time constraints”

    To my knowledge Fog design only build interface prototypes rather than fully functional apps. So a lot of what you see in demos often has no backend logic behind it. It’s mostly made to behave a certain way in order to demonstrate how an interface works.

  3. @Tom: 1) Those products still shipped. I was referring to not shipping products at all.

    2) That’s right, Frog only designed the interface part of the application. However, with WPF, they can do much of the design without any input from developers. Because it ‘looked’ complete, the only reason its not released is because the Yahoo developers haven’t done their part. Which is, the problem.

  4. “Two great products that would have blown away the competition, had it ever shipped when anyone still cared.”

    Yeah that seems to sum it up really.
    I can remember seeing pics of that keyboard – I never even realised it hasn’t shipped yet!

    As for Yahoo! Messenger, well I thought it looked awesome, it might have even made me install it and use it (at the moment I just use WLM). It would have made Microsoft look bad too, for not even managing to develop one of its own applications with its own WPF.

    And speaking of WPF, im not sure I know of a single WPF application that anybody I know uses..

  5. @Matt: There is none. Closest thing that is to an app that I tinkled with is Vertigo’s Family.Show genealogy software, which is really neat, and some demo apps from Thirteen23. There is NOT ONE real big WPF app. Shame.

  6. As far as a yahoo messenger with WPF, when are going to get a Windows Live messenger decked out like that? Or any MS groundbreaking freebie with WPF. I find it strange that MS is letting independent devs do all of the heavy lifting right now. I understand it’s probably marketing strategy for Visual Studio 2008, but I would expect MS to do the groundbreaking work on apps and interest other companies by the “You can do it too!” attitude.

  7. Duke Nukem Forever is the most ironic name ever given a PC game… and i am starting to wonder if we are ever going to see Yahoo for Vista, Microsoft already has Messenger 8.5 in public beta, it might not use WPF, but the interface design is appealing enough to compete with Yahoo’s Vista messenger on that front already.

  8. I think the keyboard is due this fall actually. 7000 was just released in Norway.

    I agree with your statement. However, WPF seems laggy and unstable on my machine. Maybe it’s because the programs aren’t coded well ( as a reference), but it could also be related to Vista with the WPF-technology as unstable? I guess we’ll have to wait for real WPF-programs to decide that. I’m anyway sick of waitening for the WPF-boosted Yahoo! client and I hope they get their fingers out to release that beauty. They could actually steal shares by doing that. But maybe they don’t want growth? Maybe Microsoft are paying them money NOT to distribute this?

  9. So true,

    And this, to me anyway, is the reason why in 10 years time Microsoft will be as good as dead and Google will reign supreme. If you look at the way the two companies handle innovation and treat the market you’ll see that the two are a world apart.

  10. Interestingly Apple do things exactly the opposite way:
    Microsoft : talk about a product ages before it goes out
    Apple : start filling the apple stores with the products before the product is even announced. Oh, and also sue people who reveal new products and try to find the source of internal leaks.

    Microsoft : make publicity on websites, tv, they pay bloggers,…
    Apple : It might be just me but it looks like YOU go see what the product is all about on THEIR website, not the other way.

    Microsoft : developers speak about their next product on their blog (really cool stuff sometimes like the blog of jensenh harris where he was talking about why and how they were building office 2007).
    Apple : well employees cannot even blog…

    In short
    Apple is a blackhole while Microsoft is a star (in the astronomical sense).

  11. I wonder if Microsoft has a deep aversion to doing things that are statement-making. IMO, Microsoft needs to badly make a bold statement on product design, and it’s been sorely silent. Their own brand identity gets in the way. They need a product that most people would look at and say, “now THAT is bad-ass.” I think XBox360 came closest to this, granted.

    MS should deliver the Desktop 8K soon, and if they can, replace the plastic with chrome and make the product something I’d want to wear a black turtleneck before using. They should also start whipping out amazing WPF apps. WPF is bad-ass, but it’s hidden and I think MS needs to capitalize on it now. For example, whip out a WPF-enabled Live Local desktop gadget with all that 3D goodness they’ve recently added to the web version. Or, whip out a WPF-enabled mini-player with amazing visualizers, or an Expose-killer virtual desktop. Something.

  12. For the gazillionth and one time,
    WinFS is NOT NOT NOT and did I mention NOT a file system. If you want to talk about how the project was so cool in Longhorn alpha builds yet made an abrupt halt at the Beta 1 Refresh stage, at least know what you’re talking about…

  13. The paucity of Vista Ultimate Extras is the most appalling.

    Did you hear the latest news brief from, released today (July 2)?

  14. Ultimate Extras update translation:

    “No one is working on any new extras. All the good ideas are already freely available sidebar gadgets. We’re regretting the use of the word Ultimate because most people think it describes the Extras, not the OS. The truth is, we all got high at Jim’s one night and are now trying to figure out what’s going one. We really have no idea.”

  15. @Creamhackered: Yes, but that was pushed back from the original official availability date of February 2007.

    The new Microsoft products introduced today will be available for the following estimated retail prices:

    Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000: $249.95 (U.S.), available February 2007

  16. @Maurice:
    “For the gazillionth and one time,
    WinFS is NOT NOT NOT and did I mention NOT a file system.”

    WinFS involved many different technologies to work. So it was a Data Storage Platform. Not simply a file system. It was a layer that sat on top of NTFS. Yes we all know that.
    But I think we get what Long means. Don’t have to be so critical.

    whip out a WPF-enabled Live Local desktop gadget with all that 3D goodness they’ve recently added to the web version.

    Do you mean, why they don’t create a Live Local sidebar gadget using WPF?
    Well the answer is because they can’t. While there is a hack using an iframe that allows you to insert WPF in a gadget, it doesn’t properly/fully support WPF.

    In the next sidebar release we will hopefully have native WPF support in the sidebar.

  17. A Vista Messenger beta “in a few months.” And perhaps a final release a few months later? I’m thinking we won’t see this thing until 2008.

  18. I should point this link out to you. Therein, Yahoo is asking what they should do about the Macintosh client which has been in public beta since June 2006, and with no update since then. That is right, it has been in development for at least a year. Yahoo either has some of the worse developers in the industry, or they have the worst case of attention deficit disorder I have witnessed. Since the Mac beta (which they released because they needed something Intel compatible), they promised (but never released) a Vista version built on WPF, and released a buggy Flash-based web client (I guess they never got the “No Flash on the iPhone” memo), all while hoping people would forget about the two promised clients. Yahoo deserves nothing but scorn at this point.

  19. I have also seen a silver version of the backlit keyboard on Amazon. But they took it down really soon. I’m waiting for this!

  20. Yahoo’s messenger is interesting, but who wants an IM client that spins football helmets? Kind of a gimmick if you ask me. As far as I can tell thirteen23 is the only firm pushing design forward with WPF.

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