Tag Archives: Windows Live Writer

The Fate of New Acquisitions: Whither or Wither?

By Jeremy Wagstaff

I’m writing this on a Windows PC using a great piece of Microsoft software called Windows Live Writer. And that’s only part of the problem.

As you no doubt know, Microsoft have announced they bought Skype, the Internet telephony company, for $8.5 billion. You’ll have to look under a lot of stones to find someone who thinks this is a good deal for Microsoft. Skype made $20 million last year on revenue of $860 million, posting a net loss of $69 million because of interest expenses. In short, this is not a company about to fill Microsoft’s coffers with dosh.

Whenever a big company goes on a buying spree I reach for my gun and head for the hills. These things never end well. A few weeks back we heard about Cisco buying and then killing Flip, those great little pocket cameras so simple to use people actually use them. I used to keep a list of these acquisitions, because I naively used to think that a big company buying a smaller one was a happy ending. I’ve nearly always been proved wrong.

Yahoo bought a browser bookmarking service called delicious that they parked in a siding until eventually selling it, a few weeks back, to someone who actually seems to understand the product. In fact a fun game is to quiz Yahoo PR people about the state of their company’s lesser known products and count how many “I’ll have to get back to you on that one” responses. I’ll give you a head start: Ask about Konfabulator, a sort of desktop widgets program which was excellent, but has quietly withered on the Yahoo vine. The developer’s blog hasn’t been updated since 2007.

Yahoo are probably the most egregious offenders but everyone does it. Google boughtJaiku, a twitter-like service that was better than twitter, but have done precisely nothing with it. Nokia bought dopplr, a social networking service for people who travel, and have done precisely nothing with it. (Product blog hasn’t been updated since September 30 2009, two days after Nokia bought it.)

So why do it? Buying companies makes people money, somewhere in the chain. It disguises ineptitude, or it is what is called a defensive play: I’ll buy it so you can’t.

The Skype deal neatly illustrates Microsoft’s problem is a simple one: It lacks direction. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do so it creates a new brand, a new product, a new division—often out of an old one. The product I’m writing this on is part of (frankly the only good part of) the Windows Live array of products—whatever that is; I’ve never quite figured that part out. (Type live.com into your browser and something different seems to happen each time; now it’s a sort of stream of consciousness page that’s more of a stew of Microsoft’s various offerings. ) Windows Live Writer was part of a product Microsoft bought called Onfolio; it has survived, somehow, though few people seem to know about it outside a very narrow group of enthusiasts.

And here’s the rub. Microsoft has no idea what to do with all these products it spews out or inherits, so it forgets about them. Most of you know that Hotmail and Bing are Microsoft products. But how about Lync? Or Kin? Anyone remember Zune? And what is the difference between Windows Live and Windows Live Essentials, for example? Or Windows Messenger, Office Communicator, Windows Live Messenger and MSN Messenger? Or Sync Center, Live Mesh, SkyDrive, FolderShare and Live Sync?

No, I’m not sure either.

Go to Windowsmarketplace.com and you’ll be told that “Windows Marketplace has transitioned from an ecommerce site to a reference site.” Confused yet? Go togetpivot.com, the website of what was billed a year or so back as “the most ambitious thing to come out of Live Labs” and you’ll get directed to, er, bing.com. Live Labs itself was disbanded a few months later. Now old links to Live Labs go to bing.com, which was where those members of the team ended up that didn’t quit. Out of the 14 projects initiated by the lab counted on Wikipedia, all but five are dead. Of those, only a couple seemed to still have any life in them.

When a company diverts a link from one of its own press releases barely a year old to, effectively, nowhere, it’s a pretty good sign that’s where the vision has gone too. This was after all Microsoft’s big research team—at least the most exciting one (Microsoft spends about $9 billion per year on R&D, according to Jean-Louis Gassée, a French analyst.) Microsoft products seem to get lost in a labyrinth of confusing branding, branching and segmentation tunnels, confusing and demoralizing the user to the degree they throw up their hands and go buy a Mac.

Not I. I know about Microsoft products because I use them. A lot. And the more I usemy Mac the more impressed I am with parts of Windows 7.  The problems with the operating system could be fixed in an afternoon: Watch a couple of users try it out and then ask them what was missing. Build those bits into a new version, ditch the trash and you’re good to go. (Some clues: something like iPhoto but better than Photo Gallery for handling photos. Something like iMovie but not Movie Maker. Apple’s products all come pre-installed. Microsoft’s are a confusing, lengthy and intrusive download and reboot away. Oh, and something half way between Microsoft Word ($200 or thereabouts) and the freebie WordPad; Apple’s equivalent Pages costs $20. It’s not as good as Word, but it’s a 10th the price.)

So where is Skype going to fit into all this? Well, the problems start with Skype itself. Since eBay bought it in 2005 it has been something of an orphan, passed around with little idea of what its future might be. It wasn’t always thus. I drank the Kool-Aid back in 2005, and thought like others it was going to change the way we communicated and did business online. I joined the vision of a world where everyone from clairvoyants to business consultants (ok, that’s not such a wide swathe) would offer services over Skype. Audio, text, video, you name it.

That hasn’t happened. For most people it is just a way to avoid paying rip-off phone charges and do the odd video call. Everything else is marginal. The most recent Extra—the add-ons that were supposed to be part of this new Skype ecosystem–is dated January 2010 and that’s just an update on an old program. One guy I interviewed in 2005 had set up a network of 30,000 experts in 50 countries on a website called Jyve.com that was going to piggyback this new Skype-connected world. He’s nowhere to be found now and Jyve.com is an empty page.

eBay didn’t get it, of course, but that’s only part of the story. About a year ago I wrote a piece calling on Skype to realize that it was at heart the world’s most effective social network tool. I wrote:

If Skype dovetailed with Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn it could position itself at the heart of social media. After all, it’s probably the only application that most Internet users have installed, loaded and [have] active on their computer. Unlike Facebook et al, Skype is there, right in the moment. It’s the ultimate presence app.

Indeed, it’s much more like an instant Rolodex (remember those?) than all the other networking services we use. If I want to contact someone the first place I check is Skype—if they’re online, what’s the point of contacting them any other way?

In other words, Skype offers a granularity that other social networking tools don’t: Not only is it comfortable with one to all (the status update message), it’s also comfortable with the one to several (add people to a chat or call), it’s also great at instantly connecting one on one. You can even reach people offline via it, if they have call forwarding enable, or you have their SMS details stored.

No other social network offers that.

Skype sits on every computer (and most smartphones.) By definition all the people the user is connected to are people he wants to actually communicate with—rather than just ‘friending’ or ‘ ‘connecting to’. It’s an easier way to share stuff—photos, files etc–and it’s now pretty easy to set up groups and stuff (In Afghanistan we used it as a way to share security updates; people could see the information in real time or catch up on messages when they got online. In Singapore I use it to talk to my students via teams and the whole class.)

Unfortunately Skype may have read my piece, or they may not. Either way, they half went down this road by trying to throw in lots of things that people didn’t need—including an annoying Firefox extension that turned every number on a webpage into a phone number, including bank accounts. Now Skype is so big and clunky it crashes on my Android phone and my Windows computer.

But in a perfect world Skype works. It’s simple. For many people it’s a telephone. For others it’s a presence indicator: I’m online, I’m not. My computer is connected to the internet (green button showing) or there’s a problem with the connection (grey downer button showing). For some people it’s become a very useful way to organize teleconferences (though don’t talk to my colleagues on an Indonesia project about this; they spend hours trying to get a connection going.)

Skype wasn’t first but it worked better than others, which is why everyone has a Skype account, and why asking for someone’s Skype ID is almost as natural as telling asking for their email address.

But unfortunately I’m not sanguine about a Microsoft/Skype future. Either they integrate the technology behind it into their other smorgasbord of products, in which case you wonder why they didn’t develop the technology themselves, or they leave it as it is. Either way it’s not good: While analysts have focused on how Skype might fit into Microsoft’s non-PC products like Kinect and Xbox, it’s hard to imagine that Microsoft won’t try to shoehorn Skype users into one of its misbegotten sub-brands, losing non-Windows users along the way.

Skype Messenger anyone? Live Skype? Skype Office? Skype Explorer? I shudder to think what will happen. I may be wrong—I’ve been plenty wrong about Skype before—but my fear is of a Skype that gets as clunky and overloaded as MSN Messenger, as bewildering as the Live family of products, as impossible to separate from other Microsoft products as Microsoft Word, as doomed as Outlook Express and anything from the Live Labs mob.

I do hope I’m wrong because of all the networks I have on my computer and cellphone, Skype is still the one I actually need. Skype: whither or wither?

An Index Of Blogging Clients

July 2009 Update: added BlogDesk. So far I’ve not been able to find anything apart from Windows Live Writer that works with WordPress page for Windows. (Ecto’s latest release apparently does support it.) 

Blogging clients allow you to prepare posts and then upload them directly. Useful for

  • composing drafts of posts offline
  • easier editing of HTML
  • easier inserting and handling of photos
  • easier editing of existing posts

Here’s a list of the ones I know of. Any additions welcome.

  • Qumana include easy text formatting and image insertion, simple Technorati tagging, and advertising insertion with Q Ads. Make money from your blog content by inserting the ads of your choice with the built-in Q Ads tool. (free: XP/Mac)
  • ecto a feature-rich desktop blogging client for MacOSX and Windows, supporting a wide range of weblog systems, such as Blogger, Blojsom, Drupal, MovableType, Nucleus, TypePad, WordPress, and more. (free; thanks Joost)
  • w.bloggar  The tireless Marcelo Cabral who runs it constantly updates the software to work with new blogging sites. It’s free, but he welcomes donations.
  • Post2Blog handy blog editor with live spell-checking support for pro-bloggers. ($40, Windows only)
  • SharpMT good for MovableType and TypePad. Windows only; free.
  • Windows Live Writer “makes it easier to compose compelling blog posts using Windows Live Spaces or your current blog service.” Free, XP only
  • Zempt Offers a lot of useful features, including assigning more than one category to a post. Zempt is also free but would be happy to get donations. Works with all Movable Type compatible sites. (Windows, Linux, Mac.)
  • BlogJet a new version, 2.0, is out that supports YouTube and Flickr. I used to use this all the time, and plan to try this one. $40, though, is still $40. Windows only
  • BlogWizard allows you to create, edit and publish your blog entries to the server where your weBlog is located. BlogWizard works with all major weBlog services that support the Blogger xml-rpc engine. BlogWizard has an easy to use WysiWyg interface, in which you can manipulate the text anyway you want, make it bold, bigger, smaller, insert images and hyperlinks. Costs: $23
  • Blogger for Word Blogger toolbar will be added to Word allowing you to publish to your blog, save drafts and edit posts (Free; XP and Word required)
  • MacJournal lets you publish your work as a blog to any of the popular blogging services, including your .mac account. Also possible to keep your journal at your fingertips, even when you’re on the road. (Macs only; $35)
  • BlogDesk BlogdDesk BlogDesk is free, works with WordPress, MovableType, Drupal, Serendipity and ExpressionEngine.
  • MarsEdit: Mac only, but very capable, according to Mike Rohde (thanks, Mike)

Also note that Microsoft Office 2007 lets you post to a blog, and include some pretty cool features.  So does Flock. There are also some Firefox extensions:

  • Performancing Heavy duty extension with all the bells and whistles
  • Deepest Sender instead of having to go to the Update page on LiveJournal/WordPress/Blogger/whatever, or loading up a separate client program, all you have to do is hit Ctrl+, or click the button in your toolbar, and you can start posting.

Links

WordPress has a list of blogging clients here. No mention of support for pages.

Another good list here.

Updater Fever

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I sometimes wonder what software companies—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, they’re all the same—want from their customers.

I spend enough time with novice users to know how confusing using computer software can be. Especially online: It’s a scary world out there (they’re right to be scared) but these companies, which should know better, make it more so. By trying to hoodwink into using their products they are undermining users’ confidence in using computers in the first place. If they keep on doing this, expect more people to use computers less—and certainly to install less software, or experiment in any way online or off.

Take what just happened. I use Windows Live Writer to blog: it’s an excellent program, by far the best things Microsoft has done in years, and today it prompted me that an update was available. I duly clicked on the link to download the Writer beta installer:

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Only, of course, it wasn’t the installer but The Installer From Hell:

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Prechecked are six programs, none of which I have on my computer right now. There’s no single button to uncheck those boxes, and most novice users may not even know they can (note the confusing text above it: “Click each program name for details” and “Choose the programs you want to install”—nothing to explain to novices that these choices have already been made for you, and how to unchoose them.)

It’s not as if Microsoft is trying to sell us smack. This is free software. But it’s very damaging in ways only someone who spends time with real people can understand. Even when the software is installed for example, you get this last little twist of the Knife of Befuddlement:

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This might not seem like much, but if you’re an ordinary user, finding your home page all different and your search engine altered to something else can be as disorienting as coming home to find someone’s moved your furniture and the cooker is now in the bathroom. Well, not quite that much, but you get the idea.

Of course Microsoft’s not alone in this. Even Google’s been playing the game, and Yahoo! tries to bundle the toolbar in with pretty much every piece of software that’s ever been downloaded–which also alters the homepage, and default search engine, and probably moves the fridge around as well.

The problem is that the more these companies try to fool us, the easier it is for real scammers to scam us—because what they both do starts to look very similar.

Take this scam that I came across this morning. A splog (spam blog—a fake blog) had used some of my material so when I tried to access the page to find out why, I instead got this believable looking popup

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This without me doing anything other than clicking on a link to a blog. A graphic in the background appeared to be checking the computer for viruses, and of course this window is nigh on impossible to get rid of. Try clicking on the red cross and you get this:

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Try to get rid of that and you get this:

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And then this:

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It’s obviously a scam (it’s adware), but it’s darned hard to get rid of. And to the ordinary user (by which I mean someone who has a real life, and therefore doesn’t see this kind of thing as intrinsically interesting) there’s no real difference between the trickery perpetrated by these grammatically challenged scammers, and the likes of Microsoft et al, who try to inveigle their software and homepage/search engine preferences into your computer.

Either way, the ordinary user is eventually going to tire of the whole thing and say “enough!” and go out fishing or, if it’s that time of year, wassailing.

Let’s try to avoid that.

(And yes, the latest version Live Writer is good, though don’t use the spellchecker. Just a shame that it’s made by Microsoft.)

Word, the Expensive Blogging Tool?

I’m always looking for a better way to blog and some folk are pointing to the tools available from within Word 2007:

From within Word, you can create a blog entry with extensive formatting and imaging, and easily upload to your blog – whether hosted by a company such as Blogger, or hosted on your own website through installed software, such as WordPress.

Along with that, the software comes with additional features, such as “live previews for text styles, images, paging, etc.” and image effects, including shadows, orientation, borders and shapes.”In summary,” dkaye says, ”Word 2007 is simplifying blogging, so it’s not just straight and boring text anymore.”

Interesting. Of course you’ll have to shell out for all the other features of Microsoft Office, whereas Windows Live Writer is free, but if you’ve got Office already, it’s probably worth checking out the features.

Intriguing that Microsoft is backing into the blogging revolution with these types of tools, which I imagine would somewhat cannibalize each other. But then again, Microsoft have long learned the lesson of diverting the unschooled, unwary or click-happy user into their own sales channel, as the default option in this dialog box for adding a blog to your Windows Live Writer illustrates:

This post was written on, er, Windows Live Writer.

Adobe Falls Behind the Blogging Curve

Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspiration points to Adobe’s new version of Contribute 4.0, which now lets you compose blog posts from within Microsoft Office. As Amit points out, who is going to shell out $150 for something which Windows Live Writer and a host of other tools let you do for free?

(These tools allow people with blogs to write their posts while they’re not online. I use them because I don’t like working inside a browser for reasons I haven’t really explored. Mainly, I think it’s because keyboard shortcuts don’t work very well in the browser-based software that players like Typepad offer. I have other grumbles: The silly restrictions on window size in which one can type, the dearth of options for inserting images, and perhaps most importantly the difficulty of moving between web pages and editor when they’re in the same browser.)

That said, Contribute is primarily web publishing software, and while blogging is now well supported with a range of good tools, updating non-blog pages is still a major nuisance. Might be worth trying out just for that.

What Goes Around…

I’m belatedly playing with Microsoft’s new Windows Live Writer. I like it, but then I’ve always been a fan of blog writing tools. Here’s a list of them I started keeping, although I’m pretty sure it’s out of date by now.

But does it not strike you as somewhat strange that we’ve gotten to this point? I mean, those blog writing tools were available nearly three years ago, doing pretty much what Windows Live Writer does now — WYSIWYG authoring, HTML source code editing, Web preview mode, adding photos, compatibility with different blog services, some weird formatting and error messages, etc etc. In fact the only thing it’s got the others don’t have, map publishing, doesn’t yet work. Oh, it’s free. But otherwise Dmitry Chestnykh of BlogJet seems to have a point when he claims Microsoft has ripped off his software.

So is this where Web 2.0 has taken us? All the way back to a small software tool that lets us write our blog postings offline so we can upload them later?

What Goes Around…

I’m belatedly playing with Microsoft’s new Windows Live Writer. I like it, but then I’ve always been a fan of blog writing tools. Here’s a list of them I started keeping, although I’m pretty sure it’s out of date by now.

But does it not strike you as somewhat strange that we’ve gotten to this point? I mean, those blog writing tools were available nearly three years ago, doing pretty much what Windows Live Writer does now — WYSIWYG authoring, HTML source code editing, Web preview mode, adding photos, compatibility with different blog services, some weird formatting and error messages, etc etc. In fact the only thing it’s got the others don’t have, map publishing, doesn’t yet work. Oh, it’s free. But otherwise Dmitry Chestnykh of BlogJet seems to have a point when he says Microsoft has ripped off his software.

So is this where Web 2.0 has taken us? All the way back to a small software tool that lets us write our blog postings offline so we can upload them later?