Home PC administration — another lost opportunity

I’ve written in the past about places where Microsoft could absolutely *own* the infrastructure of the home by establishing a beachhead in the living room — not to mention the previous assertions about their development tools.

I still believe quite strongly that a well-targeted home computing platform is just a couple of software tweaks away for Microsoft.  Today’s edition is all about authentication.  I’ve got a bunch of PC’s at home, including some VM’s.  I’ve also got a Drobo 5N and a PS3 and a bunch of networking equipment.

You know what stinks?  I need to set up logins on every single one of these devices individually, and they’re not connected to one another (so “Fred” on one box isn’t really the same login as “Fred” on another box).


Microsoft, give me a lightweight Active Directory for the home — something I can obtain without buying a Windows Server license, okay?  Here’s a hint: if you built this into thew new XBox, I’d buy one, and I bet a bunch of other people would, too.  Let me use this for DNS, so I can type “router” into my browser and actually get my router, instead of making me set up a HOSTS file on every single PC I own.  By the way, how many average consumers would even know that’s possible??

I fully expect that the new XBox, when it arrives, will let me stream photos and music off my Drobo, but if you want to really take this idea to the next level, how about selling us a Pogoplug -type of device I can give to my Mom & Dad so I can (1) set up user names for them, and (2) let them see photos that I don’t plan on uploading to Flickr, etc.?  The idea here, by the way, since I’m spelling everything out in excruciating detail, is that just about every family has one or more members somewhere who (a) own a gaming system, and (b) understand enough about computers to be the family SysAdmin.

Get it??

Oh, and by the way, since you’ve given up on Windows Home Server for reasons I’ve never quite been able to fathom, and since you now aspire to be a “devices + services” company, why don’t you just go ahead and buy Drobo and make their stuff work with yours?  I’d happily plug mine into a new XBox.

I swear, if Microsoft were able to get their collective heads out of whatever orifices they’re lodged within long enough to make an XBox that actually acted like it was part of a family, they’d crank up another WinTel-style monopoly to last them a good dozen more years.

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Microsoft still struggling to put pieces together

I’ve been a Microsoft developer for a lot of years now.  As such, I’m intrinsically motivated to want to see them succeed.  For that reason, it’s painful to see what’s become of the Microsoft juggernaut.  Office hasn’t given us a meaningful improvement since somewhere around Office ’97.  Windows fared a little better, probably due in no small part to the dismal showing of Vista, which made Windows 7 look like a breath of fresh air.  Despite this, I still think Microsoft fields the best set of developer tools, top to bottom, of anyone, and I’d love to keep developing solutions with them.

Microsoft Office Mobile on Windows Phone
Microsoft Office Mobile on Windows Phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a fan of Microsoft, then, I’d love to see Windows 8 take off — on the desktop, tablets, phones — everywhere, but it’s not, and I don’t have to look to far to understand why.  I recently upgraded three machines at home from Windows 7 to Windows 8, and I have to admit that the tablet features appear to have been duct-taped onto Windows 8 with little regard to optimizing the experience for either type of client.  I can only imagine what the phone experience is like.  I’m still finding myself at a loss for where various bits and pieces have wandered off to.  Thank God for search, or I very well might have downgraded by now.

Worst of all, there are signs that Win 8’s problems are a bit more widespread than my own personal adoption headaches.  Well-known developer evangelist Rocky Lhotka wrote a post this week addressing licensing headaches that could very well keep enterprise customers from adopting WinRT for internal applications, and MVP John Petersen wrote about the continued lack of applications for Windows 8.  Are these problems affecting Microsoft’s bottom line?  It may be too early to call, but reports indicate that Microsoft is cutting prices on Windows and Office, and that’s not a good sign.

As far back as I can remember, Microsoft has been king of the “platform”.  They’ve always understood that there’s a synergistic relationship between OS, applications, developer tools, and users.  It’s possible to be successful successful in one or two of these areas, but if you’re able to leverage success in one area to grow in another, the leverage is tough to beat.  It’s too late for Microsoft to win mobile by meeting Apple or Android in a heads-up battle.  Same goes for tablets.  If Microsoft hopes to be relevant again (let alone dominant), they need a holistic solution that blows open a market that Apple and Google don’t already own.

So, what’s left?  Unfortunately, there’s very little obvious green field left, but the one real hunk of market where Microsoft actually holds the high ground is entertainment — namely, Xbox.  Sadly, Microsoft has been running Xbox like its own little company since Day 1, so although it works really well with Windows, there’s so much more synergy to be had in home computing and entertainment if Microsoft would merely re-assemble pieces and parts they already own into a platform that would actually add value in the home.

Curious?  Stick around — next time, I’ll lay out the product that could save Microsoft if they’d just break down some walls and build it!

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