much under Microsoft’s tree for Christmas this year
Alan Zisman (c) 2007
First published in Business
September 25-October 1, 2007; issue 935
High Tech Office
might think it’s a bit early to start thinking about Christmas gift
giving. Nevertheless, Microsoft Canada’s annual holiday caravan passed
through Vancouver the first week of September, inviting local
technology journalists to see what Microsoft hopes readers will put
under their trees this year.
I was happy to be invited – for the
splendid view from the penthouse of a downtown hotel, for the
better-than-average snacks and for a chance to chat with four Microsoft
product specialists and see where they think the home market is going.
your opinion of the company, Microsoft has played a leadership role in
expanding the use of computers by home (and home business) users. It
was an early promoter of the use of educational and multimedia CD-ROMs,
offered innovative and ergonomic keyboards and mice, championed
easy-to-secure WiFi networking and more. Last year’s Christmas junket
promoted hand-held media players and home media centre computers from
various manufacturers, new versions of the company’s Encarta
Encyclopedia, Streets & Trips (with laptop-usable GPS adapters –
very cool) and lots more neat stuff.
This time around, though,
there seemed to me to be a change in emphasis. I got a preview of
upcoming home network server software, which promises to allow home
users to keep documents, photos, music and other media on a
centralized, easily managed server, accessible from multiple computers
at home and (securely) across the Internet.
could prove invaluable, and this, along with promised ease of
installation and management might make it a valuable addition for
home-based businesses (even though Microsoft doesn’t seem to be aiming
it at that market).
Another product specialist showed off the
company’s MSN Live online services, reworking existing Hotmail and MSN
Messenger services for better integration, and expanding the range of
free services offered. With arguably better integration than similar
online services from Google or Yahoo, these could prove useful and
Another product specialist demonstrated security
options built into Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system with a
focus on parental control features. These let parents have power over
where their children can go online, what games they can play and even
when they’re allowed to use the computer. Parents can view a detailed
log of their child’s computer activities. Most parents – including
those who bought new computers with Vista pre-installed this year – are
probably unaware of these well-implemented features.
The last of
the four stations I visited featured Scene It! And Viva Pinata Party
Animal – nice looking family-oriented games for the company’s popular
Xbox 360 game console and updates to Zoo Tycoon and Age of Empire PC
games (along with the company’s new high-performance Sidewinder Mouse,
aimed at gamers). I appreciate the efforts the company is making to
broaden the range of games for its popular Xbox console beyond
shooters. But overall, there wasn’t much to go under the Christmas tree.
offers other software and gadgets for home and small business users.
The CD-based press kit they handed out had images of computer mice,
keyboards, web cams, updated home software and games and accessories
for PCs and Xbox 360s.
But compared with years past, Microsoft
seemed to be downplaying this part of its product line. Nobody was
demoing next year’s versions of educational products like Microsoft
Encarta or Microsoft Student or home-oriented products like Microsoft
Money or Streets and Trips. And not one word was mentioned about the
company’s Zune MP3 player, which so far has failed to be an iPod-killer.
appreciated learning more about Microsoft’s Home Server and MSN Live
products and seeing Vista’s parental controls in action. These might
prove useful to many BIV readers. But if Microsoft’s holiday tour is
anything to go on, there may not be much from the High Tech Office
under this year’s tree. Hopefully the competition will have more to