What would 'online search' do?

This article on Google Music caught my attention. So, if you are another online search service, how do you compete with Google? How do you entice folks to use your search engine over Google? Google gives me great search results (well, within reason) & I like other Google products (Gmail, Blogger etc.). So, why would I use a Bing, Yahoo, Ask, Cuil or anything else?

This seems to be so much more of a marketing problem than a technology or product problem. Let's look at another similar situation - Before Starbucks came along, maybe Dunkin Donuts or McD were the market leader for Coffee. What did Starbucks do? Ditto with Dell/HP vs. Apple. By fragmenting the market & targeting specific segments - typically the underserved ones, these companies have redefined their product positioning & often have created completely new markets.

Let's try that idea with Google. Does Google search work really well for everyone (as in insanely amazingly well) - or does it just work good enough? What if there were search engines targeted to different user groups - When kids search for "Mario" are they really looking for "Mario Tricoci Hair Salons & Day Spas".

Similarily, when a caregiver is looking for information on diabetes vs. a student researcher vs. a pharmacist, are they interested in the same set of information. Today, every user either sifts through the tonne of results that they get - less likely, or we keep on refining our query to a more specific term. What if I don't know the term - which is especially true for technical trades - programming is one of them. Try finding information on "parameterized URL" without using that term.

I guess there is probably an opportunity for online search engines to focus more sharply on under served user segments - and google music is probably a step in that direction. It will be interesting to see what others will do. Interesting times, I guess.

UX/UI for dummies screenshot

Hotmail was the first free email service back in the early days (remember Sabeer Bhatia). It had a huge first mover advantage & is now Microsoft owned. However, when you put on your usability glasses, it seems that some basic things that one would notice seems to be amiss.

Just take the two search boxes...Two??Yes, really...see the screenshot. It makes me think that there was no thought put into what was getting developed. Is it not a fair assumption that most of the modern browsers have a little search box on their top right corner? Why would Hotmail users would want to search on Bing after logging into their Hotmail account?

But what if we wanted hotmail users to try out Bing? How do we increase the adoption of our cool new search engine? Well...maybe we can offer one search box, but two search results - side by side - one from the user's emails & other from the web; Now you've got my attention. I(the user) is thinking...Hotmail is pretty cool - Gmail cannot do that for me, nor can Yahoo. This is so cool. & maybe I will click a hyperlink & you have introduced me to your cool new search engine - in a Permission Marketing sort of way. Here is how GMail does it today...

Another issue that I ran into recently. I received 6 exact emails for Azure trial from Microsoft & yet Live/Hotmail did not think it was spam (while it sometimes flags my regular emails as spam). Again, it seems to me that its the little things that matter & that is where Apple & Google sometimes (well most of the times) have an edge over Microsoft.

Windows on a Mac - Virtualbox (Techie Post)

Okay...I like my MacBook Pro, although there is a lot that I will need to learn about using it effectively. Anyhow, the need for having a Windows environment on Mac had me look at Parallels, VMWare Fusion & Virtual Box (Free for personal use).

After some research, I figured I might start with VirtualBox to get a sense of what would the experience be like. VBox is a SUN virtual machine that is available for free.

I have been using Virtual PC for a few years & am pretty happy with it on Windows. However, VBox is supposed to have the ability to use a Virtual PC image (.VHD file). Apparently, the latest VBOX version 2.10 has this feature broken, but the older 2.06 works with .VHDs.

After some back & forth copying of .VHDs, I was able to use them with VBox, but it would give me a registry error every time I started it (something like 'The registry is corrupted & was restored from a log').

I searched & found that I can convert my Virtual PC image (a .VHD file) to a VBox image (a .VDI file). Unfortunately, after many trials using the vboxmanage convert utility & QEMU, it just did not work.

I figured since I will be using Windows on a Mac on a pretty regular basis, I might as well create a fresh fault free VBox native environment. So, I ended up installing Windows Server 2003 on a VBox image, allocated it 20 GB diskspace & 2 GB RAM (My MacBook has 4 GB) & it works like a charm.

It has MS Expression Studio (Adobe CS4 type MSFT version), Visual Studio 2008, Adobe Flex Builder & SQL Server Express Edition for now, but it runs faster than my actual Windows machine.

Summary: VirtualBox is a good product, if you would like to start afresh (Atleast for now).

Grass on the other side of the fence...

I write this post from a newly acquired Macbook Pro. This is my first Apple product & it took me 15 mins to start using it for the kind of things that I usually do.

The funny thing is that I also ordered an HP dv7t notebook running Vista 64 bit, & it took me much longer to get some of my stuff working on it, & I have been working on PCs for about 20 years.

Apple Rocks (& I am sure there are things that stink about it & I will probably know about them in a little bit ;-)).

Have a great day (I am having one!).

The Microsoft UX (or "We suggest you don't ask us. Test it yourself & find out if it works!")

What do you do when you have a question & cannot find an answer? Read the Manual (Of course we all do that, don't we)

Well, What do you do if the manual does not have that information? Search Online, Google, Ask the company or something..

Well, this post is about my experience with asking the company (Microsoft, in this case).

Recently, I had a question about compatibility of Exchange 2003 & Sharepoint Server 2007 Outlook Web Parts. I Googled but really did not find anything worthwhile other than some passing references. For some reason, MSFT does not have this documented.

So, I sent out an out of the blue email to the pertinent Product Managers & actually got a response (Yay!!!). He was not sure if there are any issues, but politely requested that I should test it out before asking such questions.

Now for an Open Source product I can probably take this answer (although they are probably much better documented in some cases), but for a commercial product, ummm.....No!

I was tempted to ask if he would like the same answer from his car company. How about the Pharmacy? I find this unfortunate because Microsoft has some really great products, but in an experience age....I think they have a pretty long way to go...

I guess the fundamental (albeit cliched question) we all need to ask ourselves everyday is....

Have we done enough to make our customers successful? What is your answer today?

Happy Halloween!!

PS: CC Image courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/90316702@N00/14187704/