Bill Gates chose carefully his first public comments on RSS and the tectonic shift its rending across the technology landscape.
The audience was not a roomful of geeks at VSLive, not a consumer-facing keynote crowd at CES, not even a developer conference like this weeks TechEd. Instead, it was bridge partner Warren Buffet and other captains of industry at Microsofts CEO Summit 2004.
In seven succinct paragraphs, Gates laid out the roots of RSS—not in the business community, but in the “corporate or technical enthusiast space.”
How blogging and RSS notification sits somewhere between e-mail and the Web while correcting the drawbacks of both: complex cc:ing of collaborative information and repeatedly polling of Web sites for new additions.
Bill has mentioned blogging in previous speeches and has increasingly focused on the intersection of blogging, RSS and Office in internal meetings.
But in signaling his interest in the technology, as he previously did with mesh networking in off-the-record conversations and at last years Wall Street Journal conference (ironically made public by a blog post), Gates was talking as much to his product teams as to anybody.
Much has been made of Microsofts rank-and-file support for blogging/RSS—some 700 sites at last count. But so far, theres no counterpart in Redmond to Tim Bray, whose Sun Microsystems job is strategically targeted on the space.
Googles Gmail and Orkut projects may be converging via RSS, but no single brain (except perhaps Sergey Brins) is focused there yet.
Much too much has also been made of Microsofts vulnerability to the RSS revolution. The rap: If too much micro-content flows outside the Windows (and Office) file formats and services, the fabled lock-in will be broken. Its what Ive called the Allchin Tax, where all innovation is measured by the degree to which it reduces switching costs from Windows.
I Want My TPC
But Bill understands something bigger than Windows lock-in is at stake. He understands the fundamental lock-in that levels us all: time. And if you step outside the usual industry arguments and view Microsofts technologies along that axis, Bill is in very good shape.
Take the Tablet PC—yes, I know, please. The common wisdom (and some supporting facts) suggest that the form factor is not long for this world. Its too small a niche, its not worth the cost of adding to every laptop, the product group is not reaching its targets, and so on.
But measure it according to Steve Ballmers customer satisfaction metric: dont try and pry it out of my hands!
What? Yes, I love my Mac PowerBook to death, but increasingly, Im tethered to an HP tablet. Sure, I hate the keyboard and regularly e-mail my documents back to the Mac for fit and polish. iSight video is way ahead of the PC, and I have to update my virus software by June 2 or else. But then theres OneNote.
OneNote lets me record meetings and conversations and take notes in ink. Each ink note places a time-stamp in the file; click on the comment and the audio plays back from that point in the stream. Now, combine that functionality with Wi-Fi, the removable slate portion of the HP unit, the earphones from my iPod, and my Nokia 3650 camera phone.
Old lock-in: Word and Outlook. Word remains my favorite editor for content creation, but consumption shifted to Outlook and IE years ago.
As mobility improved, text formatting gave way to ASCI feeds to my BlackBerry, and eventually XML, to be reconstituted and reformatted dynamically at the endpoint. The Pocket PC was directed toward old lock-in—preserving Word formatting, Outlook events and messaging synchronization.
New lock-in: RSS consumption—Im currently using the Outlook plug-in NewsGator because it persists full-text feeds and links to permalinked archives. The slate factor lets me consume these feeds wirelessly from the couch, the bed, Starbucks, conferences, all the while recording audio and synchronized links in ink. If someone calls with a message for my wife, I jot it down in the margins or on a separate note page while recording continues uninterrupted.
What You Dont See
Ink is supported in Microsoft IM and Groove chat, while drag and drop makes it easy to convert incoming e-mail to an appointment. All I have to do is select times from drop-down lists, click save and return to OneNote.
The lock-in has essentially flipped from vendor-driven to customer-driven. I lock myself into the Tablet because it lets me do most if not all of what I used to do, plus a lot more, in the same amount of time.
Thats why Bill Gates is paying attention to RSS in public. Not because hes getting it for the first time. Hes been focused on this for most of his adult life, and certainly ever since he handed over the top job to Steve Ballmer.
As chief architect, hes working for an audience of one. His customer satisfaction metric is to satisfy his number one concern, getting the most out of his time.
Before Bill flipped the RSS switch, he got to the heart of the matter in this sentence: “Now, we think of the work of Microsoft in building software that runs on these devices as delivering on a dream of seamless computing, where your information is there when you want it, and you dont have information you dont care about.”
You dont have information you dont care about. RSS is the Tivo of the Web, filtering the information deluge through real-time metadata about your location, awareness, interests and events—stripping out the noise, improving the signal, saving time. Its WYDSIWYG: What You Dont See Is What You Get.