Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

Remember this ad? The ad where Microsoft
attempted to position the iPad as a chopstick-playing
toy and the Surface as a PowerPoint-editing
machine? Yeah, that’s why we can’t have nice things. Microsoft just released Office for the iPhone. It lets
users edit any Word, Excel or PowerPoint document.
As the oh-so-catchy name states, Office Mobile for
Office 365 subscribers is Office Mobile for Office 365
subscribers only, meaning the app is essentially $100
a year. It’s not “Office for iOS.” It’s just a way to open and partially edit Office files for those saps paying for
Microsoft’s pricey cloud platform. Judging from the screenshots, it looks like a quality
application. It supports rich-media content like charts,
animations, SmartArt graphics and shapes. And since
it works through Microsoft’s cloud service, all
changes saved on the phone are also made to the
original. But forget about a native iPad app. Microsoft can’t kill
the only legitimate selling point of its struggling
Surface tablet. Microsoft might have moved enough Surface tablets
to avoid calling it a flop, but the tablet was far from a
blockbuster hit. Ever since it launched the Surface,
Microsoft has supported it with constant ad
campaigns touting the tablet’s productivity chops.
The latest TV spot pits the Surface RT against the iPad, deeming its offering as the superior choice for
those who need to get work done. However, in
Microsoft’s world, “work” equals editing a PowerPoint deck. This is something you can do quite handily on the iPad using Keynote and, in fact, I suspect
Keynote users are well aware of the benefits of their
superior platform. Middle-manager infighting must be rampant at
Microsoft. On one hand, the company has to properly
support its Windows 8 ecosystem, which means it
has to position its tablet offering as the only MS
Office solution. But then, likewise, a true mobile
version of MS Office would have a better shot at fighting Google Docs. In this case the Office team
lost, relegating Office to just the iPhone — and in a
truncated version at that. Windows 8 wins, the
Surface stays slightly more interesting, and
everybody in Redmond wins. Only the consumer loses.

Google may have acquired Geoffrey Hinton’s
DNNresearch and is now using his technologies to
power its Google+ photo search features, but the
academic work Hinton did on deep neural networks
(DNN) is now also helping Microsoft to improve its
speech recognition systems. Microsoft today announced that it is using DNNs to double the speed
of its speech recognition engine for Windows Phone
while bringing down its word-error rate by 15 percent.
Bing Voice Search, the company says, now also
works far better in noisy conditions. For now, these improvements are only available for
users in the U.S. Microsoft says it quietly started rolling this new
system out to Windows Phone users over the last few
weeks. The new system is the results of the Bing
Voice team working closely with Microsoft Research,
the company’s network of thirteen research labs that
work on anything from improving cell phone battery life and machine learning to research in game theory
and economics. DNNs, Microsoft says, help researchers build a
smarter acoustic model to represent the acoustic
representations of a language. Essentially, the idea is
to build a model of how the brain listens to and
interprets speech. You can find more info about how
Microsoft uses DNN here. There can be little doubt that voice recognition is a
pretty hot area right now. Google, with its
conversational search feature, is currently leading the
way, but Apple (with Siri), Microsoft and a number of
startups like Maluuba are also all working on products
that use voice recognition, natural language processing and other techniques to get users just a
little bit closer to the “Star Trek computer” ideal.

Bing‘s social sidebar, which shows relevant entries
from your Facebook friends, Twitter, Klout, Quora and
other services, just got a lot more interactive. You
can now like Facebook posts in the social sidebar
and add their own comments. In addition you can now
also see all of the existing comments on a post right in the sidebar, too. This, Microsoft believes, will make the social search
experience on Bing even more interactive, engaging
and helpful than before. It also means users don’t have to leave Bing to
engage with these posts. Chances are, after all, that
they will get distracted by all of the other goodies
Facebook has to offer once they leave Bing and won’t
return anytime soon. Personally, I’ve never found these social search
results all that useful. Microsoft, however, clearly
believes that this, in combination with what they are
doing around semantic search, will allow it to continue
to compete with Google, which seems to have de-
emphasized social search over the last few months. With its Scroogled campaign and “Bing It On”
challenge, Microsoft has obviously been taking a far
more aggressive stance against Google in recent
months and it’s slowly adding new users. Currently,
Google has a market share of about 67 percent in the
U.S., and Bing is close to reaching 17 percent. There have been some recent rumors, however, that
Yahoo is looking to drop Bing as its search provider
(Yahoo currently commands just under 12 percent of
the U.S. search market with its Bing-powered search),
but given the long-term deal between the two
companies, that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

After Bing and its Scroogled campaign, Microsoft is
now taking aim at Google Docs. Jake Zborowski,
Microsoft’s senior product manager for Office,
actually published two anti-Docs blog posts today:
one homes in on document fidelity, and the other,
which includes a number of user testimonials, argues that Google Docs isn’t quite ready for primetime. If it took me a little while to get Michael Atalla, the
director of product marketing for Office 365, to
actually say “Google” in my chat with him about
Microsoft’s productivity tools earlier this week,
Zborowski doesn’t beat around the bush for even a
second. “Converting Office files into Google Apps is a gamble,” he writes. “Why take the gamble on
converting your Office files to Google Docs when you
can use Microsoft Office and the Microsoft Office
Web Apps to create, share and edit your Office files
with your content intact?” That, Microsoft says, is true on the web, but also on
the tablet, where Google’s Quickoffice usually does a
pretty good job at converting documents (though not
in Microsoft’s example, of course). So what about the new Chrome document viewer?
Also too much of a gamble for Zborowski: “The last
gamble with Google is how the company helps you
view Microsoft Office documents using their file
viewers. Even this is a gamble that may be too risky
to take.” There is, of course, also a video that accompanies
the post, which reminds folks that they could lose
their promotion if they decide to switch to Docs: In his second post (“Office is a team player”),
Zborowski also argues that Google Docs is missing
too many features, though in this case, a number of
Microsoft customers make the argument for him.
Here is an example: As we continue to improve Office, we look for
changes big and small that help people do more with
less effort. Some improvements are small, like the
new paste options we introduced in Office 2010.
Other features reduce the amount of time it takes to
accomplish a task like Flash Fill and Quick Analysis in Excel. The breadth of capabilities Office can lead
to significant gains in what people can accomplish.
With Google Docs, on the other hand, people have to
find ways to overcome feature gaps by working
harder, spending their time finding workarounds, or
potentially using third-party tools to overcome the gaps. “When we switched from Google Apps to Office 365,
we freed our people to work together in synergy, and
it has produced good results in every area of our
business.” Read more – Andy Springer, Director, Rookie Recruits To back all of this up, Microsoft also launched, which includes more testimonials,
screenshots and other resources for those who
haven’t been scared straight yet and are still
considering the switch to Google Docs. And here is the video that goes with that post: All of this anti-Google Docs/Drive rhetoric just before
Google I/O probably isn’t accidental. With
Quickoffice, Google now has the basis to offer a
pretty compelling alternative to the Microsoft Web
Apps (which, and Microsoft has a point there, are
generally more fully-featured than Google’s tools) and I would expect the company to launch more
Quickoffice-based products next Wednesday.

Microsoft is offering to pay $1 billion to buy the digital
assets of Nook Media LLC, the digital book and
college book joint venture with Barnes & Noble and
other investors, according to internal documents
we’ve obtained. In this plan, Microsoft would redeem
preferred units in Nook Media, which also includes a college book division, leaving it with the digital
operation — e-books, as well as Nook e-readers and
tablets. The documents also reveal that Nook Media plans to
discontinue its Android-based tablet business by the
end of its 2014 fiscal year as it transitions to a model
where Nook content is distributed through apps on
“third-party partner” devices. Speculation about the
plan to discontinue the Nook surfaced in February. The documents we have are not clear on whether the
third-party tablets would be Microsoft’s own Windows
8 devices, tablets made by others (including
competing platforms) or both. Third-party tablets,
according to the document, are due to get introduced
in 2014. Nook e-readers, meanwhile, do not appear to fall into
the discontinuation pile immediately. Rather, they’re
projected to have their own gradual, natural decline —
following the general trend of consumers moving to
tablets as all-purpose devices. Microsoft and B&N representatives declined to
comment for this story. A deal to buy the digital assets of Nook Media is the
natural next step for Microsoft, which first announced
a plan to work with Barnes & Noble on its Nook
devices and content in April 2012, ponying up $300
million at the time to help. That plan included an
additional $180 million advance to develop content for its Windows 8 devices — which Nook has been
doing. To date, there have been 10 million Nook devices
sold, including both tablets and e-readers, with more
than 7 million active subscribers. Microsoft has seen
limited interested in its Windows 8 devices (although
it says it has sold more than 100 million licenses for
the OS to date). Currently the Nook app is available on every major platform, including Android, iOS and
Windows. Nook Media split from the retail arm last October with
a $300 million investment by Microsoft for a 16.8
percent stake in the company. The partnership was
aimed at getting B&N content on then-nascent
Windows 8 tablets. At the time, President of Digital
Product at Nook Media, Jamie Iannone, said “It’s hardware, software, content: everything Nook is part
of Nook Media. There will always be a long-term
relationship between Barnes & Noble and the Nook
business.” Nook’s decline seems to have helped alter company
strategy. Barnes & Noble founder Leonard
Riggio proposed buying back the whole of the
company’s retail operation. The documents TC has seen values B&N at $1.66
billion. When Nook Media was first formed, the
valuation of that division alone was $1.7 billion. When
Pearson invested $85 million at a 5 percent stake in
January, it was valued at $1.8 billion. If the deal goes
through, Microsoft’s $1 billion purchase will be well below the price it had originally bought in at. Projections in the document, which are based on
company filings and management discussions, show
the Nook unit bringing in total revenue of $1.215
billion for fiscal year 2012 (which for Barnes & Noble
ended April 30th), for a loss of $262 million in
earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). It expects revenue to fall to
$1.091 billion in fiscal year 2013, for a loss of $360
million as tablets are phased out — and estimates
revenues to gradually recover, up to $1.976 billion by
fiscal year 2017, for EBITDA profit of $362 million. In the meantime, the Nook division has taken a
beating this year following a slow holiday season. The
new models have sold at a discount for weeks at a
time and their flagship 10-inch Nook HD+ fell from
$269 to $179. Kindle is offering the Fire HD for the
same price. The hardware, while in many ways superior to Amazon’s, seems to have fallen behind in
the race to market share and revenue. If Microsoft
steps in, the dedicated e-reader race between the
stalwart B&N and Jeff Bezos’ Amazon could be over.