I was at the Milwaukee Auto Show a couple of weeks ago looking at the latest that the automakers have to show. My wife and I have gone every year for the past several and we enjoy the event. This year means a little more to us, as Jodie is in the market for a new car. So we had to get serious about the cars that we are looking at and more important the features that we want in the car. For example, I am really interested in getting XM Satellite radio, because they carry the Major League Baseball games. Jodie is really interested in the Ford Sync product.
Checking out the Sync
Ford (and Mercury) had a couple cars at the show that were wired up to demo the Sync and they had demo people in the cars waiting to show you the features of the platform. You may find this hard to believe, but I have never seen the Ford Sync in action, despite the fact that I work for the company that helped them build the platform (it is co-branded as “powered by Microsoft”). Fact is that Sync is just not in the part of Microsoft that I work in and we make a lot of products, so it is hard to keep up with all of them. So I climbed into the Mercury and started talking to the demo guy. He found it humorous that I worked for Microsoft and had never seen the product in action, but proceeded to give me the demo. He walked through the various voice commands and then said “I can show you the music off the flash drive or the iPod”.
Where is the Zune?
I said, “Dude, the iPod and not the Zune?”. He said, “Yeah I thought it was weird, I have a Zune and I thought it was weird that our kit came with an iPod”. I was a bit taken aback by this, and I thought about what marketing company screwed this up (we outsource a lot of our marketing with weird results). I was pumped up enough to even send Steve Ballmer an e-mail (but I did not as you will see in a minute), and I even tweeted it:
at the auto show where I just learned the Ford Sync press kit comes with an iPod, where is the Zune?
Once I calmed down about it (which did not take long), I thought how brilliant it was that they were showing the iPod and not the Zune. I like my Zune a lot, but I will be the first one to admit that the iPod has out sold the Zune by a 100 to 1 ratio (or so I don’t have any official numbers and Wikipedia has somewhat old numbers that are tough to compare). Regardless of the actual numbers, 100 to 1 is good enough to postulate that for every 100 people with a music player that climb into the demo car, probably only one of them has a Zune, the rest have an iPod. If they showed the Sync only with a Zune, the response might be:
- This looks cool, but I have an iPod
- What is a Zune?
- Maybe I should buy a car with an iPod connector
- Microsoft is at it again only creating technology that works with their stuff
The last hypothetical response is the one that concerns me the most. By demoing the product from your competitor, you are showing that you have an open platform and that is a very good thing.
Interoperability as a Strategy
I think one of the strengths that Microsoft has now is a real focus on Interoperability of our products and an emerging story around true cross platform products (chief example being the Silverlight runtime and its sister product Moonlight). This focus it not a “quick fix” and it is a journey rather than a destination. We also have our past record of being less than interoperable to overcome.
So what can I do?
As an evangelist for Microsoft, I am on the “front line” with customers and the community on showing our platforms. I am going to go out of my way to talk about our great stories around Interoperability. Stories are nice, but I am going to take it a step further and try and always demonstrate Interoperability when doing a presentation. If you see me showing a web application, make sure I pull it up in Firefox to show you that Microsoft has made sure that ASP.NET AJAX will work on the top 4 browsers (Safari, IE, Firefox and Opera) as an example. If I show you Astroia, It would be great to show you the services consumed by .NET and then by Adobe AIR. Next time I show Silverlight, make sure I open the application on Linux in Moonlight as well. Now clearly there are limits to what I can show, I can not show a WPF application running on OSX, but I can show you WPF as a front end for a rails application running on OSX. Look for this new focus at a demo near you soon.
Note: This blog post was updating after publishing to fix a typo. Hitting publish at midnight will do that to you!