Brad Feld

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A Tale of Four Products

Mar 04, 2007
Category Random

This is a rant – feel free to ignore if you don’t care about Microsoft.

What do Vista, CRM, Sharepoint, and Outlook have in common?  Yes – Microsoft. 

I’m using three of these every day (I dumped CRM.)  I’ve been a PC / Windows user forever – always keeping a Mac nearby, but rarely using it (I like to turn it on once a week just to watch it update all it’s software automagically.)  I enjoy the Microsoft upgrade cycle (of which we are once again starting a big one with Vista, Office 2007, and all the Server 2007 products that are coming.)  I’ve always benefited financially from this (as I’m usually involved in companies that play around the Microsoft ecosystem).  My inner nerd gets to learn lots of new things (or – at least do the old things in slightly different ways.)

This time around, I’m amused.  I thought this upgrade cycle would normalize and clean up a bunch of stuff that I thought time and money could fix.  I was wrong.  The four different products appear to have been written by four different companies.  Vista is what I expected, CRM is a massive disappointment, Sharepoint is a pleasant surprise, and Outlook is just perplexing.

Let’s start with Vista.  It’s a beautiful upgrade from XP.  It feels more stable.  I use Firefox so I haven’t really had spyware problems for a while, but I feel more secure, if only because I’m not getting a security update three times a week and my machine crashes less.  However, so many things that worked fine under XP either got moved, changed, are missing, or I can’t find them.  And then there are just stupid things like how the Snipping Tool – which I find indispensable – crashes and restarts whenever you exit it (I’d snip a picture of the error, but I can’t since – well – it’s trying to restart itself and I can’t run two instances simultaneously.)  Seriously, did anyone test this?  I’m sure the next three service packs will fix this stuff, but was this really a five year OS build?

I had high hopes for CRM.  I have several portfolio companies that use it and one portfolio company that implements it.  It integrates with Outlook and, well, how hard could CRM be?  Version 3.0 was virtually unusable for us.  The implementation was fine and the Outlook 2007 integration even seemed to work (after a rushed patch), but there were several fatal flaws, such as lack of synchronization of the company field with Outlook (munging a bunch of data) and some data scrambling issues (you know you are in trouble when contacts show up three times in your local Outlook and you don’t know why.)  Finally, the UI is completely different than – well – the other Microsoft products. Huh?

I expected Sharepoint would be uninspiring.  Like CRM, we have several portfolio companies that use it and one portfolio company that implements it. I’ve made fun of it for a long time as one of the products that Microsoft had massive distribution for since they gave it away (at least for a while) with every EA agreement. No more – I’ve been using Sharepoint for a month and I love it.  We were using Jotspot for our internal Wiki previously – there have been no changes since they were acquired by Google and – while I expect a new, polished version to be out at some point, I am a Sharepoint fiend for now.  Oh – Sharepoint seems to synchronize better with Outlook / Exchange than CRM – isn’t that weird.  Yeah -the user interface is completely different, but I have figured out how to automatically run the IE engine for it inside Firefox so it’s just another tab in my browser.

And then there is Outlook.  The two windows on my 30” monitor that take up most of the space on my computer are Outlook and Firefox.  I live in Outlook.  I can make Outlook do things it probably shouldn’t be able to do.  Lucky me – I get to figure it all out again with Outlook 2007.  At least I’m not suffering from the miserable performance that some of my friends and colleagues are (I guess I have a computer that likes Outlook 2007.)  But why doesn’t the main screen have a nifty new ribbon that makes it hard to find all the features? 

Now, before you tell me “just switch to a Mac”, I tried.  Really hard.  It rejected me.  I’m not unhappy, just amused.  The opportunities seem endless, especially now that I’m getting to Live with a new degree of freedom across all my computing infrastructure.

Rant off – I feel better.