Dinner with Jim Allchin

The invite suggested an informal dinner with a rich discussion. A Vista demo would be involved.

I expected the night to include a group of people casually interested in Vista and a Microsoft-steered Q&A session. I imagined I would meet some people whose interests were similar to mine and I’d get to hang out with a hugely successful and influential leader from Microsoft.

Instead, I found heated discussions, people whose opinions differed from mine as often as we agreed and conversations that popped up organically, rarely chosen by Jim and friends. It was a great night! Reports are starting to appear: Tara Hunt, Thomas Hawk .

Attendees(counter-clockwise around the table – Jim at one end and Linda at the other):

Linda organized the whole thing(THANKS!). Robert Scoble put the list together, but couldn’t make it(SearchChamps duties).

We talked about DRM for a long time. Noone at the table felt that DRM as it exists now is workable. You can’t move the files from one device brand to another(‘upgrading’ from an iPod to another player means a big hassle if you have a bunch of purchased music). Your content is often locked to a finite number of devices. What happens when you have a player in your car, 3 computers, a player on the porch, etc? Someone even mentioned that they were given a gift of a purchased song, but they couldn’t use it because it was tied to the purchaser. Jim thinks that all current DRM solutions are broken and something’s gotta give.

Verifiable authentication was discussed. Passport, federated identity, that sort of thing. Nothing was decided, but the topic is important to me. Passport is supposed to be convenient, but using two passports at the same time is a pain in the ass. I have two passport accounts at the moment because the XBL gamertag associated with my main passport is broken. I don’t think there was any clear feedback for Microsoft regarding Passport other than noone trusts Microsoft enough to give it power over all of our logins. Jim pointed out that whatever comes next in that vein will have to be federated so that organizations, governments, etc can protect their members’ credentials.

IE vs Firefox came up a lot. Specifically, the ability to reconfigure the browser with a HUGE variety of indexed extensions that are easy to create puts Firefox miles ahead of IE. IE has browser-helper-objects, but Firefox lets web developers create extensions without requiring they learn a new language. The extensions are organized in a directory making them easy to find. Once installed, they are easy to enable and disable. Additionally, most extensiong come complete with their source code, by nature of the fact that most of the extensions are written in Javascript and XML. For a rapidly increasing group of people, extensions are an important part of the browser. Phil mentioned that as more and more of our apps are online, more and more people will be using extensions to enhance their productivity.

Open vs Closed was a hot issue. Chris and Tara indicated that Microsoft should learn from open apps and services. I think Jim got the message loud and clear. Everyone was impressed that the rating and tagging in Vista actually pushes that information into the file format in a lot of cases. In JPGs for instance, the tags are included in the EXIF data. Chris pointed out that Flickr also uses the EXIF data(and I’m sure Riya does, too). Vista/Flickr/Riya integration. WOOO!

During the Vista demo, a few other things stood out. Though I used Vista for 2 weeks as my primary OS, I didn’t fully comprehend some of the security features. In particular, Jim pointed out that while you are logged in, even if you are logged in as an admin, your apps are running in a sandbox. Each time an app does something unusual(write to a registry key, modify files outside of it’s approved areas, etc), you are given a popup asking for approval. Awesome! The same technology is used in the parental controls. Users under these controls need you to approve individual suspicious actions by interacting with a dialog box, ‘over their shoulder’. I used to hate this kind of thing, but as much as I trust Samantha, I don’t trust the rest of the world.

While showing IE, Neil pointed to the phishing filter and explained how the built-in heuristics and a database of known bad guys will warn users about evil sites. He also mentioned that people behind the scenes will be on staff 24/7 to analyze sites that users submit as potential phishers and the turnaround will be very quick. That’s exciting news. Phishing is rough and we need every internet user to be suspicious of every site they come in contact with. Chris asked if that information will be available to be integrated with other browsers and other operating systems. Sounds like the answer is no. While I understand that this can be a competitive advantage for IE, I wish they’d bite the bullet on this one and help protect everyone, not just the IE users.

The photo organization stuff is cool.

I wish they’d shown more of Flip 3d and the active thumbnails that rise up from the start bar. Those are the main reasons I boot Vista and why I used it nonstop for a while. Will we be able to build our own active thumbnail apps to replace Flip3d? I hope so!

Thomas Hawk had tons of comments and questions about Media Center. His blog will be the place to look for more on those issues, if you are interested. Based on last night, I’m pretty sure he’s an expert.

Thanks to everyone at Microsoft for the invite and thanks especially to everyone at the table for a fun and engaging conversation!

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