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Microsoft's Digital Dashboard Deception



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You don't have to listen hard to hear about Microsoft's "Digital Dashboard." But you do have to listen well to hear what they're actually saying. Otherwise, you might believe that the Digital Dashboard is or someday will be something real.

Microsoft has been blowing hard into the Digital Dashboard (DD) balloon. It was the subject of a press release on May 25 ("Microsoft Announces Key Initiatives and Technologies to Deliver on Vision Of Knowledge Workers Without Limits"). It was the subject of another press release on June 8 ("Microsoft Announces Unified Messaging Strategy for Knowledge Workers"). And it's a highly touted part of Bill Gates' "1999 CEO Summit Keynote" on May 19, an address to key business leaders. Why, you can read all about it on Bill Gates' "personal home page" that he had as much to do with creating as he did his latest book, "Business @ the Speed of Windows."

The idea behind the DD varies depending on which pronouncement you believe. In one press release " The digital dashboard enables knowledge workers to manage their e-mail, voicemail, fax and page messages with the same interface they use to search the Web or an intranet, and access corporate data and applications." In Gates' speech, the idea is that " you need a system that can actually pull the data from all of those [information systems and applications], put it up at a very high-level, and yet lets you dive into its [sic] and see what's behind it." And elsewhere the spur is the notion that you ought to be able to see your entire business on one page.

These are related ideas, but importantly different. But that's ok. We can be generous about descriptions of products under development. Microsoft will figure out what it is sometime before Digital Dashboard Service Pack 4 ships.

Let's get to the two galling points. First, Microsoft is reinventing the concept of the intranet and crowing as if they're bloody geniuses. Redmond innovation at work. Second, The DD turns out not to exist. It is literally nothing at all.

At the KM Summit on June 18, the very nice, young Jeffrey Kratz from Microsoft blew an hour of our time lecturing us on why it'd be good to be able to find important information and work on it. A highlight was his demonstration of the DD at work. After telling us that the aim is to put your entire business on one page, he then proudly demo'ed the type of glitzy multi-page (!) intranet site that lets you pull up a spreadsheet, browse to training materials, and see what important meetings are going on back in Redmond that you're missing because you've been shipped out to Camden, Maine to enlighten some chowdah-slurpin', syrup pumpin' industry analysts on what's up with this KM craze.

What we saw was a demo of the power of intranets, about four years late. It was actually quite similar in feel to a demo I remember Netscape giving back when you had to spell "intranet" for people.

Ok, fine, so it's taken Microsoft four years to Get It. That's just stupidity. Now we get to the deception part.

So I raised my hand and asked young Mr. Kratz: "The Digital Dashboard looks a lot like an intranet. What is it that you're going to be selling?" He proceeded to re-explain how the DD brings together all the information you need, etc.

"No," I insist, "Is it a product? A tool kit?"

Mr. Kratz's reply: It's not a product. It's not a tool kit. Microsoft will never sell something called "Digital Dashboard" that you can buy.

So what is it?

In the words of Mr. Kratz, "It's an example."

An example of what? Of what you can do with special tools Microsoft will be providing? Not according to our Microsoft spokesperson. It's an example of, well, what you could do with some programmers and the applications and tools you already have.

It is, in short, an example of why intranets are good.

Duh.

I am not all sure that the DD is an attempt to scare vendors out of the portal market because I don't think Microsoft begins to understand that market. Instead, I incline to the theory that Bill Gates had this cool idea of putting all your business on one page and maybe even came up with the name "Digital Dashboard" himself because, yes, the name sucks that bad. Then he told his lieutenants to go forth and make it exist. So they did. They built an example of what you could have done with an intranet four years ago. Bill got so excited that he called his PR people, and thus was an example turned into a product that isn't a product and is a perfect example of nothing.

Then, to add insult to being misled, the Microsoft attitude throughout the standard-slides presentation was "We can't do it ourselves. We need your help. Together we can built KM." As if Microsoft is being generous by inviting the rest of the industry along. How condescending can you get?

In short, Microsoft shouldn't mistake industry leadership with being in a karaoke bar, singing along to words you're not even pronouncing correctly.


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