Those of us who search for green shoots in Microsoft's garden have had some pleasant moments of late. Software coming out under the GPL, the recognition that 'none' is not an adequate answer to consumer choice over browsers, the relaunch of Vista in far more tasteful form as Windows 7, and some pretty exciting technology in Photosynth and the potential of Natal. (With the other stuff, Bing, Office, Azure, and the ever-growing alien brain of Server and friends, the foliage is variegated.)
It is absolutely right that Microsoft should get its best stuff together and show it off. It's one of the world's leading high technology brands, and it's refreshing to see it act like one. It's even nicer when Microsoft UK - the company's oldest international presence - takes the lead and demonstrates that the company is more than just the Redmond campus. These are international times in a high technology age, and Microsoft has every right to demonstrate its citizenship of the new New World. What the company needs is a showcase, crisp and futuristic but warm and approachable, that encapsulates everything the company wants to say about how it's inventing tomorrow with stuff you can get today.
What we have is a very soggy cardboard box.
Let's take the name of this brand new showcase - Microsoft Wave. I'll just type that again - Microsoft Wave. That's like naming your new car the Ford Prius. It's possible, certainly, that Microsoft is aiming this at people who haven't heard of Google Wave, which is to say the majority of people who aren't interested in technology. Fair enough. But why choose a name that will immediately invite comparison among the rest of us with something that has a good chance of proving itself catalytically disruptive to everything it touches? Why go head-to-head with Google armed only with a glossy catalogue?
Ah yes, the catalogue. The site is, according to its own lights, "a cool site that isn't trying to sell anything, simply showing the breadth of cool technology that Microsoft is involved in". Cool. So let's overlook the way that two clicks from the front page produces this, which has six shopping trolley icons on it, in case you feel inspired to buy such things as Zoo Tycoon 2, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts ("marks the long-awaited return of gaming's premier bear and bird"), or Flight Sim (hold on, didn't MS close that team down?).
And let's step past the need to download something that looks awfully like Flash to display something that looks awfully like Coverflow - after all, innovation is all about sharing ideas, right?
But I can't ignore one seemingly tiny thing that sets the tone of the whole enterprise. Take a look at that logo again. It actually incorporates a copyright symbol.
After much thought, I remain baffled. Technically, it's otiose: you can trademark logos and names, but copyright is automatic in new work, as we should all know in these days of heightened IP awareness. Trademarking makes sense, as it does give you additional, powerful legal safeguards, but Microsoft Wave hasn't been trademarked in the UK. The only thing the copyright symbol can refer to is the logo itself - but why bother? The behemoth doth protest too much. It's almost as if it's nervous that it might, after all, be infringing on someone else's IP, and feels the need for some magic amulet to ward off evil.
The effect on us hyper-sensitive watchers of intellectual property is quite different: it's a bit like getting a manuscript from a wannabe writer which has (C) FRED BLOGGS and a paragraph of legalese as a footnote on every page - somebody who hasn't quite got it.
And that just ain't cool.