With release of Buzz, Google makes Microsoft look like a copycat

Google's unveiling of Buzz leaves Microsoft looking like a copycat, even though Redmond has been working on social element to Outlook for some time.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

In the world of business, there is no standard way of releasing new products and services - every company does it differently. Take, for example, three tech powerhouses and their different approaches.

Apple makes big announcements by summoning the tech press to some flashy event while the folks managing the Web site and the retail stores get ready for Steve Jobs to announce that the products are available today. (OK. the iPad and a few others have been the exception - but, for the most part, it tends to work out great for us instant-gratification types.)

Google, on the other hand, releases products before they're actually ready, slapping on a "beta" label as if to say, "Go ahead and start using it and we'll work out the bugs together." And people do just that - they download, install, put the product through test runs and chime in with their their praises and complaints. And then, with that information, Google makes tweaks and updates to keep refining their products. That's what happened with Google Buzz this week.

Then there's Microsoft, which tends to give sneak peeks at technology that the company is working on - but that no one will be able to get their hands on for months to come. Oh sure, some of the stuff looks compelling but - yawn - by the time it actually arrives, it's lost some of its fanfare. It's not always true - Windows 7 was an exception and the new version of Windows Mobile will likely draw plenty of buzz when it finally lands.

I got to thinking about all of this today because TechCrunch put up a post that suggests that Microsoft is about to go Google Buzz on us and unveil the Outlook Social Connector it hinted at back in November as part of the beta rollout of Office 2010. The product, as the name suggests, would bring a social element to Outlook that makes it kind of like Google Buzz but with more of a business-centric focus.

My colleague, Mary Jo Foley, asked in her own blog post following the announcement of Buzz whether Google was actually chasing Buzz, even though Microsoft's social endeavors got very little mention in mainstream coverage of Buzz. In a way, Google actually might have been chasing Microsoft. But Google crossed the finish line - at least the "unveiling" line - first. So the question of which company was actually doing the chasing is up for debate.

update: Foley correctly notes in the talkbacks that Outlook Social Connector is, in fact, already available as part of Office 2010 beta. A post on the official Outlook blog from November confirms it. There's also a video embedded in the post to explain OSC. It's worth checking out. (additional update below)

In a nutshell, this is part of the problem with Microsoft's approach. Sure, Microsoft was first to talk about integrating social networking into the mail client. But in a typical Microsoft kind of way, the company takes months and month to work on their products before actually letting them see the light of day. The idea, of course, is that the company isn't the type to release something before it's ready for prime time.

And yet, in most cases, whatever Microsoft releases will inevitably be buggy and will immediately need a patch or update.

Redmond may think this approach works but I don't think it does. At this moment, I'm not a fan of Google Buzz, which means that when I hear about Microsoft's attempt to rollout a "me, too" product (even if it's not really a "me, too"), I can't help but cringe. Sure, I may change my mind about Buzz once the aspirin kicks in, but how does that help Microsoft? From here on out, anything Microsoft introduces will be put on a comparison chart next to Google Buzz.

And don't even get me started on how Yahoo gets no respect for its efforts on this front, either. That's a completely different post.

All I'm saying is that Microsoft, which used to be seen as one of the most innovative companies in technology, is consistently setting itself up to be perceived as a "Me, too" type of company - a follower instead of an innovator.

In the old days, when software was sold to consumers in a boxed-CD package, it needed to be 110 percent ready to go - and then patches and updates would come later. Today, there's this thing called the Internet and it allows users to instantly download the software and start using it before it's fully ready. Slap the proper "beta" warning on a product so people know that there may be some hiccups.

Sure, Google is taking some heat for the confusion around Buzz - but two days into it, the company released some updates and made some fixes to address those concerns.And it's also able to share some numbers on the instant engagement among users - 9 million posts and comments in those first two days and 200 posts per minute coming over mobile devices.

In that sense, Google comes out smelling like a rose - innovative, quick to release, quick to update and quick to get some traction with Google Buzz. By contrast, when Microsoft finally pulls the trigger on Outlook Social Connector, it will end up looking like a copycat.

update2: The update above notes that Microsoft's Outlook Social Connector is already available as part of Office 2010 beta. Still, I don't think this changes the argument much. I can't recall much fanfare around this Microsoft announcement and I think that says something about Microsoft's entry into this new "trend." It was sort of a whimper. It definitely didn't stick out and grab attention the way Buzz did. In a competitive market, that's a disadvantage.

update3: There are reports today that Microsoft will unveil - or better yet, demo - Windows Mobile 7 for the first time next week. The devices running that software won't be available until later this year. Once again, there's still a wait.

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