(Don't) Think Pink
October 11, 2009 9:18 AM   Subscribe

In the light of the Microsoft/Sidekick data disaster, it might be a good time to take a look at just what's happening with Microsoft's half billion dollar investment in Danger. Despite already having a mobile phone operating system (Windows Mobile) and an entire division (Zune) just itching to go head to head with Apple's iPhone. Microsoft decided to turn Danger into a skunkworks for "Project Pink," named, apparently, after the pop star. Now, According to MobileCrunch, the project is two years late, most of the team has left or been fired, Microsoft hasn't managed to create an app store, and the demoralized team is more enamored of their iPhones than their own product.

Once the first leaks hit, more details began to trickle out. First there were photos. Then, the stories of management incompetence and mis-handling of vendor relationships, with Palm and Motorola dropping Microsoft entirely. Aside from the loss of $500,000,000 and running into the ground what was one of the most innovative cell phone companies, things are looking bleak for Microsoft mobile systems in general. The newly released WinMo 6.5 was not well received and phones running it reportedly have a 25% return rate according to Verizon.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll (42 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
The moral of the story: Never code-name a project "Pink".
posted by tomierna at 9:33 AM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Code-naming your large software project Pink is apparently a bad idea.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:36 AM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whoops, sorry tomierna. It looks like we got crossed in the bitstreams. (Powers-that-be: Please feel free to delete.)
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:37 AM on October 11, 2009


I've owned several winMo phones over the years, and I tell friends and family to buy anything BUT a windows phone.

Sent from my broken iPhone.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:52 AM on October 11, 2009


One of the most positively reviewed WinMo 6.5 phones was the HTC model. The problem of course is that HTC ripped out about chunks of WinMo 6.5 and replaced it with their own code, adding features like multitouch, replacing calendar and weather apps.
posted by SirOmega at 9:56 AM on October 11, 2009


SirOmega: seems like a solution, not a problem to me. Take something broken, make it into something more-or-less functional, Great Success.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:59 AM on October 11, 2009


I've never used a WinMo phone but we have a 6.0 handheld and boy is Windows Mobile a pile of crap. The whole interface is unsuitable for handheld use, it's like they just ported the desktop interface to the mobile and did't bother to change it. Instead of letting you drag a window around, they make you use the tiniest little scroll bars that you've ever seen. Plus they're hard-coded to be only on the right of the window so that this left-hander can't see what he's doing when he tries to scroll.
posted by octothorpe at 10:13 AM on October 11, 2009


So… Sidekicks only back up to a remote server? Not to your own machine like the average PDA? Lovely. Now I'll definitely never be getting anything of that lineage - not that I really had a desire for one in the first place, but I'm the kind of person who vastly prefers to make her own mistakes in backing up her data, rathe than trusting a remote corporation.

(And as I type that last sentence, the external drive whirs into life for Time Machine to do its thing.)
posted by egypturnash at 10:28 AM on October 11, 2009


Microsoft is one of the most disappointing companies ever. They *should* be able to attract the best and brightest, and create the most polished, functional, best-of-breed products.

But they don't.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:32 AM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


But they are cheap:

"We have prided ourselves on always being the cheapest guy on the block. We have always told our people we're the high volume, low price guy in the software business" - Steve Ballmer "Partnering for Success"
posted by Lanark at 10:39 AM on October 11, 2009


But they are cheap

Oh, come on - in many computers, Windows costs more than the CPU!

How can they be cheaper than free (Linux, etc)?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:43 AM on October 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Jeez, all they had to do was add a phone chip to Zune and they'd be done.

Once again company politics results in a train wreck.

It is interesting that the founder of Danger later became the founder of Android, which is what is killing off Windows Mobile (it is certainly behind Motorola's decision to drop it).
posted by eye of newt at 10:51 AM on October 11, 2009


I owned a T-Mobile MDA and I hated it. Windows Mobile is like a tiny, stupid SHODAN; it despises you in a way that is almost palpable, it will shriek at you and curse your name as you use it, but eventually you can just reboot the fucker back into momentary obedience.

Listen, Windows Mobile is the bastard frankenstein son of Windows CE, a platform that was designed to irritate Palm. Even Microsoft's emotionally unstable and hyperkinetic salesman of a CEO, Steve Balmer, regrets its latest iteration, saying it's a red-headed stepchild of a release meant to staunch the continuing decline of WinMo's undeservedly large market share.

Balmer's apologetic, but doesn't possess the capacity for contrition that would actually allow him to issue an apology, spinning the whole thing into a sales pitch for WinMo 7, saying it'll be the best ever Windows Mobile. What he means is that it will be the least terrible Windows Mobile. Not that it won't still be terrible. Apple's dyslexic Newton system still gives it run for its money and that was a device the size of a medieval tower shield, running a black and white screen on a 20MHz ARM processor, cancelled eleven years ago and it didn't even have a phone.
posted by boo_radley at 11:01 AM on October 11, 2009 [16 favorites]


Why didn't they start with the Zune?
posted by LarryC at 11:07 AM on October 11, 2009


I'm staying well away from any Windows or Apple based phone. So much bullshit it's astounding.
posted by juiceCake at 11:07 AM on October 11, 2009


By cheap, I think Ballmer was speaking of cheap to buy development tools, and cheap for IT professionals to get certification.

I've never understood why so few companies have had the foresight to understand why betting the farm on MS software is a disaster. The obsession with feature complete data interchange on office documents and calendars is what drove MS success, but it's not hard to see what the costs are.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:16 AM on October 11, 2009


The moral of the story: Never code-name a project "Pink".

To be fair, Pink named herself after Mr. Pink, the only one who survived.
posted by mannequito at 11:24 AM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why didn't they start with the Zune?

Probably has something to do with nobody wanting a Zune.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:33 AM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Microsoft is one of the most disappointing companies ever. They *should* be able to attract the best and brightest, and create the most polished, functional, best-of-breed products.

But they don't.
Microsoft do have some smart people working for them, and they do come up with some clever things (the core idea of the .NET Dynamic Language Runtime is pretty elegant, it must be admitted). Though Microsoft is also a top-heavy bureaucracy obsessed not so much with advancing technology as with stabilising its dominant position and strategically cutting out threats to it that by the time these cool ideas make it out into the real world, they've been crippled and neutered, and are more about undercutting the other guys (witness Pen Windows vs. PenPoint Go, WinCE vs. PalmOS), poisoning the wells of threateningly open standards (i.e., Internet Explorer, ActiveX, and Microsoft's abortive attempts to "embrace and extend" Java in ways tied to Windows) and reinforcing Microsoft's dominance where it exists.
posted by acb at 11:46 AM on October 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


...codenamed 'Pink' to ensure success with the ladies...

Really? Is that the marketing strategy? Of course it is. What am I saying? As a company with an endless supply of market research resources available to you, if that is what you believe it takes to create a product for women, you deserve to fail. Every woman out there who buys a product because it is pink deserves a product that's crap. Both sides: tools.
posted by The Narrator at 11:46 AM on October 11, 2009 [10 favorites]


They *should* be able to attract the best and brightest,

Acutally, they do. I just got off a contract working on Natal, and I can say that msoft, contrary to what I expect, has attracted a lot of geniuses.

There's a couple problems that keep them back. One is ,oddly enough, their very popularity. They spend an inordinate amount of time supporting legacy products. Not because they think that's an awesome job, but because they get money to do it. Everyone want to see IE6 die, but then some huge company shows up with a bag of money and says "we're using this internally we want you to keep supporting it." And because ms is a business, of course they do it and you can vaguely hear the sound of a million web designers dieing a little inside.

The other thing is the sheer size of the company, and what think of as one of the most pernicious problems of corporate culture, the inflation of middle management. In msoft, there's a lot of people who graduate up from writing code, but aren't ever going to be vp, and that number seems to increase and increase. I went to so many meetings where awesome ideas were argued to the point of not remembering why we were in the room in the first place.

As for pink, I am unaware of any such activity or operation - nor would I be disposed to discuss such an operation if it did in fact exist. But I can certainly hypothesize that a really cool project could be beaten down over time by a bunch of project managers more interested in proving how valuable their contributions were than making a great final project.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:30 PM on October 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'm staying well away from any Windows or Apple based phone. So much bullshit it's astounding.

There was a whole "LOL Get a Mac iPhone" derail that got deleted. As some people may remember, there was that whole "MobileMe" fiasco when apple launched it. They lost a huge amount emails, and not just emails sent through the service, but emails that had been stored on people's hard disks where uploaded to the server then removed from the hard drive and then lost. There was also a recent issue with people signing up for a trial of MobileMe and then losing their data when the trial was over (that was back this January).

Also, I'm surprised no one pointed this out (in any of the comments that are left, anyway) but how on earth do you manage not to have backups? How hard would it be just to have a linear log of everything on some hard drive somewhere spread out around the country? Obviously there is a hierarchy of importance, but for something like this where a) The data is probably tiny and b) it's important to people and c) They're paying for it not having backups is just inexcusable.
posted by delmoi at 12:52 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oops, the comments weren't deleted, they were in another thread. I thought I was going crazy because they didn't seem like the kind of things that would get deleted.
posted by delmoi at 12:56 PM on October 11, 2009


There have been so many missed opportunities in the mobile market. For years I carried around a Dell Axim PDA. It was really a slick user friendly little device, Windows or not. Then I got a cell phone and I always wondered why Dell didn't add a phone to the Axim but they never did.
posted by LarryC at 1:05 PM on October 11, 2009


Why didn't they start with the Zune?

They did. They also bought Danger, and started with the Sidekick. They also started with Windows Mobile, and have a team developing that. All three projects are ongoing and separate.

That's right; Microsoft is currently developing three mobile platforms. And not only are the teams not talking to each other, they're competing with each other. It's a grand and glorious clusterfuck.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:15 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Waiting for the reports that Ballmer has thrown a person through a 3rd floor window...
posted by PenDevil at 1:36 PM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's a couple problems that keep them back. One is ,oddly enough, their very popularity. They spend an inordinate amount of time supporting legacy products. Not because they think that's an awesome job, but because they get money to do it. Everyone want to see IE6 die, but then some huge company shows up with a bag of money and says "we're using this internally we want you to keep supporting it."

That's exactly right. It's also very frustrating, because what can you do?
posted by krinklyfig at 1:52 PM on October 11, 2009


What can you do?

Well, for starters, you can say "Fine. Use MSIE for your internal network. But out here in the internets, we use web standards, so find yourself a real web browser."

I mean, hell:
“Friends don't let friends use IE6,” said Amy Bazdukas, Microsoft’s general manager for Internet Explorer.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:34 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pink is dead in the water. I posted the phones when they broke... they had nothing going for them then and the project has nothing going for it now.

WinMo 7 might be something worthwhile, since it's apparently more of a total reboot than anything before. 6.5 was boo, Pink is a dead end, so they're just going to have to suck it up and pray that Android doesn't eat their lunch while they're finishing up 7.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 3:27 PM on October 11, 2009


I saw those photos on Gizmodo earlier, and I'd amend "Pretty Boy"'s comment to say that they both look like chunky children's versions of other phones (Pre and Sidekick). I'm not particularly surprised that MS has generated this sort of fuck-up. Part of what I do in my library is to help people out with their mobile technology (formerly PDAs, now smartphones), and I've always disliked Windows Mobile, formerly Pocket PC, formerly WinCE (which I always thought was the most appropriate name, i.e. wince). I never quite got over the fact that the battery level wasn't displayed on the home screen by default from the get-go. The PDAs were (at least at first) larger, clunkier and had worse battery life than the Palm equivalent. Even something that should be simple, like setting up Wi-Fi, was a royal pain in the ass. The fact that they didn't ditch that and just go with the Zune is plain crazy.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:35 PM on October 11, 2009


Related: Apple has 23% market share of US smartphone sales for Q2 2009, and that only seems to be growing.

Microsoft has a long way to go.
posted by patr1ck at 4:32 PM on October 11, 2009


If like your smartphone to be more smart and less phone, the Nokia N810 that I own is pretty great. I understand the N900 has a phone and I've heard good things about it.
posted by DU at 6:19 PM on October 11, 2009


To be fair, Pink named herself after Mr. Pink, the only one who survived.

Ah, he may be the only one to survive, but it is left ambiguous -- after he leaves the warehouse, we hear police & gunshots!

/derail
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:32 PM on October 11, 2009


Yeah, I always assumed he was killed in a shootout with the cops.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:53 PM on October 11, 2009


"That's right; Microsoft is currently developing three mobile platforms. And not only are the teams not talking to each other, they're competing with each other. It's a grand and glorious clusterfuck."

We've seen this pattern before. GM did the exact same thing starting at least as early as the post war period. For example Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Chevy all ended up engineering and producing their own, mostly incompatible, OHV 350ci V8s (a 350 was needed for racing). And they used different bellhousing patterns so even though they had the same automatic transmission a Chevy wouldn't fit a Pontiac/olds.
posted by Mitheral at 3:14 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


So… Sidekicks only back up to a remote server? Not to your own machine like the average PDA?

One of the selling points of the Sidekick was that remote backup. You could get the next-gen Sidekick, switch the SIM card, and in five minutes have everything on your phone, pulled down from the storage servers. Almost no downtime between phones at all.

They had a PC-only backup program, Intellisync, but it a) sucked b) cost $35 c) required a $20 USB cable d ) dumped everything in Outlook format and e) sucked a whole lot. They went out of their way to make it hard to sync to a PC instead of using their machine.
posted by mephron at 6:25 AM on October 12, 2009


with Palm and Motorola dropping Microsoft entirely
This fragment tickled me, and I can't help but share some strong opinions on these guys. I find it hilarious that these three players managed to miss the convergent handset biz. Again.

I certainly wouldn't argue that Microsoft is in the telco business by complete accident, and have the ability to complete fuck it up all by themselves, but when you add these other two companies into the mix, we have a sure-fire failure on our hands. The smartest thing they could have done was to go their own directions -- you know, so they can go back to wrecking their own business on their own, instead of each contributing to a massive multi-national clusterfuck.

I do business, indirectly, with two of these guys, and I would like to let y'all in on a little secret: most high-tech multi-national companies are among some of the stupidest entities you will ever have the displeasure of meeting.

Seriously. Palm? Have these guys done a thing right since 1992? They might have cleaned their act up for the Pre, but this is after over a decade of repeatedly stepping on their dicks as they ran madly off in all directions. And Moto? OMG, if you knew some of the ways they are unable to audit the quality of everything that goes into their phones, hardware to software, you would be surprised at how often their handsets don't explode in flames.

None of these guys seem to know what they are doing in the slightest, and good ideas are crucified regularly. I have no idea how Apple become the leader, but anyone with eyes and basic business sense could have easily seen that the convergent handset business was mostly populated with idiots and retards. Really, I suppose this was a gimme for Apple. I just wish there was one other company that could, you know, act as some sort of competition for Apple.

I'm obviously having a lot of fun at the expense of these companies, but I think we should recognize that Palm and Moto didn't really "drop" Microsoft, so much as all three of these companies continued to the crazy zig-zag approach to never actually releasing anything of quality the entire time they were partners. It isn't a symptom of Microsoft failing to satisfy their partners so much as all three flailing around helplessly while Apple eats their lunch. Again.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:07 AM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


FWIW, Microsoft says Pink is built on different technology than the Danger stuff. As far as you know.

Also, they released a new Zune, though I have only heard brief mentions of it on the radio hawking its "HD Radio" capability. Only Microsoft could afford to spend so much money on such an unpopular product.
posted by tommasz at 8:56 AM on October 12, 2009


Ah HD quality! Where you can really see those faces that were meant for radio.

Really? 'HD' radio. Really.
posted by LD Feral at 12:39 PM on October 12, 2009


I hear they're printing Braille in hi-def now.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:55 PM on October 12, 2009


and I would like to let y'all in on a little secret: most high-tech multi-national companies are among some of the stupidest entities you will ever have the displeasure of meeting.

I work for a large player in the telecommunications industry who, as an effort to jump on this "people use cellphones" thing released one of most poorly implemented wireless products I've ever seen. Fortunately, the problems were all internal, and from a customer perspective, the phones more or less just worked, but it was because a bunch of us behind the scenes frantically trying to make sure that the flaws inherent in the system weren't seen by anyone but us.

The whole product line was quietly dropped in less than a year.

Now we are looking at a new approach which I'm hopeful about because it wisely involves us partnering with other companies who have a history of good rollouts on stuff like this, but I'll say this, it was an education to watch a product from a big company fail from the inside. I just kept wanting to ask management "You guys know this is falling apart, right?" because for a while there, they seemed blissfully ignorant.
posted by quin at 2:36 PM on October 12, 2009


Microsoft's Sidekick/Pink problems blamed on dogfooding and sabotage.
posted by chunking express at 9:23 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


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