What we do right…and wrong

My colleague Peter Laudati recently posted a good point about some of our branding...ahem...issues with maps...erm, Virtual Earth...erm...MSN Maps...erm, local.live.com...well, you get the point.

Scoble responded with a post criticizing local.live.com, saying it's overly complex and makes him feel stupid, compared to Google maps.

I think they're both right. Peter's right that there's a lot we've done right in the mapping area, and that part of the reason more folks don't know about it is that we've made some very bad choices in branding, resulting in a great deal of confusion for our customers. Unfortunately, this is something I personally think we do too often, and it's a pet peeve of mine. I know it's easy to criticize, particularly when you're not the one making the decisions, but it can be frustrating to try to explain to customers why we make certain branding and name change decisions.

Scoble is certainly right on the limited point regarding simplicity of software. We (Microsoft) need to do a better job of making stuff easier to use. That's not to say that I think we do it badly overall. Just that when Scoble notes the disparity between the experience on Google maps and that on local.live.com, he's right. And folks are right to call us on it when we can do better.

I think Peter's point and Scoble's help highlight something, which is that sometimes we manage to get in our own way. That is, even when there are things that are really cool or work well with our products, we sometimes make it hard for people to find them or use them. For example, the current WiFi functionality in the Zune is, well, let's just say I don't have my wifi enabled and leave it at that. Does that mean, as I've read from some, that Zune sucks? Not in my opinion. I use my Zune regularly and I love it. But it does mean that there's room for improvement.

On the other hand, there are some things I think we get really right. A good example of this is Live Search for mobile. Forget the URL for the moment (mobile.search.live.com...Peter's head's about to explode). The app itself is terrific in my opinion. I can easily locate stuff, get directions, get maps including current traffic info, all with very few keystrokes. I haven't used them, but another cool thing is that this isn't just for Windows Mobile...there are J2ME versions of the app, and a Blackberry version is in beta. It's the app I use most frequently on my phone, bar none.

So what do you think? Are there Microsoft apps you think are the best out there? Which apps need the most improvement?

UPDATE: One other thing I really like about local.live.com is the Send Link to Mobile feature for directions, which sends an SMS message with a link to a mobile-friendly set of the directions. I used this on a recent trip and it was MUCH easier than trying to browse the directions directly, and it made it impossible to forget my directions (which I've been known to do when I print them out ahead of time).

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