It takes a village (for Microsoft to catch Palm)
What I'm referring to is her now famous "It takes a village" philosophy, which by the way she borrowed from a popular African fable. It appears that Microsoft now believes that it will take a "village" of Pocket PC enthusiasts and software developers to give the latest incarnation of its handheld operating system the push it needs to challenge Palm.
So they've developed a plan and assigned a few key people, or "evangelists," to function as the village's "founding fathers." It appears to be working. Pocket PC is gaining a following.
The first inkling of Microsoft's new "community-oriented" strategy came in mid-September when it invited 35 of "Éthe most influential people in the Palm community" (including yours truly) to its Redmond headquarters for a day of Pocket PC indoctrination, dubbed Pocket PC, Wireless and Beyond.
"It's ironic that it took Microsoft to bring the top Palm enthusiasts together," several attendees told me during the two-day event. Ironic, indeed.
Most attendees left the conference with a new appreciation for these powerful computing devices, as well as a pair of Pocket PCs and a pocketful of accessories to assist in the appreciation process. It seems to have worked. Several of those Palm devotees are now frequenting Pocket PC discussion boards on the Internet and a few have even jumped ship. Even Dave Johnson, co-author of several books on Palm computing, appears to have been swayed.
"Pocket PCs have a killer combination of features-including voice recorders and MP3 players. That's made me realize that more is better," Johnson recently wrote in Handheld Computing, formerly TAP Magazine.
But Microsoft didn't stop there.
At the Fall Internet World conference in New York, Microsoft organized a gathering of Pocket PC enthusiasts, a "village meeting" of sorts. While most of New York gathered in bars around the city to watch the final game of the Mets-Yankees World Series, more than 200 Pocket PC enthusiasts from as far away as Holland played show-and-tell with their beloved PDAs.
The Pocket PC Fan Fest was held at the Manhattan Chili Company, a restaurant at the base of the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway. For those of you old enough to remember, that's the place where The Beatles debuted in the United States back in the sixties. Nowadays it's the home of the Late Show with David Letterman. But on that day it was all about Pocket PCs.
What made the event truly special was the camaraderie. I've never seen so many Compaq iPAQs, HP Jornadas and Casio Cassiopeias beaming to one another. There were Pocket PCs everywhere in this standing room only crowd. And every table was filled with avid PDA lovers engrossed in conversations about software, accessories and their own special tips and tricks. The villagers were excited.
But Microsoft was only getting started. In November they staged a second Pocket PC Fan Fest at Bally's Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, coinciding with Fall Comdex. This time more than 500 Pocket PC users attended.
Ed Suwanjindar, product manager for Microsoft's mobile devices division, was amazed by the turnout. "We brought several members of the Pocket PC Team down here from Redmond, people that don't get out to see this very often, and they're stunned."
Even the United Kingdom got in on the action with a Pocket PC gathering of its own in London in December. Microsoft's Derek Brown and Beth Goza have become the de facto social directors for these events, but no one doubts that "the village" would have happened regardless. In fact, Pocket PC and handheld user groups are popping up in metropolitan areas across the US from Baton Rouge to the Puget Sound, with more being organized in Europe and Asia as well.
What's behind this dramatic Pocket PC groundswell in a world dominated by Palm Pilots? Well, many Pocket PC enthusiasts are people who had the "personal" in personal computers yanked away from them by corporate IT ten years ago. Now, in the Pocket PC, they see an extraordinary replacement, and it's portable, too. So while these Pocket PC owners appreciate the role these devices can and will play in business, they also see a device that will remain personal.
But it doesn't stop there. Microsoft is expanding the "village" to include developers. Last fall, Microsoft's Lenn Pryor formed a developer-relations team within the company specifically to identify software developers and engage and help them to develop for Pocket PC. Then in December, smack in the middle of PalmSource, Microsoft invited 30 Palm developers to a reception aimed at convincing them to develop for the Pocket PC.
So far, the developer community strategy seems to be working. 60,000 copies of eMbedded Visual Tool developers kit 3.0 have been distributed since it was launched this summer.
Palm appears to have mixed feelings about Microsoft's efforts. On one hand it legitimizes the handheld space, according to Palm's chief operating officer, Alan Kessler. Then again, shouldn't these people be joining Palm's community?
Hey, maybe we should all just come together and create one big "PDA village."
Hillary would be proud.
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