[cross-posted from Jon’s Digital Dreams at TheGreenButton.com]

Hello. I’m a satisfied Windows Media Center user.  Microsoft’s Media Center experience built-into Windows 7 provides an elegant, reliable, holistic and impressively integrated interface powers every TV in my home.  No TV in my house is connected to an antenna or cable box, and the only way to watch all kinds of great cable, internet and movie content is through the lovely, consistent, calming and quasi-metro WMC homescreen. It’s my Digital Dream Come True!  No, it’s not perfect, and it doesn’t do everything I want it to do.  But what it does, it does great (sounds a bit like an Apple product, doesn’t it?).

And… I don’t have to be a millionaire to afford such a futuristic and elite user experience. Nope — but what I did need to be was a techno-geek. Why? Two very basic reasons:

1. I needed to *know* that Windows Media Center existed, and intellectually understand what it’s designed to do, and how it is designed to work with my existing equipment (including digital cable feed).

2. I needed to have the *capacity* (mental, patience, and vision) to understand what needed to be done to setup, configure and optimize my Media Center experience to ensure everything worked as elegantly as it does for me.

For me, #1 and #2 were no-brainers. WMC was designed for someone just like me (thanks Microsoft!). It’s great when a huge company that has thousands of people employed to create great solutions design things for lil’ ol’ me (and the handful of people out there who resemble my profile). I really do appreciate it.

So, I’m not sure exactly how I should feel when I see the launch of Google TV. Certainly, Google and their hardware partners haven’t solved #2 above. At least not in my mind. But, my dear friends and colleagues, they most certainly are investing in #1:


So, Google seems to understand the natural order of things: #1 comes before #2. In fact, it could be said that #2 does not exist less there is a #1. Philosophically speaking, can there even be a 2 if 1 didn’t exist? And, from the Christmas Special perspective, can you put the second foot before the first (http://bit.ly/1pthpw)?

I see all of this hanging together: the basic principle of interaction — be it commerce, marketing, and nearly any relationship — is that we first have to understand what it is we can engage with before we actually engage. Rarely do we drive head-first into an abyss of nothingness, presuming that we’ll somehow just come across the very thing we want or desire.

Let me just say that I was — and am — one of the critics that slam Microsoft for not encouraging its partners and its own team to develop user-friendly packaging and configuration process for Media Center. I thought (and still think) that the message is muddled and confusing, with no clear guidance around how a consumer can use one of their existing 240 million Windows 7 machines (http://bit.ly/c2eEyt) to turn one of their 44 million Xbox 360s (http://bit.ly/bNARWZ) into a entertainment hub to rival every DVR (except perhaps TiVo HD), and save money on your cable bill by getting rid of the ugly cable box that nobody likes anyway.

Yet all of this seems academic now, because Google TV is, quite frankly, not an elegant solution for people’s cable TV experience (http://wapo.st/9oO3PE). Let’s face it, most people still have cable TV. Yes, I know all the hype in the technosphere is around a post-cable future. But that’s still future-speak. Today, the market for an internet-only TV without easy access to cable is still a niche (though, to be fair, a growing one).

So, all the roadblocks I saw stopping Windows Media Center from being mass-adoptable don’t seem to stop Google from forging ahead with something that is really not geared toward mainstream audiences. But, what this audacity has done is put a stake in the ground for Google (and Sony): Our brands are committed to providing you a better, connected entertainment future.

This type of brand demarcation is what Microsoft has so unfortunately just forfeited to their competition — all while being 10 years ahead in the space. Oh, and it’s not like there aren’t huge parallels here with Windows Mobile and Android. Don’t get me started.

So, for Microsoft, I feel bad for you. Outside Xbox and Windows, you have never really figured out how to market to regular people (not just with ads and logos; I’m talking about packaging and designing capabilities for people’s wants and desires), even while you develop some really amazing solutions for these very consumers.

But, for me (and people like me), I feel great for us! We have a solution that, after some serious up-front effort to configure and customize to suit my needs, is vastly more elegant and mature than the emerging Google TV. I will openly admit that Google TV’s overall orientation towards on-line services is strategically superior to Media Center’s hard-drive orientation. But, even as online services increase in their efficacy and importance, most people — like me — still predominantly watch Cable TV. And storing and playing that content back effortlessly anywhere in my home is still vastly more valuable than Hulu Plus or fully-integrated search of on-line video.

Google TV is primarily a new TV-based portal to nascent, emerging on-line content sources. Windows Media Center is primarily a portal and whole-home interface to today’s dominant, relevant and most popular content sources (i.e., digital cable, as well as my own photo albums, music library and home videos). While the equation of where the content value is will surely change in 3-5 years, it’s not like WMC can’t evolve and take on Google TV’s net-orientation with relative ease — all the while building upon a baseline of immense legacy content sources that Google has decided to strategically ignore.

But here’s the primary point: Despite the fact that Google TV is not ready for prime-time, Google has decided nonetheless that their brand should be thought of as powering the next-generation TV experience. Apple is still calling it a hobby. And Microsoft has all of the ingredients needed to wipe the floor with both of these competitors, but means nothing in the marketplace when it comes to the next generation TV experience.

Microsoft has to decide if it wants real people to know it has designs on being in the family room. Like Google just did.

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