The startup sound in Vista …

I’m on the phone with Steve Ball, group program manager for the Windows Audio Video Excellence team (basically, the team that builds the stuff that plays audio and video in Windows).

First, a disclaimer, before I left Microsoft, I got an intimate view of the process that Microsoft is going through in finding the startup sound (famous guitarist Robert Fripp was working on it).

The idea here (to both paraphrase Steve, and pass along the goals here that I learned) is that Windows Vista should present a common, and beautiful, face to the world. I could go more into it (I think what they are trying to do will be apparent in the shipping release, but isn’t quite there yet — even the new sound isn’t in current builds).

Anyway, let’s go into what Steve just told me on the record: 

“The bottom line is that the rumors, stories, speculation about the new Windows Vista sound are true,” Ball said, “but with a number of extreme qualifications.”

The current plan, he tells me, is that there will be a pre-wired sound that plays when the system is ready for you to logon. This is the plan of record for quite a few months.

You can do other things with your attention and your eyes during cold boot without feeling like you have to watch and wait.

This will be a non-customizeable sound, and that’s been part of the plan for Windows Vista for many months, he said.

However, the plan might change and Steve Ball is reading all the feedback, both on blogs, and in the newsgroups for beta testers, and his team is considering all of this stuff and still has not made final decisions (although they’ve spent a lot of time already arguing this stuff out and are heading down a path of making this a non-customizeable sound that can’t be turned off, just like the Xbox has today).

“Why the hell would you want to do this in the first place?” he told me is a common question. It boils down to two sides of the coin.

1. A spiritual side of the branding experience. A short, brief, positive confirmation that your machine is now concious and ready to react. You can turn on your Vista machine, go eat some cereal, while your machine is cold booting and then this gentle sound will come out telling you that you can log in. You won’t need to wait for your machine to startup, he says.

2. Volume control in a Windows machine is a wild west. A mess. The startup sound is designed to help you calibrate or fix something that got out of wack when you startup your machine. Let’s say you muted your machine, and you don’t hear your startup sound, you know you aren’t ready to listen to stuff. The Xbox has a hard-wired startup sound. There is one way to mute it: to turn down the speakers that are connected to your Xbox. Same will be true for Windows Vista.

It basically helps you realize your machine is ready to watch a video like, Ze Frank, without fidgeting with anything.

To add to that these sounds may be included in a bunch of the marketing that Microsoft is doing and will become very recognizable as “Windows Vista.”

QUESTION: Why don’t you give advanced users the ability to turn this off via a registry setting or something like that?

Steve: “we’re considering just that.”

“Did you know that Sony has a built in sound?” he said. “Did you know that Toshiba has one?”

We went on to talk about the audio experience, how it’ll be a lot nicer than they were in XP and the emotional experience of how sounds will fit into the overall experience of using your computer.

A little bit about Steve. He’s an accomplished musician and cares, more than anyone I know at Microsoft, about how the community perceives Microsoft and its products.


This part is MY opinion, not Steve’s:

My own editorial? I can see this from both sides. As an advanced user I want control of everything on my computer. It pisses me off when companies assume they know me better than I know me.

On the other hand, now that I’ve spent the time with Steve and heard the market research, legal advice (yes, lawyers are involved here — they love having trademarked pieces of media experiences that can’t be copied), experience and UI teams (have you sat through user testing? I have, and decisions like these are made because of feedback of normal, everyday users, not just geeks like me and you).

Translation: I’m withholding judgment until I see the final product. This isn’t an “evil” feature like SmartTags that demands an instant pull-out, but it isn’t nice not to listen to your most influential and experienced users either. So, it’ll be interesting to see how this one goes.


Where’s Google in the conversation?

Marc Canter lays out how Google is “locking in” developers more every day. But, what I find interesting is the lack of conversation from Google itself, particularly senior strategists. Where’s MarkL??? That’ll end up being what bites Google in the behind in the end game (does anyone notice they aren’t getting quick adoption outside of search and email? This lack of attention to influencers is the reason. They should have learned that from Microsoft’s Hailstorm experience. The kinds of things that Google is trying to do are massive — and scary, if we don’t trust Google anymore, and developers tell me they are headed toward believing Google is the new Microsoft).

It’s just a datapoint, but Marc and Chris Messina have two posts that hurt my head thinking about the strategic implications here. Developers are talking about Google, though (this isn’t the first time I’ve heard these concerns, they are running rampant in the developer networks I talk with).

I am meeting with some parts of Google next week, so I’ll try to get them to come out here and join the conversations.

UPDATE: Pete Hopkins, who works at Google (but says he’s not speaking for Google) joins the conversation!

Eric Sink is a marketing genius!

I’m downloading IE 7, RC1 and while I’m doing that I’m reading some blogs. Translation: avoiding answering email. I hate email. I hate email. I hate email.

This morning Maryam and I got up to speak to marketing executives from a bunch of big companies (as big as Microsoft). They were asking: “how do you get people talking about them?”

So, it’s very good that I have this to point to today. Actually, Eric Sink is a developer, but he plays a marketing genius on the blogs. Seriously, his post on how to get people talking about your product is RIGHT ON!

I’m sending it to everyone at PodTech.

When I said recently “Microsoft doesn’t understand small things” this is EXACTLY what I was talking about.

How did I start my blog? By publishing for two people. I didn’t go out and try to build a huge audience.