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Microsoft and the Epic Beard Man: Bring the Amber Lamps!

Mass transit in places such as Japan and Western Europe is relatively bearable and civilized. You get on the bus, sit there for a while as nothing happens and eventually get off. Same for the subway. In less developed parts of the world, like certain parts of California, for example, mass transit tends to be more involving, more interesting.
For example, a recent event on a bus in Oakland gave rise to one of the latest internet memes, Epic Beard Man and the Amber Lamps, which can be seen here. Note, those with an aversion to violence, profanity and other things which endear Bay Area public transportation may want to click elsewhere.
For those who have not or will not watch, the Epic Beard Man is Tom Bruso, a tall, bearded 67 year old Vietnam vet. An eccentric Bay Area regular, he is up there with Frank Chu and the Idea Farm guy. For reasons unclear, a not very imposing felon on parole decided to take on the retired Marine, with the Epic Beard Man unleashing a XXL beatdown of surprising ferocity and violence, with the damaged, leaking thug saying “bring the ambulance” such that it sounded like “bring the Amber Lamps”.
Reminds me of this year’s Mobile World Congress, with Microsoft (News - Alert) playing the role of Tom Bruso.
One of the things about the video that surprises a lot of people is the fact that an old white man beats down a black thug, which on the surface may be surprising until you consider the fact that we have what looks like a soft and pasty thug vs. a retired marine who has been quoted at 6’2” and 280 lbs with a history of violence and mental illness. With those facts on the table, the outcome goes from surprising to almost inevitable.
Fast forward to Barcelona where Epic Borg Man Ballmer pulled the covers off Windows Phone (News - Alert) 7. Microsoft has, for the past several years, managed to condense years of desktop awfulness, skimming the worst of such horrors as Windows 98 and Windows ME and building phones with it, leaving the user with a device representing the absolute worst of both a desktop and a mobile device.
Over time, Windows Mobile grew somewhat less awful, with 6.0 being a step forward and 6.1 being a smaller improvement. 6.5, despite the jump in version number, is little different but for the evolutionary step away from a proper Start button/menu, leaving the user with something between the Android (News - Alert) Application menu and a Windows Start menu. No, not exactly what I was looking for nor is what anyone else was really hoping for either.
Windows Phone 7 Series (note the use of number + series, much like BMW) melds the UI slickness of Zune HD with the social orientation of approaches like Motoblur to provide the user with an entirely new experience integrating voice, email, sms and social media like Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter. In the past, devices tended to be focused on particular kinds of communications. For example, you would go into your email and deal with emails. Then you would go into your sms application and deal with messages there. Have a smartphone? Good, maybe you have a Twitter client or a Facebook app. All these little atomistic worlds, all apart.
The new way is to focus on the contacts. The device is there to communicate and you communicate with people. While you can still drop back down to the old atomistic way of working, the default overview is contact based and thus all the various communications from a person, be they Tweets, texts or voicemails, are all listed around the contact.
Combine this with a UI that is not only sharp but certainly appears to have been engineered as a touch screen tool, rather than something that you might poke at with a little stick and you might have something pretty good. Combine it with greater control over the user experience, so no more bung-on 3D UI overlays which look pretty but hog resources and kill performance. Throw in the disallowal of gratuitous multitasking – remember, by default OSs like WinMo and Android don’t close apps when you leave them, they just shunt them to the background where they continue to eat memory and CPU, neither of which is good for performance. Bring it all together and in the end you have what should be a very compelling platform.
Sure, there were other things at Mobile World Congress. Android was everywhere and getting better and better. Samsung (News - Alert) had some surprises, one surprisingly good, Bada, and one surprising awful, their Voda 360 phone. Google was a hit, particularly when they were handing out $500 Snapdragon phones like they were Pez candies. Nope, didn’t get one. Too slow, too late.
So, for many the big surprise really was Microsoft, but when you think about it being surprised by a killer product from Microsoft is a little bit like being surprised when the pudgy goblin is righteously stomped by the large and somewhat unstable Corpsman. Maybe you didn’t see it coming, but you should have.
Bring the Amber Lamps!

Jason Lackey is marketing manager at Innopath Software.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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