10 Things I would like Steve Ballmer to do in 2011

While I would not consider myself a Microsoft fanboy, I definitely do find myself interested in the company's products to the point that I'd love to see Microsoft recover from its past mistakes and establish its brand firmly in the minds of consumers again. No matter how you view Microsoft, it is a great company with some pretty cool products. They are nowhere near the popularity of Apple or Google, especially when it comes to the tech press, but I cannot help but think that Microsoft stands in a unique position to wow us in 2011.

Will Microsoft do it? I don't know for sure. But I hope so. Microsoft employs some of the smartest and most talented programmers and scientists working anywhere. Then there's Steve Ballmer, the charismatic CEO whom many people think is fighting to save his job. As a Microsoft user and developer, I want to see the company succeed in 2011. Surely Ballmer wants to receive feedback from people like me, so I have compiled a list of 10 things I'd like to see him do this year. I believe that if Ballmer is successful at bringing these things (and others) to market this year or next, he will not only save his job but will make Microsoft a stronger consumer brand, something the company desperately needs in order to be competitive in the future.

1. Take away carriers' control over Windows Phone updates. One of the greatest benefits of having an iPhone is that the carriers cannot screw with the user experience. Unlike Android, where updates are up to the discretion of the carriers or OEMs, iPhone is a locked system that does not allow carriers to withhold updates from customers. Windows Phone 7 has been a huge disappointment in this area. "NoDo" updates are trickling out to consumers and phones are not being updated in a consistent manner. Removing carrier disruption to the update process will make Windows Phone a much more consumer friendly platform.

2. Improve UI/UX experience between Xbox and PC. The ability to view media from my Windows 7 PC on my Xbox 360 is pretty convenient, say, when I want to share a photo slideshow with friends. The user experience between the Xbox 360 and PC is one that should definitely be looked at in a 2011 update; the whole experience feels really old, unintuitive and not very good looking.

3. Update Windows Live services and apps faster. Microsoft's move that separated Windows Live from the core OS experience was supposed to result in faster and more frequent updates. But this has not been a reality for the most part. Windows Live updates tend to be about a couple of years apart. More frequently updated apps and services would go a long way towards increasing the perception of value in Windows Live. To me, it makes no sense that we had to wait until the 2011 version to see YouTube and Facebook built into the photo application.

4. Speed up Zune.net. If rumors are true, the Zune brand is going away. My hope is that the web version of whatever it is replaced with is much faster than what is there right now. Maybe it's just me but for some reason Zune.net seems really really slow.

5. Make available online Zune playlists. Lala was one of my favorite places to listen to music and build playlists online. Once I discovered Lala, I pretty much didn't use iTunes or my iPod anymore. My music listening was mostly online. Microsoft needs to do something like this, this year. The ability to discover music online and store it in playlists that can be accessed from the PC, Windows Phone or Xbox 360 would be a welcome improvement to the service.

6. Build a better Windows Phone. I know a major update is coming this year that will bring Internet Explorer 9, interoperability with Kinect and applications that can run at the same time. But I am hoping for more than this. Besides faster and more frequent updates, I'd love to see Microsoft bring some of the work it already is doing with natural user interfaces in the research labs to Windows Phone 7. I am tired of having to clean my screen from face oils and dirt. Touchless gestures would alleviate this problem and blow the competition away. Kinect is a huge success and is talked about among consumers a lot. Bringing this tech to the phone would put Windows Phone on the map, so to speak. Finally, it would be nice to have the capability to be able to video chat between the phone or PC and Xbox 360 through Kinect.

7. Leverage Skydrive for better mobile experiences. PC to PC Skydrive experiences are awesome. Storing documents online through Office 2010 and document sync between folders functions very well. However, services like Box.net have Microsoft beat in areas that involve document collaboration. I'd love to see full document sync between the PC and phone through skydrive this year; word on the street is that this is definitely coming in this year's major update.

8. Open more Microsoft Stores. Microsoft should expand its company-owned store strategy more aggressively -- and stop copying Apple. Microsoft can create a store experience that is unique to the Microsoft brand. I know that it is industry standard to copy what works (much like Apple took ideas from the original Sony Style stores) but Microsoft doesn't need to do this. Microsoft has many products that can "talk" to each other, and Microsoft Store should be a unique way for us to experience these products. I have always believed that Microsoft's visitor center on the Redmond campus is the perfect model for what a Microsoft store can look like.

9. Deliver a tablet that blows away the competition. Microsoft has already wowed us with the capabilities of Kinect. Researchers have shown us what they're working on in the research labs. Microsoft spends about $9 billion in research every year. There is no excuse for not showing us a tablet, and one that uses natural user interfaces to take the tablet experience to the next level. Kinect-like touchless gestures with a UI that is a cross between Windows Phone 7 and Xbox 360 would be the perfect touch -- or non-touch -- interface.

10. Release Windows 8 tablet beta. I've been hearing rumors that Microsoft's tablet efforts are further along than most of us realize. It'd be nice to see an announcement that includes a demo of the major Windows Phone 7 update and tablet update, too. Microsoft should get a tablet to market as soon as possible. If the leaked documents from Dell are accurate, then timing may be impeccable. My point is that Microsoft should release a tablet OS about two years after iPad which, in my opinion, is perfect timing for releasing a tablet OS that takes mobile devices to the next level much like Windows Phone 7 OS has.

What do you think? Do you think this list is enough to wow consumers in 2011 and 2012? What would you add to this list?

If you're a Betanews reader and would like to express your point of view more broadly (e.g., meaning so it's not lost in comments), please email joewilcox at gmail dot com. We want to post more stories from readers like Robert Johnson.

Robert JohnsonRobert Johnson is a user interface developer specializing in the user experience (UX) of .NET-based web applications. He has been working in some form of web development and graphic design for 14 years. He loves technology in general, particularly that of Apple, Google and Microsoft. He is a Betanews reader.

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