Google is off on a high-quality staffing spree and even Microsoft is not immune to the pouching. The folks who Google hired (including some Microsofties from a nearby building) are best-of-the-best scary smart. What will they deliver?
Is Microsoft fretting, waiting to go into reactive product-development mode? Or can we out-Google Google (especially without the MSDN-Camp posting to their blogs entries regaling the world to "Just wait until Longhorn and Avalon and Whidbey - Ooo, it will be great then! [ed. 2006]")? I feel like we're playing a chess game and only looking at the squares immediately around our opponents last move. You'd figure with all those researchers we keep hiring (and express continued intent to hire more of) we'd be able to outsmart Google without even breaking a sweat. Maybe those guys and gals aren't our salvation...
Let's say Google is giving everyone a big data pile in the sky, with all sorts of browser-apps and publicly defined innovative services on-top of that data pile. They start with email and then move to more interesting data (pictures? calendar? contacts? notes?). While they might augment your data view with targeted ads, they might also augment it with targeted relevant data in your pile as well, helping you connect the dots (or perhaps augment it with publicly shared data of those you've added to your Google-tribe).
What is one thing Microsoft could do? How about providing a personal Microsoft-branded data-space: free. And ad free. Hook this up with a Passport if that makes you feel strategic but make that optional. Make it a data space that people could for a lifetime throw their data into, perhaps even providing a sync up/down service for all their PCs / laptops / handhelds / smart-phones (leave out the stupid watches). Make parts shareable and augmentable, but start with the data first, and let the applications follow.
Key to this: provide free, well documented HTTP-services on-top to appeal to the web-app aficionados. Let Microsofties publish their own little PowerTools for people to use in their browser for organizing their MSN-Data. And don't go tying this to Longhorn or silly 2005 / 2006
crap deliverables. Make it work within IE 5.5. Hell, make it work within FireFox.
Next, how-about for a small yearly fee we provide MSN-PC: take that cool VirtualPC product we bought and, using that nifty terminal-server application (or an ActiveX control), provide a VirtualPC that people could always have access to for simple work, where-ever they are. It would be sandboxed and always up to date with the latest fixes. Sure, I'll continue wanting my desktop but having a VirtualPC to rely on no matter where I am would serve as a focus point. And MSN-PC would also be a nice way to manage my loveable Microsoft data space.
Anyway, just me typing some stuff as my Starbuck's latte cools down a bit. We can out-Google Google, but it's not going to happen if we only swing the bat when we think it will rake in at least $1,000,000,000. Let's start being happy with lots of little projects bringing in profits in the millions.