Store Zero

Enough with facts and careful analysis (when was that crap useful anyway, I mean have you seen what passes for analysis) on to rampant speculation, rumors, and gossip.

YAY!

In a pretend Microsoft retail store in a nondescript Redmond shopping compound, masked from the outside world and cordoned off by corporate paramilitary forces—I had to attach a labeled sticky note to my phone and surrender it before entering

Inside Surface: Microsoft’s Insane Quest for Gadget Perfection

This week the Microsoft Surface took off another veil in its Salomé like dance with the tech public. This time Microsoft opened up the floodgates in terms of social media and preorders. The company on One Microsoft Way also opened up their doors to allow in a select handful of writers and bloggers to get both a behind the scenes look at the Surface and also how it will be marketed at its Microsoft stores this coming Holiday season.

Now I find any story that takes you into the process of creation fascinating; with the Microsoft Surface the interesting thing is how Microsoft has quietly created this hardware group from out of nowhere.

Or have they?

I’ve decided to play Oliver Stone and piece together the Surface’s birth along with this new hardware studio, Studio B.

Birth of Studio B

Microsoft has always had a hardware group, but it has been mostly focused on peripheral devices like mice, keyboards, and cameras.  Outside of this group, The only other teams making hardware at Microsoft have been Interactive Entertainment or IEB (makers of the Xbox and the Zune; also home to Windows Phone and the original Microsoft Surface table); and Microsoft’s Applied Sciences Group or ASG ( investigates new computer interaction styles). There was a third group, Pioneer Studios headed by J Allard that also had hardware experience; it was home of the famous Courier project.

Surface_Box_1

Now when Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices division was reorganized into IEB; Pioneer Studios was closed and the Surface team was moved to the Windows division. This was around 2008 or 2009.  Now the Surface team was put in the Windows division, under Mike Anguilo who heads Planning for the PC ecosystem, which includes Microsoft Hardware. Meanwhile the members of Pioneer Studios scattered; a group came to the Windows division. Now I’m thinking this is right around or after the finalization of Windows 8 planning. At the same time the Windows division was increasing its work with the ASG, especially Stevie Bathiche. 

Surface_Box

I think the Studio B hardware group was born out of the past experiences of trying to introducing new form factors ,like the original tablet PC and Ultra Mobile PCs, to market. Both were initiatives to introduce new computing form factors and relied on hardware partners to see them come to reality. Both failed to make serous traction and both fell short of Microsoft’s vision. I think this history lesson was in the back of Sinofsky’s head when time came to put Windows 8 on devices.

Most of what we’ve heard about how Surface isn’t unusual, after all it’s what you’d expect from a great device company. That in itself is the big takeaway however -Microsoft has transformed itself into a focused device maker and not just a software company.Inside Microsoft’s Surface RT Tablet

I also think that there was a group in Microsoft who have been working on screen technology and hardware that felt like Microsoft needed to extend into hardware. Again looking at past history, Microsoft has had difficulty in bringing out new products through its partner model.

Now we have Studio B, which looks like it culled its team from both IEB, Microsoft Hardware, Applied Sciences, Windows, and Microsoft Research. In looking at the work done for the Surface and the Surface Pro I have but one question:

Who is this Dude?!

Surface - ID Studio II_575px

He has has been seen in two different videos about these devices and he obviously was responsible for key elements, but no one says who he is. The only reference to him is by Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle who called him a Teutonic Jony Ive.   (Rant Done)

Store Zero

Now some of the behind the curtain posts talk about Store Zero, a fully functioning store model of the Microsoft Store on Campus. Now when I read about it and the fact that this is where Microsoft has been redesigning the layout of their stores for the Windows 8 rollout it made me realize what they were looking at.

 

A few years back, before Microsoft got into retail, it created a Retail Center. It was a functioning store to highlight ways Microsoft could help in retail situations and also in how to sell Windows based products. I guess this Experience Center was the start of the Microsoft Store.   

One last thing before I go, and this comes from this week’s episode of Windows Weekly, According to Mary Jo Foley, all attendees of the Chocolate Factory tour (read the links) got a Surface device to take home and use for a review.

Links:

Alex Williams (TechCrunch)-Look Into The Magical Shop Of The Microsoft Surface – A Clinking, Clacking PC-Like Tablet

Peter Bright (Ars Technica)- How Microsoft Transformed Studio B into a real Hardware Company

Sam Biddle (Gizmodo)- Inside Surface: Microsoft’s Insane Quest for Gadget Perfection

Ed Bott (ZD Net)- An Inside look at Microsoft’s Surface RT

Anand Lal Shimpi (AnandTech)- Inside Microsoft’s Surface RT Tablet

Dana Wollman (Engadget)- Microsoft Surface: inside the three-year secret project to build the first great Windows tablet

 

Image: AnandTech

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