OK, so this was actually only the second most interesting story I encountered on today's trawl through the news.
The most interesting was a little gem I found in a Metro I found on a train. I am kind of fond of the Metro, apart from that bastarding Nemi cartoon. What is the fucking point? Just don't have a cartoon if it's going to be that ferociously shit. As this phrase, borrowed from my mum, went down so well yesterday I am going to use it again: the Nemi cartoon is "neither use nor ornament". Anyway, I digress. The story was about how one of those fucking people who paints themselves silver and stands still near tourist attractions in London and for some reason think the world owes them a fucking living for doing absolutely nix, you know, one of those worthless codpieces, kicked the living crap out of another worthless codpiece, er, I mean, "street performer", for stealing his lucrative patch near the London Eye. He got sent down for GBH with intent. Apparently, tourists looked on "in horror" as a Bulgarian man dressed as a statue attempted to beat another Bulgarian man dressed as a statue to death. I bet they bloody didn't look on in horror. If they did they are idiots. The YouTube/videophone combination was invented for shit like that. A mate of mine reckons he once saw a McDonalds employee dressed as Ronald McDonald beat the granny out of a drunk guy while he was queueing up to get a Big Mac, but nobody believes him because he didn't put it on the YouTube. OK, so it supposedly happened in 1994, but that is no excuse.
Anyway, that brings us on to the less amusing but probably more important topic of Microsoft's $8.5 billion (which is 5 billion of her majesty's pounds or thereabouts) buyout of Skype, that thing that lets you talk to your bastard friends who have gone off travelling or moved to somewhere nicer than here for free.
For as much as they might say that it is a natural fit for them because it will integrate nicely with Outlook and, I don't know, proactively leverage some convergence synergies to create a new paradigm (they didn't actually say that, I nicked it from a PowerPoint presentation I will be giving tomorrow) this looks to me like a bid by Microsoft to look a bit more cool, because they are being left behind.
Back in the day, the big names in computer technology were Microsoft and IBM. Microsoft won the day, back in the day, because IBM had this bizarre cultish thing going on where they would hire graduates with certain profiles, all the same, and turn them all into grey suited boring old IBM people, and Microsoft was a lot more cool.
Trouble is, now that the internet is used for everything, everywhere, by everyone, rather than just being logged onto for a bit in the evening to check your email, ask Jeeves about something and look at some pornographic stills that take 12 minutes each to download, the "cool" technology brands are the ones that have paved the way when it comes to how the internet is used now. Web 2.0, essentially. Which is apparently in the dictionary, even though I think that probably would require a redefinition of what a fucking word is, given that "Web 2.0" is two words. And one of them is a number. This could lead to the number of words in the English language exploding to almost infinity as you would then logically have to include stuff like "Speed 2" as well...
Brands that people think are cool now include Google, who so monopolise the world of searching for everything that their name is now a verb, meaning "to search on the internet". You don't say "he was slacking , off at work, he was just sat there Binging himself?" do you? Or, "we'll win this pub quiz for sure, I'm going to Lycos all the answers on my iPhone"... Facebook, which allows us to control the pop charts like sinister puppet masters, and find out whether our old classmates have ugly children. Twitter, which I'm not entirely sure what the point of is, but which I bloody love (follow me at www.twitter.com/Pony_and_Trap)... I do sometimes, in my darker moments, suspect that the whole grand enterprise was developed by the British government to allow us to keep tabs on Stephen Fry, so we don't accidentally lose him again. They know that without Stephen Fry a new dark age will fall on this nation, where all TV shows have to be about people called Kelly or Kerry or Katie who are orange. Though to be honest they could just have done what they did with "the old Stephen Fry" Oscar Wilde and put him in prison if they're that worried he's going to run off.
According to a report I read yesterday (once again, in the Metro... I'm a bit broke this week) due to social networking four out of five people admit they have online friends they have never met who they feel as close to as their "real world" friends. Ten years ago you'd never fucking admit to that... That would be embarrassing. Even online dating supposedly isn't considered that lame and desperate anymore. Though, let's be honest, it still kind of is. The internet is all about being social, sharing stuff, making connections. Today I joined Formspring, which seems to be this thing where people can ask you any question they want, which I reckon could be a right laugh (if you have any for me, ask at www.formspring.me/PonyandTrap - now is a good time because it's new and I want to play with it). Could be the next big thing. But probably won't because, truth be told, it's quite boring after ten minutes if nobody asks you anything interesting. "Yes, I prefer cats to dogs." "Actually, I can take or leave Marmite." "My favourite dinosaur is the brachiosaurus"...
None of that has anything at all to do with Microsoft. This is the point. I am not even anti Microsoft. In the PC or Mac argument I stand by Windows every time, even though that is not the trendy thing to do, but with each year that passes it gets just a little bit more embarrassing to say "actually, I er, prefer a PC"... And if I'm noticing that, surely they are too?
Thing is, although I use only Windows operating systems, outside of work I never use any Microsoft applications or services. Microsoft is for Office, and Office is for using at "the fucking place"... When I'm not at "the fucking place" I don't use anything of theirs. Not IE, not Hotmail, not Bing, not whatever blogging thing it is they have, because unlike their business applications they are not the best available - Google's stuff is. I have become just as smug and cuntish about the fact I use Chrome as the Apple wankers that used to piss me off so with their fucking Ocelot OS or whatever the hell it was called.
So yeah, Microsoft isn't cool because it's for work, which isn't cool. But that's OK right, that's a pretty good niche to fill, every corporate computer in the world? Well yeah. But this is where Microsoft get a bit schizophrenic.
All of their advertising seems to be targetted very much at the home user market. If I recall correctly, their current TV campaign involves scenarios such as a plain woman using her Windows PC to edit a photo of her boring looking family so it looks like her kids aren't ginger, or texting or something. The catchphrase in these commercials is "to the cloud!"... It's not what you want. You want aspirational, not accessible. Ooooh, if I use Windows, I will be like a woman with three kids who knows fuck all about computers but can still edit her fucking stupid fucking photo because Windows has the most patronising interface known to man and big Fisher Price buttons will tell me what I need to do and then make sure I'm sure with more big fucking Fisher Price looking buttons because I'm a fucking imbecile who is scared they will bring down the New York Stock Exchange by clicking on the wrong fucking thing in my picture editing software. And "to the cloud" is the gayest catchphrase I've ever heard uttered outside of a 1960's Batman movie. You can't even say it ironically.
For Microsoft to thrive they need to somehow change their image. Either go totally corporate, ironically, like IBM, or get some useful offerings and lose the family friendly schmaltz and become cool again. Maybe the buyout of Skype is supposed to be a step in the latter direction, given that Skype has millions of users all over the world, and that is why they have gambled by paying what looks like way over the odds. 70% of Skype was sold for $2 billion just two years ago, and given that its most popular service is offered for free, it will take some creativity to turn it into a big revenue generator (the same argument used to question why Twitter was valued high when it doesn't appear to do anything that would make money). If it solves Microsoft's image problem, none of that should matter - they can afford it, much like Chelsea could afford to spend 50 million pounds on Torres in a bid to solve their "our strikers are really old now" problem.
Trouble is, I can't help expecting them to launch their Skype offering with an advertising campaign showing someone in England using a Skype video call to let their kids wave to their grandparents in Australia... I can literally see it in my head. Yeah, we know it can do that, and we know that's what most people will use it for, but for the love of fuck, show us something a bit more Minority Report looking and some people with lives that look interesting using the fucker!