The Microsoft Cool Factor

9 11 2012

While the long lines waiting outside Apple stores around the country and the buzz around everything Apple would lead most to think that Apple is cool and Microsoft is not, the winds may be changing.

In the Huffington Post Technology vertical today, Jason Gilbert writes that Microsoft is entering a new stage of “cool.” Here’s what he has to say:

Hang onto your pocket protector, Mr. Clippy: That is at least a partial implication of new findings put out by the consumer sentiment firm YouGov, which found Microsoft’s public approval rating — its “Buzz score,” in YouGov’s parlance — surging as of late. YouGov spokesman Drew Kerr said in an email that Microsoft “is experiencing one of its best consumer perception surges of the past 21 months,” thanks to the positive reception of ad campaigns for the surprising Surface tablet, the ambitious Windows 8 operating system and the stalwart joke-punchline Bing search engine.

Against all odds, a hipster exodus to Microsoft might be afoot.

Microsoft advertisements do, indeed, seem to be skewing younger and cooler. A song by indie favorites Eagles of Death Metal (no, that is not a misprint) was featured in the first TV commercial for Windows 8, and the dubstep insta-classic “Too Close” by Alex Clare soundtracks a well-choreographed Internet Explorer ad in current rotation. Microsoft went with a speaker-blasting in-house composition for its Surface tablet that sent YouTube commenters a-squeal.


It’s the kind of musical smarts that Apple mastered in its initial run of iPod ads being used to tinge the first impression most Americans have of Microsoft’s entire line of services and hardware. Cool points: Microsoft.

This musical reinvention accompanies a design revolution at Microsoft, too. Windows Phone, Microsoft’s little-used operating system for smartphones, has won heaps of praise for its layout and freshness. So, too, has Windows Phone’s big brother, Windows 8, as well as its most well-known banner carrier, the Surface tablet. Even Internet Explorer — once a microcosmic representation of all that was ugly, overloaded and unintuitive about the Windows operating system — has been cleaned up and is earning applause from critics.

Clean, innovative design is dominating Microsoft in a way that it — clearly, desperately — never had before. Cool points: Microsoft.

If YouGov’s numbers are correct, all that design work and Pitchfork-friendly musical curation is paying off with the public, at least in terms of perception. Whether it pays off in the literal sense — profits, product adoption, rise in stock price — is still in the offing.

Indeed, Microsoft’s rising consumer approval arrives at a precarious time for the company, one in which its decades-long grasp on personal computing seems to be slipping away to rival Apple. Worldwide PC sales are slipping as consumers opt instead for tablets, mostly the iPad. Smartphones, too, are a rising personal computing device, and Microsoft has yet to gain a meaningful foothold with its Windows Phone operating system. With the mega-launch of the last-ditch Windows Phone 8 platform occurring in November, current Windows Phone market share still sits below 5 percent. Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, consistently loses hundreds of millions of dollars each quarter, despite some recent gains against rival Google.

Microsoft remains profitable, of course: Sales of PCs running Windows still bring in tons of cash, and recent major acquisitions of Skype and Yammer have been lauded as good moves for the company. But while profitability has long been stable, public appreciation has not. Apple was always the critical and customer darling, Microsoft the behemoth, unfeeling corporation.

But after nearly a decade of public idolatry and Microsoft-bashing from tech critics and young people alike, we may finally be seeing a thawing of that dominant dogma. Between its overzealous patent litigation, botched handling of the iOS 6 Maps transition and somewhat stagnant design progression, Apple has turned some people off over the past year (see: any article on Reddit about Apple). Microsoft may be in a position to win over those jaded, discontented former Apple fans and take the crown of cool from its longtime rival.

That’s a big, huge, so-many-contingencies-and-variables “maybe,” of course. And, too, all of this appropriation of “hip” music and aesthetic pleasantness may be deemed as too little, too late, to sway the opinion of an America who still associates Microsoft with TI-83 nerdery and Dilbert-ian office drudgery. But maybe — just maybe — if Microsoft sticks to its design-forward revolution and commitment to user satisfaction, it might just find itself winning over some honest-to-God fans, and not just the cubicle-types who are forced to use its software at the local business complex.


Bringing In Customers With Foursquare

14 05 2012

Foursquare, the location-based sharing application for smartphones, has broken out of early-adopter limbo and is beginning its gradual ascension into the mainstream. While offering incentives for repeat business may not sound like the newest idea on the block, the social sharing aspect of Foursquare, especially with its connections to Twitter and Facebook, make engagement with the service all the more encouraging. Phil Gerbyshak has an excellent article detailing some ways to essentially turn your customers into your own personal street-marketing team. If you’re unfamiliar with Foursquare, check out this video below. For the enlightened, hit the article after the jump.

Sound interesting, but don’t have the time to maintain the page? Give us a call at 248-535-7090, and let us do all the heavy lifting for you.

Foursquare: An Introduction

If your business has a physical location, you should click over to and register. Do a search for the name of your business first, one of your customers may have already put it in the system. If so, on the right-hand side of the screen is a link for you to claim the business as the manager. Follow the instructions for claiming the venue.

When you are done Foursquare will mail you a window cling that you can put on your door or window to let your customers know that you are a Foursquare participating venue. But don’t stop there! You can get creative with more calls to action inside your business and through some staff training.

First, sign in to your Foursquare account and go to your venue.

Attract new customers

Click on “Manager Tools”, in the top-right corner, then “Start a Campaign at this Venue” (the big green button). On the next screen click the green button again to create your special. There are an assortment of choices, and this is where you can get creative:

  • Swarm Special Like, “If 30 people check in at once, get 25 cent wings”
  • Friends Special Like, “Check in with 3 friends and get a free dessert”
  • Flash Special Like, “The first 10 people that check in after 8pm get 25% off their order”
  • Newbie Special Like, “Get a free cupcake on your first check-in”
  • Check-in Special Like, “Get a free appetizer when you check in”

Reward existing customers

  • Loyalty Special Like, “Get a free cookie every 3rd check-in”
  • Mayor Special Like, “Mayor gets 20% off their entire bill”

Here are some more sample ideas:

Use the “Print Flyers” feature for your employees so that they can become familiar with the Specials, and what the smartphone screen should look like when a customer “unlocks” the special for redemption. You employees should be encouraged to spread the word about your Foursquare presence in their interactions with your customers. You can also print flyers to display for the customers, though they are not specific to the promotion that you are running. You will want to create your own.

Add the Specials to your collateral. Whether it is a restaurant menu, a brochure, or an ad on a map or in a newspaper (yes, newspaper advertising still works for small business in small towns) you should tell your customers that you are on Foursquare, at the very least. If you plan to have some long-term Specials, for Mayors or for Loyalty campaigns, you can keep these with your usual ad copy.

Cross-promotion on Twitter and Facebook. Share your “Attract New Customers” Specials on your other social media channels, especially if you can encourage people to share them with their friends. This can work particularly well with the Friends or Flash specials.

Hide “Easter Eggs” in your products or billing statements. Print out a mini-flyer describing your Foursquare specials and hide them inside books, packaging, or include them with correspondence to your customers. Remind them that when they visit your store they are eligible for special rewards when they Check In on Foursquare.

Introduce your customers to each other. Add a “Recent Foursquare Check-ins” feature to your e-mail newsletter (you do have a newsletter, don’t you?). On your “Manager Tools” page there is a list of Top and Most Recent Check-ins that you can copy-and-paste right into your newsletter – with links to those users’ profiles! (You will have to do a little editing…) Encourage your readers to connect with each other, and remember that you should be connecting with your customers as well.

Microsoft Officially Acquires Skype; Facebook Expands Video Chat with Skype

18 11 2011

From Nicholas Kolakowski on

Skype, Facebook have deepened their partnership with the ability to conduct Facebook-to-Facebook calls from within Skype.

Having been integrated into Microsoft, Skype is now moving ahead with new Facebook integration and some new features for its Mac and Windows versions.

Microsoft Skype Deal

The latest versions of Skype for Mac and Windows now boast the ability to conduct Facebook-to-Facebook calls from within Skype. Starting such a call involves connecting the user’s Skype and Facebook accounts, then selecting a Facebook friend with whom to chat.

“This new feature lets you maintain social connections with your Facebook friends and complements previously announced features such as being able to see when your Facebook friends are online,” read a Nov. 17 posting on the official Skype blog.

Skype is also smoothing the video-rendering capabilities of Skype 5.4 Beta for Mac, and has added to Skype 5.7 Beta for Windows a group screen-sharing capability for any Windows users with a Premium subscription.

Microsoft purchased Skype for $8.5 billion earlier this year, turning the voice over IP provider into a business division headed by Skype CEO Tony Bates. Microsoft executives have repeatedly announced their intention to tightly integrate Skype’s assets with Microsoft products, ranging from Xbox Kinect to Windows Phone, although support for “non-Microsoft client platforms” such as the Mac will apparently continue for the duration.

Microsoft ended up paying far more for Skype than its previous overlord, eBay, which had agreed in 2005 to pay $2.6 billion in cash and stock for the then two-year-old company. Four years later, a team of private investors—including Silver Lake Partners and Andreessen Horowitz—took it off the auction Website’s hands for $1.9 billion in cash. Before the Microsoft acquisition, Skype had supposedly been raising money for an initial public offering, but that offering was delayed after the company appointed Bates to the CEO role in October 2010.

Microsoft also has a tightening relationship with Facebook, whose social-networking features (such as the increasingly ubiquitous “Like” button) have been incorporated into the Bing search engine.

Despite the massive Skype acquisition, most of Microsoft’s recent corporate activity has centered on partnerships with Facebook, Nokia and the like. This spares Microsoft, despite its considerable financial reservoirs, from having to shell out billions on potentially risky takeovers; however, it also raises the specter of discordance in strategic aims between partners.

Follow Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter

Speech Recognition Today

23 08 2011

I’m currently reading Paul Allen‘s autobiography “Idea Man” and when I was in college I read Bill Gates‘ first autobiography. I remember a section in Gates’ book that talked about the beginning stages of Microsoft’s attempts at speech recognition. The program was nicknamed “Beach Wreck Ignition” because that’s how bad the system was — when you said “Speech Recognition” what the computer showed on the screen was “Beach Wreck Ignition.”

Speech recognition technology has gotten much better over the years. Mashable published an infographic by Medical Transcription that explains speech recognition technology and introduces some projects in development. Speech-recognition technology is making the world more accessible. Not only is it changing the way we use computers, but it is making our cellphones more useful and making our comes more connected.

Speech recognition still has a long ways to go, though. As Google will tell you, speech-recognition technology is challenging and complicated to implement. There are a lot of steps between you reciting a sentence and the computer or phone writing those words out on the screen.

To better explain the science and impact of automated speech recognition (ASR), Medical Transcription has created an infographic that goes through the technology behind ASR. It also explores some of the most interesting ASR projects in development.

Click here to see the infographic at Mashable.

How has speech recognition changed how you live and work? Let Access Computer Technology know in the comments.

A Techie Goes on Vacation

4 08 2011

Gloria Sin of ZDNet lets us in on what tech gadgets she takes with her on vacation.

One of the last thing I had to pack for my vacation this week was my gadget bag and the corresponding cords and plugs. I had to strike the best balance between packing light and bringing everything I could possibly need for my week away from home. After all, you don’t want to weighed down by too much gear that just becomes too heavy to tote around all day, but you won’t want to miss that priceless shot because water got into your expensive camera. Here’s a peak inside my vacation gear bag and why I couldn’t leave home without these gadgets.

  • LG Thrill 4G: This review unit from AT&T literally arrived just as I was about to leave on my trip so I decided to bring it along to see how it would perform on the road. I will be comparing its performance with the HTC Evo 3D in an upcoming review.
  • Nintendo 3DS & Nintendo DS Lite: I’ll admit it: I’m currently hooked on playing Nintendogs + Cats on my Nintendo 3DS so I couldn’t leave my virtual dog behind, but the 3DS’ poor battery life means my DS Lite will be a more reliable source of entertainment when I can’t charge the 3DS. I realize the 3DS is backwards compatible with DS games so the newer device will suffice for most people, but this way I can play in multi-player mode with my friends. One can never have too many handheld portable gaming consoles, in my humble opinion.
  • Asus Eee 901 netbook with a wireless mouse, Virgin Mobile 3G USB Modem, Porsche + LaCie 750 GB Portable Hard Drive and retractable headset: The 8.9″ Eee netbook is small and light enough to slide into my carry-on and yet powerful enough for me to write from anywhere. While I don’t mind using my netbook’s touchpad, I find I can get things done faster with an external mouse so I tend to pack one along, just in case. Having never stayed in my hotel before, I had no idea what kind of Internet connection is available so I decided to bring along my Virgin Mobile USB 3G Modem for insurance. My retractable headet is a very space efficient accessory to turn my netbook into a VoIP phone and entertainment unit when necessary. I also packed the portable 500 GB hard drive from Porsche and LaCie so I can backup my photos from my smartphone’s SD card to a more reliable source. Its small form factor and large capacity really made the hard drive a no-brainer to pack.
  • Samsung Infuse 4G: It’s massive 4.5″ SUPER AMOLED touchscreen is a great benefit when I don’t have time to whip out my glasses to scan my emails. Plus, its 8-megapixel rear camera offers pretty accurate colors and captures shots relatively quickly so I don’t have to bother with a point-and-shoot.
  • Nokia N900: This smartphone may be from 2009 but its smaller display at 3.5″ means it’s easier to slide into most pockets, plus its 5-megapixel rear camera with Carl Zeiss Optics can be accessed via an external button and by opening the Carl Zeiss lense cover, which means I can capture images quickly.
  • Lok Sak Resealable Element Proof Transport and Storage Bags: None of my devices are waterproof out-of-box so these resealable bags are handy to store my phones (especially the review unit) even if I get caught in a passing thunderstorm.

What gadgets can you not leave home without? Share with Access Computer in the comments below:

Small Businesses and Online Marketing

5 07 2011

American Express Open recently conducted a Small Business Search Marketing Survey for small businesses using online marketing. We found this survey from American Express Open very interesting. Here are some of the results from the survey that were reprinted in this month’s Costco Connection magazine:

More than half of small business owners say they need help with search engine marketing.

Fifty-six percent of small businesses who will spend on search or social media advertising in 2011 indicate they will need help with some aspect of the campaigns, according to the American Express OPEN Small Business Search Marketing Survey, a survey of small business owners utilizing some type of online marketing for their business. Despite their need for assistance, only 25 percent are using search engine marketing (SEM) tools to manage their campaigns.

Search engine campaign management is generally handled internally (73%), with almost half of respondents indicating that they do it themselves (47%). One-in-five (22%) indicated that they have a staff member that handles SEM in addition to other responsibilities.

Three-quarters of small businesses plan to add some form of online marketing in 2011. Roughly three-in-ten will add a company website (36%) or social media strategy (29%). About one-in-five plan to add search engine optimization strategies (23%), mass email campaigns (22%) or search advertising campaigns (16%).

The most common online marketing techniques currently being utilized by small businesses are a company website (86%) followed by social media (44%). One-in-five (21%) small businesses report they are utilizing search advertising.

Good Tech Support is Key

20 06 2011

When it comes to computer tech support, an individuals who is there with you and is a good listener is key. Calling an 800- number and getting routed to India is not going to help turn your day around. When your computer is down, so you are you. Access Computer Technology prides itself on our fast response time, free phone support, and the keen ability to listen to the client’s problems. Once we have listened, we won’t leave until we find a solution.

The following article struck a chord with us. It’s written by Jim Hillibish and it explains why good listeners and problem solvers are what you want to look for in good tech support.

A friend of mine wanted to reinstall his Internet service. He called the company’s tech support.

After waiting 22 minutes for them to answer, well, what’s the point?

Amazingly, the tech rep could not tell him how to install his company’s service. He passed my friend to the company that made his router. The Indian guy who barely spoke English was clueless and hung up.

No wonder product support ranks near the bottom on the Consumer Reports recent customer-service poll. Just about every company that deals with the public is in trouble here. Our expectation as customers is zero when we need help.

Another strange thing here is paid tech support. From what I hear from users, it’s no better than the freebie. The only difference is the meter’s running — $68 a call. They want your credit-card number before they don’t solve your problem.

There is a way around this, and it’s called the Internet. A lot of companies now offer knowledge bases to answer questions with no intervention by a human who is asleep at the phone. These can work well, but there’s one problem. If your computer is not working, how do you access it? OK, go to the library.

I’ve talked to tech-support reps who seem brain dead about their product. Those same knowledge bases, where you type in some keywords and get an answer, are what they use. If it’s not in the computer, these people don’t know it.

That’s a problem because diagnosing computer programs can be more difficult than, say, brain surgery. One thing always leads to another. People who cannot follow this chain will be blind to solutions.

If I may stereotype, a lot of these folks have problems communicating, especially when they are trying to translate English and look up answers at the same time.

Apparently, companies actually think all this is very smart. It saves gobs of money. They’re living for the present and seem oblivious to losing that customer in the future.

The solution is to only hire people who are good listeners, problem solvers and actually enjoy helping us. I know from long experience that’s a very rare creature in this business.

Reposted from Lake News Online