Well, Bob’s on the loose, following its introduction at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month. Should that matter for business users of PCs? Should you care about Bob? Maybe even put Bob on a test machine, to see what the shouting’s all about?
No, yes, and absolutely.
You can’t actually buy Bob yet, of course. Microsoft’s new “social interface” GUI for Windows PCs won’t be released until the end of March. But there are a lot of beta copies floating around, and given the growing importance of Microsoft’s Consumer Division, Bob’s home, you can bet that this is going to be one of the most widely publicized products of the year.
So whether you have a copy yet or not, you’ll be answering questions about Bob every day. Which makes this an issue worth discussing for IT managers, even if we have no plans to adopt it.
If you can find a copy and keep it running on a nearby PC, you’ll not only be able to give more intelligent answers, but you’ll be able to show people how you reached your opinion.
And I can promise you that you’re going to have an opinion.
Bob’s premise is simple: PCs are pretty scary, and both operating systems and applications are so hard to use that you need a friend to help you through the maze.
If you think that’s an odd stance for Microsoft to take … so do I. But since Microsoft then backtracks on its premise by saying IT will be your friend, through the person of this curious, dweeby-looking Bob guy, maybe this makes sense after all.
My take: I can’t imagine anyone using Bob at the office. Even the most PC-resistant worker would be too embarrassed to have Bob’s cute living rooms and cuter creature-wonks (oops, “guides”) running at his desk.
But at home? That’s a different story. Microsoft doesn’t expect to see Bob in the office, of course. This is supposed to be the great enabler for the next generation of home PCs — and, I suspect, the previous generation of humans.
I’ve had versions of Bob running on a PC here for many months. My assessments of its usefulness and likely market success — two very different issues, on which my judgments have often been out of sync — have gone through huge swings.
I think people with any experience at all using a PC are going to hate Bob. I haven’t sat a single current PC user down at the Bob machine here, let them play with the machine for a while, then found them interested in using it.
Some say it’s too slow and clumsy, far worse than dealing with Windows (or OS/2 or DOS) directly. Some say it’s a step backward. Some get angry and say it’s pandering to them.
But an amazing number of them say, “But you know, for home, where my family uses the PC, too, they might like this.” Or, “It’s not for me, but I know a lot of people who might like this.”
But that “Bob-ready” class of potential users can’t be described in traditional terms. Kids, for example, either love Bob or hate it — usually, but not always, depending on whether they already use a PC.
I think Bob’s for the techno-laggards, the people who either don’t use a PC at all or tried one but gave up. Instead of being a product For The Rest Of Us, it’s a product For The Rest Of Them.
And I think there are enough of Them out there that Microsoft’s going to have a hit on its hands with dweeby ol’ Bob.