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Microsoft should use its own Contacts

Something which I have noticed after having been exposed to many Microsoft products is that a lot of them don’t make use of other Microsoft products. I have a saying "Microsoft is an 18 wheel company". Microsoft will reinvent the wheel 18 times. I think a primary source for many of the glaring examples are because of all of the company acquisitions which Microsoft has made over the years. As a result the same problem was solved by two completely independent companies and now Microsoft has acquired both of them, but it’s never deemed to be worth the effort to unify the implementation of solving the problem.


One of these areas is Contacts. How many solutions for Contacts does Microsoft need to come up with? Windows came up for a solution for Contacts years ago, it was called Windows Address Book, and now it’s the Contacts folder. Outlook has its own contacts, Windows Phone has its contacts, Communicator has contacts, Messenger has contacts, Hotmail has contacts, SharePoint has contacts, Business Contact Manager has contacts. Are these unified? No. The only product that makes use of another products contacts is the Windows Live Mail client uses Windows Contacts. So the contacts in Windows Live Mail is separate than the contacts in Windows Live Messenger.


Would it really be that bad if Outlook, Communicator, and Messenger all used the Windows Contacts? Probably not; the API would probably start to get used by third party products if it did get used. Why doesn’t Outlook do that? Well, it would take effort, and the current solution works for Outlook. Microsoft executives keep on saying “Three screens and a cloud”, but I haven’t seen anything that shows that it’s being enforced in the different Microsoft products.


I think that Microsoft would be miles ahead in the mobile space if they pushed the Windows Address Book years ago. Syncing with it should have been a must have for all cell phones. Microsoft should have bent over backwards to get phone companies to have a port which would plug into a Windows computer and Windows would have automatically synced the contacts, with the Windows Address Book. Then, Microsoft should have advertised managing your cell phone contacts in Windows as a super easy thing to do; easier than managing them on your cell phone. A TV commercial would go like this: “I hate losing my cell phone and having to enter in all of my contacts again”, “Why do you do that? Every time I get a new phone I sync it to my Windows PC and all of my contacts are on my phone”, “Hey, I have a Windows PC I should start doing that”. If you look in your Contacts directory is there anything there? No. Why? Because you have no motivation to use Windows Contacts.


All of these different products allow for contacts to be imported and exported through csv files. So freakin’ what? Instead of creating solutions for importing and exporting, Microsoft should be more focused on syncing. If I’m using more than one product for my contacts, I don’t want to import/export my contacts between the two products. I want to sync them. I’ll just naturally drift from one product to another without having to worry about which one I actually entered the contact information in. For this to happen though, would probably take Steve Ballmer to mandate it. Tell Outlook to get rid of storing contacts, and store the contacts in Windows contacts. They can keep the Outlook interface, but they can’t have separate storage. Do the same for Office Communicator and Windows Live Messenger. Also, for the web interfaces (OWA, Hotmail, SharePoint, etc) instead of having a pronounced import option, encourage a syncing option which allows people to sync with the PC that they are current on. Doing this would be a wonderful first step in having consumers see a unification of Microsoft products through all three screens and the cloud.


There is a small light coming up in this tunnel. Windows Phone 7 didn’t feel like reinventing the wheel. They let Windows Live (Hotmail/Messenger) manage the contacts, and the phone will just sync over the cloud. At least one product has the right idea.

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