commentary On Tuesday evening, Microsoft announced the integration of playable songs into Bing search results. At the time, when you clicked the play button by each song result, the pop-up window for the player said that this feature was "coming soon." I blogged about it anyway, relying on a forthcoming Microsoft blog post that said the feature was available "now."
I should have known better. Nearly three days later, the feature is still "coming soon." So I visited the music page of the Bing Entertainment site to get a taste of how this feature's supposed to work. Sure enough, the player launched when I clicked on my first selection, Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream." This time, the player told me that I needed to enable application storage in my version of the Silverlight player. (Silverlight is a Microsoft platform for creating rich Internet applications, like audio and video, and basically competes with Adobe's Flash.) A casual user would have given up, but having a professional interest in the feature, I followed the instructions on the screen, only to find that my copy of Silverlight already had the box checked to enable application storage. Sigh. I unchecked and rechecked it. Still no luck. (I suppose the next step would be to uninstall and reinstall Silverlight, but it's just not worth the time.) At least the player looks cool, with a shadowy image of Tom Petty and nice album art above the error message.
I'm sure Microsoft will get around to implementing a working version of this feature eventually. But I can't help but compare the event with Google's launch of its similar embedded music playback feature last October. Immediately, when the feature was announced, you could sample a functional version of it. The feature gradually found its way into some search results--I first saw it about a day after the announcement--and days later was implemented across the site. Other online giants like Google and Facebook sometimes make bonehead moves, but at least when they roll out a new feature, it usually works as advertised. (Even if you don't want it!)
I wouldn't make a mountain out of a minor bug, but these kinds of glitches happen with Microsoft online services all the time. Last Friday, shortly after the launch of Office Web Apps, I was unable to send a working link to a PowerPoint deck I'd shared on SkyDrive (this bug has since been fixed). Today when I got an invitation to be somebody's Windows Live friend, the "accept" link didn't work, but instead asked if I wanted to send an e-mail to invite him to be my friend (see "recursion, endless").
There's been a lot of press recently about Microsoft's supposed malaise. A lot of it is complete nonsense based on false comparisons--Microsoft has a different business model than Apple or Google, with different risks and opportunities. (I've seen this news cycle before, and I'm already anticipating the next wave of breathless "Microsoft's back!" headlines.) But when I see these kinds of glitches over and over again, I have to wonder what kind of environment lets you roll out and advertise new features before they're working. This is the kind of stuff I expect from a rookie start-up.