Software cinéma vérité

A growing number of vendors now use Flash videos to augment the obligatory lists of customers, features, and benefits that they publish on their marketing pages. It's a strategy I highly recommend. What hadn't occurred to me, until it happened this week, was that users might do this for you! [Full story at]
Here's Paul Everitt, whose spontaneous act of software demonstration motivated the column:
It's funny how these things happen. I put very little consideration into making that narrated demo. I had posted something about XSLT and said it was easier than advertised. In a weblog comment, someone asked for evidence to back up my assertion. I offered to make a recording, he took me up on the offer, and I spent 15 minutes with no post-production to respond to him. [Zope Dispatches]
Exactly. "15 minutes with no post-production" is doable on a whim. When the activation threshold is low enough, things can happen that otherwise wouldn't.

The fact that Flash has become the de facto standard for such videos is interesting in light of Microsoft's "quietly announced" 1 Channel 9. I'm hardly the first to point out that Channel 9's Windows-Media-only format excludes crucial audiences. Joe Wilcox says so here, and Robert Scoble responds here.

Joe's point is spot on. Although Larry O'Brien says he won't watch the videos, they're actually the only part of Channel 9 that I have tuned into. Of the first batch of videos, the one that I found most important (albeit not as entertaining as Bill Hill's Homo Sapiens 1.0) was Michael Howard's observation 2 about how the computer science curriculum gives short shrift to security. His book, Writing Secure Code, is a remarkably candid, Cluetrain-like piece of work. In this passage, for example, he draws attention to past ActiveX-related screwups in Microsoft products:

That honesty, coupled with the book's exhaustive analysis and recommendations, makes Howard the best and most credible voice inside Microsoft on an issue that desperately cries out for credibility. But because of the format lock-in, he winds up preaching to the choir. A further irony was that Channel 9 asked me to accept a signed ActiveX control! The people who really ought to see and hear Michael Howard never will.

As for Robert Scoble's response, I dunno. "When we came up with the idea of Channel9," he writes, "we didn't just get unlimited resources to do everything perfect." Well OK, but QuickTime Pro is $30, and Flix Pro is $149. Using these, I was able to produce QuickTime and Flash versions of the Michael Howard clip. The quality's not great, partly because I couldn't figure out how to download the .WMV files behind the .ASX wrapper, so I resorted to a Camtasia Studio screen capture. And I'm not sure Microsoft would appreciate my posting alternate versions in any case, so I won't. But, though I'm far from an expert on video formats, it doesn't look like a budgetary or logistical issue to me.

No other company comes close to the transparency that Microsoft is achieving with its blog activity and now Channel 9. I've applauded such efforts and will continue to do so. But I'll applaud Channel 9 more loudly when its message can reach the unconverted.

1 What's up with that "quiet" meme? "Microsoft quietly launched a new site on Tuesday that combines blogs, discussion forums and other technology to improve communications with developers." "Microsoft has quietly expanded its Microsoft Developer Network with a Web site that combines a host of social networking technologies in a move to improve communications with outside software developers."
Are these only accidentally similar? Or did one derive from the other? Or was there an aboriginal source? Perhaps meme archaeologists can figure it out.

2 Note that I had to dig these direct links to the videos out of the RSS feed. They're not directly available on the surface of this page. This is typical of MSDN Web designs that use video snippets, and I think it's un-Weblike and blogger-unfriendly.

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