Grand title for a grand plan: Mary Jo Foley reports about Microsoft’s grand plan to eliminate phone numbers .
The problem is, it really does not eliminate phone numbers, just makes them more convenient for use. It’s not Mary Jo’s fault, she just quotes Bill Gates:
“Right now the mobile phone, the desktop phone, the e-mail that you have on the PC, or instant messaging, these are all very different things, and the issues about how much of your information or your schedule, your current activity you share with people who communicate with you is not well designed…. By bringing together all of these kinds of communication, we can greatly simplify them. We can get rid of phone numbers, have it so when you say you want to contact someone, based on who you are and where that person is, they can decide whether to take the call or take a message about that, and so a great efficiency improvement that can be made there.”
Microsoft’s new Echoes service platform will indeed assign a mobile number to Windows Live contacts, and synchronize everything with everything allowing communication via voice call, email, SMS.. you name it.
Nice. But let’s think for a minute.
When I grew up we had rotary phones, I probably knew a few dozen phone numbers by heart, since every time I called a friend I had to manually dial it. For the rest, there was the big thick phone book.
Along came the first push-button phones and we could program a few numbers into speed-dial. The issue was no longer knowing all he phone numbers, but remembering which button was which.
Don’t worry, I am not about to walk through all the technology improvements in such detail, as most of my readers remember the rest. Phones with more memory, LCD screens, directories, cell-phones, PDA’s, PC-based programs..etc all have one thing in common: they still use phone numbers, we just don’t have to remember them. Heck, I don’t know all my own phone numbers (but GrandCentral does)
These devices did not eliminate phone numbers; they just made it more convenient to use them. Just like Microsoft’s Echoes (supposedly) will.
All that said, convenience is important, so Echoes is a great plan if and when it works and gets universal acceptance. Of course the flip-side is it’s reliance on Windows Live. Anyone smells lock-in? Let’s not forget for many people Windows Live log-in is their former Microsoft Passport login. The infamous Passport that went down so often depriving users access to basic services, including their own finances. The Passport that Microsoft handles a bit too casually. Here’s a little anecdote just to make the point:
A few months ago I wanted to try Microsoft’s Health Vault ( a system so over-complicated that I can almost guarantee patients won’t be able to use it) and it required my Live (formerly Passport) login. Then it told me my password was not secure enough and forced me to change it. I thought I was changing my vault access only, there was no warning whatsoever that this would change my login to all other systems requiring Live login. I only found out when I could not log in to Microsoft Money, where I manage all my finances.
Conclusion: Echoes sounds like a good, useful plan, just beware what it means to be locked in to a Microsoft platform.