Google Health & Microsoft HealthVault: the Sorry State of Health 2.0

Today’s joint IBM – Google announcement about enabling personal health monitoring devices to send data directly to Google Health gave me the grand opportunity for a (not-so) quick rant that’s been boiling in me for a while. 

Ever since I started actively managing my parents’ health care I’ve been a heavy user of electronic health records and communication systems, and I am immensely frustrated.  Frustrated at the paper-based world we’re facing in the 21st century, but also at the current attempts to change all that.  Grand ideas, alliances, announcements, but they all feel like IT-talk, losing sight of the very people these systems supposed to serve: patients.  That’s you and me and our relatives who have health issues.  

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Windows Live FolderShare No Longer Strictly P2P?

Foldershare is a life-saver: a peer-to-peer file synchronization product that does its magic in discreetly in the background, with the user barely noticing it even exists. While it needs to log in to the MS servers, it does NOT sync / upload actual data, all synchronization is strictly P2P. In fact one of the setup options is to define whether you allow remote P2P sync to occur through the Net, or strictly on your LAN, behind the firewall.

I’ve been using it for years now, as part of my data sync and backup strategy: I let FolderShare synchronize data between two laptops and a desktop, then I use the desktop as the “master” which will back up data online to Mozy, the other life-saver.

Of course using two products for somewhat similar purposes is redundant, and I have previously speculated that Microsoft should tie Foldershare and Skydrive (Live Mesh, Live Drive – pick your favorite buzzword) offering both PC sync and Web backup. I wonder if it’s about to happen.

I noticed this weekend that my computers could sync without them being online at the same time – which is (used to be? ) a primary requirement for FolderShare to work. Now I could repeatedly test turning off all but one computer, update files on the one with FolderShare running, then shut down FolderShare, start another machine, and voila! – my changes got synchronized. How was that possible when it had nowhere to get the information from, other than the Microsoft servers? (unless the closed program left behind a process running, other than Foldershare.exe)

If this means FolderShare is no longer strictly a P2P product, I actually welcome that change – except for the fact that it happened unannounced. Leaving users in the belief they are only sync-ing data between their own computers when in fact it’ stored on Microsoft’s servers would be a serious violation of their privacy.

Interesting coincidence (is it?): FolderShare will have a planned outage of 48-72 hours this week. 72 hours (3 days!) is a lot of time, it should be enough for major changes. In fact more than enough – such outage would be unacceptable from any service provider – except apparently from Microsoftsmile_sad. (Yes, I know, we get what we pay for, and this is a free service – it’s still a ridiculous outage.)

Update: Further testing reveals that the actual data files are not transferred between offline computers, only the *.p2p placeholder files. Sigh of relief: your data files are not stored on Microsoft’s servers. BUT …. BUT: the index is indeed stored centrally. This did not appear to be the case with the original FolderShare by ByteTaxi, prior to the MS acquisition. I don’t know when it changed, and I don’t recall being warned about it. The former FolderShare user agreement page disappeared and I haven’t found any updated information on FolderShare’s site.

Update (6/24):

Ouch!  C’mon guys, this is so simple, even I could fix it.

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Microsoft’s Echoes Does NOT Eliminate Phone Numbers

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 everythingsmile_wink 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 doessmile_regular)

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.

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Windows Barely Live Mesh and Why TechCrunch Needs a New Tab

Steve Gillmor redefined TechCrunch today with a thoughtful but loooong (1709 words!) post on Windows Live Mesh. Others come to rescue translating him:

Robert Scoble: But, let’s translate Gillmor: Microsoft Mesh is fascinating. Agreed.

Phil Wainewright: Steve turns that around and points out that what Mesh is really about is connecting the desktop into the cloud

Mike Arrington: I’m pretty sure he’s saying Mesh = good.

Even Microsoft’s Steve Clayton is lost:

I got lost about two thirds of the way in to this post from Steve Gillmor but the first third was a great read. Actually the whole thing was but I just got a bit lost as I think some of the things going on in Steve’s fast thinking brain didn’t quite make it through to the keyboard so you’re left having to assume some things. I’m assuming he likes Mesh though. I think he does.

Commenters on TechCrunch were ruthless, I won’t even begin quoting them. But don’t get me wrong: this is a good article, which would have been a great fit for ReadWriteWeb, but the TC crowd expects short, to-the-point, fairly descriptive posts. In the words of TC owner Mike Arrington:

Steve is an acquired taste. his writing isn’t efficiently packaged into bite sized chunks like a lot of people have come to expect. but if you decide to give it the attention it needs, you may find that you come away a little bit smarter after you’re finished.

Yes. And perhaps Mike is trying to redefine TC’s style himself. But you have to know your readers, Mike – perhaps a a new tab for Essays would be appropriate – or if you want Gillmor’s writing part of the main flow, a graphical “grab a coffee this is a long one” icon would help.

Now, on to the bigger question, why Live Mesh is just Barely Live. (And yes, this will be a long post, too, but due to the screenprints.)

The first leaked news declared this a solution to “sync everything with everything”. Then came Amit Mital, Live Mesh General Manager with a visionary video and announcement at the Web 2.0 Expo last week, adding towards the end: initially it will sync only Windows PC’s, adding more platforms and devices over time. Ahh! So it’s a … Foldershare for now.

Minutes after the presentation I was chatting with a startup CEO who reminded me he had seen a similar video from Microsoft years ago: kid playing, Mom capturing video on cell-phone, family watching it almost real-time on various devices, executive-type Dad watching video on his laptop at an airport feeling “almost at home”. Great video, and yes, it was conceptually familiar, but what has materialized of it?

Live Mesh will be great when it really happens, but for now it’s largely waporware: pre-announcement, typical Microsoft-style. And now, if you’re still here, why don’t you follow me through the hoops of trying to sign up for (Barely) Live Mesh.

Google Search and several Microsoft blogs point to so that’s where we start:

Hm… I could never figure out why I so often get signed out of Live Network (good old passport style), and if that’s the case why can I not sign back here. But that’s OK, we just take a detour to, sign in and come back to

I though I had just signed in, but fine, let’s do it again. Oops:

The sign-in button changes to sign up – as in sign up for a waiting list. Not fun.. but let’s do it anyway. Btw, before the wait-list screen there was another screen where I had to agree to some terms – sort of usual for actually using a service, but for getting on a waiting list?

Now we’re in something called Microsoft Connect. Is this the same thing? Who knows…let’s click Register (but why, after sign-up, sign-in, agree, now register? WTF?)

I’m starting to really not like this. So far I’ve been presented with a maze of registration, confirmation, you-name-it screens, and I don’t know where the hell I am. Let’s backtrack a bit.

Oh, several screens above, at the waiting list signup, it stated on the next screen I should click Connection Directory, a small option on the top, not the main Register for Connect link… but who reads small prints, all screens should offer enough navigational clues to not get me lost. OK, redoing, now…

This jungle is the Connection Directory. No sign of Live Mesh, at least not on the first page. Text search to the rescue: there we are… somewhere towards the bottom (scroll way down) there is Live Mesh Tech Preview! Voila! (or not). The button to click is Apply Now! As if I hadn’t done it a zillion times already…

Hm.. I can do this now with my eyes closed… click..

Geez, this looks like a plain old BS signup form again. I’ve had it. Done. I let others experiment with Microsoft’s Windows Dead Mesh. Let me know when it’s Live. For real.


Windows "Live" (Now Dead) Foldershare Has an Architectural Weakness

Foldershare is a handy tool that keeps several PC’s in sync – most of the time, when it works.  Of course sometimes it goes down, defying it’s new Windows Live moniker. smile_embaressed

Unlike the previous, week-long outage, this one was just a few hours, but even now as it recovers, users can’t log in:

Outages are inevitable, but the repeated incidents made me realize that Foldershare has a design glitch: it’s dependence on logging in to a web server for no good reason.

  • Yes, I understand setup, customization is all through the Web.
  • However, once set up, the need to change configuration is rare, the whole idea in Foldershare is that it just runs in the background with the users barely noticing it even exists.  It does NOT sync / upload actual data to the Web server, all synchronization is strictly P2P.  In fact one of the setup options is to define whether you allow remote P2P sync to occur through the Net, or strictly on your LAN, behind the firewall.

Why on earth my Foldershare clients on 3 computers have to sign in to the Web to be able to carry out behind-the-firewall synchronization is beyond me.  Could the not cache the latest config locally, and use it whenever log-in fails?

Of course I have previously speculated that Microsoft should tie Foldershare and Skydrive, offering both PC sync and Web backup, in which case logging in becomes a reasonable requirement.  But even then, local sync should be available as a fall-back option for outages.

Update (2/13):  A day later Foldershare clients still can’t log in.  Perhaps it’s time to change “the next couple of hours” to “the next couple of days“. smile_angry


Bite the Hand that Feeds You?

There’s a new online Office player in town: Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of Hotmail, the web-mail service that perfected viral marketing and got acquired by Microsoft for $400 million, unveiled his free web-office suite yesterday. It does not look at Google, Zoho or ThinkFree, it aims at Microsoft directly:

“We are just a few years away from the end of the shrink-wrapped software business. By 2010, people will not be buying software,” Mr Bhatia said. “This is a significant challenge to a proportion of Microsoft’s revenues.”

So be it – I am a certified web-app fanboy. I’m still waiting for my trial account (and wonder if I will ever get it after this post) , so I can’t comment on the applications themselves, but I think Mr. Bhatia’s choice of a name is rather tasteless: Live Documents. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.. except the close resemblance to Microsoft’s Windows Live brand. I only have “conspiracy theories” here:

  • Live Documents is a shameless rip-off of the MS brand, Mr. Bhatia is literally biting the hand that fed him and indirectly funded this company.
  • He is riding on Microsoft’s coat-tails: his application is (supposedly) very similar to MS Office 2007, he offers a plug-in to the MS products, uses the MS Office logo quite liberally throughout his site, people know his background with MS – all this creates the impression that his products is somehow jointly developed with Microsoft. (?) While this may help gaining traction initially, I think confusing customers is a very-very bad policy. (But what do I know, I haven’s sold a business for $400Msmile_embaressed)
  • Finally, the most far-fetched speculation: this is indeed Microsoft’s secret weapon, named appropriately so it fits easily after it’s absorbed in a $billion+ deal.

I can’t wait to hear from Microsoft… Don? Cliff? Chris? Anyone?

Update (11/23): Dan Farber on ZDNEt came to the same conclusions – literally.

Update #2: As much as I don’t like the Live copycat, I have to admit calling it “service plus software” is a smart play on Microsoft’s “software plus service“, indicating the shift in priorities. smile_wink

Related stories: Times Online, Techspot, Macworld UK, PC Advisor, Digital Inspiration, Between the Lines, /Message, Rough Type , deal architect, Zoho Blogs,, Read/WriteWeb, TechCrunch, Betaflow.


Windows “Live” Foldershare Dead For a Week

Foldershare is a very handy tool that keeps several PC’s in sync – when it does.

Although the actual synchronization process is P2P, in fact in a local network your data typically stays behind the firewall throughout the entire process, Foldershare needs to log in to their servers to read your configuration data. And that’s where the process often dies. So far it hasn’t bothered me though, sometimes Foldershare could not log in, but I could safely rely on it getting through in a few hours and catching up with synchronization.

Now it’s been dead for days, which is really bad, as it has become a key part of my infrastructure: I sync three computers using Foldershare, and run Mozy to create online backups on one. With these types of services it’s all about trust: you don’t actively use them, check them daily, you just trust that they are there, doing their job in the background. When they don’t you’re in trouble, since you don’t know what fell out of sync. There goes the trust, quickly.

Foldershare was acquired two years ago by Microsoft, and it’s now branded as part of the “Live” services. A brand that turns into pure irony when it comes to a dead service. smile_sad

Update: there’s now an announcement on the FolderShare site. Thanks, Chris, for the pointer.

newsNovember 12, 2007

Windows Live FolderShare experienced a few technical difficulties over the weekend. The service is functioning normally now but it may take a while for all clients to reconnect. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes you.

Update (11/16): The above announcement turned out to be optimistic – that much is obvious just reading the comments below. As of today, FolderShare is completely down, with this status message:

Nov 16, 3:00PM PST
Windows Live FolderShare is being taken offline for maintenance.
The service will be resumed in the next 48 hours.
Thank you for your patience.
FolderShare Team.

I keep my fingers crossed.. and if it really works in 48 hours – well than it only took Microsoft a week to fix a so-called “Live” service. smile_angry

Update (12/11): FolderShare AutoDeletes Files. Whoops – on TechCrunch


Microsoft: The Live Installer / WDS Invasion was Just the Rehearsal

Here’s a quick chronology:

  • Under the auspices of installing Live Photo Gallery, Microsoft installs their Desktop Search product on XP systems, without asking for user permission or even bothering to notify users. (for details, see previous posts listed below)
  • User uproar follows
  • Microsoft updates their Photo Live Gallery, and it no longer requires Windows Desktop Search.

Naive me, I welcome this as proof that Microsoft Listens, after all.

No, they don’t. All the above was just the rehearsal. The Real Invasion is happening now, under the disguise of Window Server Update Services, as reported by the Register:

“The admins at my place were in a flap this morning because Windows Desktop Search 3.01 had suddenly started installing itself on desktops throughout the company,” a Reg reader by the name of Rob informs us. “The trouble is that once installed, the indexer kicks in and slows the machines down.”

“I’m slightly pissed of [sic] at M$ right now,” an admin in charge of 3,000 PCs wrote in a comment to the first aforementioned link. “All the clients have slowed to a crawl, and the file servers are having problems with the load.”

Mea Culpa for my naivety. The Borg does not change.smile_zipit

My previous stories on the invasion (and more):

Other Related posts: Sadjad’s space, David and David Arno’s Blog. Of course these are hard to find, TechMeme is full of reporting how the Borg kissed the Berg.


Windows Desktop Search: Microsoft DOES Listen, After All

I wrote about the Windows Desktop Search controversy several times: in a nutshell, under the auspices of installing Live Photo Gallery, Microsoft installed their Desktop Search product on XP systems, without asking for user permission or even bothering to notify users.

I’m glad to report proof that in this case Microsoft listened to their customers (or their own lawyers?):

Windows Live Photo Gallery no longer requires WDS (Windows Desktop Search) to be installed on XP! Again, we heard the grumblings loud and clear, and took action! Once you have installed the update via Microsoft Update and have build 1299.1010 install

There’s more, most importantly ability to easily upload to Flickr, which is no small feat, considering Flickr is now a Yahoo property. I’m wish Google followed suit and enabled Picasa to Flickr uploads. (Hello! Anybody there?)

My previous stories on the WDS controversy:


You Think You Own Your Computer? Think Twice. Microsoft Shows Who’s Boss.

So you think just because you paid for your computer you own it? Microsoft apparently disagrees … just look at these events all within a week:

Desktop Search

The New Universal Windows Live Installer puts more than what you expect on pre-Vista systems: it installs Windows Desktop Search without prompting for user consent, or even just letting users know. The argument from several Microsofties is that Live Photo Gallery, part of the new live bundle needs Desktop Search to run. So what? Desktop Search is not some auxiliary DLL, it’ s a fundamental piece of your PC infrastructure, which should have been an organic part of the OS, but in lieu of working Windows-level search, several companies developed competing solutions, including Yahoo, Google and Copernic. Running two desktop searches in parallel brings about major performance degradation so the the choice as to which one to use is a major decision to be made by the user, not Microsoft. Incidentally, this is at the very core of the recent Google vs Microsoft kerfuffle, which forced Microsoft to make changes to Vista – announcing those changes the very same days it started leaving turd on non-Vista machines.

Black Screen of Death

Next came the Vista Black Screen of Death: according to e leaked email Microsoft activated a scheme in Vista, which essentially renders pirated copies useless:

  • A black screen after 1 hour of browsing
  • No start menu or task bar
  • No desktop

I can almost accept this. After all, piracy is illegal. There is only the small issue of WGA failing regularly, labeling 100% legal systems “pirated”. You can have your entire system knocked out, due to a WGA error. Fortunately this news turned out to be a hoax – or is it? Only to the extent that the “Reduced Functionality” function has not been activated – yet. It exists, and may come any day.

Stealth Updates

The Stealth Windows Update issue followed the typical pattern. Somebody discovers Windows is updating on files despite the auto-update feature being turned off. Microsoft comes back with a semi-technical explanation:

…why do we update the client code for Windows Update automatically if the customer did not opt into automatically installing updates without further notice? The answer is simple: any user who chooses to use Windows Update either expected updates to be installed or to at least be notified that updates were available. Had we failed to update the service automatically, users would not have been able to successfully check for updates and, in turn, users would not have had updates installed automatically or received expected notifications. That result would not only fail to meet customer expectations but even worse, that result would lead users to believe that they were secure even though there was no installation and/or notification of upgrades. To avoid creating such a false impression, the Windows Update client is configured to automatically check for updates anytime a system uses the WU service, independent of the selected settings for handling updates…

Let me get this straight:

  1. Customer selects no auto-update.
  2. Microsoft decides it is in customers best interest to update anyway.
  3. Not overwriting the customer’s decision would fail to meet expectations.

Makes sense? BS. Or, as ZDNet puts it more politely: Microsoft dodging the real stealth update issues. Update (9/27): Stealth Windows update prevents XP repair

Windows Messenger Forced Update

This is probably less sinister than the others… a Microsoft Product Manager post about upgrading to Messenger 8.1:

We will soon configure the service such that any user on Windows XP or later system has to use Windows Live Messenger 8.1. When a user using an older version of Messenger tries to login, the client will help the user with a mandatory upgrade to Messenger 8.1. Some of you might feel this inconvenient, but in order to protect you and protect the health of the network we have chosen to take this step.

I understand it is for security reasons, but again, it’s the old formula: User decides not to upgrade, Microsoft knows what’s better for the user, so enforces it’s will. No wonder it’s not a popular decision.

I can already hear the argument that these are all isolated events, have nothing to do with each other.. but frankly, from a consumer standpoint they all add up. As if someone in Redmond decided they are not getting customer-love anyway, with their reputation being so bad, they might as well go for the full Monty: show those whining customers who the Boss is around here. And they wonder why consumers are flocking to Apple.

Update: eWeek’s title says it all: What the Hell Is Microsoft Doing with My Computer?

Update (9/23): Robert Scoble asks: Why doesn’t Microsoft get the love?

My take: just look at the examples above. There are a lot more. They all show a corporate culture that does not have the customer in focus. It’s hard to love such a company, no matter how great many of the individual employees are.