Microsoft Reader: Metaphor for How Promising Technologies Can Settle into a Narrow Niche

Ever see atechnology that seemed like a great idea, and only later come to realize thatit has a fairly limited use? Oh, admit it. I’m about to.

The exampleI’m about to give doesn’t deal with an enterprise technology, but I think thegeneral themes apply.

I recentlygot hopped up on the Microsoft Reader. I went home one night, downloaded thefree software from Microsoft’s Web site, and started building out a sizablelibrary out of the nearly 100 classics that Barnes & Noble offers for freein eBook format to build momentum for the Microsoft software.

Thecommitment for the Reader was small in terms of the footprint on my home systemand time. The base setup file was 7 MB and each book required a few hundred KBto a few MB of drive space. With contemporary hard drives and broadbandconnections, neither is an issue. I had a library of 20-30 books in about anhour and a half.

Other booksare for sale for as little as a few dollars to as much as you might pay for ahardcover edition.

That firstnight I started digging into Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The ease and novelty of theexperience, and, of course, the quality of the writing, had me hooked forseveral hours.

That wastwo months ago. I haven’t read anything on the Reader since.

The reasonsare fairly simple, and few of them are knocks on the technology. I likeMicrosoft’s new ClearType display and I find the books easy to navigate. Mostof the problems have to do with human behavior (mine).

First, Ispend my entire workday at the computer. The last thing I want to do is spendan additional hour or so each day hunched over the computer doing something Icould be doing more comfortably on the couch.

Anotherthing is that I like to read in bed. The Reader can be loaded on a PC and alaptop, allowing the same copy of books to be read on both versions, but that’snot the problem.

Laptops arenoisy. Forget to turn off the sound, and the machine is beeping and playingBrian Eno techno-music and waking up my wife or worse, my 2-year-old son. Evenwith the sound turned off, all the whirring and humming you don’t notice in theoffice can be jarring when it’s quiet.

This one’sa little embarrassing, but I like to read at night, you know, when I’m tired.Sometimes I fall asleep and the book or magazine falls on my face. Even the newPen Tablets will have to get pretty light and pretty soft before that doesn’tsmart.

On theroad, battery time is always an issue. It seems frivilous to be reading a bookon a work laptop and draining critical battery power. Besides, the flightattendant doesn’t make you put a book away when the aircraft begins itsdescent, which is one of the things that’s nice about reading on a plane.

I’m gladthat I downloaded the Reader and created that small library. It’s always goingto be handy as a reference, and every now and again I’m sure I’ll be in themood to spend a few hours reading a book at the PC.

But that’sthe narrow niche for the technology for me right now. It certainly doesn’t meanthe end of the printed page in the Bekker household. Microsoft was supposed tomake a big push for the tablet PCs at Comdex, which I’m sure will expand theusefulness of the Reader, but it’s got a long road ahead of it beforewidespread adoption occurs.

Now, thatwas a personal technology, but the pattern certainly applies to businesstechnologies.

So whatsoftware is sitting on the shelf or taking up valuable hard drive space in yourenterprise that was going to revolutionize the way your company did business?I’d enjoy hearing from you at