We already know that Microsoft needs to start listening to the community and hearing what they have to say. We already know that not only do they need to listen, but they need to involve the community in core decision-making processes with their software, from the very planning stages. What do we as users want out of the software? What do we want to be able to do with it? How would we, as users, actually go about doing this with said software, and what features can be added to make it easier and more enjoyable?

Two of the teams at Microsoft which have isolated themselves from this ideal are, mainly, the Windows and Office teams, and quite possibly a bit of the Windows Live team. Windows Vista, while not a disaster for me personally, was one for multitudes of people. Office 2007, while having many excellent features, was a trainwreck for the power user (Outlook 2007, anyone? No thanks…). Where are all of these complete OS/cloud integration features from Windows Live? No where to be seen.

On the flips side, there are many teams at Microsoft who do an incredible job at listening to users. The Xbox and Xbox Live teams, absolutely the Zune team, and while they’re not heard from too often, the Microsoft Research teams. They all listen to what users want out of products, what features, whether software or hardware, would benefit to the end user, and begin using their brilliant development minds to follow through on those ideas. They have us, the geeks and user advocates, to literally translate what the average end-user wants to do or has frustrations with into language that Microsoft developers and technical users can understand.

One thing that made headlines today is that Microsoft Research has opened up the Singularity project to the public for SDK and RDK use, for 100% free. If you do not know, Singularity is a very small Operating System which runs its microkernel and processes as managed code. Not only that, but it’s written in the C# language. For the non-technical users, this means it’s a completely different operating system than anything else out there both in terms of its programming and the potential it has. What Microsoft Research has done with Singularity is create a virtually uncrashable operating system with insane performance. People have been begging Microsoft to release this to the public, to technical users and developers, for over a year now. They’re finally listening.

What does this mean? It means that they’re making progress. It means that technical users can use Singularity, get down into its core, and start making suggestions to the Singularity team of how they’d like to see it improved. It means that with Microsoft’s brilliance, and our end user input, we could potentially be involved in the planning stages for a next-generation Operating System from Microsoft. Now, I’m not saying that Singularity will be the base for the next version of Windows. The Singularity developers have already states that’s not its purpose. However, with input from the community, it very well could be the case that Singularity’s ideas make it into the next version of Windows, something that would significantly help us all.

Microsoft is making progress, no matter how slow it may be. Let’s just hope it’s not too slow.

Microsoft: Please listen to the community in all areas of your software development from the very planning stages. It will benefit the end user, and ultimately, it will benefit you as a company.