Pivot: the future of Internet Explorer?
Being a tech journalist, it’s easy to become disillusioned by technology. Mind you, being a person, it’s easy to become disillusioned by people – the trick, in both cases, is expectation management.
I stalk through the tech world warily, automatically translating every “revolutionary” to “uninspired” and every “magical” to “probably pointless” until proven otherwise. Contrary to accusations, I’m neither cynical, nor hard-bitten. I’m experienced. And, more importantly, still sane. Which is why I still throw up in my throat whenever journalists cheer at press conferences.
This tactic had served me well these past years, but even so the recent product launches from Google and Apple have managed to be underwhelming. The iPad is the answer to a question never asked, and offered few surprises beyond the ridiculous price tag. Buzz and Wave were comically inept and so badly implemented I’m beginning to wonder if Google isn't doing it on purpose to see how many times it has to kick the FTC before the privacy watchdog bites back.
Funnily enough, the only company getting it consistently right is Microsoft. Office Web Apps is shaping up nicely, Windows Phone 7 has a personality all its own and Windows 7 just works, unlike Vista – not so much an OS as a series of really bad ideas explored in painful detail. I’m still dubious about Internet Explorer 9. You can only judge a horse on the races run, which would make Microsoft’s next browser a three-legged mare with one eye and rabies, but otherwise the signs are positive.
I suspect, in the long run, Microsoft will look back at IE8, Vista and Windows Mobile 6 in the same way an alcoholic looks back at the bleach he drank when the wine ran out. Sometimes the bottom is the best place to discover the best path to the summit. However, what really gives me hope for Microsoft is that it finally appears to be looking forward, rather than happily playing catchup.
Case in point, Pivot. At first glance Pivot is a browser inspired by the sleek minimalism of Chrome. It’s a good looking thing, and worthy of discussion if only as a clue to the eventual direction of the IE9 user interface, or lack of. What really makes Pivot interesting though is the Collections feature – Microsoft’s attempt to rethink how we explore the huge amounts of data housed in websites.
It looks like this.
Each of these tiles represents a single site, or information gathered from multiple sites on a single topic, whether that's music, sports or history. At present Pivot includes 24 Collections built in collaboration with sites including Wikipedia and Sports Illustrated. However, anybody can create a collection using XML, though you'll need to transform all images included within the Collection into the Deep Zoom format.
We're going to take a look at the Dog Breeds Collection (this will also help put me in touch with my feminine side - which is handy because I haven't been able to get hold of it over telephone, email or carrier pigeon for the last thirty years).
This is a portion of the Dog Types Collection. The full Collection is much more extensive, but there isn't enough blog to do it justice. Now, imagine you're in the market for a dog - preferably one that will last longer than Ledley King's knees and have the good grace not to rip off your face the first time you're late with the Pedigree Chum. With this criteria in mind I hit the Grooming filter on the left, click that I want to do Very Little grooming, and instantly hundreds of canine candidates are culled from the page, leaving these lucky survivors.
Returning to the filter, I next deal with that pesky "not likely to kill me in my sleep" issue and the list is whittled down to:
Because Collections are built on Microsoft's Deep Zoom technology, which allows you to ... erm... zoom deeply into a page, I can now roll the mouse and zoom smoothly into the pictures and pick the dog on the only criteria that ever really mattered: cuteness. Leaving me with:
I shall call him Bob. Bob the beagle.
Pivot really is a lovely way to wade through information, and more importantly displays a flair and confidence that suggests bright things from Microsoft in the future. We've heard a lot about IE9's performance, but very little about new features or the user interface and it'll be interesting to see whether Pivot is pointing the way, or merely Microsoft playing about. Either way, I walk away from it with my faith renewed - which is worth a dozen dismal press conferences any day.