About the time Bill Gates was hobnobbing with Queen Elizabeth in recent days, Martha Stewart was packing her duffel bag for the flight from a West Virginia prison to her New York home. Now that their schedules are freed up, they might want to talk business.
What about? Nothing less than a Martha Stewart-branded version of Windows. Sales of Microsoft's desktop operating system are limping along at single-digit rates, and some marketing experts think Stewart's star power is brighter than ever. Imagine a combination of the two.
The visual background on PCs is called wallpaper; no one knows more about wallpaper than Martha. The central processor inside is a computer is the chip. Forget silicon, think blue corn, and you see where I'm going. Desktop applications become the Office Sweet. Need a server computer, also called a host? Martha knows more about serving and hosting than all of Microsoft's programmers combined. Windows' blue screen of death gets transformed into a lavender screen that bids adieu.
Microsoft has tried PCs with personality before, and failed. In the mid 1990's there was "Bob," an interface intended to make computers more user friendly for novices. But Bob was a bomb, a clumsy type who wouldn't get invited to many parties. Marthasoft would be different. Not a cartoon face like Bob, but a well-appointed PC designed for people whose tastes rise above bouncing-object screen savers.
It's already possible to choose a purple flower or rhododendron from Windows XP's display options. What I'm talking about is taking that concept further and mixing it with some fresh ingredients. Want to prepare Cornish game hen with broccoli rabe? A convenient "Recipes" icon on the PC would be there to help. For E-mail, you'd be able to choose from a spring motif signature in April, a steaming cup of hot cocoa in December.
Coincidentally, and luckily if they like the idea, I know where Gates and Stewart will be over the next few days, so the details can be worked out. On March 8, Gates will be in San Francisco to launch Microsoft's new real-time collaboration products. Stewart, unfortunately, won't be venturing far from her New York home for the next few months, thanks to an ankle bracelet she's wearing. Let's just say that her experience with security might be useful to Microsoft, too.
At the upcoming product launch, and I'm completely serious here, Gates will be joined by none other than Mark Burnett, the producer of a new TV series to be called The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, modeled after the hit show featuring Donald Trump. Burnett will participate from Los Angeles to demonstrate Microsoft's Live Meeting Web-conferencing service in action. A New York link is planned, too, though a Microsoft spokeswoman says Stewart won't be part of the program.
The next day, Gates is scheduled to speak at Microsoft's Convergence conference in San Diego, where he'll outline Microsoft's strategy in the business-applications market. Microsoft has an ambitious, long-term project to develop a next generation of business applications that will work with unprecedented ease on Windows computers.
The code name for those applications is "Project Green." Stewart, of course, is an avid gardener. Maybe she and Gates are already talking.