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Microsoft Baby Boomers Go After Teen Market

Next week, Microsoft will release new communications software aimed at teenagers that the company hopes will make it more hip and relevant to the "NetGen," those in the 13-24 age range. The software, dubbed 3 Degrees, isn't a boy band, though it sounds like one, and it certainly isn't about productivity, though the "Newsweek" article that first reported on the software seems to think this is Microsoft's first attempt at non-productive software (I guess that publication has never heard of Microsoft Games, the Xbox, or its vast digital media lineup). Instead, 3 Degrees is for people who treat the Internet like oxygen--they're online as long as possible each day--and they want to interact with their friends constantly, in a seamless manner.

Here's how it works. 3 Degrees presents a desktop image that represents your group of friends (or "posse" if you're the cool and hip "Newsweek"). To send a digital photo to all your friends in the group, just drag the file onto of the desktop image. Want to send a virtual wink or a quick instant message-like note? Simply click the image and select the appropriate choice. You can also contribute songs to a shared music playlist, set up multiple groups, and customize it all with a variety of skins. Who needs to actually meet with friends physically when you have 3 Degrees?

But seriously folks, the most interesting aspect of 3 Degrees isn't the technology, which is fairly obviously based on Windows Messenger, but rather Microsoft's attempt to market how hip it can be. In the breathless "Newsweek" article (written, curiously, by Macintosh fan-boy Steven Levy), we learn that the company took the amusing tact of recruiting recent graduates of Harvard, Princeton and other schools because, you know, who knows know teenagers better than Ivy Leaguers? Levy--and Microsoft, interestingly--wonders that the company would trust such an important project to such young people, apparently forgetting that the average age of a Microsoft developer was about 25 years old a decade ago when the company was marching to market domination. Still, aging Microsoft executives had to be convinced that 3 Degrees made sense for the company, since Microsoft won't charge for the software or service. In the end, I'm sure there's a PowerPoint slide out there somewhere that mentions the same strategy that made Internet Explorer popular will work here, too. After all, free sells.

3 Degrees, incidentally, was hatched during a 3-day mountain retreat, in case you're still not convinced these guys understand the kids that will use their software. I don't pretend to understand teenagers myself--heck, I'm closer to having kids that age than being one myself--but maybe I'd feel better about this software if it was started in a shopping mall, with the cooperation of the kids that will actually use it. Time will tell, of course. A beta version of 3 Degrees will ship the week of February 24, Microsoft tells me.

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