I have never been a fan of Microsoft, their approach to software, their “squash the little guy” business practices or their design and interface choices.
Just a personal point of view, of course, but I think their years of market dominance in computer operating systems and their huge corporate bureaucracy have made them complacent and arrogant, leading to the “you’ll use it this way because we said so” approach to design; (and the joke: “Q: How many Microsoft engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: None; they just declare darkness the standard.”)
Granted, I have yet to check out Expression, their new graphics and design production suite, which is based on Creature House Expression, a vector based “Natural Media” drawing tool originally form Creature House and Fractal Design that I liked very much; but the fact that Microsoft’s Expression promotional page doesn’t even display correctly in Firefox for Mac doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm.
I do try to keep my eye out, though, and once in a while interesting things do come out of Redmond (Microsoft Surface, for example), and occasionally, they pull out a cool piece of design or animation.
ZuneJourney.net is an interactive promotional site for Microsoft’s Zune media player, which has received less than overwhelming acceptance in the market dominated by Apple’s iPod. The site is largely composed of a fun Flash based animation that you drill into by holding your mouse down in the center of the scene.
You thus appear to move through a tunnel-effect tour of a series of animated scenes, in a way quite reminiscent of The Zoomquilt (originality doesn’t seem to be one of Microsoft’s strong points either).
Original or not, the result is a fun visual amusement, lots of colorful screens and a nice bit of interaction. Moving your mouse away from the center of the screen reverses the process and you appear to move backward, with the images receding instead of advancing toward you.
This is the kind of animation that Flash does well, and points out one of the advantages of the scalability of vector graphics, an image format that still doesn’t have native support in the major browsers (they let the Flash plug-in handle it).
Unfortunately (for Microsoft), the informational component of the site, presumably its purpose, is minimal and not easily accessible; pointing out once again that good design is less about how things look than how they work.