Google ferries folks all over the Bay Area on swank, uncrowded buses that relay in cell data signals for Wi-Fi access; Microsoft joins in around Seattle: Microsoft, the laggard on search, Web 2.0 applications, and many other areas (but don't let that fool you--remember "The Sleeping Giant Has Awoken") now joins Google and other firms in providing shuttle buses for employees to reduce their commuting time in the greater Seattle area, and, more importantly, increase their viable working hours. Todd Bishop of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports from a briefing this morning that Microsoft will start with as many as 1,000 employees later this month on buses that also include Internet access.
Microsoft has long been a leader in commuter programs, which has made it doubly strange during a period of slack stock growth and employee-filching by other firms that they didn't up the most useful of all things in their workers' lives: time. I live right near the western end of State Route 520, the floating bridge that goes straight to Microsoft's various Redmond offices, and I know plenty of 'Softies who live in my neighborhood and further west. Adding commuter-Fi--along with electrical outlets at each seat--ensures happier employees and more productive hours. There are no dedicated bus lanes on 520, but there are HOV lanes heading west for several miles east of the bridge. That means that afternoon return commuters to Seattle could see 20 to 40 minutes shaved off that trip in which they aren't behind a wheel. Seven of the 14 coaches will have bike storage, too, to encourage fully car-free multi-modal transit.
The company is also putting offices in Seattle, its first substantial footprint in my fair city, despite being called "Seattle-based Microsoft" for all these years. They'll have space in South Lake Union leased from Paul Allen, where a street car is going in (street-car-Fi?), some space near the Amtrak/Sounder station (train-Fi?), and in Pioneer Square, a few blocks from the ferry dock (there is, in fact, ferry-Fi).
What remains to be seen is if Microsoft will tap Seattle-based Junxion for their cell router on the buses. (Junxion really is in Seattle; I just biked by their office on the way to my office.) Update: Bishop confirmed Junxion was tapped. Junxion's gear was designed to be used in large-scale deployments, with back-end administrative tools (Field Commander) that allow a single IT person to control configuration and handle updates. Even better for buses: the latest release of their Junxion Box firmware supports the GPS features in the Novatel 720 card. That means that Microsoft could provide real-time tracking of buses via that feature to their employees wondering when the bus would arrive. Of course, the employee might need to use an...iPhone to access a Web page with that detail while waiting at the coffeeshop.