Saturday, October 23, 2004

Is it wrong to want to kiss Joel Spolsky?

I just wanna grab Joel
face with both hands, yank him close, and give him a full-on
Bugs Bunny Mmwm-Mmwm-Mmwm-Mmmmwha! kiss right on the

Joel: I think we're seeing a shift in power,
a resurgence of the old guard. With the growth that Microsoft's had in the
past decade, the culture had changed. It became the culture of the latest
and greatest and re-invent everything.

If I were Bill (Gates), I
think I'd fire about three quarters of the people working on that
(the presentation system). Not because they are incompetent. But because
there are too many people creating too many

(Bold mine; from href=",1995,1681934,00.asp">A
Q&A With Joel on (Microsoft) Software)


Thursday, October 21, 2004

Microsoft's Financial Horizon

Let's have some chart fun courtesy of Yahoo financial charts (not
pretty, but the data is there)
... first, just looking at share price
increase, it's MSFT vs. GOOG:

alt="Chart of Google shooting off like a rocket." />

Ka-Pow! (Well,
at least of this writing; the charts are live and all of this text might
make zero sense relative to current financial trends color="#000080">[that would be nice].)
Okay, the next contender:

alt="Chart of Apple shooting off since September..." />

I really don't
like being the horizon here in both cases. Now then, of course we're
bringing in billions $USD while Google is in the millions. But they have
momentum and their stock is going in a direction I'm damn well envious of.
And Apple? Well, they are All That right now, aren't they, grooving
silhouettes and all. During a special meeting with BillG & SteveB a
while back, one of the Microsofties posed a concerned question about Apple
and what we're doing to compete against their cool iPod this and iTunes
that. BillG did a great reality check by observing, color="#000080">"Well, I wouldn't want to swap places with
Apple." True. But, still... return on investment is looking
pretty sweet right now. I'd swap that!

So Microsoft's earnings for Q1 of FY05 looks solid from the results
perspective, but the future is not enthusing analysts.  From one href="">report:
(bold mine)

Analyst Jamie Friedman with Fulcrum Global
Partners said the company's quarterly numbers looked fairly strong overall.
But he said Wall Street would likely be concerned about the company's
unearned revenue figures.

Those numbers, which reflect contracts that
are signed but not entirely recognizable as revenue immediately, declined
more sharply than he expected. That raises concerns the company doesn't have
a major new product available to lure corporate customers into renewing
long-term contracts.

Microsoft doesn't expect to ship a new version
of its dominant Windows operating system until 2006, and the next big
upgrade for its server product isn't expected until

"The company looks like it needs products," he

But Friedman also praised Microsoft for cutting costs,
something executives have pledged to do as the years of explosive growth in
the technology industry have waned.

Hell yeah, we need
products. We need products real bad.

2006? Are we to wait until then
to see the stock potentially move up in reaction to our ongoing Longhorn
salvage operation? If you had to guess what the market's reaction is going
to be to the next version of Windows when we finally, finally manage to give
it the bums' rush, what would it be? My guess: zero reaction. What are we
putting in there that is going to excite the user / analyst? Better
security, more stability? Dude, are you telling me what I just bought from
you is insecure and broken? And you want me to pay you to make it

All these technical improvements we meaningfully expound upon
might make your everyday IT guy's nipples harden (mmm, USB-drive
, but the analysts and consumers just hear

And as for praising our cost cutting, I guess that praise would fall a
little short if details were provided regarding how we're reaching our href="
-to.html">$1,000,000,000 goal for FY05. It would look like a dance
around the obvious: the best way to cut costs is to cut staff. Especially a
lot of the dead wood filling the offices. Cuts now would invigorate the
company, and enthuse the analysts about Microsoft's future.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Microsoft Reaching out to Google

So right now, Google is rekindling the fires of wicked competition in
Microsoft. Microsoft's response to Google was the focus of questions and
angst during the Microsoft Company Meeting. We recently held an MSN Search
Champs evangelical NDA meeting to start sowing the seeds of nodding
consensus for when we manage to start shipping our search solutions.

But what if we went and partnered with Google?

Or at least, stepped
back, slapped them on their corporate butt, and said, color="#000080">"Alright then, go get 'em, Tiger! Tell us what you

I was ambling through the forest recently thinking about this, especially
given Dare's comment to the href="">Googl
e Desktop post:

Responses like this is why Microsoft
will continue to engage in misguided efforts. I don't see why the fact
Google is actually fixing our crappy OS search feature is taken as
competition instead of symbiosis. After the billions of dollars the company
spent on IE (I'm including lawsuit payouts) does the fact that the Web
browser most people use is named "Internet Explorer" not
"Netscape Navigator" really make a multi-billion dollar difference
our bottom line? Here we go again...

What if BillG called up the Google Boys and said, color="#000080">"Let's work together." Eh-yeah, I don't see
that happening either. However, I know people who work at Google now (in
the past few months especially!)
. You probably know folks who work
there, too. Right now we're at a fork in the road as to how we'll respond to
Google, and one way is to team up with them for something productive that
will benefit our users big-time.

Should we take the reigns of this relationship into our own hands and
say, "No!" to frenzied
We-can-do-better-Now-that-we-see-What-we-must-do'ism? Do any of you
remember the Marc
photocopies with his dork-ass quotes plastered around the IE
hallways back in the 1990s? That "motivational" atmosphere wasn't
too cool. Let's not repeat that. Great software is not forged out of
pissed-off anger and fear.

I'm going to drop some emails off over the
next few weeks, asking my Nooglers how Microsoft can do better to support
Google and try to sow some different seeds.

(And all of this jives nicely with my deepest desire: one reason we can
compete with such blood-thirsty frenzy right now is that we have way too
many employees. Most are under-utilized in money loosing endeavors. But,
when a building threat like this arises they are just resources repositioned
with new competitive goals. If we had less people underutilized that were so
easily redeployed, we would be a leaner, meaner, and smarter organization.
We would also develop strategic alliances and not feel that Microsoft had to
do it all in one big entangled, mediocre mess.)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Citizen Microsoft Follow-Up

A follow-up to href="
soft.html">Riffin' with Reifman: there's a follow-up discussion on the
Citizen Microsoft article here:


As with the previous
article, the follow-up (to me) is even more interesting than the
original article. Good read.

Goodbye Cans, Hello Dispenser

(Imagine this post with a low-priority designation :-)

I was
across campus recently having lunch and I saw it: a fountain drink

The time has come! Goodbye canned drinks!

And while I
waited and waited for my grilled burger (those poor understaffed grill
guys were bustin'-A)
, not a single person grabbed an orange cup to get
themselves some ice and soda. I noticed that cans matching the dispenser
choices (Coke, Diet Coke, etc) were no longer available. So I had my
first canned Vanilla Coke in a long-long time.

Everyone else just
grabbed cans for their lunch-time drink, too. Now perhaps it's because the
fountain is new and folks just aren't used to them yet, but given that the
fountain drinks only cover some of the wondrous canned selection we have
now, I imagine most folks will just find new canned drinks and eschew the
dispenser. Plus, I've got to admit I'm not the most dexterous person in the
world, and balancing my work, my lunch, and a orange cup all at once is just
a mix for sticky-floor disaster.

Fountain drink dispensers of course
don't mix up the same goodness of the badness in the can. They are
cantankerous and prone to bad calibration (oh, the temptation to adjust
the mix)
and messy problems. So I think we're preparing to blow more
money to install and maintain a bad idea that, pivoted one way, looks
brilliant and has a high profile We're Doing Something to Save Microsoft
Where will that person be when things go wrong?

So just how
far are we towards that $1,000,000,000 goal we have this year? Knock off 5% of the staff.
Keep the cans.

Ka-Pow! The Google Desktop.

A shot across the bow today! Forget Project Green, the href="">Google Desktop search engine is

This is probably a relief to some Microsofties. It is to

Again, we won the Feature Wars of the 1980s & 90s. Come 2K we
just sort of looked at each other and didn't know what to do. How do you
compete with Linux? They are copying your app features into Open Source.
Can't compete feature-by-feature there.

So we went and started the
Next Version of Windows. And that's gone on and on. Oh, and another version
of Office came out to the delight of... well, I'm not sure just who the next
version of Office delighted. Outlook looked prettier and Word had a new
irritating reading view feature I had to figure how to shut off. Other than
that... eh.

So the relief comes in that we finally (finally!) have a
worthy opponent shipping code in a feature war. We know how to win

While the competition will be interesting to watch, I hope that
folks do take a chance to ponder as to why our environment is so strangled
that focus and resolution only comes from fear of losing when the competitor
is gaining ground.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

When Microsoft Should Walk Away

Question in a comment:

I dont work for Microsoft and I
have no love for the company but I have to ask this question: You basically
seem to suggest shutting down all money losing projects. However, surely
aren't these the results of the management's efforts to diversify? I would
think that MS would need to subsidize all kinds of nonremunerative projects
in order to get at least one that might strike it big.

do need to expand into other markets. Otherwise, we'd be perpetually stuck
with Windows and Office bringing in just about all of our profit
(hmm). However, Windows and Office revenue provides one hell of a
slush-fund for divisions with sloppy management dressed up like innovators
dealing with a dilemma.

If something is a good idea, it will take and
establish itself and be able to support itself. If something is a bad idea,
it should die on the vine after due process and let these people move-on
(preferably, move-on to other companies).

For instance: our
recent acquisitions have pretty much gone badly (where badly is defined as
not turning a profit). The two good kind of acquisitions:

  1. Source
    code because it's a great product and
  2. HR because the people are so
    great (product secondary or ignored [LookOut]).

rarely rarely works is #3: people and product. That company succeeded
because of their unique development environment and personalities. Now that
environment is gone and they are forced to develop the Microsoft Way.
They've been blue bagded. And slowly the greatness that was their product
has the life drained out of it and it becomes less and less relevant (e.g.,
Great Plains).  These acquisitions are where we should have been
spending money to have great partnerships and not blow a bunch of cash and
fritter away a product just to feel we have a market segment

To succeed, we need to be quick and nimble and not continuing
to pull the plow in a dead, sterile field being sowed with the best seed in
the world. So yes, let's try expansion and if it takes off, relish in our
success and make heaps of money from delighted customers. If it is a bad
idea or a rapidly declining market, don't be stubborn and try through sheer
will to manifest success. Walk away.

Most importantly: reward success.
Reward profit.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

http://career/ and Your Dream Job.

How to spend a little extra time today when you're not being inspired by
our customers' passion to create software to help them reach it?

visit http://career/ .

Take a moment to
try some sample searches and see what you come up with. See what kind of
open positions there are around the various Microsoft business groups
(and marvel at how long some have been open).

Now: what would
your dream job be at Microsoft? Put a query together and see what the search
results are. Whether there are matches or not, go ahead and save this job
agent to send you daily updates should there ever be a new opening. And if
you have lots of different dream jobs, go ahead and create some more job

And when you get a match, just remember: you don't need
permission to go over and do an informational. Wander on over and talk to
the group and find out about their job and see if you'd be a good match and
if their group would be a good match for you. Perhaps do a search off of href="http://msweb/">http://msweb/ first to find their SharePoint site
and read through their specs and schedule. In the end, it might be a good
match and a good time to get interview permission. The perfect job might be
one search agent away!

Also think about the timing: for those casting
an eye at getting good results for their major review come next summer, now
is the best time to switch groups so that you have enough time to contribute
and excel relative to your peers. The longer the wait, the harder it will be
to get a great review score without an established record in your new

Now, why do I care? While I'd love to have negative employee
growth via fiscally responsible cut-backs and layoffs, I'm happy right now
if we can hold the line at a zero-sum gain. It's much better for you to move
internally and prevent an external hire from coming in (and either we can
play a shell game to cover your departing or that head can just go
unfulfilled as groups find their staffing needs cut back further and

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Riffin with Reifman - Citizen Microsoft

Jeff Reifman (a former Microsoftie) has a new article about Microsoft
that doesn't make any Microsoftie flush with pride: href="">
Citizen Microsoft. Here I've been squawking about how we're turning into
IBM. Even worse, we might be turning into Boeing.

One interesting bit
from the article (bold mine):

In May, Microsoft announced
$80 million in cuts to employee benefits. When employees asked why the
company couldn't dip into huge cash reserves instead, Ballmer, in a July
memo, brushed them off: "The cash is shareholders' money, so we need to
either invest in new opportunities or return it to them." Historically,
Microsoft's generous benefits and employee stock options have been pretty
good for shareholders, too. The company might one day regret Ballmer's
pound-foolish approach to morale.
But according to Ballmer, Microsoft
needed to be "prudent now so we avoid severe measures
." Later in July, Ballmer announced plans for the $75 billion
stock dividend for shareholders, the payout of which will be worth nearly
1,000 times as much as the employee benefits that were to be cut. So much
for prudence.

In another blow to employees and the Seattle economy,
Microsoft is investing in a new technology center in Hyderabad, India. As
hiring in metropolitan Puget Sound slows, the company is preparing to ramp
up in India, where it can save as much as 70 percent on labor costs. Yet,
according to Marcus Courtney, organizer of WashTech, a union for technology
workers, there's an oversupply of labor locally. "Microsoft made those
profits off our universities and our infrastructure. They have an obligation
to us," he says.

(SteveB: it's time for severe
now. First, fire all upper management that have been directly
responsible for slipped schedules and bad products. It's okay: they've got
enough riches to live on and we don't need that much expertise on How
to Fail. Next, optimize for profit by cutting loose all the products with
losses and zero-chance of brining in profit during the next

There are several threads in Reifman's article, winding along
to how an amoral corporation will make unhealthy decisions, and noting one
of Google's principles is "Don't be evil." But Google has the
luxury of having a clean slate (well, except for all of that censoring
they quickly buckle to - perhaps they are the worst evil of all: complicit
. Microsofties, at least traditionally, have been very hands on
and involved in a higher purpose for the company. Yet the lawsuits and
out-right dumb monopolistic behavior puts us in way too deep a moralistic
hole to endeavor to higher purpose.

It would be interesting to see if
the shift from employee hands-on attention to where we are now correlated
with some of the slimier practices Reifman details in his article. We took
the eye of the ball and things went from bad to worse.

Note that
Reifman also has a href="">blog entry
about the article, should you want to comment.

And wrapping up
Riffin' with Reifman, I want to point out his earlier Seattle Weekly
article: href="">
Microsoft's Sacred Cash Cow. If you read it, you'll certainly find a lot
of the stuff here resonates with that article and the general discomfort
with Microsoft's recent accomplishments and foreseeable dithering. An even
better exchange is in his href="">follow-up blog
entry to the Cash Cow article.

Microsoft Giving Campaign 2004

The Microsoft Giving Campaign 2004 kicks off Monday, October 4th.

love the Giving Campaign (and Microsoft's matching-gift policy), but it has
the potential to become the inadvertent victim to the meandering
accomplishments of Microsoft as of late due to employee ill will. Perhaps it
is our canary in the coalmine when taking the true pulse of Microsofties:
lots of giving when things are going well and we're sharing our abundance.
Flat giving and missed goals when things aren't going so great at One
Microsoft Way.

We missed last year's goal even after the deadline was
pushed out and we endured direct cajoling from BillG.

Did upper
management bother to take something away from that? From what I've heard,
what they've taken away is that this year's giving isn't going to have a
real big deal made about. Maybe some banners. An email.

It's too bad
that there's potential for all of us fortunate people not to be, well,
giving of ourselves as we observe farces of cost-cutting around us
(I guess they dropped Dilbert from MicroNews because it was becoming
. God awful wastes of money from misdirection and the lack of
accountability does make you seriously wonder about whether you need to
start playing the ant and
build up some cash reserves of your own to weather the future vs. sharing
with the greater community.

I hope I'm wrong about ill feelings
towards Microsoft impairing our Giving Campaign. I hope we hit the top of
the bell for this year's goal. But until we slim down and re-energize our
company, I think we'll see mediocre giving to match mediocre leadership