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.

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