Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spitfire Backfire, Live Labs, and Not My 1,400

Here's a quick post before next Thursday's quarterly results. Given the layoffs in the last quarterly results I know there is some increased anxiety about any additional cost cutting Mr. Ballmer might be ready to unleash, like more staff reductions or, you know, "Hey congratulations on entering RC and all. Now... about that next release and, well, you specifically..."

Mr. Joseph Tartakoff over at paidContent has a post around further reductions: Microsoft Still On Track To Cut Another 3,600 Jobs.

Contrition time for me: last post I shared how amazed I was that everyone in the 1,400 that I knew or that were in my extended network got rehired. Pretty much the feedback I heard here and on Twitter was, "Wow, you're one lousy sample set," because a number of you are either in the non-presently-Microsoftie 1,400 or know plenty of people in that pool.

I wish I could blame it on drinking too much at Spitfire but, (1) it wasn't opened yet, and (2) it will never be opened thanks to the brazenly stupid idea to have it planned and ready to go for what seems like the better part of a year and then three days before it was to open, Microsoft yanks the rug out from under Spitfire and thirsty Microsoftie patrons.

You know, if upfront the Senior Leadership Team had decided that a bar was an interesting idea but didn't make sense for Microsoft I would have just shrugged and scooted over to a Mustard Seed, had I even heard of the idea. But to have this set up for so long with curious expectations building in Redmond and then to have a last minute revelation and cancelling Spitfire really calls into question basic judgment and execution abilities.

So-- what, what's that? Hmm, checking in over at the Bring Spitfire back to Microsoft Facebook group ( it appears Spitfire is on track to open at the end of the month? From Jonathan Sposato:

thx for everyone's support! OK there's GOOD NEWS today; the spitfire has reached an agreement in principal with msft to open on the west commons campus later this month : ) over the last few days, both parties re-engaged and worked creatively to find a way to deliver on a great spitfire experience on campus.

('scuse me while I tweet that.) Great! Allow me to raise a glass. Now I'm vaguely curious to know about all the soap-opera court-intrigue going on behind the scenes here. And I can cancel my idea for a BYOB + Towel Commons protest.

Update: well, not so fast, you twittering fool. Looks like the compromise is pretty extreme, in that drinks will only be served for scheduled special events. Hmm. More by Mr. Todd Bishop here: Microsoft revives Spitfire pub under compromise arrangement.

One last thing: Live Labs recently restructured, with some projects going forward and others getting the axe and the researchers being repurposed into groups like Mobile and Search. I've only had superficial dealings with Live Labs folks and I found them very refreshing compared to other teams in research I had planned with: a sort of practicality that was uncommon. To add a few more words here, we'll end with a special guest writer reflection on the recent Live Labs happenings:

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is downsizing its high-profile Live Labs group, which was created three years ago to speed up innovation in the company’s online business, has learned. -- Joseph Tartakoff, Microsoft breaks up its Live Labs group, 2009

Microsoft describes it as a "restructuring". About half of the team will be moved to various product groups. The remaining half, still run by former Overture/Yahoo star Gary Flake, will focus on search, data organization and user experience aspects. There's more information in articles by Mary Jo Foley on ZD Net, Ina Fried on CNET, and Gavin Clarke in The Register.

Contrary to recent whispers and tweets, we are not shutting down, disbanding, dismantling, or anything of the sort. In the coming weeks and months we'll bring you updated developer tools, new ways to use Seadragon, and much more. Going forward, we intend to focus on a smaller number of projects relative to what we've done in the past, but invest in them at a much bigger scale. -- What's next for Live Labs, on the Live Labs blog

Mary Jo comments that "Microsoft execs often touted Live Labs as proof that Microsoft is an innovator, not just a follower," and there's no question that the acquisition of Seadragon and merging it with Microsoft Research technologies has a chance to be transformational. Photosynth is an encouraging start, and there's a lot more to build on. A tighter focus and bigger bets could be a good thing here. On the other hand, Live Labs was also supposed to be a company-wide (or at least Windows Live/MSN-wide) innovation center. Gary's 2006 Live Labs Manifesto and coverage at the time like Ina Fried's captures the original vision: bridging the gap between research and the product groups and revitalizing how software is developed. This was always going to be a tough sell, with senior executives like Steven Sinfosky firmly against the idea of a separate innovation group outside of their control. The restructuring seems to throw in the towel on this front. And Microsoft spokeswoman's Stacy Drake McCredy's comments in are somewhat alarming:

Economic conditions are imposing constraints that challenge the original Live Labs model by diminishing the group’s ability to transfer innovations to business groups who’re understandably giving priority to “needs” vs. “opportunities.”

Well yeah, it is understandable. But what this is saying that Microsoft product groups aren't in a situation where they can take advantage of opportunities. It's really hard to see that as a recipe for long-term success.

Administrivia: The Cutting Room Floor is unmoderated and folks have been pleading for me to shut down the red-hot discussions over there. I moderate here - when I can manage - to keep things on track. If the CRF can be the crazy diatribe magnet and that makes moderation here all that more easy: fan-damn-tastic.

CRF: Unmoderated thread for "Spitfire Backfire, Live Labs, and Not My 1,400"

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