Thursday, September 10, 2009

Quick Thoughts on the Microsoft 2009 Company Meeting

Some quick comments on this year's Microsoft 2009 Company Meeting.

First, how did my six hopes for the Company Meeting hold up?

  1. Steve Ballmer comes out first to set the context for the meeting in light of a pretty awful FY09 Q3 and Q4: Zilch.
  2. Practical vision: well, Craig and Ray did seem to focus on the practical aspects of product groups, research, and inbetween the technology transferring power of the labs groups. Seemed practical. But then there was that whole Avatar assistant thing that no one around me felt like was real: one-half.
  3. Demos are short, sweet, powerful... sorry, but Elop's demos sucked the life out of entire stadium. Some were good, and some were really really short. So: one-half.
  4. Show us the new stuff. Hey, we did get to see some new stuff. Bing. Zune HD. Map goodness. No Halo. New ad cuteness. But it was still conservative. Hmm. How about: three-quarters realized.
  5. New simple review system? Phffft. Not unless thwacking balls w/ your avatar is our new review system. 160 for that. Zero for this.
  6. Serious wrap-up by Ballmer. Zero.

Add that up and we get 1.75/6.00 - hey, almost one-third realized.

Now, I'm not going to go into revealing anything all that interesting that happened in the meeting. Just my general impressions of the day.

Kevin Turner was first and, well, I'm kind of tired of the "ThankYou"s by now. He did take on the job of addressing the tough year and I believe he said some things that really surprised me. Growth hides mediocrity being one of them. That we over hired. Sure we all thought it, too, but to now go and put on the 20/20 glasses and speak it in front of the company gives me hope (hmm, need a new word) that it won't happen again. Same with the realization that you shouldn't start up doing work in good-times that you know you'd drop and cut during bad times.

Dr. Qi Lu might be my favorite techie right now. I was impressed with what he's brought together for Bing and what's coming and how he has focused the team and adopted some of the new technology that Satya was showing. Who the hell thought we'd be feeling so good about our search decision engine? Ever?

Elop. Steven. Baby. Dynamics. XRM. Really? What did I do to you to have that forced down my eyeballs? I'm pouring another glass of wine right now hoping I can kill whatever brain cells are still connecting this demo memory together. Geez. Did anyone give you advice that this was a bad idea? If so, keep listening to them. If not, you're seriously lacking good reports willing to give you honest feedback.

Robbie Bach did okay, but I can't say the demos blew me away. The table-top demos were full of slick sparkly presentation but... it was all stuff I've seen one way or another so nothing new there. He missed a golden opportunity for Microsoft-Fan-Boy love to go and have someone play Halo:ODST on stage or show some great Zune HD apps.

Bob Muglia. What did he talk about? I remember the real cool tech for traces and then WinDiff. Did he talk about how we're losing the edge on client development for Windows and how it's all a confused multi-SDK technology mess centered around everything being .NET based?

Sinofsky went pretty fast - when in doubt, load up the stage with a bunch of new, cool technology and play with it. I loved the reveal on the Mac Air case ("It's aluminum!"). And I think Steven gets the best line for when the train let loose its blaring whistle he said something along, "This is where someone mentions about the trains running on time."

Craig and Ray: it was nice that they switched up their presentations - that added some energy. But not enough. It seemed a lot more practical this year, other than what I mentioned previously about the whole very well staged Starfire demo. I hadn't seen that in like... over ten years.

And then Steve Ballmer. I've got say, at this point in the day I was pretty much in a "Where's mai KoolAid" funk until Mr. Ballmer came on stage and started presenting. I feel this is a big transitional year for Microsoft. I've said we've turned the corner, but that doesn't mean we're out of the bad neighborhood yet, nor are we incapable of making bad decisions all over again. The second half of FY09, and what we are still enduring as part of the economic crisis, has provided a certain level of alarmingly crisp clarity to refocus, and I believe Ballmer's presentation served for about as much focus we're going to see in the near term.

And I like how he ended his presentation. How do we feel? He reflected on how Microsoft is not a normal company and that its employees have an unnatural emotional attachment to it (yep, that's true - it can cause them to have all sorts of crazy reactions and do crazy, passionate things). How do you feel? Steve, well, he wants you to feel good about where we are, what we're doing, and where we're going.

I must feel good, because I have hope.

(Oh, by-the-way, if you see Mr. Ballmer walking your way: hide you iPhone. Trust me on that one.)

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