What do 90,000 Microsoft Employees do all day?

I saw this article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about how Microsoft added another 11,200 employees this year and I was a bit dumbfounded. What are all those people doing? How could Microsoft expect to maintain quality hiring standards continuing to grow at that rate? Why on earth would someone want to join a company that was so large that you were guaranteed that your best hope would be to rise to middle-management. Companies with 90,000 employees don’t attract aggressive and creative folk who want to make a difference. They attract people who want a steady paycheck and job security, the risk-adverse. The risk-adverse don’t make good products, or push boundaries. They follow trends, they don’t create them (at least not on company time).

on a side note:

That article lead me to MSFTextrememakeover which had this awesome mega-post about everything that is wrong with Microsoft since 2000. Unfortunately, it was the last post

So it’s time for me to listen to the fat lady who has been singing for years now, and finally pull the plug. I can’t keep waiting another 11 years for MSFT’s leadership to deliver the returns that say AAPL’s have in just the past 12 months, despite struggling (and that’s on top of 2000+% this decade). I’m also increasingly concerned that under this leadership team the long-term flatline will eventually be resolved to the downside versus the up, with all the implications for additional shareholder value destruction that implies.

I’ll miss the insights from you MSFTem!

Why Live Mesh will fail

When I first heard about Live Mesh, I was underwhelmed. I kept hearing that this was a game-changer, but I really didn’t see why. Today, I decided to figure out what the fuss was about, so I went to TechMeme to track down some of the better resources to start from. I read Ray Ozzie’s memo, I read the LiveMesh blog, and about a dozen other articles. I’m still having a hard time seeing this as revolutionary. Other services exist which have most of the same pieces. Where Mesh is different is the possible reach that Microsoft could give it. It is that reach that which is required to make it successful where others have failed. However, that reach coming from Microsoft is the Achilles heel for the technology. The Forbes article covers this aspect:

In the past, Microsoft has “literally tried to own the platform and standard, and so forced the industry to adopt [its technologies],” says Alex Barnett, vice president of community at Web application-development platform host Bungee Labs. “Ray Ozzie’s been working with community in a non-commercial, open-standards way to solve this problem at the industry level.”

It will take weeks–maybe months–for developers to grasp all that Mesh is capable of, predicts Barnett. And for it to be successful, Microsoft has to continue to engage with the community. If the program morphs into a Microsoft standard–instead of a Web standard–support will fall away, he adds.

Mesh may have been developed in a clean room environment, safe from the Microsoft innovation anti-bodies, but now that it is in the open, those anti-bodies will be attacking this from every direction. How excited will the Windows Mobile team be when you can sync your iPhone from LiveMesh. What will the Windows team think about the Linux client? They will all come at this team and Ray Ozzie may not be able to protect the Mesh group from the revenue engines. Every group at Microsoft will want to make sure that their user’s experience with Mesh is better than their competitors at which point the users and 3rd party developers will run away in droves.

Mesh is a service. A Microsoft service. How eager will developers be to put their eggs in Microsoft’s basket? Microsoft has a long history on screwing over developers with its technologies. Through aggressive marketing (ie: paying developers off a la Silverlight) and active hand-holding, Microsoft may get some bigger fish to swim in their pond. The little fish will be scared for the day that MS decides to eat them and they’ll be harder to get on-board.

For Microsoft to be successful with Mesh, they’ll need to get the independent web developers in their camp. This group is one of the least supportive of Microsoft. Microsoft has never made inroads with web developers outside of corporate IT departments. I’m sure that there are some great web start-ups based on Microsoft technologies, but I’m having a hard time thinking of one.

Live Mesh’s success requires Microsoft to be really good at a lot of things it has always been bad at: open standards, engaging the larger community, giving up control, having user trust, and enriching competitive platforms.

I believe that Ray Ozzie and the Mesh team may really want to do the right things for the right reason. The question will be if they can get escape velocity from a corporate culture which is against all those things. It will be a good test for us on the outside for judging Microsoft in the future. In the post-Bill era, is Microsoft Ray Ozzie’s company or is it Steve Ballmer’s company?

64 bits, Adobe, Apple and Microsoft. kinda.

I find it hilarious to read some of the comments in news stories on technology companies, especially from folks who don’t write software for a living.

A lot of the evil that people accuse Microsoft of is really incompetence, short sightedness, tunnel vision or good intentions misinterpreted. People hate Microsoft, so they choose to see evil in it’s every decision. Most of the folks at Microsoft are smart, hard-working, honest people that want to make really cool software. Of course, I’ve met many MS folks who are testosterone-driven idiots without a creative bone in their body that just want to kill every other software company in existence. Too often, people mistake a move by the former folks as a scheme by the latter. This is horrible for the good folks at MS, but if that company wanted to fix its image, it wouldn’t have made a chair-throwing, hyper-aggressive salesman to be the CEO.

When John Nack posted about Adobe’s decision not to do 64-bit Photoshop for OS X in the next release, he knew he was going to get attacked for it. I thought he did an awesome job going through the reasons behind the decision without throwing blame around. I thought he gave real insight into what happened. He was open and up-front about everything and completely clear. Yet, you read the comments on the various sites and you can see that people read what they want to read and will interpret any decision within the context of what they want to believe. I’ve had more visibility into the decision-making hierarchies at Adobe than any other company I’ve ever worked for, and I can tell you that the people I work with always want to do the right thing for the people that use our software. No one is playing political games with Apple. Just because Steve Jobs says something is easy doesn’t actually make it easy. If it was always that easy, Final Cut Pro would be a 64-bit cocoa app already.

People who don’t write desktop software don’t understand why it might be harder than checking a checkbox to port from the PowerPC to Intel. People who don’t write desktop software don’t understand why it might be hard to write a new operating system from scratch or why having 100s of engineers doesn’t make it go faster. People also don’t understand that in an application where performance is paramount (like a media editing application), porting to a new operating system, hardware platform or compiler is a lot trickier than it seems because a lot of code is there doing tricky platform-specific stuff that has been hand tuned over years. People who don’t write software don’t understand what kind of effort it is to port millions of lines of code built in C++ against Carbon into Objective-C using Cocoa.

Maybe people shouldn’t care. It’s probably a bad idea to see how the sausage is made, right? This is probably true up to the point that people claim something is easy when they have no idea of the actual effort involved.

Apple isn’t evil. Apple is secretive. This is fun as a customer. This is evil as a developer. Microsoft will promise something for years, deliver betas and then pull the plug. Apple will be silent and then spring a huge change on its developers and then chastise them for not rewriting their apps from scratch again.

I don’t know if there is much of a point here except to say that before you accuse a company of screwing over their users for some political end, you might want to try and understand the real issues.

Microsoft, don’t F*ck with my computer without my permission

Just got my first auto-reboot-update. I knew this was possible. A friend of mine worked on the team that decided to implement this at MSFT. However, this is the first time that MS decided that it knew what was right for me and rebooted my machine automatically. RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF AN AUTOMATION RUN, CAUSING A HUGE FAIL. MS chose to do this because not enough people actually use windows update to guard against viruses. So rather than, you know, improving Windows to get rid of the security holes or making Windows Update better, MS decided instead to cram their updates down your throat, which is fine, in theory. That is until they f*ck up an update an it screws up millions of machines. Then it will be happy lawsuit time.

Anyway, if you don’t want MS deciding when it is time to reboot your machine, here is how to turn it off:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/555444

what the hell is Microsoft doing?

$6 Billion for aQuantive – a company I’ve never heard of with $442M in revenue. Umm… ok. Seems high.

$500M for Danger, a competitor for Windows Mobile written in Java. $56M in revenue last year and has never turned a profit. Uh, who is doing MS’ accounting?

$44.6 Billion for Yahoo! This isn’t a crazy valuation for Yahoo! however, I just found out that MS was going to have to borrow money for the first time in its history to purchase this fading internet darling. Yahoo! hates the idea so much that it is looking to be purchased by AOL or selling off it’s search to Google in order to stave off Microsoft. Way to read the valley culture morons.

Who is the genius behind Microsoft’s acquisition strategy and how the hell are they still employed? 

An interesting point about the high-level departures from Microsoft

Both Mini-MSFT and Joe Wilcox pointed this out. Microsoft isn’t replacing their high-level executives with internals. Bill Gates leaves, Ray Ozzie is hired to replace him. Jeff Raikes leaves, Stephen Elop replaces him. I’m not sure about some of the other executive departures yet, their replacements haven’t been announced as far as I can tell.

Why would Microsoft do this? Are they looking for folks without a lot of MS baggage who can shake things up? Are they looking for specific skills and experience they can use to compete? Or do they just feel like there isn’t anyone internal up to the task?

No matter what the reasons, this has got to be a major morale killer inside the company. If I was a director or VP or wanna-be executive, the message would be that my best chance of advancement was to leave because it seems like experience inside of MS isn’t valued inside of MS.

Is Microsoft trying to game the WSJ and do some slight of hand with its Zune numbers?

Why Microsoft’s Zune is Still Failing — RoughlyDrafted Magazine

from a comment

The recent WSJ electronics buying poll got even better after this article appeared. In one of the most extraordinary developments in the history of retailing the zune managed to zoom at the last minute from 0% to 24%. More than 144,000 enthusiastic Zune givers magically appeared in less than 24 hours.

The above is a pretty interesting read. It seems like it isn’t 100% true, but no one has been arguing the radical surge in popularity of the Zune in a WSJ poll, nor is anyone challenging the numbers that Microsoft seems to be fudging to make the Zune look more popular than it actually is. If it is true, it is actually kind of sad, because I’ve heard that the new Zunes don’t suck as much as the old ones, but pulling this kind of stuff is going to seriously make people mistrust the Soft.

Microsoft should haven’t learned better by now, every time they try to pull one of these PR slights of hand, they get caught and look like idiots.

Is Apple in trouble?

I was reading this great post from Scoble: Why doesn’t Microsoft get the love? « Scobleizer which was spot-on, but for some reason it got me thinking about Apple instead of Microsoft.

I think Apple is in serious trouble.

  1. The Amazon digital download store is much better than the iTunes store. Not the design or that dumb downloader, but the fact that they are selling high bitrate MP3s for the same price or less than iTunes sells the DRM’d files. Apple might be paying the price for being the ones who made legal downloading of music a reality. Losing the store isn’t a huge issue for Apple’s profit. The store exists to sell iPods, Apple doesn’t make much money on it. However, once you don’t need the store, you don’t need iTunes or an iPod. Apple’s innovation on the iPods will keep this business strong for them, but without the whole ecosystem, they become vulnerable.
  2. The desktop line is stagnating. I’m assuming that there is a reason that Apple hasn’t really bumped their desktop line in a while and I’m also assuming that we will get news soon. However, the GPUs on their highest-end machines are years old, and due to Apple’s locked-in nature, it isn’t a user-serviceable part. Letting this go so long is a problem. I and at least one friend of mine are waiting on new desktops before we upgrade our PPC-based machines. The GPUs in the laptops are better than what we have at the moment.
  3. The iPhone debacle: I think Apple is handling the iPhone all wrong. The phone is a triumph of technology, but even $400 for a phone is a lot of money for the average consumer. The phone doesn’t have enough features or speed on the network to replace serious smart phone competitors and it is still lacking some fundamental features that free-phone-with-subscription-phones lack like MMS and MP3 ring tones.

I don’t think Apple is dead or anything like that. I’m still an Apple fan-boy (as a user, not as a developer), but I think these signs are troubling and Apple can still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

What do you think?

Microsoft buys itself a Swedish Standard – Updated

It looks like the Swedish Standards Committee was going to vote “no, with comments” on Microsoft’s OOXML proposal. Then, in the 3 days before the vote, 24 new companies paid the fees to join the committee. The result being that the standard was passed. Of those 24 companies, 18 of them were Microsoft Gold Certified Partners.

This is a huge blunder for Microsoft, which has been switching their position from ignoring standards to proposing them over the last few years in order to engender better PR.

links:
http://computersweden.idg.se/2.2683/1.118249
http://stupid.domain.name/node/385

Update – 9/1/07
Looks like the SIS board canceled the vote because of the irregularities  and so Sweden won’t vote in the ISO.

link: http://stupid.domain.name/node/389

Correcting the record on Microsoft’s foray into Open Source

Microsoft is making big headlines in their announcement that they are releasing some technology as Open Source…

Why Microsoft Is Going Open Source | Linux Journal

No one would have believed me if I had said five years ago that Microsoft would have a page on its Web site called “Open Source at Microsoft” with the following remarkably sane and reasonable statement on the subject:

Microsoft is focused on helping customers and partners succeed in a heterogeneous technology world. This starts with participating and contributing to a broad range of choices for developing and deploying software, including open source approaches and applications. From thousands of lines of code and scripts on MSDN and TechNet, to open source applications like IronPython, ASP.NET AJAX, SharePoint Learning Kit, and WiX on CodePlex and SourceForge, Microsoft is continually growing the number of products released with open source access.

Thats right: Microsoft has released not one but several pieces of code as open source. Moreover, its submitting some of its home-grown licences to the Open Source Initiative for approval. So what is going on here?

Very few remember Microsoft’s first release of Open Source code: The Microsoft Virtual Worlds Platform. I worked on that platform from 1994-1999. It was originally designed to be a Microsoft product, but for various reasons it became clear that it wasn’t to be. So rather than just kill it, the team decided to release it as open source, very quietly. So, of course, very few have heard of it and no one remembers that it was Microsoft’s first open source release (to my knowledge).

Interesting side note, it turns out that some grad student in China submitted MS Virtual Worlds platform as part of his thesis claiming he wrote it. heh.

Unfortunately, the source code wasn’t hosted on Microsoft.com and I can’t find it anywhere easily. I’m sure someone has it archived somewhere.