Saturday, October 23, 2004

Is it wrong to want to kiss Joel Spolsky?

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

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 technologies.

(Bold mine; from 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:

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 [that would be nice].) Okay, the next contender: MSFT vs. AAPL:

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, "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 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 2007.

"The company looks like it needs products," he said.

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 better?

All these technical improvements we meaningfully expound upon might make your everyday IT guy's nipples harden (mmm, USB-drive lock-out), but the analysts and consumers just hear ya-da-geekity-geek-not-worth-my-money-bing.

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 $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, "Alright then, go get 'em, Tiger! Tell us what you need."

I was ambling through the forest recently thinking about this, especially given Dare's comment to the 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, "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 Andreessen 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 Riffin' with Reifman: there's a follow-up discussion on the Citizen Microsoft article here:

http://www.idealog .us/2004/10/follow_up_to_ci.html

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 dispenser!

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 Money! 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 Google Desktop search engine is here.

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

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 there.

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.

We 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]).

What 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 covered.

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 07, 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?

Go 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 agents.

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 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 group.

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 further).

Sunday, October 03, 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: 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." 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 measures 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 year.)

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 uncaring). 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 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: 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 follow-up blog entry to the Cash Cow article.

Microsoft Giving Campaign 2004

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

I 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 relevant). 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 results.