Thursday, July 22, 2010

Microsoft FY10Q4 Results

FY10Q4 Microsoft earnings are upon us. So, what's been going on since last we met over the quarterly results?

  • The KIN phone collapse put WP7's future in doubt. Would WP7 meet the same fate? Is it under the same level of mismanagement? Fortunately, some fairly positive takes on pre-release WP7 have been coming out ahead of earnings to shore up confidence and excitement.
  • Market Cap - yes, Apple passed us by and there was an abundance of articles and postings questioning just how much longer Microsoft would have to endure Mr. Ballmer as CEO (hint: a long loooooong time).
  • Itsy-bitsy-layoff-committees: targeted small layoffs to kick of FY11 team budgets. If they are that low key and only disclosed on some random bit of the blogosphere, do they really amount to much accountability on Microsoft's sake? Again, our contingency hiring is out of this world so it's not like we're saving a bunch of money - we just have folks on the payroll we can easily cut loose as needed.

What kind of questions might be / should be posed during the earnings call?

  • Dates: firm dates for WP7 devices and Kinect and associated Kinect titles beyond the kind-of-interesting launch titles.
  • Win7 + Office 2010: are the cash cows still, err, bringing home the bacon?
  • Bing / Ad-center: is Bing on the upswing? Is Bing / Ad-Center doing anything more than eating the bacon that our cash cows bring home?
  • Legal: it's been very quiet on the European Union front. Office 2010 was released without a single investigatory squeak, as far as I know. Is this all behind us for now? That would be great.
  • WP7: application developers in the queue? We need to re-enforce the cool apps that we'll have ready when WP7 is launched. In a move that has totally delighted me, Microsoft is giving every employee the ability to write and deploy WP7 applications (and, what, ability to get a device at launch, too?) - wow! Now's the time to truly show off your stuff and write for WP7 and get your app out the door.

The glow of Windows 7 has dimmed and Office 2010 and the VS2010 eco-system need to pick up the steam as we head to WP7 and Kinect launch. Apple is rolling in the moolah being a content delivery channel and our story, other than some Xbox features, is still pretty fuzzy. For instance: Windows Media Center is one of those crown jewels we've let plop out of the crown and get kicked around the court. I love WMC but it seems to be a neglected feature, caught in the chop between E&D / Zune and Windows. After a phone, it's the next experience we should bring out some reference hardware for to easily DVR HD channels off the air and plug right into your HDMI system and watch it go.

My usual suspects for earnings discussion:

(I'll update the post later if there are interesting developments from the earnings release.)

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The KIN-fusing KIN-clusion to KIN, and FY11 Microsoft Layoff Rumors

Get out of the way Microsoft Bob, you have a replacement that Microsoft's Gen-Y employees can claim for their own! It's spelled K-I-N.

KIN's demise can't surprise anyone. When I looked at the phone's features, I thought: alright, an incomplete Facebook experience that I cannot improve by installing new applications... and I pay $$$ through the nose for a plan. But I've got a green dot and KIN Studio... maybe that will be enough to sell enough units to justify the Danger acquisition and the person-years of work behind getting KIN out. What the hell where all those people doing? I couldn't imagine anyone wanting the resulting iffy feature-phone at a smartphone cost, but KIN wasn't made for me. I was willing to let the market be the judge of KIN.

Verdict? Guilty, guilty, guilty.

The original Zune/Pink phone had interesting momentum but it all got squandered. What's the one ThinkWeek paper I want to read this year? Lessons Learned from Microsoft KIN and How Microsoft Must Change Product Development. You can't have a failure like this without examining it and then sharing what went wrong, all with respect to vision, execution, and leadership. How big was the original iPhone team? How big was the KIN team? Why did one result in a lineage of amazingly successful devices in the marketplace, and the other become a textbook extended definition for "dud" ?

Interesting comments:

All I can say as a former Windows Mobile employee who is now working for a competitor in the phone space is that this is good news for the rest of us. [...] Personally I quit because of the frustrating management and autocratic decision style of Terry Myerson and Andrew Lees. The only exec in the team myself and other folks respcted was Tom Gibbons who is now sidelined. Lees and Myerson don't know consumer products or phones. Gibbons at least knows consumer product development. We often talk about how Andrew Lees still has a job but Microsoft's loss is a gain for the rest of us.


And now Kin is killed *after* it has shipped in June 2010. You can bet Andy was involved in the development of Kin, the partnership agreements with the OEM, Verizon and most importantly the "ship it" approvals all along the way. And Microsoft discovers its a bad idea after it blows up in the broad market. Absolutely no thanks to any pro-active decision making on Andy's part.

Now there is spin that Andy killed kin to put all the wood behind Windows Phone 7. Er, the guy was in charge for two years of Kin development. He could have made this decision far earlier.

Similarly Windows Phone 7 has two years of development under his watch. Based on his past performance, 99% chance this is also going to be a total catastrophe. It further doesn't help that much of the Windows Phone 7 leadership team was kicked out of Windows when they screwed up Vista.

And finally, one Danger-employee's point of view of why they became demotivated:

To the person who talked about the unprofessional behavior of the Palo Alto Kin (former Danger team), I need to respond because I was one of them.

You are correct, the remaining Danger team was not professional nor did we show off the amazing stuff we had that made Danger such a great place. But the reason for that was our collective disbelief that we were working in such a screwed up place. Yes, we took long lunches and we sat in conference rooms and went on coffee breaks and the conversations always went something like this..."Can you believe that want us to do this?" Or "Did you hear that IM was cut, YouTube was cut? The App store was cut?" "Can you believe how mismanaged this place is?" "Why is this place to dysfunctional??"

Please understand that we went from being a high functioning, extremely passionate and driven organization to a dysfunctional organization where decisions were made by politics rather than logic.

Consider this, in less than 10 years with 1/10 of the budget Microsoft had for PMX, we created a fully multitasking operating system, a powerful service to support it, 12 different device models, and obsessed and supportive fans of our product. While I will grant that we did not shake up the entire wireless world (ala iPhone) we made a really good product and were rewarded by the incredible support of our userbase and our own feelings of accomplishment. If we had had more time and resources, we would of come out with newer versions, supporting touch screens and revamping our UI. But we ran out of time and were acquired and look at the results. A phone that was a complete and total failure. We all knew (Microsoft employees included) that is was a lackluster device, lacked the features the market wanted and was buggy with performance problems on top of it all.

When we were first acquired, we were not taking long lunches and coffee breaks. We were committed to help this Pink project out and show our stuff. But when our best ideas were knocked down over and over and it began to dawn on us that we were not going to have any real affect on the product, we gave up. We began counting down to the 2 year point so we could get our retention bonuses and get out.

I am sorry you had to witness that amazing group behave so poorly. Trust me, they were (and still are) the best group of people ever assembled to fight the cellular battle. But when the leaders are all incompetent, we just wanted out.

I guess we need another ThinkWeek paper on how to successfully acquire companies, too. Between this and aQuantive, we only excel at taking the financial boon of Windows and Office and giving it over to leadership that totally blows it down the drain like an odds-challenged drunk in Vegas. And the shareholders continue to suffer in silence. And the drunks are looking for their next cash infusion.

Dude, Where's Ray? You see more and more yearning for the days of BillG at the helm, perhaps because at least he was an uber geek that could drill your team's presentation like nobody's business and understand what your team was doing. And occasionally get enthralled by technology choices that would confound your average user (WinFS). Ray was supposed to serve as a replacement architect at Microsoft's technical helm, yet his impact seems to be superficial (and pretty disparaged if you chat with any leader in the company). Here's a snippet of a great comment about Ray and his impact at Microsoft:

The problem is, Ray doesn't see himself as the "Chief Software Architect" of the company. He sees himself as the "Chief Visionary Officer" (to borrow someone's phrase from early comments). He sees his job as being the person who regularly kicks "old" Microsoft in the butt to wake them up to whats going on in the world.

All of his behavior lines up with this: His correcting of Ballmer (in public!); His team's building Mesh, an expensive, buzz-generating, science-project app beloved by those who know about it, but irrelevant to those who don't (which is 99+% of the planet); More recently, his team's building of -- another expensive, buzz-generating app that has no business model and no path to ever having one (if you need an indication of how pointless an exercise is, just look at the visitor trends for it since launch:

Meanwhile, Ozzie has made enemies of most of the leaders of the actual products that pay for his "Labs". He's made no secret of the fact that he thinks that Windows is run terribly, or that Office is dead technology. Behind closed doors, he is openly dispariging of Microsoft development practices and Microsoft technology. His efforts to build product display a stunning lack of a caring about how much things cost to run, or whether they will ever make money. To my knowledge, he doesn't care in the slightest about the enterprise businesses at the company.

Dude, Where's My Job? Folks have been talking about ongoing stealth layoffs and the impending July FY11 layoffs reacting to teams with reduced budgets. I've scanned some various HR calendars and found some interesting appointments more around next week vs. this week, but the layoff rumors have spilled over beyond here and into TechFlash: Microsoft pruning more jobs. A follow-up by Ms. Mary-Jo Foley: More Microsoft job cuts coming ZDNet. So I'd expect more news next week than this week, but one commenter has noted:

Layoffs confirmed for tomorrow. I see long meetings booked by HR-types in Lincoln Square and RedWest-C. Didn't go through all the calendars for you main-campus types.

If Microsoft is doing this to appear fiscally responsible, they really can't tell just this half of the story. The other half of the story is the number of contingent staff positions, which if you open up Headtrax for yourself to investigate be prepared to tell Elizabeth you're coming to join her, because it about gave me a mild heart-attack.

If you learn anything, please comment regarding the group and the size of the hit and any impression about the folks impacted (e.g., 10%'ers, long-term employees, etc).

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