June 19, 2006
@ 01:16 AM

Hugh Macloed has a blog post entitled How microsoft lost their canary where he writes

Micorosoft losing both Bill and Robert in the very same week.

In one week, Microsoft lost the two people who best expressed Microsoft; one on the macro-corporate level, one on the micro-grass-roots level.

What does this really say about Microsoft?

To me it says, "Party Over".

To me it says, Microsoft finally has reached the crossroads indicated in the cartoon above, and have opted to take the non-Cluetrain route. They opted to take that route because they have run out of ideas. They're at a time in their corporate life when they need a big idea. And you what? They. Simply. Don't. Have. One.

Hey, it's their company, it's their money, they can do what they like. There's lots of money still there to made, managing one's own demise. General Motors has been doing it for decades. And Madison Avenue, that's pretty much all they do now.

But Robert was the canary in the coal mine. And Microsoft's just lost their canary.

Last week was definitely an interesting week for Microsoft. I agree with Hugh that Microsoft has lost two people that many consider to symbolize the company. I'm not sure I understand what Hugh means by Microsoft has opted to take the non-Cluetrain route but then again the entire Cluetrain trend is something I've never been too knowledgeable about. I do have some opinions on what the loss of Robert Scoble and Bill Gates means to me as a Microsoft employee.

Robert Scoble did three things for Microsoft, only one of which was really his day job. He

  1. He was one of the folks working on Channel 9 which has been an important mechanism for Microsoft to soften its image and open a new avenue for conversation with its customers.
  2. His weblog acted was an aggregation of the various interesting bits of news about Microsoft. Half of the content of his blog was basically a blog version of Microsoft PressPass, Microsoft Watch and MSDN Blogs rolled into one.
  3. .
  4. He had an online persona as a great guy and a passionate technology geek (i.e. the ideal employee) which often made people think "Microsoft can't be all that bad, if this guy works there"

As far as I'm aware, only the first item in the above list was Robert's day job. The other items were just Robert being Robert. Microsoft can easily find someone to replace Robert in the context of item #1 on the list. It may even be a good thing to have some professional media folks running Channel 9 instead of just amateur media geeks. The other two items on the list are things that it's hard to imagine anyone doing in the same way that Robert did. A blog of product announcements can be replicated and although it might be boring reading, people seem to like them, or at least that's the impression I've gotten based on the popularity of "official" Google blog. I personally don't think Microsoft needs one but there probably is enough interest in it that I wouldn't be surprised if one shows up. The third item on the list is one of those things that has incalculable value. It's hard to quantify the value that Microsoft got from this aspect of Robert's blogging but there definitely was a lot of value obtained. There are thousands of Microsoft employees who blog yet somehow Robert Scoble ended up becoming the symbol of blogging @ Microsoft. Do we need another single "model employee" for bloggers to rally around? I don't know. Being the "company mascot" seems like a heavy burden for any single individual to bear especially for a company like Microsoft. The company has lost some points in marketability without Robert Scoble but there are thousands of company's doing just fine without a highly visible employee blogger.

I never got to meet Bill Gates as a full-time Microsoft employee. I did get to ask him questions at one of yearly intern soirree at his house back in my intern days but I've never been at a BillG review. I think Bill Gates leaving the company will be good for him, good for the world and good for the company. I tend to agree with Hugh that Microsoft hasn't had a "big idea" for a while. It used to be "a computer on every desktop" but now that we've almost gotten there it isn't clear what the company stands for as a whole. It isn't just a software company; we do hardware with XBox and other Microsoft hardware devices, television content with MSNBC and online content on MSN. The company doesn't seem to have one big idea because it doesn't have one set of customers. It's hard to see a consistent vision that holds together all the various pieces that are Microsoft. On the other hand, in some of the places where we have had a consistent technical vision, it has been hard for us to actually implement this vision (e.g. Cairo/WinFS, Netdocs and even Hailstorm) for a variety of reasons. I think Microsoft is about due for introducing new perspectives in the technical direction that the company takes. I've met with Ray Ozzie [who'll be taking over from Bill Gates as chief software architect] a few times times and he definitely seems to have a different view of the software landscape than many of the execs at Microsoft. Fresh perspectives are always a good thing. It'll be sad to see Bill Gates step out of his role as Chief Software Architect since he symbolizes so much of the company but I think he'll the world a lot of good with his foundation and he is leaving the company in good hands.

Losing Robert Scoble and Bill Gates sucks but life will go on. This isn't the harbinger of the death of Microsoft, just a signpost that indicates that one era is ending and another beginning.