Microsoft is the only company I've worked for us a full time employee which means that sometimes I wonder how different my perspective of inter-office interaction is from that of the average software developer with a wider range of experiences. For example, one thing I've noticed about internal mailing lists is that there are always people who seem to assume that they are smarter and more knowledgeable about a product or technology than the people who actually work on the product. You can tell these people by the way they point out obvious features that are missing in the product and berate the team for not having them (e.g. why isn't there podcasting support in Windows Media Player or social bookmarking in Windows Live Favorites or support for RELAX NG in System.Xml, etc). I've seen critics both internal and external to Microsoft raise these questions probably because every one of these questions seems like it points to a bad decision on the part of the product team. However things are never so cut and dried.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog entry on Robert Scoble's blog where he mentioned that one of the most surprising things about working at Microsoft was that practically every time he criticized a product team for a decision they made there was a good reason behind it. Just this week, I was reading posts by Joshua Allen and Mini-Microsoft that criticized the disappearance of Microsoft Private Folders 1.0 due to "concerns around manageability, data recovery and encryption". Neither of them considered whether these concerns could be valid as pointed out by a comment in the Mini-Microsoft blog which is excerpted below

So what makes you think, even for a New York Minute, that we haven't already been on the firing line because some "gotta have the shiny thing" senior middle mgmt bozo installed this My Private Folder "cool tool" and immediately forget the password that was "securing" the files for a $250,000 project?

I'm here in Redmond, Mini, working IT for a company with 4000 people internationally, 1000 in the US. Some of our staff has been in MS advertisements - there's no dearth of Kool-Aid here. But you want to blame the IT lords? No.

Blame the users to whom your company gave a loaded gun.

It's always interesting to see the other side of the story. Of course, I'm guilty of such criticism of product teams myself. Just this week, I walked over to Jay Fluegel's office to rant about the fact that MSN Spaces hasn't done much in providing users with cool widgets for their space or fixing the bugs in existing widgets in recent months. He not only agreed with me, he also showed me what they have planned to address my issues (i.e. Windows Live Gadgets) and I was blown away.

On the other hand, just because a product team thinks it has a good reason doesn't always make it one. For example, given the predictable amount of negative press about adCenter not supporting Firefox, Safari or IE 7 I would have made the call to not ship whatever features that depend on AJAX/ActiveX/whatever that depend on IE 6 than tell ~10% of the people on the Web that we don't want their advertising dollars. I have no insight into why they made this decision but I'm sure there is a good reason behind it. ;)


Wednesday, July 19, 2006 5:46:10 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I don't know if RSS Bandit is still your baby, but the website ( is borked. It says "This IP address cannot be used for browsing."
Wednesday, July 19, 2006 6:05:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Thanks for the report. We're looking into this.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006 9:31:23 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, July 19, 2006 9:55:41 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Yeah this sort of thing happens constantly at Microsoft. It has gotten to the point where I have started dismissing people who jump onto DLs to point out these sorts of things rather than dismissing the product teams who haven't implemented them.

Having said that, many things still happen without enough external or internal feedback. I think we're getting better at that in general (like the three betas for Windows Live Messenger 8.0), but we had a case recently where some APIs were designed that were just not useful for what they were designed for. Luckily we were able to work with the team to get a last minute fix in and now things are great, but any significant work done without a constructive feedback loop is going to lead to bad or irrelevant products.
Thursday, July 20, 2006 4:42:36 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Christ Dare, would you like some cheese with that whine?
Friday, July 21, 2006 4:40:15 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Of course every bad decision has a good reason behind it! That's the reason for the saying, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions". It is also a horrible excuse for implemementing decisions without thinking them through.

1. If there were bad reasons behind bad decisions, Microsoft would be justifiably branded as evil. That's the definition of evil behavior.

2. Consistently running into unforseen consequences is a sign that the review process is flawed (soft, lacking objectivity, rubber stamped; take your pick). IMHO, Microsoft needs to employ a "Devil's Advocate" to challenge proposals and their assumptions. Don't implement changes until you can trump the Devil's Advocate.

Comments are closed.