December 20, 2004
@ 11:40 PM

I've read Robert Scoble's Dear Bill Gates: can we create an interesting music player? post and the ensuing flood of negative  feedback with some interest. The core ideas of the post are fairly naive but do an interesting job of exposing the prejudices and internal biases of both Robert Scoble and many of his readers who responded. The core ideas of Roberts post were

  1. Microsoft should get in the music player business or pressure some OEMs to listen to their design suggestions.

  2. Get big name celebrities to endorse it

  3. Try and ship it in time for next year's back to school season

  4. create a marketting blitz around it

  5. blog about it

The ideas in itself except for the part about blogging aren't really original and are the kind of things that would come up in any 30 minute brainstorming session about what one would do if they wanted to compete with Apple's iPod. I'm also quite skeptical that blogging about a hardware product will make me any more likely to buy it over an existing market leader. There is no blog by the Apple iPod team or the TiVo team yet I love both products and wouldn't consider alternatives even though there are Microsoft employees who blog who constantly evangelize competing products.

The rest of the ideas are either impractical (even if Microsoft wanted it couldn't get in the music player business in less than six months and OEMs aren't under Microsoft's control when it comes to their product design) or common sense (getting celebrity endorsements).

What I find interesting is the intensity of the reaction to this post.

One reaction which is obvious in hindsight is the assumption in this post that Microsoft shouldn't abide the fact that Apple is dominating a market it isn't directly engaged in. This is such a natural way of thinking of for Microsoft people ("we should be number 1 in every software/hardware/technology related market") that it is often surprising for non-Microserfs when they first encounter the mentality.

Then there are those who thinks Scoble dissed the Windows Media team by (a) touting such obvious ideas as too revolutionary for them to have come up with and (b) implying that they are failing. I think these people are being a tad bit sensitive. However I also think it was unwise of Robert to be so dismissive of the efforts of the folks working in this area at Microsoft. Given that his day job involves getting product teams to open up to him on Channel 9, he isn't going to get much of cooperation from them if he keeps knocking their efforts. Another reason is that you never know who you'll end up working with. I remember once writing that MSN Messenger was one of the software applications I cannot stand only to get a rebuke from Scoble to make the post more constructive which I did. A year and a half later, and I'm on the team that owns the server for MSN Messenger. I have lots of little stories like this just from my experiences in the past three years at Microsoft. I definitely weigh my thoughts more carefully before posting anything negative about products or technologies in the software industry in general.

For a while I've been frustrated by my experience as an XBox owner. I can't get games like Transformers Armada and DragonBall Z: Budokai at all while games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas won't show up until 6 months after they've been out on Playstaton 2. However I've never thought of posting an open letter to Bill Gates on my blog with a proposal to use celebrity endorsements, partnerships with game publishers and blogging to counter the dominance of Playstation 2 in the console market.

Sometimes I wonder if that is a virtue or a vice. ;)


Tuesday, December 21, 2004 12:33:15 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Heh. I think you might be onto something. Attack the team, get hired.

Remember, I told Bill Gates to split Microsoft up. I told Joshua Allen that SmartTags sucks. Then I told Ballmer to "get Microsoft a more human voice."

Speaking of which, what's up with this attitude of "we won't work with people who think we're messing up?" That seems particularly anti-Microsoftian to me. In fact, one of our core values is to look at what we're doing critically. I thought.

By the way, shouldn't the team be far more offended that you use an iPod?
Tuesday, December 21, 2004 1:05:36 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
>Speaking of which, what's up with this attitude of "we won't work with people who think we're messing up?"

It's human nature. I doubt people will do it explicitly as a matter of policy but lots of people are fairly thin skinned.

>By the way, shouldn't the team be far more offended that you use an iPod?


Tuesday, December 21, 2004 3:22:31 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
A virtue.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004 5:00:07 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Is there a single organisational culture that excels at all kinds of software? Or hardware for that matter?
Wednesday, December 22, 2004 11:56:11 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
The way I see it, you are a blacksmith where Scoble is a cheerleader. While I don't expect blacksmiths to be twirling hammers like cheerleaders do with pompoms, I do expect cheerleaders to get carried away with the excitement of their job.

Scoble, this doesn't mean you should start wearing a mini-skirt cuz that would give me nightmares. ;-p
Wednesday, December 22, 2004 3:51:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
One fact that often gets overlooked in iPod/iTunes/Microsoft conversations is that, in this context, Apple is a Microsoft developerdeveloperDEVELOPER :) , in that they are selling a hardware/software package that runs on the Windows platform. I'm not saying that Apple's shipping Windows-compatible iPods and iTunes software sells Windows licenses or anything crazy like that, but it's funny how the people talking about how "evil" it would be for MS to compete with Rio or Creative (as Windows developers) don't see competing with Apple's Windows-compatible device in the same light.

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