A number of people at work have asked me why in a previous post I stated that I have concluded that MSFT isn't the kind of place I see myself working at in 5 years. The main reason for this is that I don't think the Microsoft culture and the direction from its executive leadership lends itself to building great consumer-centric software.

A good example of this is taking a look at Windows from the consumer perspective. The decisions that Microsoft has made over the past couple of years from abandoning feature work in Internet Explorer until Firefox became popular to a lot of the original intentions around the 3 pillars of Longhorn (Avalon, WinFS & Indigo) are the actions of a company that is more interested in protecting its market share than one that is trying to improve the lives of its customers by building great software.  Of course, it's not only customers that get the short end of the stick. Employees also have the consequences of this kind of thinking to deal with as well. The primary way this manifests itself is integrated innovation, a buzzword that translates to more dependencies among shipping products, less control of one's product destiny and longer ship cycles. A lot of the frustration you see in the comments in places like the Mini-Microsoft blog are a direct consequence of this focus by our executive leadership.

For now, MSN doesn't suffer from the same kind of culture that I have described but I can see signs that this is just temporary while we face off against competitors like Google [and Yahoo! to a lesser extent]. Since I don't see any reason why the corporate culture will change since the members of our executive leadership who are pushing this kind of thinking are well entrenched, it's just a matter of time before we start thinking that way at MSN as well. 

I give it 5 years, tops. In the meantime, I get to work with really cool people building really cool software that is changing people's lives. I can't ask for much more than that.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube
Tracked by:
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"Unspeakable" (Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life) [Trackback]
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Friday, September 2, 2005 6:16:40 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It's pretty amazong how bad Windows is. I use Linux, MacOS and Windows about equally on similarly equipped machines and the Windows one is by far the porrest performer. And I don't really miss any of the Windows-only "features". How was Apple able to graft a fast, perfect "sleep" mode on BSD while Microsoft couldn't do the same on Windows with it's poorly functioning, slow hibernation?

The contrast from a server perspective is even starker.
Friday, September 2, 2005 6:40:21 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Integrated inovation is good provided that it does not limit choice. Making products from a company work better together is not necessarity bad. Unlike MSN which looks like it has been designed by more than one company in many cases. However, users should be allowed to interoperate. What this is essencially more transparency in the ways that product communicate (protocols) amongst themselves. This will allow the necessary competition to keep Microsoft working on its products. This is what the this year Bill Gate's memo was about. On interoperability. But who has noticed it and who reminds people of it? Many more time security is remembered but not interoperability.
Friday, September 2, 2005 8:10:37 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare--what's the difference between "Better Together" at MSN (Messenger/Spaces integration, etc.) and the "integrated innovation" that you seem to despise in Windows?
Friday, September 2, 2005 8:51:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think Microsoft is, to some extent, aware of the problem. Or at least it's getting to that stage.

I don't think Microsoft will change, however, unless people at ALL levels take steps to make it change.

Microsoft has gotten to the point where it sits "fat and happy". Huge profits, astonishing market share, and astounding power in the marketplace. Microsoft is no longer competitive in its core products.

Instead, it acts to KEEP its "fat and happy" status. It'll add incremental features, and enhance lock-in. Basically, Microsoft will act to ensure no one leaves - however that's possible.

"Integrated innovation" isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'd love the ability use programs synergistically, so programs together are worth more individually. However, the problem with the way Microsoft is CURRENTLY going about "integrated innovation" means incorporating features in that won't work unless you have the other products. It's stifling the value of its current products to push other products.

Instead, each program should aim to be the best possible, and then have tie-ins to each other. That's not happening, at least from what I can see. Basically, that kind of innovation isn't worth much to me.

It's all in the interest of pushing more products down my throat, and keeping marketshare.

But; at the same time, I'd prefer effort to CHANGE Microsoft. From the inside, before Microsoft is forced to change. Or before it collapses.

That means people doing everything they can to change the enviroment in Microsoft.

So over the next five years, instead of just doing your job - do more than that :-) Try and change Microsoft, just a little bit, so it becomes a better place.

And maybe, if you succeed, you can go get your MBA, and re-join Microsoft in 5 or 6 years. :-) Join/make a start-up, and get bought - catapulting you into a better position.

I'd hate to see you leave Microsoft, because you're one of the only visible, reasonable, and respected voices Microsoft really has.
Michael Griffiths
Friday, September 2, 2005 9:12:01 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"Better Together" is another name for "Integrated Innovation". However there is a difference in degree of coupling. With your MSN example, if Spaces isn't ready to ship, Messenger can still ship. With Longhorn/WinFX we basically tied together the ship schedule of SQL Server, Visual Studio and the operating system.

The difference is the scale and degree of integration. Also Michael Griffiths says it much better than I can when he writes

"Instead, each program should aim to be the best possible, and then have tie-ins to each other. That's not happening, at least from what I can see. Basically, that kind of innovation isn't worth much to me.

It's all in the interest of pushing more products down my throat, and keeping marketshare."
Saturday, September 3, 2005 3:20:14 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, isn't a business about making money? Making money for Microsoft is keeping market share. It is the same for Google who has the dominate share in the Web Search market. You can have market share as your goal and still create great products.
annonymous coward
Saturday, September 3, 2005 3:34:24 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
anonymous coward,
Protecting market share == Siege mentality. That's not how you build great products. You start with "How do I build a great product and excite my customers?" not "How do I protect my market share?"

A lot of the decision making I have disliked at Microsoft in recent years seems to have been motivated by the latter instead of the former.

Saturday, September 3, 2005 11:43:15 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wish I could entirely agree with you but I haven't seen a single good product out from MSN (If Virtual Earth is under MSN then that might be one). All I've got from MSN is the f*n annoying popups that messenger puts out when trying to use Outlook. And the similarly bad experiences from MSN Spaces, when it came I was all excited and when I went there it was god awful and it still is. Zero progress regarding the feedback I sent there.

MS puts out wonderful products that pick the best things from other products like Visual Studio which is like 5 good products in one and when thinking of MSN I can't come up with any. Innovation is great and important, but in the end I'll be using the product which picks out the best innovations, integrates them well and hopefully polishes and perfects itself over time while listening to feedback from all sources (Visual Studio). So MS has couple good products and MSN has what?
Saturday, September 3, 2005 11:46:12 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think it's just the nature of the beast, and would probably exist at any company. It's sad, but it's life. In an ideal world building great products could be the highest priority. I believe many great companies (Microsoft, Google, etc.) were started by building great products. But, there comes a point in a business's growth where the focus shifts from great products to a multitude of things, great products being one of them, but balanced among various other things.

It's obvious that Dare just needs to start his on company. :)

Saturday, September 3, 2005 4:01:26 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think Desktop Search, Virtual Earth, Spaces and Messenger are all examples of good products coming out of MSN. I like them and from what I've seen there are millions of end users that like them as well.

I don't think I want to start my own company but perhaps my temperament is less suited for a mature company but instead a growing one. Which is probably why I like working at MSN as much as I do.
Tuesday, September 6, 2005 3:43:51 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
You're fired, asshole!
Tuesday, September 6, 2005 1:33:30 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I don't understand your double faced talk. Why do you need to say in the end that you love working for MSN. It sounds so fake, as if you want to make sure that your management does not get any wrong ideas and they decide to get rid of you.
Tuesday, September 6, 2005 2:03:43 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
>Why do you need to say in the end that you love working for MSN.

I find it funny that so many people find it hard to believe that I love working at MSN. Do you really think every division at Microsoft is run in the same way? MCS is different from Office, XBox is different from Windows, MSN is different from SQL Server, PSS is different from Visual Studio, etc.
Friday, September 9, 2005 11:43:46 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"are the actions of a company that is more interested in protecting its market share than one that is trying to improve the lives of its customers by building great software."

The company could have continued to work on the 3 pillars, and it would hurt their market share and reputation. In the end, it is the financial strength that even allows Microsoft to take on such huge projects. You seem to rest all the blame on the management for cutting features, and mark a hard decision to ship the product.

Well, maybe some of the blame lies with the programmers and testers, who could not implement the projects assigned to them on time, or they were just assigned too much.

There comes a time when a company has to look at how its actions are going to affect its financial position. These decisions are indeed hard.

I'm curious...Are you doing anything to make changes in the company?

Friday, September 9, 2005 3:38:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
>The company could have continued to work on the 3 pillars, and it would hurt their market share and reputation.

The problem with leaving things unsaid is that people jump to the wrong conclusion. The issue with the 3 pillars of Longhorn is that it was a bad idea to make them Longhorn-only in the first place not that they were cut from Longhorn.

>maybe some of the blame lies with the programmers and testers, who could not implement the projects assigned to them on time, or they were just assigned too much.

Sounds like buck passing to me. Are you in management?
Saturday, September 10, 2005 12:20:38 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

> Sounds like buck passing to me. Are you in management?

Far from it. I am a programmer.

But, I used it because by started off this post by saying that you were not happy with the direction in which the executive leadership was taking the company. Isn't is possible that the leadership is thinking about the right stuff, but the guys below are not making stuff happen?? I just wanted to illustrate that either side could be at fault.
Comments are closed.