June 15, 2006
@ 09:46 PM

From the press release entitled Microsoft Announces Plans for July 2008 Transition for Bill Gates

REDMOND, Wash. — June 15, 2006 — Microsoft Corp. today announced that effective July 2008 Bill Gates, chairman, will transition out of a day-to-day role in the company to spend more time on his global health and education work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The company announced a two-year transition process to ensure that there is a smooth and orderly transfer of Gates’ daily responsibilities, and said that after July 2008 Gates would continue to serve as the company’s chairman and an advisor on key development projects.

The company announced that Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie will immediately assume the title of chief software architect and begin working side by side with Gates on all technical architecture and product oversight responsibilities, to ensure a smooth transition. Similarly, Chief Technical Officer Craig Mundie will immediately take the new title of chief research and strategy officer and will work closely with Gates to assume his responsibility for the company’s research and incubation efforts; Mundie also will partner with general counsel Brad Smith to guide Microsoft’s intellectual property and technology policy efforts.

Wow. It looks like the internal grapevine was right. That explains all the press Ray has been getting as the savior of Microsoft.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

June 15, 2006
@ 07:38 PM

Mike Arrington has a blog post entitled AOL-Netscape Launches Massive "Digg Killer" where he writes

On Thursday, AOL’s Netscape property will no longer be just another portal - it’s being converted into a Digg-killer. I was briefed on the new site by Jason Calacanis last week. As of tonight, he owns the Netscape property at AOL. The new site will run at beta.netscape.com for now, converting over to the main Netscape.com property soon.

It’s not exactly a Digg clone (home page screenshot here). Submitted stories are voted on in much the same way, and the more votes a story gets the higher it appears in a category home page or on Netscape.com itself. However, the top few spots in each category and on the home page are determined by an "anchor" - essentially an editor choosing from stories moving up the ranks.

There's also some good commentary on this in Greg Linden's post Netscape's News Scrape and Danny Sullivan in his post Netscape Aims To Be Digg 2.0, Slashdot 3.0 With Community News Model. Using the wisdom of the crowds to improve news sites is an good idea and one that has worked for Slashdot and Digg as Danny Sullivan points out. However I agree with Greg Linden that the holy grail is truly personalized news although the Slashdot/Digg/Netscape approach is a decent middle ground.

I was going to send a mail at work about this and encourage Microsoft to do the same until I realized I didn't even know which division of folks to send the mail to. If you read any random Microsoft press release you'll see the following excerpt

MSN is a world leader in delivering compelling programmed content experiences to consumers and online advertising opportunities to businesses worldwide. Windows Live, a new set of personal Internet services and software, is designed to bring together in one place all the relationships, information and interests people care about most

So MSN is for programmed content like your traditional news site and Windows Live is for personalized content. So which of these two divisions would be interested in a half-way approach like Slashdot or Digg? I literally have no idea and I work at Microsoft. So I cancelled the mail and blogged this instead. If I'm confused by this arbitrary distinction between MSN and Windows Live, I can only imagine how much our customers get it. :)


Tim Bray has a blog post entitled Blogging Cam: Almost Right where he writes

Via Niall Kennedy (who’s been very good lately): Microsoft cameras that have one-button publishing to MSN Spaces. This is so wrong. I don’t want to see a future in which your camera is LiveJournal-enabled or Facebook-ready. When I get a computer or a mobile device, it’s either Web-ready or not, it doesn’t have to be MSN-enabled or Yahoo-blessed.

I agree 100%. I worked on the APIs for MSN Spaces and this was one of my goals. The APIs we expose should be industry standards (de facto or de jure) and we shouldn't think of APIs as being the purvey of exlusionary deals. We are waiting for some things to pull together such as the the Windows Live ID client SDK before announcing more APIs. In the meantime, you can assume that any public APIs we provide will be available to all at not exlusionary. 


Categories: Windows Live

June 15, 2006
@ 05:20 PM

The MSN Spaces team blog has a new entry entitled Spaces Updates! which states

Hey Spaces fans, you may have noticed a change in the URL for your Space.  We’re excited to announce that we released late Monday evening (Seattle time.) 

 In addition to the URL Change, we have added support for many additional modules.  Some of these are:

* Available in these countries for this release:   Australia, United Kingdom, & USA

I have the weather gadget on my space at http://carnage4life.spaces.msn.com. This is a step in the right direction, although ideally I should be able to write my own gadgets to use as modules on my space. That would be killer, except that it introduces a lot of interesting security problems if I could inject mini AJAX applications into my space. A tough problem to solve that would lead to some very cool mashups if figured out. I'd love to be able to add a few of the hundreds of existing gadgets to my space. I also suspect that there'd be a lot more interest in building gadgets when they have a potential audience of tens of millions of people versus to small audience that Live.com has today.


Categories: Windows Live

From the press release entitled Microsoft Hardware Advances Digital Communications Experiences we learn

Consumer research1 has revealed that people want to stay connected, and many would use webcams if they were easier to operate and provided better audio and video quality. To counter those frustrations, Microsoft Hardware and the Windows Live team have joined forces to introduce a line of LifeCams starting with the LifeCam VX-6000 and LifeCam VX-3000.

These next-generation webcams provide groundbreaking video and audio quality that opens the door for richer digital communications experiences. Optimized for use with Windows Live™ Messenger, the world’s largest instant messaging network,2 LifeCams meet the growing demand for easier, more meaningful connections.
Optimized for Windows Live Messenger

LifeCam VX-6000
LifeCam VX-6000
Click for larger version.

The first two available webcams, the Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000 and Microsoft LifeCam VX-3000, bring a new dimension to Windows Live Messenger and feature exclusive industry firsts that streamline the webcam experience:

Windows Live Call Button. Located on the top of each LifeCam, the Windows Live Call Button makes placing a video call a breeze by eliminating the usual multiple steps. Just one touch brings up the Buddy Picker, a tool that shows users only current online buddies. They simply select their contact’s name and they are on their way to making a video call.

LifeCam Dashboard. Built right into the Windows Live Messenger window for easy access during video calling, the LifeCam Dashboard provides simple access to the controls people need most, including pan, tilt and zoom. Now users’ attention stays where it should be — on their video conversation.

One-touch blogging. Windows Live Spaces is one of the fastest-growing blog communities in the world, with more than 50 million individual Spaces. Now, users can post High Definition LifeCam pictures directly to their Windows Live Space blog with one click from within the LifeCam window.

This is another one of the product teams I've gotten to work with in recent months. I'm sure you can guess which of the listed bits of Windows Live integration I worked on. By the way, if you are a hardware vendor or into tweaking your hardware you might be interested in http://dev.live.com/hardware/. Building mashups with Windows Live services isn't going to be limited to Web apps, we expect hardware devices to get in on the game as well.

NOTE: MSN Spaces isn't Windows Live Spaces. Yet.


Categories: Windows Live

That's what I get for not getting financial advice from a professional. :)


Categories: Personal

This week is TechEd 2006, Microsoft's primary conference for IT professionals and developers. There'll be a bunch of announcements about Microsoft products over the next few days but with Robert Scoble on his way out I'm not sure where we are supposed to get our info.

Anyway, on Sunday there was a keynote given by Ray Ozzie which I thought was interesting and is excerpted below

For those of us close to IT, and who have been close to IT for many years, this is a jarring reversal from the days when we saw the latest innovations in computing and communications at places like NCC and COMDEX. In those days, the enterprise requirements for large-scale transaction systems, and the public sector requirements for large-scale scientific computing drove creation of the world's most advanced data centers. Enterprises were showcases for vendors' most sophisticated and scalable technologies.

Today some of the world's most advanced data centers are those designed to directly serve consumers out on the Internet. For example, last month there were about 130 million people who used Windows Live Spaces, another 230 million used our Messenger IM service. More than 250 million people used Windows Hotmail service, hundreds of millions of active, unique users each month. Clearly, building systems at this scale is different than building software for enterprise servers, which are designed to serve thousands or tens of thousands of concurrent users.

It's estimated that just among Microsoft and Yahoo and Google, there are well over 1 million servers racked up in data centers, located around the globe, serving trillions of e-mails, and IMs, and searches, housing many, many petabytes of storage, serving 1 billion Internet users. And the investment continues, you don't have to stray far from our Redmond headquarters to see.
At times of disruption like this there are always extremists. Twenty-five years ago, at the beginning of the PC revolution, some predicted the death of the mainframe, because of the PC. Now there are extremists who believe that every application will be accessed through a browser, and that everything will move to this computing cloud, that your enterprise data center will go away, that you'll trust third parties with your business information, and systems.

Microsoft is taking a very pragmatic approach; a seamless, blended, client-server-service approach. We want to make sure that you can easily transition client and server-based applications to services, or vice-versa. Our services won't be disconnected from existing applications, but instead are going to be designed to complement and extend our Windows and Office platforms to the Internet.

Under the name Live, we'll provide a blend of desktop software, server-based software, and our own enterprise service offering, and our partners' offerings, enabling you to make the right tradeoffs that make the most sense for your business. One notable example of this client-server-service synergy can be found in our approach to information management and search. Our goal is to provide the people within your organization a simplified, unified way of getting at the information that they need, no matter where it resides.

There are two themes I like here. The first is that it seems Ray Ozzie agrees with the My Website is Bigger Than Your Enterprise meme. The funny thing is that even though our CTO gets it, sometimes it is hard to explain to some of the folks working on server products at Microsoft. There is a big difference in the complexity and scale requirements to build a system like Hotmail or MSN Spaces versus building an Exchange or a SharePoint. There are lessons to learn on here, both on the part of vendors like Microsoft as well as customers of enterprise software who want to utilize the lessons that mega-scale online services have learned the hard way. The second theme is that there is a continuum of software experiences that spans both desktop applications and Web applications. I don't believe that Web applications will or should replace desktop applications. On the flip side, I think that desktop applications that don't harness the power of the network (the Web or the intranet) will begin to look archaic in a few years. Ray Ozzie seems to totally get this which is good for Microsoft. Maybe in a few years we can get Steve Gillmor to stop calling it Office Dead. :)

PS: From Trevin's TechEd update it looks like our MSN vs. Windows Live "branding strategy" is just as confusing to end users as I expected. He wrote

Booth fraffic[sic] was pretty light today, and the most frequent question was "What is Windows Live?".  People's guesses at what Windows Live was were all over the map -- some thought it was related to Live Communicator, others thought it was just the www.live.com homepage, while others took wild stabs in the dark.  Gerard commented that one person thought it might be related to our Education/Learning divison.
After talking to about 25 customers, it was abundantly clear that customers have no idea at all what Windows Live is, or how it relates to Windows or MSN.  This explained why there was so little traffic to our booth -- of the people that stopped by, they almost did it by accident.

Trevin is confident that our customers will soon have some of their confusion cleared. I on the other hand am not so sure. I'm sure once the major MSN properties like Hotmail, MSN Messenger and MSN Spaces are rebranded there will be more awareness of 'Windows Live' by customers. However I suspect the confusion around the difference between 'MSN' and 'Windows Live' will continue for quite a while. Maybe some of the marketing folks who fixed the weirdness of having both WinFX and the .NET Framework as dueling brands will be reorged into our division and can fix this foolishness.


Categories: Technology

Nick Carr has a blog post entitled Have Face Will Travel where he writes

So Microsoft's self-styled human face is now some other company's human face. This must be the first corporate human face transplant ever attempted. Will it take? Or will the new body reject the used puss? And what does it say about this whole human face business when a person proclaims himself to be a company's human face and then, when a better offer comes along, tears himself from the old noggin and stitches himself to the new one? That seems a little untoward to me. If I were in a punny mood, I just might call it a mugging.

A company should probably be a little nervous about letting some blogger set up shop as its human face. The earnings the blogger pulls in through the attention economy may accrue more to his own bottom line than the firm's.

I've been thinking about this a little over the past few days. The problem with having visible employees is that when they inevitably leave there is a potential negative PR hit. I started thinking about this when I read Gretchen Ledgard's post entitled closure about the emotional and career impact of having a highly visible corporate blog. I remember thinking that Microsoft's recruiting department had lost some of its shine when Gretchen and Zoe left. Seeing Robert Scoble combating the negative spin on his leaving Microsoft in his post Correcting the Record about Microsoft made similar thoughts come to mind.

What Nick Carr points out is a valid point, however I question the claim that the credit a company accrues due to visible employees accrues more to the employees than the company. It's definitely true that the employees get something out of it. Robert's clout as the 'human face' of Microsoft has gotten him as the cover story of magazines like The Economist and eventually has made him so famous it's been surprising (at least to me) that he'd want to stay at Microsoft as a mere evangelist when he could be off trading his brand for a better gig. On the other hand, there are thousands of people who've changed their impression of the company based on bloggers like Gretchen and Robert. This has directly impacted the hiring situation for the company [given the number of resumes that came in via Gretchen & Zoe's JobsBlog alone] as well as improved customer satisfaction for a lot of product groups.

At the end of the day, who wants to work at the kind of company that is worried that it's employees will become too popular and may get stolen away? Microsoft isn't that kind of company and that's one of the reasons it is a great place to work. If a company is so worried about employees becoming too visible then it probably has deeper personnel problems than just worrying about losing a few bloggers.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

Recently one of the developers on my team asked what the difference was between a program manager and a product manager at Microsoft. It seemed to him that the roles were redundant. Before answering I answered, I suggested we look up both job descriptions at the Microsoft Career site. This is what we found

Product Management @ Microsoft: Product Managers help chart the course of those new products and services as they emerge. They work with the development team to determine product functionality, strategize product positioning, and drive the product launch. After introduction, the Product Management team monitors customer and partner response to the products and refines product strategy to ensure the best possible user experience.

Program Management @ Microsoft: Working across multiple groups with marketing and sales personnel on the customer end, program managers translate customer requirements into product features and create functional specifications. On the implementation end, they prioritize and deliver on those features, working closely with key technical resources, such as software development, testing, documentation, localization, tech support, and more.

Product Management tends to be about answering questions such as why a product should be built and what features should be added to existing products. Program Management is more about answering questions such as when features should be delivered and how they should be exposed to customers. Depending on the division at Microsoft program managers may have more or less influence than product managers on answering the questions about what features are built. 

Here are some examples from my day job that highlights the difference between the job roles. Product Management answers questions like what are the most popular MSN Spaces or MSN Messenger features in the U.S., UK & China and who are the top competitors in each market. Similarly, product management may also answer questions like 'what is the financial impact of focusing the next release of MSN Spaces to be more competitive with photo sharing sites like Flickr versus making it more competitive with social networking sites like MySpace. Program managers work on actually designing the software that ends up being built based on input from product management. There are User Experience (UX) PMs who work on the actual user interface design and the workflow of how features should work and then there are platform PMs [like me] who work on what the logical schema for various concepts in the application should be and design the APIs through which various front end & back end systems can interact with the feature(s).

In Windows Live we also have a difference between Product Planner and Product Manager. I actually have no insight into what the difference in job roles is here and wouldn't mind some education of my own.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

On Friday, S. "Soma" Somasegar posted an entry in his blog entitled .NET Framework 3.0 where he wrote

When speaking to developers about WinFX one question that repeatedly comes up is, “WinFX sounds great, but what happens to .NET?” .NET Framework has becomes the most successful developer platform in the world.  Developers know and love .NET.

The .NET Framework has always been at the core of WinFX, but the WinFX brand didn’t convey this.  The WinFX brand helped us introduce the incredible innovations in terms of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) and the newly christened Windows CardSpace (WCS) formerly known under the codename “InfoCard.”  The brand also created an unnatural discontinuity between previous versions of our framework and the current version.

With this in mind we have decided to rename WinFX to the .NET Framework 3.0.  .NET Framework 3.0 aptly identifies the technology for exactly what it is – the next version of our developer framework.
The .NET Framework 3.0 will still ship with Windows Vista, and will be available down-level for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 as planned.  This change doesn’t affect in any way the ship schedules of either Windows Vista or the .NET Framework 3.0 itself.

The good news to me isn't that Microsoft is fixing the branding confusion around having both WinFX and the .NET Framework. It is cool but what is more interesting is that developers can count on having Avalon (WPF) and Indigo (WCF) on every Windows Vista computer. As someone who's written an application based on the .NET Framework, it totally sucks that I still can't assume that every modern PC running the most up-to-date version of the operating system has the .NET Framework installed. It's finally gotten to the point where .NET Framework v1.1 has mass market penetration but we are on .NET Framework v2.0 and right now [based on my server logs] it looks like for every 1 person who is using v2.0 of the .NET Framework to access my site, there are 10 people on v1.1 of the .NET Framework. It's going to take at least a few more years for that ratio to get any better.

I've been wondering whether there is any point looking at Avalon given that it at this rate it could be four or five years before it has enough mass market penetration to be worth targetting exclusively. With the .NET Framework 3.0 shipping with every Windows Vista PC, the adoption rate should be a lot more rapid than what we've seen for previous versions of the .NET Framework. So now the next question for me is whether LINQ (aka C# 3.0) is expected to ship as part of the .NET Framework 3.0? If so, this would be the most interesting development for Windows developers I've heard all year.

This is probably old news to a bunch of folks but it is news to me.


Categories: Programming