It seems that during the storm of news and blog posts about Robert Scoble and Bill Gates, I missed a couple of newsworthy events involving my employer. Last week Adobe released a press release entitled Adobe and Microsoft which is excerpted below

Adobe has been in discussions with Microsoft for some time, sharing concerns regarding features and functionality in the upcoming releases of Vista (the next version of Microsoft’s operating system) and Microsoft Office. While much of the press coverage to date has centered on disputes over PDF and XPS (a competitive technology to PDF) in MS Office and Vista, the real issue is the protection of open standards.

Adobe is committed to open standards. Adobe publishes the complete PDF specification and makes it available for free, without restrictions, without royalties, to anyone who cares to use it. Because we license the PDF specification so openly, it has become a de facto standard, used by hundreds of independent software vendors worldwide. No other specification is employed on as many hardware platforms, operating systems and applications as PDF. PDF is incorporated into a number of ISO standards, and Adobe encourages developers, independent software vendors and publishers to support and embrace it. While the specification is available publicly, customers expect Adobe to ensure that the format does not become fragmented and that competing implementations of PDF do not undermine what customers have come to expect in terms of reliable viewing and printing of PDF documents across platforms and browsers.

Microsoft has demonstrated a practice of using its monopoly power to undermine cross platform technologies and constrain innovation that threatens its monopolies. Microsoft’s approach has been to “embrace and extend” standards that do not come from Microsoft. Adobe’s concern is that Microsoft will fragment and possibly degrade existing and established standards, including PDF, while using its monopoly power to introduce Microsoft-controlled alternatives – such as XPS. The long-term impact of this kind of behavior is that consumers are ultimately left with fewer choices.

In response, Microsoft released a press release entitled Statement from Microsoft Concerning Adobe which is excerpted below

Microsoft welcomes Adobe’s reaffirmation that PDF is an open standard, made available for free, without restrictions, without royalties, to anyone who cares to use it. Adobe’s frequently stated commitment to PDF as an open standard was the basis upon which Microsoft decided to include support for saving documents in the PDF format in 2007 Microsoft Office system. Customers running Office have clearly said it would be helpful to be able to easily save documents as PDF files. Microsoft expected that Adobe would applaud, rather than object to, our support for the PDF standard in the most widely used productivity software product.

Adobe has now expressed concern that Microsoft would one day “extend” the PDF specifications. Microsoft has not extended the PDF specifications and has no interest in doing so. Our only interest is to support our customers by making it easy to export Office documents in the standard PDF format so they can be viewed in Adobe Reader and printed. Adobe is a participant in the 2007 Office system beta program and can see for itself that Microsoft has not extended the PDF specifications.

To our knowledge Adobe has not imposed limits on how third parties support the PDF format or differentiate their products through extensions. Nevertheless, Microsoft wishes to confirm that it will not extend the PDF specifications published by Adobe. Microsoft hopes that, with this assurance, Adobe will withdraw its objection to including support for PDF in 2007 Office system.

It looks like the ball is now in Adobe's court. I suspect that there is an additional [unstated] concern that the inclusion of PDF support in Microsoft Office reduces the attractiveness of Adobe's suite of products for generating PDF. It would be probably be hard to take that to court, although I've seen  cases which I thought had less merit go against Microsoft. It'll be interesting to see what the response from Adobe will be on this one.


The Indigo Windows Communication Foundation folks have decided to let the code do the talking in showing that they are serious about supporting Plain Old XML over HTTP (POX) and RESTful Web services. You can download the WCF RSS Toolkit and try it out yourself. If you are like me, you may not have all the requisite beta bits installed to run it, in which case you can peruse the WCF RSS Toolkit Code Samples which show how straightforward it is to produce RSS or Atom using WCF. 

Sam Ruby has asked whether the WCF RSS Toolkit supports ETags which is really a proxy for asking whether WCF supports manipulating HTTP headers directly. In my conversations with WCF folks like Yasser & Doug, the answer is that although the WCF RSS Toolkit doesn't support ETags that this was due to time constraints than any limitations in WCF. The Windows Communications Foundation will support service enpoints directly interacting with HTTP headers and HTTP methods. So one could build a real-world RSS endpoint or even a WebDAV or Atom Publishing Protocol end point with WCF.


Categories: XML Web Services

The Google Blogoscoped blog has an entry entitled An Inside View From a Google Employee summarizes a very in-depth Something Awful discussion board interview with a developer who claims to work at Google and is currently responsible for the Google Calculator project as his current 20% project. Excerpts from the summary are listed below

  • "Nobody keeps track of 20% time with any care whatsoever. It’s assumed that, if a deadline is pressing on your main project, you’ll work on that. If your main project constantly has looming deadlines, it’s time to talk to your manager or your tech lead and tell them that they’re pushing too hard.” Zorba adds that management understands that a programmer can’t be pushed over limits for more than a week at a time.

    And: “At Google, the managers and tech leads assume that programmers can manage their own time. If a programmer can’t manage their own time they’re probably not a good fit at Google anyway."

  • ZorbaTHut says that Google is mostly C++, Java, and Python (or so he’s been told).
  • On how Google goes about staffing a Test Engineer position, Zorba replies: "I don’t know what other teams are like, but on my team everyone owns their own tests and handles their own quality."

  • Zorba: "[W]e have one monolithic source control system across the entire company. This lets us link in handy libraries from other projects, and is honestly one of the coolest things about working here – if there’s something common you want, chances are good it’s already been written."

  • ZorbaTHut tells us he was assigned on Google Desktop first but didn’t like that much, so he was allowed to switch to working on Google Video. "I actually worked on some neat stuff on Google Video, all of which got cancelled before release. I unfortunately can’t tell you what it was."
  • On what kind of info Google employees are allowed to share:
    "If we haven’t announced it publicly, and it’s a project or a coming feature or anything more financially interesting than ’what color are your carpets’, don’t talk about it. End of story".

  • "The company’s structure, at least for engineers, is amazingly flat."
    Zorba says the Google hierarchy is just five levels: Programmer - Tech lead - Manager - Department lead - Larry/Sergey/Eric. Google just assumes their workers are competent, Zorba adds.

A lot of this jibes with stuff I've heard from about working at Google from Google employees or second hand from friends of employees. Thus I assume the interviewee is legit and is either an employee or someone with a contact inside the company. If he is an employee, he's probably going to get fired for this if Google's past actions are any indication.


The has a blog post entitled Is Meta Better? where he writes

Let me start with Digg. It is a proven model.  It works. When we funded delicious, Digg was about half the users and traffic of delicious. They are not the same service, but the delicious popular page and Digg are both places you can go see what's "hot" on the Internet. Since that time, Digg has grown to 1.3mm unique visitors a month compared to only 350k for delicious. These are Comscore Media Metrix numbers. Clearly Digg has a more mainstream user experience. Further, Digg's audience has doubled in the past three months, so it's growing fast.

But let's put this in perspective. Digg's reach (UVs) puts it 735th on Media Metrix' top 1000 sites list, between upromise and taleo. So in the grand scheme of things Digg isn't necessarily the next big thing on the Internet.

I find it surprising that even with the clout of Yahoo! behind it, sees such a relatively small amount of unique users a month. I guess this goes back to the 53,651 meme. I often see people at work using and Digg as examples that a feature or idea is sound but it is clear that these services aren't really popular enough to draw such conclusions.

By the way, given that RSS Bandit has seen over 250,000 downloads this year it looks like we'll soon be eligible to be purchased by Yahoo!. If so, I promise we'll be cheaper than . ;)

PS: Before I get any weird mail, the last comment is a joke. RSS Bandit is BSD licensed so you don't need to pay me us money to do anything you like with it.


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.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

I finally had some free time yesterday to explore the Windows Live Expo API and quickly whipped up a gadget which browses apartment and condo listings in a zip code of your choice. Given that we might be moving again this summer since a noisy bar opened across the street, this gadget will turn out to be quite handy. Below is a screenshot of the gadget.

You can add it to your page by going here and clicking .  I didn't really have much problems with the Expo API beyond the fact that it only accepts latitudes and longitudes so I have to use the Yahoo! Geocoding API to convert zip codes to lat/long coordinates before calling the Expo API. The fact that they both used RESTful APIs definitely made writing this mashup a breeze.

I'd love to add a feature to the gadget where I can add an apartment I like to one of my collections in Windows Live Local since I already have a collection of "apartments we should check out" there already. However there are a number of issues which prevent this today. Of course, I know all the right folks to nag to make the changes that would make this possible. :)


Categories: Windows Live | XML Web Services

I saw two related posts on TechCrunch this morning that resonated with some of the issues I face in my day job. The post entitled MySpace Nukes states

Well, so much for the experiment that allowed people to find out when someone on MySpace changes their relationship status. MySpace’s friendly lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to David Weekly, the engineer who built, demanding he take the site down and claiming that his "activities are causing and will continue to cause MySpace substantial and irreparable harm."
Something tells me that MySpace might be exaggerating just a bit when they say is causing them "undue server burden". And if I’ve learned anything from covering companies, it’s that sending a cease and desist letter to a small, one-man startup is generally not going to work out the way you planned.

there is also another post entitled Why is Flickr afraid of Zooomr? which states

Flickr says that users own the the images and tags we enter into their system. Apparently that doesn’t mean they have to make it easy for us to take what we own elsewhere.

When Kristopher Tate, the founder of the feature-rich startup photosharing site Zooomr (see prior coverage), asked Flickr earlier this month for access to their Commercial API, Flickr’s response by email was that "we choose not to support use of the API for sites that are a straight alternative to Flickr." Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield posted to a Flickr forum on Wednesday saying that when it comes to direct competitors like Zooomr, "why should we burn bandwidth and CPU cycles sending stuff directly to their servers?"

The concerns brought up by the MySpace and Flickr folks are concerns that I've had to deal with as our various services such as MSN Spaces and MSN Messenger have grown and we've considered ways to open up these services to third parties via APIs. First of all, despite what Mike Arrington thinks there definitely is a concern when a service shows up whose entire business model is based on polling your website and screenscraping the HTML several times a day. There is a definitley a valid concern if a cottage industry of services springs up around polling MySpace and crawling the various social networks and profiles on the site. Given that there are already necessary evils one has to deal with like search engines and RSS readers, no one who build a successful online service wants to increase the number of web crawlers hitting their site unless absolutely necessary.

However if there are enough of these kinds of requests, it may point to an oppostunity for the website to provide an API. This often ends up building an ecosystem of services and applications aroung the website which ends up benefitting everyone. On the flip side, I often wonder about the balance between making it easy for users to get their data and making it easy for competitors to poach our users. Flickr makes it easy for users to get their data from the service but is hesitant about making it easy for competitors [which includes big players like Google not just startups like Zooomr] from simply bulk copying user information from their service. I think it's a fine line and I've had debates with folks like Mike Torres about where exactly the line is crossed.

In both instances above, the issue isn't the specific incident but the aggregate effect of allowing the behavior to continue.


The Windows Live Favorites team has a post on their blog entitled Live Favorites - Beta No More! which states

We, the Live Favorites Team, are happy to announce that as of today Live Favorites is officially released as a V1 product... Beta No more!
A little while ago we put into production our final V1 service and web site.  Check it out:

Expanded Market Support

Live Favorites is now available in 37 markets and 11 languages around the world.  We're thrilled to be able to bring the service to so many people!

Live Favorites Messenger Tab New Features

We've got some great new features in our Messenger Tab:

  • Folder Support - See all of your favorites in folders!  Click on the small Folder icon to switch between Top Favorites and Folder Views.
  • Favorite Count - See exactly how many favorites you have stored.
  • Add Favorites - You can now add favorites directly from Messenger. Click the down arrow next to "Manage" to manage your favorites, add a favorite, or refresh Messenger's list of favorites

Live Favorites Web Site Enhancements

Of course, your main place to access and manage your favorites is still our website at  We've added a lot of enhancements for this release, check 'em out:

  • Speed!  - We've done a lot of work to greatly reduce rendering time on our site.
  • Browser Support -  Live Favorites fully supports IE6, IE7 and Firefox.
  • Multi-Select - You asked for it! Select multiple favorites and delete or move them with a single click.  Simply hold down the Ctrl key and click on multiple items to select them.
  • Favorites Status - We now tell you exactly how many folders and favorites you have
  • Easier Sharing - Share your favorites with a single click!  In the details view click "Private" on any favorite to share it, and vice versa!
  • UI Enhancements - Resize columns!  Sort by any column!   Improved graphics! List View!  Favorites Preview!

Congrats to Irwin, Lucius, Brion and the rest of the Live Favorites gang for getting v1 of their service out the door


Categories: Windows Live

The team have been getting a lot of feedback about how to improve their user experience and it looks like they paid attention to a lot of the critics. The post on the team blog entitled UI refresh outlines some of the changes they've made including 

 -          Wehave simplified our first run experience to provide a fast andstraight-forward experience for users that are interested in asearch-focused page, as well as the option for users to personalizetheir homepage or learn more about Windows Live services.  

-          Wehave heard that users want a personalized homepage that is easier toset up, so we are also introducing a new customization step to helpusers personalize their homepage. Users can now choose from 5templates to quickly get started with a few interesting pages rightaway (including a world cup template!)

-          You’ll also note some look and feel improvements with a new logo, improved themes, header and page treatments that make the page more visually appealing.

I know there has been a lot of folks at work have nagged the team about making the start page a simple search box while others want to have a more pre-programmed feel like It looks like the team has found a good compromise. Here are some screenshots of the new start page and one of the templates that can be chosen as a start page. The world cup template below is particularly amusing to me because I've seen a bunch of internal criticism the team has been getting for not doing something to support the world cup.

First run experience

World Cup template

There are almost 50 comments on to the blog post announcing the changes as I write this and most of them are positive. Kudos to Sanaz and company.


Categories: Windows Live

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