Jeff Reifman (a former Microsoftie) has a new article about Microsoft that doesn't make any Microsoftie flush with pride: Citizen Microsoft. Here I've been squawking about how we're turning into IBM. Even worse, we might be turning into Boeing.
One interesting bit from the article (bold mine):
In May, Microsoft announced $80 million in cuts to employee benefits. When employees asked why the company couldn't dip into huge cash reserves instead, Ballmer, in a July memo, brushed them off: "The cash is shareholders' money, so we need to either invest in new opportunities or return it to them." Historically, Microsoft's generous benefits and employee stock options have been pretty good for shareholders, too. The company might one day regret Ballmer's pound-foolish approach to morale. But according to Ballmer, Microsoft needed to be "prudent now so we avoid severe measures later." Later in July, Ballmer announced plans for the $75 billion stock dividend for shareholders, the payout of which will be worth nearly 1,000 times as much as the employee benefits that were to be cut. So much for prudence.
In another blow to employees and the Seattle economy, Microsoft is investing in a new technology center in Hyderabad, India. As hiring in metropolitan Puget Sound slows, the company is preparing to ramp up in India, where it can save as much as 70 percent on labor costs. Yet, according to Marcus Courtney, organizer of WashTech, a union for technology workers, there's an oversupply of labor locally. "Microsoft made those profits off our universities and our infrastructure. They have an obligation to us," he says.
(SteveB: it's time for severe measures now. First, fire all upper management that have been directly responsible for slipped schedules and bad products. It's okay: they've got enough riches to live on and we don't need that much expertise on How to Fail. Next, optimize for profit by cutting loose all the products with losses and zero-chance of brining in profit during the next year.)
There are several threads in Reifman's article, winding along to how an amoral corporation will make unhealthy decisions, and noting one of Google's principles is "Don't be evil." But Google has the luxury of having a clean slate (well, except for all of that censoring they quickly buckle to - perhaps they are the worst evil of all: complicit uncaring). Microsofties, at least traditionally, have been very hands on and involved in a higher purpose for the company. Yet the lawsuits and out-right dumb monopolistic behavior puts us in way too deep a moralistic hole to endeavor to higher purpose.
It would be interesting to see if the shift from employee hands-on attention to where we are now correlated with some of the slimier practices Reifman details in his article. We took the eye of the ball and things went from bad to worse.
Note that Reifman also has a blog entry about the article, should you want to comment.
And wrapping up Riffin' with Reifman, I want to point out his earlier Seattle Weekly article: Microsoft's Sacred Cash Cow. If you read it, you'll certainly find a lot of the stuff here resonates with that article and the general discomfort with Microsoft's recent accomplishments and foreseeable dithering. An even better exchange is in his follow-up blog entry to the Cash Cow article.