Sunday, March 27, 2005

Microsoft Toast

It takes a crisis to raze a company.

Financial Times article reference from a recent comment:

and as if on cue we get:

"Is Microsoft Toast?"

ht tp://

Well, Thomas Hazlett's " Is Microsoft Toast" article at least ends on a high-note:

Its dominance challenged, Microsoft is naturally striking back – with a new, more bug-resistant Internet Explorer web browser, with vastly expanded email (Hotmail and MSN) offerings, and an array of intensive counter measures. This looming competitive Armageddon may well rock Microsoft to its core, it most certainly will produce a new bundle of benefits for consumers – something the “antitrust case of the century” never did.

High-note to me because a rocking of Microsoft to the core, let alone an Armageddon, will hopefully be an all-around beeyotch-slap to our fouled-up product-team bureaucracies that also blows away the process-for-the-sake-of-process-to-keep-all-these-middle-managers-employed. I truly believe all these people we've hired has resulted in us shipping less products than more. There are more people in a product-planning room telling why it's too difficult and hard to ship a feature vs. defending why it's so desperately needed and would make us money. Small teams with a vision and a touch of enthused-naiveté would help us start the long scramble upwards.

Note: Scoble has a post related to this as well: Financial Times asks if Microsoft is feeling the heat.

A few more random things:

  • Unsurprisingly, lots of interesting comments in Better off without Ballmer?
  • Another call-out from the world of PSS in comment that says that any cut-backs right now are unbalanced and especially hurting the public-face of Microsoft as our support quality dwindles.
  • Sorry, no apologies from me from being too Redmond-centric. Though it's very interesting to hear what's happening in the rest of Microsoft in the US / World because, well, I don't have much visibility into the goings on in North Carolina.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Better off without Ballmer?

So would Microsoft be better off without Ballmer? Should he be replaced?

I haven't touched on this because I think that our woes are not about one person (even the CEO) but rather about a whole mess of persons that we can do without. But as of late, the comments here and elsewhere have been more and more anti-Ballmer.

About two years ago, I was surfing the web after War Team and followed a Forbes article off of MoneyCentral grading various CEOs. Ballmer got a 31% approval rating. I was in shock. Microsoft's CEO getting such a low rating? Worse than Carly? Whoa. This was the first crack in my rose-colored reading glasses. I was actually so mad at such a horrible assessment of my beloved CEO that I voted with my browsers "back" button. Come on, Ballmer doesn't only bleed the Microsoft colors, he sweats 'em!

One comment asks:

I'm not sure if it is fair to blame Ballmer for the current state of the stock value.

I mean, what has he done or not done that is impacting the stock?

Now, maybe this was just bait. Because, dang, the next comment unloaded both barrels and a good swing of an energy sword to boot:

  • along with Gates, made decisions that resulted in the company being found guilty of breaking the law twice(and counting)resulting in fines, restrictions on future conduct and incalculable loss of corporate respect/credibility
  • along with Gates, invested over $10B of cash in failed telecom investments that ended up being written offf
  • failed to make any meaningful investments at the bottom of the market crash when numerous companies were available for cheap, MSFT had tons of cash and other smarter CEO's were taking the opp to make their companies stronger
  • invested $10B's in various "emerging" businesses that even years later represent only about 10% of MSFT's revenue, aren't growing at even 10% (in BSol's case, not growing at all) and collectively aren't profitable
  • taken huge charges against earnings for options expenses and related most of which has gone not to average emps but to the snr most mgt who in many cases have failed to deliver and yet bail on their shares at every opportunity (basically a non-performance performance bonus).
  • as a result of several of these, has allowed the company to go FIVE years w/o increasing earnings despite revenue having grown by 50% (last time I checked, stock prices are a reflection of earnings)
  • approved the onerous Licensing 6 program when many companies were hurting economically thereby pissing off a good portion of our customers and fueling the move to Open Source.
  • has been at the helm as MSFT failed to take security seriously and then has had to drop everything to play catch up, missed the paid search move and had to play catch up, missed the move to web services and had to play catch up, missed the portable music wave and had to play catch up, let IE stagnate and had to play catch up, and now seemingly can't ship any major product on time even stripped of formely core features (can you say Longhorn, CRM, SQL, VS, etc. etc. etc?).
  • has been at the helm as MSFT's overall growth has slowed from 20-30% to less than 10% and forecast to slow further with no seeming end in sight.
  • despite the stock having lost 50% over the past 5 years, approved/promoted the $32B payout plan when virtually every expert suggested that doing an accretive acq, a larger buyback or increasing the ongoing dividend would all be better for the stock -with the subsequent catastrophic results.
  • as a result of all this, has basically lost the confidence of Wall St and investors, who no longer see MSFT as well managed/positioned/aggressive but rather poorly managed/increasingly poorly positioned and always playing catch up. Hence the massive recent sell-off, the new 52-week low, the historically low P/E and the current 30% discount to its peer group which if anything is getting wider. Indeed, I think the prevailing sentiment has gone from "MSFT is solid, it's only a matter of time until they rebound" to "Is this company done?". There have even been several articles in the popular press recently making exactly that case.

    Can I stop now or would you like more examples? Not questioning his desire, but the facts suggest that he may not have the ability/judgement required and sometimes simply making a change can shake things up for the positive. One thing is for sure, weakness breeds more weakness in companies, stocks, etc. So either we start showing we're not done and start [positively] surprising people with our products, business moves, results, etc, or else those doubting us are likely to be proved correct.

The stock is in a piss-poor state of affairs right now. It would be good for senior management to come out and address the current reality of the stock and the analysts views that things aren't rosy and even when we do release Longhorn that it most likely won't be much of a boost to the stock. Things are not destined to get better anytime soon. MSN paid search, while a good idea, is only going to help the stock price from skidding below the mid-20s and just plain hold the line, not make it rocket off into the stratosphere.

But if the approach to lack of interesting products is to start talking up Blackcomb and all the cool whizzy features we'll be releasing then, well, you can be sure that this rhetoric is best accompanied by the band playing on the sinking Titanic.

We're getting ready to go through a rough haul and it's going to take a lot more than towel cut-backs and office-supply consolidation. We need a massive reorganization and a nice, big-fat trimming of staff, worldwide. Those that are left can roll-up their sleeves and impress the hell out of the world.

20% There, 20% Here?

Just a quickie: Joe Beda has a post about Google's 20% benefit.

There have been plenty of times I've gazed through the window trying to figure out how this kind of thing could work for Microsoft because I really, really want all these smart people at Microsoft to unleash disruptive innovation. Seeing Joe's context-setting of how it works for Google makes me realize that it would be really, really hard to get this to work at One Microsoft Way.

There are people who serve as jealous guardians to some parts of the source code for their team's product. Woe unto you should you go and randomly check something in, even if it's not breaking anything. They might as well fly into your room in a swirling fit of red robes - " Dost thou knowest what great sin thou hath wrought upon the repository!?! "

It's weird. And the longer you're in the group, the more you naturally accede to these self-appointed feature-priests until the offerings and deference just become business as usual. Whew, some groups really need some heavy people rotation, if only to free the source code from their oversight.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Old School Competencies

A recent comment to a post where I extolled the virtues of the Microsoft Competencies (internal link):

Microsoft is currently streamlining the competencies. They're replacing the wheel with triangles! You can see the improvement already... Dev & PM will see the changes next review cycle, test sees them now (and these changes are also tied to the layoffs of low-level testers who can't code).

Hmm? This comment wedged itself in the back of my mind (in the "Whachu talkin' about, Willis?" region). Sure enough, this past week while trying to garnish my career discussion with some nice doses of the competency lingo, I stumbled across the career model site via the competencies site. After a quick scan I closed my office door so that I could swear freely.

I can only surmise at this point that HR's & Microsoft People Research's logo must be, "If it ain't broke, we haven't been there yet." The competencies are in the process of being broken.

I like the idea of Career Model and I can see it's indeed been heavily influenced by the recent rotor-tilling that Test portion of Microsoft has gone through. It's always great to be able to lay out an idea for a new hire about the various career options.

But don't you touch my competencies.

So if you're a Microsoftie, take a moment to go through some of the new, emerging competencies nested in the Career Model site. The old competencies pretty much represent crisp, common-sense focused attributes divided into four increasingly challenging levels. The new competencies seem to be a cut-and-paste job of buzz-worded business jargon arbitrarily divided into four columns of no particular difference. For instance, in one of the competencies there are attributes in Level 4 that I sure know I'd be fired for not doing every day an issue came up at work.

While the traditional set of career development resources were laser sharp focused and came back to the competencies, the recent five years has resulted in a web-page barrage of career and development sites that are so spread out, unfocused, and wordy that no one is going to have a chance to absorb it all. So, we ignore it. We've no doubt have put lots of money and effort into corralling this career information together, but no one uses it.

As the competencies go, so too goes the last vestiges of Old School Microsoft that has built the foundation of all the billions of dollars we currently bring in. It's like the last healthy plant in the newly landscaped garish yard finally dropping its leaves - why bother?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Good Questions in the Echo Chamber

Via Tim Bray's post Go od Question comes this post from Brad DeLong: M$ FT. Basically, it's a question about where all that Microsoft R&D money goes. Snippet:

What will users have to show for R&D expenditures that may crack $9 billion this fiscal year? What will shareholders have to show for this $9 billion. I know, they say "10% sales growth." But what would sales growth be if R&D were cut back to, say, $1 billion?

Well, several questions I guess. Tim especially wants to know what the Selling, General and Administrative Expenses is comprised of.

These questions should be easy for our leadership to answer... should anyone ever ask them and then not settle for a vague handwaving answers about innovation. Sorry, but I think all the analysts and interviewers have finally gathered up their skirts to avoid anymore sunshine from being blown up them. But yet we still blow sunshine when we should be shipping product (thumbs up to MSN as of late).

Brad, Tim: I work here and even I have scratched deep ravines into my scalp trying to usher forth a good explanation about where all that money has gone (though right now I have a mental image of Franklins swirling around a big drain). The recent on-campus Microsoft Research TechFest was a nice diversion and all (ooo, free laser pointer!), but it sure didn't feel like a billion dollar experience, let alone billions-and-billions (I have a feeling that an experience like that would still be with me).

A track back to Brad's piece leads to Mmmm... let's call our customer's dinosaurs! which leads back to, oh, today's earlier post.

Feeling Like Lead

A recent comment:

mini, more support for your position that MSFT needs to make radical changes (vs the "everything's great, we're kicking ass and taking prisoners" crowd): 10213336.html?cm_ven=YAHOO&cm_cat=FREE&cm_ite=NA

So that link brings up the story Microsoft Feels like Lead by Bill Snyder. Snippet:

"There's no real reason to sell Microsoft now, but there's no compelling reason to buy," says Pat Adams, chief investment office of Choice Funds, which holds the stock.

You know, maybe we've all died and this is Purgatory! Oh, we can jump around the stage and yell out that we're in an innovative Heaven, but the more things change (NASDAQ, other tech companies going up) the more things stay the same (our flat-butted stock). Heaven help you if you didn't cash out of your lowly stock options when given a chance.

To quickly close, a small bit of chart-porn via another recent comment:

Terrible Lizard, Terrible Marketing

It's official: we hate our customers.

At least, we're okay bullying them around and calling them names. I can only imagine Gates sneaking behind an Office customer to get down on all four so that Ballmer can push them backwards and flip them over, bellowing, "Dinosaur! Unevolved corporate dinosaur!"

Or maybe we're just being passive-aggressive, and name-calling them for their love and satisfaction with Office 97. They can't see any reason to upgrade to Office 2003. So we unleash our marketing campaigns to allow them to be enlightened to all the great reasons to upgrade to the latest version.

Isn't it a very big, loud "thunk!" of a product feature canary dropping dead when the features you ship are so intangible and unexplainable that marketing can't even market them? Instead, they have to show people creating dogpiles of ecstasy thanks to Great Moments at Work? Or, they have to resort to the emotions of fear and inadequacy by showing your old software represents reptilian-brain slowness on your part?

How about telling me directly why Word is so much better than in Office 97? Or Excel? Or - ooo! - okay, Outlook is indeed pretty. That makes me feel good... where's my wallet? PowerPoint, anything new there? As for the rest of the programs... well, I just get p.o.'d if I ever am forced into using them.

Strangely, Joe Wilcox thinks the Evolved marketing is great and refreshing. I'm missing something.

I'm more on-board with Geor ge Parker's rant. Same with Steve Rubel - Microsoft Office Marketing is Stuck in the Prehistoric Era (interesting comments there, too - dang, is Scoble just plain everywhere?). Steve provides three modern-day approaches for Microsoft Office to consider to get buzz building around the products:

  1. Find referenceable users and empower them to blog on your site - Use PubSub, Feedster, MSN Search and customer data, etc. and find the most vocal Office 2003 enthusiasts in the blogosphere. Initiate a dialogue with them and, if they're interested, give them blogs where they can regularly chronicle how they use Office 2003 to improve their daily productivity. Let the customers tell your story.
  2. Have loyal Office 2000 and 2003 users debate each other head-to-head - Find two users of the Office suite - one a loyal 2000 user, another a 2003 fan - and let them them debate each other on the merits of their choice of suite via a shared blog.
  3. Give out free upgrades - Seed 500 bloggers with free upgrades to Office 2003 and index their posts via an RSS-powered portal.

It would be interesting to see more Microsoft individual contributors actually actively advocating and using our products in a visible and shared fashion. But that would require giving them time to do this. I'm pretty passionate about what I develop and I do my best to advocate for it internally, but I can only dream about having time to build that to the next level of creating quality components I'd like to share outside of the intranet. I'm sure there are a lot of folks in Office that are the same way and can create tools and examples that make the latest bits shine, shimmer, and sing. But they are not afforded the time and luxury for this.

Is a Google-esque 20% affordance the answer? I don't think so (mostly because all the lazy dot-com dead-woods in my building would be the first lining up for that playtime). Maybe after we've had some good layoffs. But for now, if leadership was to get behind people providing compelling reasons for customers to use the latest technology, they can then ensure that folks producing quality results had the time to do so and that they were rewarded. If we can't demonstrate the coolness and greatness of our own products, who can?

Update: fixed bad anchor close tag. Clarification: what I'm looking for in the above two paragraphs isn't more blogging but rather a lightweight process where Microsofties can release great software - add-ons, power-toys, whatever - when our new software comes out that can build buzz and love for the new software rather than throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Big Huge Comment Round-up!

I certainly wished that Blogger had a feed for comments because half (or perhaps more) of what happens here is in the comments. The Atom XML feed doesn't even post the URL for the comments for each post.

So, as a short-hand gift for those wanting to find the occasional gem that gives you insight into the dirt under the Microsoft rug, here's a link to each post, starting at the comments, some with commentary about those comments:

(skipping posts that have zero comments)

Blast off for Mini-Microsoft!
Contains what I think is the best of all comments slamming me. Someone (who?) really doing a good job of channeling BillG: Upon reading most of your posts I have these comments. Most of your ideas are unoriginal and obvious, while some are plain stupid. There's a follow-up to this later in Comments on Recent Comments (below).
Robert Scoble on Microsoft and Benefits
Great Time for Microsoft Employees to Find Wonderful New Jobs
Story of someone who left Microsoft.
Microsoft Review Season and Great Chris Anderson Posts
Performance Tuning MSFT.exe (or, How to Save Microsoft $1,000,000,000 Now)
A request for less leaders out of touch with shipping great products.
Under 3.25 Lifetime Average Review Score at Microsoft? It's Time to Re-Interview!
Not all that popular. Ass calling all around.
GAH!!! Microsoft to hire 3,000 in area
Ed Draper takes a big swig of the Kool-aid and puts me in for some deep analysis.
"Fire Me? Oh, hell no! Microsoft should fire YOU!"
Tough story of a 14 year veteran moved on and another observing that the Old School Microsofties have been leaving in greater numbers.
A Microsoft Targeted Layoff that will also Increase Employee Morale: HR
Microsoft and WWGD - What Will Google Do? Time for Pre-Emptive Innovation.
Notes how I'm lobbying for Hailstorm. Now there's concern that Google is making all of Microsoft's failures into reality (smart-tags, Hailstorm). We might see something there yet, and you know if Google does it, we won't be far behind, like a hungry rabid dog chasing a tired bicycler.
Microsoft "Company" Meeting 2004
Microsoft OOF, asking America about Microsoft
I think the one and only Linux-bait I've seen here.
Comments on Recent Comments
Excellent: First, an interesting story about the decline of Charlotte / PSS-East. Then, YES, a follow-up to that new orifice ripper.
Dangerous Transitions
Employee Growth Chart
Let's cut Sales! No Marketing! No UA!
Satan's Process Excellence
Pretty good discussion of process and the role of the PM etc.
Your Review, Your Numbers, Your Choices
Wow and Holy-smokes - lots of long posts here. Just read'em if you haven't already.
Random Mid-September Comments
Microsoft Layoffs, Hiring, and Offshoring
Microsoft Giving Campaign 2004
Riffin with Reifman - Citizen Microsoft
http://career/ and Your Dream Job.
When Microsoft Should Walk Away
Ka-Pow! The Google Desktop.
Goodbye Cans, Hello Dispenser
My paranoia here was misplaced (seems as though this has been that way for a while) but some other changes outside of Redmond are revealed.
Citizen Microsoft Follow-Up
Microsoft Reaching out to Google
Some good general comments around Google and Microsoft. And Scoble provides a visit.
Microsoft's Financial Horizon
One of my favorites, because the charts are still live and working. Info-Porn! And the horizon is still flat.
Is it wrong to want to kiss Joel Spolsky?
My goodness, you mean not everyone loves Joel?
Why Microsoft is in Trouble
You're Fired
Cut-backs, offshoring, and PSS
Interesting story regarding Bangalore coming up to speed on customer support.
The November Clip Show
Yeah, yeah, I love you guys, too. My URL got printed in Seattle Magazine? I'll have to point that out with suave pride the next time I'm puttin' on my moves... yeah.
Does Microsoft care about politically correct speech?
Who is John Galt?
A Light in the Darkness
Back and forth business discussions.
Scoble, firing, and Microsoft as "Brand Cool"
The first time I noticed Scoble wanting to trim the Microsoft workforce (MSN-found received that focus, as of late).
Innovation is hard in a big, slow Microsoft w/ Gates / Ballmer / Raikes slowing things down.
Geeks Over Troubled Water
Lots of discussions over demos and how this particular foul-up was due to IR interference.
Whoa, Maxi-Microsoft?!?
Anti-Maxi comments.
Apple Crashing the Party
More demo discussions and whether Microsoft is held to a higher standard.
62 Testers
Interesting discussions - especially about the level of extra visibility testers will have into fellow-testers level (and soon Dev and PM?)
Proudly Serving up Microsoft Goodness
Harsh reviews and BS being called on some Pollyanna-isms.
Something is Rotten in the Town of Redmond
Wow, good reading here ranging all over the scale. I especially like the call for The Return of Gates.
Let's Fire all the Middle Managers
Well I guess I got a lot of non-managers behind this. We don't suck as much as Novell, though?

Ex-Microsoftie Spotting

I think we need a trendy name for the new game of finding the latest ex-Microsoft veteran, where they are working now, and what their blog might reveal regarding Microsoft vis-à-vis the new job. And just what kind of maintenance are they doing between the bridge from Microsoft to their new job?

Joe Beda moved on a while ago to Google. In his random update post, he notes:

The contrast between Google and Microsoft couldn't be greater (at least from an engineer's point of view). No meetings and few politics means that I spend much more time coding. I've written more code so far at Google than I have in the last year at MS. (That really isn't apples to apples as I spent most of my time in the last year at MS writing specs.) I totally feel like I'm in the loop on my project without having to play political games. I guess that is what happens on smaller teams.

Okay, all you Microsofties, just imagine: next week, you have no meetings to go to. You just have to do your work. And then the next week will be just like that. Creating great features for customers. Pop! That's the dream bubble above your head getting punctured by the Outlook reminder for three different meetings you need to be attending in fifteen minutes (no wonder I always start feeling dread at forty-four minutes after the top of the hour). Yes, anytime my boss wants to scare me into never advancing to his level, he just turns his laptop around to show me his calendar for the week.

No meetings? I'd be so productive I can't even allow myself to think about it for another moment.

A bit ago, there was the whole MarkJen ex-Microsoftie now ex-Googler and now Plaxo-rific. Enough about that.

This previous week, everyone's been a buzzin' about Mark Lucovksy's move to Google and his recently discovered note from February about Shipping Software and how Microsoft can't do it as well anymore. It was a great post especially because he was accumulating super comments, but then Mark decided that wasn't too cool and wiped the commenting out. Boo. Kevin Schofield's response to Mark ended up collecting some good comments, too, especially that whole "to the moon" gaffe. His follow-up post.

Meanwhile, Pat Helland revealed that he's turned in his blue badge to go to work for Amazon. It's a 100% class-act post and he leaves behind nothing but a fortified bridge from his past to his future and goodwill all-around.