Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Something is Rotten in the Town of Redmond

Michael Malone is pulling a Marcellus here in his editorial R.I.P. Microsoft? (via Slashdot - also bouncing around in blogs).

Okay, take a moment to go to that article and contemplate Malone's business intuition. Is your Microsoft group fresh or is it rotting?

Is something rotten in Redmond? Yes! It's the rotting, fleshy mass of way too many misdirected, underutilized, and unneeded Microsofties. You would think if we were actually focused on customer problems and issues, we wouldn't have to go on buying sprees to fill in the gaps with anti-spyware and virus defense. We could grab some of these researchers and Black Hole groups and give them a product to develop that there was a real, tangible, headline-grabbing need for.

If we're the best software development house on Earth, what in earth does it mean that we can't ramp up to write great software to protect our own OS when it's under constant assault? Sure, there's some amount of fiscal responsibility in whipping out the acquisition, but didn't anyone see this slow train-wreck in progress and posit, "Hmm, perhaps we should go and write some of our own protective software?"

(If I wanted to be, ahem, cynical, I'd imagine that anyone suggesting that development idea to up-on-high were told, "We'd get higher quality results going outside - we don't want another SP2 schedule impact.")

Our focus is wildly mismatched with customer needs. Well, assuming that customers actually really need us anymore. We've accomplished our goal with Windows XP and Office 97 and have provided a fine foundation for everyone's day-to-day needs. Why do I need Longhorn to load up my iPod? And in reality, the esoteric features we pile on beyond XP and Office 97 are simply an echo-chamber of geeks' delight. And a source of rot.

I think of what my friends in various groups tell me what they're working on. If just about everyone one of those had to explain their feature to someone waiting in line at Starbucks, they'd receive a polite, "I'm sorry, I just don't understand." (subtext: "I have no idea what you're talking about nor how I'd ever use it, let alone pay good money for it; please stop talking to me.").

Chops to Scoble for running Channel 9 and getting informative blogs streaming out of Microsoft. But I don't believe that's the antithesis to Malone's commentary. Perhaps it just provides more clarity. While Alex Barnett has a Baloney post to the R.I.P. piece, do take time to scan through the comments. Simon St. Laurent adds his insights, too: Microsoft high points... dwindling?

As you wander through the upcoming MSR Tech Fest, sniff the air. Which would you prefer Microsoft to direct its corporate spending towards: half-cooked research software subsidized by Windows and Office profits or products actually focused on contemporary customer needs? Maybe I'll be surprised and find a demo of an adaptive antibody system for Windows, but somehow I think I'll just be watching this year's equivalent to an edge-detected cartoon of a kid swinging on the monkey bars. (And in my mind, as I wander around watching so many hawkers in their grown-up Science Fair booths, I'll just be repeating, "We pay you? We actually pay you?")

When it comes to being able to think ourselves out of a problem (stagnant stock, rot being sniffed by business writers), we need less Edison perspiration and more Tesla IQ. We've currently got breadth coverage of a variety of researchy areas, like monkeys typing in hopes to find the next patented tungsten killer-app. Keep that shtuff in the colleges. Let those people go and trim back into a variety of agile small teams that delight the end-user with their features. Actually end up have Office users clamoring the IT departments to upgrade to the new version of Office because of the oh-I-got-to-get-me-some-of-that features. What would that take?

It would smell good. Like the fresh-off-the-presses, crisp cash.

(Updated: updated the URL of the ABC article to its new location.)


Anonymous said...

I would agree. It seems like the NEW Microsoft (meaning the Ballmer era, vs. the Gates era) is more about "thinking of shareholders" than "thinking of customers". We'd rather cut some cost somewhere (or "Do more with less" in management speek) than do what is right for the customer. I remember different days... but sadly, it seems like the leadership has forgotten where it came from and who made MS as great as it is today. And it was (for the most part) not them, but innovation that customers bought in masses.

It makes me sick to see a new "cost cutting" style email right next to the "record revenue" email. I don't see how unhappy Softies and unhappy customers can be "good for shareholders"?

Anonymous said...

Hmm..the problem is - research starts to suck when you give them a goal and say "We need a product for this". Research works best when it is research for research's sake - and this is what Google follows.

MSR has come up with some amazing ideas (like the NextMedia browser I see on Channel 9) - so cut them some slack

Anonymous said...

I left MS because of my horrible bosses and the inordinate amount of time spent on wasteful projects. I still like MS products but the place is a disaster to work at. You could have axed 40% of the people in our large group (CVP down) and it wouldn't have affected anything. In regards to why no one was paying attention to building software to remedy the constant attacks on the system, I would say people were paying attention. Lots. But to actually get anyone to move on it required billg and jimall to say so (rumor has it someone found spyware on bill's machine and he freaked). I mean look who is heading up the security group - a PR guy. Pathetic. And MSR should just be axed. To the commenter who said research sucks when you give them a goal, that is a ludicrous comment. Go look at the crap they present at the research fair. It's useless geeky stuff. MS has the best developers but they are completely out of touch with your average person. Look at Windows Media Center. This is far too complicated for most people. First off it should be an appliance form factor and significantly reduced in capabilities. That's why Tivo did so well and so many now copy them. I won't fault MS for trying to understand the customer. God knows I saw endless decks of customer surveys and interviews and focus groups. But most of that data was just plain wrong. Most customers don't know what they want and rarely if ever tell you. I would go to focus groups where they would ask, 'how much would you pay for this?' (rolls eyes). Apple's Jobs can say 'people don't want video on their handheld media players'. Regardless of if he is right, MS would never say this. Never. They would add the feature regardless of if it made sense.

Anonymous said...

If Ballmer is the "thinking about shareholders" era then as a shareholder, I should be even more concerned than I already am. Under his leadership(?), the stock has performed miserably and 2X as much shareholder value has been destroyed than via Enron. If costs cuts are now required to support even the current pathetic multiple, don't blame shareholders, blame mgt for making poor investment choices and not doing many of the things advocated by mini-msft. From my perspective, MSFT better start taking better care of both its customers and its shareholders or they'll have a lot less of each - in which case these expense cuts will look like the good old days.

Anonymous said...

ABC has changed the link to the article. The new link is

Love it or hate it, Microsoft used to be exciting, controversial, interesting. I think it was the DoJ lawsuit--completely ignored by all the commentators on this article--that really took the piss out of them. Yeah, the restrictions amounted to a slap on the wrist, but now MS has written $5B in checks to settle private suits, they're fucking around with the EU, and the DoJ's just about to meet with them to "discuss" Longhorn. And of course just natural growth and bureaucracy. From a very close vantagepoint (but not quite inside), it looks like it's become a dull place, making dull products and marketing them dull-ly (boringly?). Nobody runs with ideas anymore. Everything has to be run up the chain of command.

So if the Soft's become IBM, that means the next events are:
1. Some suddenly surprisingly horrible financial quarters. Starting in about, say, 2007, when Longhorn does not revive PC sales growth, nobody upgrades to the next version of Office, Unix-Intel server switching finally tapers off and/or Linux/MySQL gets a higher percentage of the switchers, Xbox 2 continues to bleed, Bus solutions goes nowhere, etc...
2. Cutting the middle management fat. Bigtime. Yea! Much needed! Agree with many commentators on this.

If they could fire their THREE p.r. agencies it might help as well. About 10% of the people working for those agencies are helpful. And although I haven't read Dvorak's article on MS marketing and think he's generally an ignorant blowhard, I tend to agree with the premise. What the heck does Mich Matthews' group do except damage control and blocking? Why the hell are you letting your marketing department spend so much time running defense, Microsoft? Attack! Forward! New ideas! New concepts! Shine!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I'll try again with an href, looks like that link didn't post properly.

It is here

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of this is just a big pile of bullshit.

There's a lot of "Let's get rid of research, they don't contribute anything" combined with "Let's create great new software!" in this post. Aren't we at a bit of a conflict here?

The product teams can certainly wow customers in terms of making existing software cooler and better. It seems to me that a little product called Longhorn's goal is exactly this.

But to do the really great stuff with computers, the stuff that our dreams our made of, research has to be done! Is speech synthesis appropiate for a product group to work on? How about binary instrumentation and re-writing techniques? How about facial recognition? All of these things are capable of becoming great products and are on their way to becoming products. But they're research projects. You can't say "I'm going to build a speech generation product that generates speech unrecognizable from a human and ship it in 3 years". You just don't know how to do it.

Investments in areas like these allow Microsoft to develop wholly new products or improve existing products. I think the former is something of which Microsoft could use a little bit more.

It's easy to see disaster at Microsoft right now. You look around and we haven't shipped an operating system in 4 years. We haven't shipped a database in 5 years. We shipped a new version of Office last year but a lot of people don't see what's so cool about it (except for maybe Outlook). We've signed up a bunch of people for long-term subscription contracts and then failed to deliver "new products".

But in the mean time we haven't been standing still. Service packs have become new products in disguise and are free to all customers. That, if anything, is delivering more value to customers. And on top of that it eases long-term support burdens. By the time Longhorn is delivered nearly everyone will be running 2000 or XP. And the size of the 2000 contingent probably won't be very large. In other words nearly the entire world will be running XP.

It's a wonderful world. Microsoft will deliver major new revisions to all the products they haven't shipped in a long time (not Office) over the next year and a half. But before they do this nearly all of our customers will have upgraded to the latest versions of our products.

Anonymous said...

"It's a wonderful world. Microsoft will deliver major new revisions to all the products they haven't shipped in a long time (not Office) over the next year and a half. But before they do this nearly all of our customers will have upgraded to the latest versions of our products."

That must be some pretty good stuff you're smoking. BTW, if the customers have all upgraded to the latest versions of the products BEFORE Longhorn ships, how likely do you think it is that they're going to cough up more $ anytime soon to move to Longhorn and all that other great stuff you're so confident is coming? And if the stock is performing this poorly despite anticipation of Longhorn, what exactly do you think is going to happen when LongHorn arrives and no one wants it?

Anonymous said...

"whipping out the acquisition" or "wiping out the competition"? I sympathize with your position. I believe that internally MS is no longer lead by engineers who like to make products and hasn't been since Windows 95 and NT4 released. Instead it is marketing and accounting executives and VP's who are more adept at controlling a "business". What I mean by that is their full time job is not directly releated to producing a product, but to "running the company". Of course that's a good example of why as companies mature they start to lose their original success factors and move toward mergers and aquisitions.

Anonymous said...

I think we need the "Return of Gates" like Apple had their "Return of Jobs".

Anonymous said...

"I think we need the "Return of Gates" like Apple had their "Return of Jobs"."

Unfortunately, Gates is neither the innovator nor the leader/motivator/marketer that Jobs is. A better idea would be to have both Gates and Ballmer step down and replace them with someone of Job's ability.

Anonymous said...

The LATEST MSFT is so focused on SOX compliance that things that used to take one person to do now take five, or ten.

Trust no longer exist in Redmond.

I just had the same thought "Something is indeed rotten in Redmond" just last week.

Anonymous said...

Guess what? The market figured out something was rotten two years ago:

And judging by the latest action, they think there's more bad news coming. What's worse than a failed $32B payout and your LT CFO leaving? earnings miss and/or warning for 06? Another slip in LongGone? MSFT will soon be in the teens while companies like AAPL, IBM and even ORCL continue to outperform it. Who would have ever thunk that? Great job Ballmer - your place as all-time worst tech CEO is assured although for a moment there I though Carly had you beat.

Anonymous said...

"but why we're kicking ass in them is because the folks we have working for us are smarter than the folks the competitors' have working for them. I don't think that's untrue for any other area of Microsoft."

Kicking ass? 18% growth in Servers when the principal competition - LINUX - is growing at 50-100%? How about negative growth in Office, 6% growth in Windows, less than 10% growth for all of the emerging businesses combined - is that kicking ass too? How about a stock with a 6 mth RSI of 14 meaning 84% of all stocks tracked are outperforming it? Jesus, you people just crack me up with your "we're the smartest" and "everything's fine" while growth comes to a standstill, strategic products brutally miss their original ship dates, security track record is an industry joke and virtually nothing innovative that might re-energize growth comes out of MSFT R&D - despite them being "really, really, smart". No doubt when the Titanic was sinking, you'd have been re-arranging the deck chairs to make them look nice.

Anonymous said...

"thinking about shareholders"

I am a fking shareholder and a former employee and I got the stoopid useless stock options from this walmart of software. Useless.

"but why we're kicking ass in them is because the folks we have working for us are smarter than the folks the competitors' have working for them. I don't think that's untrue for any other area of Microsoft."

This idiot lottery winner thinks he is running the lottery! Please tell him to spend his lottery winnings on therapy...