Saturday, November 26, 2005

The "Should I come work for Microsoft?" Post

One commenter asks:

I have an offer from MS to join. What is your suggestion on that. From the posts here, the situation in MS does not seem to be very good, but still it is a good company ?

Another from a while back:

I'm a student at the University of Waterloo and have been reading this blog for a while. This is totally offtopic, but considering the whole reorg and the supposed mass employee dissent, or at least the distrubance, is now a good time to be an MSFT intern? Also, any resume/interview tips?

In short, my opinion is:

  • Join for an internship: Yes.
  • Join fulltime: No.

Full-disclosure and truth in blogging: I can't say this is the place you're going to find a lot of pro thoughts related to supporting you being yet another Microsoft hire. I mean, my goodness, my whole original reason for starting these few web pages was to argue that Microsoft had to be smaller to succeed. Less on the hire, more on the fire.

I will say this though: Microsoft is a fantastic company with some of the absolute best coworkers in the world. The ability to affect anyone using a computer is almost unparalleled. The amount of pride you can achieve through reflecting what your contributions can do or have done is enormous. There is no other place like it.


It's just that Microsoft has grown way too much (resulting in increased management and bureaucracy) and has promoted untalented, uninspiring people upwards. New hires find themselves unable to have as big an impact as they have in the past, and might overhear managers wandering the hall reflecting on how most employees are cogs and easily replaceable (if you end up sitting in my hallway).

Why do I stay? Because I know how good it can be and I believe getting Microsoft performance tuned isn't all that hard but it does involve a certain amount of sustained visibility into how bad things are and pressure on leadership to start not only talking about agility and accountability but visibly demonstrating and supporting it. Along with flattening the company through identifying and pushing out the burned-out and the deadwood.

If you're the sort of person who can succeed in a vacuum and not grow cynical quickly and poison your career, then you should seriously consider Microsoft as an option.

Now, as far as internships for Microsoft go, I think it's great and anyone who can intern should intern. It's great for the interns typically because Microsoft is so desperate to find and hire excellent technical people that the interns actually get hard, interesting work along with the best mentor the group has to offer. And boy do you get wooed while you're here. Please read the old entries in Mr. Sinofsky's tech-talk down below for more on that.

I appreciate interns coming in because typically they still have that "nothing is impossible!" fire streaming through their veins and, while making clumsy mistakes and not appreciating the depth of world-class-software, bring an enthusiasm and a productivity that helps turn the spotlight on blue-badgers who have plateaued or are ready to move on to the next job in life and just need a little help.

But don't accept the job offer at the end of your internship. I'll repeat myself here for people fresh to the job market:

For folks just out of college, my only insight is: if you're unattached and unencumbered by responsibilities the last thing you need to do is go work for a large, slow moving corporation in the 'burbs. Take risks and live the crazy big city life and blow your youthful energy laying down effort on the big pay-off opportunities. You will learn more and do more than you can possibly imagine, especially compared to being placed as a new shiny cog in the corporate machine (where all you can say during your first review is, "And what does this 3.0 mean?"). Then come knocking on the door of the corporate beast in the idyllic, moist, family friendly Pacific Northwest .

For well-written perspectives on the other side of this issue, be sure to visit Jobs Blog and Steven Sinofsky's tech-talk. Both are very responsive to comments asking probing questions.

(Re-repost: fixed tech-talk URL but then had to repost due to MSO HTML namespaces screwing up the web feed. Sorry about that.) (Re-re-repost: what the heck. s/replicable/replaceable/ - not sure what my fingers were thinking.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Some Holiday Stuffing

Some random Thanksgiving holiday kibble and bits:

XBox 360 ring of fire: oh, no. It's one thing for VS2005 to have problems on ship. It's another for the XBox 360 to be hanging and crashing and creating any angry red circle of light for new 360 owners. What does that red circle mean? Catastrophic hardware failure, prepare to be exchanged. One of threads mentions that a military PX actually had some of their 360 recalled before they went on sale. I now glance at my unpacked 360 box, wondering what kind of beast might be lurking within.

First, XBox sucked up one billion dollars from our company and broke that division's wallet. Now is 360 going to break our heart, too?

I can only have faith that this is one place where Microsoft will endeavor for quick turn-around to get replacement units out, no questions asked. With a kiss... give the folks having to exchange their XBox a bunch of Live Points. And I hope this is just a small percent of units. One poll had 14% of people responding that they had a 360 brick shortly after playing it for a while. Oy!

Interesting that at the same time I'm reading more Deming and wondering how his approach to quality would apply to Microsoft, we have these defective units cropping up.

While BusinessWeek says that accountability is the new word at Microsoft, I seriously doubt anyone will be held accountable if we get bad press and take a dent in initial 360 adoption because our crazy consumers are a tad bit nervous forking over well over $500 for a system and a couple of games and risking that it might have to be returned shortly after hooking it up.

Shanghai: the same week various posts come out discussing working with Microsoft engineers in China, also noted by Dare, I took a moment to do a deep dive understanding how things are going over there and what kind of work is getting done. Seems as though most people are very happy with the high quality, hard-work, and ability to deal with Microsoft-Redmond's capricious rearchitecture du jour coming out of China. I haven't heard much in the way of complaints at all, as compared to working with Hyderabad. Microsoft India had best watch out - you guys might get outsourced to China, lending a whole new modern usage to Shanghaied.

Comments: some great comments as of late... first of all, another good one along the lines of being an executive level initiative to get the masses of Microsofties clamoring for a Reduction in Force (RIF), aka, mass firings. A snippet from the comment:

When is everyone going to get it that this blog is a science experiment on part of management? Has anyone even passively considered that this is perhaps a clever upper-echelon attempt at evangelizing people into welcoming a RIF?

Yeah! Stock price sucks!
Yeah! Bad middle managers!
Yeah! Let's cut back!
Fire 'em! Fire 'em!

An ex-Microsoftie looking back in retrospect:

I left because of poor management vision and accountability. However, the VP of my old division was Kai Fu Lee whose vision was somewhere else (Google perhaps?) and completely uninspiring. It makes me laugh as I look back. Realistically MS needs a revolution.

Another headed out the door:

I can't think of a single positive discussion in the last few years with other Services ICs, whether consultant, TAM, or other, concerning the state of affairs at Microsoft. Many Senior ICs in my org have left in the last few months stating the lack of opportunity to excel, a clear career path, incompetence of their management, the bureaucracy, and review process bullshit.

[...] I think Microsoft has given up on employee development, career opportunity, and retention of it's senior ICs.

[...] I've been working very hard this last year to find reasons to stay at Microsoft.....but time has come to move on.

A good pro-MBS rant has the following:

The culture within MS is just plain stupid. A culture that rewards people (the 4.0s) for taking risk and punishes the people (the 3.0s) who cover the asses of the first group, is just silly. I would not want to own a company of exclusively 'type A' highly motivated risk takers. You need a balanced and diverse employee base to make a succesful company.

Another from an MBS manager:

Personally I'm a techie gone manager, I can mentor and match any of my people technically, but my peers are most often completely innane morons who are good at playing the game instead using their brain. I was a happy camper at MS when I was an IC and small time lead, but with the increased scope I have seen the horrible state of management we have, and I just don't like it!

I'm probably going to leave the company soon. I refuse to use my time in meetings, trying to play politics, so I can't get my 4.0's anymore and that's it for me. MS has finally depleeted itself of interesting opportunities for me...

Looking back at VS2005 problems, some folks have added comments along the line of "Dude, works just fine for me." Paul Sorauer added a rather long comment on his experience with VS2005. A snippet:

I have spent the last seven years building up a career solely using MS development products.

For the first time I am seriously considering making a switch.

For the first time I have lost confidence in Microsoft.

If I released an application that had, for even one customer, as many problems as I have encountered with VS 2005 RTM, I would consider the product an abject failure. I have never encountered a product that is so difficult to give my continued support to. Until MS comes out with some hotfixes or a service pack for VS 2005, I WILL NOT be using, considering or recommending Visual Studio 2005 for new projects.

As for the HR back and forth, my favorite recent chuckle comes from this comment:

I have my occasional problems with HR (like forgetting to send out an offer and almost costing me a hire), but yelling at them about the current state of the company is like yelling at your cat because the laundry didn't get done.

Another comment takes a moment to remember the Three Degrees team:

Does anyone remember where the Three Degrees team used to be situated over in the downtown offices? I loved their shared workspace - it didn't have the typical drone-cube feel to it (no dividers) , it had a nice view of the city and I just liked the general layout of the room. They also had a quiet/meditation room (can't remember the actual term they used to call it).

Do you remember Three Degrees? Well, first of all, it was probably the first self-serving poster on campus that I noticed. Now it would be lost in the crowd of internal "lookie at us!" posters slapped up everywhere. Anyway, if I remember right, all the good positive pre-Web 2.0 Microsoft-finally-gets-it NetGen buzz on Three Degrees that came out was all but cheers at the wake. I'm pretty sure the team had already been told to break-up and disband or such by the time they shipped. And what revelatory reactions did Microsoft leadership have to those good articles praising Three Degrees and this surprising non-Microsoft direction for Microsoft? Zip.

Anyone feeling accountable?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Stack Ranking Has an Expiration Date

A big Thank You! to Simon G for the following comment:

Hi Mini

First, congrats on being the only person I have found so far who has wondered about the fuzziness of Ray's comments relating to the Business Division. As a Navision reseller, it troubles me that the ERP side of things isn't yet clarified in Ray's mind.

Second, have a look at a book review on rank-yank:

It both defends and denigrates it

So the link is to an article of of the Harvard Business School entitled: Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work. The article is by Dick Grote, who has a new book out about stack ranking / rank and yank, and is well worth a read. Going through the article, Grote first lays down the reason why a company would want to stack rank: a company could be at risk of evaluation inflation, misrepresentation of true results, and bad calibration between groups. The meat of the article is to review a mathematical model study done for stank ranking, where 10% of the employees are fired every year (sort of The Sims Rank and Yank edition). Given this model, the company became healthier and more productive. But.

First "but": a 10% dismissal rate seems to be optimal. 5% is not. And whatever mythical 6% firing rate Microsoft is doing is not even throughout the company but rather clusters of RIFs. So while we cling to stack ranking, we are not using it properly. 10% of every organization needs to go every year to make room for better hires. If you believe in that sort of thing being good and all.

Second "but": stack ranking does not work as a perpetual performance appraisal system. It's good for five years, and then you need to move on. Snippet:

Finally, for many years I have argued that for most companies, forced ranking systems should be used for only a few years and then, once the obvious and immediate benefits have been achieved, replaced with other talent management initiatives. While some companies have been successful in using their forced ranking system for decades, I find that most organizations are better served by implementing a forced ranking system as a short-term initiative. Scullen and his fellow researchers confirm that advice.

Great! I'd say it's time for Microsoft to move on. The article tries to be fair in addressing the issues folks might have with stack ranking but just glances off of the morale issue and the impact of personal success is more important than group / product success.

The article also has a good idea about management stack ranking that, as long as we have stack ranking, I hope gets put to good use:

A forced ranking procedure forces managers to think in far greater depth about the quality of talent in their unit than conventional performance appraisal systems typically require, and their ability to describe and verbalize their assessments provides a good indicator of a critical aspect of their leadership ability.

Manager's contribution to honestly stack ranking their reports should feed into their own stack ranking given that it provides a good insight into a key aspect of their management skills. Can they readily describe all the pros and cons of their reports?

So, Tamara: think we can get Grote to come in if he's out and about doing a book tour in the area?

Next up: lots of commenters have complained about Burgum. One celebrated his being sent out to the pasture but another followed up, with the quick summary of:

And considering that he gets to be Chairman now versus [deservedly] being fired, I'd call that being put out to stud vs pasture. Here was a golden opp for Gates/Ballmer to show that accountability was going to be demanded at the top not just the bottom. Instead, they send exactly the opposite message - business as usual. The guys at, Rightnow, etc. must be laughing their asses off...

Some folks talk about Alchin and say to me, "Well, you know he's being pushed out of the company because of his performance." And I say, "No, I don't know that. All I know is that he's leaving to take care of his health and that Steve Ballmer is really bummed to see him go." I think of the re-org webcast. If Steve is really pushing out Alchin, then I all I can say is he's the biggest dork in the world for being on stage to say he's sad to see him go. Same thing with Burgum. If this is supposed to be a message of accountability, don't enshroud it within fake regret.

Another interesting comment:

I have been reading this blog since I was terminated in September from MBS. [...] For those of you that still work at Microsoft, you must realize that a huge plan is in progress to downsize Microsoft, especially middle management. For example, does the company still need 7 CFOs for 3 business divisions? A major overhaul and purging is not out of the question.

If you want to prepare for what is coming down (i.e. especially if you are one of those General Managers reporting into another General Manager or anyone significant inside of MBS) you need to read a book called Corporate Confidential by Cynthia Shapiro. She does consulting with Microsoft management and employees. Her book can show you how to survive and what to look for as Microsoft begins the largest purging of management ever!

The book was excerpted a couple of times in the Seattle Times Sunday paper. Yes, if you're playing the review game at Microsoft, this might be a good book to have during disruptive times. The chapter four extract is especially tantalizing: going from invisible to indispensable.

And finally, as for stock: sure, Google strolled past $400 today like it's just a little milestone, but at the same time, we closed at almost $28! I guess Steve Ballmer doesn't care since, you know, we (meaning SteveB) don't measure our performance by our stock performance.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Disruptive Defrag for Microsoft

So I finally had some spare time this weekend to print off the oh-so-well covered Gates and Ozzie memos about the service wave. I grabbed mine from Mr. Bishop's post, before I noticed that internally they are available off of http://blogs/live/ as well.

Before I start my thoughts here, let me just say that strategic memos like these reveal a lot about the reader's agenda. Allow me to restate that my agenda is for a leaner, meaner, agile, efficient, exciting Microsoft that can swiftly deliver remarkable software products to our customers and provide great value to our shareholders. I also want us to spend sometime focusing on everyday consumers and back off from being so IT focused when it comes to new features and products.

At a rather base level, I believe that Microsoft needs an explosive enema to flush it free of the process, bureaucracy, and low-quality personnel. Microsoft needs a disruptive defrag.

So I dive into these memos looking to align them with my own agenda. I respect that your Rorschachian take on the memo might come up with a wildly different view. I'd love to hear it, too.

Gates memo seems pretty much like the wrapping on the paper that says, "Read this and take it seriously." He mentions how services will simplify the work of IT departments and developers. Unsurprisingly, I didn't find anything in his cover letter specifically focused on the consumer. Mr. Gates sets the stage for this to be a very disruptive change. Good. He then ends indicating who all this upcoming change will be a benefit to. Where are the shareholders? Still busy meditating on horizontal stock-price lines?

Mr. Ozzie's memo surprised me in a good way. I didn't have high hopes, so that's probably why I put off reading it. I'm no big fan of the confusing mess that's Notes, I think Groove is a pokey-inefficient system just a tad better than shareware, and Ray's uninspiring presentation at the 2005 Company Meeting lost my attention, along with the people around me. So I had dialed the expectation meter down to about a two. And for some reason I was expecting to come up with some sort of comparison of Mr. Ozzie to Karl Rove... thankfully, not needed!

Ray sets a good stage, and gently raps Microsoft across the knuckles for the opportunities we missed, like the XmlHttpRequest design for OWA (whose designer left Microsoft for Pure Networks) that forms the basis of AJAX (which really only is possible now given the crossbrowser adoption of XmlHttpRequest, cross-site security pains and all). I'd certainly like more digging into such failures at an executive level to understand why we didn't have the motivation to be leaders here. Hell, every acquisition is an admission to leadership screw-up in my book: why didn't we have the foresight to innovate in this area vs. buying this anti-spyware / server-side malware scrubber / VoIP provider?

I find it especially interesting that Google / Yahoo / Apple are given the "yes, yes" waiving hand of dismissive recognition and that the true focus needs to be on grassroots start-ups using the internet as their framework. Obviously, we want to be their foundation. I like this line regarding developing on the internet: "Speed, simplicity and loose coupling are paramount." Good ole developer fundamentals.

I'm still out-of-touch with respect to the big huge pile of golden eggs out there with a rainbow shining above them, emblazoned with the phrase "advertising-supported economic model." I need to do some digging into what the analysts say about future expected income for targeted ads and the expected user reaction to them popping up everywhere anytime they use something that's online. Like TiVo and commercials, it all seems to be one GreaseMonkey script away from disappearing from view. All I have in my mental visual imagery is that one Aqua Teen Hunger Force where real-life pop-up ads started filling the house. Users will start gravitating towards the service with the least annoyance vs. functionality.

I like the essence of the "integrated user experiences that 'just work'" paragraph. (Detour ahead.) Lord knows the gadgets in my life steal a hell of a lot of my free time as I attend to their care and feeding. What I really want is virtual representations of them (perhaps as gadgets or widgets) that I can manipulate whether they are connected or not. If my PDA is connected to my computer, give me a term-serv like experience into it. If it's not connected, give me a queue of goodness I can pile up for it on its emulated image. And let all of these roam. If there's a file I want to plop onto my PSP from my work, let me drag it onto a gadget representation of it and when I connect it later to the home desktop that pending file plops out of my storage cloud and onto my PSP.

My asks for gadget infrastructure adds:

  1. A storage system that can wrap something like my HotMail or GMail quota so that it roams. Let's reuse the disk quota I already have.
  2. A tuple space around this system.
  3. Input and Outputs around each gadget, so that they can be hooked up together or into the tuple space.

Okay, back to the memo. Seamless entertainment! Wowza, Mr. Ozzie mentioned everyday consumers! Given XNA and XBox and everything, Microsoft should try to revitalize our gamer market. This is an area we could load balance underutilized talent into, even given that part of the company has been RIF'd black and blue. I believe there's money to be had in PC games, and our experience with XBox, every money losing cent of it, can at least be projected into profits in the PC world.

Interesting comment about lightweight development, recognizing that SOAP ain't all that and that REST and other technologies should be supported. Programmers are lazy efficient and will gravitate towards technologies that make sense and get the job done (and usually, those technologies are not designed by standards committees). After that came the obligatory note that we'll respect the need to comply and not go making private services. I still think that service APIs introduce a new level of hell, given that while can change their service willy-nilly or go down for the weekend, Microsoft can't.

I read the Business Division part of the Moving Forward section several times and I was really surprised at how fuzzy it was, especially given that IW Services have been going for a while. It's a bunch of questions, basically. And to tell you the truth, not very interesting questions. The entertainment part is a bunch of questions, too, I guess. But I'm surprised IW / Dynamics / Office doesn't have more detail, especially in comparison to the Platform Products & Services Division section.

The money shot for me is this quote:

That said, I have a number of reasons for optimism that we can deliver well on this vision. First, I know that Bill, Steve and the senior leadership team understand that Microsoft’s execution effectiveness will be improved by eliminating obstacles to developing and shipping products. The recent reorganization into three divisions is a significant step, and the division presidents are committed to changes to improve our agility.

Good intentions. Nice words. But I want some act-shun. Agility, along with shipping more frequently, has been coming up more and more as a positive goal and an act of contrition to make up for where we are today. But if you're adding agility, you have to admit that your subtracting anything that's anti-agility. What's going away to make room for agile, frequent shipping? Who is going away? What is the waste in process and execution that can be trimmed. Meetings? Linear, spec-driven development? Doors? Walls? I think for us to make room to be agile, we need to identify what is currently slowing us down. This not only includes day to day process that drains execution due to team tax, but also the blockers for rewards for doing a great job.

I don't know anything about what it was like to be a developer working for Mr. Ozzie. I haven't spent too much time looking for Groove employee blogs. The only one I stumbled across seems to be gone now (Office Skirmishes [BlogLines cache]). I'd be interested in their take on how Mr. Ozzie avoided issues around "complexity kills." Now then, regarding this insight:

Another simple tool I’ve used involves attracting developers to use common physical workspaces to naturally catalyze ad hoc face-time between those who need to coordinate, rather than relying solely upon meetings and streams of email and document reviews for such interaction.

Whoa-ho-ho, there, Tex, hold on there! I'm lining up like the next guy to kill off meetings and email threads and reviews, but I escaped the cube-farm to come to Microsoft. A door and free cola sealed the deal for me. I'd much rather show up at 9am for the daily scrum meeting and have to hold my tongue than go back to the days of being in a shared space. I guess if we did implement that environment I would personally help realize my vision of a smaller Microsoft by jumping to some local startup.

So time will tell where the memo goes and what proof the pudding provides. I have hope. And this certainly is opportunity for a next-generation of common-sense leaders to step up and show how 21st century software development gets down and makes a whole bunch of cash.

Monday, November 07, 2005

VS Service Packs, Big City Critics, and Shareholder Check-Up

VS: A recent comment points us to a blog entry that wraps the VS 2005 crash / hang problems up in a pretty package:

Scott Wiltamuth (Visual C# PUM): Servicing plans for VS 2003 and VS 2005 . Snippet:

We have plans for two service pack releases for the first part of 2006:

·         VS 2003 SP1 is scheduled for April 2006.  We have done much of the work for this release already, and are anxious to get it to you.

·         VS 2005 SP1 is scheduled for the first half of 2006.  We will be more specific about the date in a few months, once we have more customer data.

Eric Maino followed up the post-Whidbey MQ, though, with the post MQ... did I hear service pack? that clarifies that MQ is not about producing a quality-focused service pack but rather turning into a more agile group and tuning internal processes. I do hope any time spent on quality in the code base can be fed into fixing major issues that customers might run into.

It's interesting that the two VS 2005 posts here received some of the most negative feedback in a while. Too alarmist? Molehill to mountain? Well, I've received plenty of black-eyes dealing with regressions in Whidbey over the past year, so I'm always half-cocked now when it comes to finding customers dealing with their own issues in the RTM quality, especially over reported issues angering our customers who pay good money.

(Oh, and Darryl: I don't mind helping to provide some good source material and links and all, but how about a link back or a mention or throwing some kind attribution bone?)

Rolling Thunder: So, with VS and SQL Server out the door... let's look for more positive things to talk about... hey, that stock price keeps going up! Any day it goes up at least $0.01 is a good day, and as of late, since the Live announcement, it's been on the up trend. Go, Pipeline, Go! I was always happy to play with but I got to say I was very surprised to see it thrust upon the world as It was like yanking that talented high-school thespian off-stage and throwing them into the lead on Broadway (no offense to folks). The Big City critics were not kind.

Joe Wilcox again bemoaned the Microsoft attitude of "launching" products way, way, way before they are ready for primetime (Is Live DOA?). I, too, believe the time of launching just an idea is past us and when we have a big shindig, it has to be because we're launching something that's polished and ready to take on the world.

Not to bring up Apple and Steve Jobs and all that, but... when Mr. Jobs announces the new consumer hardware, it's not a prototype. It's something you can go to the store and buy later that day. It's done. Well, okay, it might scratch a little. But it's not some distant thunder.

I also mentioned how I thought Microsoft's growth in the space was a way to go after the Alpha Geeks. I still do, but what I forgot is that you have to take a moment to ponder what the Alpha Geeks are currently geeking over. I remembered Mac OS X. I forgot about Firefox. Yes, if you're going after the Alpha Geek mavens, you'd better understand your persona a little bit better and make sure your work can even render in their world. Playing nice in a Firefox web-based world is important. It's important in that the Alpha Geeks are the 4.5 contributors of the technical world. There are things they can do and people they can influence in a way no one else can, and if your coolness doesn't ever render on their screen, they're elsewhere.

Ship it! There's been talk of shipping often cropping up, looking at ship cycles of 18 or 24 months, for the major products. I've seen it as having been spoken by Mr. Ballmer but I haven't seen a direct quote yet. I (obviously, as of late) don't want to ship for the sake of shipping, but getting on a closer cycle like this is a good thing. And a forcing function that kicks out contributors and No-Birds who can't keep up.

Shareholders, how are we doing? So shareholders (Microsofties and non-Microsofties), take a moment, if you would, to consider what you expect out of this company over the next year and how on-track we are to deliver on your expectations. What's going well? What not so well? What are your expectations of Microsoft post shipping VS, SQL Server, Office, and Windows?

The coming year holds the greatest potential in a long time for Microsoft given that, to paraphrase Steve Ballmer, we're shipping just about every product we have. The stock has all the potential in the world to rise out of the horizontal slump it has been in. But will it stay there up there and keep growing? Will this be a thrilling ride to the top and then back down into the mid- or lower-twenties?

Personally, I think we can hold our ground and continue improving if we:

  • Focus on what it takes to streamline the development process of getting fantastic features out there and shipped.
  • Take on common sense, agile strategies to reduce wasted energy (and to identify redundant staff).
  • Sell to the consumer. The everyday Joe and Jane. What does Microsoft even mean to them? Sure, kiss the IT decision maker if you must, but start wooing the consumer with software products and services that delight them and that make their lives easier and that makes them appreciate Microsoft as a great company.
  • Decouple the product groups as much as possible. Coordinate, but do not depend upon. Trust, but verify. Integrated innovation is what landed us with this stuffed pipe.
  • Other improvements you'd like to be assured of?

(Work duties call and the only time I'll be spending here during the next week is deleting naughty comments. See you next week.)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

VS 2005 - Why do you want to make trouble?

(There goes my conscience again. This started as a comment that got longer and longer until it reached post length.)

This is a follow-up to last night's VS 2005 + Bugs = unhappy bloggers post. Some additional posts out there:

Looking through the comments...

Mini, you might want to try using the products your own company produces before you declare it an utter failure and the buggiest thing ever.


It seems as if this blog has recently changed its tone from something that offered constructive criticism and useful insights to the kind of drivel you'd expect to see on slashdot.

Ye-Ouch! I did struggle with the negative nature of this post. I struggled with the fact that I personally felt that VS 2005 environment was a slow moving, buggy trainwreck yet I didn't reach for the emergency brake line and give it a good pull and call BS. I had hopes that it would stabilize well at the beginning of the escrow process.

What makes me especially angry is that our customers were pleading for stability and speed and we steamrolled over them with this release. I appreciate that it's a large environment and most of it will be just fine for most people and folks who really want to get work done will figure out where the last mine blew up and not do that again. It's their own sort of version of Twister to get their work done.

In my opinion, what VS needs to do is say, in a manner that won't dampen the launch party: Hey, this was a super-big innovative release but it looks like some bugs unfortunately shipped. Okay, we're really going to ship a VS 2005 service pack. Here's the Microsoft forum we'd appreciate you providing feedback to. Here's a link that you can keep track of what's going into the service pack. Furthermore, the service pack will ship on fill in a date no longer than six months out.

This is because the users are complaining that they've never, ever seen a patch or a service pack for VS and they expect they are going to be told to wait until the Orcas release. If that's our plan, we should say so.

Another comment: This is a prime example of what's wrong with pulling six blog comments out of the blogosphere and holding them up as proof of a poor decision. I'm willing to bet, though am too tired to actually do so, that for every negative comment you'd be able to find 15 or 20 positive comments.

I bet you're right, too. If folks want to balance this or the other post out with links to people using the VS 2005 RTM bits and being pleased silly, please do. In the meantime, unhappy bloggers aren't going to go away. I appreciate that some Microsofties are spending time and effort to go out and put down comments in those blog entries complaining about issues. Hopefully that helps. But you have to realize this: that every really bad bug you say Won't Fix to is going to end up on someone's blog post eventually (especially considering the technical nature of the VS 2005 customers). It's not just a one-on-one call to PSS you have to worry about anymore. It's pissed off users venting to the world that the software they paid good money for is hanging, crashing, or corrupting their data.

Another comment: For several products, employees are required to use the product as our customers would use it before it ships.

In a lot of groups, the VS IDE is not used by developers.

Internally, it would be good to figure someway to dogfood VS 2005 at a greater rate. Most developers, who find the choice, draw the line at Rascal. But if we were to dogfood VS 2005, I'd want assurances of support from that team and a promise that there were going to give us stable drops. I don't think dogfooding VS 2005 was totally possible this time because of the rapidly mutating environment rushing up to ship.

So. Too negative? Look, I think given time that the VS team would have fixed a lot of the bugs (and they do seem to be pretty much in the IDE, I haven't run into a compiler bug in a long time let alone run into a post about the compiler). But they weren't given time because what they were shipping along with had to get out the door. This wasn't news to the division. If the date can't move, major features get cut so that the more important features can be stabilized with the available resources. It's not rocket science. It's computer science and software engineering. And we do it enough every day such that big nasty bugs shouldn't be shipping in one of the jewels of the Microsoft franchise.

A cautious example to Windows Vista and Office 12. You have to ship in 2006. Are you ontrack for a high quality release? Would it be better to cut major features now and save them for the next release so that you can have a super-high-quality release now?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Hey, Shareholders! VS 2005 is *Fantastic* and our Developers Love Microsoft!

Are you in the Seattle area as of Wednesday the ninth? Well, there's a little shindig in Bellevue that all the Microsoft shareholder cool-cats are invited to. More info at: . Note that there will be an audio web cast that you can find off of - put that reminder in your calendar. I hope to get a post up for people to share their reactions.

Maybe next year I can be more organized to print up my own little pamphlet of MSFT Common Sense to hand out for the arriving attendees (you know, one with the share price graphed on the front).

One topic that would be in there for this year: does it make sense to ship a product that your own customers are telling you, "No! Please don't ship it yet! Please make it more stable and performant! Please, for the sake of all that's holy, take your time!" Sorry, customers, here it comes!

How has reaction been to Visual Studio 2005 so far this week? Here's a sample of six:

1) Roy Osherove: My first real frustration with VS 2005 RTM. Good flow of comments. Snippet from the post:

It's completely amazing to me that VS.NET 2005 RTM, after a big cycle of testing, alphas, betas and LOTS of community feedback, can be this buggy.

2) Anatoly Lubarsky: Visual Studio 2005 RTM: bugs and backward compatibility

3) Wesner Moise: VS 2005 Bugs.

4) Frans Bouma: VS.NET 2005 C# : IDE hang with simply code... with a set of comments, including from a Microsoftie:

I am Suma from C# IDE team. I could repro this on RTM version of Visual Studio Team System too. This is a known issue that got reported by a customer via MSDN feedback center ( and given the late state of the product cycle, we had to postpone the bug.

5) Ayende Rahein: Visual Studio 2005 RTM: Buggy, Buggy, Buggy. Snippet:

I think that it's imperative that the tools we're using to help us develop will actually.. well, help us develop. If I find myself working in spite of a tool, I'll look elsewhere to something that will replace it. Until now, VS was the crowned king of the .Net IDEs, but with those problems, it's possible for a competitor to show up and turn the tables on Microsoft.

6) Michael Teper: Find All References is Too Slow bug report. Reactivated.

This is integrated innovation loaded into the cylinder and blowing a big hole in Microsoft's foot. Because so much was tied to VS 2005 and CLR 2.0 it had to be shipped now, ready or not. Has all of this been shoved out of the door in order for SteveB to be rushing straight from the launch celebration and into the shareholder's meeting?

I might wander in early on Monday to meander through the crowds celebrating the big Visual Studio launch. But my heart is heavy that we shoveled what we could together and Won't Fix-ed this release out the door. Microsoft has just opened a very big door to competition in the IDE space. Or at least towards people jealously holding onto VS 2003 and saying, "CLR 2.0? Screw that! The last time I tried to use generics my machine locked up!" Big freakin' mistake. Microsoft should be ashamed.

And shareholders should be pissed off. Do the shareholders know any better? Are they going to wander into the Meydenbauer center on Wednesday clued into the fact that our developers developers developers have just been screwed screwed screwed and the first thing out of our innovation pipeline has so far landed with a wet thud? Zero common sense.

If you can't trust your compiler, man, your whole world starts falling apart. All of you Microsofties posting "whoo-hoo, we shipped!" to your blog I hope are going in next week and, after the cheering, put deep concerted effort into creating a near-term service pack for VS. I know we wander around joking that Orcas will really big a big service pack for VS 2005, but as of this week, no one is laughing. Our customers - our developers - deserve a lot better quality and we need to react quickly to avoid a deepening distrust.

I'll be keeping an eye out for further VS 2005 problems. If you find any other interesting reports, please add them to the comments here.

(A big iterative tip of the hat to the mixmaster sending me Roy Osherove's link and the core thesis for this post.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

It's A-Live!

First of all, I'm not writing to slam Windows Live and Office Live - I don't spend 100% of my time here channeling H. L. Mencken for the modern age. I have hope and interest in the new live offerings, and I hope time will help bring focus on to what new markets (and money!) these offerings will produce.

That gentle introduction aside... holy freakin' crap on a keyboard, what does it take for this company to actually do a demo right the first time!?! I guess the next funny BillG video can use our constant demo blunders as a backstory ("Quick, Bill! Stall! Improvise!"). That or just have a bulk neuralizer always on standby. In the meantime: I'm sure we had talented, well meaning, earnest people working really hard to get the presentation together and all, but... I'd be much happier for you to be employed elsewhere. If you can't put a demo together in front of such an important crowd, you don't need to be working at Microsoft.

Mr. Dave Winer has a couple of choice demo comments:

  • The net went down in the middle of the demo. It was the worst public demo ever.
  • [T]he net went down halfway through the presentation, just as they were getting to the demo, which was a total wipeout, biggest failure I've seen in almost 30 years in the biz. I think there's a pretty good chance they cut off our net access so we couldn't write about it real-time, if so, it was a brilliant move, but an act of desperation.

Whew. Some other interesting blog posts here:

So then this afternoon we had a virtual company meeting with SteveB and team. I enjoyed it (Steve even acknowledged the demo flame-out). I really appreciated the description comparing users to (aka users. That resonated with me and filled in a gap: users are very different than users and is not stealing away users but rather filling a void we didn't have before, a void for users who have Google as their home page.

To me, we're filling the Alpha Geek void for Microsoft technology. We're providing an alpha-geek portal and set of services for them to build new, interesting results on-top of our services and gadgets and all that other cool stuff. Even my palms get itchy to start trying this stuff out. I'm sure Tim O'Reilly is a little crestfallen because I can't imagine him being too thrilled to be publishing Web 2.0 books for Microsoft Service technologies or to think Alpha Geeks would abandon Mac OS X for Windows. I think getting these early geek adopters is important because they are the mavens that will help tip an important balance to supporting our new services.

(In the meantime, I hope every enthused Microsoftie with free time can try developing interesting, instructive, shared tools and examples for developing against these new services. Unleash your inner Alpha Geek!)

So I liked what was covered at the meeting. We even have a tool called Mojo! Microsoft's got the Mojo! Kevin made a lot of good noises about agility when it comes to shipping and supporting these services. ChrisJo and (I believe) Christopher Paine are going to be looked upon as Windows leaders. Rajesh Jha is already leading the Office effort (and can probably use a lot of that past "software as a service" knowledge effectively regarding what-not-to-do).

As for agility and shipping software sooner and more often: just as Microsoft had a security epiphany, it needs to hit the brakes and have an agility epiphany. And I'm not talking about new processes and different ways to doing the same thing and calling some people chickens and other people pigs... I'm talking about effective, agile groups that have shipped software or services sharing what they have done. How have they tweaked or revamped the existing process? We need to have an agility week at the beginning of the year to focus on common sense techniques for producing high quality software more quickly and with less people, process, and overhead. Just like we have the wonderful Michael Howard for security, we need another firecracker for agility.

You can't just wave a rhetoric wand about and say we're suddenly shipping more often and it be so. People are going to try to do the same busted process and we'll wind up more screwed up more often. Those that have something that works for Microsoft need to share and be our beacons out of the pipeline.

My main two doubts about services at the end of the day:

  1. Ads are really going to pay for all of this? That's all well and good until someone figures out TiVo for services.
  2. How are we going to ensure we don't transition from DLL Hell / Versioned Hell to Services Hell? Anyone using our services need to be able to adapt to updates and bug-fixes in a timely fashion so that we don't have to keep around n-versions of the service and ensure they keep working.

My hope is that services can let some teams transition into smaller, more effective teams and the left-over people that are no longer needed can find splendid opportunities elsewhere in the business world.