Tuesday, July 25, 2006

We Are FAM-ily! - Links+

I look forward to the day when Microsoft leadership can strut onto the stage at the annual Financial Analysts Meeting to the glorious high-fiving pumping sound of Sister Sledge letting loose with a victorious "We Are FAM-ily!" as everyone celebrates the incredible ascent of the Microsoft stock price.

It won't be this Thursday.

The discomfort has set in and the pointy sticks are out. No more of this waiting until next year or the product pipeline of glory on the way. It's time to get down to the brass tacks. "Show us the money: where it's being spent, where it will be spent, and where it's going to be coming from."

What questions would you ask if you were an attendee at FAM? Mine would focus on accountability and, as part of looking where the money is being spent and rewards for our current accomplishments, wanting to understand more about the upcoming August SPSA grant-award, what % level it's going out at, and what the total cost of that is. How has it been a good investment with a good return?

Other interesting things:

  • Vista slip? One commenter thinks the buy-back we've announced is meant to stabilize the stock should we soon announce a Vista slip.
  • WSJ: thank you for the kinder, gentler Steve Ballmer graphic with the recent Zune article. It's much improved over the snarling Orc Ballmer.
  • Swan song for Microsoft's music allies CNET News.com Speaking of Zune: Zunked? Are we screwing our partners? I don't think so. We've given them a great platform to implement Plays for Sure and plenty of time to innovate long before we come along and try implementing a device. Anyone who can implement a WiFi sync has my money. Freaking wires. I just want to come home and unbeknownst to me have any interesting syndicated content (like a podcast) synchronized to my device so that I can discover and listen to it the next day. Plus Zune is a platform, too.
  • Good long comment on Big Bets: Long Term investments: how long is long enough? Microsoft has ruthlessly killed projects off in the past or sold the properties off. Have we lost the cancellation mojo? A number of discussions in the last post went over the financials and wondering when enough is enough and it's time to throw in the towel (now that we have an abundance of those). Are we playing to win or playing not to lose?
  • The Post Money Value The Microsoft Manifesto - Rick Segal's take on the recent Twelve Principles.
  • Workplace Advantage Planning - Adam Barr discusses the designs being worked on for new workplace areas at Microsoft. What do you think? Given that at least one comment was posted about this with great envy I think some folks are looking forward to working like this.
  • Misunderstanding "The Innovator's Dilemma" - Mr. Barr again, spanking me for a coupling of The Innovator's Dilemma with the pulled private folder feature. Nice read, even if it hurts. That original thread here was interesting because (1) some IT folks weren't too happy with my grumbling, (2) others pointed out that it's really hard for us, having one OS now, to serve two masters: consumer (more whizzy features!) and corporate (nothing new! Don't break anything! Keep it stable!). It's a pickle.
  • Musings on Software and Technology » Blog Archive » Whats going on - Musing on the Mini-Microsoft-like sites springing up (plus an interesting comment from Shel Israel). Let's see, the active list looks like:
  • Official Google Research Blog Hiring The Lake Wobegon Strategy - I've been meaning to drop this link in for a while. Something I didn't know about Google hiring: the hiring manager is not allowed to be part of the interview process. Google hires for the company, not for a particular position. Hmm!
  • iCup? Oh where is my Starbucks iCup? Perhaps a war over Starbucks beans? Perhaps we just have to wait until summer is over?
  • Mini-Microsoft Cutting Room Floor (Feed) - What The HECK? Yes, occasionally I'll share the kind of comments that just don't make it through now that I'm moderation 100% of the time. I wish for a better commenting system with a secondary "all comments" page where I can bring up into the cream the comments I approve and everyone can roll-around in the ones I don't, should you desire. But this will do for now. Some of the comments just about make it... if only they just didn't go and use that ever so witless M$. Others can just be wildly off-topic or just something I don't want to show up here. Okay there. Not here.

And lastly: I think it's too early to judge the review system change. All I know is that there are probably a legion of managers wanting to string-up whoever was responsible for getting rid of the performance curve. It must take ten times the amount of effort to enter numbers into the review tool and try to reconcile compensation across the organization. I don't think this is a bad thing - it's the kind of work we get paid to do.

But the stack rank is still there. But we can be honest with our review feedback. Kind-of. The curve is still there, just sort of blurry and a bit more gracious.

The dissonance of change is pretty heavy right now and, personally, I'm feeling a leadership gap to help us keep our balance now that the training wheels are off and we're wobbling along down the road. My guess is that we'll develop some best practices out of what we learn this year to have an even better next year. But right now? Scuffs and scabs.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Microsoft FY06Q4 Results

Time for a financial-focused week. First is FY06Q4 results. Then the 7/27 Financial Analysts Meeting. If this kind of thing gets you excited, I certainly recommend showing up for the financial-themed Breakfast Series on 7/28.

I'm not expecting much news out of the Q4 results. I'm so overscheduled that I'm not going to have a chance to catch-up on the news analysis for a bit - when I can, I'll go through the comments here and other sites to round up the links. I'm certainly hoping not to be surprised. Before hand we went and hid - er - simplified our financial reporting. Surprise.

Pre-discussion of the earning results (really slim pickings as of my writing this...):

Post-discussion earning results: buy-back? Looks like executive management decided that wasn't such a dumb idea.

A question that has come up in the comments so far about the buyback is the cap of $24.75:

Microsoft has capped the tender offer at 24.75. Does it mean that Microsoft's share price can't practically go over 24.75 until August 17th?

What happens if the stock price does go above 24.75? What happens to the 20 billion dollars put on this tender offer?

Personally? I weep a little with each Xbox 360 sold.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Intel-ligent Re-design

The Intel employee count is bigger than Microsoft and Intel is a way different company. Intel has one-hundred thousand employees. May Microsoft never be so cursed. Intel decided that you can get too big and too many decision makers can block effective decision making. So this past week Intel announced 1,000 management positions are being eliminated and analysts hint at further layoffs.

Could your group be more efficient and agile and focused without a layer or two of management?

The only extra insight I can add here is to take Guy Kawasaki's layoff advice (though more geared towards Web 2.0 startups and their upcoming "pop!" days ahead): "#2: Cut deep and cut once:" Guy Kawasaki - The Art of the Layoff. It's no fun waiting for the other shoe to drop and your best folks will tend to say "to hell with this" while living with the stress and the ambiguity of wondering what's next and when. Oh, additional insight: Dear Microsoft HR: please don't go and hire all these displaced Intel managers. Sugar on top.

Other interesting going ons on the Minidar:

Financials: FY06Q4 financial results are coming up this Thursday, 7/20. Allow me to ask this to our executive leadership: guys, is there anything going on that Wall Street might be, well, surprised by? If so, how about letting it loose before Thursday? More sugar.

The Microsoft Financial Analysts Meeting is the following Thursday, 7/27. My wish: Ballmer gets up there and gives the same frank heart to heart he did within his keynote at the recent Microsoft Engineering Excellence conference. Integrated innovation: bad idea. Innovate first and then integrate: much better idea. Straight forward common sense stuff like that makes me see the clouds parting and the sunny future breaking through.

Underwater Options: in the world of rebel-rousing for the stocks, one commenter has this idea:

Do you have underwater options expiring this month?

On 7/24, a week before they expire, go to your SSB account and exercise 1 option. Pay the difference between fair market value and your strike price (this will be somewhere between $0 and $40). Microsoft will handle the paperwork, the volume will remind management that we options holders are still here, and the cash you pay to exercise the stock will go to Microsoft (as non-negotiable options, Microsoft must broker the exercise). Win-win, as they love to say.

And if there are institutional investors looking to engage with stock-price-aware discontented Microsofties, getting popular press for an idea like this out would certainly serve as a rallying point, if not a sobering reality check. Other ideas? (Ooo, I better be careful, less I need to start delivering this in a hall vs. via blog... I guess I help put the Red into Red Herring).

Eeek! An unhappy IT lord: Microsoft shutters Windows private folders CNET News.com - here we go and release a relatively cool tool that also helps justify Windows Genuine Advantage (see, sugar on top!) and then we go and yank it fast when the corporate IT lords fret over it. This is a key example of what's truly wrong with Microsoft today when it comes to features. We are so obsessed over getting the IT department happy with deploying our bits in the corporate world that we forgo (or yank) features that users might actually want to use. Sure, throw a policy key or two in there so that the IT lords can turn it off. But don't abandon customer centric features. Is it possible to take Total Cost of Ownership too far? Yes, and this is a dead end path that ends with a pile of the easiest to maintain features of all: the ones we never ship out of fear of IT backlash.

Let's see if some of the big-bet features in Office are enough to cause a user-driven upswell to get the IT departments to upgrade to Office 2007 before 2010.

Joshua Allen has a good write-up, too: Better Living through Software » Blog Archive » Oh No!!! People Will Love It!

Isn't there some popular book about innovation people love to quote that tells you how it's sometimes a really bad idea to do what your customer wants?

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown - Links

The Good

Before the fourth-of-July holiday, SteveSi let loose with a mammoth 30-some page memo describing his refreshing org restructuring going forward. Lots of praise and excitement, even amidst the ambiguity and angst. For the non-memo'd, you get some brief ideas from the previous week's Micronews and from people here leaving "I'm not telling, but I'm very excited!" (generally) comments. And, blog-posting internally, David B. Cross left his own impressions of what this means going forward. I agree, David, it is an exciting change.

I can't wait until we can share it more broadly. I have high hopes.


The Bad

Oh, is something going on over in Europe?

So you have Henry Sanders and teammates scrambling like the dickens now but all I can say is there goes another $500,000,000 or so. Plus daily cash. I think we might need to pawn the handful of Starbucks iDrinks that have managed to pop-up around campus. Somewhere along the way it occurred to us that the Euro Commission was actually serious about this. And every settlement we make results in some other group or government or other offended party licking their lips and thinking, 'Hmm... your bank account inspires us to sue you to help you share it!'

The Unknown

  • The Seattle Times Business & Technology Argo aims guns at more than iPod - all I can plead about the Argo is "please, please, don't pull an Origami here!" Lots of good buzz and people speculating about the features. And you know what, if someone is speculating about a fantastic feature that we're not planning on delivering (say, converting your iTunes over to licensed WMA), how about pulling a Snakes on the Plane and doing it, and reward the community with praise for their feature design. Oh, and: I want one.
  • » The pain of switching to a new OS Ed Bott's Microsoft Report ZDNet.com - okay, I'm setting myself up here to bounce raving Linux fan comments for the next week. But this post is a reality check for Linux / Ubuntu fans thinking they are going to supplant Windows any day now. Uh uh. With servers, you have a fighting chance. With Alpha-geeks reading an O'Reilly Hacks book in-between MakeZine projects, you have a more than advantageous chance. But everyday folk? Nope. Not even for saving $100. But: Thank God for Linux. Thank God for Apple. If it wasn't for competition nothing would get done around here...
  • The Post Money Value An Echo Chamber Moment - goodness, I need a good PR person... maybe the firm could be called Echo-Location? So, should you ever start wadding your panties tightly in anger over what you read here at Mini-Microsoft, just read Mr. Segal's post as a pleasant reminder: 99.99997% of the world's population have never even heard of this freaking little blog. blog. blog. blog.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Online Anonymity is Good, But it Takes Work on Everyone's Part

Here I sit, in the same public space where two years ago, about this same time, connected to public wi-fi, I created http://minimsft.blogspot.com/ and shot out two initial posts and then a third noting the web feed URL. Whew, that July 2004 was a busy month! And it has been a hell of an uphill ride from there... I've learned a lot and I feel like a lot has been accomplished at Microsoft, along with sharing and discovering information in and about Microsoft that have helped countless Microsofties.

How's the score? Microsoft sure has gotten bigger, with no end to expansion in sight. Mini-Microsoft 0, Maxi-Microsoft 20,000.

Nevertheless, given that lots of good changes are emerging (first LisaB and now Sinofsky world), I've put away the pointy stick and have pushed the mental pause button here. It seemed, however, some kind of news event happened every week... so I put up a matching post for discussion: Scoble leaving, Gates 'retiring,' Vic leaving, etc etc. But between that and no mini-essays, the commenting sort of meandered along. And the comments got a bit nasty, not helped by my mis-approval ability.

So I've now cranked up the comment moderation quality gates.

Anonymity check. Is anonymous commenting a good thing? Is anonymous anything a good thing? Why is the EFF so passionate about anonymous rights? Hmm. It's a good discussion to have. My immediate answer is an affirming, "Yes, anonymous protection is a good thing. Judge the content on its own merits, not by the speaker." Other people's immediate answer is "No way! The message is ignorable without a person standing by it!"

While TDavid has been ragging on me for a while, recently Scoble flipped the bit and ripped through the commenting here, basically saying:

  • Anonymity is cowardly, especially backstabbing co-worker anonymous commenters.
  • No worthwhile content can come from unsigned, anonymous sources.
  • I'm being used by the commenters here with their anti-Microsoft agenda.
  • This blog is now harming Microsoft more than it's helping.
  • Non-Microsofties frequently pose as Microsofties to post as part of a subtle, intentional tear-down of Microsoft via Mini-Microsoft.

Surprise! It was as if I switched on the TV and saw Scoble's face pasted over Kanye West, saying, "Mini-Microsoft is bad for Microsoft!" Oh, and Dare jumped on that bad wagon, too, also hedging that this blog has jumped the shark again (third time's a charm, I guess).

Counter to this, Adam Barr also weighs in with Scoble vs. Mini (nice! reasonable!).

Now then, Scoble was coming off of a totally justified reaction to the harsh comments posted around his former team, Vic, and the newly designated leader. Doug Mahugh has a follow-up on that and anonymity: Doug’s World » Response to Robert Scoble. But, damn, when Scoble's bit gets flipped, it really gets flipped.

So he's in the very anti-anonymous world right now. Anonymity bad. Cowardly. Useless. And Scoble signs out of Mini-Microsoft land for good. Hmmph. Maybe he's pulling a Dvorak here, or this is an indoctrination into the crazy uncle club. On one hand, since I respect Scoble a super-great deal, it gives me a good bit to think about (and thus this post). On the other hand, it makes me want to proclaim Tuesday July 11th 2006 as "Be Robert Scoble Day" and sign your posts and comments across the web and blogosphere as Robert Scoble so that everything you write has a proper name associated with it. To quote Scoble, "Heh."

As for Microsoftie-posers contributing comments here: duh. Sorry I can issue forth anything more intellectual than that, but I'm sure it happens. Which posts, though? I have my suspicions, but I can't be 100% sure, so I break out the salt. Scoble quotes a reliable-kept-anonymous source as being quite in the know of all these posers here. The same source likes to spread similar FUD about how it's no more than thirty-some people rotating through various roles posting comments here. And how folks here are all a bunch of whiners. I know, we live in the age of saying it makes it so. I can't invoke divine wisdom on every Microsoftie post to clearly understand if it's blue-badged or not, though somehow this Agent Smith can. Take two grains of salt in search of your own opinion in the world of grey here.

One thing I can rely on is the community that's part of the conversation here to call B.S. on things that are suspicious, or when something gets through that shouldn't. Do you think a particular comment looks suspicious? Call B.S. on it an explain why. Your B.S. calling doesn't make it through my newly modified highly fortified comment filter? Link to that post in your own blog calling B.S.

As an anonymous blogger, it would be wrong for me not to extend the same to the commenters here. I have to. But I've heard everyone's feedback, too: the moderation quality has to be better. And please whip out the B.S. stamps and let me know when it's not.

Other commenters recent opinions on this topic (sorry if it seems like a love-fest - if you have differing opinions, submit them or link to this post):

(1) Until Mini came along, Microsoft thought their entire stack of management was super, and very well respected by employees. The reason they thought this is that detractors were tarred as traitors, whispering campaigns were started against them, and they were managed out. This summed up nicely with Ballmer's statement during the recent town hall: "if you're still using Google raise your hands." No, the first amendment is good for something, and nicely applied here.

(2) Not singling anyone out, but if there had been no way to anonymously post during the lengthy "stack ranking" discussion, is it likely the changes seen recently would have occurred at all?

(3) If it means anything, I think you're serving a valuable purpose for fellow employees. Without your forum, there's no sanity check for individual observations.

(4) Mini, if ever you were in doubt about the amount of good or bad that can happen through minimsft blog, I hope those have now evaporated. Although unelected by us and sometimes your posts are fluff:), your blog has provided an avenue for exchanges that were hitherto impossible.

Do not let this go to waste. Several times the site has jumped the shark with the unchecked or poorly checked comments but several times it has managed to come back to relevancy. Like Scoble or not, there is some truth in his remarks above. While I don't believe the era of Mini is over, I doubt my MS is being helped by some of the things you let through on a consistent basis.

(5) I'm an ex-employee and current shareholder. My experience then and now is that unfortunately, in more cases than not, MSFT's leadership responds to pressure vs proactively doing the right thing. When that pressure doesn't exist or can be easily ignored, MSFT often makes no course correction at all. We see this competitively, legally, internally and wrt customers/partners and especially shareholders. Dare's right that some unfortunate comments have made it through the filter and included "character assassination, racism, sexism, fear mongering, unfounded allegations of sexual misconduct, information leaking" etc, but that's not a whole lot different than many conversations over coffee at MSFT locations worldwide - or most other companies for that matter (regretably). More importantly, in my experience, comments like that have overwhlemingly been the exception vs the rule. Again as a shareholder, I think your site has done more than ANY to foster questioning of current management by both internal and external stakeholders and that's a GREAT thing given their penchant for ignoring the numerous and very obvious current concerns. When we get CONCRETE signs that senior leadership is willing and able to make the difficult course corrections (including changing the dysfunctional corporate culture) w/o external pressure, then your site's contribution may no longer be needed. Until then, I hope you'll keep at it and ignore the naysayers.

(6) The vast majority of us (who actually read lots of blogs every day) appreciate what you are doing. Not everyone realizes yet that this site is going to help mold the future of the company and maybe even bring it into the 21st century as far as how the tech world and how employees gather information and share thoughts and mature debate.

Please edit out the random trolls and potential planned posts that seem to be geared to distracting from and discrediting the mini focus.

(7) This blog is awesome simply because it IS anonymous, and people can post without fear of retalliation. Given the cloistered and clannish atmosphere at Microsoft, this is not cowardice or paranoia. It's common sense.

(8) Those in power to make a difference (LisaB?) who happen to read the blog will automatically ignore those items that don't happen to be true and posted anonymously and filter them away as noise. However, complaints that have an objective point and are posted anonymously will be considered on their merits because everyone who *really* works here knows its true. Therefore, ignoring the comment, because its anonymous, is illogical because employees can attest to its veracity and are able to contemplate the argument presented based on the content of the message itself. Moreover, upper management knows that impactful messages resonate strongly with the masses *despite* their anonymity (the discussion about stack rank is a representative example). As such, these anonymous discussions can certainly form the seeds of revolution. Ignore actual employees who post incorrectly because of their error; these are typically corrected later on by another employee and as such, the former's anonymous (incorrect) message has no impact.

So, damn me and cast aspersions upon me, but I'm going to keep keeping on.

Any other thoughts?

Oh, and finally: if some poor potential candidate came to Mini-Microsoft as part of their decision-making to join Microsoft and got scared away, well, great! Who would make such a judgment based on the radical content of a blog slavishly devoted to down-sizing Microsoft? Not someone I want on my team. Instead, I'd expect them to use it to have a challenging conversation with their recruiter and hiring manager so that they could start a job with eyes wide open and savvyness set to eleven.

Updated: corrected spelling of Doug Mahugh's last name. Sorry!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Bad Mini, Scoble's Exit, and Truthiness - Links

Holy crap, that last post really spiraled into some chaotic nasty sub-threads, mostly due to me slipping several times and hitting 'Publish' instead of 'Reject' and letting through some under-the-bar material.

I have no excuse.

The responses to that fire-fuel got so cross-threaded that it's hard to just delete my boo-boos. I'm taking a quick break between holiday beers just to put something (anything!) up to throw some cold water on this little blog.

Please, go enjoy life! I can tell you, post that comment-stream I'm going to kick up the quality bar a notch and stop letting the character assassination through... it doesn't feel right. But, you can always start your own blog to unleash your insight onto the world.

Meantime, just a few interesting things I've seen going on:

  • Scobleizer - Tech Geek Blogger » Your exit interview of me - how does Scoble find all the time to wrap up one job, go to a local geekfest, have parties, sell a house, buy a house, prep for a new job, visit here to post some pretty strong defense for his former group, and blog? This is a pretty good post-Microsoft entry regarding Scoble's point-of-view as he leaves. Good advice, and I'll be just as interested to hear what other advice Scoble has three months from now as our own little reality-distortion field fades and more distance reveals other insights. For instance, sounds like the bloom has already faded from the rose with respect to me...
  • The Rumors Are True Layoffs Hit Microsoft - well, there was at least truthiness to the rumors, but no outright divisional butt-kicking truth. There was an interesting amount of discussion generated around it, though.
  • Micro Persuasion Cuban Kills Blog Comments - Mr. Rubel notes Mark Cuban's defection from the comment feature. Well, for at least one post. First, thanks to the Google Blogger team for adding moderation to the commenting system here. I actually manage to use it correctly some times. But, if commenting and linking and pingbacks are part of the infrastructure to great blogs leading great conversations, they really have to be top notch. And commenting right now has plenty of room for innovations. I'd even add advertisements here if I could have an excellent commenting system.
  • The Blogging Journalist Who's Mini - Mr. Umrani... can you give me a weeeeee bit less attention? It's attention like this that makes me want to focus more time on building led-throwies than slapping up the occasional post here.