Thursday, December 27, 2007

Microsoft's 2008 - What's Going Well?

Here we are, wrapping up 2007 and launching into 2008. I continue to believe that we're in a good transition time at Microsoft and that 2008 will help cinch that transition as some of the bigger products wrap up major development (Office 14, Windows 7). Trying to keep a positive vibe, I just want to share some of the things going on in and around Microsoft that I see as goodness. I'd like to know what you honestly think is going well, too.

Indulge in some praise, too, if you will. We can get around to the constructive criticism after we're settled into the new year. Drop by MSFT Extreme Makeover for a dose right now if you need a hit.

Competition: Praise the Lord for competition. Without some light to shine the way, we really tend to get lost in our own initiatives. Think of pre-reset Longhorn. Think of post-IE6 (Blake Ross, I've got a hug with your name on it). So I'm thankful for Google, Facebook, Apple, and Adobe. And Amazon. And Nintendo. And all those startups who show that good ideas don't take an army to deliver. And that design matters. And that everyday citizens have cash they'd like to spend, too, for quality products. If it wasn't for our competitors doing so well in their respective areas I'm willing to bet that we'd still being ignoring good design and consumer facing features. As of now, those internal champions have leverage.

Something I haven't seen before, especially around Apple, is a level of humbleness and respect when considering, say, what Apple is doing - and doing well - and how we can endeavor to do better ourselves. I haven't or heard much trash-talking around Apple, but rather aspirational discussion. That's great and makes me believe that we'll be able to deliver something that actually delights our users... and hopefully therefore our shareholders.

I've been bummed lately when our competitors screw up. Really. No schadenfreude here, as much as they do indulge in it in our direction. Yeah, I'm bummed when Apple's latest OS comes equipped with a Blue Screen of death and other failures. When Facebook starts upskirting all of their users' purchases. When Google potentially jumps the shark. I'm bummed because their great accomplishments serve as a big walloping stick to break through blockers at Microsoft (because there are still people convinced that the most secure, robust, solid features are those that you don't ship - not exactly a formula for success 100% of the time).

Their failures serve as excuses to keep on doing what we're doing, or less.

Surprise! Holy smokes, stop your grinnin' and drop your linen! I love my new Zune player. That's right, I'm having a blast listening to my tunes and podcasts on my little black 8GB Zune. I promised to buy a Zune when a solid-state Zune with wireless syncing came out. Now, I'm sure you iPod fans just had to spit out three mouthfuls of foamy indignation. Uncross your eyes and let me comfort you in saying that yes, the iPod is still better. When I picked up the very first iPod nano I was amazed at how it just worked. It was delightful. Not delightful is the decision I made years ago to rip all my music in WMA. Now I know all that is just one big transcoding script job away from being something else, but I'm sticking with WMA. And the Zune is my first WMA player (going through about five different players, all the way back to an Intel 64MB player I first owned) that just works right.

And I really enjoy the Zune desktop software. And I intend to rip off some of their UI designs. Imagine that! A Microsoft team ripping design ideas off of another Microsoft team. "Hello, Hell? How's the snow?"

Solid VS2008? When VS2005 came out, there was a series of negative reactions I noted, mainly around its IDE. Dealing with the VS teams quite often, I certainly know they did a major reset in the way they develop software post VS2005. Is it paying off? If so, will other teams adopt this level of engineering excellence to address issues they have in shipping solid features?

DRM die-off? Raise your hand if you love DRM. I don't dork with anything that has DRM because it's so incredibly rare that I've gotten that crap to work without a lot of manual intervention. How am I supporting the non-DRM initiatives? By spending cash buying MP3 albums as much as I can stand. Radiohead. Amazon. And even the Zune Marketplace MP3s (surprise, part II). Do you hate DRM? Show the DRM-free music the love, then. As expressed in cold, hard cash. Or dippy Live points. Put down the Rock Band guitar and go buy some classic tunes in MP3. This kind of success will help Microsoft detangle itself even more from the DRM monster (which, by inadvertently killing Plays-for-Sure, we're well on the way).

Translucency: I know there are a lot of customers, partners, and competitors who enjoy knowing everything going on with every little new Microsoft feature along the way. When it comes to translucency vs. transparency, I support putting the kimono back on and tightening it up, perhaps doing so in an enticing burlesque-style way, revealing only what we want to reveal. A little toe here, perhaps an ankle there...

Part of my support is obviously Jobs/Apple envy of being able to surprise people with a feature just being released. The other is avoiding embarrassingly-public screw-ups like WinFS or other big features we're going to deliver and then end-up cutting. I think we've stopped being the Britney of the software-news world, now we're aspiring to be the Angelina Jolie.

Obviously, we'll still be doing betas for Windows and Office so that by the time they are released everyone will be yawning about the by-then well-known features, but I hope we can pull-out a few surprises and underpromise and overdeliver. So: way to go IE8 team! And I'm looking forward to seeing the reactions at Mix08.

Not the Bad Guy? It's taken a long time, but I don't believe we are perceived as the Evil Empire anymore. Part of that went out when people decided, at least contextually, to bust apart our empire. Okay, fine, we're playing catch-up now (wink wink). Now the evil part starts fading based on the relative failings of other firms. This is a grand opportunity for Microsoft to follow a vision like the one that Mr. ... Mr. ... Mr. Ozzie shared with us (wow, my mind blanked trying to remember his name there for a second... not sure what that means) at the 2007 Company Meeting and be the good guy on the side of the citizen and their private information, making it protected and easily transportable so that you are assured that you own and have access to what's yours, even it if passes through our clouds.

(Administrivia: sorry for falling off the map, but it just plain hasn't been computerized happiness for me over the past month given a wonky Neomailbox email service [probably anything you sent to me directly from the middle of November for a few weeks got bit-bucketed] and a series of cascading hardware failures on the home network. This is the first time in a while I've gotten the "Mini" account going again vs. the minimal life-support it has been on. It's still rough going as I try to duct-tape things back together and bond with Notepad for a while. I guess I'm working through some karma here.)