Corporate doublespeak or inspiration?

Maybe I’ve been out of the corporate world for too long. And I do wish Microsoft well because Google and Facebook and others need competition so they don’t totally ruin our world. So I read with interest Satya Nadella’s email to employees which is available for all to read.

The first thing that caught my eye is this abuse of logic and English: “We live in a mobile-first and cloud-first world….” This phrase is all over the place. Do you see the problem? [Maybe I am too nerdy in my parsing of English.

The second thing I caught my eye was that the salutation is “Team,” Microsoft has around 130,000 employees. I guess that’s a pretty big team. But also, I may be wrong about this. But all the examples (2) of emails from Bill Gates to all employees didn’t have any salutation. Hmm. I think the first time I saw that salutation was in emails from Steve Jobs to Apple Employees.

Final annoying nit picking point from the Natella email: “At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.” Hmm, that singular focus looks like a 2×2 matrix, so there are four most important things.

I know that a document like this that will be released to the universe past, present and future, is a heavily choreographed piece with many authors. I always had a hard time with corporate mission statements and such. And if I received this as a way to get me excited and feeling that there was renewed focus in the company. Well, meh.

 

Election Meltdown

I was a volunteer for the Democratic Committee in Arlington Mass. They have an impressive operation, just like what you’ve heard. For example, the systems they used to deploy us volunteers.

I walked in the campaign office, untrained and unschooled. Within minutes I was assigned my very own ‘turf’. What is a turf? A turf is a neighborhood of about two to four streets  assigned to me and only me. 

I was handed a clipboard with a sheaf of sheets describing my turf. The clipboard included:

  • A map of a nearby neighborhood, with a series of dots on certain, but not all houses
  • A list of addresses in street order, first one side and then the other
  • With each address a list of names of people, and an area for notes
  • And a short script explaining what I was expected to do once I knocked on the door

Note that not all houses on the streets are marked. Only those that that their database said were kind of on the fence and with a little nudge might decide to go and vote for Obama and Warren. Supposedly, no definite Republicans nor committed Democrats were on the list. The list had about 50 houses, probably they had figured out that that was the approximate tolerance of a volunteer.

I could tell you similarly impressive stories about their dial-a-voter tool that would allow me to make one or 100 calls from my home computer, specifically targeted at undecided voters or those who might forget to vote, tell me who they were, what to tell them, remind them where to vote and so on. All from a web browser.

Very cool.

Now, in contrast. Here’s an article about how Romney’s system was developed (Microsoft,) deployed (centralized in Boston) and basically crashed on election day. Here’s a nice quote:

“…The end result,” Ekdahl wrote, “was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of [get out the vote] efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters). Wrap your head around that….” (from Arstechnica)

History is made

The first personal computer actually made by Microsoft! That’s history. They’ve made mice, and X-boxes, but never desktops, laptops, or tablets. 

What impressive me about this computer is that it’s not a me-too. Unlike Android, you can’t pigeonhole it as just another iPhone knock off. It’s fundamentally different user interface is stunning and unique.

Here’s the venerable (yeah) Walt Mossberg’s review:

“But the tablet I’m using is very different—historic, actually. It’s the first personal computer made by Microsoft, a company determined for decades to make only the software driving others’ computers.” (from Wall Street Journal)

In addition to the computer and the new version of Windows, these computers have a unique keyboard built into soft screen protector. Very cool! Secondly, the tablets have a built in ‘kick-stand’ for standing it upright. Cool again! Well done Microsoft!

Beautiful Outlook

I don’t know why this has not gotten more press. You should take a look at Microsoft’s new Gmail killer, outlook.com. It’s a totally web based email client, like Gmail, but the user experience is miles and miles better than Gmail.

Screen Shot 2012 10 16 at 10 31 48 PM

Now I am a huge Gmail user, and generally I get along really well with it. It has years of my emails and I have fully mastered its tricks and hacks. It works, it’s reliable and it’s free.

But boy, as a user interface, isn’t Gmail UGLY?

And now look at Microsoft’s Outlook.com. I didn’t even realize that such great, responsive UI could be built in html. It might still be missing some features, and maybe MSFT will clutter it up when they add them, but for now, it is impressive.

By the way, the world of Outlook.com is new enough that the good email addresses might still be available, so get your company@outlook.com while you still can!

Windows 8: Getting a new filesystem

I don’t pay much attention to Microsoft and Windows these days. I admit it, I am a hardcore Mac and Linux user, more comfortable in the unix shell than I ever was at a Dos prompt.

It’s easy to forget the layers and layers and layers of complexity that exist in any operating system nowadays, even a little Android tablet (which I am spending lots of time with lately.)

So this article is a good reminder of what’s happening up in Redmond. It describes the “next generation file system for Windows“:

“Our design attributes are closely related to our goals. As we go through these attributes, keep in mind the history of producing file systems used by hundreds of millions of devices scaling from the smallest footprint machines to the largest data centers, from the smallest storage format to the largest multi-spindle format, from solid state storage to the largest drives and storage systems available. Yet at the same time,

Windows file systems are accessed by the widest array of application and system software anywhere. ReFS takes that learning and builds on it. We didn’t start from scratch, but reimagined it where it made sense and built on the right parts of NTFS where that made sense. Above all, we are delivering this in a pragmatic manner consistent with the delivery of a major file system—something only Microsoft has done at this scale. (from Building the Next Generation File System for Windows: ReFS)

Reading the article is not as satisfying as the build up. I guess not surprisingly, given that by definition the article has to over simplify and really hide the wheels within wheels.

I have written many times about Microsoft’s amazing ability to build complex products and support a user base across a crazy variety of versions, hardware, software, countries, eras and so on. The challenge that they take on with Windows 8, apparently massively changing the on-disk structures of their file system while preserving API compatibility is daunting.

So while I am not a Microsoft fan or booster, I still have enormous respect for them.

Bill Gates and Microsoft

I still don’t love Microsoft. I used to, actually, use Windows day in and day out, for years. But I am known to frown a the thought of sitting down and usingn Windows 7 or whatever it’s called these days.

But isn’t Bill Gates awesome? After building Microsoft into a hugely successful business behemoth he takes his money and builds an awesome charitable behemoth:

“”We all know that there are these exemplars who can take the toughest students, and they’ll teach them two-and-a-half years of math in a single year,” he says. “Well, I’m enough of a scientist to want to say, ‘What is it about a great teacher? Is it their ability to calm down the classroom or to make the subject interesting? Do they give good problems and understand confusion? Are they good with kids who are behind? Are they good with kids who are ahead?’ (from The Wall Street Journal)

Microsoft is to Google as Lotus was to Microsoft

This isn’t a huge new insight but it’s interesting to see history kind of repeating itself.

Sometimes a product is so locked in and so entrenched that it looks like it will never be beat. After all, no one ever got fired for buying IBM right? And you’d have to be crazy to try to build a new spreadsheet to compete with Excel, because companies large and small have an unbelievable investment in training, familiarity and documents so that any change is extremely hard and costly.

It is said, correctly, I think, that such entrenched software products often get unseated during a platform switch. When a dominant technology platform (e.g. PCs or Windows) is losing it’s dominance in favor of a new technology (e.g. Cloud-based apps) the dominant software company and products are vulnerable.

Did you know that Lotus Development had total dominance in spreadsheets on MS-DOS? And then Microsoft Windows ‘came along’ (that coming along took almost a decade but still Lotus got caught short.

Lotus kept investing in 1-2-3 – the couldn’t not – while Microsoft without the ‘baggage‘ of an installed base could bet on their ‘new platform’ and build a great new spreadsheet called Excel. It was a gamble, and they won.

Now we might be seeing history repeating itself. In a New York Times Article from a day or three ago:

“Microsoft’s long-awaited move, analysts say, is a studiously crafted bet, including various offerings at different prices. They are not sure whether it represents wishful thinking or a workable strategy. Microsoft’s plan is to embrace the demand for cloud-based tools for office workers, which promise to be less costly for companies than conventional software, and yet avoid cannibalizing a business that is its biggest single money-maker.” (from Microsoft Takes to Cloud to Ward Off Competition)

Wow, that sounds like what I heard around Lotus about 15 years ago.

Imagine this: “Lotus’ plan is to embrace the demand for Windows-based tools for office workers,[…] and yet avoid cannibalizing a business that is its biggest single money-maker”