Thanks for asking great questions today. We had a great day here in the Scoble house. Had a nice goodbye party with tons of great people (we had just as many Google employees at the house today as attended Gnomedex yesterday). Lots of good New Orleans cookin! Anyone wanna come over and help eat it? The beer is still cold. Anyway, let’s get started.
BRAD ASKED: “What’s the one thing your most proud of about your time at MSoft, the one thing you might do differently, and the one thing you didn’t get to do but wanted to?”
MY ANSWER: Getting Steve Ballmer to change Microsoft’s support of a Washington State Gay Rights bill which led to its passing. That was probably the riskiest thing I did but I told my mom I’d look for ways to stand up for minorities in society and glad to help play a part in that. What might I do differently? I’m still sad I didn’t learn to program. I think it hurt my credibility with developers both inside and outside the company and I wish I had more skills. Even now I’m finding that I’m interested in learning more about how to build things rather than just mouth off about them. What was the one thing I wanted to do? I really wanted to go to China and India and see what Microsoft was doing there. I was planning a trip to India when I decided to change jobs. Hopefully I’ll still get to do something like that but it’ll be looking at Microsoft and other software companies from the outside rather than the inside.
BROOK ASKED: “What is Microsoft’s internal perception of what you did for them, and have the noticed a change in public perception?”
MY ANSWER: There are more than 60,000 employees at Microsoft and the perception would vary widely from employee to employee. Many employees (nay, most) still don’t know who I am or care what’s going on in the blogging world. But, today I had more than 100 people at my house, a large percentage of whom were Microsoft employees (including executives from Research and Audio) so I think that demonstrates the extraordinary love I’ve felt from most Microsoft employees that I’ve run into over the years. As to change in public perception. It’s hard to sense that, but in internal measurements I have seen show sizeable movements in our survey results. I really only cared about what customers thought anyway and I keep hearing that Microsoft is an easier company to deal with now than it was four years ago. Here’s another way to look at it: today you can go to Google, search “OneNote blog” and find Chris Pratley who runs the OneNote team. You can leave him a comment and tell him you think his product sucks. And you can see how he, and his team, reacts to that. To me that’s a huge change from how I used to help people in newsgroups before blogs.
STEVEN ASKS: “What can you tell us about RSS/OPML/XMLRPC and the internal opinions of Microsoft? (ie. Don’t care so much about RSS readers, dime a dozen)”
This is an area where we’ve seen Microsoft make huge adoptions. When I started at Microsoft three years ago they didn’t have RSS in any product. Now they have it in lots including Sharepoint, which is the intranet tool used by many many Fortune 100 companies. I can’t understate that enough. And, if I helped by saying that Microsoft product planners and marketers who didn’t support RSS should be fired then I’m very happy to have played my part. OPML is also supported by Outlook for inbound and outbound RSS feeds. I think you should watch what Ray Ozzie does in this area very closely. The stuff I saw before I left was astounding.
HE ALSO ASKS: “You switched to WordPress because Matt added OPML support, do you still use Manilla, Frontier or the OPML Editor and are Microsoft doing anything at all within this realm?”
Sharepoint looks very close to Manila. I am still using the OPML Editor and will use it more in the future at PodTech.
RANDY ASKS: “Now for a tough question Robert. Do you think Windows is a drag on product teams, not a factor, or a benefit to other product teams? Explain.”
It’s both a drag and a benefit. First, the drags. Windows only ships once every two to five years (at least the consumer Windows like Windows 95, 98, ME, XP, and now Windows Vista). So, if a developer comes up with some killer new feature he or she needs to wait until the next version will ship. Features under development today won’t ship until 2008 or later. I know a lot of people who like working more on Windows Live technologies (like Virtual Earth) for just that reason — they can ship new features every few weeks and don’t need to wait for Windows to ship.
Benefit? Well, anything you put into Windows will be used by millions of people. Even a feature hidden deep inside a control panel will get massive usage. There aren’t many software projects in the world where you can say “my little tiny feature will get used by millions, or maybe hundreds of millions of people around the world.”
That said, I’d like to see Windows be a bit more agile in shipping out new features. I want a Media Player, for instance, that has podcasting support built in. How long are we going to have to wait?
BRIAN ASKS: “Is there a super-duper secret backhannel method for communicating directly to Bill Gates?”
Nope. He answers email sent from Microsoft employees to firstname.lastname@example.org (he answered a couple of mine directly which always thrilled me and other employees who got this treatment). Employees can also submit “ThinkWeek” papers directly to him. I spent some time looking through the ThinkWeek site (it’s open to every employee) and you can see BillG interacting with tons of different employees right there. So can any employee interact with him.
Oh, and customers can email him at the same address, but then it’s a little more likely that one of his assistants will answer it.
Getting into his office physically is a bit harder, but not impossible. The best way is to write a killer ThinkWeek paper about something that he wants to learn more about. Some of my writing was included in a paper written by Lili Cheng and a few other researchers and that turned into a 1.5-hour conversation about RSS and blogs. That turned into public statements by BillG and let to RSS being included in many projects throughout the company.
JEFFREY ASKS: “Who’s Mini?”
I don’t know. He says he met me once, though. The only guy I know who knows him is Jay Greene who is a journalist at BusinessWeek. I asked him to sell Mini out, but, of course, Jay refused. I’m sure Jay will be happy to confirm to anyone that Mini isn’t me, though. (I’ve been asked that more than once lately).
GEORG ASKS: “I’m from Austria and will be in October in San Francisco. Stupid question: Will there be something like a geek-dinner?”
I’ve been telling everyone that all you need to do is bring a bottle of wine and you are welcome at our new house in Half Moon Bay (we have a guest room and we love meeting bloggers, geeks, developers, interesting people). And, of course, we’ll have lots of fun events.
GABE ASKS: “Three things you would change at Microsoft?”
1) I would incubate more products outside of Microsoft for a longer period of time. What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve seen lots of things change this industry that were done by small teams of people. Xbox? Two people. .NET? A handful. Live.com? A handful. Or, look outside the company. How many people built my favorite TechMeme? One! The problem is that if any team develops something that’s cool it’s brought into the main mother ship very quickly now. That slows them down as they now need to deal with being dependent on other people and other teams. In fact watch what Google does. They keep teams separate which makes them look chaotic and not strategic but it lets them innovate longer before they get sucked into the “integration” phase. I’d also like to see teams forced to get some momentum on their own before being integrated into Office or Windows or Live.com. The MSN Spaces team, for instance, got so many users so fast that they needed to focus most of their energy the first year on infrastructure rather than features. If they hadn’t been integrated into MSN Messenger for another year maybe that would have forced the team to compete on the basis of sheer features instead of integration. But, keep in mind that I’m full of shit too and doing what I say might have really screwed up things. That’s what’s fun about business. No one really knows the right idea until after it’s been discovered, implemented, and customers chime in.
2) I would actually start a new company that’s designed to destroy the old one. Xerox got very close to doing that with Xerox PARC, but the executives weren’t able to pull the trigger. Imagine what our industry would have been like if the executives there HAD pulled the trigger?
3) I would put a single person in charge of naming and fire anyone who didn’t listen to the dictator. I’d do the same thing about corporate image. Same with conference planning. Same with advertising. Committees just suck the soul out of the best ideas. On the other hand, I would hate to be that person cause if you screwed up you’d have no one else to blame.
HE ALSO ASKS: “Three companies you would purchase and or merge with?”
I always wished we got along better with Sony. Some parts of Sony just make beautiful products. I used a Sony camcorder. I’m watching a Sony TV. It’s stunning. Jeff Sandquist loves his new tiny Vaio notebook. But, integrating Microsoft’s corporate cultures would be very difficult, and the DOJ would never allow the game divisions to exist in the same company.
SCOTT ASKS: “What didn’t Microsoft want you to blog about?”
The one thing I was asked to stay away from was legal issues. Mostly for my own protection. Executives told me stories about spending months away from home to spend time in courtrooms. They all say it was the worst experience of their lives and they didn’t wish that on their worst enemies.
JIM ASKS: “Does Ray Ozzie have what it takes to change the Microsoft macro development culture from cathedral to bazaar?”
Yes. I came very close to staying at Microsoft just because of Ray. I hope everyone gives him a chance.
CHRIS ASKS: “Why do people hate Microsoft?”
Because Microsoft has treated many companies and people poorly. I have lots of stories about that. Remember before I worked at Microsoft? Someone at Microsoft tried to get me fired from a job. I’ve talked with lots of journalists who feel that Microsoft just tries to control what they write and don’t talk with them like human beings.
But, there’s something deeper. It’s the same reason I hate the Yankees. We hate entities that are on top. Our culture loves to make people bigger than life and then rip them down. That culture is exactly why so many people read gossip magazines (or, in our industry, why ValleyWag is already so popular).
UMA ASKS: “So what are your thoughts about fixing the blogging mess at Microsoft (since now you can really speak your mind ?)”
If you think it’s a mess at Microsoft you should hear stories from other companies. Most other companies’ employees in the world aren’t allowed to blog at all. Personally I LOVE the mess. It creates opportunities for you! If you think it’s a mess, clean up something. Invite people out for coffee and see if you can work together with other people to make it better.
I keep bugging execs to blog, for instance. They’ll get a clue about the power of doing this sooner or later. If they don’t, they’ll be fired and then the “clued in” leaders will get a shot. Just stick around. That type of change in the corporate world is coming and coming fast. The audiences are just getting too connected. Look at how fast my story broke. All you need to do is tell 15 bloggers something and if it rings true it’ll get repeated around the world. That’s what gets executives fired.
That’s what I was trying to warn Steve Ballmer about. The fact that he isn’t talking with the grassroots IS getting noticed.
GERT ASKS: “f you had a good/huge say in the development of Windows Vista: what would be the first thing to be changed, added, …”
First of all, the best stuff I’ve seen is the small things. 1,000 small things put together make a great experience. Things that bug me? The small things. The UI that isn’t consistent across all apps and all Windows. Why is that? Because Microsoft internally is like a hundred companies all under the same roof. Those companies often have their own ideas about how things should be done. It comes out in the small things. And, conversely, when things enthrall you that’s probably where tons of small things were done well.
But, specifically? My computer doesn’t understand that I have different roles. Why does it look the same when I’m using Second Life as it does when I’m watching a movie or as it does when I’m editing my blog or when I’m working on a spreadsheet. My computer is stupid (keep in mind I’m using Maryam’s new MacBook Pro and it’s just as stupid). I’d like it to understand a lot more about the roles I’m in and bring me experiences (and files and apps) that match those roles. For instance, when I’m watching a movie, why doesn’t my Sidebar pull up a YouTube gadget that lets me watch more videos after my movie is done? It should recognize that I’m in a movie-watching, or entertainment role. When I’m working on a spreadsheet, that stuff should go away and I’d love to see things like Money, a calculator, financial tools, stock reports, and other stuff that’d be in a “money management” role. But, our computers are stupid.
Don’t even start thinking about Steve Gillmor’s “attention” ideas.
ALFRED ASKS: “Who is the person you most wanted to interview for Channel 9 but didn’t get to interview?”
David Cutler. He is more responsible for the kernel than anyone else but doesn’t give interviews anymore. I heard that he wants his work to speak for him, which I respect. But I’d still love to interview him cause those of us using Windows really are playing inside his ideas and that would be fascinating.
A ASKS: “What would you say is the biggest flaw at Microsoft?”
Its inability to see small things when those things are still small. Did Microsoft see RSS eight years ago? No. Did it see blogging five years ago? No. Did it see search eight years ago? No.
It’s the small things that’ll do a big company in.
JOHNNY ASKS: “Do you think Microsoft should have tried to be more international and less USA-national?”
That’s always a problem in the tech industry, but Microsoft actually is a leader here. Most products are released in 26 languages. One video I did that still is in the hopper on Channel 9 is one I did with the localization teams. Really great stuff they do. But, there’s more to do. Microsoft has offices all over the world, though, and that’s a huge strength that it has that it should use more.
CAROLUS ASKS: “Now that you are leaving, are you going to buy a Mac, and only run windows when you absolutely have to?”
Yes. I am buying a Mac. But I’m also buying another Tablet PC.
I will probably run Windows Vista on my Mac. I’m using Maryam’s new MacBook Pro right now and I still don’t like OSX as much as Vista. But, I know lots of people don’t agree with me there. Yes, I’ll use Windows Vista as my main OS. The latest builds are really looking great, although I’m still having problems with drivers here and there.
SHE ALSO ASKS: “When will Mac and Windows become one?”
Well, with Parallels and BootCamp, it’s getting closer. But, I doubt they’ll ever be totally one. There are too many APIs on each one that only work well natively. Rebuilding those so that they both would run together would be akin to tearing down New York and rebuilding it from scratch. Not gonna happen due to sheer economics. Not to mention that the people who built the buildings aren’t working in the industry anymore.
SEARCHENGINES ASKS: “1- http/xml ultimately became known as AJAX last year – and took off – why did microsoft not attempt to promote the technology and publicize it.”
Whenever you ask a question like this you need to realize that Microsoft is a business. Now, phrase the question again: “what would the business value be of publicizing a marketing term like AJAX?” I don’t see any. What do you see? I think Microsoft is completely happy simply to employ Scott Isaacs and other geeks who developed the core technology underneath AJAX.
SEARCHENGINES ALSO ASKS: “MSN search engine only became a unique engine last year – why did Microsoft go YEARS without attempting to create an individual search engine.”
Because it didn’t look like search was going to be a big business. Google, in fact, almost went out of business. The other day I met a guy who worked at Exodus and told me that Google almost was closed down because it couldn’t pay its bills. It wasn’t until AdSense came along that Microsoft woke up to the fact that there was a business there.
Google was a small thing that Microsoft missed.
JACK ASKS: “Do you have a non-disclosure agreement with MS?, if there isn’t, will you join Google instead of PodTech?”
Yes, I do. But, I think what you are really asking is about a non-compete agreement. I think I have one of those too.
I’m not going to Google and doubt I would. Although if they want to offer me millions of dollars I sure would listen! Heheh.
JACK ASKS: “How should Microsoft view its competition-should it focus on the bigger competitors or the smaller ones?”
If you are building music stars, can you build them by copying Elvis or the Beattles? No.
Microsoft should focus on doing interesting things with software that help humans. If it does that, it’ll thrive for a long long time. If it just copies its competitors it’ll find that it’ll be increasingly difficult to hire the smartest people. Which will cause them to go into a death spiral. Smart people want to build innovative new things. They don’t want to copy what someone else does.
Hey, look at maps. No need to copy. None of the big companies has let me put reviews on addresses on maps. Wake me up when the innovation is done!
Translation: focus on doing things to help people live their lives and the rest of it will take care of themselves. That said, do watch what your competitors are doing to see if they learned something you didn’t see.
BRETT ASKS: “The actual number isn’t important but I wanted to know if there *was* a number that would have kept you at Microsoft? Did Microsoft ever ask you, “What would it take to keep you?” or were you leaving regardless of what they could have done?”
I’ve thought about that a lot. I’m sure that there’s a number that would have gotten me to stay for a while longer. But, I don’t believe that really would have mattered long term.
I’m a guy who likes taking risks and trying new things. As my mom was dying I realized I just wanted to shake my life up a lot and try something dramatically new/different. Having failure on the table again as a possiblity was a bit part of my decision. Oh, and getting rid of our twice-a-month commute down to California to see Patrick.
RONPIH ASKS: “Why did you decide to take a job at Microsoft?”
Because it is a company I admired and wanted to learn more about. And, because an executive bought a Tablet PC and was so passionate about gadgets that we’d have interesting conversations. Then he started reading my blog and asked if I’d be interested in joining the evangelism group.
Having someone show some interest in me and my career was intoxicating and exciting.
RONPIH ALSO ASKS: “What, if anything, changed your perceptions of the reasons you decided to take a job at Microsoft in the time you worked there?”
My reasons were only strengthened. It is — by far — the most interesting company in the world right now. Google seems sexier, but does Google have a research division? Does it have an Xbox team? Does it do everything from mice to Hotmail? No. Microsoft stands alone in my mind. It also is the most interesting organization of humans that I can think of. Despite its flaws it still builds the software that most of us use everyday.
RONPIH ALSO ASKS: “What obstacles did you encounter that made your job more difficult than it had to be?”
That’s a hard one to answer. I didn’t hit a lot of the stuff you might expect. Yeah, PR at the beginning gave the Channel 9 team a bit of trouble but we won them over.
I think that if there’s a thing that made my job more difficult it was the constant and increasing email load. I wish I had the temerity to ask for help with that.
RONPIH AGAIN: “What made you consider an offer from another company?”
I helped write the offer. So, of course I was interested in it! 🙂
I covered this already in blog posts before. 1) I saw a dramatic new user model developing (content for portable devices and computers) and I wanted to try some new ideas I had. 2) I wanted to be back down in the Bay Area to be closer to our families. 3) I liked John Furrier and believed in him. 4) The team he was building was top-notch and interesting. 5) There was a considerable potential reward for the risk I was taking (I was trading in the best job in the industry for something unknown and that had the potential of failure).
RONPIH: “Would you consider working at Microsoft again in the future?”
RONPIH: “What advice would you give to your successor?”
Be yourself. Don’t try to be my successor. I don’t wish that on anyone. Could Elvis copy the Beattles? No.
Build relationships with as many people as you can. Listen to feedback, particularly the harsh stuff (lots of geeks don’t like it when they are told off, instead, assume that they are right and you are wrong).
RICHARD ASKS: “What really happened to Longhorn? It was such an ambitious and groundbreaking product around PDC 2003. Vista is NOT Longhorn!”
Huh? Name one thing that Longhorn would have let you do that Vista doesn’t let you do.
DMAD ASKS: “Why did you keep whining about your less than $100,000/yr salary? Do you were fairly compensated
for carrying around a camera and interviewing people that actually worked on products that were intended to make money for the company?”
Because I was getting offers for more that I kept turning down. My value to the company had gone way behind just “carrying around a camera.” Demonstrates that you have no clue about what I actually did. One example? I spoke at Google to Google’s best customers and they gave me a better rating than 98% of the other speakers. Is that valueable? You betcha and companies were willing to pay for that. Why do you think that Steve Jobs is worth billions? Most of what he does is communicate with other people.
JAWAHAR ASKS: “Will you revive “talkingmoose” ?”
Hmmm, that might be fun, but I really don’t think a character blog or an anonymous blog is the best use of my time.
ENZO ASKS: “For the upcoming generations, like those whom have just graduated from college or high school, would you recommend working at Microsoft? Or would you suggest anywhere else?”
I can’t answer that. For some people I’d definitely recommend working at Microsoft. For others a startup might be more appropriate. It depends on what you’re trying to do. For instance, Emre, who works in Research, just came to Microsoft from Stanford. He said he considered startups and other big companies and no other company he researched was doing as much interesting work as Microsoft was doing.