Welcome to the Walled Jungle

Last week I attended the Microsoft Technology Summit at their main campus in Washington.

First, let me say they were gracious hosts, and we met up with some very passionate, friendly employees that were not in any means apologetic about their company.  There was passion, there was drive, there was the largest software company in the world.

The Tech Summit invited the brightest minds in the Open Source (sounds great so far, right?) and pitched them Microsoft Products for 2 days (I have already identified that I don’t use .NET, finding out how to ‘develop with style’ does me absolutely no good). The presentations were the recycled ‘I Have Given This Same Deck 30 Times’ with 90% slides that would make a presentation coach have a heart attack.  It was like 2 languages were being spoken.

In hindsight, I don’t know why I was really there (especially with the format of we pitch, you listen).  I am a community guy, and a community that doesn’t use Microsoft products.  Now that I think of it, I have never spent a dime on a Microsoft product.  Not Windows, not Word, not a conference, not even a button.  My experience with Microsoft products includes a hand me down computer that I took to college and kept randomly rebooting (pissed, I switched to a Mac and never looked back).

Since the 40 or so invitees were brought in as non fanboys, every time a presenter asked if there was a question the especially vocal critics cracked a shot at the company for something they had done (an perhaps rightfully so).  For me this was a huge bit of conflict, how can you take feedback when you feel you are being attacked?  How can you give feedback when the person next to you wants to go on the attack?   This created a very uncomfortable atmosphere for everyone there.

I looked around the conference at the end of day 1 and saw that most of the other attendees were at “Inbox 0.”

I had a hard look at why I didn’t use a single Microsoft product either.  I came to the conclusion that Microsoft products work really well in their own walled garden (Live brings in Silverlight, for example) but it would be hard for me to start using a product.  It is not just a walled garden they have built, it is more like a walled jungle.  Without a single product getting me into the Microsoft game, I can’t even find where their garden is.

Nearing the end of the conference I felt bad (as up to this point I provided absolutely nothing of value) and with some encouragement of Chris Messina and Tara Hunt, hijacked a couple whiteboards into a room and invited other attendees to answer questions I wrote on them.  The questions ranged from “What does Microsoft do Really Well?” to “How Can Microsoft Suck Less?”  It was the first time where feedback was collected from the conference goers.  Here are some photos I snapped:

My feelings for the Microsoft Tech Summit can be summed up by this feedback I provided: “Microsoft knows they need to listen, they just do not know how.”  Next year I believe they are working the conference like a BarCamp, which would be the language of the brilliant Open Source and community folks they brought together.  If they want to continue making strides in the Open Source community, this is a must.

  • Nice andrew.. you took a minus and made it a positive. I bet the whiteboards you spawned are being poured over by committee in some back room of MS. Likly will be enshrined as golden tablets, and then buried to be found later by some guy named Joe wandering a hillside and turned into a religion.. wait. That would never happen.

    Srsly, that simple act of creating an analog feedback mechanism via a back channel was very un-MS, and hopefully they get that, and use it.

  • Peter

    Too funny, I used to work for Microsoft and several years ago a guy on my team made the first MS-sanctioned overtures to open source developers. It appears the current crop of Microsofties retained nothing that we learned from those early efforts, and have reverted to talking to open source developers as if they were .NET developers, which adds value for no one. Beyond funny that it took Andrew stepping in to move the Feedback-O-Meter off zero. I wonder how MS thought the event went?!

  • Great post Andrew. Never understoond why you were heading to Redmond, it seems so un-you. But as always you seem to doing your part to be in the game and push things forward. Its great to know that some dude from CO may have an impact on the wicked witch of the west.

  • Andrew! I find out about you on Twitter and now, I’ve found your blog! Dude, that is HILARIOUS!

    Funny, I just bought a new Dell Vostro ($350, come on, can’t beat it) ONLY because I am saving for an Apple Mac Book pro! I NEVER thought I would switch but, all I can think about is “New laptop, same old OS”.

    I have Vista on a new Dell (again, I work for myself full time, so, on a budget)and I HATE IT!

    Great blog. Great to see another JWU grad doing their thing!

  • Hey Andrew,

    I didn’t know you before Twitter told me you were following me. Pretty cool digs here, and Startupweekend is cool. How did you find me?

    Regarding Microsoft, read aloud with Darth Vader-like voice: “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The power of open networks is insignificant next to the power of Microsoft.”

    I don’t understand why everyone is so up in arms about Microsoft being buggy, predatory, not-in-the-least-bit-interested-in-your-pathetic-feedback. It’s not like this is anything new, and it’s what got them to their awesome power in the first place. I’m not saying what they do is best for everyone, I’m saying what they always do is certainly best for them. You should have seen them under attack at Harvard’s 2006 Cyberposium (best tech event IMO). Listening to Google’s head of OpenSource pull the sleeves up and brawl on a one hour panel with the Microsoft VP, who was very uncomfortable and defensive, was worth the $20 admission alone.

    Let me give a personal analysis of why Microsoft knows how to position itself to dominate future trends. It stems from my understanding of semantic web, web 3.0, or implicit web. (Whatever your term/def.)

    I’ve heard this subject talked about in two ways by people that I consider most knowledgeable:

    1) A “genius” older mathematician and geek from Russia, who’s small internet security company was bought by Microsoft, and who confided in me during lunch after speaking at the HBS “Cyberposium” last year. He started by saying, “this is something I should not be saying about Microsoft’s plan for web 3.0 vision and plan”. ROFL

    He gave me a very technical explanation, but I believe the gist is that his company is at the forefront of their plan, the very reason it was acquired at such a high price, after an intense auction-battle with another he wouldn’t name (Google?), and he simply called the plan, “ghost”.

    Sound weird? I thought so too.

    He explained that information, programs, and all your “files” will not exist on any of our own devices anymore, but merely be ghost reflections of files, processes, applications, etc, that are running inside Microsoft. This is not like logging into GMAIL and using Google’s online tools he explains, but more like what TheFoundry.com group thinks of implicit web here, http://www.foundrygroup.com/blog/archives/2008/03/theme-implicit-web.php

    “… it quickly became apparent to us that the computing tools we used every day would need to evolve to help us cope with the familiar (yet ever increasing) problem of information overload.”

    As the Microsoft guy, aka “genius” from now on, put it: “What you’re looking at is only a reflection created by our servers, but your reflection, in terms of both data (like pictures) and tools (like GMAIL), will be completely unique from anyone else’s, based on you. Your applications will be hybrids of thousands of other programs to meet your needs the best.” Kinda creepy, and as you can see, I don’t fully grasp the explanation either. It sounded beyond nerdy, a language I am conversational in, and bordered schizophrenia.

    2) The second explanation is “AI” and what I always felt the next natural progression from web 2.0 “cloud” effects would be, and Google founder, Sergey Brin, confirmed my hypothesis the first time I heard him say it (I’m certain he thought of it long before me, but it is logical for anyone to come to this conclusion themselves. He’s been preaching about AI for a long time.)

    This explanation differs from “genius”, because not only is your “stuff”, as we can call it, evolving to your needs, it’s offering preemptive solutions to problems you are not aware of yet. So, if you’re always buying the same crap at the same rates and times, going to the same places, seeing the same people, and having rational preferences, why wouldn’t a commerce platform start correctly guessing my next purchases exactly at the right time, and being so good that I authorize the company to make decisions for me? That’s really what I want out of a financial services firm anyways.

    In this model, TurboTax doesn’t ask you questions and you never even have to think “I have to do my taxes”. Taxes are already done and your return is automatically optimized real-time with your daily action.

    I’m not saying any of what I just wrote is the exact definition of what web 3.0 is , or is not. I’m saying that I don’t think anybody knows exactly, and I favor Sergey over “genius”.

    A lot of people are discussing these topics lately. Look at Adonomics.com’ blog and Shop.com founder, Lee Lorenzen’s argument for a $100B Facebook Valuation. It’s a chapter straight out of Microsoft’s book. After all Microsoft paid $200+ M for 1% of Facebook, or close to those numbers, valuing Facebook at $20B. Oh, and the entire social network industry revues are only $700M, with MySpace accounting for $600M…. (No comment.)

    Very similar themes to my old business model, and these of my blog entries:
    http://imagdg.com/?p=1669
    http://imagdg.com/?p=1677
    http://imagdg.com/?p=6
    and a friend’s blog: http://jeremystein.net/post/30002859

    The End

  • PS – sorry for the dissertation on your own blog.

  • I’m not sure that inviting you or the event overall wasn’t worthwhile. You have plenty of great ideas, and MS can (and realizes they can) benefit from a better understanding of the things you know.

    The problem with the event is that there wasn’t a clear understanding by the session leaders of who was in the room and how to adjust the content, discussion, and engagement accordingly.

    Overall, however, I was VERY encouraged by the MS mindset overall. After working with them in 2000-2001, I swore I would never ever work with them again. But having seen where they’re at, I’m more than happy to help.

    Are they there yet? Nope, not by a long shot. But they’re getting there.

Commenting Rules