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.

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