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Todd Bishop’s Microsoft goes after biggest buy ever to catch up with Google in the Seattle PI has the most common framing:

Could a PC software giant and an Internet icon join forces to take on the Web search king?

That was the big question Friday as Microsoft Corp. stunned the online world with a bid to buy Yahoo! Inc. for nearly $45 billion in cash and stock — a blockbuster proposal that could reshape the industry by combining two tech veterans in a battle against search leader Google.

Steve Lohr covers similar ground in Yahoo Offer Is Strategy Shift for Microsoft (no, ya think?) in the New York Times.

Analyst Henry Blodgett’s take: “This is a brilliant move by Microsoft–a big premium dangled in front of battered Yahoo shareholders, but a price that would have seemed absurdly low as recently as six months ago.” who da’ punk is more skeptical, but keeping his mind open:

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Microsoft 2008: Where are the opportunities?

Yeah, I don’t work there any more, and I’m practicing saying “they” instead of “we”, but I still think that Microsoft’s situation is extremely interesting from a strategy perspective. So as a companion to Mini’s What’s going well?, MSFTextrememakeover’s Will this dog ever hunt again, Joe Wilcox’s Definitive, unsolicited advice, Slashdot’s Microsoft’s biggest threat, and no doubt a jillion other posts, I figured I’d start up a thread specifically on the topic of opportunities for Microsoft in the upcoming year.

To kick things off, I’ve highlighted a few I think are particularly compelling: put the user truly in control of their information, make Live the best front end to the network-of-networks, and abandon DRM — it’s too late for that to help Vista, but think about the effects on Zune and Windows 7.0 “now DRM-free”. Discussion of those is welcome, as are other ideas. And please try to keep the focus on the opportunities; of course there are plenty of things wrong, but the threads elsewhere are already covering those.


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On Mini: “Microsoft’s 2008 – What’s Going Well?”

Who da’ Punk’s got a new post up on MiniMSFT with a great, and somewhat out-of-character, topic.  Most of the commenters thus far appear to have missed the request “I’d like to know what you honestly think is going well, too”, but it’s early days yet.  The areas Mini lists as going well in his/her/their opinion include competition, a surprisingly good experience with Zune, translucency (as opposed to transparency), the potential for a solid VS2008, signs of edging away from the dead weight of DRM, and getting past the “evil empire” reputation.

A fine topic indeed.  Worth thinking about … so please, jump in!


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F—ing Mac

I usually love my Mac, but right now is a big exception.  When I got a new MacBook Pro earlier this year running Tiger (10.4), the migration over from my previous (two-ish year old, running 10.1 or 10.2 I think) machine went incredibly smoothly with the minor exception of no longer being able to print from the HP printer in SF.  I could still print on the Oki in Bellevue; and Deborah (who had been running a later version of the OS than me) didn’t have any problems.  So I assumed it was a pretty minor compatibility problem and that I’d just have to do something like reinstall drivers.  Irritating, but no big deal.

Last night, six months later, I finally needed to print something in SF.  So I googled the warning message and got a nice  page in Apple’s forum which in turn pointed me to the HP issue page describing the incompatibility between 10.4 and my printer.  I followed the 50+ step manual uninstallation process on the page, rebooted as instructed, found the download page (not linked to from the issue page), downloaded the 27MB installation file that matched the one on my CD, and installed, rebooted, went through the HP Setup Assistant’s configuration of the phone line I never use [if you leave it out, the printer doesn’t work] and was rewarded by a different error message.   I tracked it down, and discovered I had overlooked one step in the uninstall (resetting the disk protections); oops, my bad.  I uninstalled, rebooted, reinstalled, rebooted, configured, and got to a new and worse state.  Hmm.  So I once again uninstalled again, this time more meticulously; downloaded the newer 56MB “all-in-one executable” or whatever it’s called … no change noted.  Since by this point it was 1 a.m. I gave up and mailed the link to Deborah who was kind enough to print it out.

And then when I opened up the computer this morning I was greated with the popup from the HP Setup Assistant.  AAAARGH!

Sometimes all you can say is “feels a heck of a lot like Windows to me”.


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I love it when stuff like this happens!

Recently somebody who’s interviewing around Microsoft told me that they had brought up Ad Astra in an interview context as a way of demonstrating that they understood viral marketing: “Remember all those hot pink Mashup posters around campus? Well, here’s how we approached it; this was my role; this is what I learned.” And it worked out well!

It’s a great way of framing it, because even though we didn’t do a great job of marketing Ad Astra in general, Mashups were something we got a lot of people to notice and talk about. And best of all, it had measurable results: attendance at Mashups steadily increased by 50% monthly, using techniques like this, emailing, leafletting, … classic viral marketing.

For those of you who haven’t spent time on the Microsoft campus, there are posters everywhere, mostly in blue brown and gold, occasionally in other colors — but never any pink. So these stud out And we put up a lot of posters; in March, the guy who runs the internal postering service told me that we had already put up more posters than Windows or Office had in the previous 12 months. [I pointed out that they had better existing name recognition.] So (at least in the Redmond area) the reasonable odds that the person either heard about it, or knows somebody who has, are pretty reasonable.

Thinking about it afterwards, I realized that there are probably 50 to 100 people who were involved in various aspects of marketing Mashups. Most of them have no previous marketing background; all of them now have at least one anecdote that they can use to show their awareness and understanding of this kind of marketing. That’s kinda cool.

Yay us!

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Advice to people thinking about their next job

Over the last couple of days, I had very similar conversations with a couple of people who are looking for a new job. They found my perspective helpful, and so I realized it might be more generally useful. [Caveat: since both of them are ex-Microsoft people (who have good reasons for considering going back there) the first paragraph is somewhat skewed in that direction; the underlying prinicples are more general.]

It’s important to keep in mind that you are the scarce commodity here: there are more jobs at Microsoft that need somebody with your skills than there are people with your skills and who already have experience at Microsoft. your goal should be to go back in at a substantially higher level than when you left; and to go into a job that takes you in the direction you want to go in your career and life.

It’s useful to spend time thinking about what your dream job is. For example, if spending time with your family is important to you and they live elsewhere in the country, your dream job may well be located closer to them (or involves a lot of travel there, if you don’t mind traveling). If you’re into making sexy products, it’s more likely to be consumer-focused than infrastructure or enterprise-focused; conversely, if you’d rather be behind the scenes working on the nuts and bolts, think about who does that kind of stuff in a way that you really respect. For some people, it’s in a particular field (“I want to work on innovation”) or scope (“strategic”) or discipline (“a software developer”); for others, the environment might be more important (“I want to work in a gender-balanced organization which has good female role models”).

You probably won’t be able to get your dream job in your next job; what you want is something that’s noticeably closer than where you are now, and makes it a lot more likely that the following job (at Microsoft or elsewhere) has even more of the dream job characteristics. Of course even that “on the path” job might not materialize; and I’m certainly not saying to hold out for perfection.

Still, thinking about where you want to be going will let you make better decisions about the jobs that do come up — and about where to invest your effort looking and networking.

Thoughts on this? How else do people think about this kinds of stuff? etc. etc.



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I’ve got fans! Kind of.

In  a comment in the Power vectors thread, Vanita said:

You were useless (I met with you several times at Microsoft) and it looks like you still are. I am glad to hear you are gone – it made no sense for Microsoft to pay you a hefty salary given the “work” you were doing. All this high level bullshit…

I let the comment through because it’s a great illustration of the kinds of attitude and environment that’s disappointingly common at Microsoft these days, unwilling to take the time to understand new ideas and so threatened by anything “high level” that might actually lead to a change in the system, that the response is to hide behind the cloak of anonymity to spread around virulent negative abuse in completely inappropriate situations.  Yeah, that’ll help.

Imagine working in an environment where this kind of behavior is widely tolerated.  When I was at Microsoft, I got reactions similar to this from maybe 5-10% of the people, and so on large mailing lists or with the 200+ people who attended a mashup the odds were extremely high that somebody would jump in with some garbage like this — with superficially more polite phrasing if their names were associated with it, but still the same mix of knee-jerk uncomprehending rejection and personal attack.

And bear in mind the impact this has not just on the person receiving the abuse (me), but all those witnessing it.  No wonder so many people at Microsoft are unhappy and frustrated.

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So it’s not just me …

In an interesting study recently published in the Journal of Applies Psychology and summarized in British Pscyhological Society’s Research Digest:

Male and female employees who said they had witnessed either the sexual harassment of female staff, or uncivil, rude or condescending behaviour towards them, tended to report lower psychological well-being and job satisfaction. In turn, lower psychological well-being was associated with greater burn out and increased thoughts about quitting.


Crucially, while these negative effects were not large, they were associated purely with observing the mistreatment of others, not with being a victim of mistreatment oneself – the researchers took account of that (for participants of both sexes) in their statistical analysis.

It’s especially interesting to see “uncivil behavior” called out. There have been several times in the last few years where for one reason or another I’ve spent a chunk of time in environments where this kind of behavior towards women is normalized, and it certainly does have those effects on me — and many others I talk to.

One of the clearest examples was at Microsoft with the Litebulb distribution list (DL), where the attack-based and disrespectful norms of discourse combine with the 99% male participation and lack of understanding of “soft” (i.e., feminine-identified) disciplines such as marketing, communication theory, and diversity to create an enviroment that’s extremely hostile to women. Since it was (and probably still is) the largest innovation-focused DL at Microsoft, and filled with intelligent and analytical people, it was a key potential channel for culture change — and a fertile recruiting ground for my Ad Astra work — so from time to time I participated; and I could really notice the difference in my state of mind just being surrounded by that attitude. Quite a few people, of all genders, who had stopped participating there told me that they felt noticeably less irritable at work as a result; and with several colleagues, I could see real differences in their behaviors more generally that appeared to correlate with how much time they were spending on the DL. Of course this is all anecdotal, but very consistent with the results from this study — and elsewhere. As Bob Sutton points out:

This research is so important because — consistent with prior research on bullying — it provides further evidence that allowing assholes to run rampant in an organization doesn’t just hurt the victims, it hurts everyone.

While the study specifically looked at gender issues, this dynamic is likely to generalize to a large extent to other diversity- or power-based dimensions. It’s also interesting to think about how this might apply to other contexts, such as social networks — so for example the Kathy Sierra episode, and more generally the lack of civility of large factions of both the progressive and neocon blogospheres.

I’m a big believer in the importance of civil discourse for many reasons; looks like I just added another to my list.

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“A bit sad”, a bit surreal … and a very good thread on Mini

Mini does a great job of simultaneously conveying the disappointment I heard from a lot of people about how my Microsoft career ended, as well as the surreality of my multi-cameo at the company meeting, which we were laughing about at my goodbye parties. An excerpt:

A lot of Microsofties interested in changing Microsoft’s internal and external-facing culture rallied around Mr. Pincus, who has had quite the distinguished Microsoft career. He gets given crap sometimes for being different or a self-promoter, but I just have to wonder what kind of leader or change-agent isn’t.

Anyway, it’s a bit sad for me to reflect on Mr. Pincus going quickly from being up on the big-screen several times at our 2007 Company Meeting to being shown that there was no home for him – and his refreshingly different spirit – at Microsoft.

Quick clarification: I feel like there were several possible homes for me at Microsoft, and it was more a challenge of trying to come up with the right role, as well as differences of opinions as to how my skills should be leveled and contributions should be evaluated. Still, the net result is the same. [At least for now — who knows what the future may bring?]

Appropriately enough, given my long-running unhappiness at Microsoft over the last three years of being ranked in the bottom 10% of my peer group,* the bulk of the thread so far is an excellent discussion of Microsoft’s review system and “the curve”. I’ve always thought the review-related discussions are one of the highlights of the blog; the anonymous posters who describe their score, compensation action, and often their reactions are a hugely valuable resource to everybody at the company — and a great example of why anonymous speech is so important to protect. This thread is one of the best. Worth checking out, and I’d say that even if I weren’t mentioned 🙂


* that’s 3.0/Limited/10% for those of you into ‘terms of art’ — see the thread on Mini for more details

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