Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Microsoft is Today

I read this on the LinkedIn groups' Microsoft current and ex-employees forum and it really touched my heart. I've worked (more accurately, interned) at Microsoft and I can understand the pain that he has felt. Read the mail below and form your own opinions about MSFT.

LinkedIn Groups

Here's my personal experience of trying to innovate at Microsoft. I spent 14.5 years at there. I'm one of the co-inventors of ClearType, I have some 20-odd granted US Patents, so I think I have some credibility...

Approximately 2.5 of my Microsoft years were the best years of my (long) working life. About 12 of them were the worst years of my working life - by a very long way.

I came to Microsoft in 1995 because I believed that with Windows and Office, it was the one company in the world best-placed to lead the transition from reading on paper to reading on screen which I could see was inevitable. Most of Microsoft thought I was crazy back in 1995 - "No-one will ever read anything longer than a short email on a screen" was the general consensus. Not so crazy now, eh?

My boss, Steve Shaiman, believed and supported the vision. We produced a strategic plan called "Read It Anywhere", and began executing. In 1995. We were many years ahead of ANYONE else. Then Shaiman left - after a run-in with his VP, I understand.

The group I had come to Microsoft to run was tossed into the Windows organization (and later the NT organization). I had six different managers in three years, none of whom cared about the plan, all of whom wanted me to roll over and let the circling sharks of other teams tear the group to bits by taking its best engineers...

I fought successfully to keep the group together - right up to Divisional VP level, twice! - because I still believed the mission was important. I took most of that pain myself, while keeping the group focused on the plan - and innovating.

In 1998 I was fired, and only rescued with six hours left to run on my jobsearch by Dick Brass, who was an outsider (and thus viewed as prey by most of his fellow-VPs). He had come to Microsoft at BillG's invitation to develop an eBooks project. TabletPC also came out of that team - but was forced to try to run a sprint while dragging a millstone behind it (Windows).

Jason Atlas has it right. Microsoft has become GM - or the IBM it used to ridicule. Ironically, IBM has rediscovered how to innovate, in the services space. If you'd invested in IBM a year ago, you'd have made a profit of 17%.

Microsoft will not die, at least not for a very long time. But it has become a plumbing company.

Microsoft has had no leader able to drive innovation for a very long time. BillG checked out a number of years before he officially left. And the Windows & Office teams learned a long time ago how to frustrate his calls for more rapid innovation. I watched it happen. It took TEN YEARS before ClearType was turned on by default in Windows. Oh, it was grudgingly put in XP. But it was buried so deep few customers ever found it.

If you read my 1999 paper, The Magic of Reading (
http://www.billhillsite.com/osprey.doc ), you'll see we laid all the groundwork for Amazon's Kindle and most of the other eBook software in the market today. Microsoft was there years before, and blew it.

I was one of the 2009 casualties. Microsoft was right to get rid of me, at keast by teir rationale. I couldn't find any way to get traction any more. I was just a spinning wheel. Now, I'm obviously biased. But I believe that when a company that knows how to innovate sees a team of smart people who're really fired up to change the world, it moves obstacles out of their way.

Microsoft did exactly the opposite...

Posted by Bill Hill

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