Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hasta la Vista, part 2: MSFT Titanic

In the first part of this series, I mentioned how Jim Allchin came in, saved the day and everything was hunky dory again. Wrong. The story that "Windows was broken" came out in September, 2005. The same month a blog was published about the up and coming reorganization of Microsoft, stating that is was "just shuffling the chairs on the deck of the Titanic".

Obviously, Jim's leadership was not shared by everyone. Business Week wrote: "Now much of the sharpest criticism comes from within. Dozens of current and former employees are criticizing (..) the way the company operates internally. This spring two researchers sent Chairman William H. Gates III a memo in which they wrote: 'Everyone sees a crisis is imminent' (..) More than 100 former Microsofties now work for Google, and dozens of others have scattered elsewhere. (..) There's no doubt that Microsoft is losing some of its most creative managers, marketers, and software developers". A few quotes from these blogs:

"The only news is that Jim's retirement is official. Big deal. I thought Microsoft had some new found love of accountability. Why is Jim still allowed to work and get compensated like a king? Didn't he oversee the most poorly run software engineering project in the entire history of Microsoft?"

"Jim's continued participation in managing Vista just really doesn't make sense to me but I guess it's some kind of face-saving move vs. a public chewing out based on what happened with OS formerly known as Longhorn."

"Does anyone remember Cairo? It was the first pie in the sky project spearheaded by Jim. It was a multi-year disaster. Finally it was canceled, and then to my amazement, Jim was promoted to a VP! Longhorn is a repeat, only an order of magnitude larger, and with a familiar refrain: no accountability!"

"Yeah, [Jim Allchin] is sure doing such a good job getting Longhorn out the door in less than five years. People get degrees in college in less time it's taken to ship this thing. The project has become the illustrative epitome of everything wrong with MSFT."

And what about this 12+ years Microsoft employee:

"The company hasn't done well lately. Why? For the last seven years there has been an major disconnect between what the top brass says and what the middle layer does. Anyone else familiar with this?
  1. Go to meeting with Jim, find myself nodding in complete agreement with what he says, leave with renewed hope and energy;
  2. Attempt to implement the ideas discussed at the meeting and pursue the goals that Jim laid out;
  3. Argue with PM organization and PUM/GM;
  4. Realize middle management doesn't support what Jim told me to do;
  5. Drink heavily."

Six months later, the programmers seem to have come close to a mutiny, saying "Fire the leadership now!", saying "People need to be fired and moved out of Microsoft today. Where's the freakin' accountability"? Two days later, they evidently got their way: "According to numerous reports, Microsoft is getting ready to shake up the management team in its Windows Division (..) the Windows Division is full of the last vestiges of 'the bad, old Microsoft. This can't happen quickly enough.'" One day later, David Richards reports: "Up to 60% of the code in the new consumer version of Microsoft new Vista operating system is set to be rewritten as the Company 'scrambles' to fix internal problems a Microsoft insider has confirmed to SHN. (..) Microsoft has also admitted that it has major problems in it's Windows division and has has immediately initiated a total restructure of the division, a move that comes after a costly delay in rolling out its Vista program. (..) An internal memo written by Kevin Johnson the Co-President of the Windows division has revealed the changes that the Windows division faces: 'As part of the next step of Jim's transition, we discussed when it was appropriate to move his direct reports to me, and decided that this organization change was the right time.'"

Less than three months later, Bill Gates decides to resign. Even more features are scrapped in a desperate attempt to hit the release date, since even Gartner expects it to slip again. Now even the major networks are beginning to pick up the problems at Microsoft, like ABC ("What's wrong with Microsoft") and CNN ("A reality check for Vista"). Especially the latter uses amazingly harsh words: "Will Vista Premium be worth the extra cost? Essentially, the features you get with the more expensive version are better security, a prettier user interface, and the audio-video software formerly found in Microsoft's Media Center edition of Windows XP. That doesn't seem like a lot for five years' work (..) So here's a modest proposal: Boycott Vista."

Rats are leaving the sinking ship (the Titanic)? It seems like it. Even in Microsoft friendly waters, the cannons are fired: "So, why is the year-old Mac OS X Tiger so much better than Windows Vista, which Microsoft won't even ship before January 2007? It isn't that Apple has put more effort into its operating system; (..) I've come to believe that Microsoft has lost touch with its user base." and "I’m hoping that this feature [UAC] will work much more smoothly in future beta versions. If it doesn’t, the UAC team had better be prepared for some caustic reviews". Needless to say, that in unfriendly waters, Microsoft is butchered: "Putting aside all issues of Linux being more secure than Windows, and Vista lacking almost every significant feature it was supposed to include, just looking at the dollars and cents, just looking at getting office work done, SLED, the Linux desktop, is unquestionably the better choice over Vista".

You may or may not like Linux, but I promise you that the next guy who has the guts to publish an article like "Is Linux ready for the desktop?", I'll personally come over and punch his lights out! You say Aero, we got Xgl. You say WinFS, we got Beagle. You say Monad, we got plenty of those!

.NET was introduced as 'the next millenium platform', however Vista isn't built with it: "Microsoft appears to have concentrated their development effort in Vista on native code development. (..) Vista has no services implemented in .NET and Windows Explorer does not host the runtime, which means that the Vista desktop shell is not based on the .NET runtime. (..) I can say with confidence that this represents the limit of .NET usage in Vista: the release version will make no more use of .NET. Microsoft have retreated significantly from this position. (..) I cannot stress how significant this retreat is. Microsoft have so little confidence in their own application framework that they will not use it even in their own managed applications. My conclusion is that Microsoft has lost its confidence in .NET."

It seems that this decision came from, yes, again Jim Allchin: "However, if .NET is not where people think it should have been by now (replacing native code), this is definitely not Jim's fault, but the .NET guys. There are still so many issues that have to be addressed before we can replace the old Win32 API, that the conservative approach of Jim was the exact right thing to do." and "If Jim does not want to ship .NET framework on low end versions of Vista, do you think he is free to make that decision?"

So, those of you who still think Microsoft will pull it off easily, are you still that convinced? Microsoft is seeking help with Xen, an Open Source company. Is that still as reassuring? Note that Microsoft's legal problems aren't finished either. The third world and especially China are moving more and more towards Open Source. What if the EU decides that computers may no longer be sold with an Operating System preinstalled, then what? Then consumers will see the 70 bucks that they pay for that cr*p.

IBM went down when they introduced their PS/2 line of products. It should have been their finest hour. Microsoft may share the same fate. It will certainly not be the end of the giant, but it will be the end of a reign of terror. Still not convinced? I will give a Microsoft employee the last word:

"It scares me that this is what Linux does today, it’s free. Open Office is free. I can do anything on the 'free' platform that I can do on Windows. Eventually it will be like an old sweater that I am comfy with. Wait 10 years and watch as these folks graduate and move into positions of influence. Its no longer a hard migration issue – that generation will be comfy with Linux and it will be the kind of decision (if not easier) that was made when corporations moved from OS/2 or DOS to Windows. No need to train.. What the hell is Windows anyway? I truly believe that was a big factor that drove our platform; we were able to get the stuff for almost free. Give it away to students.."

Microsoft giving their stuff away for free. That's sheer panic. Famous last words. Yes, I lied ;-)

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