Microsoft, don’t stop changing…

Rob Enderl has written an interesting article over at LinuxInside, 'How Linux Saved Microsoft':

"I'd like to ask the Microsoft folks to stop reading here, and to remember that if you don't continue to make the changes you are making, Microsoft will fail much like IBM failed. In other words, most of us really like that you are changing, so for goodness sakes don't stop; you still have a ways to go."

Product technical specialist at Microsoft, Owen Allen reacts to the piece:

"My opinion is that the ship will never reach the point where course adjustments are not needed, and that there still need to be voices internally and externally to raise the right issues, but I've also been impressed with the changes that Microsoft is trying to make, and the scope of the organization involved in making these changes."

I agree with Owen.  I'd also add that this a fascinating time to be at Microsoft.  At the time I was considering a role at Microsoft UK 3 years ago, I was concerned that I would lose touch with the online world.  I perceived the company to be distant, only communicating with customers and the online community through 'sanitised channels' - press releases, advertising, big shows, etc.   I searched high and low for Microsoft employee blogs with no luck at all (apparently they did exist but were far and few between).  I was dismayed that the company wasn't taking advantage of the potential of blogging and was continuing along a path of inaccessibility.

As part of my interview pitch (I had seven seperate interviews. In this interview the brief was: What would you change about Microsoft online and why?), I argued that the blog phenomenon presented Microsoft with an enormous opportunity to reach out to customers.  I provided an analysis of the 'blogosphere' (don't worry...I didn't use the term 😉 and pointed out that Microsoft itself needed to participate.  I think it's fair to say that my prospective employers were skepitcal and kindly described my views as 'interesting'.  They were probably asking themeselves same questions as I was: how?  How would you avoid PR nightmares? How would you manage the risks inherent with having employees communicating publicly and directly with customers? How would you know if it was doing us any good?

The single biggest reason I would have had for not accepting the position was my fear that I'd have to withdraw my participation of public online life (not that it was particularly prominent - I was running an experimental blog), and that I'd have to become a hermit in order to join. I don't know why I felt this - I wasn't told not to blog and it certainly wasn't part of the contract, yet in my mind I held this irrational belief.  (It was the perception I had of Microsoft that was at play here - you can't work for Microsoft and have blog). But I bit the bullet and resigned to the fact that my near-term future as one where I'd have to begin an online hibernation and hope that Microsoft might get the blogging religion one day.  In fact, only 3 months after I joined, I heard about our blogs and found an intranet with guidelines (advice really, most of it common sense) on how to start and run a Microsoft hosted blog.  I couldn't believe it at first. A month later, I went live with this blog.

Now back to the point...Rob Enderl is right when he says that Microsoft has benefited from the Linux threat - he cites Microsoft's Shared Source initiative, more focus on security, products and price-points designed for developing markets as examples of a direct consequence of emerging competition. Linux is forcing Microsoft to get sharper and evolve faster.

But what Enderl doesn't say is how Microsoft is learning and benefiting from the new mode of communication.  We may well look back at some point in the future and say that it was the blogs that changed Microsoft, where it truly learnt to listen, participate and converse.  So I say thanks to Scoble (the maniac who's breathtaking bravery and energy has lead the way for the rest of us), thanks to the army of Microsoft bloggers, the MSCOM community team (specially Betsy) and the execs who are supportive of this realtime experiment - thank you for helping Microsoft change for the better.  Thank you for allowing me be my-online-self (as crap as it may be).

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