“You work for crooks, Jeremy”

I got into an interesting discussion in the comments on Dan Gillmor’s column about Microsoft’s behavior.  Dan concludes that “Microsoft won’t reform itself.”  Because I like my job and don’t like sitting in depositions, I opted to not comment on any of the legal issues, but to contrast with Dan’s list of negatives, I did point out what I thought were some positive changes in the way Microsoft interacts with partners. (Other commenters on the article took on Dan’s point directly, eg: “the Lindows business plan has been to provoke Microsoft […] so they don't need to demonstrate usefulness of the product”)


I wrote:

But surely you've seen some positive changes in the last few years as well, no? The Rotor shared source implementation of .NET (http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/Dndotnet/html/mssharsourcecli.asp)? The broader Shared Source initiative (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2004/mar04/03-15SSIOneMillionPR.asp)? The royalty-free license to the Office 2003 XML schemas (http://blogs.msdn.com/jmazner/archive/2004/02/23/78903.aspx)? The work with IBM, BEA and others to ensure interoperable web services implementations via WS-I (http://www.ws-i.org/)? The hundreds of Microsoft employees reaching out to the developer community via blogs (http://blogs.msdn.com/)? More frequent Visual Studio technology previews (http://weblogs.asp.net/jaybaz_ms/archive/2004/02/21/77796.aspx)?


In response, Ron Talbott said he’s seen no positive changes from MS, writing “The "changes" you've described have almost zero effect on the anti-competitive practices that are at the core of MS' business strategy” and concluded “You work for crooks, Jeremy”. Another commenter, Bobby, wrote “why are we supposed to applaud Microsoft's taking a step?”


I’m not the guy who sets Microsoft’s business strategy.  I’m not the guy who is in the meeting when all the execs discuss how to set business strategy.  I’m not even the guy who gets to see the notes from that meeting 😉  But from my perspective down in the trenches, as someone who’s spent most of the last 8 years building software for MS, the business strategy I see is “build good software that does what customers need, then sell it to them.”


Any meeting I’m in where product team folks are debating features, the discussion is always centered on what will be best for customers.  I’ve spent the last two years trying to make sure that the Longhorn platform offers the right set of functionality to developers.  Sometimes people make the wrong decision.  Sometimes they make a good decision, but it looks like a wrong decision.  But most of the time they make good decisions, and build a good product.  If they build a bad product that doesn’t satisfy customer needs, then no one uses it, and it either dies, or goes back to the drawing board for v2.


For a long time, none of the decision making process was exposed to the world outside of Redmond.  But now we have hundreds of employees writing about how and why we make these decisions every day.  And I think initiatives like Rotor, the Office schema licensing, and WSI show that we are increasingly making decisions to promote interoperability.  I don’t understand how, looking at these changes in the past few years, Ron sees them as indication that I work for crooks.


To Bobby’s point: I’m not asking you to applaud anything.  Just tell us “yes, this is good”, or “no, this is bad”.  We listen, and we adjust based on what our customers and partners tell us.  If the community tells us that WSI is a good thing, and you agree that interoperability with IBM and BEA is an admirable goal, then we’ll continue to work on that.  If you tell us that it’s a mistake and not meeting your needs, then we’ll adjust accordingly.  If you say nothing, we have no idea whether we’re meeting your needs or not.

Comments (9)

  1. J. Daniel Smith says:

    As a developer, I absolutely love all the neat stuff Microsoft provides; it makes is easier to focus on adding value to the code I’m writing rather than reinventing the wheel. I’m looking forward to Visual Studio 2005 and Longhorn.

    What I think irks so many people is Microsoft’s general attitude. Talking about Rotor being a positive step, but not supporting Linux is a good example. Microsoft gets to prove they’re playing nice by making Roter available (good PR hype), oh, but the platform any non-Windows developer cares about (Linux) isn’t supported.

    Microsoft needs to work (much) harder at separating the UI from the underlying framework (very) early in the process. For example, I’m happy with WMP9 and being able to use the various ActiveX controls in an application. But all I really care about is playing a MP3 (WMA) file in my app; I don’t care about all the WMP9 UI. It needs to be easy for Real to plug their player into the infastructure; as developer I still can easily play music, but I’m not forcing anybody to use WMP9. IE is further along this path, but it would still be quite difficult to substitude Opera or Netscape rendering engines for MSHTML.

    Of course, from a pure Microsoft oriented business perspective, such things don’t make any sense. And that’s where the attitude comes in: Microsoft has to realize that it isn’t just like any other company; it has a (near) monopoly position and must act accordingly.

  2. Darrel Carver says:

    I have over 20 years experience in the industry and have used products from a great many vendors. I have no issue with closed source software as long as it is supported and works well. Microsoft has alwasy come through for me there (with a few .0 exceptions, like MSDOS 5.0 and Windows 3.0).

    The plane and simple truth is MS lost the antitrust battle. There will always be open source advocates who feel you need to open up everything and give up all your IP. Screw them.

    Keep doing what you are doing. You build awesome software and it supports a grea deal of the needs of your users. You will not be able to make everyone happy so don’t try.

  3. denny says:

    "Keep doing what you are doing. You build awesome software and it supports a grea deal of the needs of your users. You will not be able to make everyone happy so don’t try."


    funny how folks "Anthomorphize" (sp?)

    a business like saying "Microsoft’s attitude…" well If Ms had one it would be a lot *NICER* than many give it credit for….

    it’s called *BUSINESS* FOlks….

    you are trying to make a deal thats good for your company to make a profit.

    some times hindsight beeing blessed with perfect 20/20 vision sees that some things you did may have not been the best … short term profit and a long term legal battle….

    thats life, not an *EVIL EMPIRE*

    Get it?

  4. J. Daniel Smith says:

    Yes, Microsoft does indeed build awesome software, and I too think they should (more-or-less) keep doing what they are doing. I don’t consider them to be the "Evil Empire".

    What Microsoft is being told is that they are not a run-of-mill business; being a monopoly they have to act differently. Clearly – and not surprisingly – they don’t like that and disagree.

    Determining what’s "best" for customers is tricky: for AT&T, it was "best" that everybody had a single phone company (them). And for some (probably many, in 1984) customers, that certainly was true: no picking a long-distance (or local) phone company, one number to call when there wasn’t a dial-tone, no danger of "slamming" (no other phone company existed), etc. And AT&T had to give up much of it’s property (IP or otherwise) when it was broken up.

    Analogies can have problems, so don’t want to claim that Microsoft is like AT&T or that what was good for the phone system must be good for Windows. There certainly are many advantages to getting everything from a single company; one of Apple’s strengths is that it controls both the hardware and the software so it can deliver a very seamless and integrated solution.

  5. Darrel Carver says:

    Intersting that you bring up AT&T. I worked for them for a while in 1988 right after the breakup. They thought of themselves as very much the public servant. They truly believed as a monopoly they tried to do the best for the country as a whole.

    I am not sure the years following the breakup of AT&T have been always the best for the telecom industry. We seem to be seeing most of those companies who campaigned to see AT&T broken up die off (some very grusemoly, MCI anyone?).

    I am not sure I see MS as a Monopoly. I can still chosse Apple or Linux (I have both at home). Some things about apple I like. Linux annoys me (after 20 years of using UNIX I would love to just once get a decent IDE).

    I don’t know that havin MS Open Source everything is the best answer. I have the source for MONO. Don’t know that I care or have really looked at it that much (they do have some good reflection examples though). I know my brothers don’t care. They just want a machine that works. I shudder to think of my brother (who is a shape man even if he is a lawyer) working on Linux. God save me from the support calls.

    I agree MS has a obligation to the country and the industry. As the leader in many areas of Software development they have to be as honest in their business parctices as possible. That said it is busness and someone will lose (and probably complain about it). MS will have to accept some sour grapes. It comes from being a big player.

  6. Jim says:

    Here is my take on the issues. First of all, I am a Linux user, I know more about Linux than Windows, and also I am a primarily Linux programmer. However, I think most of the anti-Microsoft or actually almost all of them is bullshit.

    I don’t know where to start from, but let’s stay on the topics mentioned here. I don’t understand why Microsoft has to spend time to make Linux appealing to people by working hard for Linux companies and distributing the code for that platform. There are many linux developers who are actively discouraging development of many programs or libraries specifically for Windows. They don’t develop for Windows, period. Whenever you tell them you use Windows, they tell you "go to hell". Given the fact that Linux is developed by this so called community, these developers’ attitude means something.

    Furthermore Linux is always catching up with others. It has been always a platform where you port something that is already out there. Emacs has been there before, all Linus did is to port it to the Linux. X Window is a gift from corporations, universities, BSD from a university, Unix from AT&T, C from AT&T etc… Today we have Linux, I like free stuff of course, but let’s not kid ourselves, this platform is not platform where any software company can port to. You have to have a serious incentive, a focused one. The media is presenting Linux as a serious threat, but I frankly don’t see a big threat there. Everything that makes Linux valuable come from sources which do not necessarily focus on making a one great operating system. For example, mozilla from Netscape. 80 years later, when software developers make great products, who is going to make sure that they will be available for Linux. The only solution for GNU nuts seem to force everybody to open source legally. So Microsoft’s actions are actually very normal, and to me saying that they are not good is more like criticizing rich people for not giving all of their money to poor. I am seeing this disgusting human behavior in many areas of life, when you work hard and succeed, someone who was sitting all day long come and tell you to step down and produce all kinds of stupid accusations and lies.

    I think Microsoft is successfull because they focus on the software. Just look at who is really criticizing Microsoft. You don’t see Adobe, Macromedia developers coming out and openly declaring that Microsoft is doing anti-competitive things. You see those allegations from politically motivated people, like some professors, open source zealots, Apple zealots, etc… Even on Slashdot you don’t see many real serious programmers, news.com is making up stories all the time. That’s what I see, so I don’t see a reason to attempt to prove that Microsoft is making progress. Microsoft is fine where it is now, the problem is not Microsoft, the problem is all these Slashdot kids who think that they are going to change the world because the world needs a change, it is pretty much like the 1968s. Don’t get me wrong please, and make assumptions about my political preferences. My political preferences normally aling more with GNU nuts, but I find their stupid Microsoft and anti-software developer attitude unbearable. Nobody should force anybody to reveal their source code, period.

  7. Michael says:

    Jim, with regards to this line:

    "You don’t see Adobe, Macromedia developers coming out and openly declaring that Microsoft is doing anti-competitive things."

    How can you say that at all, the anonymity behind sites such as Slashdot DO allow for such employees to express their opinions on this. But Macromedia and Adobe as business both have strong parternships with MS, and to bad-mouth them would be pure suicide. So a disgruntled Adobe employee is not about to rant publicly with an associative @adobe.com email address; he’s going to do it anonymously on some forum somewhere.

    Although I appreciate that MS are trying to write good software for users, there are certain practices that are point-blank anti-competitive. Lets ignore the high-profile ones, how about Office 2003… MS pretty much has a monopoly here too, and now with the inclusion of "Shared Workspaces" out of the box in Office 2003 and its integration with SharePoint, they will start to heavily penetrate the Portal/Collaboration (think eRoom, Livelink, Interwoven…) because they can. Same with adding improved Spam protection to Outlook 2003 which effectively eats into the Anti-Spam guy’s market.

    Both of these decisions are just fine from their point of view, but what they really need to do is "componentise" such functionality so that it can easily be replaced by other (perhaps better, perhaps cheaper) competing products.

  8. Alex says:

    Interesting that you guys think that Microsoft (1) needs defending and (2) deserves defending …

    The perception of Microsoft, from outside Microsoft, is that they have one main goal, and that is control. Any good software they produce is usually a side effect of their pursuit for control. In fact, some of their better software is produced when they actually have to compete. Once the competition is over, the question becomes, "how can this product be ‘improved’ to help our other products?"

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