Life in Whoville

Life in Whoville

There are some questions that I just hate being asked. About six months
after our first child was born, people would ask me if my life had returned to
normal. How on earth am I supposed to know? “Normal” isn’t what it used to

Another question is, “What’s it like to work at Microsoft?” I don’t know.
Working at Microsoft isn’t a universal experience, because Microsoft isn’t a
monolithic entity. The experience of working in one group can be vastly
different from the experience of working in another.

I can tell you what it’s like to work in Microsoft’s Mac BU. Most of the
time, it’s a great experience. Mac BU has a lot of smart people who are
passionate about the work we’re doing and the platform for which we doing it,
and we get plenty of freedom to do what we think best. Best of all, top
management have always been supportive of both the work that we do and our
ability to do it. And there’s nothing quite like having Bill say, “This should
be in Win Office,” in response to one of your feature demos.

However, there are times when it’s like living in Whoville. Not the
Whoville of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Rather, the Whoville of
Horton Hears a Who style='font-style:normal'>. For those unfamiliar with the story, Horton is a
large-hearted elephant who, one day, hears a tiny voice crying out from a spec
of dust attached to a flower that, for reasons not so obvious, has captured
Horton’s attention. The rest of the tale recounts Horton’s efforts to convince
the rest of the animals in the jungle that Whoville really exists, and it’s not
until every Who in Whoville raises a voice in one loud scream that the rest of
the animals in the jungle come to agree with Horton.

I’ll point out that this does not
mean that Mac BU is going away any time soon. Anyone familiar with the business
that we do and the contribution we make to Microsoft’s bottom line is very
happy that we’re here. We’re one of the more profitable business units in
Microsoft. They just have a habit of forgetting that we’re here.

A few years back, Steve Ballmer sent out a company-wide memo stating the
policy that no product can ship unless it first runs on Windows NT. He was
pretty good-natured about it when we pointed out that this policy would have a
seriously negative impact on our ability to ship Mac Office 2001 on time, but
it was pretty clear that he simply hadn’t thought about Mac BU at all.

A guaranteed way to garner a few surprised looks is to attend some non-Mac
BU meeting, like one of the lectures at Microsoft Research’s Tech Fest or one
of the training courses offered by Microsoft’s Technical Education group, and
pull out your G4 PowerBook so that you can take notes. I always feel like I
should boot up the debugger to run Word so people understand.

But, last week, the parallels between life in Mac BU and life in Whoville
were uncanny. Microsoft’s Operations and Technology Group (basically, our own
IT infrastructure division) rolled out a new network security policy. The
policy would adversely affect the ability of Macs to connect to Windows
machines without some special tweaks. We thought we’d had everything taken
care of so that we in Mac BU could still conduct business, but a communications
snafu left all of us without the ability to connect to any of the Windows
machines to which we need to connect in order to get our work done. RDC,
network shares, in some cases even e-mail—all no go. Each of us had to
shout our own little, “We’re here!” before things could be fully resolved.



Comments (24)

  1. Eric Albert says:

    When I worked on the Rotor team, a note went around from some exec or someone high up in MS Legal saying something to the effect of "any open source software in use at Microsoft must be pre-approved". (Note to random readers: This is not an official statement of MS company policy, etc., etc.)

    Well, we were hard at work on Rotor on FreeBSD. FreeBSD itself comes with oh, about a thousand different open source applications, with many more available via the ports collection. We just laughed at the memo and ignored it. Asking Legal for approval to run ‘ls’ would’ve been amusing for a few seconds, but not the five hundredth time.

    Then there were the times when we’d move to different offices. The folks who do office moves are supposed to make sure that each computer works correctly when the move is finished. They were rather confused by the lack of an NT login screen on many of our systems. FreeBSD login prompts weren’t really covered in their instructions.

    Now that I’m at Apple, I wonder how the folks working on iTunes on Windows and other non-Mac OS X products feel when our IT people roll out Mac-only applications and other such things. It’s probably much the same as what you go through. You have my sympathies….

  2. There’s a surprising number of PowerBook users internally – as I keep finding out from all the support requests I get for my 802.1x instructions…

  3. Mark Twomey says:

    I’m never one to pass up an opportunity to put the boot into Microsoft when the chance arises, but I must say that as a Mac user I can not underscore my appreciation for the effort the MacBU put’s into it’s products.

    You guys do good work, if you didn’t I wouldn’t have bought Office 2004 for Mac like I did recently. Keep shouting that you’re there and keep up the good work.

  4. Mark Twomey says:

    Which reminds me, I’m still waiting for that pre-order to be filled.

    Work faster. 😉

  5. Rick Schaut says:

    Mark, comments like yours are one of the big reasons I’m still doing this after nearly 14 years. Thanks.

  6. -b- says:

    Thanks for blogging about the Mac BU. One constant for me with a mac is saying, "there’s a whole totally kick-ass suite of Mac Office apps."

  7. Jeff Miller says:

    I used to work at Connectix (before the Microsoft acquisition), and now I work at Apple on iTunes for Windows (hi, Eric!). I’ve had to use both a Mac and PC at both companies, and to be honest I never had much of a problem with it. Switch boxes are your friend (I’m using an ADC switchbox with and ADC to DVI/USB converter to drive my Apple Cinema Display from both systems).

    I’ll admit that life did get much better at Apple earlier this year when we finally got better VPN support for Windows systems.

  8. lenn pryor says:

    Thanks for blogging about the OTHER Microsoft. This is really cool to see. I use a Mac regularly and use the great products that you guys in MacBU are producing. So far I am just DELIGHTED with Office 2004. Even a director of platform evangelism at Microsoft knows you guys are here and doing good work for the company. Keep it up, you give us credibility with many people who would think the company is not a great software company without Windows.

  9. Andrew says:

    I’m an attorney that represents Microsoft in several cases. I’ve always been cross platform, and although I use a Windows PC at work, I use both Macs and PCs at home. Recently, I had to meet with some Microsoft employees at Redmond on a case and I had to take my Powerbook because there was a problem with my Compaq laptop. You should have seen the looks. I had to explain that I was running a full version of Mac Office, Windows XP through Virtual PC, and Windows Office. Microsoft makes more money on every Mac from me than they do from the Windows PCs!

    By the way, thanks for the very nice products and the interesting blog.

  10. Thanks so much for "being there"! I linked your Blog article at macC Blog.

  11. edward k says:

    I’m use both Windows and Mac OS equally and as far as I can tell the Mac BU puts out the best software made by MS. Perhaps the fact that you are ignored just lets you guys do your thing without lots of bureaucracy, or perhaps it makes you try a bit harder to get noticed, but whatever it is, I’m a big fan. Entourage is the best email client on any platform and Office is far better on the Mac than on Windows.

    The same used to be true for IE as far as user interface was concerned. Tasman was really an awesome rendering engine and I was sad to see it whither.

    The fact that you guys run into problems is probably good for the rest of us who mix windows and os x in our lives because it might mean that some kinks get worked out before they get to us.

    Anyway Its nice to see signs of intelligent life over there especially after many recent high level departures.

  12. Arlen Walker says:

    Agree re Tasman. It had its bugs, but even so it was still a more standards-compliant rendering engine than WinIE is using today. I was quite disappointed to see it go.

    Rick, one question I’m sure you’re sick of is when will MacOffice get a database? The traditional answer I’ve received is that conversions to/from FileMaker are included, so FM should be used with it. If that’s the official policy, here’s a suggestion: license it and bundle it with MacOffice. I can’t count all the flak I’ve received over the years about having to spend extra for a db, when if I’d just buy WinOffice I’d get the db in the package. Seems that would be a real win for the customer, and would get MacOffice up closer to feature parity with WinOffice.

    (Don’t take that as a fatal shot at MacOffice. we’ve mixed experiences in it around here. When I first bought a Mac, the first software purchase I made was Word v3 — bought it before I got my computer home, in fact. You lost me as an Office customer when Word 6 came out — speed, or rather lack thereof, kills — but my daughter still uses it, and we’re going to take a close look at the current suite when my wife’s new computer arrives, as she’s an Excel maniac.)

  13. Rick Schaut says:

    Yes, it’s a shame that IE development had to be cut short, but as long as Apple’s working on Safari, there really isn’t much of a reason for us to continue development of IE.

    As for a database component in Mac Office, all I can say is that we’ve considered various cross-licensing agreements with respect to FileMaker Pro. We’ve heard the pleas. Whether or not this will result in new Office SKU, though, I can’t say. We’ve made no definite decision on the issue either way.

  14. Lately, I’ve gotten a new-found respect for MS’s Mac Office products. I’m still using v.X and it’s so much more productive than using my companies installed base of Office 2000 on Windows 2000. (I’m sure there are features of the Windows version I could use, but the workflow is so much more ergonomic on the Mac edition.)

    I have to wonder though … would Mac Office be a very different product if it had more competition that upgrade inertia? And if it ever did have competition, say the purported Apple Office suite that’s been rumored for years, would Mac Office simply go the way of IE, etc.? (After all, the pieces are there with Mail, Address Book, and so on. It just needs further integration to replace AppleWorks.) Why cross-liscense FileMaker? While it’s a wonderful database, the integration wouldn’t be the same, and an office suite is at least in good part about the pieces fitting closely together. (Why not liscense a version of OpenBase, FrontBase, or 4th Dimension, for that matter?)

    It just reeks too much of Adobe’s "not worth competing with Apple" ethos. Competition in the Windows market has to be fiercer than in the Apple segment, it’s just that the potential payoff is larger. But it would seem that competition and choice create a sharper focus for software companies and attracts customers throught marketing to a given platform. More competition would shrink the pie, but force companies to think about ways the pie could be made bigger. Or, at least, make them think of solutions to problems where there currently is no solution.

    I suppose there’s too many variables at play. If the Mac market had a larger enterprise presence, Mac Office would be a vastly different product. (One that IBM seems to be anticipating, at least, with Lotus office services.)

    Anyway, thanks for all the hard work guys; It’s appreciated. Even the most anti-Microsoft Mac users respect your efforts. it’s the annoyance of feeling being locked-in and dependant, I think, that causes some of the hard feelings.

  15. robin says:

    Regarding Filemaker: MS has a big opening. If you could put out a database product half as good as entourage that could import fm files it would completely take over the filemaker market. Filemaker was great in it’s day, but filemaker has been poorly updated. Right now I consider it the worst carbon port of all the major apps I use (most of the adobe apps, most of the macromedia apps, office, and the iapps). the market is there for the taking.

    Regarding IE. I don’t buy the "safari" reasoning. While IE 5 for OS 9 was a huge leap forward both in terms of a standard compliant rendering engine and it’s HI (customizable XML toolbars and it’s awesome sidepanel), other than getting it ported to OS X (obviously a major undertaking), evolution of the product just stopped dead in it’s tracks. IE 5 for OS X while standards compliant by 1998 standards was falling far short by modern standards and was one of the slowest browsers on any platform. I know that I as a user felt abandoned and was sending feedback to Apple regularly about coming up with a homegrown solution. I feel like MS forced Apple’s hand. The internet is vital and Explorer hadn’t had a significant upgrade in a very long time and was the only app on my machine that crashed regularly….it was making the Mac look bad. I for one was sad that it was never upgraded based on it’s initial promise although the truth is that Safari is so excellent that now I don’t miss it. Recently I realized I hadn’t fired it up in months and took it out of my dock. My sadness is for what could have been. Obviously IE isn’t a money making product for MS and strategically omitting it from the Mac helps marginalizes the platform. It’s also a good ‘fuck you’ type warning for apple… I imagine killing IE has made apple think long and hard about doing a full Office suite. The browser space on the Mac has lots of exciting things happening and it really is sad that the Mac BU isn’t part of the mix.

    In general I do think the Mac BU produces top notch software and already have my order in for 2004. I prefer Word/Excel on the Mac to Word/Excel on the PC and I have my mac and pc sitting right next to each other so I can choose. I also prefer Entourage to any mail program on any platform. I do use the PC for Powerpoint.

    Nice to see Mac BU bloggers. I’d love to see more in depth postings about the development of key Entourage/Word features. Problems encountered and postings on the thinking that went into some of the UI decisions… Hope to see more soon.

  16. Rich says:

    I have been using MS Office on Macs at home for 14 years, and now at work using Excel 2002. One thing that is frustrating at times is the VBA differences in the Win and Mac versions of Excel. If I develop VBA routines for Win, I know that I can send it to anyone who has Excel 2002 and it will work. But if I try to work on it at home, I have to check every routine because it seems the Object Library is different, or at least the call procedures for the OL. This makes cross-platform work less than efficient.

    Can anything be done to improve/resolve that issue?

    BTW, I think Word on Macs is far, far better than Word on Win.

  17. Rick Schaut says:

    Rich, the object models have diverged a bit between the two products over the years. Better cross-platform support for VBA is on the list for Office 12, but we have yet to do much by way of prioritizing that list. It’s just way too soon to say whether or not we’ll be doing anything down the line.

    That said, your feedback does help us to prioritize. Thanks.

  18. J cho says:

    You could try to stick up more for the Macintosh within Microsoft. There is virtually no publicity given to Microsoft’s Mac products on the Microsoft homepage even when new, well reviewed ones come out, and Microsoft’s Mac software is scarecely mentioned anywhere else within I would guess that most average Windows users do not even know that Microsoft is also a Mac company.

    It wouldn’t take a huge effort to treat the Mac as more of an equal citizen publicity wise, but as it is, it’s hard to avoid the impression that Microsoft as a whole regards the Mac as a legacy platform, and its Mac business as expendable, ultimately an afterthought to its real business.