I've had a chance to meet Robert over the past couple of years, and I'll miss his presence in the area. He threw some fun parties, and nights at Robert's house were always interesting. You never knew who you'd meet, but the conversations were always worth while.
After Robert's mother died, he asked for advice on perspective. I sent him mine advice, which is really rather simple. Fifty years from now, no one will care whether or not I made great software. Quite a few people will, however, care very much about how well I've raised my children. So, Robert's moving closer to his son Patrick. That's a good thing. In the long run, it's probably the best thing.
One of Robert's greatest contributions to Microsoft was instilling the notion of engaging in conversations--conversations between users and the people who really write the software. One theme that's been running through some of the reactions seems to be that we'll loose this idea. Joe Wilcox says that we Microsoft bloggers are only just putting out Microsoft' spin. Doc Searls seems to think that the rest of us aren't as human as Scoble. Dave Winer says that we're still thinking in old terms.
Joe Wilcox is, well FOS. When I say that Joe's FOS, it's my opinion, and not Microsoft's. What's worse is, how can we engage in a conversation if my participation is already prejudged to be a less than honest spin on the facts? Were this a debate, that'd be known as an ad-hominem argument. Can we keep the discussion about ideas, please? We can disagree with each other without characterizing each other's opinions as being something less than honest.
I'm not sure if I'm reading Doc Searls right or not. Robert may seem more of a human resource than the rest of us, but that's only because Robert's been more public than the rest of us. Spend some time sitting in a room with any randomly selected group of Microsoft employees, and I think you'll find that we're all very important human resources in our own way. If you have any doubt on that, I have a bevy of references I can send your way about those of us who work in Mac BU. I don't think the rest of the company is all that different.
As for Dave's ideas about ideas, I'm not sure what to say. There's a myriad ways in which Microsoft is adding new ideas to the pot, and I don't think they all represent old thinking. Have you seen, for example, how easy it is to add a web service to a project in the latest version of Visual Studio .NET? Point Visual Studio to the web service's URL, and Visual Studio creates all of the plumbing code for you. Dave focusses on new ways to get people connected to one another. We tend to focus in taking those ways to get connected, and making them more approachable to people who are less technically inclined. I think we need each other in order to make this stuff really happen.
I've singled out these three comments for a couple of reasons. First, these three bloggers are rather well-known bloggers. Secondly, each of them has, in a way, said something that's antithetical to what Robert has been saying about and doing for Microsoft ever since he started working here. Each comment reflects a certain amount of prejudice, and prejudice blocks conversations. Prejudice gets in the way of seeing the truth, and becomes a means by which we discount each others' ideas without considering the merits of those ideas. I think Robert would like nothing more than to see the elimination of prejudice, and I think he'd not appreciate people using his departure from Microsoft as a sounding board for expressing their prejudices, regardless of whether those prejudices favor Microsoft or don't favor Microsoft.
We'll miss Robert in some ways, but that forthright honesty of his will always be wherever he goes. It's what Robert brought to the table. It's what he will always bring to the table. That's good for all of us regardless of where Robert happens to work.
Currently playing in iTunes: Ain't Wastin' Time No More by The Allman Brothers Band