May 14, 2007
question for the blue monster crowd: "who owns the soul of microsoft?"
[Click on image to enlarge/download print etc. Licensing terms here.]
I suppose the wonderful time I've had with some folk at Microsoft recently, versus the recent news that they're going to sic the lawyers on the Open Source crowd for patent infringement is kinda giving me conflicting emotions.
On one side of the Redmond coin, we've got the Blue Monster crowd. On the other, we have the lawyer crowd, at least as far as the bloggers are concerned, pulling a seriously fat rabbit out of the hat.
I don't know enough about the case to legally opine one way or the other. Whatever. People will use the news to re-affirm what they already believe. I'm more interested in the Blue Monster crowd, and what happens to them. I'm more interested in the long-term.
And to see the long-term, first you have to ask the following question: Who owns the soul of Microsoft? The people with the Blue Monster cartoon on their screensavers? Bill, Steve, Ray and the other guys living in the big houses? The lawyers? The shareholders? I know which answer I prefer, but ultimately, they have to answer it for themselves. And do it well.
For me personally, if the Blue Monster has one purpose, if I have one reason for working with Microsoft, it's to remind people that yes, Microsoft has a soul, even if they've never been particularly good at letting people see it. And yes, for all the baggage they have acquired over the years, there are some seriously smart, good people working there who yes, can still change the world for the better.
And the sooner they get better at telling people this, the happier I will be.
Posted by hugh macleod at May 14, 2007 5:38 PM
The little green monster? (jealous of innovative computing)
I do. I plan to put it up for sale on eBay when the time is right.
I'm not sure MSFT has the monopoly on jealousy, Lee ;-)
Hugh, I think that Microsoft (the company), like 99% of corporates out there, has no soul AT ALL.
The people within it, however, do. The problem is, once the corp gets big enough, the ones with soul are drowned out by the ones without (or with other agendas)
Either way, software patents suck. :)
Look at it another way - I find that the US are a country is an oppressive soulless monster (not a blue one :) ) - but the people I've met here are lovely (nearly without exception). Microsoft is the same.
read the slashdot story about this, MS aren't going to sue- its just FUD to hamper linux growth in the face of poor Vista sales
Nic, I think you are both right and wrong. A company can be defined as the meta-conversation that results as the output of all the smaller internal conversations between individual employees. (Insert random ClueTrain Thesis here... heh.)
Just this latest software patent issue has so many voices and threads that make up a part of the conversation:
* The business executives that see corporate advantage in software patents.
* The reward structure that promotes and rewards patents.
* The lawyers who do what lawyers are paid to do...
* The Open Source-advocates that disagree with software patents.
* The many (many) employees caught on both sides of the debate (from Blue Monsterites to people that just care if the stock price changes because of it) whose particular job/team might not really be directly tied to issue... but whose voice is still heard on distribution lists and in the hallways.
The conversation is diverse and crowded, and a lot of it "under the surface". Where it leads, so goes the company... just keep in mind that conversations can be slow and changes based upon conversations can be slow to impact.
I'm just a student trying to finish my degree right now, but I did have an opportunity to directly walk inside that conversation for a few months...
Who owns the conversation? Management sets the agenda, obviously, but it takes at least two people for a conversation...
The Blue Monster is an amazing conversation-piece, though. If it doesn't "own" the conversation, it at least acts as a useful conversational catalyst.
If the patent violations are legitimate, I'd say that FOSS would be the jealous party, not Microsoft.
Me personally, I can't see this going to court. I think it's posturing on Microsoft's part to keep the FOSS developers honest in their "innovation" they're so quick to claim as theirs. I could be wrong and Microsoft wages all out patent war on FOSS developers, but I just don't see them getting into something that will just turn out bad for the industry as a whole. I'd wager patents held by both sides that claim infringement by the other side would get nullified (not all, of course), so this can't turn out well for either side.
What do you claim a patent on anyway? The end result or the code used to achieve that end result? It's an honest question, as I'm fairly clueless on patent rights.
Max - one of the best responses I've seen in quite some time.
James: "What do you claim a patent on anyway? The end result or the code used to achieve that end result? It's an honest question, as I'm fairly clueless on patent rights."
That's one of the defining quirks in software patents. Patents were originally intended for inventions where there is basically "one way to do it right" and so the patent applied to the entire system... how it's constructed and what it does. This is why reverse engineering could sometimes be legal (prior to the DMCA) because if you could legitimately find some smarter new way to do it you could produce that. (That's why we have so many "PC-compatible" machines today... it was relatively easy to reverse engineer without hitting patent issues, and the primary software companies on the platform smartly recognized the benefit in supporting all of the clones...)
Software patents just cover basically the end result ("what it does") and it does seem genuinely against the original spirit of the thing, but things are complicated (there are many ways to do the same thing in software, for instance).
I think it will be harder to prove no prior art these days, and the US is tightening up on patent trolling.
But to the bigger issue, ie the Soul of Microsoft - Limited liability Corporations are designed to minimise the possibility of having a soul (limited liability plus the fiduciary responsibility of executives ensures that).
Thus behaviour change is more likely - in the final analysis - to come from external pressure from customers, governments etc.
Thank you WorldMaker. I could understand the specific code being patented, but not the end result. Like you said, there's probably many ways to achieve the end result and if someone could find a way around the patented code, then it should be alright imho.
Thank god I'm not a coder. Seems like a mess.
The blue monster crowd should quickly move on to new jobs in other companies. Working for Microsoft is going to become the black mark that working for SCO is, as Microsoft enters litigation.
It would be hypocrisy to anything but inconsistent. There's that whole Innocent drinks being piloted by McDonalds debate in the UK, and it's not so far off Hugh working for Microsoft (although Hugh is far from innoncent). I've gone on record as saying that change can only be done by getting outsiders in. I hope MSFT are listening to people like HM for the right reasons and not the wrong ones. Personally I just want an operating system that boots up in under 5 seconds. I guess this makes me really demanding.
Sorry to have to break it to you, but MS has no soul, and you and the Blue Monster crowd are just PR-pawns catering to a small blogosphere audience.
It's not just "the bloggers" that reacted to MS latest threats. It's industry wide, in fact, it has made the mainstream media. This is the real MS as the rest of the world sees: a predatory monopolist, prefering to wield it's power in an utterly destructive manner over actually creating something valuable.
Please realise that whatever the intent, Microsoft just utterly destroyed all of the goodwill they have managed to build since the US anti-trust case. Everything people like Scoble have managed to achieve has been wiped out in one fell swoop. We're back in the age of MS orchestrated FUD and name-calling, and there is nothing the Blue Monster can do to compensate for that. People are not gonna buy this a second time.
thanks for the link.
You've summed it up perfectly. In my own dealings with Microsoft I have also observed that there are two very different and often competing agenda's at play.
One is the "We really are nice guys, please like us" agenda and the other is the "Microsoft is our God, nothing comes before the Microsoft Way. We will prevail!"
If ever there were a company suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder...
I'm working at Microsoft and before reading the comments I was about to write about the multiple personality disorder. Tom was quicker :) But the disorder comes from many rumors and clichés.
MSFT is my fifth employer and it's by far my best experience so far. People are great, inspiring and I really like the values of the company (not the official corporate values per se but the values I see in the day to day work)
Of course, sometimes I'd like to see a little more space for local initiatives and a little less porcedures but that must be the case for all large international companies.
I also believe that Microsoft is about to change. Last summer, I was very impressed by Ray Ozzie. Not only for his vision but also for his humility.
The blue monster will prevail :)
Microsoft has no soul. They are evil.
Diego, thank you for the informed, origninal and helpful comment ;-)
But I must admit I was surprised when I entered MSFT to sign the contract with my blood and to sacrifice virgins every friday :)
Sorry to break it to you, Rick, but you're coming across as someone who's very impressed with himself, who in spite of his obvious intelligence, has not given certain things too much thought.
Which makes me REALLY want to engage with you ;-)
On Joe Schmoe level, which means all my computer books and software manuals are still in the original shrink wrap. (Thank you, Microsoft for knowing that I hate reading instructions, but making programs easy enough for me to learn.)
I have no real like or dislike regarding Microsoft. I find that for the most part, many (if not all) business seems to have a balance of "good and evil" as they struggle to be successful and keep up with competition.
Not that Microsoft is the devil (or even a monster), you got to give them their due. Right or wrong, good or bad, Microsoft is still a force and definitely in the game that it created.
Microsoft was "good" when they were smaller and younger; now that the company is a bit older and still successful, the public tends to take thehir presence for granted and ignore them. Yes, Mac is shooting for the hip crowd. But, ten years ago, if computers were being traded like school lunches, not too many people would trade for Apple.
It may suit Microsoft show the public that "age and experience is very sexy"...
Why am I getting a mental picture of the cartoon Microsoft Monster with a nice rack? ;)
Hugh, all of that fluffy bunnies kumbaya stuff is over. Ballmer has crossed a line in the sand. There is no way back for Microsoft to impress with cutsie blue thingies any more. Ballmer has just declared total war on his customers, the industry and global governments.
As a whole bunch of other people who tried to threaten the world in their hubris could tell him, there is only one way that will end.
But it will be an awesome show to watch, in particular if you happen to work for Microsoft. :)
Dalibor, Lighten up. The fight is only just beginning ;-)
It's interesting - but what we're seeing is two Microsofts - the one, corporate, US based, legal-driven, that sees cash from suing FOSS as a legitimate revenue earner; and the other that understands that there's a greater 'long game' to be played by engaging the development community and 'opening up' Microsoft.
The second group have made huge steps forward with the likes of Scoble (and, moving forward ideas like the blue monster), and I suspect that the former just don't understand (or care about?) the impact of their actions on the efforts of the latter.
As always I'd choose ineptitude and lack of vision as the driver over some overarching conspiracy - but sadly honest evaluation of the situation has never sold copies in the wider media.
I think most non-religious observers (in which I'd include myself - I use ms platforms and linux for the jobs they're best suited to) would argue that this whole argument is somewhat irrelavent - the real competitors to MS aren't open source (or for that matter Google) but the likes of IBM and going forward the salesforce.com's of this world, who are able to do something MS is trying to do, but better and cheaper.
When you look at it impartially, most FOSS operates in a different market, with different drivers to that of Microsoft's.
You're right. Not helping. Please allow me to try again without ranting.
I'm having a hard time separating the wonderful things the people of Microsoft can achieve (and yes, I believe they can) from the, uh, how shall put it, somewhat not so nice things the corporation Microsoft does with it.
So I fail to see how the Blue Monster thing is going to change the way Microsoft behaves and is perceived, if what I consider fundamental questions about how to use this wonderful potential are brushed aside with a "whatever". I feel it contradicts big words like "change the world".
Am I making any sense?
You're making sense, Rick.
The thing to remember about the Blue Monster is: it ain't about what it represents i.e. "the MSFT marketing message". What's important is the conversations it generates... which now... includes your own... HA!
Yes, you have now been officially assimilated by the Blue Monster ;-)
Hugh, no worries, I've rarely been enjoying a 'world changing' move from a Microsoftie as much as Ballmer's declaration of total war on Microsoft's customers, and the reaction that followed it.
I've even seen the first lawyers publicly make their rounds to find clients & funding, so it seems that a lot of people right now are realizing that the time for making Microsoft history has come. ;)
"Diego, thank you for the informed, origninal and helpful comment ;-)"
Anytime, Hugh. :)
But then again, you asked a question about something which Microsoft does not have. So the question is mute. :)
Hugh, you say "there are some seriously smart, good people working there who yes, can still change the world for the better"
you may well be right. But the question that the recent court action poses, and the question that the comments on this thread suggests, and the question that even you appear defensive on, is this:
can these people change Microsoft for the better?
Now it might be that Microsoft is great, and people don't realise it - then 'all' MS needs is a good and consistent marketing exercise. But it is a big corporation, and its intended audience (um, almost everyone?) will have perceptions with significant inertia. And thats assuming MSFT can stay on-message all the time - can they aspire to match the impact and values of Apple's marketing for instance?
Or it might be that Microsoft as a corporation is possessed by a corporate culture that generates external behavior that is jealous of others, patronising to its clients and bullying to those smaller. In which case the external audience's perceptions are rooted in reality, and the Blue Monster crowd have a problem on their hands.
I spent 15 years working in investment banking (derivatives trading) - full of hugely intelligent, focussed people. Some were great, and really did want to effect positive change from within. What I found fascinating, and somewhat depressing, was the longevity and all-pervasiveness of the corporate culture - different at each of the 3 institutions I worked for, but persistent at each one.
One example I can give : I too tried to change organisations from within, and was a major sponsor of the 'new' communication tools of wikis, chat and blogs at the most recent bank that employed me. Huge amounts of my management time and effort went into this, and yet each time I took my foot off the gas, the use of these tools would evaporate. There was a rather obvious lack of overt senior management support for the use and distribution of these tools, and that company is still stuck in the email age.
The way corporate life works is that change needs to come from the top down, as well as the bottom up. Feverish activity in the middle is at risk of being wasted. I think it is a pleasant diversion to dream of a better, fairer worlds, with corporate charters drawn up as a response to Cluetrain manifestoes, but my experience and observation is that it's just not how it works. Am more than happy to be proved or persuaded otherwise.
sorry for the rant,
Diego : "So the question is mute. :)"
? I think you mean to say that the question is moot....
"I think you mean to say that the question is moot...."
Yes, yes I did.
No worries about the rant. That's what the blogosphere is for ;-)
I disagree with you, though, at least partially. I think small changes can lead to big changes. Though exactly how is not always immediately obvious from the onset [And we have thousands of years of mythology- everything from Homer, to Jesus, to King Arthur, to Star Wars- telling us the exact same thing].
What I like about the Blue Monster [and what I've liked from the very beginning] is that nobody owns it- Not me, not MSFT, not the anti-MSFT crowd, not the media. It has a life of its own- which is what keeps it interesting...
I'd say the money-making owns the 'soul' of MS and of its leaders. And this pressure comes from those who own the 'money'. But first you also have to understand what 'money' is and who produces it and who has control over its value.
The 'multiple personality disorder' theory is interesting because a similar issue is being played out in another company I know very well.
What I've discovered is that those who are in power making the big decisions are the ones who set the tone for public perception.
In this sense, whomever thought this was a good idea has blown away a lot of goodwill that MSFT was building among the OSS community. The sad fact is that the good work being done by Hugh, Steve and a ton of other people has evaporated in a moment of lunacy.
What about Ballmer's 'developers, developers, developers' mantra? Sounded good then, sounds lame now.
Couple that to the *threat* of litigation and you have a bully in the park. I don't know anyone who likes a bully.
Mini-Microsoft will, I'm sure, have something to say about this.
To @ Zakmundo - yep - right on. Needs top down tacit sponsorship but needs to be seen as low risk.
To Hugh - so Blue Monster is open source in your eyes? Nah. It's perceived as 'owned' by MSFT. And as we all know...perception IS reality.
Bottom line - regardless of the merits of either side's 'case' this is a BIG issue that I'm actually glad to see out in the open. Maybe for once we'll get the question of whether it is possible to defend patented algorithms sorted out once and for all. The industry needs that. And in that sense at least, MSFT has done the industry a HUGE favour. Provided of course it gets litigated.
But if MSFT is using the *threat* as a way of beating up on competitors then shame on the company. Bullying is an absolute no-no in my book.
"The sad fact is that the good work being done by Hugh, Steve and a ton of other people has evaporated in a moment of lunacy."
Maybe externally, you are right, at least for now. But like I said about Scoble, back when he was working there: the big story was how much perception he was changing inside the company, not how much he was changing externally. Perhaps the same will be true with the Blue Monster.
Right now I'm more concerned with reaching out to the people inside Microsoft who "get" the Blue Monster. Maybe management and the rest of world will follow, maybe they won't. But even if I can make a small difference [fingers crossed], that's worth something to a lot of people.
HI . Send to my on to may Search MSFT
Business Award Cord.