I first learned how to play chess when I was about eight years old. I remember feeling quite frustrated, after my Uncle Donald had taken every one of my pieces except for my King, how the latter, as the last remaining of my pieces on the board, surrounded by Uncle Donald’s rooks and knights closing in for the kill, seemed so utterly impotent in the face of impending doom. My King was able to move in any direction, yet he was so unable to save his poor self from the final kill. If the King was so important, why did he not have more compelling powers at his disposal? For a poor eight-year old, it all seemed terribly unfair.
Then about the three years ago I learned the history of chess pieces, and why they move the way they do. It answered a lot of my questions. I wrote a blog post about it.
5. The Queen. The Queen’s entourage was always looked after by a small, elite, highly trained bodyguard. The imperative to protect the women and children was very strong. If trouble was afoot it needed to get the hell out of Dodge very quickly. Ergo the bodyguard was very mobile and very deadly. It needed to be.
6. The King, though powerful and free to choose any direction he wanted, was heavily laden with the apparatus of State. The King could not just drop everything and flee; he had the court, the treasury and the ministers weighing him down. So his movements were fairly limited.
The King, being the Head Honcho, could move in any direction he pleased. But because he had so much accumulated baggage, he couldn’t move very far. Unlike my opponent’s gallant rooks and knights surrounding him.
I often see parallels between the King chess piece, and a company I have not only have worked for in the past, but also have a great deal of affection for i.e. Microsoft. A market cap worth tens of billions, annual sales of tens of billions, a vast army of employees needing paid, a vast army of shareholders needing dividends, and and vast, vast, vast LEGION of smart, capable and equally ruthless folk who would like nothing better than to see them permanently fall on their faces. And how do they mange to keep all these wolves from the door? By arranging groups of ones and zeros into a particular order, and getting other people to pay for them. The logistics are are off the scale.
People often question my motives for working with Microsoft, which any cynic would say is not really that surprising. Quips of me being “Assimilated by The Borg”, or me being a “Shameless Blog Whore” are often thrown my way. Of course, what these people don’t realize [not that they’ve ever asked], is that I make a lot more money with my far less controversial small business projects- The money I’ve made from Microsoft in the last year would account for less than 10% of my total income. I could make a lot more money without Microsoft, I just choose not to.
Why? Because perhaps, just perhaps, the question, “How does a lone King stay alive, let alone win the game, when surrounded by so many opponent’s bloodthirsty rooks and knights?” is a topic that I find fundamentally interesting. As would any sane person who has been operating in the real world for more than six months. This is partly what The Blue Monster is all about. Rock on.
Um, comment on this blog post….ok…well, as someone who doesn’t work in the computer industry but relies on a computer A LOT but hates Word (so many reasons, so little time to explain them), my response to this blog is that it’s impressive that you place loyalty above greed. You could make a lot more money (and I’ll believe you since I don’t know) but your intellectual curiosity and loyalty to Microsoft keep you grounded in what you’re doing, regardless. I love the concept of what I do but I have no loyalty to my employer. I have loyalty to others I work with and for, but I could do this elsewhere given the chance. I like what you say, I like the chess analogy.
Hugh, why do you think I am ‘vice’ queen Maria? Hello? 🙂
Guinevere was ballast for Arthur, surely. Maybe she didn’t pull out the sword, but she could weild it and fight a good fight, that one.
Dude, do what you need to do … don’t worry about how the other players on the chess board judge you. Follow your heart and carry the sword on what feels right. Has any emperor every survived otherwise? The pen, the sword is pure faith, trust, following the purpose of your life. F*k everything else. That is the real battle and I think you know that, at heart.
Hugh, I have always despised Microsoft because they are a monopoly, monopolies are suppose to be illegal in the United States, and monopolies stifle innovation. They have a history of issuing buggy software and then the consumer is the one who finds the bugs for Microsoft. However I respect you and Scoble immensely and therefore have always read what you two say with a reverence. However Scoble has pointed out their foibles and I have not read that from you.
Thomas, to be honest, I don’t think one has to get up very early in the morning to point out Microsoft’s foibles. Buggy software, monopolistic practices, Zune not being as good as iPod etc etc. Whatever. Already been done, many times over. It’s seriously not what interests me. If I can create any real value from the equation, what you’re talking about is not where it’s going to come from.
1. What EXACTLY would you do differently to MSFT? And if so, why haven’t you suggested it, let alone done it?
2. The US Government’s paradox is that, while monopolies might be illegal, for Microsoft, as a publicly traded company to act in any way other than it has would also be deemed illegal.
3. Have you ever notice how Robert Scoble never goes after his current employer, PodTech in the same fashion that he went after his former employer, Microsoft? Please ask yourself why.
Nice post. Microsoft is driven by numbers, no doubt about it. But many people *inside* Microsoft are working hard and makind a difference in the world. Linux is cheaper and Apple has an advantage controlling the hardware and software. But the business world runs on Microsoft, just like the rest of the world runs on gasoline. Is it messy and expensive? Yes. But until the alternatives get up to speed, we move the pieces we have on the board.
Loyalty is hard to find today, and if your employer gives you reason enough to remain loyal (i.e., majority gain and minimal pain) the job-hoppers should mind their own business. As an IT Pro, I feel more Microsoft pain each day than the average end user can fathom. But it puts food on the table, and Microsoft technology allows businesses to do things they couldn’t imagine just a few years ago. Licensing sucks, bugs suck, and pawns only move forward. Such is life.
I joined MSFT and moved halfway around the world precisely because I felt I needed to stop talking about it and make a difference. I now earn less that I was as a freelancer and face the challenges of working inside a huge corporation but (and for my soul at the end of the first year it is a huge but) I feel that I can help contribute to making the pain I felt as a user become less. I’m only one of many folks I’ve encountered in that year with the same goal (funnily enough often united under the Blue Monster banner) but hopefully we will reach a tipping point before we’re ground down as the pawns so often are 😉
I think Microsoft will always be the guy a lot of people want to fail. Why? Because they are #1. If this was someone else, then the attention would be to them.
I also think (perhpas) one of the reasons you stay associated with Microsoft isn’t for the money (as you say) but rather the status. Isn’t it better somewhere on ones CV to have at least one household name listed as an employer than list a load of who are theys ?
We will always have people who hate Microsoft just becuase, and those who hate Apple, just because. And heck we even have those who hate chess !
Nice post Hugh and quite brave of you to openly discuss your Microsoft thoughts in public. Then again, I think you have always managed to play down the “significance” of Microsoft in your life.
I think your thoughts can be seen two different ways:
1) A deliberate ploy to distance yourself from the big,m bad corporation whilst at the same time receiving money from them
2) (and my honest opinion) that, as you pointed out to me when we met, the blue monster is no longer yours. other people distribute it now and people male of it what they want not YOU. You simply created the social object.
Steve C is going a long way to helping rid the corporation of its stuffy, arrogant image – if only Microsoft could find a few more Steve’s!
Best wishes for a successful 2008.
That’s a great post Hugh, I like the analogy a lot.
The King (aka anyone at the top of anything) will always be subject to those who want to knock down. It comes with the territory.
If Microsoft went away, some other company would fill the top spot and suddenly be considered the “Death Star” by those below.
I think your “motives” for working with Microsoft are yours and yours alone. Nobody has the right to harp on you about his, as you are not “theirs” to criticize. You are a person who does some very cool things, and the Blue Monster is a unique thing and someone at Microsoft saw that. End of story.
“By arranging groups of ones and zeros into a particular order, and getting other people to pay for them”
I had not heard the history of the pieces before and as Paul posted like the analogy. Food for thought for sure.
Excellent analogy. Now if only Microsoft could win a battle to be first in a category in the mind of the prospect they might again be seen as “king” of a category rather than a “me too”.
nice post Hugh
I actually think you’ve touched on a reason why a many people are intrigued about Microsoft. I think it’s the drama of story with many twists and turns and the human stories within. It’s the same reason I’m intrigued by Apple and Steve Jobs.
Hugh … this bit of sophistry is unworthy of you :
“2. The US Government’s paradox is that, while monopolies might be illegal, for Microsoft, as a publicly traded company to act in any way other than it has would also be deemed illegal.”
This is clearly wrong. No company has a legal obligation to its shareholders to do illegal things. And even if they did have a legal obligation to do *wrong* things, anyone with any integrity would avoid them like the plague.
If you stop to consider the same argument being applied to, say, bribing foreign governments or abusing human rights, that should become obvious.
On the wider question, I can understand that there’s a genuinely interesting challenge to try to make Microsoft relevant and exciting again. But I don’t, honestly see how that can happen *yet* – they haven’t been nearly humbled enough and still in transition between Gates / Ballmer and whatever is coming next.
Yes, they *need* a new idea. But chasing any new technological trend can’t be it.
Microsoft’s big idea, which has sustained them for 30 years, and really *was* visionary when Bill Gates was promoting it in the 70s, was that, with the right intellectual property laws, you could build a “pure software” company, selling directly to the end-users rather than be part of, or a supplier to, a hardware company. And as a pure software company you could get your product onto everyone else’s hardware in every office, in every home.
I see Microsoft as the best-case scenario for a proprietory software company. But that turns out not to be good enough. We need more and more powerful software on a more complex ecosystem than anyone, even Microsoft, can keep under control. And the only way we can have that is through open platforms and protocols, free (open-source) software, “peer-production” and software-as-a-service. All of these are deeply inimical to Microsoft’s core DNA of wanting to “own” software platforms.
If MS is to have a future, its “next big idea” can’t be one *type* of device or another. (There’s going to be a multiplicity of different types of devices. More than Microsoft can produce or even write drivers for) It can’t be “advertising” because advertising itself is under huge transformative pressures. No, the big idea has to come *after* MS have exorcised the notion of “software as product” and started with a clean slate.
Hugh — As always with your posts, the quality of this post is heads above the other swill that’s floating out in the b-sphere.
Corporations generally aren’t evil. They are slow, dumb, overloaded, non-responsive. They steer like a shopping cart – or a hippo.
The anti-Microsoft rants are tired, and silly. Half a billion people wake up every day, turn on their Windows machine, and it works just fine. That’s an astonishing accomplishment.
But here’s the fun part:
Inside most major companies, there are a few people who get it. Who want to make things better. Who go to work each day and ask, “How can we turn this thing around, how can we get it to listen, how can we make it work, really work, for consumers.” Usually these folks are somehow connected to the blogging world.
These are the smartest, most inspired people in the business world. Many of us have taken our fights out of the corporate area and chosen to fight as small businesses, consultants, or critics.
Like Hugh, I’m working for a few mega-corps that are finally learning how this social media thing works. It’s a blast. The right people get it. They are using social media to turn around the rest of their companies.
We should support big companies – or the few smart insiders – when they ask for help and want to change. We should be there when the few change agents inside a stuck company want our support. We should avoid undercutting their credibility with knee-jerk attacks. We should support their internal battles and help them win.
I agree wholeheartedly with the blog post.
One thing has always intrigued me about Microsoft: its army of incredibly smart engineers. I’ve known ex-Microsoft employees, and they’ve all been brilliant (and not idiot savants). Yet Vista flops, and much of their software is mediocre. Why?
What exactly would I do differently about MSFT? I would remove whatever barriers that exist between those smart engineers and their products (I suspect a problem with middle management). I would do a lot more user testing.
My problems with MS have always been mostly with the quality of their software. I don’t mind one big, dominant company if that company makes good products (Quaker Oats, anyone?) and treats its customers fairly.
Then again, that’s just me. How to rid people of the view of MSFT as the Evil Empire?
Well, they’re an empire. Why not start acting like it? I feel like a lot of MSFT’s marketing tries to position them as a helpful enabler who gets out of the way. Feels disingenuous. What if they positioned themselves as a huge company that can help you, the customer, integrate everything as far as you want? So MSFT is powerful; let it use that power to help its customers.
Just random thoughts on a Thursday morning.
To borrow a theme from Lewis/Tolkein the king _must_ go through a great transformation — the cycle of creation, fall, redemption, and re-creation likely has as many implications for business as it does for interesting narrative.
Seems like this might also apply to the various cycles of “crucify” that make the rounds as our golden boys of tech (MS, Google, Apple, Sun, Adobe, et al) age.
Phil Jones, my point re, monopolies went over your head like a cruise missile. Re-read what I wrote and and get back to me.
But I like some of the thinking in your last two paragraphs. May not agree with all of it, but some of the thoughts are good ones 🙂
check out the Satyajit Ray movie “The chess players” – for more on the theme of chess world/real world, also because it’s a great movie.
@philjones – I agree with what you say on your penultimate paragraph, but the future if nothing else is about integration of devices.
There is a reason apple integrated the ipod together with the iphone and the ipod with a browser.
Convergence of technologies is where it is going to be at – both physical and software technology.
Whether that be TV and mobile or mobile and the net or tv on the net (or many other ideas as yet undiscovered, although I suspect Microsoft Surface is somewhere on the button!).
I’m writing this from a laptop running
– XP (MS-1)
– Flock (OpenSource-1) browser
In the guest bedroom, sit three servers:
– Windows 2000 for filesharing (MS-2)
– Our email server (OpenSource-2)
– Our test and development server (OpenSource-3)
My wife is currently using her PC:
– Windows 2000 (MS-3)
– Firefox (OpenSource-4)
My daughter (age 5) is playing on a website:
– Ubuntu (OpenSource-5)
– Firefox (OpenSource-6)
Now, in the light of that, does anyone understand why I have trouble relating to claims of a “monopoly”.
If MS _really_ had a Monopoly, none of these other things would exist!
I’m not sure the chess analogy is correct. In chess there are 2 sides and an endgame that can go one of 3 ways. In life and business, there are multiple facets along a continuum, the outcomes of which are far from predictable or conforming to the highly structured rules of chess.
Now if you’d used the Art of War metaphor, I might have been more inclined to agree as to application but again, that’s yet to be proven. Except in the mind of Larry Ellison.
It’s a bad idea to be talking about business in these terms. Implies the very things for which MSFT earned a hated reputation and from which it now shrinks back. It’s not been bloodied by customers but by far more powerful forces.
In the meantime, MaryJo’s post: http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=1066 might make some reading this spit the odd feather.
Evil shmevil Empire shmempire, integration *is* the future. If M$ doesn’t/can’t do it Apple/anyone else will. That’s a given. I don’t just mean plugging your DVD/iPod into your home theatre system. I mean how do you connect your refrigerator and kitchen cabinet to the grocery store. Or your local library to the printer on your desk (see The Media Lab by Stewart Brand, written in 1987 it is still 5 – 10 years ahead of its time). FOSS is the only real, practical way to integrate, on this scale, so just get on the ‘bandwagon’ and let’s get it rolling.
I couldn’t agree more either with the sentiment that Microsoft bashing is “so 15 minutes ago”. Maybe this comment is the last time I say M$! 🙂
The analogy of chess is an interesting one, but I am too much of a rookie to comment. Thanks @BryanZug for creating another touch point for me. My interest has been sparked though as the idea of MS as King. The OT Biblical images for leadership we are given that also carry through into the NT are King, Priest and Prophet.
As much as I understand gapingvoid and your work, you are the prophet. You have found a way, though never easy, to speak truth to power. The King cannnot remain king unless he adhears to true prophets, whereas listening to false prophet will lead to ultimate destruction. Your challenge in being a prophet, prophets are often killed, or face severe hardship.
The priest’s as I see are the many talented long suffering employees who stick it out to change the world. Steve Clayton is one of these guys, leading and inspiring, working with MS I get to engage these people regularly. They are insipiring and often I am blown away at their talent and communication skills, they make it look easy. Like Michael Jordan dunking a basketball.
You’re right. I probably missed your point about monopolies. But maybe you can clarify, because it still *sounds* to me like you’re trying to shift the blame for MS monopolizing onto the US Government for defining “inconsistent” laws (eg. putting companies in the double-bind of having to maximize their profits while not being monopolies.)
I’m pretty sure that everyone agrees that “not breaking the law” trumps “legal duty to shareholders”.
As to whether Microsoft did do illegally monopolistic things or not, I don’t have any opinion. I’m not a lawyer. I don’t despise Microsoft for being a monopoly (although I think the government should put a stop to it if they are). I don’t think Microsoft are a bad company or full of bad people or make bad products. (I even called them the “best-case scenario” for this kind of company) I don’t think there’s any reason you shouldn’t work for them doing Blue Monster magic. It’s a great social object.
But nevertheless, I don’t think it’s going to work unless Microsoft change something far more fundamental in their DNA.
I’m not an MS hater, nor a Mac fan. I don’t own a single bit of Apple gear. But look at what Apple brand stands for : “great design for the discerning”, “choice of the creative”, “friend of the creative industry”. And look at what Microsoft’s vision / strategy / brand still is : “universal standard”, “default”, “we are everywhere”, “all your base are belong to us”.
I think that strategy is going to fail them. Then one day, Microsoft have to wake up and realize they can’t be everywhere. They can’t be the standard for everything. For word-processing documents and spreadsheets? Yes. For personal computers? More or less. For games boxes? For mobile phones? For domestic robots? For pentops? For Surfaces?
At some point Microsoft need a vision of how to thrive when they are a niche player. A strategy that is not just “we will take this over and become the standard”.
As you once said, to change the world, your idea “doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be yours alone”. When “Microsoft : change the world or go home” means *that* – then I’ll start to believe they’ve found their next big idea.
@anon : thanks for the response. But convergence is upon us because of open protocols : basically TCP/IP, Wifi, USB etc. Devices will have to be very loosely coupled and they’ll be available from hundreds of manufacturers. (Think of something like this for your touch-screens, tablets, surfaces, etc. http://www.made-in-china.com/Computer-Products-Catalog/PC-Camera.html )
I don’t see that *this* can be Microsoft’s next big idea. Sure, they may provide some of the protocol wiring. But so will Dave Winer and Flickr ( http://www.scripting.com/stories/2007/12/27/newProductReleaseToday.html ) and a number of standards bodies, and various focussed hardware and application developers. But the living room is going to be a network of devices, and there won’t be a single *object* that Microsoft can “own”. That doesn’t mean it can’t provide many tools and services around the device swarm.
It has always fascinated me that the people I know who work for Microsoft all want to save the world, and the people I know who work for Apple are all in it for the money. These are tiny fractions of those workplaces, maybe that’s not born out in the larger sample. Still, hmmm.
I dearly hope, though, that you’ll adopt “Shameless Borg Whore” as an identity somewhere. It’s too good to waste.