Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category
Niall Kennedy is leaving Microsoft. That is a big blow for Microsoft. Niall was a high profile recruit and had joined just a few months back. I had briefly met Niall at Gnomedex. Niall’s reason for leaving is very typical of why many smart people are leaving big companies (emphasis mine below):
I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish as a team of one attached to the Windows Live Alerts group. If we had the resources I truly believe we could have tackled the number of users Hotmail, Messenger, Spaces, or even Internet Explorer might supply, and then ask for more by opening up the platform to the world. I was able to borrow resources here and there, but there was no team being built around the platform in the foreseeable future. I could have stayed at Microsoft, waited for the other 85% of the company to ship their products, and then hope support for my group might be back on track again, but I didn’t want to sit around doing little to nothing until Vista, Office, and Exchange ship. It’s easier to get funding outside Microsoft than inside at the moment, so I am stepping out and doing my own thing.
The first point above might come as a surprise to many. How can there be lack of resources in a big company like Microsoft which is flush with cash? While that might come across as an anamoly, resourcing is very convoluted process in big companies. The ability to add headcount rests quite high up the hierarchy. Several layers of management needs to be provided justification for why more heads are needed. Besides, several groups within an organization are competing for additional headcount. So naturally, inspite of best intentions, adding headcount becomes a slow and frustrating process. Unfortunately, in today’s “web 2.0″ world (loosely the domain in which Niall works), time is money. Startups deliver entire products in the same time a product manager in a big company could barely get her headcount sanctioned.
The second point that I have hightlighted above is perhaps specific to Microsoft. Microsoft is such a huge company that in effect it is really like 50 different companies trying to work together. This creates huge interdependencies between product teams. I personally experienced it first hand while I was there when what I was developing depended on Windows messenger, Avalon, WinFS, MSN, XBOX live to count a few! As a developer, having so many external dependencies is frustrating. It means, having to wait on 7 different teams to deliver before you can deliver your product. It means having to spend too much time in meetings and too little time developing. It means seeing your competitors deliver several versions of their product while you are still held up on your first release.
The final point that Niall makes about doing his own thing is a common reason why many people have left big companies of late. The next generation web is being defined by startups. All the recent innovation in recent times (Flickr, del.icio.us, MySpace, Netvibes etc) has happened in small companies. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have been playing catchup by either buying out these companies or trying to imitate what was pioneered elsewhere. For many smart people in big companies, this is a despairing situation to be in. It is like standing behind a glass pane and helplessly see the ship sail by. What they can build in a matter of months outside will take years to build inside a big company. Moreover, with so much VC money available today, startups are well funded and can manage to attract smart people.
These are interesting times in the tech. industry. The innovation is happening in nooks and corners. The talent is gravitating away from the big companies. The small companies are cash strapped but talent rich and nimble. The big companies are quite the opposite. It remains to be seen who will prevail! You know on whom I am betting on
Today I had lunch at Microsoft and dinner at Google. I must say when it comes to cafeterias and food, GOOG has left MSFT far behind! Not only is the food free at Google, it actually tastes good. Even better, breakfast, lunch and even dinner is served on the house! And you can box it to go as well. Very cool!
Windows Vista has been delayed again. While delays are part of product development and are almost expected from Microsoft, something doesn’t sound right about yesterday’s announcement. In particular, the slip is only by 4 weeks. To predict a 4 week slip almost 8 months before the scheduled date makes no sense. Surely the Windows division could have squeezed in another 4 weeks of work between now and December. Besides, the first thing they teach at the Windows developer bootcamp (an excellent training program that all Windows devs must attend) is that if you must slip, slip big. It never helps to slip by just a few days or a couple of weeks. Why? Because when you slip by a few days, other teams who were done with what they had to suddenly find themselves with a little bit of extra time. The natural reaction is “Hey, we got another 2 weeks, lets add that feature we had to cut previously!”. Guess what happens next. Now we have many teams trying to squeeze in a few extra features in the last few weeks of development. That broadens the test matrix, breaks something else that was working before and before you know it, you have missed the new deadline as well. Hence the rule is that if you must slip, then slip big. So it makes me wonder why Vista has slipped by a measly 4 weeks. The official line is that they want to make it more secure. That also goes against common wisdom that security has to be built into the product from the ground up. You can’t possible patch it on in the last few weeks of a 6 year product cycle.
Well, whatever it is, I hope Vista ships soon and it really kicks ass! Many of my friends are burning the midnight oil trying to ship it. Delays are always most frustrating for the front line troops – the devs, testers and PMs! I know because I have been there and gone thru many a slips and resets!
Microsoft is introducing XP starter edition in India for Rs. 1000 (roughly $22). It will be available only thru OEM (Original equipment manufacturer – folks like HCL, Compaq, Zenith etc) channels in Hindi and Tamil to begin with.
Microsoft claims that Starter edition is their effort to introduce computing to the masses who have never used a computer before. It is also supposed to be a way to combat piracy by making XP more affordable. I am afraid that none of these two motives get served by the XP starter edition.
Cost of Windows XP or its ease of use is not the reason for non-adoption of the PC in India. The fact is that the PC, as it exists today, is not very useful for the average middle class house hold. It holds some value for families with kids in school. But beyond that, its just a very fancy type writer. The internet makes it a little more attractive but frankly there is very little regional or local vernacular content on the web that is not available on the TV.
Lowering the cost of XP does not really help combat piracy. Pirated software is available for FREE. And nothing beats getting stuff for free. Besides, why would one pay Rs 1000 to get a crippled version of XP when the full blown version is available for free.
All these points are no brainers really. Then why would Microsoft take the pains to introduce a whole new version of XP just for developing markets? I think the reason might lie in how the OEMs work in India. Of late, OEMs have started to offer PCs with Linux installed on them. It brings down the cost of the PC since they don’t have to pay for the XP license. Worse, the reseller simply uninstalls Linux and installs a pirated copy of XP on the OEM machine as soon as it is sold. That allows OEMs to remain competitive against local PC assemblers on cost. XP Starter edition provides an alternative to installing Linux on OEM machines. At Rs 1000, it does not inflate the cost of the PC too much (XP Home costs Rs 3700, I think). And it allows OEMs to remain on right side of the law and in Microsoft’s good books as well. For Microsoft, Rs. 1000 is still better than not getting anything and definitely much better than risking losing a customer to Linux.
Piracy is yet another reason why we are seeing a move towards web centric approach to software (the so called “web 2.0″).
Perhaps because this is review time at Microsoft, the mini-MSFT blog is getting lot of agitated comments. Amongst the commenters, a few are claiming that there is “reverse discrimination” at Microsoft – that Indians are in general given preferential treatment, in particular by Indian managers. That is a very serious allegation and making it on a public forum anonymously is very low in my opinion. I think the mini-MSFT blog was a good idea but it has degenerated into a public laundry washroom for a small set Microsoft employees to vent frustration. The author of this blog wants Microsoft to become a lean organisation and be able to attract the best talent. The blog however serves to do just the opposite. If a prospecitve candidate went about googling to learn more about Microsoft, she is bound to run into this blog with all the offensive and outright false comments. If an Indian kid fresh out of college was considering employment at Microsoft and came across this blog, she is bound to get an impression that there might be hostility towards Indians within Microsoft. Nothing could be further from the truth but Microsoft could still lose a great hire.
So here is my message for Mini – if you really want to do Microsoft a favor, then please moderate your comments and get people to focus on your real agenda. Right now, your blog does not serve the real purpose and presents a skewed and incorrect picture of Microsoft to the outside world.
Microsoft Watch has an article giving a sneak preview into the list of new features included in Windows Vista Beta 1. Of personal interest to me was the following:
“A “Games Explorer,” designed to list all the games stored on a user’s computer, also will be part of Vista Beta 1. The Games Explorer will keep track of the last time each game was played, allowing users to sort or filter the display of games. This data is stored locally in the registry, and is not sent to Microsoft. When you open Game Explorer, it retrieves rich metadata about the games you have installed from the Windows Metadata and Internet Services (WMIS) at Microsoft”
This is the set of features that I worked on while at Microsoft. Actually there was much more to it but looks like some features got chopped off or maybe they will be revealed in Beta 2. Working with the Windows Graphics and Gaming Technologies (WGGT) group was great fun. Some of the things that we worked on and evnisioned were truly exciting. Gaming was (and I am sure still is) going to be a showcase feature for the Longhorn client. We used to play Unreal Tournament every evening and I totally got my ass kicked. WGGT is an incredibly passionate team and I learned about “loving your job” there. Working with such a great team had made leaving Microsoft even harder. I miss ya guys (but not your Star War jokes )!
Microsoft has announced that the next version of Windows will be called Windows Vista. The product was code named Longhorn previously and this is what I had worked on for 3 years at Microsoft. I have to admit I am rather disappointed with the name chosen by Microsoft for Longhorn.
Firstly, Vista is an English word. And that too a word not used in common vocabulary (at least I have never used that word in a sentence before today). When somebody says “Vista”, no picture comes to my mind. Morover, Microsoft earns more than 2/3rds of its revenue outside of North America. That means, a vast majority of Windows users don’t speak English. So ‘Vista’ doesn’t mean anything to them. If they wanted to really reach out to their biggest user base, they should have chosen a Chinese (Mandarin ?) word. Secondly, the word “Vista” is a fairly common trademark. A Google search returns names of several businesses and organization who use this word. So why pick a word whose branding is already diluted? Finally, for reasons that I myself don’t comprehend, “Vista” doesn’t sound sexy. XP, Xbox, ipod, flickr, vimeo sound cool and sexy but Vista kind of just represents the old fuddy-duddy image Microsoft has been starting to acquire of late.
I am curious what kind of reaction this name evoked within Microsoft. Of course in the Windows division, everybody will continue to call it “Longhorn” even years after it has shipped. Even today, everybody there refers to XP as Whistler (which was what XP was codenamed)!
Microsoft is going to provide a software called Atlas which will make building AJAX enabled web apps easier.
MoneyCentral reports that Microsoft has made available a low cost stripped down Hindi version of Windows.
I can say pretty confidently that this effort, while valiant, has very little chance of success. Why? Because while this is a cheaper version, its still not free – unlike the pirated Windows. Morover it is stripped down – nobody wants a stripped down legal version when a full featured pirated version is available for a much lower cost. This ‘Starter’ edition will find favor with computer vendors though since it helps them bring down the cost of PCs. I bet the resellers will tell their customers that they can always get the full featured Windows XP once they purchase the system *wink* *wink*