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James Fallows on His Brief Microsoft Tenure 257

GrokSoup writes, "Writer James Fallows spent the first six months of 1999 on an unnnamed project at Microsoft (a word processor for writers). While he says he can't write about the secret project, he has written this lengthy piece for The Atlantic about life at Microsoft. It's spooky. Among other things, Fallows compares Microsoft with its "Up with programming" posters and logo attire to the military; says people pull fewer all-nighters there than he thought they would; and discovers the culture is meeting-centric (no surprise)."
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James Fallows on His Brief Microsoft Tenure

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  • Anyone remember "MicroSurfs", ?
  • If you have all employees clustered in one huge campus, then you inherently need more effort to coordinate everything. Even then, coordination suffers, which is why certain strange features went into Office just because some employee wanted it.
    A group developing a small, slick product with all essential functionality can proceed much faster - KOffice has proved this, but also Applixware and (to some extent) StarOffice. MS has just grown too big to adjust itself to the market. Once they lose their power to dominate the market and tell people what they want, they will certainly go through a rigorous downsizing/decentralizing process. Maybe the judge will already do that work for them :-)
  • the main paying customers for Office are big corporations
    I hope Open Source companies (such as RH) can break into these markets. However, When they do, the software they use will probably not be Open Source. The manager at "Chevron" has to believe that they are getting something better than the others. With Open Source, that "belief" is too easily disproved.
  • I would say what is valuable about this article is that it shows us that MS is just like any other hugely successful company. That leads to conclusions which should be obvious, but turn out to be a lot more obvious when someone goes to the trouble of finding them and pointing them out. *Of course* they have a lot of smart people, and of course they don't kill them with work. So, my question is, someone is in charge of all those competition killing marketing maneuvers; who is it? Does the average employee even know that MS is trying to crush the very competition they are trying to outdo?


  • EMACS!!!! Live it, Love it!

    Pleading ignorance here (I cant write) what features would a writer look for in a word processor? And what features are currently not implemented in word?

    I can see it now... MS Write 6.0/MS HomeOffice Suite 2000.
  • I know we need any excuse we can get to bash Microsoft, but if you read the article, you'll see that GrokSoup has taken the quotes grossly out of context.
  • by Accipiter ( 8228 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @12:59AM (#1254464)
    All in all, I would say that Microsoft is a good place to work. (I read the article, and nothing in there struck me as 'spooky'.) Quite the opposite, it seems like a motivated place to work where you have lots of creative and technical freedom. It's good when your management says "You think that should be this way? Go for it."

    The author also brings up a good point:

    If there is something you love or hate about Microsoft programs, don't thank or blame Bill Gates; some specific member of the Microsoft team decided to "own" that feature and include it in a program.

    Everyone who gets fed up with a program at one point (partly humoursly) says "I HATE BILL GATES!" assuming he's the one who screwed up their computer. People are quick to say that since he's the richest man in the world, and he's in charge of Microsoft, it must have been HIM that wrote every single line of code in every single product -- Therefore, this blue screen is HIS FAULT. Bzzzt, Wrong. (Sure, everyone knows this but too few actually REALIZE this.)

    There is even a person who created the "It looks like you're writing a letter" auto-annoyance feature in Word. I had to sign a separate confidentiality clause promising not to name him.

    That's because he'd probably be jumped in the parking lot the day this article was published. ;)

    Note: No, I DON'T work for Microsoft, I don't worship their software, and I love Linux. So toss your predisposed judgements in the garbage.

    -- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

  • anyone remember that microserfs was a scam article, none of it happened. It's pure fiction, made up, nada, zilch.

    Never underestimate the profound stupidity of those that don't do thier homework!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @01:09AM (#1254467)
    As an acknowledged expert in the science of Marketing, who occasionally posts to this forum, I have to say that I dream of working for a company such as Microsoft. They represent the pinnacle of Marketing, they have done everything right.

    Admittedly they have written some great software, (hardly surprising with brains like Bill Gates working there). They have also demonstrated some serious innovations, (such as DCOM, and Active X) which stand as examples of how privately funded research can pay dividends.

    However where they excel (apologies for the pun) is the Marketing. Is there anyone out there who has not heard of Microsoft and their great software ? I doubt it.

    Well done Microsoft, you are like a shining beacon to Marketers everywhere, of the potential that the science of Marketing has to improve our lives.

    Kudos to Bill for recognising this fact.

    Thank you.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @01:10AM (#1254468)
    Having spent the past two summer vacations as an intern at Microsoft, I can say with some authority that this article is quite accurate. I have to say that the amount of mindless propoganda ("WRITE GREAT CODE!") was exaggerated. Much more frequently you'll find articles from industry magazines on the product being developed in that part of that building (both positive and negative reviews can be found, with the latter's attack at specific features hilighted to emphasize for the team what needs to be worked on in the next release), dilbert comics, wall sized object models, and display cases showing off the earlier versions of the product. People at MS are proud of the products they develop, but they don't wear the branded clothes MS throws at them in armfulls (exaggeration) because of this. It's more of a "hey, free shirt!" attitude than a "I'm going to wear this shirt for my team" attitude. The pride just lets them wear it.

    I don't think the downside of the meeting-centric culture was emphasized enough in the article. Of course, there is variance from team to team, but the number of meetings a typical employee can attend in a week can really start to bother him/her. This is especially the case because the type of person that you'll find at MS scores high on the geek scale, and (it's been my experience that) geeks tend to prefer to be working on their machine rather than discussing things in a meeting. It is perhaps because of this very fact that the meetings are so important to the smooth flow of operations within the teams. With the heavy degree of interdependance in a collaborative software design enviroment and the tendancy for the geek to work hard at his or her own feature with little regard for the rest of the universe, the meetings are a neccessary evil to pull team members back and get them looking at the Big Picture again.

    Finally, with regard to ". . . Microsoft employees are thought to be haughty, sharp-tongued, and prickly to deal with.": I don't doubt that this is the case. Microsoft has one of the worst public image problems in history. But the people there _are_ acutally nice, as the author claims. They're hackers just like you'd find at any other company, except that as the author points out they tend to work more sane hours and enjoy a great deal of pampering. When the company was out leveraging it's monopoly power in unfair ways, it wasn't the devs, testers, or program managers fiendishly devising ways to force oems to install windows. All that was carried out at the upper levels by the marketing people without the knowledge of the product teams. The people developing the product have remarkably little knowledge or even care as to how the product will be delivered/marketted to the public. It didn't really suprise me to realize this. Pardon my prejudice, but I have a jaded view of the moral character of marketting/sales offices. It seems to me to be an almost unnerringly duplicitous facet of modern business.
  • Its strange to see the anti-M$ rants when it wasn't that long ago it was IBM that was the hated dark one..... (Must I add I ain't a big fan of m$ but I don't bash blindly). M$ was once the company that was the pioneer (even if it's "pioneering" was buying in and rewriting!). A week is a long time in politics, but 10 years is an eternity in IT.

    Remember also that although M$ aren't exactly the nicest competitors - the people who work there are largely just Joe Schmoe's who need to pay their bills like all of us.

    Apple are similarly pilliored for being the Good Guy (standing up to M$, doing their own thing) while similarly being the Bad Guy (closed license hard/soft ware, doing their own thing!).

    It seems the IT industry is littered with good intentions that become the next Empire - or worse, fall by the wayside. Remember OS/2 was originally OS/2 NT? Amiga's? NeXT? CP/M 86/68k () ;-)

    Linux has proved its longevity - now lets prove our ability to co-exist (as users).

    Not that I am drawing a parallel here or anything ;-)
  • by VValdo ( 10446 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @01:12AM (#1254470)
    ...the main paying customers for Office are big corporations (or what the high-tech world calls LORGs, for "large-size organizations"),

    Gee, if they're so "big" I wonder why they're not called "big-size organizations" then? Could it be they've seen the slashdot icon for Microsoft?


  • by spiralx ( 97066 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @01:19AM (#1254471)

    There is even a person who created the "It looks like you're writing a letter" auto-annoyance feature in Word. I had to sign a separate confidentiality clause promising not to name him.

    Wow, there must be people really gunning for him if he gets his own separate confidentiality clause just to protect him :)

  • Uhm, I heard it a bit different actually (from people who have worked for and with Microsoft).

    I've heard that most MS employees are so caught in their own hype and (InTheirOp) rightful superiority, that they're almost impossible to deal with for those other MS employees who don't believe in that male bovine organic waste.

    For this reason I (yes, I am looking for a job) didn't even apply at Microsoft.
  • So Microsoft is one big, happy family ;-)
    I think that the problem is maybe that there are a few people within Microsoft who are far too aggressive towards competitors. As the article says, the majority of M$ employees are probably quite normal, likeable people who are not bent on total world domination at the expense of everybody else.

    I was a bit suprised that there was no mention of Linux in this article. I would assume that it would be a topic of conversation amongst Microsofties. From the tone of the article, I doubt very much that James Fallows will donate his unused ideas to the open-source office suites, though it would be very noble of him if he did.


  • by Raindeer ( 104129 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @02:18AM (#1254475) Homepage Journal
    Great article. It shows microsofties as normal people, which they undoubtedly are. An organization clearly suffering from some of the coordination problems that a large scale corporation has.

    But aside from the comments made by others I found it interesting that Microsoft hired a *writer*. Just because this guy had written some wishlist they liked. In the Open Source community it is often said that because you have the source you can alter it and get the features you want. Here is somebody complaining that he doesn't get the right features and he gets hired. This strengthens my beliefs that in the end it doesn't matter if a project is Open Source or Closed Source as long as you get the stuff in that your customers want. Not only the man/woman behind the screen, but also the corporate heads are what Microsoft is looking at. These latter ones influence purchasing, whereas the former ones are left with the results. This means improvements in manageability but a crappy grammar and spellchecker for the Dutch language. If the open source community wants to make a breakthrough they will have to equal Microsoft in terms of (perceived) ease of use AND (perceived) cost of ownership.

    This comment not previewed because of slowness of Slashdot

  • someone is in charge of all those competition killing marketing maneuvers; who is it? Does the average employee even know that MS is trying to crush the very competition they are trying to outdo?

    The average employee working on products? Sure they know. If you read the interviews with MS employees, such as during the trial, to a person they say they fear the competition and try to do their best to crush them.

    I'm not sure what else they are supposed to say. "Nope, I don't want to humiliate Netscape/Sun/IBM, they're nice guys with families and friends who deserve to make a living"?

    An analogy could be basic research vs applied research. The MS employee base is heavily on the applied side -- they are enthusiastic about innovations like ClearType, but only to the extent that it will be converted into a real product that sells in the millions - and grabs maximum market share.

    In the article, Fallows noted that a lot of his ideas for improving MSWord as a writing tool were brushed off, because the product managers ran the numbers. The true writers who would use it wouldn't be worth the development effort!

    I think the "scratch your itch" phenomenon that motivates Linux developers is alien to a commercial mass-market developer, of which MS is the biggest. As a commercial world, you have to prioritize and cut features, even if you personally think they're cool....
  • Microsoft may seem, from the article, to be an okay place to work (why not work where all the money is), however, Microsoft's business practices do not change. The two articles below outline (1) price gouging and (2) low-quality product release, both in reference to Windows 2000. Bill Gates is responsible for the software which comes out of MS. If he had not used a slew of anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices to force his OS onto 90% plus of desktop computers, we would not have to deal with his sub-standard products, since real competition would have ousted him and his company years ago. Do not claim to know what other people do and do not realize.

    Licensing fees a feature of Windows 2000, researcher says []

    Microsoft's new corporate operating system could force many businesses to pay thousands of dollars in additional licensing fees, a research firm said today.

    ...charges built into how Microsoft sells its software would affect a large percentage of companies upgrading to Windows 2000 ... Many of these fees are not up-front, said analyst Michael Gartenberg.

    First Win2000 Fix Out []

    Windows 2000 is aimed at the suits. Twenty-four hours after the rollout of the new OS, Microsoft issues a compatibility patch that lists 45 popular games. Can you say productivity decrease? By Andy Patrizio.

    For good measure, here's an article on the Anti-trust Trial set to resume today. It supports the reality of MS's practice. Read carefully.

    Microsoft trial set to resume []

    WASHINGTON--The Microsoft trial resumes tomorrow with arguments before a federal judge to help him decide whether the abuse of monopoly power he found in November amounts to a violation of the nation's antitrust laws.
  • I thought there might be interesting comparisons between fiction and real life observations. Can anyone remember the author name?
  • Article? Wasn't it a book by Douglas Coupland?
  • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @02:59AM (#1254484) Homepage
    Err... You are missing the point.
    • They have grown beyond the size to adjust - true.
    • But they have grown even further when they do not need to.
    They are the market. They dictate how things are done. Look at the meeting rate increase in all industries and correlate it with Microsoft Exchange sales. No wonder NASA used to land its equipment on mars before and cannot nowdays...

    Or read Parkinson's laws chapter 2 (If I recall correctly) on meetings and commitees...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @03:00AM (#1254485)
    At JavaONE last year, Douglas Adams spoke of having gone to Microsoft to talk about technology. When asked about MS Word, he told them what he didn't like about it. Primarily that it was written from the prospective of the tool (i.e. make the ultimate typewriter) rather than the author (what tools do authors really need?) He pointed out things like an authors desire to circle things and draw arrows on his document to move them around.

    He was told by I believe Nathan Myrvhold, who, MSoftie or not pretty much created the idea of the desktop word processor while at PARC, that "Those ideas are great. But people who use word have already learned certain keystrokes and they would have to learn a whole new set if we were to put in your features."


  • No.

    The endless meeting considered to be productive culture developed by MS and enforced by MS Exchnage and Outlook should go. Than, yes.

  • it must be nice, sit back, dont worry about whether your code really works or not, have the executives kill off the competition like a trailblazer with a machete. very similar to the laid back easy life of america, you don't have to worry about politics, foriegn relations, you name it... but is it really a good thing? not really.
  • I'm just curious, but isn't it the procedure everywhere to have loads of meetings whenever you come across a problem? I know this probably sounds like a gasoline-covered rag flame-fest, but seriously.

    I work at a high-tech company, and it actually helps to have a meeting whenever we
  • Theres a tendency to confuse a companys philosophy with a companys staff & its pure wish fulfillment to assume that just because you dont like their software philosophy, M$ *must* be a horrible place to work and full of stupid clueless people.

    What Microsoft does brilliantly is keep their client firmly in mind. When Im dealing with my clients, I have to admit I often ask myself "What would Microsoft do?" as part of my effort to stay focused on the same issues. I dont like their software. I certainly dont like their approach. However, I admire the way they nurture their client relationships and the way they understand how the people who are going to be purchasing their products think. And I know from experience that they have a lot of really talented people working there (both technical and non-technical)

    If we mindlessly hate and fear everything Microsoft rather than learning what lessons we can from the things they do right, then we will ultimately lose because everything we do will be reaction, not action. Methinks you need to learn what you can from any source.

  • The book 'MicroSerfs' was written by Douglas Coupland, and can be found here []. I bought this book when I first went to work at a software company, so I would know what to expect. But reality was different. And worse.
  • Observations:
    • It is nice to work for a compay that is doing well.
    • There is a reason why MS is no 1 (marketwise)
    • You don't make it where MS is today without doing things right. Their goal never was to write the best software for everyone, it is to write software that as many people (and LORG's) as possible consider good enough.
    • Microsoft's main customers do not use the same criteria when they choose software as the average /.'er.
    I dont like everything fom MS, but I have to hand it to them:
    Nobody is better at making selling software. They dont rely on clueless marketers they rely on *damn good* marketers.
  • This guy seems to despair that Microsoft doesn't treat him like a valued customer, and there aren't any other options. The first part of this sentence is true, but there are certainly a lot of options. Abisource has done a great job with their GPL'd software, but even if this is a little too raw, is there anyone out there who is having trouble finding non-MS software?

    They may be a legal monopoly, but there is not a single category of software for which they are the only vendor. There are other office suites if you want a huge monolithic office suite. There are other grotesquely bloated word processors, and there are well-written word processors.

    Sure, if this guy wants to fundamentally change the way most people interact with their bloated office suite, he needs to "get inside" at Microsoft, but if he wants to help someone create a better word processor, there are better places to start, if only because Word is a lost cause.

    I think the word monopoly implies a defeatist attitude towards Microsoft. We must use their products because everyone else does. We must accept the bloat because there are no alternatives. They're just another company. Use their stuff when it works, don't use it when it doesn't.
  • So it seems what causes bloat and fragility in MS apps is not marketing driven focus on looks, but rather unrestrained "wouldn't it be neat if".

    So, why is OpenSource largely proof against this?
    • First, because projects have a definite zeitgeist and maintainers who enforce it. Sendmail won't include a tetris patch, and AbiWord won't add email-reader functionality just because someone created it and showed them it could be done.
    • Second, because OpenSource projects can fork if a different zeitgeist is desired truly, and so there is no assumption that each program must continue to be all things to all people.
  • I'm not sure whether you're joking, but I'll assume that you're not.

    They represent the pinnacle of Marketing, they have done everything right.

    That's certainly the case. Unfortunately, it's also the only thing they've really done right

    Admittedly they have written some great software

    Probably true, but the majority of their products is crap.

    Well done Microsoft, you are like a shining beacon to Marketers everywhere, of the potential that the science of Marketing has to improve our lives.

    You've got to be kidding... Microsoft is a shameful example of how lying and cheating can get people to choose inferior products.

    And how is that improving people's lives??

  • As one of "these guys" (albeit a minor one) I wholeheartedly second this. We would love the input of anyone, esp. a professional writer. And we thank you very much for plugging AbiWord so nicely. (Just as a side note, I really have no idea how other people manage to write such large word processors. AbiWord runs on 3 different OS's and multiple different CPU's, and the source is about 15 MB.)
    Sam TH
  • I was a bit suprised that there was no mention of Linux in this article.

    On one hand, so was I. But that might just be because I rarely hear the word "Microsoft" nowadays except in a sentence that includes the word "Linux".

    On the other hand, this article brings home the point that, from Microsoft's perspective, Linux's resistance really is futile. I heard a statistic (dunno how true it is) that Linux is still used today on fewer computers than OS/2 was in its heyday. Of course, we know the real reason for this: Linux's heyday hasn't arrived yet; when it does, it -- through Open Source and the Bazaar -- will change the world. But that's not yet; for now, it hardly shows up on the Redmond Radar [TM].

    BTW no one at comment level 2 or above (my default) has yet mentioned Microserfs by Douglas Copeland, a magnificent book about life in a Macintosh development team (!) at Microsoft in (I think) the early nineties. Gels perfectly with James Fallows's article.

    : Fruitbat :

  • The average employee working on products? Sure they know. If you read the interviews with MS employees, such as during the trial, to a person they say they fear the competition and try to do their best to crush them.

    No, of course it's not the common employee. The coders do their best for sure, wanting to beat the competition with a better product. Thats competing maneuvers.

    But someone is doing all the forcing unfair licenses onto customers, making companies include IE and no other browser software on systems, etc, etc, etc... That is a competition killing marketing maneuver. It's not the common employee... and it'd be interesting to know who it is, and if the common employees know about it.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The Register reports on the current Microsoft temp worker situation. So MS also fscks over the employees (some of the time). Did Fallows try to get benefits?

    Micro$oft to sack temp workers after one year []

    Microsoft has replied to criticism that it exploits temporary workers by employing them for years -- making them virtual permanent workers -- while denying them the benefits associated with a permanent position. This so-called 'permatemp' status saves the obscenely wealthy software giant millions in fringe-benefit costs each year.

    Microsoft's solution, announced last week, is one Scrooge himself would admire: the company will now sack its temporary workers after one year of service, and require them to wait 100 days before being re-hired. The new policy is scheduled to take effect on 1 July.

    The company's previous practice of stringing temps along for years has been challenged in lawsuits filed by long-term temporary workers seeking regular benefits. Microsoft lost one case to a decision enabling temporary workers to buy company shares at the 15 percent discount enjoyed by staff. A second suit seeking medical and retirement benefits is currently pending.

    The new policy will indeed indemnify the company against further claims that it exploits its temps; but it will also have the ironic effect of decreasing the number of experienced casual workers it employs, while simultaneously reducing their economic benefits and job security. A lose/lose situation if we ever saw one.

    And you thought those Redmond boys were such a lot of cutting-edge geniuses.
  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @03:27AM (#1254500) Homepage Journal
    What catches my attention most is this: what a great illustration that you don't _have_ to be a frothing axewielding sociopath to do harm.

    It's plain that Microsoft has done harm. However, you look at the coders and geeks within Microsoft and they are not, for the most part, bad people. Does this invalidate the harm Microsoft has done? No, of course not- welcome to the real world. They have helped it happen, certainly did not set out each day saying "Heyyyy! Let's all stifle innovation in this industry (except from us!) and help to lock computing into some technological Dark Ages!". It's just that the work that they do is effectively harnessed to the power of a corporation which has a long history of doing just such stifling. They are not the ones in toplevel meetings telling Apple "Yes, we're asking you to 'knife the baby'. Kill Quicktime for us or you won't like the consequences". But their work enables the upper management to do just that.

    Also, I would be very surprised if there wasn't a (military?) sort of elitism pervading the place. In effect, the Microsoft workers may not be frothing at the mouth to eradicate all competition in the industry- but they do, I feel, see themselves as superior to anybody else, which makes it very easy for them to be very unconcerned about their bosses acting to crush and stifle other companies. Somewhere in the back of the Microsoft worker mind is, "That's okay- if they wanted to _really_ innovate and do good things, they'd quit that company and join US!". This is not capitalism, of course- in most industries, competition is seen as a normal and healthy thing. I feel that within the Microsoft culture, competition from other companies is seen as as best a distraction from _real_ innovation, and at worst a positive roadblock- such that one could easily picture Microsoft people lobbying the government to shut down a competitor that stood in the way of Microsoft expansion. "You're hurting the economic growth of the whole country by allowing them to keep operating like that! They're blocking innovation!"

    And still, none of this requires that the people involved are evil people: you just have to look at their worldview. It's all very well having elitism. Elitism plus _clout_ equals trouble.

  • I hope one of the things this guy stood up for was the removal of the Malicious Windows Paperclip !! Seriously, though, I found it to be a good article. I think that he adequately expressed the idea that the people he was working with were people like most of us -- geeks doing our thing for $$. Maybe I lack the moral fibre of most of the /. readership, but I wanna be Stinking Filthy Rich(tm) and that's what I got out of the article -- these were nice, friendly, smart people who were more enticed by financial stability than Open Source evangelism. Can't we all just get along :-P ?? Great Piece. My only critisism is that the perfect Word Processor exists, it's called 'vi'. Save your flame for /dev/null. -AGENT K
  • by Get Behind the Mule ( 61986 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @03:29AM (#1254502)
    When the company was out leveraging it's monopoly power in unfair ways, it wasn't the devs, testers, or program managers fiendishly devising ways to force oems to install windows. All that was carried out at the upper levels by the marketing people without the knowledge of the product teams. [...] It didn't really suprise me to realize this. Pardon my prejudice, but I have a jaded view of the moral character of marketting/sales offices. It seems to me to be an almost unnerringly duplicitous facet of modern business.

    I'm inclined to believe this, probably because I have a similarly jaded view of sales and marketing, and positive view of developers.

    This raises an amazing thought: If the geeks working for M$ could have their way running the company, it wouldn't be the standards-flouting, gratuitously incompatible, anti-competitive behemoth we know and loathe. They'd take the time to release software that's less bloated, less buggy and standards-compatible. Some of it might even have open source code!

    Maybe this is why open source programming strikes so many of us as more ethical: The geeks are running the show, free of markedroids preventing the rest of us from doing it The Right Way.

    Since the DOJ is still struggling to decide on a remedy in the anti-trust suit that is not too intrusive and regulatory, and yet solves the problems of anti-competitiveness, here's a suggestion: Fully eliminate M$'s sales department and let the geeks take over. The software industry will be back to normal within months.
  • by DaisyEmmett ( 91197 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @03:30AM (#1254503) Homepage
    Although I strongly suspect this is a troll, it is entirely correct. Microsoft products tend to range from the OK (Excel) to the truly suckworthy (Visual Basic). However, they manage to dominate in just about every single field they enter.


    Branding. For clueless C[IT]Os and other such top management material [], choosing Microsoft is a safe bet. No one ever got fired for selecting a Microsoft product. No matter how much they deserved to.

    Now, the book by Bill Gates *I'd* like to see is not the dire 'The Road Ahead', but 'Bill's Big Book of Marketing, or how to steal the world'. If there's one thing he knows about, it's how to dispose of the competition.

  • Everyone who gets fed up with a program at one point (partly humoursly) says "I HATE BILL GATES!" assuming he's the one who screwed up their computer. People are quick to say that since he's the richest man in the world, and he's in charge of Microsoft, it must have been HIM that wrote every single line of code in every single product -- Therefore, this blue screen is HIS FAULT.

    Of course it isn't!
    "Microsoft takes no responsibility for anything at all in this product, if it works for you, we're the best, if it doesn't, it's your fault

    By reading this text you're agreeing to the above license agreement."

  • No wonder NASA used to land its equipment on mars before and cannot nowdays...
    Hrm, blame Bill Joy, not Bill Gates. NASA used Java to control their Mars equipment. :P
  • by guran ( 98325 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @03:40AM (#1254507)
    In the article, Fallows noted that a lot of his ideas for improving MSWord as a writing tool were brushed off, because the product managers ran the numbers. The true writers who would use it wouldn't be worth the development effort!

    Don't forget that the feature *you* would kill for is the very thing that someone else will call bloat.

    Trying to scratch everybodys itches at the same time will not work...

  • Fallows made a mistake people often do, mixing the image of the company, with the people working for it. Ofcorse, programmers working for microsoft are not different from people working for any other software company.

    I do think Microsoft is a VBT (Very Bad Thing), for two main reasons:
    1. It holds too much power.
    2. It abuses its power.

    From sociological point of view, each group of people that gains power fights to keep others away from it, and thus it is no surprise Microsoft abuses its power. ANY other company that would be at the same position as Microsoft would act the same.

    And this is where FREE (beer&speech) software comes it: It ensures no one would hold such absolute power.

  • I'm studying for MCSD and I found in the book 70-100 'Analyzing Requirements and Defining Solutions Architectures' a good explain how Microsoft manage their teams. I might explain that I not committed to any technology or marketing from them because I'm very opinioneted and I do'nt agree in theirs business practices.
    Back to the point I think good ideas never be throw away so some of explanations may be useful to the free software community.
    My $0.02
  • There been a number of writing tools put out over the years based on the idea of flowcharts, or 3x5 cards, or lines and arrows, or whatever. Even Word includes (or used to) an outline editor.

    At some point you generally need to dump the output into an editor to get output that actually looks like a real document, so these things aren't really a replacement for a word processor.

    IMO, I tend to agree with Myrvhold -- these things tend to suffer from the "Adobe Illustrator" problem -- you want to draw pretty pictures, but in the end you have to learn quite a bit about the UI mechanisms, which is enough to minimize it's use as a tool to assist with the casual thought process.
  • Agreed, I expected the article to be all about how microsoft are slackers, big 'evil' meetings with men in suits etc.
    The article was just the opposite, and gave an interesting balanced view of Microsoft.

    But then, this *is* slashdot, and only articles that are against Microsoft (or at least are made to resemble something against microsoft) is posted. Giving everyone here a one sided perspective on Microsoft. All the 'good' articles on Microsoft/Bill (like bill donating billions, launch of windows 2000 etc) are quietly ignored. Noone everyone here thinks Microsoft EVIL EVIL EVIL. That's all they hear.
  • Other companies have been in Microsoft's position, and they haven't behaved that way. Intel opened up the architecture to the 8086 chip; IBM opened up the architecture for their desktop system; both of them could have held a substantial monopoly in the PC field, but they didn't. I'm not saying they did it out of altruism, but they at least recognized that it was more beneficial to help create a larger market than to try for 100% market share.
  • Sigh...I know, Godwin's Law, and all that, but...what is it going to take to make the Good Microserfs see what they've been making possible?
  • Laidback, easy life? Where exactly did you get that idea?
  • That's so munted.

    These "wouldn't it be neat" features are used by many people, and most are god damn useful. All those features can ofcourse be turned off. And bloat? Excuse me, lets see star office, bloated, slower and takes over the desktop. Netscape, bloated slower and takes over win9x's role of crashing.

    And now you're saying open source is better cause weird "wouldn't it be neat" things *WON'T* be added? How so? You're saying open source is more restrictive...or what? I don't get where you're coming from.
    And now you're copying Linus' change of moods, and saying forking is _GOOD_?

    I'd like to hear some more reasoning from you.
  • (Devil's Advocate)

    Let me get this straight: Windows2000 doesn't work with a bunch of games. Let's say they don't release a patch. People complain "shitty product because these games don't run and there's no patch yet."


    Windows2000 doesn't work with a bunch of games. The day after its release, a patch is released, allowing those games to work in Windows2000. People complain "shitty product because there's already a patch for it."


    At least I can look forward to never needing a kernel patch ever again after 2.4.0 is released!
  • I read this article several weeks back, and was interested to see the part about individual programmers taking the initiative on adding features. I had expected a much more hierarchical, dictatorial setting. I've also read other articles that picture Microsoft as a much more contentious shop. Perhaps there are soem major differences between the Campus and the Field.

    But it leaves on wondering, where's the overriding vision? Who keeps track of the interactions between all the nifty little pieces. It can be good for a program to be done piecemeal this way, but it's necessary for there to be some unity, too. It's a careful line to walk.

    History, in the form of bugs and security holes, suggests that Microsoft doesn't walk that line as well as perhaps they ought to.
  • The other postings in this thread are effectively disproving your claim.
  • "If there is something you love or hate about Microsoft programs, don't thank or blame Bill Gates; some specific member of the Microsoft team decided to "own" that feature and include it in a program. There is even a person who created the "It looks like you're writing a letter" auto-annoyance feature in Word. I had to sign a separate confidentiality clause promising not to name him." LOL!
  • This is not capitalism, of course- in most industries, competition is seen as a normal and healthy thing. I feel that within the Microsoft culture, competition from other companies is seen as as best a distraction from _real_ innovation, and at worst a positive roadblock- such that one could easily picture Microsoft people lobbying the government to shut down a competitor that stood in the way of Microsoft expansion. "You're hurting the economic growth of the whole country by allowing them to keep operating like that! They're blocking innovation!"

    That is exactly what capitalism is! Companies don't just sit there and think 'Gee, isn't great that our competitors are doing well', they aim to wipe out their competitors and give themselves a monopoly or get themself into position where thay can set up a nice little cartel. Neither of these encourage competition which is why we have anti-monopoly and anti-price-fixing legislation. And what's so unusual about companies lobbying governments to give them some advantage or other? It happens all the time all over the world.

  • Corporate loyalty bordering on fanatacism seems to be a trait that a lot of companies try to instill in their employees. I wouldn't want a career at Microsoft, but I wouldn't mind working there for a few weeks, just out of curiousity. As for the posts praising Microsoft's organizational ability, there isn't really much need to develop a succesful management strategy when your profit margins are unbelievably high. In a less wealthy company employees wouldn't be able to spend most their time "waiting" for someone to give them something to do. Which also brings up the question as to how good are the people they recruit? We've all dealt with the substandard software, how many first-rate programmers can they actually have working there? Maybe the reason they don't release the source as open is because they're too embarassed to show it...(an op-ed piece that appeared in the NYT quotes a former programmer on the issue: there's a copy at

  • Both examples are not very good ones. IBM "opened" up the architecture for the PC not because they intended to create an open architecture, but because they where in a hurry to get their Prsonal Computer ready. They didn't have time to develop everything from scratch, so they built the machine out of existing components from outside sources.
    Once the PC market started getting crowded with "IBM-compatible" machines, IBM tried to fight it off with a proprietary platform - the PS/2, and failed.

    And as for Intel, it was a business practice at that time to preffer buying components that have a second source, so Intel had no choice but to licence its 8086-80386 design to other companies, so that it could sell its chips to companies like IBM.

    So in both cases those companies didn't open their product for the benefit of the market, but because there was no other choice for them, under the given circumstances.

  • dream on ... they have done everything so right, even the DoJ thinks this. Marketingwise, they have indeed done very well. Technologywise, they have done evertything sooo right, that no single heavy traffic site (think cnn, porn sites, even Micros~1's own uses NT because it's too slow and too unstable. As for DCOM, point me to one large deployed installation. Troll on ...
  • On the whole I agree with you, but the timing of your first point is deliciously ironic.

    If you surf on over to the Linux Game Tome [], you will find that only today a patch was released for e2fsck (the thing that checks your disk for you if you don't shutdown the machine properly), which allows you to play Tetris while the file system is checked. Of course, because it is open source, your second point kicks in: The feature is optional.

    I enjoyed the article. It sounds as though the programmers aren't too different to their open source counterparts (but richer). Presumably all the dodgy tactics come out of the marketting department. I guess one of the strengths of open-source is that we have no marketting department!
  • Umm, which makes it the perfect analogy, doesn't it?

    What exactly is your point again????
  • I have enjoyed all the comments on this article. The general conclusion seems to be that M$ programmers are nice people and M&S (Marketing & Sales) are evil. Although the latter is certainly true (of every company in every business in my experience), I would also say that M&S people are generally clueless when it comes to R&D. All the complaints most of us have about M$ software does not always involve M&S, does it?

    Do you think M&S said to the programmers that every new version of M$Word should have a different file format? Do you think that M&S said to the programmers that IE should be completely mixed up in the OS?

    I don't think so. I am sure most M$ people are nice, but I don't think Marketing & Sales are the only bad people(tm) at M$!

  • Damn, I should do this anonymously to save the Karma but what the hell.

    Maybe this is why open source programming strikes so many of us as more ethical: The geeks are running the show, free of markedroids preventing the rest of us from doing it The Right Way.

    This is what ya'll just don't get. The marketdroids are the ones trying to find what the Average Users want. I hate Marketting as much as the next guy (or the next guy that isn't on /.) but they do serve a purpose. Geeks running Open Source is great for those writting for other geeks, but I've never seen an Open Source program that was any way geared towards the every day person. Geeks just don't know how to think in someone elses shoes. They don't understand that someone may not understand the usage of simple geek structures (Just look at my dads face when I tell him it'd be easier just to pipe the output to a text file....nevermind, Ummm just use word and copy and paste...).

    Geeks may be ethical, but its because they are only writting software for themselves.

  • Can you blame them? I turn that fscking paperclip off, but if I'm typing a long technical document and start a paragraph with the word 'To', the paperclip jumps up and says "It looks like you're writing a letter". Even if I'm 20 pages into the document. Artificial Stupidity at its worst. Microsoft should either fix this 'feature' or remove it.

    The development process descibed in the article really does account for the freeping creaturism found in MS software.


  • It would have been funny to see MS convince their biggest customers' IT managers that Win2000 really did need to be delayed yet again to ensure game compatibility in their next corporate "professional" desktop and server OS.
  • It sounds in this article like there is a limited amount of peer review going on - if you can convince your immediate development team of the necessity of a feature, you can go ahead. However, from past articles about development at Microsoft I remember hearing that there wasn't a whole lot of cross-product peer review.

    Maybe the Linux difference is that the peer review process is open to anybody who cares to look at the code. Consensus on features and implementation is reached through the same general process that Microsoft uses, but by including so many more people in the open source process you have the potential to really raise the standards of the finished software.

    As far as control-freakery goes, Apple is a sterling example of that philosophy, but on the other hand they're widely lauded for exciting and innovative features. I'm not really an Apple fan myself, I just want to point out that centralized planning of features doesn't always equal boring products.

  • The most satisfactory solution I've found is to locate the "Actors" directory and rename it "Dead Actors".

    Regards, Ralph.
  • It's not that *anyone* is particularly bad, just that you tend to be focused on working on one thing without seeing the big picture. The two biggies:

    1. You get more concerned internal schedule details than considering the people who will actually use the program. It's so easy to say "That's not a critical bug; we'll fix it next time around."

    2. Microsoft developers are one or two product cycles ahead of what's currently shipping. So right now lots of people at Microsoft are working on followups to Windows 2000 and nobody's actually working on W2K. Of course the general public is just starting to see W2K, so there's a definite gap.

    These come from working for a Microsoft contractor for nine months.
  • In 1995, I was still hanging on to obsolete macs for the typesetting featrues in the older versions of word. Then I stumbled across lyx, which let me enter equations easily from the keyboard *and* edit the while displayed. I quickly switched over.

    After a few days, I noticed how much I missed the single character insert symbol command. I sent a message to the lyx developers. Within a week, that feature was part of the mainstream distribution.

    A couple of years later, I was inserting *lots* of index entries, and the command was kind of kludgy (pop-up with no default entry). I spent a couple of days relearning the c++ I'd forgotten :), then made it work the way I wanted. Within a week, this was part of the main code.

    More time passed, and it was time to send *lots* of application letters for a job. I realized it would take less time to add this to lyx than it would to fight with the current moronified-wysywigified merge in lyx. This one isn't in the main distribution. It works, but needs some work (actually, I'm going to move it to a library, so that very little lands in lyx proper, and it can be used elsewhere . . . someday, when I have free time. Better yet, if I teach a seminar on the economics of free software, it could be the central project . . .)

    Anyway, he might have gotten a lot more of what he wanted a lot sooner, and something like lyx still can vary into the niche project he bemoans the loss of . . .
  • by dsplat ( 73054 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @05:53AM (#1254566)
    Fallows said in his article:

    There is even a person who created the "It looks like you're writing a letter" auto-annoyance feature in Word. I had to sign a separate confidentiality clause promising not to name him.

    I have a rule at home. The only people who are allowed to feel helpful without being helpful are children too young to understand the distinction. It is a good rule for judging features in software. Usually when I apply this rule it is to features that make a list of bullets in a glossy ad or review and are never used. But this particular feature is a pet peave of mine. Useless features that clutter the menu and are never touched can be ignored. But software that automatically guesses what I want is a problem.

    I'm perhaps a somewhat unusual programmer. I am a competent, although not blindingly fast, touch-typist. It is not unusual for me to be typing in hand-written notes for a coworker's review of my design documents. When I am doing that, I am certainly not looking at the monitor continuously. And I don't want the software to ever react in an unexpected way to my keystrokes. I don't want dialog boxes popping up and capturing keystrokes. I don't want names of programs corrected to a similarly spelled word.

    Don't get me wrong. I am sure that these features please someone. I can't imagine that the programmer(s) who implemented them are completely unique. But the default setting for them should be off. There's nothing wrong with having a dialog box pop up the first time you run a program asking if you'd like to have the program look over your shoulder and try to guess what you really want. But it should allow you to say no once and get out of the way.
  • So what? These people knew what kind of contract they were under when they started working, now they want a bigger piece of the pie. I have zero sympathy.
  • <I>I am a Linux zealot because I've been required to pay $150 for Win95 (these are European prices), $300 for Office 97 and $150 for for Win98, </I>

    No one forced you to buy anything, there are computers out there without windows and there are certainly other office suites.

    <I>my accountant uses Office and needs an Excel spreadsheet of my accounts, </I>

    I'm sorry to hear there is only one accountant in your country... what? There is more than one? Maybe you could change accountants then?

    Unless someone put a gun to your head, I don't see how you were forced to do anything... whine, whine, whine...

  • Fallows pointed out the customers that MS focuses on:

    What these two big categories have in common is that individuals are not the significant customers.

    This distinction is often characterized as the difference between users and choosers. First, there is nothing wrong with Microsoft's strategy. It is not even unique. Think about how many products there are that are used by children and marketted to their parents. If the children made the purchases, I guarantee that some types of children's clothing would disappear from the market forever, along with a number of foods.

    But, I've heard the comment a number of times from Linux users. They say that they have no objection to some of Microsoft's applications. The problem they have is that Windows is not a programmer's environment. It doesn't have a powerful, scriptable shell. It doesn't have a text editor with powerful enough programming capabilities that every routine editing task potentially can be automated. My own objection is that I must interact with the GUI even when executing frequent routine tasks that should be scripted and forgotten.

    The perception among open source advocates is that Microsoft doesn't care and doesn't even feel it has to care. From Fallows' observation, that is literally true, and not because Microsoft has marginalized us out of any malice. They simply never lose sight of who is really buying their products. Any competitor who can threaten Microsoft's hold on that market segment is a true threat to them. Anyone who can't isn't.
  • Here's the key line for me: The military famously prizes effectiveness rather than efficiency: it matters more that you beat the enemy than that you get high productivity per manhour out of your troops. So, too, in software.

    I think this analogy reveals more about the inner workings of Microsoft than the rest of this interesting article. It shows just how much the developer culture has changed within the organisation.
    In the early days of Microsoft's relationship with IBM, there were many fights between MS developers - who regarded the Institute of Blue Men's programmers as morons, and the IBM developers - who regarded the MS developers as cowboys. Programming geniuses like Zbikowski and Simonyi often found creative ways to solve programming problems (in the true hacker spirit) while the IBM programmers - since they were paid per line of code - would often go out of their way to produce inneficient code. Microsoft developers complained that IBM developers were inefficient while trying to maximise their own efficiency. This is all pretty well documented in Paul Carroll's "Big Blues - the unmaking of IBM" (and elsewhere).
    My point? Efficiency is far more important in software than effectiveness. I don't mean the efficiency of the actual running software, but the development process and the motivation that drives it. Microsoft's early developers were loose cannons with raw talent that was used to maximum advantage (along with some hard selling from Bill and Steve). But now they are just cogs - albeit important ones - in the huge effectiveness machine that is out to crush the competition.
    By contrast, the OSS movement has little to do with effectiveness since there isn't a central powerful body overseeing everything. But its efficiency is high thanks to the work of small numbers of skilled programmers.
    The effectiveness vs. efficiency model works well when applied to say, governments or nation states, but in software, I think it works the other way around. :)

  • If your only requirement for 'capitalism' is 'companies can try to beat up other companies and kill them', there are many better models for such behavior. You could try communism, where the winner gets to make all other companies against the law, or fascism, where the whole _idea_ is to come up with one big winner that kills all the others. To call this capitalism is extremely unobservant, because you're only looking at the companies.

    If you look at the companies' _environments_, you will see that the idea of capitalism is for different companies to provide products and services to _consumers_. This is unlike communism, where a central authority provides goods and services to consumers. The idea of capitalism is that the consumers, the buyers, expect to have a number of choices. If they only had one choice (the Winner), it would _be_ communism, except that rather than the government taking control and closing off other choices to the consumer, it would be the market leader taking control and closing off other choices to the consumer.

    Closing off other choices to the consumer is NEVER capitalism. It's the opposite of capitalism. Companies can fight all they want, but the assumption is that no matter _how_ much they fight they can't really substantially close off other choices to the consumer- that there will always be a marketplace, a whole bunch of choices of basically equal value. That's what capitalism IS! That's why it's often worked pretty well.

    In an age where market winners are increasingly able to seize control of the means of production and close off access for other companies, what we're seeing is not strictly capitalism anymore. Instead, it is a sort of decentralised communism in which the governing authority is not necessarily the military or civil authorities- it's the kingpins of economic sectors, the controllers of technology or commerce. Power used to only come out of the barrel of a gun- now _through_ the use of capitalism, power can also come out of the barrel of a contract. Through this development, capitalism gets to be the host for a sort of cancerous growth- only through capitalism do companies get to build businesses large enough to close down the marketplace of capitalism and replace it with a single-sourced sort of decentralised communism.

    Capitalism is all about what's out there being available to consumers! You can't even _define_ capitalism without reference to the consumers, they are the whole point of the exercise. The only distinguishing _feature_ of capitalism is this idea that the consumers get a marketplace of comparable products and get to choose among them. Without that, it doesn't matter whether companies are mean or nice- it's NOT CAPITALISM if the interface to the consumers is choked off. The attitude of the companies is quite irrelevant to this...

  • by Merk ( 25521 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @06:40AM (#1254580) Homepage
    My contacts at Microsoft knew that through the 1990s I'd written warnings about the company's growing monopoly power. So why did I want to work there? Because Microsoft had eliminated the competition. If you want to affect the program people use for writing, you have to deal with Word.

    To me that's just a huge cop-out. Maybe you can't expect the guy to know about the Open Source community and how to get involved here. But he must have heard of WordPerfect. If he truly felt strongly that Microsoft was a monopoly and he didn't like them, why did he decide to go work for them?

    He makes it seem that the only way he can help people us a better tool for writing is to become a Microsoft contractor. Huh?? Obviously if he's just trying to make the world a better place for writers he would have just told everyone all the features he'd like to see in a word processor. That way Corel could put them in WordPerfect, Microsoft could put them in Word, and Open Source developers could put them in anything they chose.

    So I guess it's clear he didn't just want to improve word processors but that he wanted to make money. He figured making his own word processor to compete against Microsoft wasn't an option. The next money-making alternative was to try to sell his ideas. I guess he then decided that Microsoft had deeper pockets than Corel, so he tried to sell his idea to them.

    I don't blame him for wanting to make money off his ideas. I don't even blame him for selling his ideas to Microsoft to get that money. I do, however, blame him for pretending that he went with Microsoft because he had no other options.

  • Plus LaTeX, Emacs alone can't produce professional quality documents. I recently gave up on Word and switched to vim and LaTeX, couldn't be happier. Word had a nasty habit of crashing just as I finished up the lengthy conclusin to papers. Plus, and this may be just me, but I can type \fontbf{blah} quicker than I can take my right hand off the keyboard to my mouse, move the mouse cursor up to the menu bar, click the b button, put my right hand back on the keyboard, type blah, take my hand off the keyboard to my mouse, click b and put my hands back on the keyboard. I'd guess with latex the command takes 1 second wheras with word it takes 5-6. I feel I'm much more productive with Tex, more than enough to justify the initial learning.
  • by rm -rf /etc/* ( 20237 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @07:01AM (#1254589) Homepage

    I tend to think word is okay, but it crashes a lot, right when I was doing something like saving... Makes me want to thank the guy who wrote autorecover. But come on, truly great software? And innovation? Such as? DCOM is a horrible example, NeXT could do distrubuted object messaging long before windows, where do you think they got the idea? Active X? I have yet to find a good reason for it's existance other than proprietary ie scripts that represent a large security hole.

    Seriously, I can't really think of something MS truly innovated. They did steal a lot of ideas and innovations from other companies and market them better though. SO yes, they are a marketing genious, but I don't see any truly great software and innovation,
  • Unless someone put a gun to your head, I don't see how you were forced to do anything...

    yep, and when people in our democracy decide that monopolies are not good for our industry, no one will force Microsoft to compete. They can be a monopoly that doesn't sell their their products, or they can make sweaters, or...

    whine, whine, whine...

    yep, and cut it out! If we inspect the reasons that we have laws and regulations, we discover that they are good reasons. You don't have to accept our laws and regulations, nobody is putting a gun to your head. You could starve yourself to death, you could depart from the computer industry, you could... nobody is holding a gun to your head.

  • Part of my role was to argue that it would be good for customers, and therefore ultimately good for Microsoft, to build in certain features that would make Word or Outlook easier to use. In some organizations the most effective scheme of action might be: 1) persuade the boss that this feature is a good idea, and 2) have the boss tell someone to produce the feature. At Microsoft the process seems to be: 1) persuade your colleagues that a certain feature will be popular, and that it can be created, and 2) create it. If there is something you love or hate about Microsoft programs, don't thank or blame Bill Gates; some specific member of the Microsoft team decided to "own" that feature and include it in a program. There is even a person who created the "It looks like you're writing a letter" auto-annoyance feature in Word. I had to sign a separate confidentiality clause promising not to name him.

    Have you ever wondered why a lot of MS software seems to be a great conglomeration of poorly-integrated features and functionality? Maybe this is why. There's nobody with a "vision" running the show, and as a result there's nobody to look at all the (proposed) features and figure out how to integrate and unify them. It's just a bundle of features, it's not a cohesive product. Sure, most things in Word are related to putting words on paper, and from a UI perspective there's a common look and feel, but some of it feels like this. For example, I count 17 items under the Insert menu in Word97, some of which are themselves submenus. Maybe this was done just for quicker access... but I think it's just as likely it was done little by little: feature teams realized they needed to be able to have a way to insert <their feature> into the document, and it just got added to the menu.

    One of the reasons Linux is what it is today is because of Linus's overall vision and ability to apply that vision to the code. I imagine Linux would be a hugely bloated collection of features if everyone were able to hack on it and add whatever they wanted in whatever fashion they wanted to. Instead, Linus keeps a hand on the rudder and an eye to the seas in front.

    I wonder what MS Office would look like if it had a Linus.

  • The point of communism is that everything is distributed through a common pool. "From each and every one according to his abilities. To each and every one according to his needs". A nice philosophy. Doesn't seem to work very well in practice. Has absolutely nothing to do with corporations.

    The point of capitalism is that *everybody* votes with their wallets. The idea is that everybody will vote for (== buy) the product that gives them most value for their money. There can be capitalism without a free market, it just doesn't work very well.

    This is the game that Microsoft has played, and played extremely well. So well, in fact, that the DoJ thinks that they are threatening the whole system, by destroying the market.

    MS did not get where they are by forcing their products on anyone (well not really). They got there because all those individual persons and companies found MS products to be the best buy.

    Unfortunately, if everybody votes for candidate no 1 you can't survive as no 2. It doesn't matter if candidate no 2 is better in some areas.

    Microsoft uses this. Of cource, they would be nuts if they did not. They use the system. The fact that they play the game better than the competition does not make them evil. Nor does the fact that I might gain something if they played it worse.

    It is just a case of how the sum of many rational individual choices adds up to something irrational (monopoly)

  • The manager at "Chevron" has to believe that they are getting something better than the others.

    Why? Does the manager at Chevron really need to think that her word processor is "better" than the one the manager at Exxon-Mobil or Shell uses? It seems to me that it's more important to the Chevron manager that her word processor be able to form a component of a more successful business model -- not that the WP itself is somehow "better" (whatever that means).

    One way a word processor can improve a business model is to cut expenses. Free software, usually being free[beer] as well as free[speech], can do that. Red Hat claims to be interested in cutting the costs of software industry-wide: even if they charge for software, this accomplishes the same thing.

    Another is to cut down on nonproductive uses of time, such as time spent rebooting or re-doing work that's lost in a crash. Free software, being developed to meet needs rather than marketing deadlines, is often more reliable than proprietary software.

    In short, the "better"-ness of one word processor over another is not something inherent in the code, but rather something that manifests when you take the word processor and fit it into your business model.

  • ...and it's there, right at the beginning. This guy used a Sol! Does anyone even remember what that was?!? The Sol was designed by Lee Felsenstein (from Homebrew) as part of his Tom Swift Terminal, and was one of Woz's inspirations in designing the Apple II. IMNSHO, it remains one of the Top Ten coolest hardware designs of all time. However, it wasn't very successful commercially, and Felsenstein ultimately faded away. (I have no idea where he is now.) But it was really cool nonetheless. Yeah.
  • Do you have any clue who James Fallows is? He's the editor of the Atlantic Monthly and a well-known author, with considerable influence in policy circles (meaning that policy wonks in government read his stuff and it has serious influence on foreign policy in the US). He's not some free-lancer who needs Microsoft contract money to avoid starvation.

    There's no reason to believe that his motivations aren't what he says they are. Working writers don't have much choice about using Microsoft Word; in many cases their editors and clients require it (yes, they could use other programs if they have a reliable converter to and from Word format, but that's risky -- we're talking career damage if the conversion has flaws).

  • Microsoft Word won. WordPerfect is irrelevant. Open source is irrelevant.

    I don't like it but I have to deal with reality, not the world as it should be. Microsoft's market share of word processors and spreadsheets is over 90%.

  • That was an example silly. Tell me what the keyboard shorcut is to write a complicated mathematical equation, align it with the equation above it continuing the left hand side from above, adding a reference number that can be referenced later in the text without worrying about what number the equation was, etc.

    Sure, if all you want is bold and italic, words ctrl-B and ctrl-I will work just dandy for you. I myself have some more complicated things to type and trying to do aligned equations and properly laid out embedded postscript images in word is a complete pain in the ass to say the least.
  • One interesting thing about this article is that, near the end, it mentions that MS is concentrating on the LORG (large corporation) market. This isn't the first time I've read this; even last week I saw another article mentioning this.

    SOHO (small-office/home office) users and consumers aren't quite the target audience for MS and their products. Which leaves another niche for companies to fill. It looks like Apple is exploiting this, with their iMacs and the Aqua interface to MacOS X, carving out a role not only with page designers, but also with general consumers.

    For the Linux centric, this means two things: If you want to compete with Windows in large corporations, you have to be able to also compete with Office and Outlook, not just the server market. Plus, if you want Linux to make inroads in the consumer market, you may have to compete with Apple, plus there needs to be a simple interface and apps that are tight, easy to use, and low on bloatware features.

    Right now, all I'm seeing is Linux being hyped as a server system, outside of SlashDot at least. When it comes to desktops, most people and companies would never consider it. Unless someone can market a Linux bundle that includes a decent (and Word compatible) office suite plus an intuitive, simple graphical interface, Linux will never break out of this niche it has carved as a server OS.

    Personally, I'm glad MS is concentrating on LORGs, as it gives Apple a better chance with consumers. But I also like BeOS and Linux, and wish they could carve out pieces of those areas as well.
    Tension, apprehension
    And dissension have begun
  • by Eric Green ( 627 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2000 @09:45AM (#1254637) Homepage
    is more of what the user already has. This has always been the case.

    Very few innovations have occured from listening to "what the user wants". Rather, innovation occurs when people with vision implement that vision. This doesn't mean pushing users out of the loop. The designers of the Macintosh, for example, were happy to torment hapless new hire secretaries and marketroids in order to test whether their vision would fly in the real world (that's why the original Mac only had one button, BTW -- they found that the hapless marketroids would get confused about whether to click the left button or the right button, not suprising considering that most marketroids are folks who failed as used car salesmen :-). But there was no big hoard of Apple customers standing around saying "we want an easy to use computer!". Rather, Apple's customers at the time (almost all Apple II users), were standing around saying "we want more gee-whiz-bang toys!".

    Substituting market research amongst the company's customers for vision is a common sign that a company is going downhill. At DEC, for example, their marketing department surveyed their customers and said that their customers wanted more and bigger minicomputers, and DEC obliged them, while meanwhile ignoring those "microcomputer" thingies that DEC's customers sneered at as "toys". As a result, there is no more DEC...


  • by Anonymous Coward
    I worked as an intern for Microsoft in the summer of '94. The article is pretty accurate in capturing the zeitgeist of working there, but it misses a couple of things I picked up on while there. There is an instituionalized arrogance and insularity there that made me decide that I didn't want to work there again in the future. Threre is a collective 'Not Invented Here' attitude that I found distrubing. The feeling inside Microsoft is that no other company produces software that is any good. Further, they seemed completely ignorant of research being done both in industry and academia to the point of actively ignoring it. As far as I could tell there were few ACM or IEEE members inside Mircosoft, let alone anyone following their publications. The other thing that bugged me was the inability to understand how others(businesses or governments) might view Microsoft's actions differently than MS did itself. For example, in '94 MS signed a concent decree with the DoJ over tying of Windows and DOS for computer manufacturers like Compaq. The internal propaganda was unreal and proved to be a preview of what we saw this past fall in the trial: total denial of reality. Anyway, three and a half months was more than enough for me.
  • Note that many temps hope that, now that 'permatemping' is not going to be the case, Microsoft will hire them as permenant employees, with full benefits etc. In some cases that will actually happen, as line managers go to bat for workers who have made themselves indispensible to their operation. In some cases it won't, as permatemps leave and are replaced by other temps.

    What this means is that the temps really WILL be temps. You won't have any more of this "permatemp" stuff being used to get out of paying benefits to long-time employees. For the permatemps who get hired full-time, it's a good deal. For others, it sucks. But either way, at least you're not in limbo-land, as you are if you're a "permatemp".


  • Really? What planet do you read /. from then?

    A bit of research shows that if the Woz didn't invent sub-pixel anti-aliasing, he at least got a patent for it a long time ago (US Patent #4,278,972 - invented 1976, filed 1980, recieved 1981) His technique used a neat hack of the NTSC standard that's used for color TV in the US, because a color LCD panel would have cost an insane amount of money - assuming that they had been invented at that time.

    Admittedly, anti-aliasing wasn't his particular goal, but he still did it (think Wrong Way Corrigan ;)

    There's a handy page at [], and several /. discussions of the issue: here [], here [] and here [].

    So I think that I safely assume that you either:
    1) meant to say that "Cleartype *IS* the same. As has been pointed out countless times."
    2) or are totally clueless

  • Actually, in many cases Microsoft has used their market lead such that they really DO force product upon people. For example, most school districts already have site licenses with Microsoft that cover Microsoft operating systems. Yet every #%@#$% machine that they order already comes with a Microsoft operating system pre-installed and the cost added to the price of the machine -- and the vendors complain that they must do that, due to provisions of their contract with Microsoft!

    So if you insist that Microsoft has not forced their product upon anybody: You're wrong. (Just ask any Linux user, who, until last year, was unable to buy a laptop without paying Microsoft for Windows -- if that wasn't Microsoft forcing their product upon people, I don't know what is!).


  • I quite agree, and can think of cases where being a pirate has made publically held companies successful and their stockholders happy while tending to subvert capitalism and reduce consumers to a more 'communist masses' state.

    Which only emphasizes the idea that what we have isn't capitalism. It's something resembling capitalism, but publically held companies change the dynamics of the equation drastically. Something strange is going on when a person can write in all seriousness, "The goal of a company isn't to provide a good product, or make its consumers happy", and be right. Only very large companies are far enough from capitalism that they can afford to control entire markets and eliminate choice- and only publically held companies are virtually forced to do this, given the option, knowing that customers will choose 'Give me better products' over 'Increase your own stranglehold' every time, if it's up to them.

    Maybe in practice we already live in some sort of entirely non-capitalist system, in which the means of production are controlled by cartels and consumers can be expected to not have any choices to make about their purchases, their options constrained to a bare minimum, with no prospect of further choices on the horizon, only fewer choices. If this is so, hadn't we better wake up to it and start considering the idea that capitalism isn't, anymore- that it faded out about the same time that communism mostly did, and now we have a sort of global combination of both, ruled by corporate interests rather than by governments?

  • The only thing I really want to know about MS:

    Since the program sucks, I wonder whether or not Bill Gates uses Outlook for his messaging needs. You think he runs 98, or maybe Win2K?

    How many times a day does Bill have to reboot? Does he fire somebody each time?

    Inquiring minds want to know!
  • Errr.. and how much do you have to pay for kernel 2.4.0?

    None. Are you saying that's an excuse for it to have bugs? 2.4.0 will need patches just like Win2000 and every other OS ever released. Know anybody that's still using kernel 2.2.0?

    What I'm saying is that game compatibility shouldn't have been (and wasn't) a priority with windows 2000. So it was added later with a patch. Big deal.

    ...$300 for Office 97 and $150 for for Win98, all of which has been sub-standard...

    Well, no argument there. I will admit that Win2000 is a vast improvement though. At work, I upgraded over my Win98 installation which had to be rebooted 2-3 times a day. Haven't seen Win2000 crash yet since I installed it last Thursday. A couple of applications have crashed, but I just got an error notification and that's it. I'm keeping my Win98 setup at home until full SBLive support gets into Win2000.

    As for the 1990's BMW, I don't think I'd want one...

  • You know, I've got a good friend who works as a developer on Word at MS, and has done since Word 6.0. (He's not the one who made the paperclip). He tells me that the mass of features isn't his fault. I believe him. I've been with him at (non-Microsoft) parties. When some random schmo finally worms out of him what is job is, the response is always "Wow, it would be cool if Word could do this!!

    It's kind of like being a doctor at a party and having to listen to symptoms. Of course, the definition of this changes with each and every damn user. Everyone wants to use their software differently. Fine, what we REALLY need is a system that can be:

    (1)customized by individuals or small groups, I mean REALLY customized, so one group can use a math module, one a magazine-module, etc. So I get a VERY stripped down basic module, and choose my add-ons. Sounds like emacs, TeX, right? But then there's

    (2)the subsets must be COMPATIBLE with each other. That's the problem. Not MS, but that all of us subgroups have to be compatible with whatever the LORGs decide to use. Which really focuses on the lowest common denomimator. That's the creeping evil of the LORGLUDs ("Large Organization's Lowest User Denominator" ;-) )

    So how do we get a system that does both? I think that serious thoughts should be given to current Office emulators: don't try to emulate Word, just be able to read Word files in the most stripped down way possible. Then, let each use DECIDE which functions are useful. EASILY.

  • Software is supposed to HELP you. vi (which is basically what you are looking for) is not friendly, or smart enough for most people. Word is.

    Word has an annoying habit of capitalizing the first word in a sentence for me. That's fine, unless the word is the name of a command that is not capitalized. At least when it flags fsck as a spelling error, it is polite enough not to suggest an alterative spelling. But, more to the point for me is the issue of support for languages for which the version I got doesn't already have support. Nearly every word is flagged as a typo.

    I didn't claim that my needs are those of the majority of Microsoft customers. They clearly aren't. I was just explaining why certain "features" bother me.
  • Yes, and the windows philosophy is make lots of COM objects that work together - proper - fast binary reuse.

    You don't go around executing new processes and parsing the output. You go and dynamically link with libraries and communicate using language-neutral binary intefaces.
  • So I think that I safely assume that you either:
    1) meant to say that "Cleartype *IS* the same. As has been pointed out countless times."
    2) or are totally clueless

    As has been pointed out many a time, Steve Gibson is talking out of his arse in this case.

    Woz's trick with the NTSC standard is creates color from using a higher signal resolution than the NTSC standard's signal bandwidth allows - basically, it overflows the luma channel and starts stuffing data into the color carrier.

    ClearType creates higher resolution than should be allowed by the physical constraints of the hardware by judiciously modifying the color. It also involves lots of energy dispersion, and the technique doesn't even work if you've only got two colors to play with - you need at least 64 values per R/G/B channel - not the ability to display "magenta" or "green".

    So, no, Woz - genius though he may have been - didn't invent ClearType.

    Try reading up on: - which is a page which shows in detail why the claims he made on the previous page - - are completely ludicrous (and this is coming from the same person!)

    Or this: 4/ClearType.html
    (which until recently [last couple of weeks] was referred to by Steve Gibson's site)

    and on here (which has actual screenshots of the tech in action) fault.htm
  • i heard a few years ago that microsoft fires the bottom 10% of their workforce every year (measured by performance reviews)? was this ever true and, if so, is it still true?
  • ...vendors complain that they must do that, due to provisions of their contract with Microsoft!

    So find another vendor! They have not *all* signed the same contract. The reason why they signed that contract is that they have something to gain even from a bad termed MS contract.

    A PC with preinstalled OS is *much* cheaper to make than a blank PC, postinstalled with Windows. Just imagine the volume of support calls from users installing windows themselves... Therefore the vendors prefer to sell windows preinstalled. Therefore they accept "evil" terms.

    I don't like Microsoft very much. I just want to point out that their domination is not neccecarily the result of big illegal pressure. A thousand small factors, each perfectly legal and ethical, is pushing their products. Every single user has found it in their interest to play along rather than to resist.

    Here is a similar case:

    Where I live there are two stores selling university textbooks. One "normal" store and one owned by the student body. The student store keeps the prices down, so that we get our textbooks cheaper than at most other places.
    However, the "normal" store has even lower prizes on textbooks.

    Where shall I buy my books? I save much needed cash by going to the "normal" store, But if nobody shops at the student store, they will close and prizes will go up for everybody.

In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our programming languages.