My conversation with Microsoft

Scoble recently wrote an inspiring piece about the new conversation Microsoft needs to be having with its customers. There’s so many things I wish Microsoft was doing that it isn’t that I think I’m going to have a hard time framing my ideas into something short enough to be called a blog post, but I’m going to give it my best effort. I’ll apologize to Scoble in advance for pinging his name several times today, as I have another post to write today that also involves him, and although I do at times shamelessly use his name to show up on his PubSub feed, today I hope he reads them and doesn’t feel like I’m abusing it :).

I think more about what I want from Microsoft is what I want from the entire industry, but if anyone can deliver it it’s gotta be Microsoft. I hear they’re hiring 10,000 more programmers here. How come they’re not writing software that will make my life better? Surely not all those people are writing device drivers!? They have more products than I can name, but I only use two sets on my machine, and that’s Windows XP and Office. Where’s the consumer focus?

Microsoft always sells on integration. So integrate the Internet for me. But don’t integrate it into the operating system. That’s so 1997. I want to be a Microsoft customer, but I just don’t like their operating system all much for day to day use and I want them to win me back with their innovative software instead of trying to keep me locked in with their operating system and proprietary formats (not that they’re the only ones guilty of this…ahem, Apple, where’s my OPML export from iTunes?). I want to see something come out of Redmond that I look at and say “Wow! No one has ever done that before!” I’d be happy though if I could just get some stuff out of Redmond that makes me click less. I want rich web applications but I don’t want to be locked into their CLR implementation. I want to them to let go of the reigns and sell me on their software’s features that will run in any browser on any platform and not write a platform that only works on their runtime on their browser on their operating system. If your software is good, it’ll stand on it’s own two feet without forcing me to stick with an operating system. Flickr has proven this. Yahoo has proven this. Google has proven this.

I don’t want to just reprise what Scoble said, but I need someone to simplify the amount of work it takes to make me an online persona. My presence on the web takes far too much work to make it all work nicely together. This is where MSN in comes in, but I want them to give me flexibility that Spaces isn’t giving me now. I don’t want to be, I want to be hosted at MSN Spaces. I’m also picky, and I want them to ask me what I want before they implement it. I don’t want a traditional integrated solution that basically does everything I want in one place but doesn’t any of it near as well as the best of breed tools, to the point that I’d rather use the best of breed tools and integrate them rather than use the integrated solution. Let me detail exactly what I have to do to be me online:

  • I blog with WordPress
  • I put my pictures up on Flickr which posts to my blog through XMLRPC
  • I edit my audio in Audacity. Podcast coming soon. I FTP it up to my server manually.
  • I edit my video in iMovie. There’s nothing on the PC like it I’ve found this week. I upload the videos to VBlogCentral so that they can be transcoded to three different formats. It posts to my blog through XMLRPC
  • I edit my MediaWiki (not 100% done yet, sorry, it’s coming)
  • I read my email in Thunderbird and I read my news in Outlook (kinda funny when you think about it) and NewsGator Online
  • I IM through Trillian so I can be on all the services

So what does this tell us? I want some integration! I want an integrated application that aggregates news, blogs, re-blogs, edits audio for podcasting, edits video for vlogging, and uploads it to a host, all easily and cheaply! More importantly though, what does this tell us? I want openness and standards. I want interoperability! My email is on IMAP so I can switch to another mail program at a moment’s notice or use any of a number of webmail apps that understand IMAP. I’m on all 3 major IM services because people can’t seem to make them interoperate. I’m on Flickr, so I’m obviously willing to host my data elsewhere, but I want to be able to get it back onto my harddrive easily, preferably through point and click. I do a lot of video editing, but nobody offers an application that isn’t fucking totally picky about the video formats it will important and export. If everyone can’t agree on MPEG4, then for God’s sake will Microsoft and Apple at least agree to allow their applications that do editing to interoperate with each other’s formats?!?! Will they both at least agree to pre-load each other’s codecs on the other’s operating system!?!? I’m seriously thinking about not supporting any company in the future in which enabling collaboration between people isn’t their primary goal, and any company who attempts to lock my data into a proprietary format is the antithesis of my goal for collaboration. I want to see Microsoft become become the open standards company it should be. I want Microsoft to free me from the data lock-in that they’ve been the purveyors of since they wrote Office and I want them to understand that whatever computer I sit down at, whichever OS it’s running at the time, is the tool I’m going to use for that session, and that I should be able to get to my data in an open format from any place I am in the world on anybody’s OS. I want Microsoft to think Wiki, not Word!

I haven’t been excited about Microsoft in years, except for the possibility that I might go to work for them at Channel 9. The reason I was excited about that? I thought I might actually be able to make a difference, to push Microsoft to excite people like me again. I am an online persona. I am a media hacker. I am a thought leader. I am the customer that everyone should be talking to. I recommend products for everyone I know, and if companies aren’t pleasing me now, they won’t be pleasing the people I know in a year. Microsoft, forget the enterprise for a year or two, they’re fine, I know, I work in one, and focus your attention on the thought leaders, and tell me if your sales don’t skyrocket. If it doesn’t work out, most likely you’ll only be a bit cash poorer, but if it does work out, you’ll have gained a rabid group of customers and you’ll have more to add to your warchest.

Scoble’s gotten the ball rolling, and I’ve helped it along, but it’s in your court, Microsoft. Go lead!

Why Microsoft should give away Virtual Server 2005

Virtualization as a technology is incredibly empowering. Currently, a lot of hardware sitting in corporate datacenters is sitting mostly idle (by some estimates, 80% of all processor cycles in large corporate datacenters go unused). The reason for this is mainly administrative. For instance, in my case, I could easily host almost all of my services on a larger 8 way or 16 way machine with storage on the SAN without affecting what’s probably a mostly idle machine purchased by another department, but there’s no way for us to functionally share administrative duties on that machine, so instead I’m forced to buy a series of smaller 2-way machine to break up the administrative load (meanwhile, they have larger budgets and they purchase the larger machines and leave them mostly idle). What this has done is cost the corporation what amounts to probably a 30 to 40% premium on hardware merely to solve the administrative burden of having me administer my machines and another administrator administer his.

I probably don’t need to expound upon the benefits of virtualization both from a management and resource utilization perspective. Basically, it stands to revolutionize the way hardware is provisioned. It’s the basis for the utility models that HP, Sun and IBM have been selling us (ineffectively, due to large overarching marketing efforts that try to sell us “Grid Computing” or “Adaptive Infrastructure” or “Utility Computing”, which even to most people at the companies selling those ideas means nothing).

Currently, in the commodity hardware virtualization space, which is completely different from what IBM and Sun are selling on their high-end UNIX machines, the solution has largely been VMWare ESX. I haven’t used their product, but I’ve been told it’s excellent. Microsoft has entered this space with Virtual Server 2005. Microsoft’s solution is based around a host OS of Windows 2003, and requires a CAL for every client accessing a virtual machine in Windows 2003 as well as a CAL for the Guest OS. OS Licenses for the Guest OS instances are also required.

With all the licensing required to consolidate machines on Virtual Server, with Microsoft winning dollars on the Host OS and the Guest OS, why does Virtual Server cost money at all? They’re going to make money on the additional Host OS CAL for every user accessing a virtual machine. Virtual Server technologically is still inferior to VMWare ESX’s Hypervisor micro-kernel based approach to virtualization. Virtual Server guest machines are limited to one processor, which is quite limiting if you’re planning on true consolidation. With these limitations and costs, Microsoft should give away Virtual Server 2005 free with a licensed copy of Windows 2003 Server, thusly encouraging adoption of virtualization, reducing hardware expenses for lightly used machines, destroying the low-end market for server virtualization that really shouldn’t exist anyways, and giving the higher market to VMWare while they improve Virtual Server. This would immediately remove the barrier to entry to virtualization and solve a lot of administrative issues at a lot of companies.

Interview Day at Microsoft, the follow-up

I received word today that Microsoft will be going for an internal candidate for their open Channel 9 position. I think they would be remiss, at least for this posting, to not do so. The job entails seeking out and getting interviews with personnel throughout the Microsoft organization. Someone like myself who is coming from outside, who has virtually no idea of how Microsoft is organized, would not be the best candidate for that position against someone who already has contacts throughout the organization. It would be akin for me interviewing for a print press position covering the White House or Capitol Hill and knowing absolutely no one in Washington.

It was an honor to get to speak to Jeff Sandquist, Robert Scoble, and Charles Torre (there was another very nice woman whom I interviewed with named Jennifer, but I don’t know if she’s as out there as the rest of team so I won’t mention her last name). If you don’t frequent Channel 9, you really should. I haven’t made it there since Friday, but every time I stop by I get pulled into an interesting conversation. Microsoft truly is leading in transparency, and even they don’t know where it’s going to lead. It’s a truly exciting time in the world of new media.

I received very good feedback on the interview, despite not getting the position. Apparantly the team felt I would be a fit for Microsoft, which is good news, but now I need to decide how much time I feel I can spend marketing myself for other positions. Interviewing is very taxing, and having gone through three in the last month and a half, I’m not sure how many more I want to do. It’s extremely tempting to just wait until the end of the year and take my package. We’ll see. I’ve got a lot of decisions to make in the next few weeks and months.

Thanks again to the Channel 9 guys for the glimpse inside their team and opportunity to speak to them. It was truly an honor. Keep up the good work.

Y! depending on Microsoft is bad?

In an effort to more frequently put on my tech pundit hat for the rest of the world, rather than just for the poor souls who really don’t care about this stuff but are forced to listen to me ramble on about it at work, I’m starting with a response to Russell Beattie, who’s a Yahoo employee and is concerned about Y! using Microsoft’s DRM for their new subscription music service. Scoble commented about this on his blog. Russell says:

So all this and I really didn’t mention Apple. Yes, Apple has lock in right now for their 10 million iPod users. Big Woop. It’s such a small piece of the pie it’s not funny and they’re going to get crushed like a bug. The thing is, by holding the only competitor to the Janus codec (FairPlay) so close to their chest, Apple is not only bringing about their eventual demise in the media market, but also everyone else as well. I’m sure Yahoo (like every other Music/Media service out there) begged Apple to open up their codec for the YME and Apple said no. That just gave Microsoft a little more power. It’s like 1989 all over again when everyone was begging to license the Mac OS. Two years later Windows 3.0 showed up and Apple is now at 2% market share. If you don’t think the same thing is happening in the media space, you’re dreaming.

I think you’re vastly underestimating Apple’s ability to not make the same mistake for the fourth or fifth time :). Sure, all their past history would lead you to believe they’ll go right ahead and do it again, but I think the strategy is really different this time. At this point in the game, Apple is in the lead in the digital music player market and looks to be that way for at least probably the next year. Eventually, as the early adopters begin to trickle off and music players are truly mainstream, I think you’ll see Fairplay licensed to low-cost competitors. Their hardware for now is their primary revenue source, but the iPod and ITMS is potentially the biggest bid to get into the software market, ever. The pent up demand for licensing of FairPlay, by the time Apple opens it up, will be extraordinary and should be a higher margin and higher revenue source long term than iPod sales.

At this point, Apple has no incentive to license FairPlay. Microsoft offers a strong competitor in terms of their codec and DRM, but the Bellevue Apple Store wouldn’t constantly be out of iPods if there were a good competitor for the device. Of course, I could be wrong, and Apple could screw it up all over again just like they did in the Early 90s. I wouldn’t put it past them, but I just don’t see it happening again.

Scoble writes:

Russell, is there anything we can do to help reduce your fear? What would you like to see Microsoft change? Yahoo is one of our most important customers and we only win if you do.

I think Russell is afraid for the same reason many Microsoft ISVs love Microsoft but live in fear of them as well. Microsoft makes great platforms that are easy to develop for and provide quick-to-market solutions, but Microsoft has a long history of becoming direct competitors with customers for which they previously only provided a platform. Microsoft is already in beta with a music store product. I don’t think it’s far to reach to see them with a device, after being continually frustrated with their customers inability to come up with a good iPod competitor (how many iPod killers have there been already?). It will have excellent marketing, will be easy to use, and will provide everything the customer needs with easy access from the Windows desktop or the Windows Media Player interface. Microsoft will sell the customer on the integration, and the customer will love it. I can see it plugging directly into your Xbox 360 which integrates with your home-office Media Center PC that’s storing all your data. Strangely enough, in this particular instance, Apple could actually be competing head on, and they won’t be at a significant price disadvantage. Also, if my above ideas are correct, they’d be licensing their DRM as well to their competitors.

On the other hand, Y! suffers from the same problem as all the .com companies did, and I think it’s a bit of crying over spilled milk. During the .com boom, the companies who made out like kings were the infrastructure companies (Cisco, Sun, Nortel, etc), because for every infusion of cash into every portal and content play, there was dollars being thrown into infrastructure. I think this is yet another case where the infrastructure player is going to make a bundle and the content companies are going to scrape by with what pennies the record companies allow them to take for being middlemen between them and the consumers. From Russell’s perspective, I think he’s exactly right. If you’re scared of being run out of business by someone who can offer an integrated solution, you shouldn’t be using their technology to power your service, especially if you’re already a technology company capable of competing in that space. Unfortunately for Y!, they’re just a little late to be coming to the party with another DRM strategy, and thusly, their offering will probably be largely irrelevant while the battle comes down to Apple and Microsoft.

Interview Day at Microsoft, in Text

(This was originally intended to go up yesterday, but it’s amazing how fast 2 AM comes…)

So, yesterday was my interview at Microsoft. I have nothing but good things to say about their process over there. They do some innovative things with their interviews that I haven’t seen other places I’ve interviewed recently (I’m not the first to comment on this):

* Constant feedback during the day. Every person on your loop knows things that people may have forgotten to ask you, etc.
* Your schedule may change during the day, with people added and subtracted.
* More than the specific position you’re interviewing for, they’re evaluating you for a fit for Microsoft. I suppose you probably have to be a company that’s got a lot of open positions to hire this way, but they seem to really want to place people who may not even be a fit for the position they were originally brought in for.

So, overally I was very pleased with the process. I got to interview with everyone I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, and they all had interesting things to say and interesting questions to ask. I don’t have much advice for people, as most people interviewing there are interviewing for programming jobs, and it’s hard to give advice until you’ve gotten feedback on how you’ve done. I’ll be sure to blog something whenever I’ve gotten some word back from them, but overall I ended the day appreciative of the opportunity to interview and hopeful for an opportunity to do something more. Overall, I’d have to say it was a great day.

They called back

Wow, am I shocked. I sent an email to Jeff Sandquist in response to his blog post about an open Channel 9 position. In case you don’t know what Channel 9 is, it’s a website at Microsoft developed and designed to increase community interaction between Microsoft and it’s Indepedent Software Vendors (ISVs) and customers. It’s been pretty effective. Due to their blogs site and Channel 9’s efforts, it’s become very easy to interact with Microsoft. You can probably find a developer on just about every major project with a blog, and you can read their posts and post comments to them. Channel 9 does interviews with major and minor players inside Microsoft and allows them to tell their story. Today’s video about the Linux team inside Microsoft was especially interesting to me. Know your competition.

So anyways, I sent an email to Jeff Sandquist with my resume, and they called me back in for an interview. I’m shocked and honored to get to go in and talk to them. It would an honor to work with Jeff and Robert Scoble (or he who PubSubs. Hello Robert! 🙂 ). I’ve watched their video that contains all the Channel 9 team members (minus Lenn Pryor, who just made waves by leaving Microsoft for Skype), but unfortunately I can’t remember any of their names right now. I’ll probably know them after the interview. The position is a technical evangelist position, which is possibly one of the coolest jobs possible. See my earlier post on the job posting. I’m really excited for the interview opportunity. Here’s hoping I do well :). Wish me luck. I’ll probably vlog about this in the next few days as well, but right now I’m busy coding my vlog finder web spider thingie. Something to show on that and probably a new vlog entry by Thursday or so.

Microsoft hiring a professional videoblogger?

Jeff Sandquist posted on his blog two days ago a position for a technology evangelist on the Channel 9 team. How cool would that be!? Basically, they’re looking to hire another Robert Scoble. The job description:

Technical Evangelist
The first job is an online technical evangelist to join the Channel 9 team. In the past year the site has grown in both traffic and content. As a result we are looking for another unique individual who has both the passion, the knowledge, and the skills to help us tell the Microsoft story online using video.

We are looking for a rare bird for a new kind of evangelism role at Microsoft. The ideal candidate will be well versed in the current wave of Microsoft developer technologies, industry trends, and competition. Experience in software development is preferred but not required. Strong digital video filming, editing, and compression skills are required as the team shoots, edits, and produces its own video on site.

You would be a member of a small team responsible for the care and feeding of this unique community. An active passion for connecting with customers and sharing your passion for Microsoft products is required. Strong written, verbal, and visual communication skills are required. Roles and responsibilities change quickly so flexibility and fast decision making abilities are a must. Experience with blogging, wikis, and social software technologies a plus.

What would be exciting about that job would be the ability to not only evangelize what Microsoft does well to the outside world, because they do do a lot of things well, but also evangelize what they’re not doing well back inside the company. I can’t think of a better job than one which gives you the ability to effect change, and the ability to effect change in a company like Microsoft is definitely about the top in my list of cool jobs. I’ve applied.