Scobleizer Weblog

Daily Permalink Sunday, July 13, 2003

You know, Brent Simmons is just the kind of customer I want. I doubt I'll be able to win him over to the Microsoft side of the fence, but I am seriously jealous that Apple has guys like him supporting them.

Some corrections for Dave Winer:

1) Microsoft's market share numbers aren't quite that high.

2) Desktop apps that communicate with each other via XML-RPC or SOAP wouldn't be Web apps, would they? At Microsoft we call those "Smart Clients." Not sure my dad would call Outlook, for instance, a "Web app." Doesn't look like one to him or me, but it communicates with Exchange via Web protocols (HTTP).

3) I disagree that Web developers are locked into a Microsoft trunk. Guess what, Mozilla runs fine on Longhorn (and I'll make sure it continues to do so). Oh, and if you haven't heard, the official Web browser on Apple is not a Microsoft product anymore. The Web ain't going away, no matter what "the royal we" tries to do. And, last time I checked, Scripting News, nor any of your sites, uses any Microsoft-specific APIs. You know, it'd be a whole lot easier if you just climbed into the trunk that we made for you. Heh.

See, this is where the whole "Microsoft has me locked in a trunk and that really sucks" thing doesn't measure up for me. I wonder, would the world have been any different if Microsoft had never done a Web browser?

I don't think it would. I'm sure I'm gonna get 500 comments by tomorrow telling me I've been drinking the KoolAid too long already. But, seriously, if you all were locked in AOL's trunk today, would your lives have been any different? How?

The other thing is. Microsoft isn't controlled from the top down. Not completely. That's a total myth. I've been here two months now, and neither Steve Ballmer nor Bill Gates have come and told me "you need to do this or that." The reality is that if enough Microsoft employees want to do something, it'll get done. If Microsoft employees don't want to build cool things for Web developers, they won't get done. That's the reality. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer can jump up and down and get as mad as they want, but it's the employees here who have to do the work. So SELL US ON THE WORK!

Since a few Microsoft employees read my weblog, take a new tact. Instead of saying "stop locking us in the trunk" why don't you tell us what you'd like to see on the Windows platform?

I'll make sure the right people see the best responses.

We're going to be inZane today. Going out later with Zane Thomas and Nancy Folsom. Zane's the founder of Abderaware, a components company. But first, gotta go buy some appliances for the new house we're getting.

Oh, and Ron, I'm totally with you about not being able to afford to come to the PDC. I'm trying to find ways to help people in your situation.

Don Park says that blogs will fade away within two years. Heh. Rich Levin told me exactly the same thing three years ago. Sorry, you're off by quite a bit. They won't fade away for at least five, and maybe 10 years.

You guys all give Microsoft WAY WAY WAY too much power. Yeah, we have $40 billion or so. 55,000 employees. But, many of our customers have not yet upgraded to IE6. What makes you think they are gonna upgrade to a "super dooper upgraded" Internet client within two years (assuming we had an upgrade coming this week, which we don't)?

That just cracks me up!

I wish evangelism was so easy. But, then, if it was, Microsoft, and Apple, and Linux wouldn't need a team of evangelists each, would they?

Mitch Kapor has commissioned a study of Desktop Linux operating systems.

I wonder, will open source advocates point to Longhorn reports on their blogs without any comment, like I've done here?

Tim Bray says "sharecropping sucks" and tells people not to develop only for Longhorn (or any proprietary vendor-owned platform).

I think he makes some really interesting points. The entire industry should consider them.


I disagree with him about why the Web became such a success.

I believe the Web became such a success because it was a single app that did so much. I was a BBS, then Prodigy, then AOL, then CompuServe, then came to the Web in 1995, so pretty early on (certainly not first, but certainly before 99.9% of people got on).

Why did I instantly like the Web?

1) It was one app that did what CompuServe couldn't do: show me links between communities. CompuServe and AOL were awesome. They had nice, easy-to-use interfaces, but it was very difficult to link my readers in one forum (the VBPJFO on CompuServe, for instance) to another forum. Plus, you'd be locked into a specific world (AOL users couldn't get to CompuServe content).

2) It was one install that brought you tons of goodness. This is real important. My dad or my wife isn't going to load a ton of different applications. Certainly not today's Windows applications. You know, the kind where you have to download, then double click, then tell it where to install, click next, fill in your name, click next, etc.

I've been using IE6 now for more than two years. One computer. One browser. Never upgraded. Well, I loaded some security fixes. I hate installing software. I keep feeling "insecure" about it. Am I messing up my registry? Am I putting something on my system that'll change all my file associations? You all know the suckage. I don't need to enumerate it.

So, I loaded the Web browser because it did a number of things (it integrated). That's exactly how Office became dominant, by the way. It integrated a word processor, a spreadsheet, a database program, and a presentation program into a single package for generally about the same as you'd pay for any single one of the others.

3) The Web was visual. AOL was visual too, but not to the extent that the Web was. AOL had a very limiting user interface. It forced you to display graphics where they wanted you to, not where you wanted to.

4) The Web did something that none of the others did. In CompuServe, you couldn't make a word be "linked" to other content. Impossible. AOL. Impossible. Prodigy. Impossible. That was the magic that got me onto the Web. I saw that I could link in my writing. It was an amazing day when I learned how to do it.

5) It was an open learning system. I could look at the source code and learn how to do it myself.

So, what are the lessons for today's "sharecropping systems?" as Tim Bray put it?

1) Make it easy to install.

2) Integrate more functionality than the competition has.

3) Make it more visual than the Web.

4) Make it an open learning system, so newbies can come along and figure out how the system works.

Some other corrections for Tim Bray. I have no idea where he heard that Win Forms would supersede the browser. Absolutely false. I'm using Longhorn every day now (it's painful, but someone has to do it) and I'm running Mozilla on it, and I'm running Google on it (and on the browser that's built into Longhorn). The browser is not going away. Not in Longhorn. Your "open source farm" is safe.

Tim, you also say that all user interfaces used to be "richer" environments. I disagree vigorously. Compuserve was not "richer." AOL was not "richer." Prodigy was not "richer." Are you talking about the APIs in Windows? Well, just what do you think Netscape was built upon? Netscape's code was written specifically to those platform APIs (Netscape built a version of its browser for each of the major operating systems).

But, now, let's look at the real argument. Is Microsoft getting rich off of the Web? Nope. In fact, by my calculations, we've spent $1.25 billion on our browser, and now everyone hates us because we did it.

Let's look around the rest of the industry. Adobe? They make a billion a year off of PDFs. Macromedia? They make a bunch (not sure how much) off of Flash. Borland? A decent amount off of application developers who build things like FeedDemon with Delphi. Name one big company making any decent bank off of the browser. One. All I ask you is one.

OK, I got a bunch of you, sure. Amazon. EBay. Yahoo. Google. Etc. Etc. Etc.

But, those aren't the kinds of development companies I think you're thinking of. And, even then, look at Yahoo and Google and EBay. All three provide a better experience if you're on Windows. Why? Could it be they've figured out that the way to differentiate themselves is to build custom features that'll make their systems behave better?

Aside: Tim also says "All computer applications fall into one of three baskets: information retrieval, database interaction, and content creation."

Really? So, when I'm playing Halo, where does that fall into? I guess, database interaction. But, Halo is impossible to build for a "non sharecropped system." At least at the moment.

So, where does WinForms play a part? Well, a few of the news readers that people like best are WinForms based apps. I have a whole ton of corporate apps that work far better in WinForms than in a browser. Want me to show them to you?

Nah, you probably don't. You don't wanna become a KoolAid drinker, do you?


Peter Rollins: "What can be accomplished at a meeting [conference]?"

Rita Bolar: "Why attend conferences?"

Ron Green and Sam Gentile are complaining about my constant "see ya at the PDC" stance about Longhorn (aka the next version of Microsoft's Windows).

Good points. I'm not doing it to create buzz for Longhorn, but to make you aware that this year's PDC is a "must attend" event, and also to let ISVs, who want to take advantage of Windows in 2005 and beyond (the new OS will open up large new opportunities for them -- similar to how Windows 95 reinvigorated the market in 1995), to contact me and start a conversation.

Some other points. Ron Green asks "what about those of us who can't attend?" Here's my answer:

1) I gave you about eight months warning so that you can start budgeting for it.

2) I'm pretty sure you'll find out about Longhorn somehow. Remember Windows 95? Remember how you couldn't escape from Windows 95? (Even Jay Leno was cracking jokes about it). This will be as big as that. I'd say bigger, but you guys already accused me of overhyping Longhorn.

3) You TOTALLY miss the point of conferences. Conferences are investments in your skills. If you think you can learn all you need to learn just by reading weblogs and MSDN, I think you're mistaken. Why do I say that? Have you ever sat with a Microsoft Product Manager during a meal? Ever been able to ask him or her about your toughest questions that you can't get answered? I've seen it done. I know someone that told me that ONE QUESTION he got answered at a conference saved him a million dollars in development time, because it saved him from going down a path that would have taken months to figure out it'd be incorrect.

The reason you go to conferences isn't to see the pretty new interface, or learn that our new file system will do XYZ. Nah, it's to get a leg up on the competition. You say your competition is clueless? Really? OK. I'll take you on your word for that. I think that's a wacky way of looking at the world, but OK. Particularly for a developer, who makes his living by writing software. And I don't say that just because I work for Microsoft. If I was in the Open Source world, I'd be going to the O'Reilly conference. When I worked in a camera store, I made sure to go to the Photo Marketing Association show EVERY YEAR. Why? Because the relationships I made there helped me compete. Helped me build new markets. Helped me figure out new ideas that made my business more profitable.

Some other reasons I go to conferences?

1) Find out what the competition is doing. When I was at Fawcette, I always went to see what the other magazines were doing. The consultants I knew would check in with the other consultants. The trainers, same thing.

2) The networking. Hey, Ron, you ever wanna write a book? Consult? Get a job at Microsoft? Get on a beta? Find out about new apps and new ways of doing things? Heh, even the Linux guys are coming this year. Why? Because it's +the event+ for the industry. Microsoft doesn't bring out a new OS, a new VS, a new SQL Server every year, you know.

3) The commercial products. Sorry, there's no way you can get your hands on all the vendor's products (and wring their necks) than if you go to the PDC. Yeah, you think you can get the same experience over the Web? Sorry, having a personal demo, and a personal relationship is 20 times better than looking at a Flash demo on the Web.

4) Microsoft relationships. Despite the explosion in Microsoft webloggers, only about 150 of us have weblogs. That's out of 55,000 employees. I guarantee you that at this year's PDC, most, if not all, of the KEY DEVELOPERS on the features you care about will be there. Think that having a personal relationship with us is "extravagant?" Well, before I joined Microsoft, I got on the Train Simulator beta by going up to the product manager at a trade show and begging. My friends, who tried, didn't get on. This is just a fact of life. A handshake at a conference will get you a LOT farther than even a phone call or an email.

5) Leadership in the community. If you wanna be a leader in the software community, you gotta go to conferences. They are NOT extravagances, as you put it. If you wanna be seen as a leader, these are MUST attend events. Not something you turn down lightly. Sorry for putting it that way, but imagine if Dan Gillmor, from the San Jose Mercury News, didn't attend Comdex every year. Do you think he'd still be seen as a "tech leader?" Heck no.

You say that doesn't matter to you. Well, that's OK. Many people tell me that speaking in front of people doesn't matter either, but one night I stood in front of 50 people in a Silicon Valley user group. So far that little speech -- which everyone involved, I'm sure, has long forgotten -- has made me $60,000 (and, continues to pay off at a rate of $10,000 a year).

Tell me again how not being at a conference is going to pay off for you?

But, if all you want to do is get the specs on Longhorn, stay home from the PDC. You'll be able to get those on MSDN. I guarantee you of that.

One last point. Sam Gentile is absolutely correct. The blogosphere has completely missed the boat on Windows Server 2003. But, that's cause most of the tech bloggers are Mac users and not server-side developers anyway. Glad to see someone pointing out that Win2k3 is a great new OS that developers should pay attention to. Sam's absolutely right that Longhorn is a couple of years away (not three) so that most people should ignore my Longhorn rants. :-)

Jeff Key asks why Windows still has so many nagging bugs that don't get fixed.

That's a tough question to answer. Why? Because every bug has a different story about why it's in there.

And, believe me, every bug does have a story. Fixing code isn't easy and don't think that Open Source would fix the issues any better than Microsoft's own developers can (they might fix bugs better, but then you'd have other interesting problems that you didn't consider before -- for instance, training costs. 100 million people have existing Windows. What happens if you throw a new version of the operating system out there every week? Does that cause problems that you didn't forsee?).

I think transparency on bugs would be really interesting to do, but it's incredibly hard journalism to do right. Why? There's a whole lot of reasons. Some political (how do you admit there's bugs in Microsoft's products without getting tons of Slashdot articles about it?) Some are just hard to figure out why they are there. Jeff gives an example of a bug that bugs him. But, where would I go to find out why that bug is there? I'm not on the testing team, so now I gotta figure out who has the answer. That could take quite a while. Of course, maybe one of the 32 Microsoft readers knows the answer.

I do guarantee you that Microsoft has incredible databases of problems with its products, and that those problems are prioritized and fixed according to roughly how many people are affected by them (and the severity of the problem -- crashing, for instance, is worse than something like a cosmetic bug that doesn't corrupt data or anything nasty).

Some bugs get put off until the future, too, because it means changing something underlying everything, which means that that code would need to go through massive testing. Or, because everyone knows that there's a new product or technology coming that'd fix the issue. My educated guess is that this is the case with the file-names-that-start-with-periods problem that Jeff answers (Longhorn will come with a technology that should fix this problem, for instance).

Some of my most interesting discussions with people inside Microsoft have been about "why is this bug, or that bug, still in the product." Believe me, in every case, there's a story about why it's still in there, and it's a convincing story. Someday I'll start writing about various bug's stories. I find them absolutely fascinating. But incredibly difficult to write about.

The Inquirer: "Is Microsoft's Longhorn a Bum Steer?"

Heh. You'll just have to come to the PDC to hear the real Longhorn story and see for yourself!

Harry Pierson: "...MSFT has a hands-off approach to employee blogs. I still don't get why this is such a big deal."

Harry earlier wrote this, which expands on the same topic.

Here's why it's a big deal:

1) It's Microsoft. If you haven't noticed, a lot of people are interested in what Microsoft is doing. I know that Microsoft's competitors are reading the weblogs every day. How do I know that? Because I have friends at Apple and Adobe who tell me the weblogs are and obviously the open-source community is following what we're doing here very closely. Microsoft's managerial leadership influences what the rest of the industry will do. Look at the reaction of Silicon Valley to Microsoft's new stock plan.

2) Because Microsoft tells its employees not to talk to the press. Guess what? Weblogs route around all that. CNET called me the other day because of something I wrote about on my weblog. The PI found me because of my weblog. So did Mary Jo. And I know quite a few other journalists (Dan Gillmor at the San Jose Mercury News, for instance) read here often. Now, you gotta ask yourself "why doesn't Microsoft want me to speak to the press?" Can we spell "trouble?" Yes, letting average employees to speak to the press causes Microsoft trouble. Let's just be honest and frank here, OK? You can really change the market's opinion of something by talking to a reporter. Weblogs are no different. If I start saying "XYZ tech is cool" then I'll bet that by the end of next week that'll be on You gotta ask yourself "why doesn't the anthill want me speaking on its behalf?" I can tell you why: because you haven't heard all sides of the story. I know that I sure haven't, after only working at Microsoft for two months. And I've had discussions with people over a very wide cross-section of the company. You gotta realize that Microsoft is 55,000 people. There is no way I can know what more than about 300 or so people are doing at any one time. I might say something that completely turns out to be incorrect. Even Bill Gates can't keep on top of this bear at all times. Did you realize that in 1994 he told me -- to my face -- that there'd be a Visual Basic for the Macintosh that never shipped?

3) Because no other large corporation is allowing weblogging. Name a corporation with more than 40,000 employees who has more than five webloggers. I can't name one. NEC only had one (me) and I left. Why is that? Can you spell "EMPLOYEE FEAR?" Most "big company" employees know that doing work with the public is politically risky. Many workers in these kinds of firms see folks who get quoted without being approved by PR agencies as "loose cannons" or "people who won't last long."

4) The PR traditionalist mentality. Listen, big companies have PR agencies for a reason. Heck, my group at NEC (which was very small) had its own PR expert on staff (hint: it wasn't me). Why? Because the "anthill" needs to explain itself to the world, and the way it does that is through very carefully scripted steps.

So far Microsoft has allowed weblogging to go on because none of us have done anything wrong yet. Just wait and see what would happen if I started speaking for the "anthill" though. Or, if I leaked a Longhorn schedule or build here. Whoa. Then you'd see the anthill write some rules really quickly.

Yeah, Microsoft trusts me not to do that. It's one of the reasons I love working here. But, make no mistake, that trust is a HUGE deal. I hope that other big companies follow along.

Before I joined Microsoft, I would occassionally come up to the Seattle region for a variety of conferences, or to visit a team or two at Microsoft. Many of these events would take you on a tourist boat ride on Lake Washington.

In fact, you can sign up for one of these tours yourself over at Argosy on the Seattle waterfront.

Now, if you're on Lake Washington, at some point on the tour it'll sound like this:

"If you look to your right, you'll see the town of Medina. This is where many of the richest and most famous Seattle-area residents live. For instance, on the right you'll see the house where the guy who invented the contact lens lived.

"Oh, and next to that house is Jeff Bezos' house. He's the guy who started Amazon. If you look closely at that big tree in his yard, you'll see a bald eagle nest.

Next to Jeff's house, you'll see the only historic house in Medina.

...A few houses down. "Now, we're floating by our most famous resident. Bill Gates. His house, built in the 1990s, cost a total of about $45 million dollars and took quite a few years to build. Inside is housed the Leonardo Da Vinci's codex Leicester. That alone cost almost as much as the house to build.

Anyway, we get to the point of this whole post. I've been on this various tour about five times. Everytime I always dreamed about having dinner with each of the people who owned homes along the waterfront so that I could hear their stories and see what it'd be like looking out at the tourists, rather than looking in from the outside.

Tonight my dream came true and it was 100% due to a reader of my weblog.

So, to back up a bit, let's go back. Buzz Bruggeman, CEO of ActiveWords, had build up a friendship with me the past couple of years, after reading my weblog. He got me tickets to Pop!Tech a couple of years ago. He also invited me and Patrick to stay in his home in Orlando shortly after my divorce. (His house, by the way, was the scene of Steve Martin's "Parenthood" movie back in the late 1980s).

Now, if you know Buzz, you know two things about him:

1) He'll keep bugging you to use ActiveWords until you either tell him to go screw himself, or you just give in and start using it. (I gave in ).

2) He knows TONS of people in the industry, and obviously hasn't pissed them all off yet with his ActiveWords pitches. In fact, if you have dinner with Buzz, he'll tell you stories about his Duke Law School days that are simply fascinating. Not to mention even Bill Clinton knows Buzz, I hear.

So, anyway, when I got my Microsoft job, Buzz started telling everyone he knew "take Scoble out and show him the town, he's a cool guy."

That, of course, made my head swell bigger than an overly-ripe watermelon, but so far he's gotten me some really great friends and some unbelieveable experiences.

That brings me to the wonderful home of John and Alison Dillow.

John is one of Seattle's most successful attorneys. (He represents Boeing in a variety of cases).

His home is the only Medina house currently on the National Register of Historic Places. Even Gates' home doesn't yet rank.

They are absolutely wonderful people.

We got the grand tour of the house. John collects antiques and loves showing them off. His great-grandmother's telephone from the late 1800s adorns one wall. I was fascinated by how simple it is (wood construction). I wish we had a recording of some of the calls that had been made over that telephone. Wouldn't that be interesting to hear?

They made us an exquisite salmon dinner on his BBQ. Then we played with some old pinball machines that John had collected.

Did we talk about anything interesting? Yeah, he told me that one of his law-school classmates hadn't done all that well in school (John and Buzz were classmates at Duke's Law School) and was struggling to find jobs in the Seattle area when he landed a job with a small software startup. You can guess the rest of the story there.

He also told us about playing hardball with the Iranian Mullahs over a suit that Boeing had with Iran. He held up about a billion worth of stock that they had in Krups until they paid Boeing what they were owed for some jets they bought. Maryam loved that story. Not many people beat the Mullahs and live to tell about it.

He told us about the part his house played in a Sony commercial that played during the Super Bowl this year -- the one where a rich guy gets sent into space and videotapes the journey. They filmed the beginning of the commercial inside the house, and on the dock in the front.

Anyway, I'm just thrilled to have had this experience, and that I had a chance to see this wonderful home from the inside. Thanks Buzz, and thanks John and Alison for taking a Saturday night out of your busy schedule to spend it with us. I'll never forget it. (We hope to have them over and continue the interesting discussions).

And if anyone says that weblogging doesn't pay, I have yet another story about how it does. You definitely can meet the most fascinating people by writing a weblog. Heck, you don't even need to write one, just show up at Jing Jings' in Palo Alto later today. I wish I could be there.

Have a great Sunday!

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Robert Scoble works at Microsoft. Everything here, though, is his personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. No warranties or other guarantees will be offered as to the quality of the opinions or anything else offered here.

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© Copyright 2004 Robert Scoble Last updated: 1/3/2004; 2:43:29 AM.