Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

Addicted to antitrust, Microsoft outlines 12-Step Recovery

Friday, July 21st, 2006

Antitrust addict Microsoft has outlined a 12-Step Recovery Program, which it says will help prevent it from lapsing back into anti-competitive practices in the future.

The declaration follows three major “interventions” in fifteen years. A 1991 investigation by the Federal Trade Commission resulted in a Consent Decree signed in 1995. A 1997 investigation by the Department of Justice, joined by a number of US states the following year, resulted in a conviction and settlement in 2002. And just last month, the EU rejected Microsoft’s claim that it was complying with a 2004 antitrust settlement.
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Microsoft's future file system dies, again

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Microsoft’s most ambitious software plan – to base Windows on a native database – has died again. The feature was originally touted in 1991 for ‘Cairo’, which Microsoft then described as an object-oriented operating system, built on top of Windows NT. Cairo was sidelined as a result of Microsoft’s focus on the internet, and the evaporation of the Apple/IBM Taligent OS. But the idea, reborn as WinFS, was revived in 2001 as one of the “three pillars” of Longhorn, now Windows Vista.

Now it looks as if Windows on a database won’t take place until the next decade, and there are serious doubts it will ever happen at all.
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The Canonization of St.Bill

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

St Bill of Shephards Bush

If William Henry Gates the Third’s philanthropic work leads to him being canonized one day as the first secular saint of our times, I won’t stand in the way of the celebrations. Geeks get things very out of proportion, and the value of saving even one life should be more apparent to everyone than the cost of a poorly written Windows USB stack. When Microsoft is criticized, while the practices of arms dealers, pharmaceutical companies and extraction cartels around the world are ignored, its reminds us that some nerds place a very low value on human life itself.

But if Gates is to be canonized as the man who invented the PC, and without whom our lives would be poorer – as he is this evening – then we should all be troubled, as it suggests we’re suffering from a terrible case of ignorance and amnesia. More troublingly, it raises the fair question – which we hope you can help answer – of what kind of qualifications one needs to have to earn the title ‘Henry Ford Of Our Times’.

Tonight the BBC discussed Bill’s legacy, and was effectively writing the first draft of his place in history. And in that painful BBC fashion of splitting the difference and losing the truth – there are two, but never more than two sides to every story – came to its conclusion. Bill Gates had been truly innovative in his earlier career, we learned, and while “someone would have invented the PC eventually” (we paraphrase), this incredible inventiveness could still be entered in mitigation when the final reckoning came.

So, Bill invented the PC? Even excusing for media hyperbole – and this is the kind of careless, but generous exaggeration you hear when someone has died (rather than relinquished the role of “Chief Software Architect”) we would like to put a few points on the record.
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Justice Dept slams 'Machiavellian' Microsoft

Friday, May 12th, 2006
Vista’s fate foretold… by Machiavelli. A prophetic quote.

trust settlement, and quoted Machiavelli to support its case for an extension to the monitoring program.

As of 1 February, over 700 issues remained outstanding out of over 1,000 submitted to the monitoring committee, which was set up to ensure Microsoft keeps to its word in the settlement to the long running anti-trust lawsuit. Microsoft was found guilty in 2000 of abusing its monopoly position, and a final decree issued in 2002.

The decree set up a monitoring program that’s due to expire next year. Now the DoJ wants to extend the compliance monitoring program for at least two years to 2009, and ideally to 2012 – by which time Windows Vista may or may not have been released.

The monitoring committee says Microsoft’s compliance is so inadequate that even Microsoft agrees it needs to be restarted. The software giant is keeping contractors in Bangalore busy as it races to complete protocol documentation which almost everyone agrees is useless, in time for a June deadline.

The DoJ quoted Machiavelli to describe Microsoft’s chaotic development procedures, which if you’re being charitable, explains its difficulties in explaining how its software works.

“He who has not first laid his foundations may be able with great ability to lay them afterwards, but they will be laid with trouble to the architect and danger to the building,”

That’s a quote from Chapter eight of The Prince, titled “Concerning New Principalities Which Are Acquired Either By The Arms of Others, Or By Good Fortune”. That’s where Machiavelli cautions on how to avoid “inconstant and unstable things.”

Perhaps he was giving the Medici family advanced warning of the Windows USB stack.

Bill Gates' letter to hobbyists (en Français, 2006)

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006
Free software doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as web hucksters. Not only is it a historical continuity of the way much of our software infrastructure has been developed, but it has encouraged commercial value to built through service models, or dual licensing. It’s a pity free software and open source advocates haven’t disowned the comparisons more strongly

European Court justice Cooke gave Microsoft’s lawyers a tonic yesterday, by raising concerns about the transfer of Microsoft’s intellectual property. But one shouldn’t read too much into his intervention – the judge was playing devil’s advocate. And the trouble for Microsoft is that it needs 12 more Cookes to spoil the European Commission’s broth.

Nevertheless, Cooke’s elevation of the intellectual property issue will trouble both proprietary rivals and free software advocates alike. Arguing the moral rights of a property holder is comfortable ground for Microsoft – it would rather be staked out here than be trumpeting its bold record of innovation, or its congenial and co-operative reputation in the technology business.

And the wholesale destruction of value caused by “volunteer” projects such as Craigslist, Wikipedia or “open source” software is certainly worthy of discussion, and should not be ducked. Craigslist is a business that poses as a non-profit, and by creaming off newspapers’ classified profits, is hurting communities and shifting power to the middle-class and PC-literate by destroying what may be a community’s only universally accessible media. Wikipedia is an ersatz “encyclopedia” that’s industrialized the process of propagating unreliable information, and its only commercial value seems to be spammers, who scrape its keyword-rich content for junk websites. Free software doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as these ventures. Not only is it a historical continuity of the way much of our software infrastructure has been developed, but it has encouraged commercial value to built through service models, or dual licensing.

It’s a pity that open source and free software advocates, many of whom find such comparisons odious, haven’t disowned them more strongly. For when an influential judge lumps free software in with hucksters and hooligans, he’s only citing what’s he’s reading in the New York Times, or our best and brightest think-tanks. This is the price we pay for having a witless and inattentive press – and a punditocracy too eager to grasp shiny new shapes or diagrams.

The plot thickens, however.

Especially when one considers the little-known fact that Microsoft has already offered to give away the source code to the protocols free software developers wish to work with, then we can see Microsoft’s true intentions rather more clearly. It’s an offer too good to refuse. What on the face of it looks like the moral high ground based on a defense of property rights, is really an artful strategy to isolate and punish free software. And on that basis, you can’t fault Microsoft for inconsistency – it’s a strategy that hasn’t changed since Bill Gates’ “Letter to hobbyists” in 1976.

We’ll explain.

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The Internet Services Puddle

Thursday, November 10th, 2005
What Ray Ozzie’s strategic memo really says.

Orgone

Ever the master of public relations, Microsoft has always been able to figure its way out of a tight spot with the use of a judiciously leaked memo.

Remember when AOL merged with Netscape back in 1998? Time to take a leak. Remember 2000, when Symbian was stealing the thunder from Microsoft’s cellphone strategy? Time to take a leak. Remember when the antitrust settlement talks had hit a sticky patch? Time to take a leak. Remember when Microsoft’s security woes finally became an issue? Time, once again, to take a leak.

The purpose of these releases is to bolster morale and focus the staff – Microsoft always seems to need a No.1 Enemy – and inform the press that it’s on the case.

(The memos Microsoft doesn’t want you to read such as this one and these two, are always more entertaining and enlightening.)

And so it goes. We know you’re very busy people, so in the spirit of the excellent 500-word “digested reads” offered by some of our better newspapers, we give you the précis of the latest Gates and Ozzie memos.

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Microsoft: beating itself back to health?

Saturday, September 24th, 2005

It’s masochism fortnight at Redmond!

Microsoft’s PR campaign of self-flagellation continues – with senior executives offering theWall Street Journal‘s Rob Guth an account of why Windows Vista will arrive so late and so incomplete. Thanks to the co-operation of Amitabh Srivastava, Brian Valentine, product manager Jim Allchin and even Gates himself – the Longhorn death march is turned into – wouldn’t you know? – a triumph.

The story’s subheads hint at both redemption – “Delay in New Windows Version Drove Giant to Develop Simpler, Flexible Product” – and punishment of the guilty: “Engineers Get Trip to ‘Bug Jail'”. However as we’ll discuss in a moment, there is no easy get-out-of jail-free card for the real culprits for the Longhorn saga: the senior executives who presided over Microsoft’s chaotic corporate processes for so long.

Redmond knows a thing or two about successful PR, and clearly wants to steer the press to the bad news in one lump. Business Week and Forbes lined up to chew the company out for late delivery of software last week. But this way, Redmond’s spin doctors hope, everything from now on will be part of a Microsoft comeback story. It’s a canny strategy that plays the home press corps sense of even-handedness … and short memories.

Which bring us back to the Journal, then. Last year Guth faithfully reported Bill Gates annual “reading week” while keeping a straight face throughout, and he’s come in useful once again here, in what might become an annual “masochism fortnight”.

Guth reports that Microsoft ditched the dysfunctional Longhorn, now Vista, code base in the summer of last year, reverting to a “clean” (these things are relative, we guess) internal fork of the Windows server code. This meant that WinFS wouldn’t ship with Longhorn, becoming the most important of a long list of features that had rolled overboard. But Srivastava’s teams introduced new testing tools to produce code more quickly, putting the project back on track. And lo, a Vista beta was delivered at the end of July with far fewer bugs than Microsoft expected, its executives report.

Gates and Allchin are even permitted to pat each other on the back:

“It’s such a huge step up from where we were,” says Allchin. “It’s amazing the invention those guys have brought forward,” adds Chairman Bill. “I wish we’d done it earlier.”

While Guth himself gushes, “The cultural shift is in swing”.

So all’s well that ends well. Or is it?

The Buck Stops … look! Over there!

The innocent reader, unaware of the Longhorn’s troubled history, might be tempted to ask why given less than a year and a “clean” code base, Microsoft couldn’t have shipped the Vista beta in 2002, or early 2003?

When Microsoft mapped out what Windows needed back in 2001, it did a pretty good job. Chairman Bill later PowerPointed these into “ten key Longhorn scenarios”, and the list included: Managed Code for better process security; WinFX to replace the ancient and crufty Win32 APIs; a better networked storage mechanism in the shape of WinFS; a graphics compositor to take advantage of the power of modern 3D graphics cards. Some were cosmetic, it’s true, and wouldn’t immediately solve the problems we outlined heremore than four years ago: “Why are my document files stored one way, my contacts another way, and my e-mail and instant-messaging buddy list still another, and why aren’t they related to my calendar or to one another and easy to search en masse?”

But at least the core Longhorn technologies would provide the foundation for addressing these issues in the future, and give Microsoft new competitive cards to play. Remember how it once planned to bundle SQL Server in every client? That really gave Larry Ellison something to worry about. Instead, the last few years have seen Redmond playing defense, not offense, against Linux, Salesforce.com and Google.

But at Microsoft’s Professional Developers’ Conference last week we learned that Microsoft is now evangelizing “gadgets” – and reintroducing a feature seen in 2003 Longhorn demos – the Dashboard! Given that the serious meat is not now going to ship in Vista, it’s eye candy and new device drivers all the way. And that’s very little to show for years of heightened expectations.

The problem now is that Microsoft develops software in its own image. At one time, when it was still in the shadow of IBM, the company saw itself as responsive, smart and user-focussed. Now that can take its customers for granted, the software Microsoft produces is as bloated and disorganized as the company itself. Windows XP ships with an OLE Calendar control most of the developers don’t even know is there. And six years after Microsoft shipped its scripting run-time – it finally got round to documenting it.

There are very few companies left who produce industrial strength commercial systems software: Apple, Symbian and Microsoft. And while Redmond’s rivals have had their share of problems over the years, few can dispute that their internal development processes are far more productive than Microsoft’s. Apple amortized Mac OS X development at $15 million a year: possibly less than what Microsoft pays people to run up and down its corridors with video cameras.

Few commenters responding to Microsoft’s star blogger agree that the week’s reorganization helps flatten the organization, or increase responsibility at the top.

“Windows 2000 was at least as big a mess as Vista is now. XP was basically the remainder of the 2000 feature list and it still took forever to get out,” writes one commenter. That isn’t an opinion – it’s a fact. Before Microsoft purchased a static code analysis tool developed by Intrinsia, Windows 2000 had over 200,000 bugs and looked dead on arrival. The WSJwould have us believe that new tools have once again saved the day.

But the inability to ship features as promised long predates Vista; the holes in the feature list simply remind us how many thousands of men years poor management has cost the company.

To lose one key Longhorn technology is unfortunate – but to lose all but one suggests that little short of a break-up, or fresh management from the top down, can cure these process issues.

Bring on the eye candy.

Bulwer-Lytton

Monday, August 1st, 2005

A Microsoft employee has won the Oscar of bad prose – and no, he isn’t even a weblogger.

Every year the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest honors the best attempts to parody bad fiction. It’s judged by Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University in California, and is now in its 22nd year.

It’s an impressive achievement, as the bar has been pushed ever higher over the years. For example, it’s hard to imagine anyone topping 2002’s winning submission from Rephah Berg:

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.

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New Microsoft Longhorn chief is indigestion expert

Friday, March 18th, 2005

Microsoft has a new star hire to head up its Longhorn project, Mike Sievert. And he brings a deeper and richer personal experience to the job than many of his marketing counterparts in the technology industry.

Sievert took up the post of Corporate VP for Windows Product Management, to give him his full title, at the start of the month. He joins from AT&T Wireless, which has just been acquired by Cingular, and before that he was at E-Trade. Nothing unusual there, you might think. But once upon a time, Sievert held one of the most important marketing posts in the nation: he was brand manager for the United States’ favorite indigestion remedy, Pepto-Bismol®.
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MS-DOS paternity dispute goes to court

Thursday, March 3rd, 2005

The parentage of the MS-DOS operating system is to be decided in court. Tim Paterson, who sold the Intel-compatible operating system 86-DOS (aka QDOS) to Microsoft in 1980 is suing author and former Times editor Harold Evans, and his publisher Time Warner, for defamation. Paterson’s work became Microsoft’s first operating system – it subsequently rebadged QDOS as MS-DOS version 1.0, and it was made available with the original IBM PC.

In his book They Made America published last year, Evans devoted a chapter to the late, great Gary Kildall, founder of Digital Research. Evans described Paterson’s software as a “rip-off” and “a slapdash clone” of Kildall’s CP/M, then the leading operating system for micro computers.
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