Monday, September 26, 2005

exits from microsoft article

the current cover story of business week is:

Troubling Exits At Microsoft
Once the dream workplace of tech's highest achievers, it is suffering key defections to google and elsewhere. What's behind the losses?
(you can read the full article online if you complete the free sign-up process)

this article has prompted a fair bit of discussion amongst me and my friends. one of my former colleagues at microsoft summed up the points that he found to be insightful:

- Google now has a Kirkland campus. this is a brilliant business strategy.
- students are flocking to Google and Yahoo job fair booths.
- bottom-up collaborative approaches are the most satisfying for engineers.
- a "have and have nots" culture is demoralizing.

although the article touches on an important issue, it tends to skirt around what the writer is trying to explore. take these lines... "Google ... embarrassed Microsoft in October, 2004, by coming out with software that lets users quickly search the files on their Windows desktop before Microsoft released its own version" and then goes on to say "Adding to employee frustration is the company's bureaucracy." the decision to cut the search bar (I have seen the original specs so I know that they were written well before Google's version) is part of the bureaucracy, but the article separates the two. one problem that I've seen is that decisions about what to cut aren't always made the right way.

another problem I have with the story is that references in these types of articles to monopolies continue to annoy me. for example: "Its twin monopolies, the Windows PC operating system and the Office suite of desktop applications." I love how these comments show up in articles that simultaneously talk about how Apple, Linux, and other open-source programs are cutting into MS revenue. reporters can't have it both ways - no matter how badly this writer wants the company to be split up :)

getting back to the topic at hand... contrary to the official microsoft position, I think that they better change something or they will be heading towards a staff morale issue - and it's not just about Google. there will always be some hot new upstart company that is drawing in talent. I used to work with a guy that had left MS to join an online recipe company (note that he went back when the bubble burst).

I think the bigger issue for microsoft is the way that they are treating their staff. MS has never boasted about its salaries - a large part of the compensation came from fancy benefits. however, instead of maintaining the stereotypically attractive software company benefits, they have moved to a model where most teams operatete more like a government office (note that Bungie Studios has thankfully been kept away from the large corporate culture). I only worked at MS for 3.5 years, but in that time I saw benefits disappear. for example, I was there when the stock options were changed to stocks awards (a blatant acknowledgement that stock options were no longer a compelling benefit) - oh ya... and the whole towel thing.

part of the changes were included in a giant 1 billion dollar cutback (according to the article, it went even further). sure it was noble for MS to try and cut its expenses, but what was the cost to the employees? this was one point that the article nailed. in the end, the actual value of the damage to employee morale is moot because the whole program was a giant flop. it didn't affect the stock price and I can't remember a single significant piece of good PR that it generated.

so while MS continued to increase its profit margin, employees were losing little incentives to stay. I can remember when I worked for a startup and another local tech company was giving out company holidays to the tropics. my manager said "you have to be careful with things like that because you may have to take them away - then you're employees are pissed."

microsoft is a very strong company, but they better show their employees some love.

Friday, September 16, 2005

next gen revolution

I wonder if the Sony people are brainstorming new names for their next generation console yet?

yesterday, ran a story about the Nintendo Revolution controller. it's apparent that Nintendo is actually trying to take a bold step with their new system. they are aiming at revolution (like the Rio), not evolution (like the iPod).

Microsoft has announced some interesting new features for their Xbox 360. but the true tie-ins with the "360" name haven't really been announced yet (sorry, I promised them I wouldn't print what they told me, so don't ask).

the upshot of all of this is that Sony seems to be the only player that doesn't have any semblance of a revolution-esque story. sure they've talked about their new "cell" architecture but the only buzz that seems to have come out of that is that developers are worried how difficult it will be to port code to the PS3. since the Xbox will be out first, a number of games will be concieved for the 360.

the good news for Sony is that they have a little bit of time to adjust to what happens with the release of the Xbox 360. just like Microsoft did last time (remember the shipping issues with the PS2?) Sony will have the opportunity of learning from their competitor's mistakes... oh and work on a fresh name.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

halo 2 hacks is out!

Note: this book has nothing to do with cheating on Xbox Live - don't buy it if that's what you expect to find. the book covers tricks, glitches and easter eggs. the only modding discussed in the book is the positive and creative kind. refer to my post Halo Modding Considered Harmful? for more info.

Halo 2 Hacks is available for your buying pleasure. the book should be on your local bookstore shelves in the near future.

you can check out some sample hacks on the o'reily hacks series site.

o'reilly sent me a copy and I'm thrilled with their work - they did a great job on the book. this project only served to reinforce my opinion that o'reilly is a first-class publishing house that boasts quality editors and other staff.

this is the same project that I discussed in these interviews: MTV 969 interview and Urban Rush interview.

Halo 2 Hacks credits
Halo 2 Hacks errata
Halo 2 Hacks: original blog posting