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May 31, 2005

The Next Leader of Microsoft

This New York Times article about Eric Rudder mentions him as a possible contender to succeed Steve Ballmer (and Bill Gates, effectively, since Ballmer and Gates are the same age) as CEO of Microsoft.

This was also mentioned by Microsophist, which had some comments posted to the effect that Rudder has some personality issues.

Personally I would be very surprised if the next CEO of Microsoft was not named Jeff Raikes. I can't see the company falling in line behind anyone else, at least not right after Bill/Steve. One problem is his age, I can't dig up his birthdate, but he graduated from Stanford in 1980, so let's say he's 47, just 2 years younger than them. Still I could see Steve sticking around about 5 more years until he is 55, then Jeff taking over for 10 more at which point he could be 62, and then the "next generation" of people who are in their 30s now would be in their early 50s and ready to take the reins. I know it would be bold and dramatic of Microsoft to appoint someone comparatively young as CEO, but I don't know if anyone at that age can accumulate the combined product, sales, and marketing experience you would want.

Of course this assumes that Raikes wants the job.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:21 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

"Deep Throat" Identified?

No not that one ya perv!! The Watergate source.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 29, 2005

Running in Marymoor Park

If you go running on the Sammamish River Trail, here's a nice way to continue your run into Marymoor Park. I knew that near the south end of Marymoor there was an overlook onto Lake Sammamish, but I had never tried to reach it. So finally I figured it out.

The easiest way I found is to first run to the climbing wall (if you are coming south on the Sammamish River Trail, cross the footbridge next to the car entrance, and then follow that path past the fields and playgrounds (and all the parcourse stops) to where the Veoldrome is). When you run around to the back of the climbing wall, you can either go straight ahead along the side of the building, or turn 90 degrees to the right. Turn right (if you look at this 2 meg PDF map, you are running to the west of the "Cricket Field"). Now you want to keep going in the same direction, but this means you have to cross the road at an angle and then continue to the back of Lot G. At the back you will see two white posts. Run between them and you will be on the Interpretive Trail, to the left (outside) of the Off-Leash Dog Area. At that point you are all set, just keep running, eventually you will hit a short boardwalk and then the lake overlook.

To run back, you can take the other part of the trail that leads to the overlook. You run on dirt for a bit (muddy in the rain), then you go through a gate and are in a different part of the Off-Leash Dog Area. There's a nice run on gravel next to the river (watch for frolicking off-leash pooches) and then you wind your way through the parking lot ("South Lot") and then back to the road. There are a variety of ways to do that part, as you can see from the map (as far as I can tell, however, the little section of trai right above the words "SEE INSET", which looks like a good route, is just a place where the grass/weeds have been mowed, so the footing is a bit tricky).

You can also run it in the opposite direction, but finding the trail is easier the way I gave it--the best way to figure out how get there the other way is to first run it clockwise and then see where you come out. A run from Luke McRedmond Park to the overlook and back (approaching via one route and leaving via the other) is roughly five miles.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Scoble Risking His Job?

In response to this article by Mary Jo Foley, about how Longhorn won't be built on top of .Net, Robert Scoble responded in this Channel 9 thread and said "It's true" and then gave some more detailed explanation: some spin, some reasonable.

I have read most of what Scoble has blogged since he has been at Microsoft, and this strikes me as the first time he has really stepped into dubious territory--discussing the internals of an unreleased product AND in particular doing so in response to an article that claimed to be revealing a "dirty little secret" about Microsoft. In other words, Scoble was not illuminating the everyday-ness of Microsoft, he was taking the lead in responding to a PR situation, before our PR folks had a chance to respond (there was some internal email about this the next day, and someone said "don't blog about this yet." No word if Scoble got smacked for this (I could ask, of course: Hey Robert, did you get smacked for this?)).

The original article is a bit puzzling actually. I guess it depends on what you mean by "Longhorn won't be based on the .Net framework." To me "basing Longhorn on the .Net framework" means that the core of the OS runs on top of the CLR. Were people expecting this--that Microsoft would replace the internals of Windows with managed code? What code would execute that code? It can't be turtles all the way down.

Now one of the developers quoted provides a more reasonable explanation of what was expected: "The original plan for Longhorn was to build lots of components on top of the next version of the .Net Framework". As for how that plan has possibly changed...ummm, nice weather we've been having, n'est-ce pas? The surprising thing for me is that Mary Jo Foley doesn't seem to distinguish between a) Longhorn replacing its existing core with managed code, and b) Longhorn adding lots of new components that are managed code. There's a huge difference in these two, in risk, time required, architectural issues, etc. and the conclusion you can draw is that Mary Jo Foley doesn't really know a whole lot about how operating systems are implemented (in fact the 3 people she quotes in her article, who are evidently supposed to be bolstering one argument, are really talking about three different expectations people had, resulting in confusion about exactly what she is claiming has changed and why; but once again, she doesn't appear to notice).

Yet, Foley is a very influential person in the industry, and obviously has a lot of great contacts. I've commented on this before, that people who cover the car industry (as an example) seem like the types who can replace their own head gaskets and know an intake manifold from a hole in the wall. The computer press, by and large, does not create the same impression of hands-on experience--I don't think many of them have ever cracked open a compiler manual. So you get a "dirty little secret" like this that scurries around the tech world and I'm sitting here thinking "WTF? Slow news day?" I'm not (really) trying to complain, just pointing out that this is the environment Microsoft has to PR in.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:40 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Death of the Joke

There was an article recently in The New York Times titled "Seriously, the Joke Is Dead" (since the NYT requires registration, I linked to a copy in a Florida paper). It's really true: you don't hear anyone telling "joke" jokes -- the ones that you have to introduce with a setup line like "Here's a joke", so that people know that what you are about to say isn't going to be funny at first, and may make no sense for a while. In our deconstructed world, just having to say "Here's a joke" seems hopelessly corny and ruins the joke. Instead it's just continuous riffing on whatever the last person said.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 28, 2005

Scott Berkun, Smart People, Bad Ideas

Scott Berkun, former Microsoftie, just got slashdotted with an essay about "Why smart people defend bad ideas". It's a very interesting essay. I'm not crazy about his examples, but his portrayal of the bad-idea-defender is dead on: "Until they come face to face with someone who is tenacious enough to dissect their logic, and resilient enough to endure the thinly veiled intellectual abuse they dish out during debate (e.g. 'You don’t really think that do you?' or 'Well if you knew the rule/law/corollary you wouldn’t say such things'), they’re never forced to question their ability to defend bad ideas." And then again: "Smart people, or at least those whose brains have good first gears, use their speed in thought to overpower others. They’ll jump between assumptions quickly, throwing out jargon, bits of logic, or rules of thumb at a rate of fire fast enough to cause most people to become rattled, and give in. When that doesn’t work, the arrogant or the pompous will throw in some belittlement and use whatever snide or manipulative tactics they have at their disposal to further discourage you from dissecting their ideas."

Scott Berkun has a book just out called The Art of Project Management (currently zoomin' up the charts thanks to his /. link). I went to a talk he gave last fall at Microsoft about project management. And I didn't like the talk at all. In fact I took a whole page of notes about what I didn't like (which I never bothered sending, natch). The biggest complaint I had, in fact, was a classic "smart-person-defending-bad-idea" move he pulled. He had showed a graph of how projects get behind schedule, then have to adjust back to schedule, then get behind again, etc. He suggested just moving the line to the left, so that they started ahead of schedule and only slipped back to "on schedule", at which point they should be adjusted to be ahead of schedule again. OK, fine, sounds good. But later on he said that it was wrong to incorporate slack time in schedules because people just procrastinated. Someone immediately asked (and the whole audience presumably thought), "Wait a minute, isn't your suggestion for scheduling the project ahead just another way of saying you include slack time?" Which of course it is. Berkun refused to admit this, and displayed several of the behaviors he rails against in his essay. First he simply asserted they were two different things and the questioner just couldn't see why, then when that didn't work he explained that he had a lot of experience in project management so we should believe him, then when THAT didn't work he just said, "Well, I think we should move on, we have a lot to cover in this talk."

Berkun was evidently very successful at Microsoft, and this behavior is in fact characteristic of successful people at Microsoft. Losing an argument in public is a bad career move, and dragging a meeting down a rathole is also a bad career move. So when someone calls you on a bad idea, the tried-and-true behavior is to first try to bluster through, then when that fails quickly switch to "let's take this offline" (where you can safely lose the argument in private). Presto, instant status.

But the fact that I witnessed Berkun being guilty of the exact behavior he is strategizing against actually encourages me to consider reading his book--something I had dismissed after watching him talk. Because as I said, the essay is quite good (the book also has good blurbs and reviews, and I would not be surprised if it is indeed more entertaining than the typical project management tome). Maybe in this case those who don't do can still be good teachers. Perhaps Berkun's experience was gained working for the dark side of the Force, but the fact is that you have to deal with people who throw out intellectually bankrupt ideas. If Berkun's book has as much good advice as his essay, then it could be worth reading--for one thing, if you ever plan on running into him.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:58 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 27, 2005

Trying to Debug my Home Access

KC Lemson sent email asking in which browser OWA was failing. It fails both in Firefox 1.0 and in IE 6.0.2900.2180 (I'm posting this here instead of sending email because my email from home isn't working...).

There's actually 2 OWA errors. If I run the Premium View, it always hangs going into my Inbox with "Loading..." displayed where the messages should be.

If I run the Basic View or try it in Firefox (where it doesn't offer the Premium View as an option), then I get an error when I click send. In both browsers it displays the text "javascript:SetCmd(cmdSend);" when I hover over the Send button; in IE it displays "Error on page" when I click it, in Firefox it does nothing.

Meanwhile, I still can't get RPC-over-HTTP to work. I ran a network monitor and Outlook seems to not even try to contact my HTTP proxy server (I won't print the name here, but it's the main E12 dogfood machine). Instead it tries to obsessively contact my DF-XXX-MSG machine, both plain and with my DNS Suffix Search List (which persists from Microsoft, even when I get my IP address from my DSL DHCP server) appended.

There was one strange thing, when I was home futzing with this it somehow managed to download one email (actually it was KC's message offering to help with OWA). Like RPC-over-HTTP worked for a minute and then died again. Verrrry strange.

I also installed the latest RAS connection software when I was at work today, and now it seems to connect, but then 2 seconds later I get a "critical error" and csrss.exe goes into CPU-chewing mode for 5 minutes. Rinse, repeat.

Well, that just shot my entire Friday evening.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:14 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 26, 2005

My Declining Home Connectivity

A while ago I blogged about the cool technology I could use to connect from home. Only problem is the technology has mostly crapped out in recent months.

First I mysteriously lost the ability to RAS in from home. One day it worked, the next day it didn't. When you RAS in you are basically on the corporate network, so you can look at the bug database, check files in and out from source control, view internal websites, read email, etc. I called Microsoft helpdesk to try to debug it, but they didn't have much to suggest except that my DSL provider had decided to block such-and-such port. Who knows, maybe they were right. I never bothered to investigate more.

Mostly because I could still run email from home using RPC-over-HTTP. The main thing I usually want to do on weekends is keep up with email. So full RAS is usually not needed. RCP-over-HTTP worked fine until we moved to an Exchange "dogfood" server. A dogfood server means my Exchange server is an alpha version of Exchange 12. Microsoft believes in "eating your own dogfood", so for Exchange this means moving users over--by the time Exchange 12 ships, the whole company will probably be on it. The email server itself works fine, and RPC-over-HTTP was supposed to work fine, except it doesn't. Helpdesk didn't know what was going on either.

So now I am reduced to running Outlook Web Access. OWA actually works pretty well, and dogfood Exchange supports it. Except I discovered the other day that when I compose email, "Send" doesn't work. So I can read email, but I can't send any.

I suppose I should look into why OWA is broken, since occasionally I do need to respond to urgent email from home. I seem to be getting along fine without the other stuff however.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:16 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack


From Scoble I got a link to Roland Piquepaille's link to an interview he did with Vincent Lauriat from Microsoft France [quick translation of the interview: WTF? Seemed like a good idea in 2002, took off in 2004. Hmm? More people decided to blog. How many? About 30 on Microsoft sites, 10 elsewhere. Censorship? No. Who else? These guys. Used internally? Basically yes. Results? Slow but positive. Future? Merge Technet and MSDN, RSS gains].

One of the people that Vincent mentioned was Franck Halmaert, whose blog features XaMaLa. Who is XaMaLa? Evidently he/she/it is the mascot for InfoPath/XML, Live Communications Server, Office Communicator, and Live Meeting. That's XaMaLa on the left there.

Naturally I got curious where XaMaLa came from. Is it some worldwide thing to make XML seem friendlier? No, it seems mostly limited to France. Actually it seems mostly limited to Microsoft France. Actually it seems mostly limited to Franck's blog. Although in a post after this article, he says it came from the marketing department of Microsoft France, but it also seems like it's Franck's online alter-ego. Why a black ant? No idea. Does XML seem less terrifying now? Maybe.

Posted by AdamBa at 06:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 23, 2005

"Information At Your Fingertips", 14 1/2 Years Later

On November 12, 1990, Bill Gates gave the keynote address at Fall Comdex. The speech was titled "Information At Your Fingertips" and laid out Bill's vision of personal computing in the 1990s. I recently watched the video, to see how accurate his vision had been.

The video naturally has historical amusement value. The Bill Gates you see is the sunken cheeks, giant glasses Gates of old. Gates opens the talk by mentioning that at his previous Comdex keynote, in 1983, his father had run the slide projector. Before his talk, there is an announcement from Jason Chudnofsky, President and COO of The Interface Group (organizers of Comdex), that the first Windows World conference will be held the following spring. Mike Hallman is the president of Microsoft. And the videos that Gates show are full of references to the then-current craze over the television show "Twin Peaks", with repeated instances of mass donut consumption and discussion of damn fine cherry pie.

But Gates is there with a serious matter to discuss. It's hard to imagine it now, but he was concerned about the industry. Personal computer growth had decreased each year from 1986 to 1990 (more computers were sold every year, but the rate of increase was slowing). As Gates put it, "The personal computer industry is faced this year with a question: will it continue to be an innovative, high-growth industry?" Gates worried that 1991 might actually have zero growth. No growth would represent a contradiction -- a contradiction with Microsoft's vision of a computer on every desk and in every home. What to do?

In 1990, network cards were rare in computers; the 386 microprocessor and VGA were just becoming standards. The hardware industry was split between the EISA and MCA buses, and the GUI operating system market was a battle between Windows and OS/2. Meanwhile, software users were complaining about the difficulty of configuring their systems, cryptic error messages that made support difficult, and the tediousness of applying updates. Furthermore, people had a narrow view of computers: they were useful for word processing and spreadsheets, but little else. Businesses had difficulty justifying purchases of computers that employees used so little; the benefits were difficult to explain.

Gates recognized that all these issues were hurting the whole industry. What he was pushing was a common vision to drive demand for software, allow the PC industry to continue to grow: "It's interesting to think what the software industry will do with machines that will deliver over 100 million instructions per second running on the desktop." Gates had some ideas on what software could do to entice users to demand that kind of horsepower.

He first mentions some exciting new software: a network search tool called Unite, a news aggregator called News Edge, an information gathering tool called InfoAlliance, workflow software called Fileshare, and Lotus Notes. What these have in common is that they are focussed on making information available to users. This leads into Gates laying out his vision for "Information At Your Fingertips": "Someone can sit down at their PC and see the information that's important for them. If they want more detail, they ought to just point and click and that detail should come up on the screen for them." Information, as defined by Gates, was "All the information that someone might be interested in, including information they can't even get today."

Gates then lays out four scenarios for IAYF:

  • A coffee roaster whose plant burns down, requiring them to reallocate capacity and notify clients. They can't get access to capacity information because it's on a non-networked computer, and their email system is not set up yet. To help them, Gates shows a future desktop with integrated email, voice recorded, and search. The email can include voice attachments and compound documents. You can drag items to the desktop, and right-clicking the mouse gives you a context-sensitive menu.
  • A delivery person who is on the road all day. His delivery list is a printout that is 24 hours old, he spend too much time on paperwork, and he doesn't have his customer history information available. Gates showed a tablet PC with a gesture-driven pen interface, with a cell phone included so the drive can dial in to exchange information with the home office.
  • A couple finishing up their house, who need help visualizing their kitchen, choosing colors, and comparing appliances. Gates demos a desktop query tool, 3D modeling software, and an online home appliance with motion video.
  • Students who want to use computers for education. They only use computers for games and word processing. For them, Gates has a multimedia encyclopedia including audio and video clips, and points out that for this kind of application, "the value goes beyond the code to the content."

Gates them summarizes the five things needed: A more "personal" personal computer; transparent application integration; integrated fax, voice, and email; company wide networks without complexity; and easy access to a broad range of information. His goal is to "make the network an asset, not a liability".

So how did Gates do at predicting the future?

In one sense he nailed it. The demos he gave in 1990 look exactly like the software of today. Of course Gates was predicting this would be available in three years; it took more like 10, and although current software matches the demos, it doesn't really exceed them. The vision took longer than expected to become reality.

But Gates also made one huge, glaring omission. In November 1990, Tim Berners-Lee was working on the first web browser. Beyond a passing mention of "online information publishers", Gates completely missed the notion that information would be coming from a worldwide network. He wanted "a vast array of information to be available to users", but the searching tools he talked about were searching only a corporate network; the multimedia applications were delivered on CD.

If you think of Gates talking about "Information At Your Fingertips" in 1990 and not mentioning the Internet, it seems hopelessly misguided. But in fact "Information At Your Fingertips", while a snappy marketing phrase, was not really what Gates was talking about. What he was really talking about was "Information Displayed On Your Computer In a Useful Way". His interest was not so much where the information came from as it was making the PC a great tool for presenting the information. This means it had to include networking, video, and sound. Once the computer has that capability, it can be easily repurposed into displaying web content--it's just software at that point. Gates, and a lot of the industry, spent some time wandering down the path of CD-based multimedia shovelware, but the end result was PCs that were affordable and widespread, with the hardware needed to make the Web compelling. Gates actually gave an updated IAYF keynote speech at Comdex four years later, which was basically the same speech with the Internet mixed in, and in which he also acknowledge that a good timeframe for all this coming true would be...the year 2005.

Anyway it's hard to argue with the results. Yes, personal computer sales growth was almost flat in 1991, hurt by the recession. People continued to complain about the difficulty of configuring their systems, cryptic error messages that made support difficult, and the tediousness of applying updates--a chorus that continues to this day. But for the rest of the decade, the industry rode a rocket to success, with Comdex peaking at over 200,000 visitors in the late 1990s (before going extinct in recent years). And for Microsoft and Bill Gates, as Jason Chudnofsky said back in 1990, "the rest is history".

Posted by AdamBa at 09:54 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 19, 2005

Survival of C89.5 in Doubt

Since there has been some discussion of alternative radio, here's an article about how C89.5 (aka KNHC) might be sold. For those who don't know, C89.5 is another Seattle radio station that plays a wide range of music, mostly dance but they have some other shows also. Remixes, mash-ups, random stuff they pulled off the Internet, plus they have DJs who mix their own stuff.

The station is actually run by students at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle. The Seattle School Board is strapped for cash, in fact it just attempted to close some schools but got shot down by parents. So they are looking for money and C89.5 is a juicy target either just to shut it down and save $100K a year, or else selling it, which they think might bring in $8 million (they have a little "balance the budget" game if you want to take crack at it).

Closing C89.5 would be terrible for all concerned, but of course if you want to dance, you gotta pay the piper. If you want to pledge to C89.5, you can do so here.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 18, 2005

Ship-It Award, Version 3

KC Lemson was kind enough to send me a picture of her version 3 Ship-It Award:

Although someone said in a comment (which I think I managed to delete by accident $#@$%#) that there was a version 4a, that was like version 4, but taller. I don't recall seeing that, but who knows, it sounds like it was only issued for a short time and I wasn't at Microsoft then.

I should mention that I do like the Ship-It Award. Joel Spolsky complains about them, but really he is just using the Ship-It award as the launching point to complain about reviews and incentive bonuses. The Ship-It Award and the little plaques were not meant to be a reward by themselves. The idea was to show some tangible recognition of the fact that shipping software was what it was all about, and if you had worked there for 5 years and had no Ship-It Awards, what had you been working on (besides Longhorn, ha ha)? Somehow the program came under ridicule at first, people complained about the Lucite slabs and the silliness of it, but they were missing the point. There were some stumbles as they decided what to do with localizers and admins and web shipping and all that, but for a developer like me, it did make sense.

According to here, Lucite is a trademark for a particular cast acrylic resin. Thus the awards should probably be described as acrylic, not Lucite. Here's something claiming that acrylic can be recycled (when the Ship-It Awards first came out, a nonplussed developer actually sent email asking if anyone wanted to recycle their plaques, they would look into it).

Posted by AdamBa at 10:39 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 17, 2005

Moving Again

It's been almost exactly six months since I last moved offices, and tomorrow we are moving again. I am losing my beautiful view of the NE 40th St overpass (with Mt. Baker in the background), and instead I get a view of a tree two feet outside my window. I was hopeful that I would be able to see the impending new campus construction, which is in the direction that my office looks, but I'm not high enough up.

For this move they are kicking us out Wednesday at 5 pm and letting us back in Monday at 9 am. I remember when I was a huge deal when we got one day off for a move back in 1990, because most moves were just done over a weekend. But that was back when an entire building might have 300 people in it. I heard this move involves 600 people. Taking off 2 days each is 5 man-years!

When I moved the first time they told us this second move was imminent, so I deliberately did not unpack my boxes, except for items that I specifically needed. I only had 2 boxes to begin with, I was trying to stay light on my feet. In a way I am cheating, because all the stuff I accumulated in my first decade at Microsoft (that would normally be piling up in my office) is still in boxes in my garage.

For example my Ship-It Award. Thinking about that made me wonder if photographs existed on the web of the different styles of Ship-It Awards through the years. Well, the answer is "almost":

The first picture shows the original award, from Joel Spolsky's rant about them. The second picture shows version 2 (which is like version 1 but with a larger, fancier black insert in the Lucite) and version 4 from the website of someone who I guess was an SDE at Microsoft, then a closeup of version 4 from some dude's photo album. However, I can't find a photo of version 3 (the one that looks most like a tombstone).

Now, when I pack for this next move, will I have the guts to throw out everything that is still in the box from 6 months ago? Stay tuned.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 16, 2005

As the Dial Turns

A couple of radio stations have made some format changes that you might call "iPod-inspired".

KISW, the local rock station, has started a program called the Sunday Shuffle. From 7 am to noon on Sunday they play a random selection that they claim is from every song they have ever played. They even market it as the "big-ass KISW iPod" (see photo at left).

Meanwhile, the former KRQI at 96.5 is now KJAQ. That's not an inside straight draw, it represents their new format, "Jack". The idea behind Jack (which evidently originated in Canada) is that instead of being limited to a certain genre, the station plays any music from the last 40 years or so. It certainly is eclectic -- this morning I heard "Car Wash" ("You might not ever get rich"--that song) and my RBDS promised "Van Halen next!" Not a lot of stations play "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor and "Cherub" by Smashing Pumpkins. As part of this they booted off all their DJs (including Howard Stern wanna-be Andy Savage) and currently just play music, which is fine with me. What I don't know is if the music is truly random, or programmed but chosen from a huge potential playlist.

KRQI was called K-Rock, but it was only that for about 18 months, when it switched from being KYPT "The Point". The KYPT to KRQI switch happened the same time that KNDD (The End) decided that the current new music that is was obsessively playing kinda sucked, so it went back to its roots and issued its Alternative Declaration, in the process booting off none other than Andy Savage. Actually KYPT had only been The Point for about three years, before that it was KYCW "Young Country" (a brief history of the oft-repurposed 96.5 is here).

Jack is an interesting format idea, but I don't listen to it much. If I want truly random music I'll listen to KEXP. And if I want random music that I know I'll like...I can listen to my own iPod.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:14 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 15, 2005

iSold It on eBay

I was cr00zin' around the Eastside in my pimped out Honda Odyssey when out of the corner of my eye I saw a sign over a store that looked like it had the word "eBay" in it. WTF? So I looked again, and lo and behold it was a store called "iSold It on eBay" (or maybe it was "iSOLD it on eBay" or "iSoLd iT On eBaY"). A quick spin of the web search revealed that it's a hot Hot HOT franchise opportunity. You set up a store and people bring you their crap that want to unload on eBay. You post the listing, hold the item, and ship it to the winner.

Actually according to the listing, while individual drop-off is the public face of the store, you should also be working behind the scenes to grab overstock and inventory sales to generate your own sources of junk to sell. So basically you are becoming an eBay seller, but with a storefront to widen your tchotchke-trolling capability.

Here's the company website. Gak, they have these everywhere. The one I saw was in Bellevue; they also claim one is coming soon to Redmond (is THAT what's going in where Keeney's Office Supply used to be?). All the locations have a similar eBay name ("isoldit." + store#) so you can easily find all the hairballs that the Bellevue store is selling. The most expensive item in the whole iSold It world is this patent for a utility glove that a franchisee in Colorado is trying to unload for $150K (no offers yet).

What if you want to sell your franchise? I wonder if you can sell it on eBay. Probably not. You have to go to your local "iSold it on Franchise Works" store.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mariners Report

We went to our first Mariners game since opening day. Surely if your chance of catching a baseball were proportional to the time you spent analyzing Richie Sexson's ball-tossing habits, my pockets would soon be weighed down with souvenirs a-plenty.

To start, I was somewhat stressed when the couple behind us explained that Sexson only tossed the ball into the stands if he thought it was dirty. What kind of logic is that? As they say in baseball, "Stop thinking, you're hurting the team." She did say that Jerry, our faithful seat attendant, was going to talk to him about that. It didn't matter much in the first four innings because Ryan Franklin struck out the last batter in each one (ESPN has the game log here). The fifth inning ended with a strikeout-caught-stealing double play, which meant that Bret Boone had the ball at the end of the inning. Boone, crafty veteran that he is, took the time to look for a kid to throw it to, so we had no chance (no kids with us). Finally the sixth ended with a play at first, but Sexson threw the ball to the right of the aisle. The seventh ended with a line drive to Beltre at third. When he ran in he tossed it right towards us, in fact I think he was aiming for my wife who a) was wearing a red jacket b) had a glove on c) is female, but somebody right in front reached out and snagged it (nice one-handed grab, sadly). Then both the eighth and ninth innings ended with plays at first, but Sexson threw to the right side of the aisle both times, meaning it was three for them and none for us. Hmmmf.

In another random note, at the end of the 6th inning they presented someone with a free cruise from Norwegian Cruise Lines, said presentation happening right in front of us on top of the Mariners dugout.

They were also doing the Mariners Care silent auction, which I think is every Saturday game. One of the items they were auctioning off was "groundskeeper for a day". I actually did that a couple of years ago--must write about it sometime.

Posted by AdamBa at 08:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 13, 2005

The Benefits of Pop Culture?

Malcolm Gladwell has a fairly short review (fairly short for the New Yorker, anyway) of Steven Johnson's book Everything Bad Is Good for You. Johnson, who is a former editor at the defunct online magazine Feed, attempts to show that pop culture is actually making us smarter, not dumber.

My one big comment on popular culture is that Sesame Street is a useless show now. When our 10-year-old was a toddler he watched it every day and got a steady diet of the alphabet and numbers. That spacy 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9...10 pinball video, lower-case N sitting on a hill, Kingdom of the Number 8, African Animal Alphabet...Even the Sally Cruikshank videos ("Island of Emotion", "Beginning, Middle and End", etc) taught you SOMETHING. Now it's all about feelings and sharing and all that hooha that every other kids show drills into you. Basically if you want to grow up to be a panhandler, Sesame Street is a great education. You can learn more from that half-wit Gooble on Zoboomafoo than "Elmo's World" is ever going to teach you.

Getting back to the topic at hand: Leaving aside the validity of his thesis (Gladwell says it is interesting, but misses part of the story), I love Johnson's imagined popular opinion of books, if they had arrived centuries after video games instead of the other way around:

"Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying—which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical sound-scapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements—books are simply a barren string of words on the page. . . .

Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. . .

But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. . . . This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one.

Posted by AdamBa at 11:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Microsoft's New Ad Campaign

Microsoft has a new ad campaign going, titled "Start Something".

The campaign is a "brand" campaign, meaning its trying to sell Windows as a concept, as opposed to a particular version of Windows. The goal being that you get people happy about Windows now, and they will want to upgrade to Longhorn.

And it's not clear right now that people are happy with Windows, even though the vast vast majority use it on their computers. One huge advantage of Windows is that essentially all software runs on it, and essentially all hardware will work with it. It turns out, however, that people view it as more of a tollbooth ("I want to use all this hardware and software, so I'm forced to run Windows") as opposed to a gateway ("I love Windows because it lets me use all this hardware and sodtware"). The campaign is also trying to blur the fact that hardware really "runs on" a computer, not an operating system, by emphasizing that Windows has become in a sense the "native" operating system for the x86 platform--every piece of hardware that can connect to an x86 box will have a driver for Windows.

So the campaign is design not so much to convince Mac and Linux users to switch to Windows, as it is to make current Windows users appreciate what they have going for them. It's what marketers call "air cover", supporting future marketing of Windows, so the fact that it is Windows will be a benefit not a negative.

The first TV spot is called "Anthem", and it's one of those "lots of people of different races and ages speaking in their own language" jobbies that are all the rage right now. I find it completely uninspiring, and the tag line "Windows, it's your choice" could be used just as well in a Mac or Linux ad (the ad is saying that the software and hardware is yours to choose when you run Windows, but you might interpret it to mean that your operating system is yours to choose, as in "don't necessarily stick with that one that came bundled with your computer".

The more targeted TV ads are better. The idea is to pick various interests people have that Windows can help you with. So there's on about science, one about food, one about audio, etc. The science one ("Start Something Cosmic") has a guy talking about how his grandson is really into astronomy and with Windows he can connect his telescope to his PC. But it doesn't show any of this happening. No brief glimpse of him connecting the telescope to his computer, having the software install on the first try, triumphant look when it shows up on his screen...just the guy talking about how happy is son is.

The print ads are decent, because they explain a bit more about what is going on. But they don't really make the point--that Windows has the widest software and hardware support--unless you know ahead of time what the point is.

I think for this campaign the web ads are by far the best. You can see them from the windows.com site. For example click on the beatnik-looking hottie in the middle and you will see basically an expanded version of the "Start Something Sonic" print ad. But it's much clearer because it makes the direct connection: "Everything they used to do in a big recording studio--today I do on my PC". And best of all it has actual pictures of products, which you can click on to get more info. In fact I think if you just took the web ad and printed it, it would be a better print ad. More cluttered, yes, but also conveying its point much better.

And it's all coming soon to a touchpoint near you.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 12, 2005

Two Years of Scoble

Today is Robert Scoble's two-year anniversary at Microsoft. Congratulations, Robert!! I know this because I mentioned the fact [his start date, not his two-year anniversary! - ed.] in an article I wrote just over two years ago, about Microsoft Bloggers.

This was a pretty accurate article, if I do say so myself. Some quotes:

"The tone of Microsoft-related discussions may change as more Microsoft blogs appear."

"Given Microsoft's tarnished PR image, it helps the company image to get the word out that employees are like employees everywhere, even if that similarity extends to a shared distrust of upper management."

"It's possible that having a blog that is well-read (either externally published, or an internal one available only on the Microsoft corporate network) may become a way to establish status within Microsoft."

"Employees writing blogs on their own might start a bottom-up push that eventually results in upper management really "getting" the benefits of XML and web services, in the same way that employees surfing the net back in 1994 eventually resulted in Microsoft's shift to embrace the Internet."

"A world where Microsoft is leading the way in setting web services standards, and a major force in the world of blog content, may not be what the bloggers of today envision. But it may be what happens."

Posted by AdamBa at 10:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 09, 2005

Boycotting Microsoft, Gays, Evangelicals, Etc.

There's an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati where the head of an organization called Clean Up Radio Broadcasting comes a-calling complaining about the lyrics in some of the songs they play, and threatening an advertising boycott. After Mr. Carlson refuses to remove "Imagine" by John Lennon from the playlist, the guy leaves to go start his boycott. And Mr. Carlson says, "When it comes to losing advertising clients, these bozos don't know who they're up against."

I thought of that when I saw Rev. Ken Hutcherson on TV this weekend, complaining about Microsoft's about-face on the anti-discimination bill. Microsoft has various people who boycott its products -- open source advocates, anti-monopolists, Macintoshniks, Palladium haters, Netscape mourners, etc. -- so I don't think Bill and Steve are going to lose much sleep over one more tossed on the pile, even if it might include 100 million Evangelicals in the United States.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about what specifically makes Evangelicals so upset about adding gays to the anti-discrimination list (I'll use the term Evangelical to generally describe anyone opposed to it for religious reasons, even though I'm sure the term is a gross misnomer in many cases).

Consider the list of what factors the law currently outlaws as a basis for discrimination: race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability. Now consider what the Bible condemns: murder, adultery, idolatry, homosexuality. There's no intersection between those two lists (leaving aside the issue of religion, which I'll get to later). But if you add being gay to the anti-discrimination list, then you have a direct conflict. I'll assume that a reasonable Evangelical does not hate gays so much as he/she doesn't want to be reminded of their existence. Thus, the problem with not allowing discrimination against gays is that gays will now have less fear about being openly gay (since they will have a legal basis to fight discrimination). Thus they will be free to say things at work like "Last weekend my boyfriend and I did X" and this is like nails on a chalkboard to an Evangelical. I guess the effect would be similar to someone saying "I engaged in premarital sex last night" or "I told a big lie yesterday", but the difference is that the law is not protecting people who say those things.

In one sense this is at least a consistent set of beliefs. I don't think you can prove that God does or doesn't exist; that's why it's called "faith". So if someone believes in the Bible as the ultimate truth, I can't really fault them for it. And if you believe, shouldn't you believe the whole package? Isn't it more "logical" for a true believer to condemn homosexuality than to be comfortable with it?

But, Evangelicals who feel that way are just going to have to deal with it. I mean, we inhabit a world that is bathed in sin (we're ALL sinners, right?). Evangelicals aren't expected to be out proselytizing all the time; they have to earn a living in the real world, and that may involve a lot of teeth-gritting for a variety of reasons.

So, what about discrimination on the basis of religion? Don't Evangelicals feel the same way about Mormons and Muslims and Hindus and Jews, all of whom are protected from discrimination by the same law? Are they as stunned by someone describing how they prayed in a mosque as they are by someone describing their gay partner? I don't know, but it would seem they should be.

I guess that Evangelicals feel that believers in other religions are more misguided than wrong, and there is the possibility of converting and saving them. Although according to the Bible, if they don't come around they are going to burn forever just like gays, and Evangelicals must feel that homosexuality is a choice, otherwise you have the theological question of why God makes gays. And shouldn't Evangelicals have the same "Oh goody, someone to convert" feeling about gays that they do about members of other religions?

I suppose it is in their own best interest to oppose discrimination on the basis of religion, since they are religious themselves (and this is where I get lost, because if you are talking about eternal salvation, does it matter if your brief time on Earth is difficult...so why should Evangelicals care whether they are discriminated against...which seems to lead to fatalism and a sapping of motivation, which Evangelicals most definitely do NOT suffer from. So I am missing something in there).

Ahh, enough. If I want to talk about things I know nothing about, I'll go back to talking about the software industry.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:33 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 06, 2005

Software: Productivity Vs. Entertainment

If you look at software, you can divide it at a high level into two types: productivity software, and entertainment software.

Using Microsoft's software as an example, Windows is productivity software. Office is productivity software. Hotmail is productivity software. Meanwhile, Xbox games are entertainment software. Ages of Empires is entertainment software. At Microsoft things are weighted more towards productivity software, which reflects the roots of the company when it was primarily focused on productivity software and only published entertainment software on a case-by-case basis (Flight Simulator, Decathlon, etc). And there's no doubt that the company makes all its money on productivity software. Even MSN, which has made many attempts to get into entertainment, is making its money on Search, a productivity application.

You could make the distinction that companies buy productivity software and people buy entertainment software, but of course that division isn't precise. And productivity software can include an entertainment aspect--one of the many reasons for the success of Windows was the "fun" things that were included, such as Solitaire and the ability to play with your desktop colors (leading to the notion of the TCO-destroying "futz factor", the encroachment of entertainment on the productivity space).

It is often helpful to think of your time as having value. In some cases this is directly true; if you're a lawyer billing by the hour, taking an hour off of work costs you $200 or whatever. I don't work hourly, but I probably value my time at somewhere in the $20-$40 range. You use this when you are trying to answer questions like "Is it worth driving an extra 20 minutes to buy gas that is 10 cents a gallon cheaper?" Most people, it would seem, value their personal time at very close to zero.

When you use productivity software, you are trying to trade money for time. You pay a company $X for software and you hope it will save you more than $X in time. With entertainment software, meanwhile, you are paying twice: once for the cost of the software, and again for the time used. I'm not saying this is bad or foolish, just that it's one of the basic distinctions between productivity and entertainment software.

I was thinking about this because I realized that there is another kind of software, which you could categorize as software designed to make your entertainment more productive. Media Center PC is an example from Microsoft; the idea is that it will help you organize your video and audio collection so you can waste less time finding what you want to watch or listen to, and proceed more quickly to the real business of wasting time actually watching or listening.

RSS readers are another example of this. Leaving aside the few people who actually have a business reason to read blogs (just as I'm sure some people use Media Center to make their jobs more efficient), reading blogs is an entertainment function, but RSS readers let you do it more efficiently.

Same goes for podcasting (or videocasting). Listenng to random strangers talk about who knows what is entertainment...but at least with podcasting you can get to what you want to hear more quickly.

I don't read a lot of blogs, watch a lot of television or movies, or listen to a lot of records. It's not how I want to spend my 22,000 days. As a result, I personally take a dim view of this "more productive entertainment" category. If I want to be more productive in my life, I should just stop using the entertainment software. I've bagged on podcasting in the past for this reason. I also wonder if there is money in this. People are paying for the entertainment, and paying with their time; will they pay again for software to increase their entertainment productivity, when most people value their free time at so little?

Still, I realize that many other people disagree with me, and a lot of them work at Microsoft. Sure they may all be propellorheads, but nonetheless I should be careful when I sneer at interactive television and web portals and the rest of the category. It's not my cup of tea, but it takes all sorts to make a world.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Microsoft Reverses Its Position on Anti-Discrimination Bill!

Just got internal email from SteveB, announcing that Microsoft will support future legislation that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. His email states, "I’ve concluded that diversity in the workplace is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda" (which is what I said).

The full email is up on Channel 9 if you want to read/discuss.

This is great stuff, and to the extent that we all criticized Steve Ballmer a few weeks ago, we should give him even more credit for doing the right thing here.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 05, 2005

New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest

The New Yorker has started running a cartoon caption contest on the back page of every issue. This is the third week. You can see the ones so far right here in your own handy-dandy web browser. Yes that's right, you can just click on the link there...no need to say "Simon Says" first either.

Anyway, they have posted the finalists for the first contest right here (just click etc). I thought my entry ("You're lucky, I usually don't make house calls") was better than the ones they chose. Heck maybe it was, since I never got around to submitting it.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


Being a geek I can't really let this date pass by unremarked.

OK, now it's remarked.

P.S. It's amazing how much Scoble looks like Philip Seymour Hoffman!

Posted by AdamBa at 09:45 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

Harry Frazee III

I went to see the movie "Fever Pitch" with my wife. Yes, I know, Drew Barrymore alert, but it actually had enough humorous baseball moments to compensate for its basic chick-flicky nature ("Schilling's pitching on Friday...")

Anyway, in the movie of course they had to talk about the Curse of the Bambino and how Harry Frazee sent Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance the musical No, No, Nanette.

So I was amused to read this story about Harry Frazee III, the grandson of the original (actually that link requires registration, but here's one from a couple years ago, and last year). It turns out he lives in Gig Harbor (which is west of Tacoma (which is south of Seattle)) and is a Mariners fan. And he also is trying to disprove the myth about his grandfather. Frazee III claims that his grandfather dumped Ruth because he was a pain in the clubhouse, not because he needed money for No, No, Nanette.

The popular conception is that NNN was a terrible flop, but in fact it wasn't. According to my book Broadway, The American Musical (companion to the PBS series of the same name), Frazee was already a successful producer. The Chicago tryout of No, No, Nanette ran for almost a year, becoming at the time the longest-running musical in Windy City history. By the time the show opened in New York, he had already sent several touring companies around the U.S. and opened a London production that had a two-year run. The show made Frazee a millionaire. Plus a 1971 revival ran for 891 performances on the Great White Way. The song "Tea For Two" is from No, No, Nanette.

Also, the timing is wrong for the traditional Curse story. Frazee traded Ruth at the end of 1919; No, No, Nanette didn't begin tryouts until 1924, and opened on Broadway on September 16, 1925.

Frazee later attempted a sequel called Yes, Yes, Yvette, which lost money (more than he made in the Ruth trade, supposedly). He died too, but I guess that was inevitable.

Posted by AdamBa at 11:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 02, 2005

Only Every 50 Years, Though...

OK, WHATEVER!! If Dave Winer wants a link for his 50th birthday, I'll give him a link. Happy 50th, Dave.

Posted by AdamBa at 02:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Microsoft and Its Source Code

Three years ago, during my time away from Microsoft, I sent email to Steve Ballmer suggesting that Microsoft should release all of its source code.

To his credit, and despite the fact that it was from some random outsider, Steve did reply to the email a couple of weeks later. His response, in total, was: "Good thoughtful input  will consider  thanks"

The only point I missed was the possibility that people could search the source code to find ways to sue Microsoft for patent infringement.

This is the email:

I am writing to you to discuss the issue of Microsoft and its source code.

I'm a former Microsoft employee who spent ten years working as a developer, most of it on the kernel of Windows NT and its successors. I left the company in April 2000, and have not worked for anyone else since then. I still consider myself to be fundamentally pro-Microsoft, and I own a bundle of the stock.

The goal of this email is to try to convince you that Microsoft should publicly release all the source code to its products.

I am not suggesting that Microsoft move to an "open source" model as the term is currently used. However, Microsoft's current "shared source" program, under which source code is released to some institutions and large companies, with restrictions on its use, is inadequate. In particular, I do not feel that Microsoft's "Trustworthy Computing" initiative has any chance whatsoever of succeeding if the source code is not widely available to the public.

People will say that releasing the code will expose security problems, such as buffer overflows, that others could then exploit silently without reporting them. I've been involved in many code reviews, including the previous security sweep done on the Windows XP code, and I find it highly unlikely that the recent much-touted line-by-line code review of the Windows source code really found all the exploits. It's the same problem that security screeners at an airport face; since the vast majority of the code does not have problems, it makes it very hard to really concentrate enough to spot the code that does. Automated tools can help, but they still require human oversight.

But you can't have it both ways: either the code reviews found every bug, in which case Microsoft has nothing to fear from publicizing its code, or there are still bugs in there. Imagine how the press is going to report the first remote exploit found in code that has been through the review process. Having the code public will mitigate the negative PR from this, and also speed the process of converging Windows to a secure state.

The open source community claims that all the "eyeballs" out there make open source code more secure. Be that as it may, that argument could no longer be used against Microsoft. Releasing the source shows that Microsoft is committed to making its software secure; each bug found is not a black eye for Microsoft, but instead one step towards a more secure system. And keep in mind, a properly-designed security or digital rights management system does not depend on keeping the code hidden.

If you look at the current open source movement, it really consists of two parts, one is releasing the source code, the other is releasing all intellectual property claims on the code. But the two do not have to be connected. Releasing source code would allow Microsoft to wrest leadership on the source code issue away from the open source movement. Microsoft could redirect the discussion to show that releasing the code gives the majority of the benefits, while maintaining intellectual property rights avoids the majority of the problems.

And, this doesn't have to happen overnight. Microsoft can announce that it is planning to release its source in six months or a year, and then spend the time preparing for that date. The code could be released under a license that Microsoft devises, but the key goal would be that anyone who wanted could see the code.

There is one issue that needs to be addressed, which is patents. Some people have claimed that the various source code releases that Microsoft has done, such as the recent SMB/CIFS implementation, are really "patent traps," meant to lure companies into using ideas that Microsoft could later sue for patent violations over. Microsoft needs to address this concern head-on. First, by definitively asserting that it will only use patents defensively. Second, by making an honest attempt to mark sections of code that are covered by patents (another reason that the source code would not be released immediately). Third, by stating a reasonable and fair policy in regards to inadvertant patent infringement.

So what are the negatives in this plan?

The most obvious one is the fear that it would make it easier to steal Microsoft products. Until Windows Product Activation, of course, users could steal Microsoft products simply by reusing the CD, with no need to access the source code. Now, someone could come up with a version of Windows XP with the activation code removed. They wouldn't be able to sign the new binary with the Microsoft private key, so they would have to take some code signing checks out also.

They can do this now, however. Code signing is only as strong as its weakest link. Right now when XP is booted, the rough sequence is that the BIOS loads the partition boot code, which loads the loader, which loads the kernel, which loads the rest of the system. The BIOS and the boot code don't do signing checks. So a hacker could take the sign verification code out of the kernel, producing a modified and therefore unsigned kernel, but then take the verification code out of the loader also, so the kernel being unsigned didn't matter. The result would be a version of XP that didn't check for binaries being signed. Then they could hack out the activation code (although I have not personally confirmed it, I have it on good authority that this has already been done for XP). This won't change until the BIOS also checks for signed code. And once the BIOS does that, having the code won't help anyone else because only Microsoft can sign code as Microsoft.

Having the code available does make it *easier* to do this. And, it makes it much easier for someone to modify Windows in much more malicious ways, to act as spyware on a user for example. But while many people feel comfortable taking a single CD and installing it on several machines, buying a copy of Windows that has been compiled by someone other than Microsoft, and thus is obviously illegal, is another matter. In any case Microsoft could use the fact that the source was out there to reinforce the need for users to check that they were buying genuine Microsoft-compiled version of its software, or risk having their personal data compromised.

A second issue with releasing the source code is intellectual property. How would intellectual property rights be protected? The code would still be covered by copyright, and any patents on it would still apply. Nobody outside Microsoft would be allowed to modify the code -- in fact, control of the code by Microsoft is one of the key requirements in getting people to believe in Trustworthy Computing. It is critical both that everybody outside Microsoft can see the code, and that nobody outside Microsoft can modify it.

Although Microsoft often talks about its source code as its crown jewels, and the press plays up this image, I can say that I personally spent many years working with the Windows NT source code, and there is nothing particularly special about it. There's nothing wrong with it either; it's just another way to solve the basic problems involved in an operating system, that have been solved a hundred other ways by a hundred other people. And the code is completely customized to Windows; it is highly unlikely (beyond wholesale theft of large parts, which is a copyright violation) that anyone would glean information from the code which could then be used as a competitive advantage against Microsoft. The real magic in Windows is the public APIs (which are of necessity highly public already) and the data structures and algorithms. The most important of these can be protected by patent, and the rest are not worth protecting. These can't be considered trade secrets since anyone with a debugger can walk through the assembly code and figure them out.

With available code, third-party developers might modify how they call APIs to take advantage of how the system works internally, then assume that such behaviour will continue in future releases. But that is their own risk; and anyway programmers do this already.

Finally, people might look at Microsoft's code and sneer at it. After almost 15 years of development, the NT code base is not the cleanest code around. There are a lot of #ifdefs and other stale code. People might ask, These are the crown jewels of Microsoft? But that is one of the benefits of announcing the public release some period of time before it happens. The code could be cleaned up with an eye towards public release (and it could be run through the preprocessor first to clean up the #ifdefs).

Meanwhile, what are the benefits of Microsoft releasing its code, besides the security issues discussed above?

The first is that it will restore trust in Microsoft, which is key to restoring trust in Microsoft's code. The message will be, Microsoft has nothing to hide. There are no security backdoors or hidden APIs. All the claims of Microsoft's opponents can be conclusively proven false (and if there are security backdoors or hidden APIs -- this will "inspire" Microsoft developers to get rid of them!). Microsoft can graciously acknowledge that it has learned from the open source movement, while making it clear that it is not joining the movement.

The second benefit is that some of the remedies being proposed in the various lawsuits against Microsoft will become non-issues. APIs and communications protocols will implicitly be fully documented by the code. States clamoring for the source code to Internet Explorer can have it. If someone wants to port the .Net Common Language Runtime or Office to another platform, they are free to do so (modulo any patent issues).

Third, it would contribute to keeping Windows at the center of the computing universe. Developers who had questions or concerns about developing for Windows would now have access not only to sample code and API documentation, but real live code and API implementation. Think back to the original IBM PC. The fact that the source code appeared in its entirety in the "Technical Reference" manual -- with IBM still maintaining all intellectual property rights -- was one of the keys to the growth of the PC industry (of course IBM lost control of that industry, but that was due to other mistakes). With the code publicly available, people will spend more time writing applications for Windows, and more time writing code to connect other machines to Windows, and that will generate more sales of Windows.

Finally, Microsoft developers would like having their code released. Not just out of pride of ownership, although since the code would immediately become the most- examined in history, there would be a bit of "rock star" aspect to it. More importantly, It can be extremely convenient, when debugging a problem at a remote site, to have the code available. Previously this had to be done under strict security. Now anyone can have the code, in fact companies with the skill can start to debug their own problems, and even submit fixes to Microsoft -- which would have to be carefully examined before they were accepted, of course. It's not just other companies: a lot of groups within Microsoft would like to debug other Microsoft products themselves, and obviously have the skill to do so -- all they lack is the source code.

With this plan in place, Microsoft can maintain its position as a leader and innovator in computing, and set the groundwork for Trustworthy Computing to succeed.

I hope that you will seriously consider this proposal, rather than reject it out of hand. I know the first reaction of most people at Microsoft would be an unequivocal "NO!". Please think about it with an attitude of "How can this be made to work?" rather than "Why this will never work." Now is the time to fire up the troops with some bold leadership.

Thank you.

- Adam Barr

Posted by AdamBa at 08:35 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 01, 2005

MS to Get the Boot From MSNBC?

Drudge is reporting that MSNBC is going to change its name to plain old "The NBC News Channel". The channel was a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC, and the name was an amalgam of MSN (or maybe just plain MS) and NBC.

It's not quite as rude as Time Warner evicting AOL from its name, but it does show that the Microsoft name may be losing its ability to impress. Although personally I think it's a stupid change, since people know it as MSNBC and don't really care what it means. NBC I think at some point changed the "meaning" of CNBC from Consumer News & Business Channel to Cable National Broadcasting Company, but did anybody notice?

Posted by AdamBa at 10:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack