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May 29, 2005

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 May 29, 2005 09:40 PM

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I just responded over on my blog. Slapped? No. Talked with? Yes. :-)

Posted by: Robert Scoble at May 29, 2005 11:32 PM

Not taking issue with the extenuating circumstances and ever-changing narrative per the development issues. But if people are confused, it is Microsoft's job to set the expectations and stick with them, as in the trainwreck environment that is Longhorn, things like this can take on many differing tones.

But my main issue is with the elitist tone, in that the auto press covers things detailed, when computer press covers things basic. Not true, wide variances in both, as most of the automotive press, covers things from a consumeristic view, in terms of price and performance, sure you have your gearhead magazines, but then so does the computer press. The mainstream computer press is not covering Microsoft strictly for developers, or getting needlessly specialized, they are covering things for the masses, for the CIOs, for the consumers, that just want a decent roadmap to which they can plan and budget. And discussing all the backhand developer shoptalk is not the right audience. Developers have their own specialized press outlets too.

But what is good for the goose is good for the gander, after all the Chief 'Spokesperson' for Channel 9 and all things Microsoft, is a non-developer. But I think you misread this, things like this can firestorm out-of-control unless you pour water on it quickly, the fact that a 'rapid response' team is sitting on its hands waiting to come up with an answer is the problem, over Scoble getting in too soon. And he is forever in a no-win place, half edge him on, half say pull back. Actually, I think he instead of a talking to, I think he should have gotten a gold star, as this is not a 'huge dominating' issue that spilt into the mainstream press. And that, when all is said and done, is the only issue that counts.

Posted by: Christopher Coulter at May 30, 2005 12:06 PM

I couldn't agree more about your comments on the computer press in general including "computer analysts". They don't necessarily need to have a computer science degree but at least a decent amount of "technical" knowledge would be useful.

By the way I think it would also be useful for Scoble to gain more "technical" knowledge.

Posted by: Sean McLeod at May 30, 2005 01:18 PM

Christopher, it's not so much what the mainstream press writes about, it their knowledge. IMHO if you compare the writers for say "Car and Driver" to those of "PC" (I think those two magazines target similar audiences within their market), while the "C&D" writers write for a general audience, they know a lot about the internals of cars. So I'm not saying that "PC" should be full of technical articles -- you can have "Dr. Dobbs" and "C/C++ Users Journal" for that, just like you have auto tuning magazines etc. What I would like is that the "PC" writers should know more about the internals of computers. You see stuff bandied about like "Hey, Microsoft should improve Windows by replacing the NT kernel with a Linux kernel!" with little awareness of what this would entail on a technical level.

It's true Scoble is not a developer, and I think his response was somewhat misguided partly because of that. Although in his post that linked to mine here he described the situation as "there's no .NET code in Longhorn's core features" which captures it much more succinctly than Mary Jo Foley, and shows that he understands the key issue.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at May 30, 2005 04:50 PM

Adam - could you elaborate on this? What are "Longhorn's core features" from a developers perspective?

Posted by: at May 30, 2005 06:29 PM

Would definitively be nice if the computer journalists were required to know at least some basics about computers(especially Operating system 101) before writing about it. So much FUD is spread around, especially about Microsoft since they are the market leaders, that it's almost not useful to read the press.

Actually it seems like the computer journalists are trying to bite over too much. With a Microsoft-perspective it is too much to cover Visual Studio, .NET Framework, Microsoft Windows and some server applications by the same journalist. It's like someone trying to cover all foreign politics at once, which soon becomes unwieldy :)

Posted by: Andreas Haeber at May 30, 2005 06:55 PM

AC: I think the 3 developers that Mary Jo Foley talked to were talking about 3 different things:

- The new Longhorn features like Avalon. These were already moved out of Longhorn, so that is old news.

- Parts of the existing Windows OS that other pieces depend on. The File Open dialog, Add/Remove programs, the HTML rendered, etc. This I think is what Joel Spolsky was talking about.

- The "core" of the OS, the part that it wouldn't run without--the kernel, the memory manager, filesystems, etc. There has not (as far as I know) been any notion of rewriting these in managed code for Longhorn.

That's MY perspective, anyway.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at June 1, 2005 12:48 AM