Internet futures

Friends and foes alike are asking for a seat at the Internet-governance table through the formation of an international institution supplanting the US-based ICANN. The US Government responded with a Monroe Doctrine of our times. For more, check out Internet(s) at crossroads, posted on the sister site Ideas in Motion.

An unorthodox mix of voices

What an interesting phenomenon is shaping up at minimsft, right now! Due to either the exhaustion of more mundane subjects or the logical escalation of the conversation, minimsft has started tackling a subject of major importance for Microsoft: How Fit Is Steve Ballmer as the CEO of Microsoft? Judging by the comments on the subject, the conversation is spreading beyond the usual (SDE) suspects of the blog to embrace what seem to be Microsoft more sophisticated constituencies such as Company management and investors.

It is interesting how, by "ignoring" the conversation, Mr. Ballmer has attracted onto himself the lights of public scrutiny. For most, in the end, it doesn't matter who's raising the questions about the top guy as much as the rise of the right questions themselves.

How this whole episode in corporate communications will end? Your guess is as good as any. However, management at public companies is likely to have one more Sarbanes-Oaxley-type of burden to put up with: the "unorthodox" mix of voices coming from employees, customers, investors...

Addendum Oct 8, 2005

Apparently, there is at least one member of management at Microsoft, Ken Moss - General Manager MSN Web Search, who has read minimsft. Mr. Moss has "strong opinions on many of the points discussed on Mini’s blog and in the comments. But I’ll save those for another discussion." For the time being, Mr. Moss is only addressing a challenge to the anonymous employee behind Mini-Microsoft:
I have no idea who Mini is, but I would like to officially issue a challenge to him to come and do a totally anonymous informational interview with me. If he passes our hiring bar, I am confident that we can provide him with a way to feel inspired by Microsoft and the work we’re doing. We have many awesome features he can come and work on – and he’ll be able to ship them as soon as they’re ready since we update our service constantly.

I, and the rest of the management team, will do our very best to provide cover for any bureaucracy that may stand in his way. Mini will be free to innovate and ship software as fast as he is able to. He will be able to challenge himself to see how good he can be. He will be inspired and have a blast. I can almost guarantee that success won't be easy -- but I can guarantee the opportunity to challenge himself. If he does great work, he will get great rewards.
I find such an idea commendable--to invite an employee to an interview whereby s/he could work in an inspiring environment. Indeed, there are great individuals who get stuck in one organizational context or another, and the only way out/up is outside the organization. Having a second chance in the same place cannot hurt. However, a question still remains: Why would a manager make such an invite only to the person who, supposedly, is behind minimsft? What recommends an anonymous figure to such preferential treatment is an enigma to me... unless this is an attempt at tackling the Mini-Microsoft blog issue?

Hmm... I think the horse is out of the barn and enjoying, albeit in a contorted way, the blogosphere pastures. However, since investors and customers have joined in, minimsft is no longer an internal Microsoft affair. Thus, Microsoft management should kick into gear and treat the whole issue at least at a PR level. Observers of the whole phenomenon would probably welcome Mr. Moss' addressing any of the several MSN-related issues that have come up at Mini-Microsoft.

Addendum Oct. 17, 2005

On where Bill Gates sees himself in ten years:
I’ll be turning 60. I have to say, ten years older than me always seems like that’s when I’ll be old. When I was 40 I thought 50 would be that mark, and, now that I’m very close to that, No, no, no, that’s not being old. My life’s work in terms of creating a company is certainly around Microsoft. Software was what I thought about when I was very young and believed something dramatic could happen, and so the opportunity to be involved in that and shape that industry, that’s really my professional work.

Over the next ten years, my balance between the time I spend on philanthropic things vs. my full-time job will switch in favor of doing philanthropy. It does mean I need to get one of the great young people at Microsoft to get on the hot seat of setting product strategy. I love my job, it’s an amazing job, and I’ll always be able to have some mix of Microsoft and philanthropy.

Addendum: 12/02/2005

Kevin Schofield, General Manager with Microsoft Research, visits MiniMSFT and leaves the following comment:
Regarding Thinkweek documents, they are company confidential documents and should not be discussed outside the company. As employees who want to be trusted by our company, it's our responsibility to be trustworthy in return and not "go rogue" and leak confidential information.

For example, if there is indeed a thinkweek paper about taking MS private (I haven't tried to verify this) it's inappropriate for you to mention it here. Some reporter will read your comments, will start calling Microsoft asking for a copy of it and comments on the record, and will eventually nag enough people that someone will dig it up and leak it to the reporter. Or worse, they'll just make stuff up. This is a huge can of worms that you don't want to open.

Mini, I understand why you feel like you need to stay anonymous to be a public critic of Microsoft, and while I'm not sure I agree I certainly respect the reasoning and emotion behind that decision. You'd lose all respect in my book, however, if you start using the cloak of anonymity to leak confidential information. I think it's great that the company encourages a broad set of employees to read and discuss Thinkweek papers -- I love the philosophy that by default we should trust our employees -- but this is a relatively new trend for Thinkweek and I worry that they will be forced to re-think that policy if the papers keep leaking.

But by all means, I hope you enjoy reading the thinkweek papers. There's a lot of good stuff.
available here
Here's my reply:

Kevin, knowing that a GM with MSFT visits these pages confirms my suspicion that Mini-MSFT cannot be ignored where it counts a great deal (i.e. among the executives of the Company). Not being privy to the discussions you and your peers have about Mini-MSFT, I would certainly expect that, at least when you officially visit this place, some consideration is given to any one of the real issues people bring up. Addressing this forum obliquely does justice neither to your position with the Company nor to your public profile as illustrated by

The option of taking technology companies private again has been exercised by several (e.g. Trilogy, Seagate, Corel, etc.). In other words, changing the form of ownership of a company, from public to private, is just one of the several strategic options managers ought to consider. Since a prior comment here addresses so well such (im)possibility for Microsoft, one should be grateful to the public, if anonymous, intelligence, enabled by this blog, for saving some brain-cycles of Microsoft executives.

Addendum 1/19/06:

To the growing chorus enabled by blogger/minimsft, we should hail the latest voices: Microsoft Partners'. To judge the amount of scripting vs. improvisation, the over/under-tones, and any other parameter in these folks' tunes, have a look here:

And now, the $10k-question: How soon will the top two acknowledge the minimsft- phenomenon?