There’s an old memo from billg making its rounds through the tubes lately, and it’s very interesting for a few reasons.
The first, and most obvious to me, is that Bill’s a computer use like everyone else. He can’t figure out some of the weirdnesses of Windows, he’s frustrated when technology doesn’t work the way it ought to. He gets annoyed when websites take too long to do something simple.
it is … like a puzzle that you get to solve. It told me to go to Windows Update and do a bunch of incantations.
Then it told me to reboot my machine. Why should I do that? I reboot every night — why should I reboot at that time?
The second, and more subtle, thing I noticed was his management style. He went through the steps to install software like any normal user would. Good. Any CEO worth their beans does that. “Don’t believe your own PR” and all that. He then put together a well-written rant about it and sent it to the appropriate managers. In the postscript, he’s quoted as saying that he considers it his job to do things like that. Again; good.
The problem here is that there doesn’t appear to be any followthrough whatsoever. The people to whom he sent the email have done nothing to fix the problems. While I’m sure they’ve gone and done a lot of interesting work, nothing they’ve done has solved the basic problems that Bill has outlined in his email. Windows Update is still slow, it still asks you to restart at weird times (to be fair, so does Apple’s Software Update). The Microsoft website is still incomprehensible. Add/Remove programs is a wasteland. Little, if anything, has changed here. This is five years later.
The difference here between Bill and Steve Jobs in this instance is that if Steve had to come to the point of writing an email like that, people would be losing their jobs. Where Bill fires off missives about user experience, Steve fires people who don’t measure up. Steve seems a much more hands-on leader. “Drinking the Kool-Aid”, or “experiencing the Reality Distortion Field”, or whatever you want to call it, is a very important element in creating a cohesive ecosystem of products and services. Steve’s got that, Bill doesn’t. Perhaps he did at one point, but certainly doesn’t now. And Ballmer? Don’t make me laugh.
Bill’s leaving Microsoft a few years too late. He should have left a short while after the release of XP, while they were still on top of their game, before Google and Apple were such confirmed threats to their business. Now, it just looks like he’s another rat jumping off a sinking ship. Fake Steve’s analogy of the three-legged race, in which two slow runners try to win a speed running race by tying themselves together by the ankle is apt. A few months ago, it seemed like Yahoo was the weaker runner. Now I’d say they’re equally screwed.