Life in Whoville

There are some questions that I just hate being asked. About six months after our first child was born, people would ask me if my life had returned to normal. How on earth am I supposed to know? “Normal” isn’t what it used to be.

Another question is, “What’s it like to work at Microsoft?” I don’t know. Working at Microsoft isn’t a universal experience, because Microsoft isn’t a monolithic entity. The experience of working in one group can be vastly different from the experience of working in another.

I can tell you what it’s like to work in Microsoft’s Mac BU. Most of the time, it’s a great experience. Mac BU has a lot of smart people who are passionate about the work we’re doing and the platform for which we doing it, and we get plenty of freedom to do what we think best. Best of all, top management have always been supportive of both the work that we do and our ability to do it. And there’s nothing quite like having Bill say, “This should be in Win Office,” in response to one of your feature demos.

However, there are times when it’s like living in Whoville. Not the Whoville of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Rather, the Whoville of Horton Hears a Who. For those unfamiliar with the story, Horton is a large-hearted elephant who, one day, hears a tiny voice crying out from a spec of dust attached to a flower that, for reasons not so obvious, has captured Horton’s attention. The rest of the tale recounts Horton’s efforts to convince the rest of the animals in the jungle that Whoville really exists, and it’s not until every Who in Whoville raises a voice in one loud scream that the rest of the animals in the jungle come to agree with Horton.

I’ll point out that this does not mean that Mac BU is going away any time soon. Anyone familiar with the business that we do and the contribution we make to Microsoft’s bottom line is very happy that we’re here. We’re one of the more profitable business units in Microsoft. They just have a habit of forgetting that we’re here.

A few years back, Steve Ballmer sent out a company-wide memo stating the policy that no product can ship unless it first runs on Windows NT. He was pretty good-natured about it when we pointed out that this policy would have a seriously negative impact on our ability to ship Mac Office 2001 on time, but it was pretty clear that he simply hadn’t thought about Mac BU at all.

A guaranteed way to garner a few surprised looks is to attend some non-Mac BU meeting, like one of the lectures at Microsoft Research’s Tech Fest or one of the training courses offered by Microsoft’s Technical Education group, and pull out your G4 PowerBook so that you can take notes. I always feel like I should boot up the debugger to run Word so people understand.

But, last week, the parallels between life in Mac BU and life in Whoville were uncanny. Microsoft’s Operations and Technology Group (basically, our own IT infrastructure division) rolled out a new network security policy. The policy would adversely affect the ability of Macs to connect to Windows machines without some special tweaks. We thought we’d had everything taken care of so that we in Mac BU could still conduct business, but a communications snafu left all of us without the ability to connect to any of the Windows machines to which we need to connect in order to get our work done. RDC, network shares, in some cases even e-mail—all no go. Each of us had to shout our own little, “We’re here!” before things could be fully resolved.