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And the winners of the most, and least transparent team at Microsoft awards are...

And the winners of the most, and least transparent team at Microsoft awards are...

  • Comments 22

One of the many interesting things about working at Microsoft is dealing with the occasional raving MS hater. Here I'm not referring to people with legitimate gripes who can formulate logical arguments to make their point; instead I mean people who write our name as Micro$oft (that joke never gets old!) and honestly believe we all spend our time in a hollowed-out volcano lair thinking of new ways to do evil. You know the type - most of them hang out on the forums at Slashdot and CNET.

I've struggled to understand why such people exist. While Microsoft, like all companies, has some blemishes on its record, it requires a perplexing leap in logic to surmise that everyone is constantly and deliberately trying to screw customers over. My best guess is that, for a very long time, Microsoft was essentially a black box to the rest of the world. Money goes in, software comes out, and if anything is not entirely to your liking you can only guess about what went on inside to yield that result.

However I believe that the company as a whole has made great strides over the last three years or so to become much more transparent and accountable to customers. Sites such as MSDN and Technet Blogs, Channel 9, Channel 10 and CodePlex all provide ways for you to see inside the box, and for Microsofties to see outside. Hopefully the conversations happening in these forums give the product teams the insight required to build better products and do better by customers. And regardless of what result we end up with, the increased visibility should help everyone see us as real people, flawed like everyone else, but trying to do the best job possible under complex constraints.

So if we've made such great strides towards greater transparency and accountability, how come the raving Micro$oft bashing crowd still exist? Well for one, I think some of these people have so much bitterness (for right or wrong reasons) that it will take quite a bit more time for them to start thinking rationally again, but I do think we're going in the right direction. Still I also believe that we can, and must, do a lot better than we are now. (As an aside, I'd like to hear your opinions on what other commercial software companies are doing a better job at community engagement and transparency than Microsoft is right now).

Right now I believe the company's biggest problem with community engagement is that the wealth is not spread evenly across the different teams. Some (in my opinion) do an absolutely fantastic job of explaining what they are thinking before committing to plans, soliciting feedback to change those plans, and keeping everyone informed on progress at every step of the way. Others are still in the black box mentality, and some are halfway in between.

But of course it's not my opinion that matters - it's yours. So I'd like you to nominate which teams in Microsoft you believe are doing the best job at engaging with the community, and which teams are most in need of improvement. Why am I asking this? Because I believe that it's critical for the entire company to become more transparent, and I want to make sure the teams in question know when you think they are doing a good or a bad job.

  • I am glad to hear it from you that you are moving towards greater transparency and accountability. That's a great and perfect direction which will make a huge impact on Micro$ofties. I would suggest to participate actively in the discussion boards other than Microsoft's. I guess you are already doing that. This will give you a better view about what others are expecting from MS. Great Post!

  • I wouldnt worry too much about the haters.  I shop at Walmart and drink coffee at Starbucks.  They both have their haters too. (Although I do try and avoid Walmart like the plague)

    As for specific teams at MS which aren't very transparent, I'm not really sure.  I don't have a good handle on *what* teams exist, so it's hard to compare them.

  • Scott Guthrie and his team in my opinion do a very good job. Can't wait for MVC!

  • For me the Office team is the least transparent/responsive of the MSFT products I've had to deal with.  IE is a very close second.

    Most responsive...  That's hard, there's so many good teams.  Visual Studio PowerToys, Codeplex and ASP.NET would be some at the top of that list.

    But, I don't know if pointing fingers is all that useful.  I think the groups that aren't transparent know they're not responsive (either for reasons of their own or they just don't care).  I think it would be more productive to ask: of the teams you find least transparent, what qualities do they possess that make them opaque and unresponsive?  And, of the teams you find most transparent and responsive, what are the qualities that you find make them transparent and responsive?  From there you can begin to create metrics to gauge the success/failure of any group with regard to transparency and responsiveness.  You can also use those metrics when new groups are spinning up to ensure they are transparent and responsive from the start.

    Some opaque/unresponsive traits of MSFT groups:

    * Although providing a means of gather feedback (bugs/suggestions), the vast majority of feedback is not used.

    * Make it very hard to provide feedback.

    * Avenues of providing feedback are always after some opaque milestone that means 99% of the feedback cannot be acted upon until vNext.

    * Customer feedback for vNext is not managed properly and results in never being acted upon (other than staying in some vNext pool).

    * Have a tag-as-unreproducible-then-ask-questions-later experience with many customers.

    Some transparent/responsiveness traits of groups at MSFT:

    * Involve customers at all stages so all types of feedback can be acted upon.

    * Provide a responsive means of gathering, managing, and round-tripping customer feedback.

    * Provide dedicated staff to managing customer feedback.

    * Don't become a black-hole and begin a death-march towards release.  (i.e. as release approaches resources are allocated to that release to exclusion of all other priorities, like transparency and responsiveness)

    * Are responsive to all supported releases, not just the release with all the marketing dollars or the majority of engineering staff.

    For opaque groups they often have a better reputation than groups that attempt to be transparent and responsive but completely fail to follow-through.  Connect is a good example of that, for many people, they view it as a complete waste of time because while Connect offers the ability to provide feedback, the follow-through experience is horrible.  Many people have simply given up on Connect as a valid way of providing feedback because of it.  Some just view it as a way of implicit opaqueness--it's not the product group that is opaque anymore, it's the Connect group.

  • You guys are doing a great job at opening up, if you want to do better you could start providing more details and timelines for future products, better samples, continuity, fixes, polish.

    Future

    The best example I have is Silverlight, a truly revolutionary product. However the lack of UI controls is crippling.  This has been discussed in the Silverlight forums and in many blogs, and the team rarely chimes in, it’s just a bunch of users speculating.  This is a big problem for ISV’s that need to plan. Silverlight is especially annoying as it is a subset of WPF so why not just disclose the details of the subset even if it’s subject to change, we certainly understand.

    Samples

    Another area that could use some improvement is real-world examples of solutions to complex problems, even with entlib many of the examples are simple and don’t convey the benefits of the framework. A pack of VS solutions that evolve into a complex app stating the how and why would be great across the board.

    Continuity

    How about consistent databinding across platforms, it’s seems as if the left hand in unaware of what the right hand is doing.

    Fixes

    For years web developers begged and petitioned to get the PNG alpha problem fixed in IE6 as we resorted to hacks. This is huge, here is a browser that has 60% penetration, and a major flaw, and it was NEVER fixed.  This is scary stuff, the devs spoke and were ignored.

    Polish

    In IE7 we have tabbed browsing, great, however you must select a tab before you can close it via the X. I know from experience that this may change in 5 years when a new browser is released but not a minute before. So another suggestion is to polish software as you release patches.

    We are a Microsoft Certified Partner, and love all the great innovation and newfound openness the above issues would make working on Microsoft platforms that much sweeter.

  • My votes are:

    Least transparent: The IE team and the RSS team. (What are the plan for the platforms right now?)

    Most transparent: All things relating to .NET.

  • I don't understand this part "being rigid or least transparent". Is there any reason to be least transparent? Or are they in fear of losing the hold?

  • Yeah, it is true that MS is openning up and and having a dialogue with customers. And there may be ppl at MS that do not like the change. But in my opinion, this isnt the exact problem ... (the problem: looking MS as Micro$oft!) ... It is that the MS's business practices! Need examples?

    ---The way it tried to get its new Office file format ISO certified

    ---Business practices ..

    ---Less/Non Compliance with open standards ..

    ---Nagging anti piracy measures...

    ---Monopoly..

    These are the real reasons!

  • Perhaps I am biased because lately I have been working on Visual Studio Extensibility, but I have found the lack of response from the VSX Team Blog to be disappointing. I have posted questions to the VSX forums as well with no response. I just gave a presentation to the local .NET User Group this past week on VSX and CoDe Magazine just published an issue dedicated to VSX and leading up the presentation I could not get a single response from contacting the owner of the VSX Team Blog or the forums. Given that VS 2008 is being prepared as a shell for extensibility I would expect a better community presence and involvement.

    Beyond that I have received great responses from the ASP.NET side of things. I usually participate in the forums. Most of the time I go into the forums to answer questions but when I do ask questions I can expect a response within a day or two.

    FYI, here is a post I put up after my presentation this past week.

    http://brennan.offwhite.net/blog/2007/10/17/code-generation-software-factories-and-visual-studio-extensibility/

  • I would definately nominate the Visual Studio Team System guys as most transparent/open to feedback. They actually release specs before the were implemented and so they were still able to respond to feedback. Excellent!

    As the least transparent team I'd nominate IE, Windows and Office.

  • The .net team does a really good job of blogging. But look at the top of that unit - Scott Gu leads the way.

    The IE and Windows teams are a disappointment. Maybe for good reason at this time considering the Longhorn disaster - but some word from them would be nice.

  • From a developer perspective the company is wonderfull. They put a lot of education out there and the virtual labs for .net 3.0 were amazing. The idea that they jsut give you a virtual pc to play around w/ new features is fantastic.

    I think that the closer you get to the end user, the more problems you run into for communication.

    As for the people that hate microsoft. You won't change it, this is a fundemantal part of their faith. they beleive that microsoft is evil and will interpet everything in that light. And if you argue you have to realize that you are starting something like a religous argument.

  • Any of the teams that blog often are usually the best transparent. They give examples of problems that they are currently facing, and solutions to problems they encountered in the past.

    I believe that Michael Kaplan (International Fundamentals Team), Microsoft’s UK team, Larry Osterman, Eric Lippert, G. Andrew Duthie, Mdocter (BizTalk Adapter), etc… are good examples of transparency.

    The Office Team, should be more transparent.

  • OK, I actually love the M$ thing... I love the aggressive business attitude; survival of the fittest in this jungle, and if the competitors dont like it, that means its working!

    I am a programmer and I was technology-neutral coming out of uni, just happened to get a job using VC++ in a M$ shop, it could have been a java job in a unix shop, did not matter to me just needed a job to get married.

    I have been with M$ technology ever since and it has served me and my family very well.  And now I am biased, the M$ business model is FANTASTIC and a success (you guys still making good $$$ yeah? :)

    And YOU HAVE given back to the community, YOU  HAVE embraced educated enhanced elevated the community, and that also is a very good business attitude

    And all that aside your technology is marvelous, every bit of it.

    I want a T-shirt that says M$ cause I will wear it with pride.  When I happen into an M$ hater rambling nonsense, I smirk and feel good.

    As to my vote: hats off to Scott Guthrie & Co, and I love The Architecture Journal

  • My former colleague Tom is always addressing some very interesting issues. Today he decided to broach

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