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Spinning Vista and Grassroots Resentment

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So Microsoft announced yesterday that Windows Vista will be delayed in its public release for consumers, not coming out until early 2007 instead of the expected later in 2006.

Not surprisingly, this news has already attracted wide commentary in mainstream media and the blogosphere alike, nearly all of it highly critical.

What I find quite interesting is the focus of Microsoft’s press release, pitching this news as a positive announcement as part of the company’s overall business strategy for the new operating system. This is how the announcement starts:

REDMOND, Wash. – March 21, 2006 – Microsoft Corp. today confirmed that Windows Vista, the next generation of the Windows client operating system, is on target to go into broad consumer beta to approximately 2 million users in the second quarter of 2006. Microsoft is on track to complete the product this year, with business availability in November 2006 and broad consumer availability in January 2007.

You gotta hand it to Microsoft’s PR team. A testament to the power of ambiguous press release writing! Talk about when the next beta is due and camouflage the delay with phrases like “on track” so you see positive words saying that the release will happen later than most public expectations. Nice try. Of course, that spin was roundly ignored by the media and bloggers who zero in on what they see as the real story – Vista is delayed – with related opinions on the abilities of Microsoft’s senior executives and overall leadership.

Personally, I don’t think a few months’ delay is that big a deal in the overall scheme of things. Given Microsoft’s history with delays in product releases, why should anyone really be surprised?

Yet there is a real issue here, one that ought to be of genuine concern to Microsoft’s leaders – credibility, reputation and the effect of an event like this on everyone associated with the company, not least of which being the employees.

While we can expect to see quite a bit of public communication in the coming days and weeks (traditional PR and via the new influencers like Robert Scoble) as Microsoft talks up more benefits, I’m more interested in what’s happening within their organization.

Take a look at Mini-Microsoft, a blog written by an anonymous Microsoft employee who is consistently and constantly critical of his employer. In particular, read “Fire the leadership now!”, Mini’s post yesterday with his opinions about the Vista announcement.

More importantly, cast your eye through the nearly 70 comments (so far) to that post. While all but a handful are anonymous – are those commenters employees? customers? partners? trolls? all of these? – those comments surely are a temperature test of grassroots opinion about this company.

This anonymous comment is a good example of the general feelings being expressed, revealing as it does some simmering organizational issues at Microsoft:

Windows Leadership – Where does accountability fit on your review criteria?! I just submitted my resignation from Microsoft today – not because of this news, it just happened that I found a great opportunity outside of msft and got tired of salary compression and review system. So now I am speaking just as a shareholder – please change the management in Windows division. Promote some people that are hungry for success and are not resting and vesting’!!!!

And this one:

The culture isn’t accountable. Clamoring for a bunch of people getting fired is a waste of time. It’s OUR fault that this company is a disaster. You know who is responsible for our mess, US. It’s your fault. Take responsibility and stop being a bunch of front line victims. It’s pathetic. Being a 10+ year vet I feel ashamed and sad. This company is a mess on so many levels.

And this:

I have been reading this blog for the past few months and I must say that I really appreciate its existance mainly because I know that there are other employees who feel the same frustration that I do. [] I really hope MSFT turns itself around, I hope for the best but realize that I have absolutely lost faith in all the levels of upper management. This Vista issue is just icing on the cake.

Last September, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was interviewed by Business Week. One telling comment by Ballmer in that interview:

[] I think I have a pretty good pulse on where we are and what people are thinking. I’m not sure blogs are necessarily the best place to get a pulse on anything. People want to blog for a variety of reasons, and that may or may not be representative.

Shel and I discussed that interview in show #70 of our twice-weekly podcast, and we asked: Does Ballmer really have his finger on the employee pulse?

It certainly doesn’t look like it.

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Neville Hobson is the author of the popular NevilleHobson.com blog which focuses on business communication and technology.

Neville is currentlly the VP of New Marketing at Crayon. Visit Neville Hobson’s blog: NevilleHobson.com.

Spinning Vista and Grassroots Resentment
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