Bill Eccles: October 2006 Archives

One Foot in the Grave...

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So the Lovely and Talented Wife (tip of the hat to and blatant rip-off of FlagrantDisregard.com) tells me the following story:

O. was in a public bathroom (the one at the church) as T. had taken him there. He had to poop, so had plenty of time to notice his surroundings.

“Mom, what’s that bar for?” he asked, referring to the handrail on the wall.

“That’s for old people who might need it to help them get up and down off the toilet,” T. replied.

Think. Think. Think.

“So, Dad will be needing that pretty soon, huh?”

One foot in the grave. One foot already in the grave.

I don’t have much good to say about Microsoft. As far as allegiances go, I fall squarely on the side of Apple Computer, Linux, and pretty much anything that isn’t Microsoft. I usually call it “Microsloth,” in fact, because of the sloth-like pace at which the company moves in reaction to things like the market, bugs, customers, technology… everything, in short. Of course, there’s something to be said for the giant that moves slowly and carefully, and that’s pretty much what’s gotten them to where they are now, so it’s not all bad.

And I do respect Bill Gates’ business acumen. I can’t say he is a great software architect, though, because that’s not what he did that made him a bajillionaire. He made his billions buy… ooops, I meant “by,” of course… He made his millions by being an exceptionally savvy businessman without writing a single line of code. (You could argue that he did write code to get him to a position where he could negotiate with IBM with an air of legitimacy. I’ll grant that point. But pretty much since then, he’s managed to expand Microsoft by being a businessman.)

But the Gates era at Microsoft is over. He’s no longer the Chief Software Architect. Instead, there’s some guy named Ray Ozzie in that role. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Ray Ozzie is by all accounts brilliant. He did, after all, invent Lotus Notes, one helluva product that did some fantastic things that Microsoft still hasn’t managed to duplicate, though they have pretty much buried it in relative obscurity. He then went on to found Groove Networks and Microsoft actively courted him (if you can call buying his company for something like $125 million “courting”) to get him to work in Redmond.

In other words, Microsoft saw the right guy for the job and, well, there he is now.

According to Wired, his management style is very different from Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. He doesn’t sit on a dais and expect his minion to prostrate themselves before him. No, he visits the trenches. He listens to the front line employees. He tries to understand what they are doing. He listens to rumors. He’s hands on. And that sounds like a great kind of person to have steering the biggest software company on the planet. And what a change that is.

But then he said in front of a big crowd of investors that his vision for the future of Microsoft involved something to the effect of “Wouldn’t it be great if you could just hit F5 and your presentation….” I don’t have to go any further in this narrative than that: the man actually said “hit F5” as if it were a natural thing to do, something “obvious to the most casual observer.” It bothers me that, now that Microsoft is led by someone with software acumen, he actually said “hit F5!”

Since when has hitting F5 been a natural interface to anything? It’s a meaningless abbreviation for Function 5. Its function varies from program to program in Windows. Heck, on the Mac notebook computers, those keys on the top row also have little pictures indicating that they do other things first, like volume up and down and mute, because most Mac programs don’t even know that those keys exist, don’t care about them, and the net result is that the function keys’ primary role in life is doing other system-wide things first—with neat icons as a memory crutch!

[I must digress for a moment because I just realized that Steve Jobs just caused me angst and heartburn when I recognized that F12, F11, F10 and F9 all do something in MacOS X such as Exposé and Dashboard functions. Fortunately, though, these are system-wide functions and don’t vary from program to program. All he needs to do is put some little icons on those keys and it’d be very similar to the volume and brightness controls on the MacOS notebook computers. But that very realization has me doubting the basic premise of this entry, namely that anybody so bright, yet so short-sighted… wait, I haven’t gotten to that part yet.]

So when your chief software architect reveals his grand vision and it’s centered around a function-key interface, you have to wonder who will refine that vision into something workable. We, the folks who are forced to use Microsoft products day in and day out (I’m looking squarely at you, corporate IT Microsoft-niks), must hope that there will be others who will refine these implementation of an otherwise-great idea that he has into something that is more user-friendly than “F5” or, worse yet, ALT-F-S-Y or something bizarre like that.

It will be very interesting to see where Microsoft goes, because while I hope that there will be that someone who will stand up and say, “Ray, I think that idea sucks, and here’s one that’s better,” I’m desperately afraid that the culture at Microsoft that has been grown there by Gates and Ballmer will prevent that kind of open, honest feedback. And then all of that good listening and other good stuff that Ozzie brings to his role will be for naught, and that’s a F5uture I don’t want for anybody.

Speechless.

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Now that I have a blog up and running, I don’t seem to have anything to say.

I guess I’ll just have to wait until the mood strikes.

At which time I’ll probably be nowhere near any piece of technology more modern than, say, a flint arrowhead or, at best, a Windoze box, and will be unable to write the idea down, expand on it, and generally bore you to death.

Thank goodness I don’t spend much time out in the woods or visiting relatives with clueless PC purchasing habits.