An evening with Microsoft

I was a bit hesitant whether I should write about this or not, but hey, I’m all about openness, so here goes…

Last night I and a few other web/media people were invited by Microsoft for a sit-down discussion meeting, with the upcoming launch of Internet Explorer 8 and all. My initial thoughts was a feeling of respect to have the guts to invite someone who’s openly critical about Internet Explorer (in a constructive fashion, I hope), but definitely wondering why such a talk would take place now, and not six months or so ago, when it would have actually had the chance to make any difference.

My expectations of the evening were high, especially since my face was on the front page of biggest IT news web site in Sweden, IDG, most of the day yesterday, talking about shortcomings in Internet Explorer 8 (let’s look past the fact that the picture of me was four years old, and that all quotes were the negative one, and not also the actually nuanced answers I gave…).

I was hoping for an interesting discussion about what is good with Internet Explorer 8 and what is not so good, both when it comes to features as well as different web standards support etc. However, that is not how things went at all.

This is the evening outlined:

  • Introduction of the Microsoft staff present, and the attendants.
  • 1 minute Microsoft stating “We know IE 6 sucks” (well, don’t use it as a base for the next mobile Internet Explorer then!)
  • 1 minute Microsoft saying they think IE 8 is good.
  • One and a half hour general discussion about personalization on the web, target groups, making things easy to understand etc.

That last point was only remotely interesting, and maybe could have been in a different context where there would be no expectations to discuss Internet Explorer 8, but overall the evening was a disappointment to me for two main reasons:

  • We didn’t discuss any Microsoft products, which we should have.
  • There were no summary of any possible action of results or follow-up of the meeting.

And, if I may be a bit cynical, at times it felt like we were treated to dinner and drinks to tell them what we think, since they dont’t have the time to read blogs, articles and such to form an opinion – like it was a low price to have people share their takes in person instead. And it’s not that I think they’re not interested, it’s rather that we see no effect or concrete happenings due to us saying what we think, which takes away the feeling that what we say matters at all.

I have to say, though, that the last 5-10 minutes before I left (after the actual discussion had been concluded) at least gave me something. Me and Emil were standing talking to Michael Bohlin, Product Manager of Windows in Sweden, and I was pleasantly surprised with how open he was about good as well as bad things, and expressing some of the challenges they’re facing. It’s not like he was disrespecting Windows, but it was nice to have a talk with someone with self-distance, who would acknowledge shortcomings, but at the same time standing up for good things with the product he represents.

So, to summarize: if the evening had been like those last minutes with Michael, it would probably have been very interesting and rewarding. As it turned out instead, it was more or less a waste…

12 Comments

  • Sorry to hear it … was hoping for some fantastic news.

  • mdmadph says:

    If you ask me, it looks like you were used to make a few good public relations articles (and pictures) — I can just see Microsoft's picture captions now: "And here's pictures from Microsoft's dinner celebrating the release of IE8, and look, there's noted critic Robert Nyman come to wish Microsoft well…"

    πŸ˜›

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Morgan,

    I would have liked to give some too…

    mdmadph,

    Ha ha! Well I sure hope not… And it wasn't any sort of release party/discussion, which I had expected.

  • Johan says:

    Should go to US and talk some there at MS HQ.

  • Rizo says:

    Couldn’t agree more. That meating a few months ago would have been a very positive thing for IE. But still, its a very nice initative from microsoft

  • Richard Fink says:

    The people you met with might not be on the web monitoring things but I can tell you there were people involved with the IE8 project who were definitely, absolutely, reading and posting quite actively.

    Also, as far as:

    "it’s rather that we see no effect or concrete happenings due to us saying what we think, which takes away the feeling that what we say matters at all."

    I have questions: What effects or concrete happenings would you like to see? And what software producers do you feel differently about and why?

    Serious questions and I'd love to hear your answers.

    (BTW – Was the food good?)

  • Keep speaking your mind, I love it!

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Johan,

    Yes, hopefully that would make a bigger change.

    Rizo,

    It's a good start at least. πŸ™‚

    Richard,

    Let's start at the easy part: yes, the food was good. πŸ™‚

    In regards to happenings/results: if you invitie a lot of people to ask about their opinions, the sensible thing would be to let them know how they plan to use it, how they work with constructive criticism and what their roadmap (as as far as they are allowed to reveal) will look like.

    In a detailed example, with IE 8: it would be good if they acknowledged that their rendering blacklist is a problem and is controversial, and that they will evaluate it and consider dropping it.

    As far as other producers, I think that Adobe seem to do a pretty good work with Adobe AIR, and they're always humble about their product when they talk to developers. If the feedback makes it into the end result, I can't tell, but at least it gives you the impression that they're trying.

    And then, overall, I think that the open-source world succeeds much better with this, since they they are completely open with information, future plans and code.

    Christopher,

    Thank you!

  • Richard Fink says:

         Don't see IE8's compatibility list the way you do but we can debate that specifically another day.

    As far as dealing with Microsoft – what I find among a lot of people is a lack of appreciation for the level of responsibility and accountability that MS has to shoulder. Perhaps because it's so large, it's hard to comprehend. (It is for me.)

         Imagine this, if you will: if there was a magic button that could be pressed which would stop every single installation of FireFox in the entire world from working, what consequences would there be?

    Now, if there was a similar button that would stop every single installation of IE from working, if THAT were pressed, we would see banks and other financial institutions close down, online schools unable to function, and hundreds of millions of ordinary people with no other browser installed on their machines unable to access the Internet. Just to name some.

         Comparing MS to anybody else in the industry (except, perhaps, for Google) is simply not a fair comparison. It's like comparing the power and resonsibilities of the office of the President Of The United States to those of the Mayor of Stockholm.

         And because of their position, MS is very legally-driven company. They have to be. And employees of the company have to be very careful about what they say and do. It's not a situation that makes for free and open communication but it's the way it is. In my experience, they are certainly trying. And they're as nice a bunch of people as you'll find anywhere else.

         Also, writing this as someone who was quite active as a Beta Tester and chat participant with the IE8 team, I can tell you firsthand that they took feedback quite seriously.

         Lastly, and what bothers me personally, is the amount of disrespect and vitriolic nastiness that MS employees are subjected to. It's enough to make anyone want to quit their job. I don't know how some of the folks at MS can stand it. (Anti-depressants?)

         Anyway, hoping this adds some perpective to the subject.

  • because i want to write some of my sutff

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Richard,

    I will write a post about this and other things another day, and absolutely, a lot of things are based on working with IE 6 and throwing it out the window is not an option.

    That's why I'm strongly arguing for a separate IE 6 for where it's needed, and the newer versions of IE 8 to be just new, without having to care about all the backwards compatibility.

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