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11/21/2013
08:06 AM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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10 Historic Tech Memos & Rants

From Ballmer to Jobs, tech leaders write memos, manifestos, and rants that shape how we all think about computing. These 10 provocative statements each have a place in tech history.

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Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
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11/21/2013 | 8:58:49 AM
Peanut butter
I think Brad Garlinghouse's peanut butter memo is great. Straight to the point and effective (though I have to disagree with his particular stance on peanut butter itself).
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
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11/21/2013 | 9:11:31 AM
Re: Peanut butter
People respect people who call it like it is. In the peanut butter case, he was right.

But this is one of my favorite passages, re the Gates memo: "If you look over The Internet Tidal Wave, the absence of one term stands out: "Mobile" doesn't occur once." And here we are in the middle of the MS Surface dilemma. Imagine if Bill Gates and Michael Dell had built the first big tablet, instead of Steve Jobs.

 
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
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11/21/2013 | 9:37:27 AM
Re: Peanut butter
Apart from thinking that peanut butter is the most vile food on the planet, I love this piece. I love it when senior executives tell it like it is, or at least what they really think. Unfortunately, many of these rants came after the execs had moved on. The Google exec's public criticism of his own company, while he was there, and Google's decision to not cover it up say a lot (positive) about the company.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
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11/21/2013 | 10:12:26 AM
Re: Peanut butter
In that sense, the issue with the tidal wave was less that they didn't know to swim; it was that they didn't know where the tidal wave was coming from or landing.  At that time, the focus was on NCs ("Network Computers"), which failed marvelously.  (They are, in a way, making a small comeback though via Google, repackaged as "Chromebooks").  I suspect this is what Gates was probably referring to at the time.

But mobile?  Yes, the ball was certainly dropped.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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11/21/2013 | 10:15:49 AM
Why Google?
Terrific roundup, but why start with two slamming Google? I guess they're also a couple of the most recent out of this bunch.

I have to wonder a bit about the companies we haven't seen these from, like a rant from an Amazon.com employee. Based on recent profiles, it might be that Jeff Bezos is too scary of a boss to diss while you're on the payroll.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
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11/21/2013 | 6:42:40 PM
Re: Why Google?
@David, While we await one of these from a high-ranking Amazon insider, the one cited at the end of page 3 from Amazon contract worker Steven Barker is worth reading.

http://www.geekwire.com/2013/open-letter-jeff-bezos-contract-workers-amazoncom/

"But if you really want to create a positive work environment and generate productivity and employee loyalty, give your employees some job security."
Shepy
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Shepy,
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11/21/2013 | 9:10:28 AM
Job
"We know from painful experience that letting a third-party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in substandard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third-party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers."

It's rather skillful that a rant about keeping proprietary control was essentially wrapped up in the exact same arguement against another company
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
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11/21/2013 | 9:48:56 AM
Will These Still Happen?
Do you think the days of big-tech executives, even staffers, being this candid are over, or at least ending? An example is how "politician-like" many execs are now, and that these are more and more publically traded companies, where it's just not OK to let it all hang out, unless you want the SEC breathing down your neck.
Joe Stanganelli
IW Pick
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
11/21/2013 | 10:08:17 AM
Apps
The thing about Apple, Flash, and third-party apps is that when we look at iTunes apps, Android apps, and Facebook apps, they are mere commodities.  They are prolific, replaceable, and non-essential.  Flash, however, is not a commodity.  It is a platform unto itself.

So I wouldn't go so far as to say Jobs was wrong here.  You said it yourself: the threat from Flash was to Apple's control of its own platform.  "Commodity" apps don't typically carry such a threat, but Flash (and similar applications) did and do.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/21/2013 | 11:06:00 AM
Microsoft mobile rant
Given Microsoft's stumbles and struggles in the mobile market over the last four years, Ahonen's rant was deadly accurate. Ballmer et al did not take smartphones seriously enough. In '09, the tablet frenzy hadn't happened yet, but the iPad's appearance a year later would only escalate Microsoft's mobile cluelessness. Meanwhile, Android's sudden popularity poured more gas on the fire. The "me too" Microsoft mobile products rolled out in 2011 - present. But very late to the party. I'm sure Ballmer is kicking himself.
GIGABOB
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GIGABOB,
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11/21/2013 | 4:34:18 PM
Re: Microsoft mobile rant
We talk about "Rants vs Memos" - implying that in a memo a policy change was made that altered the direction of the company - but with a "Rant" the problems were articulated - but the company failed to act.  Microsoft got their visionary memo, changed policy to embrace and extend the internet - then Bill retired and the company coasted.  They needed another memo - but nobody was around to write it. With Elop at Nokia, he was right, but the company was too far out in the North Atlantic to rescue.  Note that the same memo/rant was not provided to Blackberry and the outcome was the same.

Another point - Bill's memo is now nearly 20 years old.  Its core idea that the Internet would be a PC enabler was quite astute at the time.  I can't penalize him for not clearly articulating that in 10 years the Intel strategy of evolving a synthesis between comms and compute would be realized so that the bulk of everyday PC functions could be performed on a phone.  I guess he may have expected that there would be a course correction or guidance coming from the top as time marched on.  Too bad Microsoft ended up getting M-Ballmerized.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/21/2013 | 4:50:58 PM
Re: Microsoft mobile rant
Ray Ozzie's "Dawn of a New Day" exit memo three years ago warned that Microsoft was not prepared for the post-PC world. I think that one actually motivated Ballmer. But he moved too slow.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
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11/21/2013 | 11:03:53 PM
Re: Microsoft mobile rant
To improve its visibility and get the solid footprint in mobile market, MS has the alliance with Nokia on WP platform. But after few years, the WP platform is still not so popular. I have echo Stephen's memo - the platform is still burning. I am not a mobile platform nerd to predict the future but I do believe there is still long way to go for WP in this competitive market.
WKash
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WKash,
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11/22/2013 | 10:20:06 AM
Microsoft & Mobile
While these memos are slices of time, it is interesting to see the foresight of Bill Gates about the coming tidal wave of the Internet -- and how Microsoft just didn't seem to get the mobile tidal wave that would follow.  Have to agree with the observation here:  "Seeing a tidal wave doesn't make you a better swimmer"
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2013 | 11:42:51 PM
Re: Microsoft & Mobile
@WKash:
"it is interesting to see the foresight of Bill Gates about the coming tidal wave of the Internet"

It's funny how with a lack of context, Bill Gates looks foresightful. The reality is that Microsoft ignored the Internet for way too long. Think about it; Microsoft launched IE in 1995, but was beaten to the punch by Mosaic, Lynx, Cello, Arena and tkWWW to name but a few. Even by IE4, Microsoft only had 18% of the browser market - it was a Johnny-come-lately in terms of the Internet, and while it gained eventual dominance after integrating IE into the OS, as I recall, that particular memo demonstrated Bill Gates' late realization that if Microsoft did not jump on the growing Internet wave, they would be left behind.

If you look at it that way, Microsoft screwed up by understimating the importance of the Internet and having to play catch up, and then did exactly the same for mobility.
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