IT Confidential: What Microsoft Means To Me: Ubiquity, Influence, Casual Dress

I was back on the Redmond campus for the first time in almost 10 years, and it was like I'd never left -- except I didn't recognize anyone and nobody recognized me.
I can relate to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' memory lapses--I forget a lot, too. For instance, I had a really good idea for a column, but I forgot it. So I'll have to write about my trip to Microsoft instead.

Last week I spent a day and a half on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., the first time I'd been there since 1999 or so. From 1991 to 1994, I lived in the Seattle area and covered Microsoft as a beat reporter for InformationWeek. Back then, I visited with Microsoft executives and developers once or twice a month. When I got there last week, I realized I'd forgotten what a beautiful part of the country the Pacific Northwest is. I'd also forgotten how dynamic and exciting the atmosphere is on the Microsoft campus. I'd also forgotten how casually they dress.

I was tagging along on this trip, accompanying my colleague Nick Hoover, who covers Microsoft for us now. Many of the data points in the conversations we had with Microsoft executives were disclosed "under embargo," meaning InformationWeek can't talk about them (product details, mostly) until Microsoft releases that information at a conference at the end of this month. But that's all right, I've forgotten most of them by now.

Still, I remember a few general impressions. For example, Microsoft is very concerned with the gulf that exists between Web designers and application developers. Several of the execs we talked with expressed the notion that designers and developers have grown to loathe each other, one side representing itself in terms of agility and creativity, the other pragmatism and functionality.

Microsoft's right to be concerned about that gulf. First, it may be slowing the advance of Web commerce. Second, Microsoft has spent most of its time, up till now, on the side of application developers, cranking out ever-more-sophisticated development tools, and leaving Web designers to their own, mostly open source software, devices.

I'd forgotten just how influential Microsoft is. "Who has the largest IT department in the world?" asks Andy Lees, a corporate VP of the server and tools group. Answer: Microsoft. Lees is referring to Microsoft's support of the half-billion machines that run the Windows operating system. Through its Windows Update function, Lees says, Microsoft scans 450 million PCs a day and delivers a petabyte of updates every month. "We do more outreach to IT pros than anyone else," Lees says.

I'd forgotten how ambitious Microsoft is. "We have the broadest pipeline to developers around the world," says S. "Soma" Somasegar, VP of the developer division. Somasegar is interested in breaking down the wall that exists between application developers and IT operations managers that hinders the two from working collaboratively and communicating effectively. Microsoft intends to breach that divide with future versions of its developer tools, he says.

And I'd forgotten how confident Microsoft is. A common theme in our discussions concerned the company's strategy to maintain its dominant position in an increasingly online-oriented computing environment (think Google). According to one exec, Microsoft isn't worried. "This evolution is a lot easier than some others," says Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of the platform strategy group.

Which may well be true. But history is populated with faded stars that underestimated their challenges. And what's that penalty for forgetting history people always talk about? I forget.

Pride goeths before something, doesn't it? But send an industry tip first, to [email protected], or phone 516-562-5326.

Rob Preston's column will return next week.

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