Sunday, April 09, 2006

Over-Share from Dr. Evil’s Hideaway

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my underground lair.
—Dr. Evil

Another year, another fawning article about the way Bill Gates runs Microsoft.

Last year it was the Wall Street Journal’s turn to describe Mr. Gates’ near-mythic visits to a cottage on a lake in order to Think Big Thoughts about the Future of Technology, all alone—no friends, no family allowed—with only a caretaker who “slips him two simple meals a day.”

As I pointed out at the time (see “Bill’s Hideaway” from March 28, 2005), perhaps if Bill had instead merely spent a couple of hours each morning at the local Starbucks watching how real people actually use technology, he might have come up with something more in tune with what human beings want or need—a great search engine, perhaps; or a simple wireless email device—instead of a tablet PC and a word processor with an “Insert Button” that you use only when you accidentally touch it and it begins deleting things while you type, so that you have to touch it again to get it to stop deleting things.

But he does not. And thus we have the Insert Button—a technology only Dr. Evil could admire.

Now, almost a year to the day after the insider's view of Bill's Hideaway by the lake, Fortune Magazine has apparently been cajoled by Gates’ PR people to publish yet another insider’s story, this time written by Gates himself.

“How I Work: Bill Gates,” it is called, and sure enough, technology’s richest monopolist describes how he actually manages a company that has been sliding into irrelevance ever since the internet came along and allowed consumers to bypass its stranglehold on personal computing.

It is, I think, a sad read. Gates’s words come across not as insightful and informative in the Jack Welch how-I-get-things-done management style, but as the self-impressed noodlings of a man in control of a very large, very rich and very powerful organization who appears to have lived almost frozen in time—the Doctor Evil of the software business, who sees the world the same way he saw it thirty years before without wanting to believe how radically it has changed.

An overstatement, you say? Well, Gates begins the article by describing—and I am not making this up—the three computer screens on his desk.

These three magical screens are “synchronized to form a single desktop” which allows him to drag items “from one screen to the next.” This, he solemnly declares, “has a direct impact on productivity.”

Yes, the CEO of the world’s largest software company begins “How I Work” by lovingly describing a desktop computer setup that sits on every trading desk in every high-rise office building from Wall Street to Moscow by the hundreds: multiple screens linked to the same computer.

Bizarrely, there is no mention of his key managers, software engineers, or any other people in his opening paragraph: just a description of how he has three computer screens all tied together.

Gentlemen, I have a plan. It's called blackmail.... Either the Royal Family pays us an exorbitant amount of money, or we make it look like Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, has had an affair outside of marriage.
—Dr. Evil

Moving on, Gates describes how each screen has a different function, and here you might imagine you are reading a parody of how a brilliant, nerdy, lines-of-code-centric guy would manage a large enterprise:

“The screen on the left has my list of emails. On the center screen is usually the specific e-mail I’m reading and responding to. And my browser is on the right-hand screen.”

I am not making that up, either. Nor am I making up sentences such as:

"We’re at the point now where the challenge isn’t how to communicate effectively with e-mail, it’s ensuring that you spend your time on the e-mail that matters most." (As opposed to, say, ensuring that people actually want to use your products. )

All in all, we learn much, much more than we ever need to know about the way Mr. Gates Runs His Company.

My daughter calls this kind of stuff “Over-share.”

We learn he’s “not big on to-do lists.” We learn he likes to “check the folders that are monitoring particular projects and particular blogs.” We learned he’s “very disciplined about ignoring” a “little notification box that comes up in the lower right [of Outlook] whenever a new e-mail comes in.”

And we learn that he’s “getting ready for Think Week,” the cabin-by-the-lake sojourn where Mr. Gates will “read 100 or more papers from Microsoft employees” about “issues related to the company and the future of technology.”

Finally, we learn Bill still keeps an old-fashioned whiteboard in his office with “nice color pens.” It is, he tells us, “great for brainstorming when I’m with other people, and even sometimes by myself.”


After reading the entire piece, which contains much more of this kind of stuff, you begin to wonder how a company can survive management-by-email. Of course, as Microsoft-watchers know, the reality is that Gates does not manage the company by himself.

Finally, I come to my Number Two man. His name: Number Two.
—Dr. Evil

Ex-Procter & Gamble assistant product manager Steve Ballmer is “Number Two” to Gates’ Dr. Evil. Ballmer is a smart, funny, loud, in-your-face promoter of all things Microsoft—the first business manager ever hired at a company founded by software nerds, and crucial to the company’s rise to power.

Oddly enough, the previous edition of Fortune Magazine contained an interview with “Number Two,” which provided a fascinating insight into why Dr. Evil and his Evil Henchmen sitting around the shiny Evil Conference Table in Microsoft’s underground lair appear so out of touch with the Austin Powers-ish free-swinging technology innovation pouring forth from upstarts in Mountain View, Cupertino and elsewhere.

In a story titled “The Sleeping Giant Goes on the Offensive,” Ballmer is asked by the Fortune reporter if he has an iPod:

“No, I do not. Nor do my children…. I’ve got my kids brainwashed: You don’t use Google, and you don’t use an iPod.”

There you have it: the key business manager of the most important technology company ever created (by people far smarter and richer than yours truly) deliberately excludes from his household two of the most important technology innovations of the last decade.

Next thing you know, we’ll hear Dr. Evil's Evil Henchmen have kidnapped the Google boys and are holding them for a ransom of...


Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

© 2005 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations.


The Way Rider said...

And when the best they can come up with is a sort of virtual reality, cringe making (Microsoft's word, not mine) email competition; one really has to wonder just how far they are from (Net) reality.

I am refering to a hotmail email arrived in my hotmail account dated April 7:

"Make us cringe to win great prizes! Have you ever done something that you really shouldn’t have? Something so painfully awkward that you cringe just thinking about it? If so, you could be in line to win great prizes with MSN Hotmail! We want you to e-mail us your embarrassing stories via MSN Hotmail and make us cringe. We also want you to send them to your friends - not only so they laugh at your expense, but also so they vote for you if your story makes the weekly Top Five newsletter. Every week, the best stories will win fantastic prizes!”

It’s pathetic!

Now if you want to see what’s really happening on the net, and love music, check out

And in the interests of full disclosure, no I have absolutely nothing to do with the site. I came across it one week ago, and the possibilities of this type of site as a business just make my mind boggle….

Howard Lindzon said...

A beauty

the management said...

on the other hand, almost all the new superphones that are coming out seem to run Windows Mobile, so somebody round there has got their head switched on. I tried to buy a PalmPilot last week and they don't seem to be selling them in the UK any more; it's all mobile phones, mainly with Windows-based software.

Mainstreet Technology said...

you are absolutely right on - in fact, i thought most of the responses in that fortune article were dead flat lame. if i were a stockholder of most of those companies, i'd be selling...


Ryan said...

Jeff: I should probably start this comment out by saying how right you are and how smart you are and how you would be better at running a (or even better yet at starting a) 300 Billion dollar company. That is if I want you to post this comment.

Why do you only post comments of readers that agree with you? From what I have read from you you hate everything that you do yourself. Deleting any and all contrary views seems very communistic, doesn't it?

Anyway you might be right about good ol Bill but it seems like he does a lot of good for the world (he has the largest charity foundation in the world). Why do you take such low shots at Bill while protecting the out right dishonest dealings of many hedge funds? Oh wait you still believe that hedge funds never participate in any market manipulation. Its amazing to me that you can believe that market manipulation is a thought up idea in CEO’s minds. I guess you can be wrong in your realm of things and Bill can be wrong in his. He just doesn't have the time to sit around and talk cheap petty little shots at you. Heck he probably has no idea who you are.

Your good friend,

Jeff Matthews said...

Ryan: As readers can tell, I publish the good comments and the bad comments. And the misinformed comments, as well.

Chlngr said...

So, Jeff... you've never pulled a post that disagreed with your view? I know differently, and I've printed screens of the before and after. I can understand pulling the useless blather of name-calling etc., but on MSFT issues I know you've pulled posts at odds with your "Bill sucks" thesis.

Jeff Matthews said...

"Chlngr": You have way too much time on your hands, what with printing out before and after comments of this blog.

But since you make an incorrect statement, let me correct it so other readers don't get the wrong impression.

I don't pull comments that "disagree" with me. I pull comments that use infantile message board language, on which yours verged.

Whatever you want to say, say it like an adult or it won't appear here, I guarantee that.

Chlngr said...

Maybe I do have too much time, but I'm doing a study on how unbiased blogs that claim to be unbiased really are. I selected your blog as part of the sample because you appear to have some strong opinions along with a reader feedback mechanism. As one might have guessed, there are lots of blogs out there that claim to provide an open environment for all points of view, but that really do not... but I'm sure all of your readers already know this.

Jeff Matthews said...

"Chlngr": I can save you the trouble of "studying" the "hidden" bias in this blog right now--

I am biased against prevaricating CEOs, lousy Microsoft software that comes with every computer, and Wall Street analysts who regurgitate corporate spin, among many other things.

I have no idea where you got this "unbiased" notion. Maybe you should switch to decaf?

In any case, you may safely take this blog off your so-called "biased unbiased blog" list, and put it on your "biased biased" blog list anon.

Have fun.

dkman said...

As someone who posted plenty of comments disagreeing with Jeff on a variety of topics (his past love affair with GOOG being one of them), Chlngr I am puzzled where you are coming from.

I am even more puzzled that anyone would venture into the blogosphere expecting the world of "unbiased" reporting.

I think we all know that even people who nowadays call themselves journalists or reporters are just as biased as any of us. Their bias often colors and defines their work regardless of whether you are reading NYT or watching Fox News.

When it comes to blogs, the ones I value the most are those where someone, like Jeff, is willing to voice their opinion. By definition, it makes no sense to expect opinions to be unbiased.

Jeff: Another matter where I have to disagree with you is the "comment moderation" feature. I think it takes too long for comments to be posted and it often stifles the debate on any topic.

Jeff Matthews said...

"dkman" raises a point that I never considered--whether by previewing comments before they are published is a good thing or a bad thing for readers who wish to comment.

I like it because I can keep out the nonsense--the comments that use infantile message board words like *&^%#@!, insulting language and generally drag the discussion down to message board-level, before they have time to infect the discussion and cause otherwise rational individuals to refrain from posting a serious comment.

But "dkman" thinks it stifles debate.

Any informed opinion, especially on dkman's perspective, is welcome.

dkman said...

Since I raised the issue, let me attempt to clarify a bit.

I don't think comment moderation feature is necessarily the root cause of the issue here. Rather, the issue is the lag time between entering a comment and then having it reviewed and approved by Jeff.

This time period used to be 0, when everyone could just post rapid-fire and I think we had topics which solicited a great deal of debate and lots of comments.

In my experience, it now could take up to several hours for comments to be approved and put on the blog, and as a result, the average number of comments per topic has declined significantly, hence my "debate stifling" comment.

This is meant as constructuve feedback, nothing else. I don't care if someone out there thinks I am a brown-noser but Jeff's is one of the best blogs out there.

doug said...

I think "Chlngr" is really Patrick Byrne.

Roland said...

For everyone who thinks Jeff is over the top with his comments about Microsoft, check out the "mini-microsoft blog.
Written by a current microsoft employee who wants a leaner microsoft, you get a glimpse of everyday life in the "evil empire".
After reading some of the posts and comments , you will realize the employees are afraid the world of technology is passing them by...

Jeff Matthews said...

"doug": no, I doubt "chlngr" is Patrick Byrne.

"PadawanCowboy" is Patrick Byrne.

johnlichtenstein said...

Unless you want a full time cleaning job, then keeping the discussion on track is a tradeoff between control and timeliness. I prefer timeliness. One thing you might think about is taking on a helper or two, maybe a nice student who will work for concert tickets. Or lightening up and just clean out junk once a day.

Danyele said...

In my house Bill Gates is reffered to as "The Devil." I could not agree with you more!

TimingLogic said...

I appreciate Bill Gates for what he is. Someone with above average intelligence who was in the right place at the right time.

Gates only got a start in this business because IBM was under the Consent Decree which kept them from using their own operating system for their new creation, the IBM compatible PC. Gates didn't write the code. He bought it. IBM's monopoly and the copycats who knew they would only have a chance of success if they used the same architecture as the monopolistic IBM gave Gates all he needed.

Gates tried to sell his company to IBM and others many times for as little as $10 million as I recall. The last discussion of a sellout was somewhere around $1 billion as I recall. If he was such a visionary, why didn't he see how his attempts at selling what would be a $40 billion dollar company for a few pence was so foolish? And, if he had been successful at doing so, he'd be a name we likely wouldn't even remember.

Microsoft has used that monopoly to create a desktop application suite monopoly and funnel it into other ventures as well. They've been caught with their pants down on nearly every major shift of technology including the Internet, Network Centric Computing, Browsers, Thin Clients, Gaming, Content Management, Databases, Security, Usability, Consumer centric computing, Mobile Devices, Handheld Devices, Enterprise Computing, Systems Management, Virtual Computing, Collaberation, etc, etc, etc.

Gates is no more a visionary than I am. But, he's pragmatic, smart, has surrounded himself with competent people and has a monopoly with no real threats..........YET.

Microsoft won't shape the future of computing technology and consumer electronics any more than he has in the past.

Aaron Koral said...

Here's a question for the board: if Microsoft is representative of "over-share", is there a publicly traded company that is indicative of "under-share" (i.e., providing TLI - too little information) to investors?

A said...

Jeff, I tend to side with dkman on moderation. It sterilizes the debate and you may have people repeating each other's points because they didn't see somebody already having posted the same thought. You can always take down the silly and infantile when it appears. We are all grown-ups and can handle an occasional trauma of seeing the word $#@! in print. IMHO, or course.
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