News flash: Microsoft lied

"I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" --Claude Rains, Casablanca

I'm a little late in getting to this item, but I recently came across James Plamondon's online confession that he lied while working as a technology evangelist for Microsoft (link). Actually, "lied" is probably the wrong word. James systematically misled and manipulated software developers, and enthusiastically taught others at Microsoft how to do the same. Some samples from his work there:

Working behind the scenes to orchestrate "independent" praise of our technology, and damnation of the enemy's, is a key evangelism function... "Independent" analyst's report should be issued, praising your technology and damning the competitors (or ignoring them). "Independent" consultants should write columns and articles, give conference presentations and moderate stacked panels, all on our behalf (and setting them up as experts in the new technology, available for just $200/hour). "Independent" academic sources should be cultivated and quoted (and research money granted). "Independent" courseware providers should start profiting from their early involvement in our technology....

Analysts sell out - that's their business model. But they are very concerned that they never look like they are selling out, so that makes them very prickly to work with....

The key to stacking a panel is being able to choose the moderator. Most conference organizers allow the moderator to select the panel, so if you can pick the moderator, you win. Since you can't expect representatives of our competitors to speak on your behalf, you have to get the moderator to agree to having only "independent ISVs" on the panel....Sounds marvelously independent doesn't it? In fact, it allows us to stack the panel with ISVs that back our cause....

Get a well-known consultant on your side early, but don't let him publish anything blatantly pro-Microsoft. Then, get him to propose himself to the conference organizers as a moderator, whenever a panel opportunity comes up. Since he's well-known, but apparently independent, he'll be accepted....

A Jihad is a road trip. in which an evangelist visits a large number of ISVs one-on-one to convince them to take some specific action. The classic Jihad is one focused on getting Tier A ISVs to commit to supporting a given technology by signing the technology's Letter of Agreement...As in sales, the purpose of the exercise is to close – to get the mark the ISV to sign on the dotted line, in pen, irrevocably.

The Role of ISVs
* Pawns in the struggle....
* Valuable pawns
o We can't win without 'em
o Must take good care of them
* Can't let 'em feel like pawns
o Treat them with respect (as you use them)

Developer Conferences....
* Subvert independent conferences
o Love them to death

Developer Magazines
* Same as developer conferences
* Infiltrate and subvert


You can see the details here. Be sure to skim the comments at the bottom. They're a hoot.

Speaking as someone who led the competitive teams at Apple and Palm for many years, I guess I ought to get worked up about this stuff. But mostly I think it's just old and tired. The whole "Microsoft is evil" theme is kind of pathetic these days, like the trial of an 85-year-old mobster. Yeah, I know, they deserve everything that Google's doing to them. Let's move on.

It's also not really news that a lot of analysts and conferences are on the take. For the record, you should always understand who's paying the bills when any "authority" talks.

I'm usually not moved by someone who apologizes only after being exposed in court and abandoned by his employer (link). But I'll take James at his word that he's trying to make amends.

Apology accepted, James.

That doesn't mean, though, that I agree with his prescription on what the industry should do about the situation. James says the best way to prevent a recurrence of Microsoft's misdeeds is to set professional standards for evangelism:

Microsoft...is this week launching its first public volley in the Mother of All Standards Battles, to control the de facto standards of cloud computing. For Microsoft, this is a life-or-death struggle. When Microsoft's back is to the wall, can it reasonably be expected to refrain from using the TE tactics that it KNOWS will help it win, if its use of those tactics is unrestrained?.... This problem can only be treated, I believe, by professionalizing TE, and thereby inoculating platform vendors against unethical TE practices. That's why I felt compelled to come forward now. Only now have I realized how wrong I was, and by coming forward now, in the opening skirmishes of the Cloud Computing Wars, I can begin to make amends for my past wrong-doing.


James is even writing a book on what he thinks those professional standards should be. That ought to be an interesting read. Maybe Amazon could do a two-for-one offer with the Martha Stewart Guide to Ethical Investing.

But I think the real problem isn't missing standards, it's missing morality. I believe James was able to thrive at Microsoft because the company's hypercompetitive culture condoned dishonesty, as long as you didn't get caught in public. Everybody in the industry believed they worked that way. I think the problem wasn't just in Microsoft's evangelism, it also included the company's marketing, business development, and so on.

Unfortunately, they're not the only company in the tech industry that thinks that way.

The real cure here is not to read a book or professionalize anything. Just take a course in business ethics. Or better yet, save your money and memorize this rule:

Never mislead a customer or partner.

And if an appeal to morality isn't enough to move you, keep in mind that even the cleverest liars eventually get outed. Just ask James Plamondon.

(By the way, James, if you really want to make amends, how about sending the royalties from your book to the stockholders of the companies you damaged or destroyed?)

==============

Thanks to Andrew Shebanow for pointing out this issue, in a cool little essay here.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't CARE whatever microsoft is good, evil or nice !

only ONE solution for a great industry

- to make Good Products
- to stop corruption (justice and prison).

nothing else I care.

-
I'm sick speaking about companies having ugly products but you have to speak about them because many times ago they got the opportunity to become a GIANT.

they are only that : a Giant. and it's tiresome.

End.

Paulo said...

Your post is at the very least polemic. It says "Microsoft lied" when one employee lied, teached others to lie and was fired for doing so. I'm not a Microsoft apologist, but this seems accumulated hatred. This is a rather probable scenario in any company, especially big enterprises, just that perhaps most never get public about these matters.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not a Microsoft apologist, but this seems accumulated hatred."

the problem is, Microsoft has a 20 more year story of bad attitude.

you can't blame people.

Ron Robins said...

Ethics and good human behaviour cannot be regulated or legislated. The behaviour of large corporations simply represents the collective consciousness of its management, employees and society at large. What needs to happen is for society to recognize that real inner spiritual development takes precedence over other forms of education.

Incorporating personal values in investing decisions is another important approach for anyone concerned about business ethics. I believe that when we invest in a company, or many companies in the case of a mutual fund, we share in the responsibility for the activities of those companies as well as participate in the outcomes of their corporate activities. So, anyone valuing their personal or spiritual growth has to take these things into account when investing.

Also, if everyone invests according to their personal values, then, since so many of our core values are alike — and are supportive of higher ideals — that in the long run, only companies employing these higher values will truly prosper. And there is real evidence of this now.

I advocate, teach and write on the subject of ethical investing -- and have a popular website that has unique information which might interest you. It includes the latest global ethical investing news and research. My site is at www.investingforthesoul.com

Best wishes, Ron Robins

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised to read this - at least part of it. I can't believe there's a Windows Mobile ISV in the world who would say Microsoft took "good care of us, didn't let us feel like pawns, or treated us with respect". Microsoft's been treating Windows Mobile ISVs badly from day one.

Anonymous said...

> Microsoft has a 20 more year story of bad attitude

Exactly: "At Microsoft, we get our hatred the old-fashioned way: we EARN it."

(to paraphrase a nearly as old TV commercial a famous elderly actor did for a broker - John Houseman for Smith-Barney)

And Microsoft deserves every bit of it. And even if it didn't, well, there's "pour encourager les autres" ... Google's "don't be evil" has a motive ...

Anonymous said...

Seems like most big companies are engaged in evil practices, Microsoft just got caught...

Marsha Keeffer said...

"Seems like most big companies are engaged in evil practices, Microsoft just got caught at it."

No, read the post - it became a part of the culture. What other companies are doing is never an excuse for illegal or immoral behavior done by another firm.

Let's get it straight - as people working within a company we form the organization. There isn't some Great Oz behind a curtain. It's about personal responsibility.

And Mr. Robins - our current economic situation is exactly the reason why we must indeed have regulation.

Excellent job, Mr. Mace. I'd say your thoughts are right on time.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the interesting comments, folks.

I think my comments on Microsoft overshadowed the main point I was trying to make about ethics in business. The Microsoft-bashing is sort of fun, but I was mostly trying to use Microsoft as an example. Unfortunately, I think I hid that point.

So, here's what I was trying to say:

There's a reason why virtually every human civilization has developed a code of ethics. The ethics are there to guide you when there are holes in the laws. No set of laws can be written so specifically that they will guide you through everything you do in life. So to fill in the gaps, you need a set of general guidelines on how to deal with other people. Things like the one that applies in this case, "don't lie."

The trouble about a code of ethics, though, is that by definition it can't be enforced by a court. So we need other forms of enforcement. One is public disapproval. Thus my post.


Paulo wrote:

>>It says "Microsoft lied" when one employee lied, teached others to lie and was fired for doing so.

You should check out James' website. He was running company-approved mandatory training, and it sounds like he retired from Microsoft, with honors, to move to Australia.

They disowned him only years later, after the documents were used against Microsoft in court. James writes: "Exactly as I would have done, back in the day."


Ron wrote:

>>The behaviour of large corporations simply represents the collective consciousness of its management, employees and society at large. What needs to happen is for society to recognize that real inner spiritual development takes precedence over other forms of education.

Or at least needs to be on an equal footing with it.


Anonymous wrote:

>>Seems like most big companies are engaged in evil practices, Microsoft just got caught...

That's the usual excuse the misbehaving companies will toss at you. In my experience, it's not true. Any large company will have some bad employees, and all companies struggle with ethical issues. But I believe the majority of them are not systematically amoral.

And even if they are, all the more reason to speak up.


Marsha wrote:

>>it became a part of the culture. What other companies are doing is never an excuse for illegal or immoral behavior done by another firm.

Exactly.

emma said...

Yea, it's really a major problem that, Microsoft has a 20 more year story of bad attitude.