Thursday, 15 January 2009

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: 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.

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