Restoring my faith in Microsoft

Last month I had one of those moments of insight that can change a man forever. OK, it wasn’t on the scale of a Road to Damascus conversion or attaining enlightenment and merging as a raindrop into the ocean of existence but it was pretty revelatory nonetheless.

The second to top boss at the day job follows my blog and as such is well aware of my interest in cloud computing and the like and fired off an email saying he had some people from Microsoft coming for a day’s presentations and would I like to join him and them for dinner on the night before.

Now I don’t hate Microsoft but I plead guilty to harbouring and nursing probably the same misconceptions that most people have who don’t deal with the company on a regular basis. In fact, the only long term grudge I have held against Microsoft was that back in the mid 1990s when I worked for the European Commission I had to standardise with colleagues by using Microsoft Office and stop using Ami Pro which I considered to be a vastly superior word processing package.

Now I wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned up at the venue for the meal. I had this mental image of Microsoft employees as something akin to the Hitler Youth; clear eyed, stern of focus and, although the Day Job Boss had stressed casual dress and no ties, probably attired in designer jeans with Oxford collar shirts and hair nicely gelled into corporate peaks.

I could not have been more wrong. They were relaxed, very personable, had great senses of humour and showed a genuine concern for what the Day Job Boss was trying to achieve. More important they were, in my eyes, fallible!

I was talking to two of the guys over a pre-dinner beer and said that I thought that open source was going to be growing in importance and that I felt Microsoft should look to moving out of what I considered a silo mentality and co-operating more with other service and software providers.

I added that the best example of this from Microsoft was its recent Google Connect add-on which allows anyone working in an MS Office application to sync it with Google Docs at the press of a button, extending the collaboration potential between the two giants. No-one that night had heard of it!

Fallibility

Later I was talking about how Microsoft two days before the dinner had launched Internet Explorer 9 which, although I had not had a great deal of time to play with it, was blisteringly fast compared to IE8. No-one from the MS party had even seen a beta or was aware of its unveiling at SXSW!

Thinking about it, this “fallibility” was a plus point in that it could be argued that rather than try and keep up with what corporate Microsoft was developing and pushing out the latest products and services they were more likely to be concentrating on their areas of expertise that would help existing and new clients. They weren’t picking up the latest gizmos and trying to hard sell them on to customers. Refreshing.

So, all in all a very pleasant evening and a radical readjustment on my views on Microsoft. Admittedly I haven’t fallen deeply in love and want the company to have my children but it has put to rest the ghostly, dust covered grudge of having to give up Ami Pro.

Oh I almost forgot. What the hell has this to do with you and CIOs in general? How many end users within your organisation have a completely wrong perception of what you do and the benefits you and your team bring to the organisation? Does your internal image need to be refocused and buffed up so that Jocelyn Browning on the third floor in accounts knows you are both working for the same company and IT is not the Anti-Christ!

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Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.