How bad are the social fractures at Microsoft?
Microsoft Technical Fellow and Windows guru Mark Russinovich couldn't help poking fun at Vista throughout a troubleshooting session he led today at Tech Ed in Orlando.
The question is whether this is just one guy poking fun at an easy target, or whether it's emblematic of a larger problem. I noted the beginnings of this fracture during a visit to Microsoft in early 2007, when the Forefront group seemed miffed at the Vista group for having failed to implement some of the security features in Forefront. And I've observed this kind of subtle sniping since.
Then I attended a handful of sessions at Tech Ed this week, and I got the distinct impression that things have gotten worse and that serious cultural divides are cracking the veneer of the monolith.
But it didn't really sink in until I saw Russinovich speaking this morning, to his usual packed house of acolytes. And keep in mind that Russinovich is one of only 20 technical fellows at Microsoft--an exalted figure with a huge following among IT pros.
His talk was billed as a primer on debugging mysterious problems such as sluggish systems, application crashes and system hangs on Windows. Now, lots of organizations are still running XP and even older operating systems, so his talk could have been construed as addressing those problems on older systems.
But Russinovich made sure everyone knew that he was also talking about Vista, peppering his remarks with well-pointed jibes that had his audience roaring with laughter at the expense of Microsoft's new OS.
Russinovich also devoted almost a quarter of an hour to teaching his audience ways to get around what he obviously considers important lost functionality in Vista.
Explaining how to debug an application crash, Russinovich noted that IT pros need to start by investigating the dump file for clues about misconfigured files or extensions from a plug-in. "Look for extensions in the crash file with WinDbg [a Windows debugging tool]."
This is easy with pre-Vista systems, Russinovich added.
But with Vista, the crash file is dumped unless the Watson servers request the OS to save the data, Russinovich remarked a little tartly. (The Watson servers gather information generated and sent via those dialog boxes that ask if you want to report the problem or not after an application crash.)
Russinovich then explained that you can still save the crash file when using Vista by launching WinDbg, attaching it to the process, and then saving using a .dump command.
Another workaround (from Russinovich's PowerPoint):
Or you can configure Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 to always generate and save a dump file. Create a key named HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Error Reporting\LocalDumps Dumps go to %LOCALAPPDATA%\CrashDumps Override with a DumpFolder value (REG_EXPAND_SZ) Limit dump history with a DumpCount value (DWORD)
IT pros may now have a way around this particular issue, but that's cold comfort to customers wondering how closely to wed their fortunes to Microsoft in the post-Gates era that is about to begin.
It's hardly a secret that Ballmer and Ozzie don't see eye to eye, and a lot of the old guard, like Jeff Raikes, are also following Gates out the door.
As Joe Wilcox noted in January 2007, "Microsoft's evolving management structure [now] puts sales and marketing people at the top of the Microsoft organizational pyramid. Several reorganizations pushed aside or put to pasture many high-level, hard-core technology managers and replaced them with sales and marketing folks."
Microsoft is certainly big enough to take care of itself in the short term, but events (and rivals) are catching up, and it's hard to imagine Microsoft innovating at a fast enough clip to stay ahead of its rivals in a wide range of businesses.
Again quoting Joe, "Cultural clash is maybe inevitable, but its broad impact is still in the early stages."
That was in early 2007. A worsening cultural atmosphere doesn't bode well for Microsoft customers and the experience they may be buying over the next few years.