Monthly Archives: June 2007

Inside the Insiders: Robert Stein of ActiveWin

Inside the Insiders is a series of interviews with some of the most recognized and outspoken Microsoft influentials, journalists and enthusiasts I know. I plan to go around interviewing as many of these peers as possible to find out more about their background, life outside of Microsoft and their darkest Unix fetishes. At least that’s what I tell them. Little did they know their answers will help me annihilate them and my other competitors.

Robert Stein
Bob insists he is the dude on the left and not the ball of fun in the red vest.

Before the spew of silly little blogs like this one, most people visited one of the bigger technology websites or portals for their source of information and gossip. For Microsoft news, one of those that withstood the test of time is ActiveWin. One of it’s co-founders is Robert Stein, or otherwise simply known as Bob. I also happened to meet Bob during CES and there’s no better way to describe him than just a great down-to-earth guy. But as it turns out, he’s not as down-to-earth as I thought he was. In fact, you could say he’s above-and-all-over-the-earth.

Hey Robert. Who are you and what website do you run?

I am Bob Stein, of Pittsburgh, PA USA, the co-founder and Editor of

Movies: Big, Shawshank Redemption – I like most horror movies as well.
Books: 1984, Animal Farm
Foods: Sushi, Italian, just about anything
Hobbies: Travel – I love to travel and will go anywhere. My favorite places are India and Turkey, but I’ve been all over including Russia, England, Romania, etc. When I am not traveling, I like to go boating, cooking, snow skiing, swimming, etc. and just relax (without computers nearby).
SkydiveSchool: BS, Penn State University and MBA University of Pittsburgh
Something hardly knows about me: I started my online career at AOL as a forum leader when I was just 13. Of course I did not tell them my age. And, I love to sky dive! If anyone wants to go skydiving let me know!

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Microsoft Dynamics – the unfamiliarity of Office

Call me picky but this little Microsoft web advertisement has been bugging me all week. For some strange reason, it’s popping up all over almost every website I visit. Either Google’s contextual targeting algorithm is seriously buggered or has a secret agenda to sell me Microsoft Dynamics.

The advertisement in question is a 300×250 Flash animation for the new Microsoft Dynamics suite. There’s nothing wrong with it except it’s sole and entire selling-point is flawed. Take a look on the right and see if you can spot the Achilles’ heel. Refresh this page if you have to get it to replay.

If you see it, congratulations, you win an iPhone. For those of you that don’t see it, try to focus on the animation, then look at what applications they’re comparing and maybe do a little comparison with a copy of the same application on your own computer.

Microsoft Dynamics

Excel ribbonsThat’s right! They even make the same mistake again on their website. They imply Microsoft Excel 2007 has toolbars and menus, when it doesn’t. Their whole “familiarity” – taking icons from A to B – argument falls apart when you compare the Ribbon interface in Excel with the traditional toolbars and menus interface in Dynamics, they’re two completely different interfaces. How’s that for cross-application consistency.

Looks like your business goals aren’t going anywhere whilst you re-train your staff for two different user interfaces.

Update: A number of Dynamics applications does feature a portion of the Ribbon interface in some of their interface screens. The interface is still a far cry compared to Office. It’s got back and forward buttons, a hybrid breadcrumb navigation bar and a sidebar. It’s amazing to see how acceptable messy business applications can be.

“Google is a bummer of a place to work at” says internal Microsoft email.

An interesting view inside Google as a workplace has surfaced on the net. This could be either a look at the actual reality of Google or just a desperate attempt by Microsoft HR to boost employee morales and keep its employees within the fortress that is Redmond. Either that or a prankster who hates both companies just as much.

The following has been making the rounds on just about every internal email list I belong to in Microsoft. Here it is to share a little insight with the rest of the world. Microsoft is an amazingly transparent company. Google is not. Any peek is a good peek.

An anonymous Microsoft employee has posted on a fresh blog of what appears to be the full contents of an email circulating Microsoft’s internal mailing lists. Patriotically enough, he or she wanted to share this with the rest of the world just to show what a great workplace Microsoft is and Google is not.

Google Campus - A bummer of a place to workThe original email appears to be an interview with an ex-Microsoft employee who left Microsoft for his own startup, only to be later acquired by Google, which he then left to join Microsoft again. Confusing – and slightly ironic. The interviewee answers a series of questions highlighting some of the biggest HR issues such as work environment, career development and work benefits.

The email suggests Microsoft should look into some of Google’s stronger points and adopt them to be more competitive, though as it mentions, this culture is based around a very immature company – most of the employees being in their 20’s – and that it is, in many ways, more like a college campus than a professional business. The shiniest of the stars in all this may just be the free food. Until the Google Fifteen strikes at you.

The interview offers a lot of interesting facts and views (and maybe fiction as well), but since I myself don’t work at Google – nor know anyone that does – I can’t claim any of this is true or false. At any rate, this interview could probably be useful info for most people who work in the IT business on how they could improve their own workplace, so read up and be the judge of it yourself.

Please note: Since Long really isn’t well, I have been given both the great privilege and dubious honor of replacing him. This post is based on a draft he had for it. (Yes, Long has an editor – can you believe it?.) – Oscar

Update: The original interviewee, Geoffrey has voiced his own opinions on the ‘leak’ of his email at his own blog. He insists the views and opinions of Google are of his own, and if you draw even a nano-sized connection between him and Microsoft he will punish you to hell.

I personally think if there is anyone to ‘blame’ for any problems that arise from this matter should be the human resource staff who shared this email in the first place and not the final Microsoft employee who posted it on the internet. I think it’s common sense when something is spread around internally as wildly as this was it will eventually surface. The HR person had the responsibility to keep the details of his interview private and confidential. The anonymous employee only published it because he was proud of his workplace, nothing wrong with that.

Channel9 interviews Julie Larson-Green, Windows UX

I’ve been stricken sick (and still am) for the past few days so unfortunately I had to miss out on some great blogging and also the Microsoft ReMIX event in Melbourne. However lying on the bed for 2 days straight did buy me some time to come up with a few foolproof plans to annihilate the blogosphere, but more on that another day.

Julie Larson-GreenMicrosoft’s Channel9 recently interviewed one of the user-experience people I’m keeping an eye on, Julie Larson-Green, who is taking over some of the roles Tjeerd Hoek had left behind. Having just completed the redesign efforts for the 2007 release of Office, where she’s been for the last 10 years, she moved to Windows just before each of the products were released to manufacturing.

Back then, it wasn’t quite clear why all the Office people were rushing into Windows, but after all the Windows people began jumping out of the Windows group, obviously they’re here to run the show now.

As corporate vice president of program management for the Windows Experience at Microsoft, Julie Larson-Green oversees the design for the Microsoft Windows operating system. Her responsibilities include the end-user interaction design and overall experience for the Windows products after the release of Windows Vista, which will be available in 2007.

In her 30-minute interview with Channel9’s Charles and a woman I fail to recognize, there’s a lot of good information for every die-hard Windows-UX enthusiast. Whilst she doesn’t give any hints on what the design will focus on or anything related to design for that matter, she does talk a lot about their ‘new’ philosophy and process which is different to the past. Here are a few summary facts I found interesting.

  • She’s worked in Windows for 6 months already.
  • She reports to Jesus (Steve Sinofsky).
  • They’ll try to change the Windows-organization to focus less on individual teams and more about Windows as one. Trying to drive cross-team collaboration, something that’s more familiar to the Office organization.
  • They’re going to figure out what they’re going to do before doing it.
  • Before starting to talk about what they’re doing they’re going to make sure they’re actually going to do it.
  • New Office experience is not ‘done’. Still more changes to be realized.
  • She started her Microsoft career in technical support, answering customer calls.
  • They’re optimizing (the organization) for predictability – “innovate on a schedule”.
  • Mentions Mary Jo Foley and her World War III article comparing Vista and Leopard.
  • Believes there may have been too much transparency with Longhorn/Vista, and may have gotten itself into the problems it did.

By the looks of things, after all the reshuffling, things are still in order. But they’re going to try with all their might to prevent some of the problems that have plagued Longhorn.