Microsoft’s Channel9 censors list of Windows suggestions from enthusiasts. How did we come to this?

I’m going to be as clear as I can be. What follows is going to piss off a lot of people, from Microsoft that is, people I probably shouldn’t piss off if I were to expect any friendly accommodation again in the future. But I believe dealing with the current situation is more important than the short termed prospects of my blogging career. So here goes nothing.

Things have changed, things aren’t what it used to be. Scrutinizing Steven Sinofsky with funny pictures and satirical references is not for a lost cause. Some argue the “Windows people” has always changed and this is nothing new, but I reckon this change is worth noting. The grandfather of Windows, Jim Allchin, who’s shipped Windows for almost 17 years has departed. At the very least this new group people come from different backgrounds, have different values and will obviously manage the organization and its people differently.

To witness their impact, look no further than the infamous 2-line press release pleading for “future-talk silence”. Again, some people takes Microsoft’s side and argue it is too early to talk about the future, and I partially agree. However it shouldn’t be said they can’t even talk about the past and present which I’m also getting the vibe of. I remember a time, not long ago, when people used to love talking about their job and what they have done. “All Windows questions lead to the same answer: NO.” confirms another blogger.

Microsoft ConnectForty-eight hours ago something happened that stunned me with disbelief. First, a little backgrounder on the subject in question. As Mary Jo Foley reports, after the launch of Windows Vista, the Windows Beta team has asked the Windows testing community what they would like to see in future versions of Windows – a great initiative. The process involved mostly consumer users, likely Windows enthusiasts, to write their ideas and feedback using a report-format form which they will submit to a central repository. These reports will then be judged solely by other community testers on their validity and importance, thus given a rank based upon thousands of votes and comments. The idea is much like if not entirely the same as Dell’s IdeaStorm in an invite-only manner.

On July 11, the Windows Beta team sent out an email to these testers reminding them of the progress that has been made. The email along with many kind words included a list. A list highly misinterpreted as “the feature list of Windows 7”. When in fact, it is just a list of top-rated suggestions from people like myself.

  • A list that can be made so easily by clicking on “sort by rating”.
  • A list, undisclosable, undiscussable, of startling consequences on Microsoft’s own enthusiast Channel9 community.
  • A list so predictable you could find alternatives on any major Windows enthusiast forum like Neowin, AeroXP and even ironically Channel9.
  • A list without participation from Microsoft, in fact I would even dare to say hardly anyone on the Windows development team has seen or taken seriously.

Channel9 forum postOne overly enthusiast tester and long-standing member of Channel9, Jamie, thought this particular list would have made great conversation and debate at Channel9 where he decided to post it several hours later. Within hours, his thread was locked, indirectly forcing him to remove the quoted list. Later that day, a discussion spewed over jamie’s topic where people started questioning what was originally posted, curious like humans are suppose to be. Of course, this curiosity was met by the opposing force, the administrator, Charles, who laid down the law, “PLEASE don’t post illegal stuff here again. End of story.” A fair ruling, but how did it come down to “illegal stuff”?

One would think, or at the least I would think a list of product suggestions thought of by the people, written by the people, moderated by the people and ranked by the people is a product of the people. Under some unexplainable spell, some Microsoft employees insist this becomes company secrets, thus, protected by non-disclosure. I beg them to reevaluate what’s at stake. A long list of ideas with mostly unreachable expectations (replace error codes with plain explanation), monopoly-inducing practices (bundling antivirus) or just plain common sense (consistent design). How did this become the gold bricks of Microsoft?

Ironically, this is exactly why Microsoft does not accept product suggestions from the public otherwise. Microsoft’s own terms of service and copyright document states in nice readable and calm capital letters,


However Microsoft Connect, the centralized beta-testing program has a different terms of service which welcome and allow feedback. It’s a nice contrast.

I’m afraid, afraid of Microsoft fleeing back to the pre-Scoble stone-age. Where NDAs and private betas are the norm and public knowledge is mostly based on communication leaks or rumors fueled by blurry-cam screenshots. Not good for enthusiasts, not good for PR.

Apple “top secret”There is one other company that comes to mind and that is Apple. It’s easy to argue their secrecy and practices may have contributed to much of their success, however it’s also not impossible to draw connections between the failure to communicate and many of the problems many customers has been tearing their hair out about, for example the missing landscape keyboard in the first (and current) iPhone release. Problems entirely avoidable or at least its importance raised before launch.

One Apple user (and at one time, enthusiast) wrote to me, “You’re not even close to describing the hell that is Apple and non-disclosure. Apple is famous for requiring NDAs from people in exchange for hardware fixes. They did that when the iBook motherboard problems surfaced, you could have it fixed, if you signed a contract (news article in Danish) that said you couldn’t go public with the info.”

To conclude, using gas/liquid analogies to help summaries my thoughts – Windows has always had its fair share of leaks and other IP spillages (for example, wonder why there are so many Media Center copies? Because of a leak a while ago, Microsoft could not claim the patent for MCE UI), and Microsoft has all right to protect its assets. But if you leave no room for that expanding balloon of thoughts and ideas to escape, it’s eventually going to pop or shoot into the sky sounding like an unpleasant discharge. That is not going to be pleasant at all.

36 insightful thoughts

  1. Long, I’m not so sure I agree with you on this one. Yes, I understand what you’re saying and the importance of it. But at the same time, it is in Microsoft’s best interest to keep things under wraps for reasons exactly as you alluded to: “A list highly misinterpreted as ‘the feature list of Windows 7’.”

    If misinformation such as this continues to be spread around, then two things happen: one, competitors may know what Microsoft is up to; and b) you give people a false hope. Just as many people who saw Longhorn were disappointed, you don’t want a list like this of supposed Vienna features getting out because if many of those features don’t make it to production, you have disappointment.

    Now, I agree that at some point, the public should be included and there should be communication. But I would say that this may be too early for that. At this point in the development cycle, Microsoft should be talking about general, vague ideas of what they would LIKE to see in Vienna. A year or two before release, get the beta testers involved, but at that point, even with the usual leaks (or even legal screenshots releases), features are likely not being taken out so there’s no disappointment.

  2. Oh, and on the topic of removing Jamie’s post: he’s foolish for ever having posted the list! It’s usually the norm that Connect information is not intended to be made public and thus one should expect that a post containing information from Connect would be removed. The merit of whether or not keeping Connect info private is discussed in my above comment.

  3. I’m confused – it’s true, normally us Brit’s miss out on the big stories because we’re asleep :( I’ve re-read Long’s article (and a brilliant piece of journalism at that) but still can’t seem to get the jist of it.

    I’m seeing – “Jamie” got some info from Microsoft, he posted this on C9 which appears to be features for W7 and IE8… and then people started getting into trouble for breaking NDA’s which apparently weren’t there.

    I’ve met Sinofsky – he has a strong likeness to Hitler.

  4. I have met him (Steve Sinofsky) twice, and by no means has he ever come across as a “Hitler”. My experience (as well as most others) is that he came across as a sincere “family” guy who has passion, and loves to listen and absorb information from others, and share it with those who desired to hear it. He always had a smile on his face, and he never had a shortage of friends and admirers in the halls of Microsoft, as well as out on the town.

    Brian Kvalheim
    Microsoft MVP 1998-2006

  5. Long routinely posts emotional, passionate, takes on fairly trivial Microsoft matters. I can’t see as how this is much different.

  6. OK OK, I take it back. He may be a nice guy and all, but to the right people. I’ve been talking to a guy on the Windows team, who’s a really nice chap, family man himself. He basically says, that the teams are keeping quiet about features because they don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. They promised some really cool things in the early beta’s (remember WinFS?) and they couldn’t come up with the goods. People bet businesses on what they said, so now they’re trying to be a bit more disciplined.

    He went on to say, “It’s not that we’re clamming up Apple style, just that we publicly speculated too much in the past, and we’re trying to make sure we set expectations better in the future”. We agreed that this press release ( was a bit harsh and could have been explained a little nicer…

    I just think that Microsoft could be a bit more conservative with how they handle these things. As an ex-worker there, I understand the necessarity for secrecy, but there’s not a thin line to walk across :)

  7. Long, your Windows 7 post are on the verge of annoyance. You are a good writer, but the topics on the next Windows release and Mr. Sinofsky are becoming hopeless babbling. I think you are just bored with Vista and you are using this topic like a slippery pole that you are trying to hold on to (with little success). Maybe its to generate news, exercise the fingers a little bit or satisfy an inner craving for thoughts about pre-release software.

    At times, I sense a bit of reverse psychology in your post, especially when the topics revolve around Mr. Sinofsky. Maybe you think he will notice your enthusiasm and send you the first alphas of the next Windows when it becomes available or invite you to a workshop at Redmond to have early access to the code and so you can give some feedback.

    If you look back to the Beta 1 release of the Vista, the Windows About dialog had a disclaimer about certain functionality not being patented, trademarked or copy righted yet. That was at beta 1, imagine the next release at this current stage of development even if it is even in development. I’m sure the Windows Team is very busy right now finishing up Server 2008 and preparing Vista SP1 and XP SP3 as primary focus for the future. Anything concerning the release of Windows client is more likely a rough draft on paper “still” in the planning stages.

    Anyway, give it a rest, there is so much in Vista to talk about, good and bad, the focus on improving performance, driver quality and compatibility. (Mobile Phone Tools is still not working properly with Vista x64). Focus on topics such as what are you doing with Vista, give users tutorials, your Speech Recognition demo is probably a great example and how I came to discover your blog.

    When I look back five years go, I say good times, good riddance. I don’t want to go back through that chaos right now I am drained. Longhorn was announced in June of 2001, speculation about it became rampant about it until 2003 when the first prototype was demoed at WinHEC ’03. Then there was Bill Gates who took up leadership of the project with his WinFS vision on how data should be managed. Then the numerous code leaks from the 3xxx build series, the PDC ’03 presentation, the lousy alpha code that left a bad taste in some peoples mouth. The oohs and ahhs that were early AERO demos from Hillel. Lets not forget about the delays too, Longhorn was suppose to be here in 2002 as an interim update to XP, then the beta was delayed to Summer 2002, with a release in 2003, got delayed again with a release in 2004, got delayed again with a beta 1 release 2004. The we end up getting another alpha (4074) in May of 2004 at WinHEC presented by Jim Allchin. Then we here that its gotten delayed until August 2005 and the RTM would mark the 10th anniversary of Windows 95. Then in August of ’04 we read that WinFS will be dropped and beta of it will be released for Windows XP and Server 2003 for MSDN subscribers, then we are told Vista will be delayed and released in August of 2006. Then we come to 2005, WinHEC ’05, early code build 5058, people disappointed, was expecting more, then we get beta 1 of Vista in August of 2005 we go through a whole year of beta with RTM in November 2006 and world wide availability January 2007.

    Now tell me Long, do you really, really, really, want to go back through that again? And don’t tell me it won’t happen, because it can, and I just believe they want to really prevent the disappointments that occurred throughout the Longhorn project, when its ready, you will know about it. Now just get back to Vista and give it some time.

  8. Hey Long, the MS ToS and the Connect ToS are VERY different. The Connect ToS says you agree to let Microsoft use your ideas. Again, a very different ToS

  9. Microsoft does not accept ideas from the public? That’s horrible. How are they going to know what should be fixed, added, made, or whatever. They’d rather sit in their own little bubble, making up their own ideas, than listen to the people who actually use these products? That’s a horrible plan. It sounds kind of cold.

  10. Well Michael, they do. The CEIP is there in most programs to try and make Microsoft products better, this is one of the primary ways they get the information through. God I remember going through numerous logs with Messenger trying to see how people used it and what needs improving!

    Andre, good point well made, but less on the “personal front”. Don’t forget, we used to be at each others throats in the newsgroups, look at us now eh :)

  11. For some reason my previous comment did not go through. Here is a second attempt at it.

    Long this post was entertaining as usual, but I one word comes to mind = overreaction

  12. I’m not sure I totally agree on this. Too much transparency at the wrong time can really hurt companies as we have seen with Microsoft. As you mentioned in another post people will spread misinformation very quickly.

  13. “One would think, or at the least I would think a list of product suggestions thought of by the people, written by the people, moderated by the people and ranked by the people is a product of the people.”

    Sorry, Long, but even as a Linux enthusiast, I have to say I’m with MS on this one. Unless they state that they don’t own or are not responsible for the content posted on the site in question (which I’m sure I don’t have access to), then they are within their rights to do pretty much whatever they want with it. If indeed the content in question was privileged, then the person had no right posting it in a public forum, plain and simple. And as for forum moderation – Long, I know you and you know me, and I can tell you – forum administration on a busy board is a stressful task at the best of times.

    This doesn’t sound like a case of censorship so much as a case of a company trying to keep things under control, and a forum moderator being a little over-zealous. Maybe I’m completely off-base here – I’m happy to be corrected and don’t want to appear arrogant so if someone wants to enlighten me, go right ahead.

  14. They censored the list because it’s pretty much what they plan to do. If I were MS, I wouldn’t want to give competitors 2 years to figure out how to implement it earlier (and probably better) and then lambast Vienna’s features a year before it releases. They suffered enough from Apple doing this way before Vista’s launch, and IMO Apple was holding back.

    I think Microsoft *wants* to surprise people with cool features, so we should let them. They still have a lot to prove, and I think that if it’s all the same to us, let them have their secrecy.

  15. At the end of the day Microsoft is corporation that is trying to make money for its shareholders. They’ve learned that over-hyping and letting competitors know what they are going to do (as in Vista) has hurt them. I think what we are seeing here is the new Microsoft management kicking in and doing things more discreetly. I know it’s going to be much worse for bloggers and whatnot, but for one, I’d like to see concepts delivered than fake promises.

  16. To all of the Sinofsky questions, I’m not saying Sinofsky is a bad person, in fact he is a great leader. But he has a different style of leadership which is different to what we (I) are used to at least in the past ‘decade’. From history, he’s leadership has worked out quite, extremely well for Office. Whether or not this will also apply to Windows will be a test of time.

  17. @Kevin: This is NO feature list. This is a far cry from anything that resembles a features list. If Microsoft is afraid of this particular information spreading to its competitors, then I have seriously lost hope in the organization.

  18. @To everyone who’s suggesting secrecy is a good thing: I agree. Please read the last 3 paragraphs if you haven’t. Secrecy could probably make Windows far more successful, but it could also introduce problems we haven’t experienced before in “Windows”.

  19. @Andre Da Costa: I am certainly not “bored” with Vista. I use it day in and day out and promote it to all my friends and immediate family where possible.

    I have no personal or professional gains in generating any news so I disagree. My AdSense ‘profits’ could be easily toppled by working an hour in McDonalds. Hardly anyone in the Windows organisation has ever talked to me, and probably never will.

    I don’t want early access to the code. I’m not that big of a fan of beta software. I certainly don’t have the time and effort to submit as many bug reports I would like. Mind you, I’ve only had access to Vista since RC1. I was not part of the beta test before then. If they were to invite people, they should invite some thousand beta testers before me.

    I understand and respect intellectual property rights. Like I described in the article, Microsoft has lost some vital IP in the past due to leaks. They have all the right to protect their assets, but can you really define this list of suggestions as an asset? Most is common sense.

    The reason I’m not writing about Vista, giving tutorials and doing more ‘demos’ is because there are a million other people, people like yourself, more qualified to do so now everyone can buy the software. I did it early because I saw the opportunity to show off Vista under a bright light at the time when it was mostly negative talk.

    I know Vista has an interesting and rather long history, but look at how it has turned out. I truly mean it when I say Vista is the best release of Windows ever. The journey might have been hard, but the result is nothing short of outstanding. Sure it could be better, but it can always be better.

    I don’t say we should repeat history, and I agree certain mistakes should be prevented again. But this is case a few days ago is certainly not one of those mistakes.

  20. Long,
    It seems like there’s two questions here: First, were rules broken by posting the list? I think so, and really I have no problem with Ch 9 removing what was offered in an email as nda content. That part is pretty cut and dried, and MS was correct, in the way they approached the nda early feedback newsgroup, and in the way Channel 9 removed it.

    However, if Microsoft was correct, were they right? This is the second, and far more interesting question. Is gathering information in a secret closed newsgroup the way to go? What happened to transparency? I’m afraid that the days of a group of product planners deciding how software is to be built, with a cursory wave toward “early feedback”, and no interaction with the marketplace, is simply not how successful software is built anymore. Look at the changes Windows Live Hotmail went through, many of the final release features were planned not by meetings in Mountain View, but by a fairly public outcry about missing features or misguided functionality.

    I’m concerned that doors are being closed that had been at least cracked open, that the “old way” of building software, where users only see software after it’s been shrink-wrapped, is unfortunately not only alive but embraced, and that the chasm between the new realities of Web 2.0 and the way Microsoft insists on working is cracking ever wider.

  21. Long, I get what you’re saying. I think that that it’s true that Microsoft probably overreacted, and IMO this is all overreaction to that overreaction. Microsoft probably just doesn’t want any speculative discussion on Win7 on its web properties at this point. I personally don’t see the big deal, but suppose the thread continued and it became clear what the top demanded features are. At that point, Microsoft either has to comment or squelch the thread. Squelching the thread then will be a lot worse. And if they comment, well, that does put these ideas in their court. Perhaps they just don’t want things in their court right now. Again, I have to qualify that I think they should have handled it a bit more nicely.

  22. I have to agree with Andre here… Just give it a rest!

    In case you haven’t noticed, people have been increasingly discomfited with your (more and more) in-your-face posts about something that’s not going to change just because you blogged about it. I posted that back when you made your “Vista SP1 Proved” post, and yet it seems you’re running out of things to discuss, and just re-hashing old issues with a sharper tongue.

    I can’t believe you actually criticize Microsoft’s new management (as a 17-year-old student) when they just their most successful fiscal term ever to date. Obviously they know something you don’t – why not take a minute and guess what that is?

    Instead of posting about what (you think) Microsoft doesn’t want Windows (Vista SP1|Vienna) to be, how about just addressing the issues that come up, making suggestions and criticisms (even harsh constructive criticism is better than tantrums like this) that can actually be used to accomplish something.

    You want my honest advice? Go back and read your own articles from when you first became “popular.” Those people liked for a reason. It’s the same reason people are starting to hate your new articles. Give it a break.

  23. I didn’t mean which “attention-grabbing titles, images, and topics” post; but rather the posts that got you where you are now. So not the most popular recent posts but those many posts before it which – steadily but surely – built up your readerbase with people who genuinely wanted to read from your posts and benefit from some of the knowledge in them.

    Popular != Good

    If I posted an article mocking Linus Trovalds behaviour on some issues, you can bet it’d be “popular” in the sense that I’d get tons of links and plenty of comments. But that doesn’t make it a good post.

    You of all people should know that controversy, misinformation, and accusations are what make Web 2.0 and the blogosphere go around. Don’t fall in love with your own legacy, it never does any good to do so.

  24. Hence my comment about accusations, FUD, and hate-campaigns making the blogosphere go ’round :)

    Zack: What do the newsgroups have to do with anything? Once someone (in this case, Long) posts in public, replies should, too, be made in public. Makes sense to me!

  25. Oh come on people let Long say whatever the hell he wants. If you dont like what he says or what he talks about then.

  26. Is there a website in which we can vote on the most valuable improvements we can think up for Windows XP or Windows Vista? I have a thousand ideas but it would be nice to see if we’re all in agreement on some of them – and then it would be interesting to see whether Microsoft fails to implement any of them, again.

    For instance, FolderSize was the most valuable add-on to Windows XP, and years after I started using it, I was sure that the next version of Windows would include an option to view folder sizes in the Details view. Instead Vista completely disabled the shell extension! And the makers haven’t been able to recreate it for Vista. Now the choices in the details view are so extremely bad in Windows Vista, it’s 10x worse than it was in Windows XP, which was already pretty bad.

    Why do the morons in Windows Development not think of the obvious improvements that we think of? Why can’t they come up with a way to hear our suggestions and maintain copyright ability? What is wrong with this company?

  27. You want my honest advice? Go back and read your own articles from when you first became “popular.” Those people liked for a reason. It’s the same reason people are starting to hate your new articles. Give it a break.

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