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The Redmond Reality Distortion Field

If you're looking for perhaps the most credible Microsoft employee on earth, please look no further than Stephen Toulouse, who heads up policy and enforcement at Xbox LIVE. (That's right: When you get banned for that Nazi emblem in Black Ops that is supposedly a "work of art," as one guy tried to explain to me, it's Toulouse who ultimately has the responsibility of setting you straight.)

(Another digression. Don't get me wrong, I know plenty of credible, realistic, and honest Microsoft employees. But few would be willing to speak publicly and bluntly about the software giant's problems as does Toulouse. I love this guy. You know, in the right way.)

Anyway, Toulouse has an interesting blog and this week two years ago (I really nailed that one) he wrote a fascinating post about the "Redmond Reality Distortion Field," which I can verify is oh-so-true and, if anything, doesn't go far enough. Which is understandable, because he is, after all, still an employee. Put a little more simply, he's describing "ivory tower syndrome," and this, combined with the sheer size and complexity of Microsoft's corporate structure (remember, they have about 100,000 corporate VPs now) explains why this company can't get anything done quickly, or often at all. And that when they do get something done, it's the wrong thing.

It has happened again and again. Some example from Toulouse:

- A phone that required a dedicated PC to be on all the time in a day and age when these PCs pretty much really did need to be rebooted every single day.

- A Zune digital media platform that wasn't compatible with Microsoft's existing digital media formats, which the company had spent years and billions of dollars evolving, with a variety of partners who instantly felt screwed.

- A USB speaker system that was released before most customers even had USB ports on their PCs.

Two of the three examples he cites are quite old, which I'm sure is purposeful. After all, you don't want to ruffle too many feathers. (Painfully, I've owned and really did enjoy all three of the products he mentions too. I'm sure that's coincidental.)

I don't care about ruffling feathers. I could go on and on, but I've Short Takes to write and a lot to do today, so I'll just get this started...

I have mentioned many times recently, in print and on the podcast, that for all its strengths, Microsoft's biggest failure, ultimately, is that it can't connect the dots. It has all these digital media features in the Xbox 360 now, for example, but you can't go the final mile and do things like store Zune playlists in the cloud so you can access them from the console or from any of your PCs. This is classic Microsoft: Tantalize users with possibilities and then not deliver. SkyDrive is another classic example: 25 GB of cloud storage with absolutely zero chance of accessing it seamlessly from Windows 7. You could write a book about these things.

Speaking of which, Toulouse did write a book, A Microsoft Life. I'm downloading it now.

Bravo, Stephen. Of course, no one will listen. They never do.

Thanks to Dan D. for the link.
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