back to article Bill Buxton to change Microsoft from within, hug Steve Ballmer

"Last year at the company meeting Steve Ballmer said quite clearly to 85,000 employees 'If you don’t change and you don’t go in this direction, we’re dead, and I don’t want to die.' I wanted to go hug him when he said that." So says Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft, interviewed at the company’s Remix 08 …


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  1. Herby

    Microsoft Change?

    Just another oxymoron. Just like Windows Vista.

    Nothing more to say.

  2. lucmars

    everyone is not a designer

    That's true, cos a designer isn't an artist.

  3. Geoff Mackenzie

    I can't resist

    Microsoft Works

    Windows Security

    Any more for any more?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Don't believe it

    The only thing Microsoft are trying to change are their press.

  5. Jean-Luc Peurière
    Thumb Down

    Very telling

    The fact he does not answer on the ribbon question is very telling.

    The changes that need Ms are radical, not evolution, and this can only happen if they start by assessing what is crap and what is ok to keep. Yes, there is some good stuff in windows (well hidden).

    Wont happen.

  6. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Go, Bill Buxton, Go ..... do Something/Anything Different to make a Difference.

    Change can ONLY come from new Blood. And I would suggest that the FlowerPower Era does hold all the Keys and provide the necessary IP ... "I’m a child of the sixties, I want to change the world."

  7. Anonymous Coward

    I hate Microsoft...

    ...but this article makes me think Buxton has exactly the right idea. He has the right starting "stance". Can he kick ass? Who knows? However, Microsoft are buffoons if they ignore him.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Controling hardware and stability

    Controlling the hardware as nothing to do with stability. Linux (for all it's flaws, real or imagined) is proof of that. If you design your OS well, it is a non issue. All hardware work is handled by the kernel, who learns how to handle "other" hardware from drivers. If you then build on top of that with WELL DOCUMENTED APIs, then you do not have problems.

    Of course, we all know about Microsoft documentations and how precise and well written it is. When Microsoft itself says it cannot provide information on it's own network protocols (think folder sharing/samba) because it as no clue how it works, you know something is very wrong.

  9. boe
    Jobs Horns

    Hugs from Steve Ballmer are always from behind

    Anyone else here notice when Steve Ballmer gives you a hug it is always from behind? I think he learned his hugging technique in the prison showers.

    I'm pretty sure when everyone told Ballmer Vista sucked he blatantly ignored us and told us it was "the most popular" version of Windows. Pretty sure when 200,000 people signed a petition to keep XP we weren't getting the hug we wanted. Pretty sure when we told Balmer that the new "powershell commands" AKA DOS commands in Exchange 2007 were indeed nifty we wanted the GUI interface back so we wouldn't need dedicated exchange engineers to know arcane spells to work on the exchange server Steve wasn't giving us a good hug in return.

    I don't know about you but I think in grammar school they told us if a Uncle hugged us the way Steve likes to hug us we should tell the authorities. I'm pretty sure if a child psychologist asked us where Steve was "hugging" us we would have to point to an add spot on the doll.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Love the quote in the screenshot: "Everyone is NOT a designer".

    Never a truer word was spoken.

    I just wish more developers would accept this fact (along with their own limitations in this area) and get someone else in to do a proper job, rather than turning out the usual half-arsed UI that they invariably do.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    boring is good

    There is a fundamental flaw in the logic of design. Change for the sake of change is simply confusing. Conventional applications like word processors and spreadsheets *should* look the same next year as they did last year. Changing the UI every couple of years just makes takeup of new features and new versions more difficult.

    That said, every now and then, you have to go from DOS keyboard input to mice and graphics. You make the change because the new UI is significantly more usable, and learning curve be damned. But how often do such changes come along? Not often. Not as often as the latest new button bar or the latest ribbon. It's like putting more cup holders in a car and calling it an upgrade. Some Dodge minivans now have 16 cup holders, and there are still only 7 seats. After awhile it's not a feature anymore.

    Anonymous because I may have to work at Microsoft someday.

  12. Neil Barnes Silver badge


    "We’ve reached a point where consumers, and I mean business customers as well, are not willing to accept stuff that’s sub-standard."

    Um, we quite demonstrably haven't. We've reached a stage where people are quite happy to allow stuff to be foisted upon them, like it or not, and are on the whole to lazy to do anything about it - even if that something is simply to vote with their feet. Or their cash.

  13. Piers

    Everyone is not a designer... WTF?!?

    Everyone is not a designer - well, yes, *except* the designers, who are, obviously, designers. Therefore some people *are* designers, so the phrase "Everyone is not a designer" is patently absurd. What they must be *trying* to say is "Not everyone is a designer" - which is true. If they can't express themselves correctly and unequivocally at this basic level then what hope do they have?

  14. Paul Kinlan

    Everyone is not a designer

    He wasn't really saying that from what I remember.

    He was saying that people should specialise in what they are good at but also be knowledgable about the other areas. Which he called "T" I think. So his stance is that developers should know design put specialise in development, designers know development but specialise in design. Add in lawyers should know development and design, and likewise the designers and developers should understand the lawyers practices but let the lawyers do their job as they are the specialist in their areas.


  15. Neil Stansbury


    Linux.. is actually the perfect case in point.

    Apple have proved that a Unix OS can actually be slick, fast and simple enough that your Mum can use it - everything that the average Linux distro isn't.

  16. Anonymous Coward


    Are they out yet? I dont think i have been under a rock, but i have heard nothing of them nor seen one, nor even heard of anyone (even MS fans), having one.

    I dont own an ipod, but i have definitely seen pretty much every incantation of it.

    Also i have heard plenty about Vista (good and bad), some about sharepoint which world+dog seems to want but no-one can make work. MS PR dept need to focus i think, although the Jerry Seinfeld advert was good.

  17. Jon Green

    A welcome change of attitude, but...

    ...I suspect that Buxton trying to change the whole corporate ethos of Microsoft, even with Ballmer's enthusiastic backup (pun not quite intended, given earlier comments), is going to be a bit like trying to change the direction of a bulk carrier with a kayak paddle.

    By the time anyone's noticed a difference, it'll be buried on the rocks he was trying to avoid. The ship's carrying thousands of tonnes of Microsoft's legacy deadweight: old code, old coding practices, the weight of twenty years' back-compatibilities, and a code base so broad and deep that no-one has an clear understanding of it all.

    If Microsoft has the collective will to do what Apple did with MacOS, and make a complete break, with a completely new product, without trying to maintain more than a hand-wave to historical compatibility (come on, does _anyone_ use FCBs any more?), they stand a chance.

    And when ducks speak Spanish, I'll believe it can happen.

  18. cloudberry

    not everyone is competent in English grammar

    Among them even some who have important positions in huge companies.

  19. John O'Hare

    @Neil Barnes

    Well actually, I think he is right on that bit. Most computer users will still accept sub-standard products, but an increasingly number is discovering that what gets shoved down their throat for an operating system, isn't what they have to put up with.

    Even though it's been made quite difficult for the average user to move for instance to desktop linux (which is quite definitely similar or better than XP in usability at the moment), an increasing number of people find out that you actually don't have to shell out wads of dosh to be able to process documents, create presentations and surf the net.

    MS see that number growing by the day and is probably EXTREMELY worried about this movement. Once this catches on with larger businesses, the MS business model of 'renting' out software is obsolete.

    MS will probably need to change with the times to remain in their position. Problem is, the money is still flowing in right now and nobody who can really make any changes, will actually change course until it's too late (which is just fine by me, since I prefer real interoperability instead of what we have now).

    Mine's the one with the MSFT put options in the pocket.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blaming Developers

    Firstly, most developers could do a far better job than they do. There are basic UI standard that can be learnt, in the same way that coding standards can be learnt - they should become automatic.

    However, the main reason most UI is half-arsed is that most companies (a) won't pay for a UI specialist (b) won't pay to train software developers when it's something that the developer can 'do' (regardless of whether it is done well). As an extension of this a lot of companies don't care about the quality of the underlying code either, and then there is the complete flipside (getting web designers to do your server-side development because they know a bit of ColdFusion).

    It's a bit of a vicious circle - there are relatively few UI specialists because there are relatively few UI roles. In turn that's because most software is imposed on users by management and IT departments that don't use it.

  21. John

    Has anyone actually used the alternatives to MS Office

    They suck. I'm sorry, I use a Mac Book Pro and love it but Office, yes even the buggy Office:Mac 2008 is still miles better than the alternatives.

    After getting Office:Mac 2008 and experiencing it crashing every 10 mins I looked but the competition is just non-existent. Maybe in a few years Open Office might be a competitor but I doubt it. As for the rest ,forget about it.

    Once a) the service pack was released and b) I started learning what to avoid that made it crash I can now actually use it crash free almost completely.

    MS are still in the strong position they are because their stuff isn't just bought by geeks and fanbois but by everyone and when the customer takes an unbiased view they invariably go with them. When their stuff gets over-taken by the competition (Mac OS X) then people start to move over. People will vote with their feet.

    That said I welcome everything this guy has said. .NET is fantastic and if Microsoft can move all Windows application development over to this then they could be on to a winner with Windows 7. That and strip out all the junk/bloat that's in Vista and maybe have a compatibility mode (similer to running a virtual machine like VM Ware) for the legacy apps.

    Then they might have a genuine competitor to Snow Leopard and Cocoa development.

    Because although I like Apple's products (I also love my iPhone), they are FAR greedier and controlling than Microsoft and if they ever get to a position of power in the computer industry I think we might all realise that MS weren't THAT bad.

  22. Tom Silver badge

    Change it from within?

    Sorry Bill, the whole point of MS employing people like you who may provide disruptive innovations is to stop you doing it for someone else.

    Its no good improving the design of office suites. Thats the computing equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Steve Ballmer said "I don’t want to die".

    Well, as a general rule-of-thumb, anything Steve Ballmer doesn't want is almost certainly a very very good idea indeed.

    So, that's one vote against.

    Shall we have a show of hands? All those in favour ...... ah. Right. Steve, we've got some bad news for you.

  24. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Buxton is just a diversion

    Whatever he says won't change the fact that MS is currently DRM-enabled and beholden to the MAFIAA - which means that Vista was doomed to be the pile of crap it is.

    Mr. Buxton is just a PR bunny, spouting feel-good soundbites in the hope that some skeptics will actually be convinced by his charm. I seriously doubt that he has any chance of impacting development in a way that is favorable to the user.

    The situation will only change when the major shareholders decide that the downward spiral would be best stopped by removing DRM and cutting the blubber that is continuously growing on the frame of the Windows whale.

    And chickens will fly.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Carrot and Stick

    The carrot and stick approach is good and if it fails at first, just put the stick in front and the carrot behind. Bingo.

  26. IGnatius T Foobar
    Thumb Down

    Lipstick on a pig

    As the saying goes, if you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig. Microsoft will always be a pig as long as it keeps trying to be the end-to-end all-encompassing monopolizer of software. The world is moving on, and Microsoft has nowhere to go but down. Their only hope is to learn how to play fairly in the software market, and that isn't going to happen until Ballmer is gone. By "gone" I mean retired, but I'd prefer "gone" as in six feet under.

  27. David Kelly
    Gates Horns


    Actually I quite like Apple's iWorks suite. Sure, it doesn't have as many features, but how many of Word's advanced features do you really use? Performance wise Office is no match and iWorks is (imho) a lot more user friendly. For example, in Numbers you can name columns. "= price * quantity" is much more obvious than "= C4 * E4". Why have M$ never done something so obvious yet so helpful in Excel? No doubt they'll be copying these ideas soon, albeit in a less friendly way.

  28. Rich Turner
    Thumb Up

    Don't assume that Microsoft doesn't learn and change

    That would be a VERY dangerous assumption.

    I have seen more cultural change inside MS in the last year than in the prior decade.

    Over the last 12-18 months, so much of the old-guard (good and bad) has gone/changed (Bill Gates, Jim Allchin, Brian Valentine, Jeff Raikes, Kevin Johnson, Peter Moore, Charles Fizgerald, ...) and has been replaced by strong leaders with proven ability to more effectively ship great product on time and with high levels of quality.

    Evidence? You'll have to take my word for it for now, but just wait 'til you see Win7 & Office14 - they're significantly improved over previous versions. VERY significantly.

    The whole company has realigned internally and is cooperating and leveraging strengths *much* more than ever before. In the past, MS set up a lot of internal competition in a Darwinian "survival of the fittest" kind of approach to product development. Much of this insanity has gone and we're already seeing early beneifcial results.

    Finally, the culture within the company has changed. Much of the combative culture has gone, replaced with a healthy desire to create the best products and to compete openly and fairly with all comers.

    The last point is one that I cannot stress enough. Do not assume that Microsoft will stop competing. We understand very deeply that the only way to survive is to compete ... hard. But don't assume that by competing, the Microsoft is doing things in an underhand manner - most of the new guard saw what has happened to Microsoft (and others) in the early 2000's, and we have no desire to be part of that.

    Rest assured, old Microsoft is dead ... long live the new Microsoft.

  29. pete
    Paris Hilton

    Ahem ....

    We're taking design advice from the company who thinks "glass" is the new black (as opposed to some horrible throwback to 3 years ago) and the new messenger is so "washed out" you can barely see it?

    Who ever is in charge of Branding needs to be shot and any one working in their Accessibility department must cry themselves to sleep at night.

    Paris: Because she should be shot too, though don't worry guys brain activity would remain unaffected.

  30. rick buck
    Gates Horns

    M$ Misses the mark, again!

    Design is good and fine, but, just 'cause it's pretty, does'nt make it work any better. While good design is more than skin deep, I think that buggy software is par for M$, and you can put lipstick on a pig, but that does'nt make it anything but a pig.

    Funny, he speaks about the X-box and Surface (both Products), but faults Apple for an end-to-end product experience (Apple seems to do well in this manner).

    M$ has yet to make the Ultimate PC, one that showcases their best products (and actually works without the bugs), probably so they, like Buxton also claims, can blame the "Tiers" of hardware vendors (who make products to specs that M$ sets forth...saying "Oh we changed did not work well, you did'nt get the memo?").

    Maybe this is spreading M$ too if they were'nt already overextended into too many areas, focusing on making the Windows Code, flawless, efficient, and machine indifferent, instead of making code that has all the flash, but will not run on the brand new machine that someone just bought, 'cause the Specs were changed to make the code work (along with a daily slew of updates to fix the damn thing). And do'nt get me started on security flaws, and updates that change all my preferences...

    Bill, 'cause I've got Mojave sand in my PC...different dirt from the same 'ol place...

    M$ Windows is like a Model T, You can have it in any color, as long as it's black.

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