If you need a Christmas gift for an insomniac geek, look no further. This book is the product of an extremely well-informed and thorough blogger, Mary Jo Foley, who has been following the fortunes of Microsoft and its key players for many years. She clearly knows a great deal of what goes on behind the scenes in Redmond and presents a plethora of facts about roles within the organisation and details of products. There are dozens of named individuals in Microsoft 2.0 but the book gives no real insight into the personalities and motivation of those who will run Microsoft now that Bill Gates has retired to spend more time with his billions.
Sure there are occasional references to Bill's people, or Ballmer's people, but nothing about what makes them tick, leaving the reader without any feel for the dynamics or tensions at play in one of the world's largest technology companies. Even the smallest companies routinely have power struggles and internal politics that affect performance, so surely Microsoft must be susceptible to these too and on a proportionate, if not massive, scale given the stakes involved. Mary Jo's book does not paint such a picture, preferring to stick to the facts and carefully considered speculation about product lines I can only conclude that she did not want to upset anybody and risk her vital relationships with company sources.
The style of the book is a little disconcerting, the narrative trundles along but the incessant footnotes simply refer the reader to online documents, giving readers a strong hint to put the book down and go online instead. Likewise the over-size call-outs (quotes in boxes) on almost every page are only useful if you do not actually want to read the book properly. The call-outs are possibly a fast-track (Executive Summary?) through Microsoft 2.0 but there is no value in promoting such profound insights as, "There is a seemingly related project under development at Microsoft that has been hush-hush."
Wow! That particular call-out might have been more useful if it had tied into the associated text reference (the Singularity project).
Although the purpose of Ms Foley's book is set squarely on the immediate post-Gates era, the concluding chapter attempts a further step by considering Microsoft 3.0 this is something of a misnomer because most of the issues covered in the chapter appear to be already in play within the so-called Microsoft 2.0 version. If I had been writing such a book, I would have concluded with looking forward to Microsoft 3.11 - the era of a reasonably well-functioning, successful and popular company.
Clearly Microsoft 2.0 will be useful for those readers who need an insight into the technology strategy of undeniably the world's most important software company but such readers will also need to be fairly well-grounded already, in software engineering principles and the Microsoft product line, to derive value from this book.
What did I learn about Microsoft 2.0? Too little about too much, is my take-away from reading this book. Microsoft 2.0 is pretty much an extended snapshot of a blog in a dust-jacket and is, by virtue of its nature, less effective than the underlying blog, to which the reader is continually referred. Why not just dip into the blog instead?
Colin Beveridge is an independent management troubleshooter and author of blog, Fighting the Trillion Dollar Bonfire.