FUD surrounds Vista

Hot on the heels of Microsoft’s postponement of the consumer launch of Windows Vista comes bad news about the actual code of the product, reported yesterday by Australian tech magazine Smarthouse:

Up to 60% of the code in the new consumer version of Microsoft new Vista operating system is set to be rewritten as the Company “scrambles” to fix internal problems a Microsoft insider has confirmed to SHN.

Quoting the complete text of an internal Microsoft memo about changes to the Platforms & Services Division that Microsoft announced, the article goes into some length to present a convincing story about a sense of panic at Microsoft, saying that “analysts estimate that Microsoft’s delays in releasing the next generation of its operating system, known as Vista, have cost it about $500 million.”

As you’d expect, this story has already been widely commented on and repeated in mainstream media.

But is it true?

According to Robert Scoble, it’s not:

Rewrite of Windows Vista underway? Hogwash! I can’t believe that headlines get written like this. Totally 100% false. Provably so. I totally agree with Alec Saunders. Can the journalist and editor who wrote this do some homework please?

Update: I just talked with Frank Shaw, vice president at Waggener Edstrom (Microsoft’s main PR company), he says this article is absolutely not true. Frank knows more people inside Microsoft than anyone else I know (he hangs out with all the execs). There aren’t any Xbox developers moving to Windows, he tells me (verified from other people I know inside Microsoft too).

As I write this post on Saturday morning, just 24 hours after the Smarthouse story, I see in my RSS reader more mainstream media reports on the Vista rewrite. What’s interesting, too, is that in the midst of this kerfuffle, more blog posts are appearing that question the supposed facts. Those posts stem from Robert’s ‘hogwash’ post.

BetaNews has a story quoting a ‘Microsoft spokesperson’ denying the code change story (some of the words Betanews uses are remarkably similar to the words in Robert’s post).

This is a meme that has gathered a real head of steam very quickly indeed in the blogosphere. It has already created a lot of FUD.

If this story simply is not true, then what Microsoft needs to do is squash it flat and do it quickly – at least as quickly as news and opinion flashes around the blogosphere. That means an official announcement of some sort which, unlike the typical Microsoft corporate press release, doesn’t have to be glitzy and massaged.

A clear and credible statement with the facts will do just fine.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Robert Scoble

    We’ve denied it in a variety of sources so far. The Xbox team blog. The Media Center blogs. Me. And many other employees have denied it. I don’t know how much clearer we can make it at this point.

  2. neville

    I’ve read much of those denials, Robert. I agree, they’re pretty clear. But what’s required now is that same clarity from an official Microsoft spokesperson.

    Statements via Microsoft employee blogs including your own are great. But I don’t believe that’s sufficient in this situation. For instance, I was just reading through the 44 or so comments to your Can this week never end? post. After substracting the trolling comments there, the feeling I’m left with is this – the story most likely is not true.

    Why just ‘most likely?’ Because I’m only hearing the denials from unofficial Microsoft sources and other people with opinions (and I don’t know who those other people are). I’m also reading lots and lots of opinion in other blogs and in mainstream media that mostly also say it’s not true. So it probably isn’t.

    But I don’t want that doubt. I want to know for sure. So I now need to hear this from an official Microsoft spokesperson, to validate what I’m hearing from all these other voices. Something that leaves no doubt as to what is happening.

    That person would probably be Steven Sinofsky, the new man in charge of Windows. A clear statement from him with the facts would probably stop this negative meme in its tracks. At the very least, it would enable Microsoft to gain some initiative in the conversation and influence its development.

    And that statement doesn’t have to be via a traditional communication channel, eg, a press release. Indeed, I think significant credibility would be earned if Mr Sinofsky joined the conversation in an influential blog, one that undoubtedly would get everyone’s attention.

    Yours, perhaps? Or Channel 9?

  3. Dominic Jones

    Microsoft was not upfront in its original announcement of the delay. It spun the story as a realignement and new phase of growth. No one believes that, especially not now.

    So Microsoft has no credibility on this story thus far. This makes it all the more difficult for Robert Scoble to speak with any credibility on the issue, especially when he can’t get a real senior MSFT person to deny it.

    I also have read the articles which started all of this. What I can say, as an award-winning ex-journalist, is that the 60% figure is the only disputed issue here. Smarthouse’s public source backs this up, but it’s not a blanket 60% has to be rewritten. Some fudging there.

    The Xbox workers moving in to help. Robert is being clever in his choice of words and it can all be explained away later as a misunderstanding.

    So, yeah, anyone can deny 60%. But is it 59%, 58%. What is it? Is that why it is taking so long for an official comment, because someone is trying to count the percentage of the code that needs to be redone?

    I actually hope so.

  4. Robert Scoble

    Dominic: Windows Vista is now feature complete. The only code that’ll be rewritten is to fix bugs. There aren’t as many bugs as you might expect. I’m using Vista full time now and it’s a lot nicer than, say, Windows 2000 or XP was at this stage of development.

    So, some code will get rewritten, but a very very very small percentage.

    And to say that no senior people have come out against this is ABSOLUTELY FALSE. Larry Osterman has. He’s worked at Microsoft for 21.5 years. Sean Alexander has. He has worked at Microsoft for a decade. Charlie Owen has. He’s the main guy that I talk with on the Media Center team. The entire Xbox team put a denial on their blog. And a vice president at Waggener Edstrom denied it.

    Personally you’re not going to get a stronger response to an unprofessional writer who doesn’t give two sides to the story, doesn’t check facts, sensationalizes what’s in his own story (the headline doesn’t match the story), and doesn’t provide any retraction or guideance even after senior Microsoft people have asked him to.

    For anyone else to come out against this story would just add more traffic to this guy’s site, which is exactly what he wants.

  5. Robert Scoble

    Neville: >Because I’m only hearing the denials from unofficial Microsoft sources

    Um, if ANY Microsoft employee signs their name to a denial, it’s official. Why is that? Because you can quote it.

    Not to mention that the Xbox team put it on their blog. That’s official. Sorry, there is no more official than that.

    Charlie Owen is an official source for the Media Center team (he’s quoted in the press all the time).

    Sean Alexander is an official source for the Windows team (he’s quoted in the press all the time).

    I’m an official source for the company now (if I say anything that doesn’t match the truth not only do my readers jump all over it, but so do my coworkers).

  6. Dominic Jones


    This is where we’re at. You say something that I believe you believe to be true.

    What I don’t believe, is that your employer, Microsoft Corp., is trustworthy and therefore I wonder if you and all your sources are fully informed.

    Why don’t I trust Microsoft on this. Because of the way in which it is handling this. No official statement. Not being upfront about the delay.

    Is this important? Obviously.

    Then why don’t I see the words Vista delayed on http://www.microsoft.com?

    Then I read the Mini-Microsoft blog and I get a strong sense of misery and unhappiness inside MSFT.

    But not from you. You’re like “everything cool.”

    So what am I to believe? I think I speak for many when I say it is going to take a really big name to say something about this on Monday.

  7. neville

    That’s very interesting, Robert: “if ANY Microsoft employee signs their name to a denial, it’s official. Why is that? Because you can quote it. […] I’m an official source for the company now.”

    I’ve heard you say such things before and you’ve mentioned this on your blog, too. Especially having met you, I say they are credible statements. They actually raise an extremely interesting point on broader communication issues in this age of social media and the consequent disruption to traditional communication structures and channels. They also add to the ongoing meme in the PR blogosphere where some argue “we have blogs now so we don’t need press releases.” If ever the word ‘hogwash’ applies to something, that is it. But I’ll save more commentary on this for a specific post.

    I’m as strong an advocate and evangelist for the benefits to business of social media and informal conversations as you are. I’ve read Naked Conversations! Heck, I’m in Naked Conversations!

    But on this Vista issue, I approach all of this from a position of hard reality in terms of where most credibility still lies in the minds of the vast majority of business people – mainstream media reporting. (Let’s not go down the “do you believe eveything…” path.)

    Individual Microsoft employees commenting on blogs with statements addressing the points such as you mention is great. Yet if I were the editor of, say, the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times, it’s extremely unlikely that I’m going to quote those statements in my reporting of this story and attribute them to official Microsoft spokepeople without some evidence, somewhere, to reinforce a fact that those bloggers are indeed official spokepeople for the company. Just hearing you say it is so isn’t sufficient, sorry to say. Plus, the statements I’m reading in different blogs say slightly different things so I’m left with a lot of doubt.

    If I go to the Public Relations contacts page at microsoft.com, I see a list of all the PR agencies who work for Microsoft, with their contact info. Fine, as if I were a journalist following Microsoft, I’d have all my own contacts within the company anyway, in addition to those PR channels.

    My point is that if you and some of your colleagues are official company spokespeople, that ought to be very clearly stated somewhere where anyone can see that (so PressPass would likely be a good place). Then I’d be able to quote those sources as official spokepeople.

    So in the absence of that I agree with Dominic’s point – it’s going to take a really big Microsoft name to say something about this on Monday if lingering doubt is to be dispelled. And that ‘something’ could even be confirmation that what Microsoft employee bloggers have been saying reflect the official views of the company.

  8. Dominic Jones

    Robert, I found this very interesting.

    From Squash (In case your not a regular Squash-ee or else haven’t picked it up along the way, my tiny, tiny little niche area of authority that I’ve been fortunate to build a business on is the Australian technology media.):

    “First things, first. Richards is a real, bona fide journalist. He’s not an amateur blogger. He’s not a techie, who took up a writing. He’s got a Fleet Street background and was responsible for one of the most, important investigative journalism works ever published in Australia when his expose on the Painters and Dockers union uncovered extensive corruption and sparked a historical Royal Commission. This ain’t no tinpot IT product scoop, we’re talking about. This is about as close as we’ve gotten in Australia to a Watergate scandal.

    Richards is also a successful entrepreneur. He started a PR company, Weston Communications, which he built up and sold and following that he founded a publishing company DWR Media, which he flogged to US publisher Penton Media for up to $US8 million (Penton would about 2 years later offload the division for a pittance).

    Along the way, though, he’s ticked a lot of people off. He’s brash, pushy and thrives on controversy. He always seems to be suing someone, or else being sued. In the past few months, he’s been accused on plagiarism, attacked for conflicts of interest and laid a big, steelcapped boot into one of the world’s biggest PR companies.”

    This guy will and is running rings around Microsoft. Yelling at him, threatening him, calling for his head as you’ve done, Robert, will just spur him on. For him, it’s about personal reputation and credibility. There’s much more at stake for him if he’s wrong than if MSFT is wrong.

    So his incentive for making it up is just not there. Which makes what he says all the more believable.

    MSFT’s incentives to downplay, hide, dodge and obfuscate are high. Hence, it must act in a completely open and transparent manner. Right, now, with you as its cheerleader, it is doing none of this.

  9. Robert Scoble

    >Yet if I were the editor of, say, the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times, it’s extremely unlikely that I’m going to quote those statements in my reporting of this story and attribute them to official Microsoft spokepeople without some evidence, somewhere, to reinforce a fact that those bloggers are indeed official spokepeople for the company.

    That is ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE. I have been quoted in more than 60 newspapers STRAIGHT OUT OF MY BLOG. The Wall Street Journal, even, reprinted an entire post of mine without asking.

    The truth is, blogs ARE very credible sources of information for journalists.

  10. Robert Scoble

    >So his incentive for making it up is just not there. Which makes what he says all the more believable.

    Let’s see. What he wrote has been ridiculed by Mark Lucovsky, who now works at Google. It’s been ridiculed by Dave Winer, who isn’t Microsoft’s friend. It’s been ridiculed by dozens of other software engineers on their blogs too who don’t work for Microsoft (even some open source guys).

    And this guy has a HUGE incentive: traffic. Which turns into cash.

    He’s just like the Register. Lies and sensational headlines bring traffic. Traffic brings money. The fact that you don’t see this makes you complicit. The fact that you would take this jerk’s word over all these other people makes you not worth listening to.

    These guys win when people like you believe him. I guess you’re right. It’s a hopeless cause.

  11. Robert Scoble

    >So in the absence of that I agree with Dominic’s point – it’s going to take a really big Microsoft name to say something about this on Monday if lingering doubt is to be dispelled.

    That won’t happen. You don’t fight unprofessional jerks with the big guns. This guy didn’t quote both sides of the story. He didn’t try to get Microsoft’s point of view. He didn’t even quote anyone on the record. Well, now he says some marketing guy at Acer in Australia told him this. Acer in Australia? What do they know about software engineering? (Acer’s main software engineering is done in Japan).

    Not a single person WITH credibility has come to his defense.

    You guys here are why PR people get bad reputations. You’re willing to believe anything you read on the Internet and then act like babies “we won’t believe those lowly bloggers.”

    This was done on a blog, it’ll end on a blog.

    By the way, we have several vice presidents who write blogs. But I guess you don’t believe those, either, right?

  12. Dominic Jones


    Microsoft is coming across as eitheir arrogant (our big guys aren’t going to respond to this Aussie twerp) or opaque by refusing to answer the allegations officially and directly and in detail.

    Given the writer’s credentials and the specific nature of his reporting (much more detailed than anything I’ve seen in a Microsoft response), the onus is on Microsoft Corporation to make a public statement about the actual facts.

    Until then, a large amount of the code needs to be rewritten. May be up to 60%.

  13. Robert Scoble

    Whatever. We have made very specific denials. The fact that you don’t believe them, or think they aren’t complete enough, reflects on YOU. Go and hang out with the non-credible journalist who didn’t do his homework. Who has been accused of plagiarism. Who revels in being controversial. If you believe him over the Xbox team, or over me, or over Sean Alexander, or over John Porcaro, or over Charlie Owen, then you deserve the kind of gossip journalism you’re gonna get.

  14. Trevor Cook

    C’mon Neville since when did any journo worth a front page lead give a rats about the official spokeperson. Journalists are much more interested in unofficial spokespeople. Ask any journalist about whether they prefer a leak or a press statement.
    Reading the blogs on this it sounds to me like the people who don’t believe Robert Scoble don’t want to believe him.
    Scoble is at least as credible and open as any PR person or offial spokesperson. How can we can come this far in social media and then say “I prefer an official statement to a clarification from a guy I read everyday and I read him everyday cause I respect what he says but not important stuff” – sorry Nev just sounds plain wrong-headed to me

  15. neville

    Either I haven’t communciated well, Trevor, or you’re missing the point. I’m not questioning Robert’s, or any other Microsoft blogger’s, credibility.

    Blogs can be a highly credible source of information, as Robert said. But in a situation like this, with so many different opinions about Vista, some kind of code rewrite (or not), what it means, etc, I wouldn’t rely solely on blogs as my only outlet for clarity in a consistent Microsoft message.

    I have no idea whether 60% of Vista requires rewriting or not. Robert says it doesn’t. He says he’s an official Microsoft spokesperson so, therefore, such a view must have some authority as representing an official Microsoft position rather than just that of a Microsoft employee. So all is ok, then.

    I’m wondering why I haven’t yet seen this news in the FT or on the BBC News site, both of which published with alacrity the news about the Vista delay (and the Office delay). I’ve not seen any news there other than those, so maybe all this stuff about 60% is a complete non-story as far as the media is concerned, one only for the blogosphere and a tech magazine in Australia. Or maybe it’s because it’s the weekend and we’ll see the mainstream media reporting starting on Monday.

    And what will we see on Monday, if anything? What will the story lead be? Robert’s and other Microsoft bloggers denying the code rewrite? Or the Australian magazine headline? That’s more likely if your point about sensationalism is correct (and I’d say you’re more likely to be right).

  16. Dennis Howlett

    What I don’t understand in all this is why Robert didn’t calmly deal with the matter and let it go at that. Attacking a hack in the all guns blazing manner Robert chose, whatever the hack’s credentials, is almost guaranteed to give oxygen to a story, regardless of its veracity. And attract a level of criticism that damages the reputations of all concerned.

    But to say it’s a non-story diminishes the blogosphere. There’s a lot of geeks out there watching this kind of stuff with professional interest. Delay is one thing, significant code re-writing is something else altogether.

    From an overall communications perspective, MSFT needs to roll out the persons directly responsible for Vista and let them make a statement. People can choose to believe what is said or dismiss. But at least MSFT will have done what people usually expect in a situation like this – had the horse’s mouth speak, not third parties. Is that so hard?

  17. Shel Holtz, ABC

    I think, perhaps, if any Microsoft employee who blogs is an “official” spokesperson, then we need a new term to describe what you’re saying, Neville, and perhaps that word is “authoritative.” Who has the authoritative statement of record for Microsoft, as a business, to which all can point and say, “That’s the authoritative statement of record”? Not a bunch of employee bloggers, because to some degree, they’re all saying different things. While the value of employee bloggers is indisputable, they’re not the source of the authoritative statement of record — unless, of course, they all parrot a company message, in which their voices become less credible. Blogs can do wonderful things for an organization and its communication efforts. But they can’t do everything. No one channel can serve all communication purposes. There’s still a need to have a source for authoritative statements of record.

  18. The Hobson & Holtz Report - Podcast #123: March 27, 2006 at NevilleHobson.com

    […] 16:10 Microsoft and employee bloggers: the delay in the launch of Windows Vista, allegations of code rewrites, blogger denials, weekend blog discussions, and the regulatory and financial framework – are Microsoft employee bloggers official spokepeople? They may have credibility but do they speak with authority on behalf of the company to represent official views? And how ready is blogging to assume a primary role in organizational communication? […]

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