064. The Start of Office v. NetDocs
“The concepts are all there, in the technology that will be prepared to ship in the course of the next year.” –SteveB transcript from the Forum 2000 event.
Microsoft went through so much in the first year of the millennium. It began with SteveB taking on the role of CEO and BillG taking on a new role as Chief Software Architect. Over the first months of the year a new set of technical leaders convened under the direction of Paul Maritz leading all of the product groups to define essentially the next Windows. The group was producing the plans for NGWS, next generation Windows services as outlined in memos from BillG and SteveB. The DOJ trial was complete, and we awaited the verdict, but everything we did was looked at through the lens of the implications of the trial. At every step we were asked if what was going on was a result of the trial, anticipating an outcome, or designed to work around what comes next. Personally, I was just getting my footing as an executive and the leader of Office and just figuring out what it means to be leading such a big part of Microsoft. I still had so much to figure out and was definitely worried about leading the train off the tracks.
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The demonstration within the multi-hour series of keynotes was billed as a “sneak preview of something that hadn’t been demoed before. . .technology that embodied the dot net user experience. . .this is real code. . .this technology will apply very broadly in the future across Microsoft products such as Windows.NET [pronounced Windows dot net], Office.NET as well as the consumer subscription service.” What followed was a 15-minute demonstration of word processing, spreadsheet, email, calendaring that looked like Office. The demonstration was easier to use, sleeker, and more connected. It featured enthralling technologies like “universal canvas” and “XML”. What’s not to like?
Within a news cycle the technology demonstration had ballooned to Office.NET and was the future of Office. Within Microsoft, especially in Systems, nothing was higher praise than being the future project and conversely nothing was worse than being the past. The world of dueling code names had been brought to Office, except now it was Office.NET and whatever it was I was working on, aka Office10. What had been shown was being built by a separate team, an organizational peer of the old Office.
What was this and where did it come from? Was anyone building a product called Office.NET? Was this planned? I certainly knew the code being demonstrated, but the idea that it was presumed to be the future of Office was newsworthy, even though we did not say that directly and had not intended to leave that impression as far as I knew. Nobody wants to Osborne the most profitable part of Microsoft. Weird.
Starting in early January of 2000 coinciding with SteveB’s promotion to CEO and BillG assuming the role of Chief Software Architect, BillG and PaulMa began working on a series of strategy offsites, meetings, brainstorms, memos, and more called Next Generation Windows Services, or NGWS. There was even a new leadership team formed called the TLT, Technology Leadership Team. Everything was kicked off with memos from both BillG and SteveB highlighting NGWS. BillG explained in a memo Opportunities in the “Software Decade” that NGWS was a bet on par with the graphical interface in both the transformation and opportunity. By now, I was seeing this as a familiar playbook. If you want to say something is big, then compare it to the graphical interface. SteveB also had a memo, Changes and Opportunities.
These memos, Bill’s detailing the technology at a very high level and Steve’s articulating a customer and business focus put forward an innovation agenda for the company. The goal was to let Microsofties know the company was committed to innovation, especially with the rise of “dot com” companies and the huge valuation of anything internet in the public markets. It would be a few months until the market corrected itself, but Microsoft at this juncture was generally in a defensive posture. A broad re-branding was intended to create a new narrative for the company, supported by a next generation of technologies designed for the internet from the ground up, at least starting from Windows.
Just days after Bill’s memo, there was a call for participation in the NGWS planning sessions. A detailed series of offsites and meetings were planned. Literally, the invitation stated the work was to figure out the details of NGWS as introduced in the memos.
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