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Taskforce Initiative interview with Long Zheng

Can an Australian student change the way Microsoft and Apple make their products? Can influence from the community ensure a product is to the high standard we expect?
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Can an Australian student change the way Microsoft and Apple make their products? Can influence from the community ensure a product is to the high standard we expect? I spoke to Long Zheng, world famous blogger on the istartedsomething website, to see how he is single-handedly using his Taskforce initiative to make the future of Windows, Windows Live and Mac OS X better.

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What course do you study, and where?

I'm currently a double degree course which is Business & Economics and Information Technology at Monash University in Melbourne Australia. I've just started my last semester so I'm very relieved to be finally graduating after nearly 5 years.

What gave you the idea to come up with the Taskforce in the first place?

When I was speaking to various Windows enthusiasts about the user experience, I began to notice that I wasn't the only one critical about the many quirks that was scattered around the user interface. After speaking to some Microsoft designers who welcomed my feedback, I realized just how bothersome the process was to document each and everyone by myself. I then made a blog post asking the wider Windows community to help me in the process which in just one night became a bigger task than I could handle.

What I needed was a method for the wider community to self-promote their own findings in a systematic but social matter so I started writing the website now known as Aero Taskforce. Then, Aqua Taskforce, Windows 7 Taskforce and most recently the Windows Live Taskforce.

How many contributors do you have across the Taskforce series?

There are just a little over 3,000 registered users which is shared amongst all the Taskforce sites.

Can a student, like you, single-handedly change the way a major corporation thinks about the way it makes products?

It depends on how you go about it. If someone just ignorantly attacks Microsoft on their flaws, then it's probably not going to be regarded as very constructive feedback. On the other hand, if you present your case in a clear and meaningful manner and also a good reason for them to act, then they'd be silly not to take note.

To be frank though, if the Taskforce had any impact on Microsoft it was not because of me, but every Taskforce submitter, voter and commenter. I simply created a means for the community to easily get their voice heard who had always been there giving feedback to Microsoft.

How responsive have Microsoft and Apple been with your initiatives?

From personal experience I know the Taskforce has had direct impact on the development of Windows 7 but of course it's difficult to measure because their development process is pretty complex with a lot of input from a lot of people. I don't have any communication with Apple or anyone familiar with Apple so I don't know for certain, but in the least the website's logs shows visits from the Cupertino HQ.

What advice would you give to a recent graduate who wanted to enter the IT industry?

I don't I'm anywhere near qualified enough to give out sound advice to graduates but I think it's important to do something you're excited or sincerely passionate about, no matter how particular it may be, because even if you're making pocket change you'll have fun.

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