Windows Live program manager quits 'paralysed' division

Microsoft Live strategy in spotlight as high-profile hire leaves after four months
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

The departure of a Windows Live program manager has highlighted concern within Microsoft about the strategic direction of the company.

Niall Kennedy, an expert in syndication feed technologies such as RSS, announced on Wednesday that he had quit his job at Microsoft after just four months. He accused Microsoft of prioritising other projects such as Vista at the expense of Windows Live — its attempt to offer a wide range of services online.

In a posting on his blog, Kennedy explained that his work on the Windows Live project had started well. His role was to use syndication technologies such as RSS, RDF and Atom to build a platform capable of delivering services to many millions of Internet users.

"The launch of Windows Live and Ray Ozzie's vision of Internet services disruption made me believe Microsoft was serious about the space and not being left behind in yet another emerging industry as they had been with the web browser and search," said Kennedy, who had previously worked as community manager at Technorati.

But within weeks of Kennedy joining, Microsoft's stock dropped after it revealed it had to spend $2bn more than anticipated in the short-term, and hire over 10,000 new employees, to help drive Windows Live.

"Microsoft's market capitalisation lost close to $59bn in the six weeks after I joined and second-quarter financials were released, more than the GDP of Ecuador and over half the market cap of Google. What do you do when the market responds to your six-month-old online services strategy by reducing your valuation by 1.5 Yahoos? Windows Live is under some heavy change, reorganization, pullback, and general paralysis and unfortunately my ability to perform, hire, and execute was completely frozen as well," Kennedy revealed.

In his posting, Kennedy also said he had been forced to borrow resources from other Microsoft teams.

"I could have stayed at Microsoft, waited for the other 85 percent of the company to ship their products, and then hope support for my group might be back on track again, but I didn't want to sit around doing little to nothing until Vista, Office, and Exchange ship. It's easier to get funding outside Microsoft than inside at the moment, so I am stepping out and doing my own thing."

Kennedy's post sparked a lively debate on the Mini-Microsoft blog, where some Microsoft employees argued that his departure was of little consequence.

"To put it bluntly: who cares?" wrote one blogger, who was unimpressed that people were making comparisons with the recent departure of Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble.

He added that "Life for Windows Live'rs is going to get much more rigorous. Chris Jones (new vice president of project management over in Windows Live) is not the kind of person to focus on building science projects and pet projects. He did a great job of cutting stuff out of the Shell team when he joined (including some of my favourite features, I might add) to get them to focus on the core scenarios."

Another wrote that: "If you want to be happy, don't show up at Microsoft to build "cool" Web 2.0 apps (ie giant RSS serving platform), it's a noble thing to do and there are great places to do it, but that just isn't what MS does (well) as much as half the company likes to think."

And a third argued that Microsoft's priorities were right.

"If you want the stock to go up, would you put resources towards adding RSS feed technology to a Web site with no clear monetisation, or would you make sure that your operating system, productivity suite and mail server have the fit and finish you need."

"Assuming what he says is true, I'm happy we chose to put resources behind Vista and Office and if this guy is sad his feature didn't have a full team working on it, then we're probably better off without him."

But others believe that Kennedy's departure is significant.

"This all tells me Ray's a little too country and not enough rock & roll. In my opinion, when anyone big associated with the word "Live" in their title, pulls up stakes, it's time to listen to the feedback," wrote one Microsoft employee.

One observer, a US programmer known as solomonrex, said that: "An employee voluntarily left, wasn't fired, and gave substantive reasons why. That's not a positive development for any company. Claiming that he's whining without refuting his other claims is just stupid. That won't convince shareholders and stakeholders, let alone interviewees. There's a reason this is news, it fits a pattern."

Kennedy's last day at Microsoft will be 18 August.

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