Todd asks “why no hard questions for BillG?”

Over at Geek News Central Todd Cochrane asks an interesting question about yesterday’s Bill Gates Blogger Meetup. “It pisses me off that none of them could ask a  hard question” he says, while asking what hard questions would you ask?

Truth is that getting access to tech industry leaders is so rare that most people, if they do get access, turn into softies. Why?

Well, let’s assume I paid your round-trip airfare, hotel, bought you nice meals, and gave you some nice swag. Wouldn’t you be feeling just a little more generous toward me? But, now, let’s say I set it up so that every year I’d do the same thing but I’d put little hints out there that you wouldn’t get to come to next year’s shindig if you made any trouble.

Or, even better, let’s say I just don’t invite any trouble makers at all.

I remember many times when troublemakers got washed out of many of these kinds of events. Not necessarily because they’d piss off Microsofties either. Often times they’d piss off other attendees. I know of one event that I am no longer invited to simply because I turned on my video camera, which made another attendee uncomfortable. The host, instead of just telling me to knock it off, stayed quiet, but didn’t invite me to his next shindig.

It’s also really hard to just keep your bearings when you meet someone “important.” Remember when I ran into Steve Jobs on a street corner in San Francisco? I became a blubbering idiot. Couldn’t think of a good question, or a good comeback to his insults. I’ve been thinking of them ever since.

Another part of it is simple respect. Bill Gates is at the top of the industry, is probably going to be known as the greatest philanthropist we’ve ever known, and is simply bigger than life to most of us who’ve never gotten to know him personally. It takes a lot of confidence to ask a tough question, particularly when you know that 14 other people are going to be making judgments on you in the public square.

And don’t think it’s a blogger thing, either. I’ve been in attendance at press conferences with Bill and most of the pros don’t ask all that hard a question.

Bill is a professional question answerer. He’s done it probably 10s of thousands of times. If you ask a really hard or biting question that he doesn’t want to answer he’s going to pretty adeptly spin it around on you anyway and answer a question he would rather answer.

The real interesting thing isn’t that hard questions weren’t asked. It was that Google is shipping a ton of little tiny things (you’ll see some in the interviews I did this week that I’ll have up within a few days) that are going unanswered by Microsoft.

See, some bloggers are excited that they get to go see Bill Gates. Done that, have that T-shirt. It’s a fun trip to make (hope you get invited back in April when they do Mix07).

But Google is delivering the Web goods and is taking over more and more of my life. More on that soon.

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85 thoughts on “Todd asks “why no hard questions for BillG?”

  1. Robert,

    That’s the problem with professional question answererers; they spin things they don’t want to answer or may not have the answer to. Bill is obviously a super-intelligent guy, and I doubt seriously there isn’t much about Google (or anyone else) he doesn’t know, public or otherwise. Tech shops have people that talk. Top players like Bill talk with other top players off the record all the time.
    I think Bill is a little afraid of what the future might hold that MS cannot tackle, at least not in time to make a difference.
    MS needs to come out with something before everyone else. They need an ace in the hole. I think the problem with MS is they try to be too mainstream. MS appears stodgy and too corporate for alot of people.
    DISCLAIMER: I used to be a Linux-loving, open-source only kinda guy who hated everything MS. A couple of years ago, my favorite computer died, and about that same time, my daughter came into the picture. No more time to tinker AND spend time with my kid. I needed something that just worked. The Mac went in a direction that I didn’t like, so I looked at MS. I bought a high-end HP laptop and loaded XP on it. I love it and I’m looking forward to Vista in a major way.
    I like MS products overall. But they need a coup. Something only they have done first. They need to interview teens. Find out what they want. Cruise the schools and colleges. Take notes. MS has some of the smartest people on the planet up in WA. They could deliver the next great thing if they wanted to. MS doesn’t like taking risks because of the shareholders. Forget that. Create a group that puts out stuff that teens and college students, bloggers, etc. would attach to and run with it.
    I’m waiting for something cool…

    Like

  2. Robert,

    That’s the problem with professional question answererers; they spin things they don’t want to answer or may not have the answer to. Bill is obviously a super-intelligent guy, and I doubt seriously there isn’t much about Google (or anyone else) he doesn’t know, public or otherwise. Tech shops have people that talk. Top players like Bill talk with other top players off the record all the time.
    I think Bill is a little afraid of what the future might hold that MS cannot tackle, at least not in time to make a difference.
    MS needs to come out with something before everyone else. They need an ace in the hole. I think the problem with MS is they try to be too mainstream. MS appears stodgy and too corporate for alot of people.
    DISCLAIMER: I used to be a Linux-loving, open-source only kinda guy who hated everything MS. A couple of years ago, my favorite computer died, and about that same time, my daughter came into the picture. No more time to tinker AND spend time with my kid. I needed something that just worked. The Mac went in a direction that I didn’t like, so I looked at MS. I bought a high-end HP laptop and loaded XP on it. I love it and I’m looking forward to Vista in a major way.
    I like MS products overall. But they need a coup. Something only they have done first. They need to interview teens. Find out what they want. Cruise the schools and colleges. Take notes. MS has some of the smartest people on the planet up in WA. They could deliver the next great thing if they wanted to. MS doesn’t like taking risks because of the shareholders. Forget that. Create a group that puts out stuff that teens and college students, bloggers, etc. would attach to and run with it.
    I’m waiting for something cool…

    Like

  3. I think Niall Kennedy (not mentioned in Todd’s blog as I far as I can see) asked a pretty hard question — and I think Bill expertly danced around it. I think Bill is scared that we are at a point where Microsoft is not the only game in town any longer.

    They know that Web 2.0 & industry acceptance of Open Source systems in production environments are making their OS less valuable, and they are trying to make sure that Open Source doesn’t kill them.

    Here’s a link to Niall’s blog:

    http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/archives/2006/12/microsoft-linux-patents.html

    Like

  4. I think Niall Kennedy (not mentioned in Todd’s blog as I far as I can see) asked a pretty hard question — and I think Bill expertly danced around it. I think Bill is scared that we are at a point where Microsoft is not the only game in town any longer.

    They know that Web 2.0 & industry acceptance of Open Source systems in production environments are making their OS less valuable, and they are trying to make sure that Open Source doesn’t kill them.

    Here’s a link to Niall’s blog:

    http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/archives/2006/12/microsoft-linux-patents.html

    Like

  5. Paul: yes, we’re all waiting for the Ray Ozzie show.

    I note that HE wasn’t hanging out with the bloggers yesterday.

    Like

  6. Paul: yes, we’re all waiting for the Ray Ozzie show.

    I note that HE wasn’t hanging out with the bloggers yesterday.

    Like

  7. Reading the transcript of Molly’s question and the subsequent discussion over on her site, it seems it was a hard question by the standards of “If you ask a really hard or biting question that he doesn’t want to answer he’s going to pretty adeptly spin it around on you anyway and answer a question he would rather answer.”

    Like

  8. Reading the transcript of Molly’s question and the subsequent discussion over on her site, it seems it was a hard question by the standards of “If you ask a really hard or biting question that he doesn’t want to answer he’s going to pretty adeptly spin it around on you anyway and answer a question he would rather answer.”

    Like

  9. “MS has some of the smartest people on the planet up in WA. They could deliver the next great thing if they wanted to.”

    Bullshit!

    There, I said it! And I’m sick of hearing this. MSFT has wanted *many* times to “deliver the next great thing.” And failed…again and again. In fact, in markets where there has been competition at the consumer level, they failed more than they have succeeded.

    All that was done with all those “smartest people on the planet.” You can delude yourself by blaming it on a few management types who don’t get it. No, all those smart people just couldn’t/didn’t get it done. Pure and simple.

    Like

  10. “MS has some of the smartest people on the planet up in WA. They could deliver the next great thing if they wanted to.”

    Bullshit!

    There, I said it! And I’m sick of hearing this. MSFT has wanted *many* times to “deliver the next great thing.” And failed…again and again. In fact, in markets where there has been competition at the consumer level, they failed more than they have succeeded.

    All that was done with all those “smartest people on the planet.” You can delude yourself by blaming it on a few management types who don’t get it. No, all those smart people just couldn’t/didn’t get it done. Pure and simple.

    Like

  11. They were a bunch of softies, no pun intended, but I probably would have done the same thing. I think it would have been more fun to not do the usual Q & A session. It would have been nice to just talk story with “Bill” over some coffee, tea, beer, or whatever your favorite drink is.

    Like

  12. They were a bunch of softies, no pun intended, but I probably would have done the same thing. I think it would have been more fun to not do the usual Q & A session. It would have been nice to just talk story with “Bill” over some coffee, tea, beer, or whatever your favorite drink is.

    Like

  13. While asking hard questions, we should also accept some HARD FACTS.

    The first P.C. which I really used had Windows 3.1 in it.

    The first two application software I used and felt like using again were MS Word and MS PowerPoint.

    In India, I am yet to see a company where people use Open Office.org or any other free office software for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. And unlike individuals, offices cannot use pirated software and get away with it.

    It’s been a long, long time since Windows xp crashed on me (Not after I had SP2 installed). I’ve almost forgotten what the “Blue Screen” Looks like.

    Microsoft, warts and all, ultimately made the world a better place to live for millions of non geeks like me who cannot afford Macs, to begin with. Thank you Microsoft.

    Jay, from Bangalore
    http://ideaburger.blogspot.com

    Like

  14. While asking hard questions, we should also accept some HARD FACTS.

    The first P.C. which I really used had Windows 3.1 in it.

    The first two application software I used and felt like using again were MS Word and MS PowerPoint.

    In India, I am yet to see a company where people use Open Office.org or any other free office software for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. And unlike individuals, offices cannot use pirated software and get away with it.

    It’s been a long, long time since Windows xp crashed on me (Not after I had SP2 installed). I’ve almost forgotten what the “Blue Screen” Looks like.

    Microsoft, warts and all, ultimately made the world a better place to live for millions of non geeks like me who cannot afford Macs, to begin with. Thank you Microsoft.

    Jay, from Bangalore
    http://ideaburger.blogspot.com

    Like

  15. Jayakumar: >>In India, I am yet to see a company where people use Open Office.org or any other free office software for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

    Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me! I know lots of people in India and everyone of them tells me that pirated software is running rampant in India (even today). I hear you can get CDs with Windows and Office on it for a few dollars.

    I remember being in China meeting with a Microsoft executive. He said “we have 100% market share, now if we could only get them to pay for it.”

    But, the rest of your points are correct and worthy.

    That said, same points could have been made about Microsoft back in 1985. Back then IBM was the dominant player.

    Like

  16. Jayakumar: >>In India, I am yet to see a company where people use Open Office.org or any other free office software for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

    Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me! I know lots of people in India and everyone of them tells me that pirated software is running rampant in India (even today). I hear you can get CDs with Windows and Office on it for a few dollars.

    I remember being in China meeting with a Microsoft executive. He said “we have 100% market share, now if we could only get them to pay for it.”

    But, the rest of your points are correct and worthy.

    That said, same points could have been made about Microsoft back in 1985. Back then IBM was the dominant player.

    Like

  17. I think that Bill Gates was doing a PR event. He is retired and frankly this was a lame session. If I was a blogger I would have been pissed because it was a waste of time other than being ‘star’ struck. Will somone at Microsoft please give us Ray Ozzie not Bill Gates. Microsoft is getting their ass handed to them by Google which you point out. Google delivers and Gates feeds bullshit to bloggers. Swing and a miss Microsoft.

    Like

  18. I think that Bill Gates was doing a PR event. He is retired and frankly this was a lame session. If I was a blogger I would have been pissed because it was a waste of time other than being ‘star’ struck. Will somone at Microsoft please give us Ray Ozzie not Bill Gates. Microsoft is getting their ass handed to them by Google which you point out. Google delivers and Gates feeds bullshit to bloggers. Swing and a miss Microsoft.

    Like

  19. I remember when I interned at Microsoft and went to the BillG barbecue, there were certainly people there asking hard questions.

    In fact, I recall him nearly losing his temper when people asked particularly pointed (and perhaps rude) questions then. But yeah, maybe journalists aren’t quite the same 🙂

    Like

  20. I remember when I interned at Microsoft and went to the BillG barbecue, there were certainly people there asking hard questions.

    In fact, I recall him nearly losing his temper when people asked particularly pointed (and perhaps rude) questions then. But yeah, maybe journalists aren’t quite the same 🙂

    Like

  21. Hi Robert!

    “I know lots of people in India and everyone of them tells me that pirated software is running rampant in India (even today). I hear you can get CDs with Windows and Office on it for a few dollars.”

    Yes, and individuals do use them. But not any business here worthy of it’s name. At least not in BANGALORE!

    Jay, from Bangalore
    http://ideaburger.blogspot.com

    Like

  22. Hi Robert!

    “I know lots of people in India and everyone of them tells me that pirated software is running rampant in India (even today). I hear you can get CDs with Windows and Office on it for a few dollars.”

    Yes, and individuals do use them. But not any business here worthy of it’s name. At least not in BANGALORE!

    Jay, from Bangalore
    http://ideaburger.blogspot.com

    Like

  23. Pingback: CrunchNotes »
  24. “MS has some of the smartest people on the planet up in WA. They could deliver the next great thing if they wanted to.”

    It’s an extremely difficult position to be in when you’re told that adding new features is illegal. And you wonder why some people get frustrated working at Microsoft…

    Like

  25. “MS has some of the smartest people on the planet up in WA. They could deliver the next great thing if they wanted to.”

    It’s an extremely difficult position to be in when you’re told that adding new features is illegal. And you wonder why some people get frustrated working at Microsoft…

    Like

  26. MediaVidea:

    In this case, the person to ask is not Bill Gates (he doesn’t know everything about what’s happening at Microsoft) but Jeff Raikes, who runs the business/Office software operation.

    Well, I just interviewed Raikes and I did ask him some of your questions. There’s a 3000-word transcript here:

    http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/technology/archives/2006/12/14/jeff_raikes_interview_the_whole_thing.html

    I’ve interviewed a lot of Microsoft execs over the past 25 years, including Steve Ballmer but not Bill Gates (maybe he’s scared of me ;-)). I’ve never found any of them unwilling to tackle the hard questions, if they are asked reasonably and with the honest aim of finding out information. Just the reverse: they relish the jousting.

    Jack Schofield
    Computer editor
    The Guardian

    Like

  27. MediaVidea:

    In this case, the person to ask is not Bill Gates (he doesn’t know everything about what’s happening at Microsoft) but Jeff Raikes, who runs the business/Office software operation.

    Well, I just interviewed Raikes and I did ask him some of your questions. There’s a 3000-word transcript here:

    http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/technology/archives/2006/12/14/jeff_raikes_interview_the_whole_thing.html

    I’ve interviewed a lot of Microsoft execs over the past 25 years, including Steve Ballmer but not Bill Gates (maybe he’s scared of me ;-)). I’ve never found any of them unwilling to tackle the hard questions, if they are asked reasonably and with the honest aim of finding out information. Just the reverse: they relish the jousting.

    Jack Schofield
    Computer editor
    The Guardian

    Like

  28. Many corporations seek to create a favorable environment for encounters with the media. This is an issue that professional journalists have been dealing with for years, and bloggers will need to adapt to it as they become “the media” as well. Many bloggers are relatively unfamiliar with the trappings of power/celebrity, and this came across in some of the coverage of the BillG event. FWIW, I thought Niall and Molly asked good questions. As you’ve noted, Gates is experienced at handling questions. As bloggers participate in more of these structured media events, they’ll get better at handling these situations and perhaps even have the clout to seek changes in format that give them a better opportunity to explore issues in depth (as Jack schofield does with Raikes). The good news is that bloggers are getting a seat at the table, and obtaining access to newsmakers that is beginning to look like the interview opportunities regularly afforded to traditional media.

    Like

  29. Many corporations seek to create a favorable environment for encounters with the media. This is an issue that professional journalists have been dealing with for years, and bloggers will need to adapt to it as they become “the media” as well. Many bloggers are relatively unfamiliar with the trappings of power/celebrity, and this came across in some of the coverage of the BillG event. FWIW, I thought Niall and Molly asked good questions. As you’ve noted, Gates is experienced at handling questions. As bloggers participate in more of these structured media events, they’ll get better at handling these situations and perhaps even have the clout to seek changes in format that give them a better opportunity to explore issues in depth (as Jack schofield does with Raikes). The good news is that bloggers are getting a seat at the table, and obtaining access to newsmakers that is beginning to look like the interview opportunities regularly afforded to traditional media.

    Like

  30. This is the same sort of pandering that got us into the political situation we are in today. Journalists were afraid to ask the administration questions, ifi they asked hard questions they were pushed to the back of the room or cut off from information entirely. Listen to someone like Helen Thomas speak and you will get the gist. “Professional question answerers,” can be and should be forced to answer or at least say in no uncertain terms that they won’t answer a question. If bloggers want to be treated like journalists and afforded the same protections, they will have to start asking hard questions even in the face of “nice swag.”
    -d

    Like

  31. This is the same sort of pandering that got us into the political situation we are in today. Journalists were afraid to ask the administration questions, ifi they asked hard questions they were pushed to the back of the room or cut off from information entirely. Listen to someone like Helen Thomas speak and you will get the gist. “Professional question answerers,” can be and should be forced to answer or at least say in no uncertain terms that they won’t answer a question. If bloggers want to be treated like journalists and afforded the same protections, they will have to start asking hard questions even in the face of “nice swag.”
    -d

    Like

  32. hello everyone. For what it’s worth, I did my best. Honestly, I think given the situation I was one of the more aggressive (imagine that) people there.

    My impressiom of Bill? A lovely man I’d enjoy dinner with, but absolutely disconnected from the workers of this world. Bless him, but with all that money how can you be otherwise?

    To hear him speak of medical and educational help to the world makes me rest a little bit easier.

    If you had that money, I mean to have, and then give away, I’d hope you’d use Bill Gates as an example, regardless of perspective. If you have that much, to my mind there’s only one option, and that is to share.

    It was a great experience and I’m glad I was there. I know I did my best in that environment to be polite and still not back down from the answers I know the development world wanted to hear. I hope I lent something good to the conversation.

    Robert, you of all people know this very thing: Opening the world to what was closed is no easy task.

    Love to all,
    M

    Like

  33. hello everyone. For what it’s worth, I did my best. Honestly, I think given the situation I was one of the more aggressive (imagine that) people there.

    My impressiom of Bill? A lovely man I’d enjoy dinner with, but absolutely disconnected from the workers of this world. Bless him, but with all that money how can you be otherwise?

    To hear him speak of medical and educational help to the world makes me rest a little bit easier.

    If you had that money, I mean to have, and then give away, I’d hope you’d use Bill Gates as an example, regardless of perspective. If you have that much, to my mind there’s only one option, and that is to share.

    It was a great experience and I’m glad I was there. I know I did my best in that environment to be polite and still not back down from the answers I know the development world wanted to hear. I hope I lent something good to the conversation.

    Robert, you of all people know this very thing: Opening the world to what was closed is no easy task.

    Love to all,
    M

    Like

  34. Hey Robert, I’m not sure if you’re still reading this thread, but I thought I’d chime in. You alluded to this a bit in your post, but I didn’t really think it was set up with a format in which we could ask tough questions. If the goal of asking a tough question is to get an interesting, meaningful response, then I think that requires some back and forth. At the event, we each got to ask only one question so it would have been difficult to try and get a dialog going with him about something tough and interesting.

    Also, I was impressed by the wide variety of questions. I think everyone asked a pretty unique question and it was fun to see so many topics covered by Bill.

    Like

  35. Hey Robert, I’m not sure if you’re still reading this thread, but I thought I’d chime in. You alluded to this a bit in your post, but I didn’t really think it was set up with a format in which we could ask tough questions. If the goal of asking a tough question is to get an interesting, meaningful response, then I think that requires some back and forth. At the event, we each got to ask only one question so it would have been difficult to try and get a dialog going with him about something tough and interesting.

    Also, I was impressed by the wide variety of questions. I think everyone asked a pretty unique question and it was fun to see so many topics covered by Bill.

    Like

  36. Why does it always have to be tough questions? When was the last time any tough questions were asked to anyone important?
    Please point me in the direction of some juicy interviews.

    Like

  37. Why does it always have to be tough questions? When was the last time any tough questions were asked to anyone important?
    Please point me in the direction of some juicy interviews.

    Like

  38. When I was younger I loved to think of really hard questions for presenters. Questions designed to make the presenter or their company appear evil or stupid.

    Afterwards I always felt worse… because really hard questions can’t be answered… they just tend to ruin the event in some way.

    As an example: I once asked the CEO of the company I worked for why the technical field people didn’t get stock options for bonuses when they we’re a common practice in marketing. I aked him in front of a group of 3,000 field technical people. He gave a little pat speech about the compensation practices being competitive and that was the last time he EVER took questions from employees with open microphones.

    I felt pretty bad about asking such a hard question and it hurt my career… but we did get stock options as a group… just after the market peaked and they never amounted to any real value. Go figure.

    At this point… Bill Gates isn’t driving Microsoft on a daily basis. He’s shifted over to working on hhis Foundation work. So, it’s better just to ask him questions that document his life or company history for the record. Let the guy open up and share what makes him tick. Seduce the politician into felling safe and candid.

    Nailing him to the wall for “selling” software when the models are changing to “software as a service” just brings out the crafty, cagey Bill and wastes the opportunity in this time and context. It reminds me of someone asking Buck Rodgers of IBM if they could recover from the Mainframe dying… they did. Microsoft will. The margins will change and their core business will change but they will become a Blue Chip stock and NOT a “growth gorilla” like the current Google.

    Google will stall too… in a few years :^)

    Like

  39. When I was younger I loved to think of really hard questions for presenters. Questions designed to make the presenter or their company appear evil or stupid.

    Afterwards I always felt worse… because really hard questions can’t be answered… they just tend to ruin the event in some way.

    As an example: I once asked the CEO of the company I worked for why the technical field people didn’t get stock options for bonuses when they we’re a common practice in marketing. I aked him in front of a group of 3,000 field technical people. He gave a little pat speech about the compensation practices being competitive and that was the last time he EVER took questions from employees with open microphones.

    I felt pretty bad about asking such a hard question and it hurt my career… but we did get stock options as a group… just after the market peaked and they never amounted to any real value. Go figure.

    At this point… Bill Gates isn’t driving Microsoft on a daily basis. He’s shifted over to working on hhis Foundation work. So, it’s better just to ask him questions that document his life or company history for the record. Let the guy open up and share what makes him tick. Seduce the politician into felling safe and candid.

    Nailing him to the wall for “selling” software when the models are changing to “software as a service” just brings out the crafty, cagey Bill and wastes the opportunity in this time and context. It reminds me of someone asking Buck Rodgers of IBM if they could recover from the Mainframe dying… they did. Microsoft will. The margins will change and their core business will change but they will become a Blue Chip stock and NOT a “growth gorilla” like the current Google.

    Google will stall too… in a few years :^)

    Like

  40. Robert, thanks for this really interesting post.

    First of all, please do a post on your run in with Jobs. Or maybe you have already and I missed it? It sounds really really interesting. Did he really insult you? Even if it was in a friendly joshing way I’d be curious what he said.

    Second, you are very correct about people turning into softies. I saw Bill Gates speak at Zellerbach autitorium at Berkeley a year or to ago. He was trying to recruit students. I lived across the street and Microsoft’s PR firm invited me to attend (couldn’t ask questions, was in audience), and didn’t seem to care when I told them I didn’t cover the company any more.

    Any way, after Gates wrapped up a pretty soft “discussion” with a campus administrator on stage, they did take questions from students. At the time Gates was trying to recruit people into CS because he was worried about running out of programmers. No one wanted the major because it was the deepest nadir of the tech burst.

    The second student at the Mic actually had some serious stones, I was so proud. Guy asks something, and this is close to verbatim, “Why would a student want to come work for a company convicted of antitrust violations and heavily implicated in other misdeeds?”

    It was actually a legit question, not just a swipe at the guy. Microsoft had an image problem.

    What surprised me, though, and saddened me, was the audience reaction. Lots of hisses and boos. Not nearly the whole audience, or a majority, a lot of the students were just buzzing with chatter amongst themselves. But enough people hissed to make some serious noise, and there was no clapping to counter that.

    Gates, by the way, answered the question terribly, very snide and rude and not at all smooth, and seemed to me did not make MSFT seem very appealing in that moment. Even if he wanted to dodge the question (which by the way sucks but set that aside), he could have done it in much smooother way, “thanks for the question, there are some perceptions that ignore the strong sense of ethics and values at Microsoft and what a great place it is to work blah blah blah ecosystem thousands of developers blah blah blah billions in indirect benefits to the economy blah blah blah billions to charity blah blah blah helping old ladies see their grandkids blah blah blah.”

    Like

  41. Robert, thanks for this really interesting post.

    First of all, please do a post on your run in with Jobs. Or maybe you have already and I missed it? It sounds really really interesting. Did he really insult you? Even if it was in a friendly joshing way I’d be curious what he said.

    Second, you are very correct about people turning into softies. I saw Bill Gates speak at Zellerbach autitorium at Berkeley a year or to ago. He was trying to recruit students. I lived across the street and Microsoft’s PR firm invited me to attend (couldn’t ask questions, was in audience), and didn’t seem to care when I told them I didn’t cover the company any more.

    Any way, after Gates wrapped up a pretty soft “discussion” with a campus administrator on stage, they did take questions from students. At the time Gates was trying to recruit people into CS because he was worried about running out of programmers. No one wanted the major because it was the deepest nadir of the tech burst.

    The second student at the Mic actually had some serious stones, I was so proud. Guy asks something, and this is close to verbatim, “Why would a student want to come work for a company convicted of antitrust violations and heavily implicated in other misdeeds?”

    It was actually a legit question, not just a swipe at the guy. Microsoft had an image problem.

    What surprised me, though, and saddened me, was the audience reaction. Lots of hisses and boos. Not nearly the whole audience, or a majority, a lot of the students were just buzzing with chatter amongst themselves. But enough people hissed to make some serious noise, and there was no clapping to counter that.

    Gates, by the way, answered the question terribly, very snide and rude and not at all smooth, and seemed to me did not make MSFT seem very appealing in that moment. Even if he wanted to dodge the question (which by the way sucks but set that aside), he could have done it in much smooother way, “thanks for the question, there are some perceptions that ignore the strong sense of ethics and values at Microsoft and what a great place it is to work blah blah blah ecosystem thousands of developers blah blah blah billions in indirect benefits to the economy blah blah blah billions to charity blah blah blah helping old ladies see their grandkids blah blah blah.”

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  42. I’m not at all sure what a “hard question for Bill” would be, but am quite interested in what some of the folks posting here would consider reasonable candidates. Suggest that Robert Scoble create and link to a blog “Hard questions for Bill” and see what develops.

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  43. I’m not at all sure what a “hard question for Bill” would be, but am quite interested in what some of the folks posting here would consider reasonable candidates. Suggest that Robert Scoble create and link to a blog “Hard questions for Bill” and see what develops.

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  44. Extremely well said Robert, and my thoughts exactly. You missed one point though: he’s also the worlds richest man. How many of these people criticizing the lack of “hard” questions would really ask hard questions if they had an audience with Gates? None of them would, getting up close and personal with Bill Gates is literally being in the company of greatness, that the 14 got off any questions at all is a credit to them all. Like you were with Steve Jobs, I’d be a blubbering mess, in between trying to lift my jaw off the ground.

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  45. Extremely well said Robert, and my thoughts exactly. You missed one point though: he’s also the worlds richest man. How many of these people criticizing the lack of “hard” questions would really ask hard questions if they had an audience with Gates? None of them would, getting up close and personal with Bill Gates is literally being in the company of greatness, that the 14 got off any questions at all is a credit to them all. Like you were with Steve Jobs, I’d be a blubbering mess, in between trying to lift my jaw off the ground.

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  46. Decent blog entry until the nonsequitor “Google is shipping a ton of little tiny things that are going unanswered by Microsoft.” I rolled my eyes when I read that (“Good God, not more Google worship…”). Ruined the blog entry, IMO.

    First, it came out of nowhere.
    Second it’s not relevant to the topic.
    Third, it’s yet more Google worship (which is lessening the value of this blog, in general).

    Lastly, Google is shipping a ton of tiny things going unanswered by Microsoft? WHO CARES? Microsoft does NOT have to answer every tiny thing that Google does. Hell, Google released a frikkin credit card charging service. Should Microsoft do the same? I hope they don’t. That’s PayPal’s thing, not Micrsoft’s.

    Google releases things that Micrsoft doesn’t answer, and vice-versa. (For example, I’ve not seen Google’s anwer to XNA. I’ve not seen their answer to MS Robotics Studio. And I don’t expect answers; those aren’t Google’s things.)

    Robert, you alread made 4 blog entries worshipping Google this week. That’s fine (because I can see the title and just skip over them, or at least know what I’m in for if I do read them), but why drag that into this blog regarding bloggers choking when questioning Bill Gates? Leave the Google worship to the Google-specific topics.

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  47. Decent blog entry until the nonsequitor “Google is shipping a ton of little tiny things that are going unanswered by Microsoft.” I rolled my eyes when I read that (“Good God, not more Google worship…”). Ruined the blog entry, IMO.

    First, it came out of nowhere.
    Second it’s not relevant to the topic.
    Third, it’s yet more Google worship (which is lessening the value of this blog, in general).

    Lastly, Google is shipping a ton of tiny things going unanswered by Microsoft? WHO CARES? Microsoft does NOT have to answer every tiny thing that Google does. Hell, Google released a frikkin credit card charging service. Should Microsoft do the same? I hope they don’t. That’s PayPal’s thing, not Micrsoft’s.

    Google releases things that Micrsoft doesn’t answer, and vice-versa. (For example, I’ve not seen Google’s anwer to XNA. I’ve not seen their answer to MS Robotics Studio. And I don’t expect answers; those aren’t Google’s things.)

    Robert, you alread made 4 blog entries worshipping Google this week. That’s fine (because I can see the title and just skip over them, or at least know what I’m in for if I do read them), but why drag that into this blog regarding bloggers choking when questioning Bill Gates? Leave the Google worship to the Google-specific topics.

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  48. I think one of the relevant questions to ask yourself is, “Why do I want to ask BillG a hard question?” Are you wanting to embarrass/humiliate him? Are you wanting to push your own agenda? Are you wanting to prove how smart you are?

    Generally, the people who want to ask hard questions of any public figure don’t really want answers, they want to push their point of view out into the public view. Granted, I find the way MS has behaved in the marketplace to be completely unexcused by BillG’s philathropy, but unless there’s something I really wanted to know that I thought BillG or SteveJ or GeorgeW could answer, I wouldn’t waste their time.

    Here’s a question that I would love to know the answer to from BillG or SteveJ:

    “How do you spend time with your families? Is it geek-filled and tech-centric activities, or does it resemble the things done by “normal” upper-class families?”

    Those are things that only those men can answer, though they are somewhat personal in nature. The answers would give me far more insight into who these men really are than the answers they’re likely to give to business-related questions.

    Tim

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  49. I think one of the relevant questions to ask yourself is, “Why do I want to ask BillG a hard question?” Are you wanting to embarrass/humiliate him? Are you wanting to push your own agenda? Are you wanting to prove how smart you are?

    Generally, the people who want to ask hard questions of any public figure don’t really want answers, they want to push their point of view out into the public view. Granted, I find the way MS has behaved in the marketplace to be completely unexcused by BillG’s philathropy, but unless there’s something I really wanted to know that I thought BillG or SteveJ or GeorgeW could answer, I wouldn’t waste their time.

    Here’s a question that I would love to know the answer to from BillG or SteveJ:

    “How do you spend time with your families? Is it geek-filled and tech-centric activities, or does it resemble the things done by “normal” upper-class families?”

    Those are things that only those men can answer, though they are somewhat personal in nature. The answers would give me far more insight into who these men really are than the answers they’re likely to give to business-related questions.

    Tim

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  50. Hacks don’t ask hard questions in open forums. They have a different agenda- the scoop – which they reserve for nailing at 1-2-1 meetings. Bloggers are different.

    This industry is packed full of smart people. If you ask a tough question in a respectful manner that references hard facts and demonstrates you’ve done enough research to have a good idea about the person in front of you, then they usually respond in kind. Not all. But usually.

    This isn’t about tough/soft but about getting something new from the conversation. We can all hammer BillG or whomever on a range of issues. Come up with something different. Something fresh. Something that will make them thinkk. The greatest compliment somone can pay you is to preface their ansewr with: ‘That’s a great question.’

    Above all remember that whomever you’re interviewing, they’re human too. No better, no worse, just different. And they bleed when cut.

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  51. Hacks don’t ask hard questions in open forums. They have a different agenda- the scoop – which they reserve for nailing at 1-2-1 meetings. Bloggers are different.

    This industry is packed full of smart people. If you ask a tough question in a respectful manner that references hard facts and demonstrates you’ve done enough research to have a good idea about the person in front of you, then they usually respond in kind. Not all. But usually.

    This isn’t about tough/soft but about getting something new from the conversation. We can all hammer BillG or whomever on a range of issues. Come up with something different. Something fresh. Something that will make them thinkk. The greatest compliment somone can pay you is to preface their ansewr with: ‘That’s a great question.’

    Above all remember that whomever you’re interviewing, they’re human too. No better, no worse, just different. And they bleed when cut.

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  52. I’ll be curious what little things google is doing that you love since, except for gmail, there really isn’t much google I use.

    I’m interested in XNA, in the Zune, in distributed computing of which Amazon is the leader as far as API, in better codecs to compress media, in DVR-applicatins. I’m interested in music, where is the great google tagging application? The google streaming music page so I can stream all my local music anywhere? Where is my google music metabase so I can find covers of all my albums instantly?

    Frankly Ruby on Rails has done far more for “Web 2.0” than google. Sure, google used some of Microsoft’s own XMLHTTPRequest tech and made it more public but I just don’t see anything all that “Wow!” about anything google is doing.

    Online office suites are an inside joke, google’s calendar software is nice but there are better ones out there that are also free. GMail is great but I’m *still* seeing issues that have been around for a year but obviously fixing them doesn’t make some dev happy so it’ll never happen. For every great feature that Google releases I could point to a bug or poorly-designed feature that should have gotten the attention instead.

    “Hey, look at this super cool GPS navigation that can auto-park while sensing your mood and playing the right music!”

    “Yeah, great, but does it still only get 20 miles to the gallon?”

    “Yeah, but look what it can do…”

    “Sorry, call me when you’ve solved a real problem.”

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  53. I’ll be curious what little things google is doing that you love since, except for gmail, there really isn’t much google I use.

    I’m interested in XNA, in the Zune, in distributed computing of which Amazon is the leader as far as API, in better codecs to compress media, in DVR-applicatins. I’m interested in music, where is the great google tagging application? The google streaming music page so I can stream all my local music anywhere? Where is my google music metabase so I can find covers of all my albums instantly?

    Frankly Ruby on Rails has done far more for “Web 2.0” than google. Sure, google used some of Microsoft’s own XMLHTTPRequest tech and made it more public but I just don’t see anything all that “Wow!” about anything google is doing.

    Online office suites are an inside joke, google’s calendar software is nice but there are better ones out there that are also free. GMail is great but I’m *still* seeing issues that have been around for a year but obviously fixing them doesn’t make some dev happy so it’ll never happen. For every great feature that Google releases I could point to a bug or poorly-designed feature that should have gotten the attention instead.

    “Hey, look at this super cool GPS navigation that can auto-park while sensing your mood and playing the right music!”

    “Yeah, great, but does it still only get 20 miles to the gallon?”

    “Yeah, but look what it can do…”

    “Sorry, call me when you’ve solved a real problem.”

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  54. I started to cry for cynic, sharp-minded journalists reading texts like this, from Micro Persuasion:
    http://www.micropersuasion.com/2006/12/our_sixty_minut.html#comments
    “This has been on my calendar for over a month now and I had plenty of time to process it mentally before Gates arrived. Still, it’s a rush once the world’s richest man and one of the most influential people in business and world affairs sits right down across a table from you. A bunch of us were overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the moment. I have never met a President of the United States but this sure felt like it for me. (Also note that Microsoft is one of our firm’s key clients but I was invited as a blogger.)”

    If that is what personal bloggin’ means…

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  55. I started to cry for cynic, sharp-minded journalists reading texts like this, from Micro Persuasion:
    http://www.micropersuasion.com/2006/12/our_sixty_minut.html#comments
    “This has been on my calendar for over a month now and I had plenty of time to process it mentally before Gates arrived. Still, it’s a rush once the world’s richest man and one of the most influential people in business and world affairs sits right down across a table from you. A bunch of us were overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the moment. I have never met a President of the United States but this sure felt like it for me. (Also note that Microsoft is one of our firm’s key clients but I was invited as a blogger.)”

    If that is what personal bloggin’ means…

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  56. Uma: maybe so. But many of the questions I saw asked were pretty lightweight fare that weren’t going to bring us any real new knowledge of what Microsoft is doing so I thought it was important to talk up.

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  57. Uma: maybe so. But many of the questions I saw asked were pretty lightweight fare that weren’t going to bring us any real new knowledge of what Microsoft is doing so I thought it was important to talk up.

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