Mystic Microsoft, Chapter Twelve: Purpose

Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Epilogue | Afterword

But I say unto you, Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,
and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

"In other news, the Evil Empire of Redmond today announced that…." Sigh. It was a rare week that passed without some kind of unrestrained verbal assault upon Microsoft in the industry tabloids. With its unprecedented success, high energy, and occasionally unorthodox methods, Microsoft tends to evoke emotional extremes. People love it or they hate it. Whether it has some correlation to one's profits from Microsoft stock, I do not know. But one thing is certain: Microsoft is no stranger to attack. It is a testimony to the company's internal strength and the quality of its leadership that it has continued to thrive in the face of so many challenges.

Prior to the advent of governmental anti-trust activity at the turn of the millennium, one of Microsoft's greatest challenges came in the early 1990's. Apple Computer, Inc., whose Macintosh line was losing market share to Windows, sought to prevent Microsoft from using similar user-interface features by suing over copyright infringement. (The suit, filed in 1988, originally targeted Windows version 2, and was expanded when the highly successful Windows version 3 was released in 1990). As is typical in such cases, Apple asked the courts to halt the sale and distribution of Windows.

We were a little shocked when the news reached our ears. It had always been one of our principles at Microsoft to compete through innovation, not litigation. It really did sadden us to see a great company like Apple taking this approach because we knew it was in their power to innovate if they chose. It was also sad because Apple had often cooperated with us in the past; it was difficult to be forced into conflict.

It was a painful time. In the hostile environment created by the lawsuit, anyone who had bones to pick with Microsoft came out of the woodwork and let loose their criticism. Every week brought new insults to Microsoft from the weekly columnists whereas Apple was made out to be the force of righteousness. For those of us who represented the so-called Evil Empire in public, this certainly made for some interesting road trips!

Opinions aside, Microsoft had to fight and fight they did. Not only did the company successfully block the stop order but gradually whittled Apple's list of 189 claims down to 10, 5, 2, 1, and finally zero. When it was all over Apple had spent several years' worth of time and research capital for nothing. What's more, over the course of the lawsuit the personal computer market expanded tremendously, but Apple wasn't there to claim their rightful share. That share pretty much fell into Microsoft's lap: Windows emerged the victor by a factor of ten to one over the Macintosh, and Apple was sadly left with various financial struggles.[*]

Although I had to personally bear an occasional insult on behalf of my employer, I wasn't involved enough for it to affect me all that much. Indeed, Apple's lawsuit goaded many of us to concentrate even more passionately on our work, be it creating better software or helping others understand it more deeply.

Other challenges, however, hit much closer to home and struck a stunning contrast to the accolades I received as an industry expert. In 1994, for example, another lawsuit arrived on behalf of Wang Corporation. This one was aimed specifically at OLE, now the centerpiece of my career. Wang was going through Chapter 11 reorganization and their creditors were doing their rightful duty to find anything of value in the corporate files. Discovering a few patents to which certain design elements of OLE bore a striking resemblance, Microsoft was promptly sued for infringement.

The columnists of the computer weeklies were, of course, delighted. They flooded their pages with new attacks on Microsoft and OLE and even used this latest lawsuit to bolster the outlandish but oft-reiterated idea that Microsoft had a megalomaniac desire to control the world. Someone, in fact, circulated a rather creative and fairly convincing "internal Microsoft document" that detailed our "plans" for a New World Order under which Bill Gates and his henchmen would issue directives from "Building Seven, a secret subterranean bunker hidden beneath Microsoft's Corporate Campus."[†] To make the story even better, the anonymous author of this document showed how certain architectural elements of OLE itself would be the means for the takeover!

Even as ridiculous as such claims were, the constant flood of negativity that followed in their wake started to hurt. For whatever truth there was in Wang's allegations, and for the definite non-truth in the rumors of sinister mind-control, OLE was my work. It was the only project I really cared about. In both the public eye and in my own, OLE was very much my identity. In a very real and tangible way, an attack on OLE was an attack on me and the life-blood I had given to it.

Fortunately, the Wang suit was quietly resolved a couple of months later by a mutually beneficial and friendly agreement. Greatly relieved, I enjoyed the peaceful absence of animosity for a time. Then, not unexpectedly, came another, even more focused attack.

Enter a coalition of Microsoft's primary competitors of the time: IBM, Apple, and Novell. These three were apparently concerned (I can't speak to their real motives) that OLE, over which they had absolutely no influence, was becoming an industry standard. Under the banner of a non-profit corporate body called the Component Integration Laboratories (CI Labs), this triumvirate and two other relatively neutral companies thus set out to create a competing technology called OpenDoc. So far as its outside advocates had it, this would not be an evil "proprietary" technology like OLE: OpenDoc would rather be an "open standard," designed by a committee of the founders of CI Labs and anyone else who coughed up the necessary $50,000 for a voting seat on CI Labs'' board. This was, OpenDoc's supporters seemed to imply, infinitely preferable to having a few deranged toadies within Bill's neo-fascist cult determine the industry's future!

Given that attempts to create industry standards by committee have usually been abysmally slow if not unmitigated failures, most of us in Developer Relations (and Microsoft as a whole) simply ignored OpenDoc.[‡] On technical grounds alone, we pretty much knew it would never really fly.[§] Even so, there was no escape for us. OpenDoc's supporters in the industry (and press) often held up our silence as a clear indication of Microsoft's arrogant, non-cooperative nature. They set up OpenDoc as the new messiah that would save the industry from Der Führer Gates and his party hacks. They even managed to make "proprietary" a dirty word. And all of it showed up in the weeklies whose columnists seemed to revel in this fresh opportunity to renew their favorite pastime of reckless Microsoft bashing.

Personally speaking, I had to field a number of OpenDoc-related questions at various conferences and over email. Occasionally someone would openly insult OLE to my face and lavish praise on OpenDoc. They seemed to forget that OpenDoc didn't even have a final design—let alone a working implementation—and that its proponents could say and promise anything they pleased! In any case, it wasn't easy to counter unsubstantiated claims—all I could really do was take the high road and just keep talking about the benefits of OLE—grateful, at least that the insults weren't really personal.

Not, that is, until I gave a talk in the spring of 1994 at a conference called Object World.[**] This conference was the main stomping ground for another industry movement centered on something called "Object Technology," the prevalent standards for which were contained in a specification for the "Common Object Request Broker Architecture" or CORBA, for short.

CORBA was something of a sacred cow to the Object Technology advocates, and for good reason: it remains one of the few successful standards created by a diverse consortium known as the Object Management Group or OMG. Indeed, it seemed to become almost something of a religion among certain sectors of the industry, complete with passionately defended dogmas. So far as I could understand it, there were certain things that passed an unwritten acid test for TRUE OBJECT TECHNOLOGY and certain things that did not. OLE did not. Although OLE was ostensibly concerned with software "objects,"[††] OLE's sort didn't adhere to the sanctioned forms of the orthodoxy. They were not TRUE OBJECTS; therefore, OLE was not a TRUE RELIGION. Therefore, some CORBA and Object Technology pundits went so far as to brand OLE a virtual HERESY and Microsoft an ENEMY OF THE CHURCH.

If you don't understand all this, don't worry—neither did I! To this day, I still don't know why people made such a stink about it. I know only that back then the Object Technology crowd seemed generally hostile to anything Microsoft did, perhaps for no other reason (from our point of view) than to slow down OLE from becoming a de facto industry standard.

Anyway, the battle over this TRUE OBJECT stuff had been heating up considerably in the first half of 1994 and Microsoft decided it was high time to meet the challenge with a large presence at Object World. (We had never even bothered to attend the show before, let alone present our story.) This meant that a certain someone got to give a talk about OLE.

Without realizing that I was a sacrificial lamb, I innocently went to the show, got myself situated in the lecture hall, and stood at the podium to deliver my usual introductory presentation, "What is OLE?"

It is common during technical lectures for people to ask questions when they are confused or need clarification on some point. About halfway into my presentation a suited gentleman stood up and asked something about databases. I can't say any more than that because every other word in his question was, to me, indistinguishable from Swahili. So I followed standard procedure and asked him to restate his question, but I still didn't understand anything. At this point protocol demanded that I not waste everyone's time—I politely asked him to see me after the talk was over.

He then stood up, huffed and puffed, and stormed out of the room in open disgust! I was utterly nonplussed, as were many of the other attendees (who, I might add, were very friendly and sincerely interested in the presentation). This kind of thing had never happened to me before. Why would anyone get so upset by my offering to give them my personal attention at the next available opportunity? I could only wonder. Was he some competitor's shill, perhaps? Was his sole purpose to prove that I was some harebrained Microsoft twit who didn't know left from right, a judgment that could then be passed onto the whole lot of us?

Whatever his intentions were, I recovered from the shock, regained my composure, and finished my presentation. What seemed to be an unfortunate misunderstanding left my mind entirely—until it showed up, that is, in one of the weeklies! After spending a dozen or so paragraphs condemning Microsoft for its utter ignorance of the REAL ISSUES at Object World and for its blasphemous misrepresentation of CUSTOMER'S REAL NEEDS, yada yada yada, the reporter, who had apparently been present at my talk, related the whole incident in gory detail. In reverential tones she praised my disgruntled inquisitor as such-and-such "veteran software architect" from such-and-such widely respected company, whereas I was described as—and I quote verbatim—the "arrogant young Microsoft nerd."

Double ouch. I felt like I'd been stabbed. As I read this public mockery, which I knew had also been read by several hundred thousand other people, my heart sank to the middle of my stomach and tied itself in a tight knot. I was young, that was true, still a mere 25. I did work for Microsoft. Perhaps I was something of a nerd (who at that show, pray tell, was not?). But arrogant? There wasn't a trace of such a sentiment in my heart! I was simply doing my best to joyfully share what I knew and what I loved.

Instinctively, perhaps, I wanted to fight back in some way, to clear my name and perhaps even humiliate this—as I referred to her at the time, so pardon my saying so—"bitch reporter." But what could I do? Any rebuttal or retaliation would take weeks to see print (if at all) by which time the whole matter would be dusty history. Any personal confrontation would be utterly useless. I had no other choice but to just sit in my office and eat my humble pie.

Sensitive to my suffering, several of my more sympathetic co-workers stopped by to console me. The bolder, self-assertive types came too, congratulating me for being perhaps the first Microsoft person whose existence was openly acknowledged by the Object Technology crowd. For years it had seemed strictly verboten to mention Object Technology and Microsoft in the same paragraph—so I had to admit that this was something of a success! Nevertheless, it still hurt. It wasn't just that I had been insulted—that would have been easy to take. It was that everything that formed my very self-identity—my career, my work with OLE, and my very desire to help others—had been dishonored and disgraced. It was in this, in the persecution of what I treasured most, that I suffered.

Interestingly enough, it was about this same time that I began, without really being conscious of it, to explore the lives of others who had undergone persecution, as if a part of me needed to understand what this sort of suffering was all about. My extracurricular reading (see Chapter Five, pages 58-59), which was in full swing by now, took me into histories of World Wars I and II and the Nazi Holocaust. I read about early Christian "heresies" such as the Gnostics who met their destruction at the hands of the orthodoxy. I also read a somewhat bitter book about the injustices toward women—like the Inquisition and witch-hunts—that have left many an ugly scar on our civilization. In these I found inspiration to face my own difficulties with courage. I was especially moved by those who had remained loyal to their deepest inner convictions even when it cost them their freedom or their lives.

I also began to understand how in the very heart of worldly trials was an enormous potential for growth. In so many cases I found that persecution had made people inwardly stronger, not weaker. It was as if in being stripped of their narrow external sense of self they discovered a much more expansive identity within. Through intense challenges to their assumptions about life they developed a transcendent vision of reality and an understanding of what was truly meaningful.

By a fascinating coincidence—or perhaps by design!—I was asked to do something of this nature for OLE shortly after my Object World experience. Although OLE had gained considerable support in the industry, it hadn't yet found its proper place within Microsoft's overall strategy: its "positioning," as we called it. Being the person most intimate with the technology, this task was assigned to me.

"Where does OLE belong? What is it really trying to accomplish?" In seeking answers to these questions, I examined everything that led to OLE's creation. I probed deep into the reasons behind every one of its features and pondered its potential for the future. I followed every possible line of thought, no matter how absurd, to see where it would lead.

And what I found thrilled me—even more deeply than the inspiration behind my book.

As I'll explain more fully in Chapter Fourteen, I discovered (among other things) that OLE had the potential to fundamentally change how software was both created and used. Through OLE, computers could become far more usable than we thought possible. In particular, I postulated an environment where the computer needed only to ask: "What would you like to do?" Once the user told it, the computer would assemble the appropriate application to achieve the desired goal. And if it missed the mark, it would be a quick and simple matter for the user to refine his or her response to get the desired result.

I also discovered that whenever such strides had been made in the past, that is, whenever people had been empowered to create their own solutions rather than waiting for someone else to do it for them, the overall computer industry experienced tremendous expansion. If positioned carefully, OLE could thus become a catalyst for such an explosion, leading to so much growth in the marketplace that no one company could expand fast enough to fill the holes. This meant that while existing companies, both big and small, would prosper, there would also be countless opportunities for entirely new companies to sprout and flourish. Literally everyone could be a winner! (This kind of expansion is, in fact, exactly what happened with both the Internet and mobile apps.)

I was deeply moved; so deeply, in fact, that within a few months I had completely revised and expanded my book to reflect these insights (released in May 1995 as Inside OLE 2nd Edition). I also wrote my new inspirations in a paper called "What OLE is Really About" which was described as "perhaps the best paraphrasing of the true purpose of [OLE] that has been published…." In my mind, this paper was certainly the best thing I'd ever written on any subject.[‡‡] And the presentation that I later gave under the same title to an audience of over 1,500 was my best and most inspiring talk ever.

Through the persecution I endured on OLE's behalf thus emerged a vision that transcended my own needs and goals. For that matter it also transcended the needs of my workgroup and even those of Microsoft.

I could now see OLE's true significance.

I had found its Grand Purpose.

I had understood its place in the Great Scheme of Things.

And, by extension, I gained more insights about my own.

As I said earlier, my identity was intertwined with OLE. In exploring its life purpose I naturally began to seek answers to the fundamental questions of my own existence. (Indeed, I almost once wrote a paper called "OLE and the Meaning of Life.") The voluminous entries in my 1994 journal give testimony to the extent of my search. What is life for? What is it all about? Where do I fit in? Again and again these questions returned to my mind, creating a magnetism that brought me increasingly in touch with others who were also seeking answers.

In particular, I became actively involved with a Microsoft email group where this sort of metaphysical stuff was actively bandied about (see Chapter Thirteen). Through this group I met Richard Brodie, an ex-Microsoft programmer who wrote the original version of Microsoft Word many years ago. Despite more than a decade of professional and financial success with Microsoft, Richard realized one day that his life was spiritually empty. Seeing this for the problem that it truly was, he left Microsoft and spent several years doing everything he could to climb out of his hole, attending dozens of personal growth seminars and becoming a dispassionate observer of his own hard experience. In the end, he managed to get some bearing on what was meaningful and important in his life and shared his experience in his book, Getting Past OK.

In this book (which Bill Gates described as "incredibly useful!") he offers a series of exercises though which you find not what you think will give meaning to your life, but what already is most meaningful based on how you have actually lived thus far. The idea is that what we actually do, not what we say or think, alone demonstrates what is most important to us and what we truly believe within our innermost hearts. This, you can even say, is our only true and personal religion.

At the end of Richard's process, you have what he calls your "Success Checklist." These are the things in your life—your "core needs"—that really matter to you (such as sharing joy) as distinct from the means of fulfilling those needs (such as writing a book) and the structures that support those means (such as having a writing job or a good source of ideas). To fulfill your core needs, Richard says, through whatever means and structures are appropriate, is your life's purpose. [§§]

I first read Getting Past OK in the middle of 1994 and worked through its exercises toward the end of the year. My list of core needs came out as follows:

  • Wholeness, integration, and connection with all life; a state of total peace with the universe.
  • Effectiveness, or doing what is right and what will lead to the greatest growth and happiness;
  • Freedom and unboundedness, not being restricted by limitations in thought or belief, having the willingness to try things no matter how crazy they seem;
  • Awareness and complete knowledge—that is, wisdom, and
  • Love, expressed for all and deeply felt within my own self.

Yes, I had to admit, these were the things that really were important to me—they were what I had always been seeking. They had been guiding my life from behind the scenes through every storm and success alike. And now that I had them spelled out so clearly, I tried to consciously keep them in the forefront of my mind, seeking to deepen my experience of them wherever I went. As I did so, my awareness was gradually transformed, setting the stage for what was the next critical step in my spiritual growth.

No wonder the great master from Galilee, quoted at the beginning of this chapter, encouraged us to pray for and bless those that would persecute us. Without tests and trials, we might never discover that which gives our lives purpose, or discover the strength within ourselves to actually live that purpose. These are blessings worthy of our deepest gratitude.

[*] I'm delighted that Apple eventually came back with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Apple is a fabulous company that has certainly advanced the state of the art in the industry.   [Return to text]

[†] As I mentioned in Chapter Six, Building Seven had been designed but couldn't be built due to setback restrictions.   [Return to text]

[‡] Excepting James Plamondon (see Chapter Nine) who spent a year directly addressing the OpenDoc challenge.   [Return to text]

[§] It was also curious that CI Labs seemed consciously organized to thwart Microsoft even if it joined the coalition. The group's by-laws required an 80% majority vote of its ten-member Board to ratify any proposal. This struck us as rather odd given that almost every other committee in the world operates on a two-thirds majority. Then we realized that this particular rule effectively rendered Microsoft impotent: even if Microsoft joined the Board itself and bribed or created six other companies to vote the Microsoft line, Novell, Apple, and IBM would form an opposing minority making an 80% pro-Microsoft majority impossible.   [Return to text]

[**] OpenDoc never really happened. CI Labs officially shut down in July, 1997.   [Return to text]

[††] Loosely defined in the lower-case form as self-contained bundles of program code and data that behave according to certain well-defined characteristics.   [Return to text]

[‡‡] The paper no longer circulates on the Internet, but can probably be found by checking Internet archives for The quote here comes from an "Under the Hood" column by Kevin Gordon that unfortunately no longer appears on the Internet. I'm also highly amused by a 1997 article called "Oils of OLE" by Eric Binary Anderson that ended with this tribute: "[What OLE is Really About] is the clearest and most complete summary of OLE technologies you'll find. Brockschmidt seems to believe that Microsoft developed OLE as a gift to the development community to engender competition and to keep Microsoft from driving the industry. Kraig must have sold some snake oil in his day, though, because I came away convinced."   [Return to text]

[§§] The only thing I feel is missing from Richard's book is that once you have your Success Checklist he doesn't advise you on how to work backwards to find appropriate means and structures. I've since addressed this gap in my own book, Finding Focus, remaining grateful to Richard for his fine work.   [Return to text]

Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Epilogue | Afterword

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