Dick Brass, who led Microsoft’s efforts to develop e-reader technology a decade ago, couldn’t take it anymore.
The now-retired executive wrote a long, thoughtful essay outlining how Microsoft’s culture stifled creative work, including some that was later mirrored in successful products from Apple.
Brass, a former journalist now living on San Juan Island, launched Microsoft Reader with ClearType rendering technology in 1999, eons before the Kindle and iPad. But, he revealed in his essay published today in the New York Times, it fell victim to internal turf wars in Redmond.
Although we built it to help sell e-books, it gave Microsoft a huge potential advantage for every device with a screen. But it also annoyed other Microsoft groups that felt threatened by our success.
Engineers in the Windows group falsely claimed it made the display go haywire when certain colors were used. The head of Office products said it was fuzzy and gave him headaches. The vice president for pocket devices was blunter: he’d support ClearType and use it, but only if I transferred the program and the programmers to his control. As a result, even though it received much public praise, internal promotion and patents, a decade passed before a fully operational version of ClearType finally made it into Windows.
Brass defends Microsoft against its haters:
The company’s chief executive, Steve Ballmer, has continued to deliver huge profits. They totaled well over $100 billion in the past 10 years alone and help sustain the economies of Seattle, Washington State and the nation as a whole. Its founder, Bill Gates, is not only the most generous philanthropist in history, but has also inspired thousands of his employees to give generously themselves. No one in his right mind should wish Microsoft failure.
But he concludes by saying that its “dysfunctional corporate culture” is snuffing out its creative spark.