Eric Rudder on Microsoft’s past and future

Tonight I attended an event featuring Eric Rudder of Microsoft. The Commonwealth Club of California gave Eric an award for being a person who will shape the upcoming century. I sat in the second row with my Tablet PC and have the whole hour recorded, if only I can clean up the sound from my built-in mic. It was interesting to hear Eric speak about software engineering as a profession in its infancy and therefore very prone to making mistakes. Brown’s computer science department will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year. Ten years ago computer science degrees were still not common and it was hard to imagine the usage of things like networking today. Eric was involved in the OS/2 and eventually the Windows networking groups when he first started working for Microsoft in the early 90s. He mentioned that Windows 3.11 was the first networked OS and was created by 7 guys with an idea about connecting data. Compare that to the thousands of people working on Longhorn and you can see how software is just starting to evolve. I asked Eric why Microsoft has stayed out of the social networking and personal publishing arena, two of the hot topics of the past 12 months. It seems to me that both have the potential to generate a lot of server sales as well as services. I also asked why he only has two blog entries. Eric responded that he has too many other things to do that would benefit the community more than a blog entry. He oversees and helped created RSS feeds over the past year. He has been working to open up MSDN to third party tools. He wanted to post some blog entries to let his employees know that it is okay to blog and there is no company position against the practice. I asked again about social networking software such as the emergence of friend-of-a-friend networks and how they might be used to define trusted communities to assist in problems such as spam. He said he was familiar with the format (I assume he was referring to FOAF instead of hosted networks like Friendster or Orkut) but had not really looked into it and thought it better left to groups such as MSN. Longhorn was mentioned twice. Once as a solution to some security problems and a new way of thinking of relationships (WinFS) and again as Microsoft preparing to beat Linux on the server. Overall I was not too impressed. I had just listened to a senior VP in charge of “evangelizing the extended Microsoft platform” and I was less impressed with Microsoft than before. The employees of Intel, IBM, and some journalists in the audience I spoke with afterwards agreed. The perception was that Microsoft seems to be slipping in innovation and the fact that Longhorn keeps getting pushed back will help the rest of the world look to other platform choices.