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Did Amazon Induce Vista's Premature Birth? 296

Posted by kdawson
from the ready-or-not-here-i-come dept.
theodp writes "A recent Amazon SEC filing sheds light on the puzzling departure of Microsoft Sr. VP Brian Valentine in Sept. 2006. Valentine is the Gen. George Patton-like figure charged with pushing Vista developers, who dumped the still not-ready-for-prime-time OS into RC1 status as he bolted for a new gig at Amazon. Having repeatedly assured everyone that Valentine was staying with the company post-Vista, Microsoft backpedaled and explained that Valentine decided to leave since the company had shipped a near-final version of Vista. Not so. Although analysts fell for the PR line, it seems Valentine had actually signed an Employment Agreement way back in June calling for him to be on board at Amazon on Sept. 11 if he wanted to pick up a $1.7M signing bonus, $150K base salary, another $500K bonus, and 400K shares of Amazon stock (now worth almost $30M). Who says you have to shell out $999.95 for MS-Project to come up with accurate planned completion dates?"
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Did Amazon Induce Vista's Premature Birth?

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  • by arizwebfoot (1228544) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:01PM (#22507676)
    Can't fault a guy for makin' money.
  • by davidwr (791652) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:01PM (#22507680) Homepage Journal

    Although analysts fell for the PR line

    There are lies, damn lies, and material misstatements to the investment community.
  • Valleywag ( the first link in TFA ) says "Valentine surely told his bosses of this fact [ that he had signed with Amazon ]." but offers no evidence to back it up. I don't really want to defend Microsoft, and while they are sure guilty of a multitude of sins, they might be innocent of this one.
    Lots of people make future employment agreements without telling their current employers. Indeed, in my experience both as employee and employer, the majority do not tell.
  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:04PM (#22507714)
    How long until Amazon OS is released?
  • by g01d4 (888748) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:05PM (#22507722)
    To make him worth that kind of money?
    • by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:13PM (#22507820) Homepage Journal
      He had the foresight to make himself am essential part of company A at exactly the time that company B wanted to begin competing with A.
      • I'm not sure what Amazon is doing to compete with Microsoft. I hardly think the Amazon MP3 thing is something that can really be called competition. Even the Kindle isn't much either.
    • by sohp (22984)
      How about: He knows when to jump from a sinking ship.
    • by flanksteak (69032) * on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:24PM (#22508008) Homepage
      Valentine is the guy who led Exchange in the 90s as it took over corporate mail servers and then led the Windows releases of 2K (still my favorite), XP, and apparently Vista. Love or hate the products, he's been in charge of groups who have shipped some big stuff.
      • by rwalton (1243798) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:00PM (#22508468) Homepage

        He also has a very engaging style of management. Instead of leading from afar he would hold weekly team meetings where he would give everybody the projects status, address concerns, and then kick off the festivities with clips from the weekly world news. The comedy skits he and Ian MacDonald would do were pretty funny most of the time.

        He projects the work hard play hard mentality. He always kept the team meetings stocked with several kegs of beer and always told the employees that if they drank too much take a cab home and expense it.

        I would say he was my favorite higher level manager at Microsoft.

        ----- Rom

        • Beer .... (Score:4, Funny)

          by Archangel Michael (180766) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @06:14PM (#22509194) Journal
          "He always kept the team meetings stocked with several kegs of beer and always told the employees that if they drank too much take a cab home and expense it."

          That explains VISTA!
        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2008 @06:30PM (#22509362)
          I work in Brian's org at Amazon (and am posting as AC for obvious reasons) -- man, what a loss this was for you guys at Microsoft! Unlike most senior execs I've encountered, he's not afraid to challenge the status quo; on the other hand, he isn't obsessed with changing things for the sake of change (if it works well enough, leave it be). Not afraid to call bullshit when he sees it.

          He also runs one of the flattest orgs I've ever been in -- the depth of the tree from intern to Brian is quite shallow. Bringing a problem to his attention is subsequently easy, but you'd better be prepared to defend why it's a problem, why it's solvable, and why you think it's that important.

          My friends over at MS say that he really got the shaft over Vista. Sounds about right for the culture -- my read is that failure is penalized heavily there these days. The strategy for succeeding in an environment like that? Office Space.
    • "To make him worth that kind of money?"

      It's what he convinced someone to pay him.

      What you were expecting someone to give you something objective so you could rant about no one being worth that much? Sorry, but my metric is the one that matters, and it says he's worth what he got.
      • thank you. really the market has decided his worth. Obviously you and I wouldn't pay that much to hire the guy, but all he needs is 1 company to pay him a crazy salary. And in this case he's found TWO that are willing to pay.
    • by matria (157464)
      What did bringing him in do to Amazon's stock? If it caused it to twitch even a little bit, they profited nicely out of the deal. He doesn't need to do anything at all afterwards.
  • Stop it! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Joseph1337 (1146047) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:06PM (#22507750)
    He didn`t do it for the money - he wanted the users to have a modern, lightweight operating system with great features like Aq...Aero, media controlled internet bandwith, and gazillions of bl...features. The system is very mature and st
  • by puff3456 (898964) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:10PM (#22507776)
    If he is willing to push an unfinished product to market at a huge loss to his company just so that he can leave his current post for a higher paying one, what is to say he won't simply rinse and repeat. People like this are more a liability than an asset.
    • by g0bshiTe (596213)
      With the tidy sum he got from Amazon, I doubt he'll be doing much "work".
    • Sure he'll rinse and repeat, but who's to know?

      If he's left behind a mess then all he has to do to spin it his way is this: "Gee it looks like those guys at MS are really struggling since I left. That just shows how good I am."

    • Except nobody cares; and the folks hiring him are likely of the same character.
    • by Swampash (1131503) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:25PM (#22508708)
      I think the point is that Valentine decided to leave, and MS knew that would look bad to investors. So MS pushed Vista out the door to give investors the impression that Valentine was leaving because there was nothing more to do on Vista.
    • by Sciros (986030)
      ... but in that case wouldn't it also in a way be a win-win for Amazon? They get a guy they want, and he also screws over a competitor a little on the way out?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Trojan35 (910785)
      Completely disagree. Amazon put that clause in the contract for this very purpose. They didn't want to wait 2 years for a delayed Vista to get Valentine.
  • Well, then I would expect RC1 to be stable and have smooth instantly responsive performance like the mac does on lesser hardware.

  • Project link... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Skater (41976) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:11PM (#22507790) Homepage Journal
    What's with the MS Project link?

    One Moment Please...

    To help optimize how your Web pages are displayed, we are checking to see if a 2007 Microsoft Office program is installed.

    If this page does not automatically redirect, you have scripts disabled. See more information on scripts.

    Follow this link if the page is not redirected.
    So they need to check whether I have Office installed just so I can see the MS Project page? Interesting... (Win XP Pro + Firefox + NoScript, with JavaScript turned off for microsoft.com, produced the above page.)
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:11PM (#22507800) Homepage
    How to I get down on the action to rush out a release candidate and then leave for a large bonus and some stock options which will make me a millionaire?

    I'll crank out a dodgy RC1 for tomorrow if you've got a couple of million for me too. :-P

    That sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

    However, somehow I'm finding myself not actually surprised to know that Vista got prematurely elevated by someone who no longer gave a shit. That has the ring of truthiness about it. :-P

    Cheers
  • WinFS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by backslashdot (95548) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:14PM (#22507838)
    Why did they have to rip out WinFS ..and why did they rip it out before he left .. it's not in RC1 even?
    • Re:WinFS (Score:4, Informative)

      by EXMSFT (935404) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:20PM (#22507942)
      Where do I begin? WinFS was never a filesystem in it's own right. It was a glommed-on database where an integrated SQL Server instance stored one table, and then NTFS stored another - and the data was never very well linked together. Frankly I was disappointed in the WinFS implementation from the very first time someone actually described how it worked. Vista is touch-and-go enough for most consumers without having WinFS - the usability problems WinFS would have brought would not have been worth it as it was. It was cut because it was not ready for prime-time - just as several cool features were in XP, and Windows 2000 before it.
      • Re:WinFS (Score:4, Insightful)

        by rbanffy (584143) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:05PM (#22509676) Homepage Journal
        WinFS is not and never will be a file system.

        In fact, I doubt it will ever be a real product.

        It's vaporware that's resurrected every once and then (ever since the early NT vs. IBM's OS/2 times), designed to make Microsoft look like it has some flashy technology pointy-haired-bosses will not be able to tell it's a Really Bad Idea. And they won't because it will never, ever ship.

        WinFS is not real.
    • WinFS has been the "new great feature" promised in every release since the early 1990s (ie for well over ten years now). Talk is cheap, delivering something that works well is hard, which is why WinFS always gets ripped out.
  • Bad title (Score:5, Insightful)

    by t33jster (1239616) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:15PM (#22507856)
    If one person leaving company X for company Y and it causes causes company X's bread and butter product to suck, it's not company Y's fault. Company X should have invested in business continuity. BCP is boring, but what if instead of being hired away, he was hit by a bus or (arguably similar to the deal he got at Amazon) wins the lottery? A company 1/10th the size of Microsoft shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket.
  • Not the only factor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AJWM (19027) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:18PM (#22507904) Homepage
    As I recall, a lot of companies who'd forked over lots of dollars for multi-year support agreements back around 2001 (there was some marketing phrase, I forget what) were starting to grumble that the promised new releases included in the price hadn't yet been released, and the agreements were about to expire.

    This is one of the factors that prompted the early release of the "business" version of Vista in late 2006 instead of it being released along with the home version in early 2007.

    Not that any businesses really wanted to touch that, but it let Microsoft say they'd lived up to their part of the agreement (in their own inimitable (innovative?) Microsoft way, of course).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by EXMSFT (935404)
      The versions licensed via Software Assurance were all available in Q4CY06 - because they are delivered electronically. There is no magic juju that happened in the first three months of 2007 that made Home any different - it was the exact same codebase - only it had been localized, had shiny media made, and been put into retail boxes.
      • by AJWM (19027)
        Okay, thanks for that clarification; it sort of confirms that the Software Assurance licenses were another factor driving that deadline.
  • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:22PM (#22507974)
    Man, if I'm Microsoft and I'm generally willing to break the law to get my way when push comes to shove, I'm probably sending some guys to bust Valentine's kneecaps at a minimum.

    Granted, that wouldn't help them out in the short term, but they'd lose less executives if a savage beating was part of the severance package. Hell, they probably could advertise right here on slashdot for people willing to kick a Microsoft executive in the groin for free!
  • by djcinsb (169909) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:27PM (#22508052) Homepage
    "Who says you have to shell out $999.95 for MS-Project to come up with accurate planned completion dates?"

    Hey, it's only $854.99 at Amazon!
  • by hardburn (141468) <hardburn@@@wumpus-cave...net> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:33PM (#22508130)

    Vista wasn't really a "premature birth". It's more like putting every other ingredient into a recipe, then trying to fix it by baking it for too long.

  • I think many people on this site make around 2/3rd of that for their salary. $150K is not a huge salary.

    Of course we don't get millions in stock and sign on bonuses either. I think the biggest bonus I ever got was 10% of my salary/year and $20K in unvested stock options.
    • by Shados (741919) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:40PM (#22508222)
      For top notch positions, the yearly salary is just cosmetic. Its not uncommon for high ranked managers and architects to make some silly salary like minimum wadge, but get hundreds over hundreds of thousands in bonus every year. Its a whole different ballbark from the average salaried developer monkey.
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by canuck57 (662392)

        For top notch positions, the yearly salary is just cosmetic. Its not uncommon for high ranked managers and architects to make some silly salary like minimum wadge, but get hundreds over hundreds of thousands in bonus every year. Its a whole different ballbark from the average salaried developer monkey.

        No, I think like CEOs with far too high compensation packages, it is corporate executive management taking a page from the CEO. Screw the company, just pay me lots of cash.

        If M$ has this kind of problems wi

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Txiasaeia (581598)

          If M$ has this kind of problems with their executives, perhaps they are more rotten at the core than most people even realize. And Amazon paying $30M to start? Come now, that would hire 300 programmers for a year.

          More if the programmers qualified under Amazon's "Get 4 for the price of 3" promotion.

    • by ivan256 (17499)
      I'll work for a company for free for five years if they want to give me a $1.7mil "signing bonus". For 15 years if you want to give me $30mil in stock to go with it.

      The base salary is almost a joke after the other stuff.
  • by Bryansix (761547) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:36PM (#22508184) Homepage
    Amazon was just playing catch with a baseball and the ball got away. It hit Microsoft right in the womb. Shortly after Vista said "Calculating File Transfer". Microsoft and doctors thought that Vista might be in trouble so they induced the labor. Then after it was born they found out it was just a "feature". That original file transfer is still "calculating" to this day.
  • by robertjw (728654) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:46PM (#22508284) Homepage
    What the article doesn't seem to mention, or remember, is all the bad press Microsoft was getting for having the DNF of Operating Systems. They were getting annual vaporware nominations, and basically looking like a bunch of idiots that couldn't get a product out the door.

    There was tremendous pressure from all sides to release Vista. Don't think you can really place the blame on Valentine or Amazon for this one.
    • Sure, but did it really improve things to ship Vista as it was after four years of delay? That got them bad press for the lemon on top of the bad press for the DNF.

      I guess delaying for another year and releasing it in better shape would have been a smarter move.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by robertjw (728654)

        I guess delaying for another year and releasing it in better shape would have been a smarter move.

        Having worked in the software industry, I know sometimes you have to bite the bullet, ship the product and deal with the fallout. Would it have been better to wait? Maybe. Would the product have been better after another year of development? Maybe not, it's been over a year and they can't get the 1st service pack out.

        It's probably a testament to the tenacity of Microsoft that Vista was ever released a

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:27PM (#22508738)
    Brian Valentine was known throughout the company as a guy who could take troubled products that were floundering and he could get them shipped. But leadership in Windows is cursed to two releases.

    Moshe Dunie pushed out two major versions of NT and floundered with NT5 (Windows 2000) and couldn't integrate 9x. Valentine came in, got the organization in order, and Windows 2000 was a success. He kept it up to merge the organization and features from Win9x, and miraculously got XP out in less than two years with nearly all the good planned features. Then, Longhorn became his NT5. Everybody in the organization had massive planned super-features that weren't fully baked in the ideas phase. The org got sidetracked by Springboard and Trainyard rollouts for XP. They had a massive brain drain getting rid of FTEs below level 88 and told long term contractors to take a hike. The employees that were left had their institutional knowledge too diluted and strung out trying to teach new H1B and college hires while managing Chinese and Indian outsource firms doing half the work.

    So what do you get? Vista. Valentine is no dummie. He pushed aside other execs that were wallowing in development hell projects. Now he was the one in development hell. He arranged his own exit on his terms. Good for him.

    Sinofsky will get a Vista replacement out by 2009 and it'll be a clean-up release that makes a lot of people happy. Lots of stuff cut from Vista will get back in, done right. He'll get a big feature release out by 2011. After that you won't see another major Windows release until 2015.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:22PM (#22510748) Homepage Journal
    There is no executive no matter how talented who's absence would create a problem this large. The senior suit leaves and all of a sudden the minions of program managers and bit heads running the company's #1 product release all go insane on the same day?

    Tell you what - HIS boss, whoever that is, as well as all the direct reports to that now gone suit should be fired w/o hesitation. Whether you like MS or hate them, this is textbook how not to develop and release a product so either someone's lying or, if this is really how MS functions then it speaks volumes for what's profoundly wrong with MS and why all their major releases are screwed up a little bit.
    • by gujo-odori (473191) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @10:06PM (#22511062)
      A few years ago, I became a Microsoft employee by way of acquisition (I don't work there anymore). Your second theory is correct: this event speaks volumes about the way MS functions and how their corporate culture contributes to their products. I'm sure the story is no lie, but I don't think it's the case that he left and everyone just went nuts and shoved Vista out the door ready or not. Vista was way behind schedule and had lost highly touted features such as WinFS along the way. My opinion of the whole situation is that decision makers had come to the conclusion that "We're way past when we planned to ship, way over budget, have shed major promised features of Longhorn, and people are starting to use Vista and Duke Nuke'em Forever in the same sentence. We've got to get something out the door."

      And that's about what happened. They got something out the door. IMO they got it out the door a little too soon, but there weren't going to be any more features added, it had been in beta a long time, and the holiday season was coming up. The calendar told them they had to release in time for that.

      After all that, it was a bit of a flop anyway. Sales were (and are) quite non-stellar. This goes back to (mostly) the lack of compelling features (these were the ones shed just to be able to ship something), combined with the confusing license soup. The lowest-end versions of Vista, in particular, offer nothing compelling over XP. In fact, a user of XP Pro - or probably even XP Home - would find things that were missing from Vista Home Basic and have to go out and spend to get that functionality again.

      And now we see Microsoft making something of a public embarrassment of itself on the world stage, fighting its battle with Yahoo in the press. If you're considering a proxy fight to initiate a hostile takeover, you don't talk about it in the newspapers. You communicate that privately to the Yahoo board, and if they again tell you where to shove it, you just taking action. You don't slug it out in the newspapers like a Brittany Spears saga.

      If there was any serious doubt that Microsoft has jumped the shark, I think Vista dispelled it handily.

      That doesn't mean Microsoft is not still a formidable player. They've got tons of money, some profitable product lines, and plenty of smart people working there. MSFT isn't going to disappear, and it's not going to go down without a fight. However, don't be surprised if it goes through some pretty radical re-orgs in the 3-7 year time frame. Particularly if MSFT gets what it's wishing for and buys Yahoo, there will be incredible challenges on The Road Ahead.

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