Dick Brass, who spent seven years at Microsoft, holding an Amazon Kindle.
It's one thing for a simple blogger with no experience inside the halls


Former Microsoft Vice President Describes Environment of "Creative Destruction"

Dick Brass, who spent seven years at Microsoft, holding an Amazon Kindle.
It's one thing for a simple blogger with no experience inside the halls of Redmond to make light of Microsoft. It's quite another for a man who worked there for seven years to describe it as a company that "routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers."

Dick Brass was a VP at Microsoft from 1997 to 2004. Today, in an op-ed for The New York Times, Brass, who says he "tried (and largely failed) to make tablet PCs and e-books happen at Microsoft a decade ago," manages to display admiration for the company that made him wealthy while diagnosing what's turning the former market leader into an also-ran in the world of hardware and innovation.

Brass' main thesis is that a combination of professional jealousy and internecine warfare served (and still serves) to quash creativity in Redmond. For proof, he gives two examples.

In the first, Brass is just starting out, working with a group of talented engineers on ClearType, a way to make text more readable on the screen. But the success of the team, he says, is making others at Microsoft jealous.

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.
In the second example, Brass is working on a tablet PC way back in 2001 when he says the vice president in charge of Office personally saw to it that the product would fail.
The tablet required a stylus, and he much preferred keyboards to pens and thought our efforts doomed. To guarantee they were, he refused to modify the popular Office applications to work properly with the tablet. So if you wanted to enter a number into a spreadsheet or correct a word in an e-mail message, you had to write it in a special pop-up box, which then transferred the information to Office. Annoying, clumsy and slow.

So once again, even though our tablet had the enthusiastic support of top management and had cost hundreds of millions to develop, it was essentially allowed to be sabotaged. To this day, you still can't use Office directly on a Tablet PC. And despite the certainty that an Apple tablet was coming this year, the tablet group at Microsoft was eliminated.

It's entirely possible that behind the curtain Brass pulls back, there is another curtain. One that offers new insight into the way Brass himself sabotaged another competing product. Or left on bad terms. Or was too difficult to work with. Something that might undermine his theory that Microsoft inadvertently snuffs out its own creative spark.

I'll be the first to admit that anyone who refers to themselves as a frustrated visionary automatically trips an alarm in my head. But until then, Brass was there. We weren't. So he gets the final say.

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