Microsoft wants to tap community feeling

In an interview with Computerworld US, Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer talks about connecting with customers in a similar way to the Linux community approach.

Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer wants the company to tap into the kind of community feeling that the open source software world is famous for. Ballmer alluded to this during an interview this month with Computerworld US, during which he also talked about a memo he sent to the company's 50,000 outlining Microsoft’s core values.

In the memo, you talk about the need for great people, great values, excellence, trustworthy computing, broad customer connection -- wonderful things to aspire to. What are you going to do to make sure that happens?

You reinforce things through the management process. That's all you can do. Every time you sit down with people, you ask them, "How are you doing?" and "What are your plans?" And then, six months later, "Did you get accomplished what you said you were going to get accomplished? Is it ambitious enough relative to what customer expectations are? Is it ambitious enough relative to competition?"

At the end of the day, it's the same kinds of things that determine success. You know -- broad customer connection. We could be better connected with our customers without a doubt. We need to raise up our game. And when I say that, I mean a lot of stuff -- customer understanding, selling, marketing, training, support. And the word broad has to be underlined. This isn't "Are we talking to enough enterprises?" This is "Are we reaching the mass of people who use, who develop with and who administer our products in some systematic way?" You ask every team, "What's your plan for broad customer connection?"

[Take] the way we use community. Community has been a big tool of support in the Linux world -- being online, sharing answers with one another, self-support. I mean, that's sort of the lifeblood of how people get support in Linux communities, not in calling up somebody and paying 35 bucks. And if you look at most people who work inside enterprises, they don't call us. There's some guy who owns the incidents. They want to go to the web. They want to self-support. And so, what are the best practices? How do we use community as a tool? How do we support community, so that if you're a guy trying to install Windows Server to do DNS in General Motors and you're not one of the guys who actually gets to call Microsoft, how do you get that question answered? ... That's all about broad customer connection. So one group pioneers it. And the best practices get to be shared and promulgated out across other groups.

Are you trying to do the Linux model one better?

There actually are more support forums around Windows online today than there are Linux by a substantial margin. But if you look at the percentage of all people who use Windows who choose to use community, versus the percentage of all Linux users who do community, the percentage of all Linux users who use community is higher than the percentage of all Windows users ... The question isn't to get some activity level. The question is to make this really a lifeblood form of support, or to learn what the best practice is in that dimension.

By what metrics will you gauge the memo's effectiveness?

The sharing of good ideas and the competition amongst groups. It's the best metric, as opposed to "Here's a number." There'll be some numbers that are useful. I mean, we measure customer satisfaction in 66 different ways, and we measure this and that and the other thing. But the measurements are probably less interesting than the best practices which we will share.

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