There was no shortage of energy around the internet. It was clear that a bunch of stuff would happen. Turning that energy into something resembling a strategy was an open question. For all the excitement, each group seemed to have its own way of defining the Internet, or its own view of how it could subsume the Internet into existing products. Convening an offsite of the 20 or so most senior product leaders in the company was a big deal. All I could really do was create an opportunity for leaders to lead and strategy to emerge. The rest was up to BillG and those leaders. JAllard and I brought the enthusiasm and hopefully a spark. It was not going to be easy.
Back to 027. Internet Evangelist
Microsoft loved a good offsite. We loved a chance to “wallow” in the minutiae of technologies, implementation, and competitors. We also enjoyed tearing apart ideas and approaches with our proverbial tech buzzsaw. BillG famously tilted (or pivoted) the company away from character-based MS-DOS products to Graphical User Interface products in a retreat just a decade earlier. Platform shifts in technology seem to come in these decade waves (though perhaps that is a retroactive timeline). Was the Internet the next platform shift, even though GUI had just started? Was this offsite going to be as pivotal to Microsoft’s future as when the bet was made on making Excel for Macintosh? I certainly hoped for that, but had no idea how the company’s leaders would see things when they were all assembled to discuss it. I thought about that as I remembered DougK, the inventor of minimal recalculation in spreadsheets, told me the story of leaving Microsoft after that offsite because he disagreed with the new direction.
I might have gone a bit far in preparing this briefing book. I was very proud of my use of clip art and PBRUSH + WordArt to create the cover. The reason it says revised edition is because the first one was too big for the binding machine at MSCOPY. (Source: personal copy of trial exhibit)
Scheduled for April 5, 1994 (coincidentally the day after the incorporation of Mosaic Communications Corporation—later to be renamed Netscape Corporation—created by legendary founder of SGI, Jim Clark, and original Mosaic programmer Marc Andreessen), I prepared the mother of all briefing books for the offsite. No offsite was complete without an elaborate briefing book. I hand carried the entire thing to the copy center (MSCOPY) and ordered 30 copies, doubled-sided, bound, with tabs. They called me an hour later and told me I needed two volumes, so I headed back and removed enough pages to keep it at the 300-page limit.
The Table of Contents of the Internet Offsite Briefing book. Of note are the additional sources and materials. Fun trivia, Adam Engst authored “Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh” and was two years behind me at Cornell and also worked at Cornell Computer Services.
Looking at the book now, it serves as a great reminder of just how small the whole of the internet was back then. One of the books I ordered for many people was by Ed Krol, The Whole Internet: User’s Guide and Catalog. How crazy to think that the entirety of the Internet could be represented as a book and cataloged, but that was sort of what it was. Similarly, the technology underpinnings were perhaps 100 pages of protocols and formats that everyone at the offsite could easily absorb.
After the offsite (which took place on April 5th, not the 6th as I typed here), I wrote up a summary of the meeting. This is the introduction offered by Bill where he took the words from JAllard’s strategy memo of “embrace and extend”. (Source: Trial exhibit)
It is fun to look at the proposed action items. So many acronyms and small projects. Is this really a strategy or are these tactics? It took a week for me to publish these because I needed to make sure that each exec was ok with what I wrote down. (Source: Trial Exhibit)