This story was first published by Leander Kahney of Wired News. Click Here for “Hide Your iPod, Here Comes Bill.”
Kahney writes of the growing frustration of Microsoft’s management as Apple’s iPod spreads throughout Bill Gates’ company like Jenna Jameson spreads out for for the camera. Wildfire.
One Microsoft employee told Kahney that about 80-percent of all company employees who have a portable music player, have an Apple iPod.
Our reader Feedback link provides an anonymous way for anyone to drop us a note, a confession, or photos of Tera when she was younger (I’ll pay for those).
Imagine our surprise when we received feedback and an email address from an “anonymous” Microsoft employee. “Fingertips” claimed to be a mid-level product manager at Microsoft’s corporate campus, often frequented by impromptu visits by Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer.
“Fingertips” claims that everyone at Microsoft uses the iPod and management’s not happy about the situation; very concerned about what would happen to the company’s public image should knowledge of the “pod scourge” get out.
Microsoft’s public image could get worse? Who knew?
Regardless, I decided that an exchange of email questions and answers would be in order (I promised not to divulge any more information than necessary about the Microsoft employee):
Bambi: Tell me, how long have you worked at Microsoft, and how long have you owned an Apple iPod?
“Fingertips”: I first started at Microsoft six years ago, as a contract employee working on new media product development. When the iPod came out our group bought a dozen of them to see what Apple was up to. About half our group at the time were closet Mac users.
I bought one of the second generation iPods and I’ve owned three altogether, the most recent an iPod photo. I also bought different ear phones, headphones actually.
Bambi: What were your initial impressions of the iPod? What didn’t you like about the Apple ear buds?
“Fingertips”: At first, we didn’t think much of the iPod at all. It seemed expensive and didn’t play well on Windows. The Mac experience was much better since it connected instantly to a Mac and iTunes. When the iTunes music store opened we still didn’t understand what was happening.
Bambi: What was happening? From Microsoft’s point of view?
“Fingertips”: At the time we were busy working on the Media Center and didn’t give the iPod that much thought. “Ho hum, more Apple toys. Expensive. Simple.” I remember one management “rah rah” meeting a few years later. CEO Steve Ballmer jumped around on stage, got all sweaty and stuff.
Off stage I was in a product management group and we talked to Ballmer about the Media Center. Someone asked him what he thought of Apple’s iPod.
Bambi: So, even a year or so after it’s launch, what was Microsoft’s “official” view of the iPod?
“Fingertips”: Well, in that meeting, Ballmer said his friend Kevin over at Dell called it a fad. So he’d call it a fad. Then someone said Apple had sold $50-million in song downloads. He said, “See? It’s a fad. That’s nothing.”
We started seeing the iPods more on the Microsoft campus just over a year ago. By that time, iTunes was running well on Windows and the iPod had a commanding marketshare.
Bambi: Wasn’t that embarassing to Microsoft? The iPod was selling well to Windows users, and iTunes Music Store was Number One?
“Fingertips”: Oh, it was a big problem. In two ways. Ballmer got a team going on a Microsoft counter strike product right away. It’s code name was “Formica.” They wanted WMA available to every portable music player except the iPod. There was a rush on the Microsoft Music Store, too.
Bambi: What happened?
“Fingertips”: More iPods. They started showing up everywhere; meetings, hallways, cafeterias, the game rooms, the gyms. Everyone had one. They’d tell their managers they were doing research for the Media Center group. They lied.
By fall, we started to get management memos that said use of competing products could not be tolerated and might be cause for termination, unless the research was authorized.
So, we got the Mac Business Unit to drum up some memo requests to authorize use of the iPod for, uh, you know, “research.”
That worked OK until just recently.
Bambi: What happened recently?
“Fingertips”: Well, Gates and Ballmer did a tour of our campus and found dozens of iPods, some just sitting on desktops in their docks. Other iPod users were identified by the white ear buds, so we all started wearing a pair of Sony ear buds. You know, black with little silver stripes near the bud.
That way we could still tell the iPod folks from others at Microsoft. Some employees really liked the earbuds and started carrying around one of those cheap Dell DJs as a decoy.
Bambi: A decoy? You mean in place of the iPod?
“Fingertips”: No, no. They’d still have the iPod in their pocket. The other pocket would have the Dell DJ. We got ‘em cheap on the employee purchase plan. I guess they weren’t selling well, or something.
Anyway, when a Microsoft manager would ask the employee what he was listening to, he’d pull out the Dell DJ, hold it up, and you know, just smile. Then, thumbs up?
“Thumbs up” was kinda our way of saying, like, xxxK You! It was a hoot.
Bambi: How many Microsoft employees are iPod users?
“Fingertips”: I can’t tell for sure, but Microsoft employees are probably ahead of the public curve, so we have more than our share. Probably 8 empoyees out of 10 who have music players have iPods.
That probably includes those who have Dell DJs, too. They still use their iPods but keep the DJ handy, you know, in case they get caught.
The Mac Business Unit has the most by far. The Windows Digital Media Group has been “forbidden” to have an iPod unless it’s authorized by management.
Bambi: What do you think of the iPod photo, and Apple’s new iPod shuffle?
“Fingertips”: You’re kidding, right? They rock! Have you tried some of the other crappy products out there? That Sony Walkman was a dog. I mean, “dawg.”
The Creative products are the worst. Always breaking. The new Gateway Photo Jukebox player looks nice. I like the removeable battery.
Bambi: Would you buy one?
“Fingertips”: Get real. First, who buys anything from Gateway? I’m amazed they’re still in business. Second, I’d never get a date or be able to face my friends if I had something like that.
Bambi: Thanks “Fingertips.” I appreciate the time.
“Fingertips”: My pleasure. Uh, you’re going to keep my identity a secret, right? I can’t afford to lose my job, ‘cause, you know, the Microsoft game rooms is, like, loaded, and the kitchen has free food and drinks.
Bambi: Brian, trust me. Your secret is safe with me.
There you have it. Straight from the keyboard of a Microsoft employee?
Kahney’s article is revealing in that there appears to be an open dialog at Microsoft regarding the iPod. Click Here for the full article.
Are you an iPod user? Which model and why? Should Microsoft employees be allowed to own iPods and bring them to work? What would you do if you were “fingertips” manager at Microsoft?
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