Behind the scenes: meeting the press

Late last week, Sheridan and I had the opportunity to meet with some reporters from Australia, Japan and Canada.  They were in town for a big press briefing that our Hardware team hosted to show off all of the cool new devices that are coming out this fall.  Like the new mouse that doubles as a remote and pointer when you’re doing presentations.  They even make hardware that works on Macs. Check out their stuff here.

Well, our Japanese friends had to cancel, but we did have a great time meeting with David Flynn from The Sydney Morning Herald and Stephen French from the Daily Telegraph (both from Australia) and then with Steve Makris from the Edmonton Journal.

So what really happens behind the scenes in press meetings?

Well, take the meeting with our Aussie friends.  We were scheduled to meet Friday morning, here in Building 115 where the MacBU lives.  Of course, on Thursday morning, we got a call asking if we could change both the time & location. Noon (1.5 hours notice – but hey, we were getting lunch of out the deal so of course we’ll be there), Thursday, over at the conference center. Scramble! Grab demo machines, call a shuttle, and head over to the conference center.  Find the meeting room and set up the demo machines with 5 minutes to spare. Whew.

Our meeting with David and Stephen was a little unusual in that we had reporters from 2 publications in the same meeting.  Generally we like to have one on one time, so that all of us can focus on the particular story the reporter is interested in.  Especially in meetings like last week, where we don’t have “hard” news (breaking news) and are mainly meeting to recap recent announcements.  Imagine having just 30 minutes to cover everything from our WWDC announcements and the announcements so far about the next version of Office for Mac, as well as trying to answer questions about what it’s like to work in the MacBU, how many Canadians work in MacBU, how many former Apple employees work in MacBU….all of the “color commentary” that makes for interesting stories. Oh, and we still want to demo the soon-to-launch new version of Messenger for Mac for you!

All turned out well in the end, as we were able to reschedule times for David and Steve to come over to our building and tour our lab, meet a few other MacBU folks, and get some photos to go with their stories.  David has filed his story already, and Stephen and Steve both have stories in the works as well,  so we’ll keep an eye out for those.  It’s great to see continued enthusiasm for things we’ve talked about over the past few months, and I’m glad we can get in to some additional details for you here on the blog. 

Some of you have asked why we didn’t “break this story” here on the blog.  This wasn’t so much new news, since we’ve talked about it all before, but I expect that in the future we will sometimes be able to share sneak peaks and other news here first.

With any press meeting, I think what doesn’t make it in to print is as interesting as what does.  Here are some examples from last week’s meetings:

Q:  How do you get customer feedback when you don’t have big public betas like Office on the Windows side?

A:  We have several ways to get feedback as we’re developing. First, we do have a small group of beta testers that help us early on. Then as the code base gets more stable, we have customers from a variety of different types and sizes of companies (including schools) who help us beta test in their environments.  And we have usability labs in Redmond and Mountain View where our usability experts like Nadyne run hundreds of hours of tests at all different phases of development.  All of that input goes right back to the teams working on the various features so that they can refine and fine tune their work.

Q: Is it more important to do features that are also in Office for Windows or to do features that use Apple OS technologies?

A:  Actually, both are important to us.  We balance our team across work that focuses on compatibility  with our Windows counterpart (like the file format work, features like the Compatibility Report, etc.) but we also want to give our customers features that are “Mac.”  That’s why we work on things like iSync support, making our files searchable by Spotlight, etc.  It’s an important conversation for us, since we know that both are important to our customers.

Q: Why does it take us so long after Office for Windows ships to release our next version?

A: Testing. Testing. Testing.  We run tens of thousands of automated tests against all different machine configurations (different machine types, OS flavors) as well as doing thousands of hours of human testing.  All of this is to help us find and fix bugs and be sure that all of the work we’ve done results in a great customer experience.  For example, to switch to the new XML file format that WinOffice is moving to, we get regular drops of code from the WinOffice team during our development cycle, so that we can understand how they are implementing the file format.  Portions of the code need to be ported over to OS X and then we start testing.  It’s not unusual to see changes in the code right up to RTM (release to manufacturing), so until we have their final build we can't finish up our file format work.  Once we have it, we check to be sure nothing has changed and then start our final test passes.  We want to be sure we do very thorough testing on the final code so that our Mac customers don’t have to worry about their files being compatible with WinOffice. By the way, if you want to see what our lab here in Redmond looks like, check out the post that David did on his blog.