Common misconceptions from a former misconceiver

My name is Joe LeBlanc, I work on the Excel test team in Redmond. I've previously worked for both Apple and RealNetworks. Glad to be able to blog and see so many Mac users reading about what we're doing! I started at Microsoft in January of this year. Like most people reading this blog, I was an outsider before then. I had my own ideas about how things must happen around the MacBU, what kind of people worked there, their plans, etc. Many of my misconceptions were torn down within the first few weeks.

The MacBU is just one product cycle away from being disbanded, laid off, or re-purposed.You guys must be nervous about your jobs, huh?
This is a reasonable question. I asked the same thing during my interviews. How sure was everyone about their job security? Did you worry every time a product shipped that it would be the last time you sat in front of a Mac? Everyone I’ve talked to, including some people that have been with Microsoft for over 15 years and working in the MacBU since its inception had absolutely no fear of their job going away.

The MacBU is just Microsoft’s way of avoiding some kind of legal problems or appeasing Apple.
I’d heard this explanation before from plenty of Mac users. I thought that maybe the folks working on Mac Office were just some kind of sacrificial lamb offered up by management to appease the Legal Gods. The reality is that the MacBU a very successful part of Microsoft when taken on our own. I don’t know all of the intricacies of the Microsoft/Apple relationship, but I get no feeling from my day-to-day work that they are dictating our direction with our products or vice-versa.

The MacBU just ports WinOffice code all day, they don’t actually do anything original themselves.
I was also guilty of this thinking before I started. After being here for a short time it’s become obvious to me that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In my mind, the MacBU exists specifically to avoid the problems that having a PC-focused development group write Mac software causes. We have a great group of program managers who come up with new features specifically for the Mac product. While a lot of our time is spent working with the WinOffice group in order to maintain cross-platform compatibility, we don’t just wait for them to spec something and then implement It ourselves. If anything, the presence of WinOffice forces us to think of new and interesting features to set ourselves apart. We can’t rest on our laurels and expect people to buy our product when they have increasingly practical ways of using WinOffice on their Apple hardware through dual-booting, emulation/virtualization, etc.

By dropping VPC, IE and WMP, it’s obvious the MacBU is shrinking. Further proof that they’re going away!
Any decisions regarding IE pre-date me by a few years, so I can’t really talk authoritatively about that. Windows Media Player was developed outside of our team, and any changes in that product don’t really reflect our growth. We are growing (There are ten job openings on right now). Anyone who was working on VPC is still working in the MacBU on other projects (trust me, we’re busy!) I would personally love to see us branch out to other products, whether it be existing solutions (we all hear the usual suspects: Visio, Access, etc.) or something completely new.  I think we have one of the strongest, most efficient development organizations in the company, I have no doubt that we have the expertise to take on a new challenge if/when the product planning folks decide to.

I might sound like a broken record here, but the MacBU really honestly is a group of dedicated, brilliant Mac users who are focused on making quality software for the platform. If you had talked to me 9 months ago before I started, I would have been as skeptical as many of you probably are. Hopefully hearing it from someone who was on the outside recently will give that message a little more weight.