Windows Confidential: Watch What You Say
If you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it. This is particularly true when it comes to talking about new releases of Windows.
At the BUILD conference in September, I ran into an old colleague from the Windows 95 days. He told me this story about his first experience dealing with the press.
As Windows 95 was nearing completion, the project management team decided to hold a press event to show off the product for the anxious media. They invited reporters from all over. There were reporters from mainstream news outlets like The New York Times. There were reporters from technology news publications like Byte Magazine, PC World and probably even MacWorld. Attendance wasn’t limited to just the major news organizations. Mid-market and small-market reporters were invited as well.
During the main session, senior project managers demonstrated Windows 95 to the assembled crowd. They introduced the concepts behind the new Windows 95 UI. They demonstrated features like the new shell, Plug and Play, smoother multitasking, improved networking support—all the usual product demonstration stuff.
After the main session, the reporters were shepherded into a large room where they were able to sit down and talk with the members of the management team and ask questions one-on-one. In addition to discussing technical issues surrounding Windows 95, the reporters were anxious to cover the human side of managing a project as large as Windows. It was bound to make for an interesting story.
In one story that ran in The Wall Street Journal, they interviewed one of the development managers. She was lamenting the difficulty of managing a team of programmers who were highly talented, but also highly individualistic.
“They would work such odd, irregular hours that if you had a problem that needed three people to collaborate, you couldn’t find a time that all three were at work simultaneously. To address this, I decided that from 10 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon were core hours. Everybody had to be at work at least during those four hours of the day. You know what happened when my programmers heard that? They all went skiing from 10 until 2!”
As you might expect, during the interview portion of the event, the senior managers were assigned to take questions from the reporters representing the big-market media organizations. The junior managers were assigned to talk to the smaller-market newspapers. And as the most junior of the junior project managers, my colleague was placed at a table with locally local newspapers like The Redmond Reporter and Bellevue Business Journal.
One of the reporters from one of those local newspapers asked, “So, what will the Windows 95 ship party be like?”
My colleague had only recently joined the Windows 95 team. He was a junior project manager on top of that. He had no idea what the plans were for the Windows 95 ship party, or if there was even going to be such an event.
He replied, “To be honest, I don’t know.”
Unwilling to move on to their next question, the reporters pressed on. Perhaps they thought my colleague was trying to hide something. “Have you ever been to a ship party?”
My colleague replied, “Well, at the ship party for my previous project, there was a lot of champagne, and Bill Gates stopped by.”
The reporters got what they wanted. A few days later, a big article about Windows 95 appeared in the local newspaper. In that article was this sentence:
“The Windows 95 ship party will have ‘a lot of champagne, and Bill Gates will stop by,’ says Bob Smith, project manager for Windows 95.”
So be careful what you say, how you say it, and be extra careful of who may be listening.
Raymond Chen's Web site, The Old New Thing, and identically titled book (Addison-Wesley, 2007) deal with Windows history, Win32 programming and the peculiar cadence of executive announcements.