Microsoft may have sold a million Xbox One consoles within the first 24 hours of launch last Friday, but a number of them also had faulty disc drives.
A number of users have said on an Xbox One support forum that they hear a clicking or crunching sound when they insert discs into the consoles and that the consoles won't read the discs.
(Some users are apparently finding that a DIY fix -- turning the console upside down and hitting it -- is working for them. Not that we're recommending it.)
Microsoft has acknowledged the problem, saying "the issue is affecting a very small number of Xbox One customers. We’re working directly with those affected to get a replacement console to them as soon as possible through our advance exchange program."
The company did not say how many customers were affected or where the problem stemmed from.
For those who are waiting for their replacement console to arrive, Microsoft is offering a free digital download of launch titles published by Microsoft Studios, including "Forza Motorosport 5" and "Ryse: Son of Rome."
Veteran Microsoft analyst Rick Sherlund -- who, by the way, got one of the faulty Xbox One consoles -- said in an investors note earlier this week that Microsoft is likely to lose money this fiscal year on Xbox.
"The fundamental question for new management of Microsoft," Sherlund wrote, in reference to Microsoft's search for a new CEO, "will be whether the battle for the consumer can be won by leveraging Xbox One more broadly in the living room or whether this opportunity has been disintermediated by mobile smartphones and tablets."
Microsoft says it's sold more than 1 million Xbox One consoles in less than 24 hours since its launch shortly after midnight today -- the biggest launch in Xbox history.
The Xbox One, which launched in 13 markets, is now sold out at most retailers.
"We are working to replenish stock as fast as possible," Microsoft said.
The company also provided some statistics on new games people checked out, including that more than 60 million zombies have been killed in “Dead Rising 3” and more than 3.6 million miles have been driven in “Forza Motorsport 5."
Sony, which launched its Playstation 4 console in just two countries -- the U.S. and Canada -- last Friday, had said that it had sold more than 1 million of its consoles within 24 hours of launch.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates guest edited Wired magazine's December issue. As part of that stint, he and the Wired editors developed ideas of four gadgets Gates wished existed in order to help the developing world.
Wired then selected four design shops to create concept models or prototypes of the ideas.
Among the design firms selected: Seattle-based Artefact, founded Gavin Kelly and Rob Girling, both former design managers at Microsoft.
The challenge from Wired was to create a portable, all-purpose power source.
Artefact's answer: the Juice Box, an open-energy system that allows people to capture energy from a variety of sources -- including electrical grid, solar, car battery, kinetic motion -- and store and transport it to where it's needed, according to the company's write-up.
Here's an infographic from Artefact on how it envisions Juice Box working:
So far, Artefact has produced a concept model -- basically a physical mock-up. It's looking to partner with investors, nonprofits and engineering companies to develop a physical prototype and to test it in the field.
Here's a video from Artefact on how the team came up with Juice Box:
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who said he would be retiring within 12 months, is one the company's nine board members who were reelected to those positions at the annual shareholders' meeting yesterday.
He was, however, reelected with the lowest percentage of "yes" votes: 90.66 percent, according to a company filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The other board members were reelected with percentages ranging from 91.41 percent (for John Thompson, the CEO of Virtual Instruments who is chairing Microsoft's board committee looking for Ballmer's successor) to 99.1 percent (for Charles Noski, former vice chairman of Bank of America).
Chairman Bill Gates was reelected with 98.13 percent of the vote.
Overall, there were 8,360,743,755 shares of common stock entitled to be voted, with 7,016,304,432 shares voted in person or by proxy, according to the SEC filing.
The one thing the Windows Phone platform keeps getting dinged on is its relative lack of apps compared to rivals iOS and Android.
Microsoft has typically responded by saying that it has most of the top apps. In September, Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive vice president of the Operating Systems division, said the Windows Phone Store had 49 of the top 50 apps.
Now the 50th -- Instagram -- has finally arrived. Albeit in beta form.
Some of its "beta-ness" has already created a bit of buzz today: People can't take photos directly from the app itself nor can they upload videos.
Instagram spokeswoman Liz Shepherd emphasized that the app was still in beta and that the process of taking a photo is not onerous.
To take photos, those using Instagram press a "Capture" button that automatically takes users to the Windows Phone camera. Once the photo is taken, the user is automatically redirected back to Instagram where they can proceed with selecting filters and sharing their photo.
"Many of our users for other platforms use the camera roll to upload their pictures. So that’s where we’re starting with this beta version for Windows," Shepherd said. "We wanted to bring the core Instagram experience [to Windows Phone] in time for the holiday season. This is where we started with the beta app. Same with the video. That's a work in progress."
As to why it took this long to get the app onto the Windows Phone platform and why it was doing so now, Shepherd said: "Instagram is still a small team. We were 13 people when we joined Facebook last year. Since the acquisition, we've been able to scale the app much more quickly. This is part of that."
Separately, Waze, the Google-owned community-based mapping and traffic app, is also now available in the Windows Phone Store.
In a rather subdued, by-the-book Microsoft annual shareholders meeting today, two things stood out: Chairman Bill Gates took to the podium to speak and he choked up at the end, as he talked about this being Steve Ballmer's last shareholders meeting as CEO of the company.
Gates, who typically lets others do most of the talking during these shareholder meetings, took to the stage today to talk about the board's search for Microsoft's next CEO and about the love both he and Ballmer have for the company.
He told shareholders that the board's search committee -- of which he is a member -- has interviewed internal and external candidates and that "we're pleased with the progress."
Gates did not divulge any news about the search, nor did he give a timeframe for when the board might announce the new CEO.
"It's a complex role to fill -- a lot of different skills, experience and capabilities that we need. It’s a complex global business that the new CEO will have to lead," he said.
He added that “the person has to have a lot of comfort in leading a highly technical organization and have an ability to work with our top technical talent to seize the opportunities.”
Noting that the meeting “is a milestone for Steve,” Gates thanked Ballmer for his years of leadership at the company and pointed out that, in Microsoft’s 38-year history, there have been only two CEOs: Ballmer and Gates himself.
"Steve and I really appreciated all the joys and challenges that came with being CEO," he said. "It's a real privilege to lead the incredibly talented group of employees that we have. It's a privilege to work on the technology that's changed the world."
Gates said he and Ballmer shared two other things as well: "A commitment to make sure that the next CEO is the right person at the right time for the company we both love," he said, choking up. "And we share a commitment that Microsoft will succeed as a company that makes the world a better place."
In his turn at the podium, Ballmer, in contrast, did not get very emotional, as he did in his speech at the annual employees' meeting in September. Rather, Ballmer spent most of the time talking about the "pivotal year" Microsoft has had, which included a companywide reorganization, the purchase of Nokia's phone business, and the company's focus on the cloud and on creating "high-value experiences" for users across a "family of devices" from smartphones to phablets to tablets to PCs.
Microsoft is "uniquely positioned to drive and define the next big thing," he said. "As CEO of Microsoft, and personally as an investor of Microsoft, I'm optimistic.... I’m confident that we have the right strategy in place. We have the financial assets that allow us to take the risks, the bold bets, to invest in new areas that will lead to transformation of how people work and live and economic success for Microsoft."
Microsoft shareholders voted to approve all the proposals before them, including the reelection of the nine-member board (including Gates and Ballmer).
During the question-and-answer period, one shareholder wondered about the wisdom of acquiring Nokia.
Ballmer said, in part, that "a lot of our past is built on the back of acquisitions. ... We should be mindful and thoughtful and cautious, and yet I don’t think we should be fearful, of doing somewhat larger acquisitions” such as that of Nokia.
Another shareholder asked: "Why is the stock price so pitifully stagnant?"
Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood said she believes that if Microsoft continues to execute on its strategy, that that will be reflected in the share price.
Ballmer said stock prices are unpredictable and pointed out that the company's profits had tripled during his tenure as CEO.
Lonnie Lusardo of Seattle, the shareholder who asked that question, said later that he's been an investor in the company since 1987.
"The company needs a kick in the butt," he said.
When asked if there was anyone he'd like to see as CEO, he said Ford CEO Alan Mulally -- a frequently rumored candidate for the position -- would be "a great motivator. Whether he can convert the potential [of Microsoft] into a higher stock price, I don't know."
Evelyn Schwerin of Kingston, another shareholder, asked at last year's annual meeting why she shouldn't sell her stock.
The answer she received then, she said today, "was baloney." So she sold her shares -- some 400 of them, keeping only 10.
"I'm happy that they are getting a new CEO," she said. "Everyone's been touting Mulally. I think he's great. But I'm not sure if he's the right person. It should be a person in the industry."
"I still have hope for Microsoft," she added. "That's why I kept 10 shares."
Microsoft's board of directors declared a quarterly dividend of 28 cents per share - the same as last quarter.
The dividend is payable March 13 to shareholders of record on February 20. The ex-dividend date will be February 18.
Microsoft's annual shareholders meetings are usually brisk affairs.
Typically, CEO Steve Ballmer and other high-ranking executives run through the company's accomplishments of the past year; shareholders vote on a few -- usually routine -- proposals; and the few lively moments come during the brief session when shareholders get to ask the executives and Board Chairman Bill Gates questions.
It may be more of the same today as Microsoft holds its shareholder meeting at Meydenbauer Center starting at 8 a.m. (there will be a webcast of the event here) -- even though this is a far from typical year.
In the past several months, Microsoft has started a huge, companywide reorganization; purchased Nokia's handset business; replaced its controversial stack-ranking employee review system; and averted a proxy battle by agreeing to grant activist shareholder ValueAct a seat on the board starting next year. And, of course, Ballmer announced in August that he would be stepping down as CEO sometime in the next 12 months after his successor is found.
Microsoft is not expected to announce the new CEO at the shareholders' meeting -- though there will undoubtedly be questions from shareholders on how the search is going.
The few proposals up for a vote -- re-election of the nine current board members, an advisory vote on executive compensation, for example -- are strictly routine, with no shareholder resolutions.
Microsoft shares closed Monday at $37.20, down 64 cents. (But the price of the stock, which has seen a resurgence recently with new-CEO rumors, is far higher than it was before last year's shareholders meeting, when it was trading at $27.08.)
I will try to tweet (@janettu) from the meeting, though connections at Meydenbauer Center can be spotty.
A couple of quick items this afternoon:
The Xbox One, which will hit store shelves Friday, will feature more natural voice-search capabilities, thanks to the combination of Bing search and Kinect voice- and motion-sensing technologies.
Tell the Xbox One: "Xbox, Bing," and then tell the console what you're looking for, for example: "Show me popular sci-fi movies from the '90s" or "download Forza Motorsport," according this Microsoft video:
Microsoft's blog post about the voice capability mentions that the idea of talking to a computer, as in "Star Trek," seemed like pure science fiction not so long ago. Which reminds me of this:
Second, there's now a Microsoft Store on eBay.
The store, opened by Microsoft, offers the same return and free shipping policies as on microsoftstore.com. The ebay store is part of Microsoft's efforts to expand its retail presence. On the brick-and-mortar front, earlier this year, Microsoft opened hundreds of Windows Stores within Best Buy locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Microsoft's move to acquire Nokia's phone business moved another step closer to completion as Nokia shareholders voted today to approve the deal.
John Stoll, Stockholm bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, tweeted this morning:
The vote came at a extraordinary meeting of shareholders held today in Helsinki.
Even before the meeting, about 90 percent of the shareholders who registered in advance to vote had voted to approve the deal, Nokia's chairman said, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Those who registered in advance represented about 45 percent of Nokia's outstanding shares, the report said.
Microsoft announced in September that it is buying Nokia’s handset business as part of a $7.2 billion deal.
Microsoft is paying about $5 billion (3.79 billion euros) for Nokia’s Devices & Services Business. In addition, it is paying about $2.18 billion (1.65 billion euros) to license Nokia’s patents and to license and use Nokia’s mapping services.
The businesses that Microsoft is getting from Nokia brought in about $19.7 billion (14.9 billion euros) revenue in 2012, about half of Nokia’s sales that year.
The deal still needs approval from regulators before it is completed.
Once the transition is finalized, former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is expected to become an executive vice president at Microsoft, heading a devices division that will include Windows Phone, as well as Xbox and Surface.
Elop's name has come up as a possible successor to retiring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Elop has reportedly said that if he does become CEO, he would concentrate on bringing Office to other, non-Microsoft platforms and would consider shutting down Bing and selling Xbox, according to a Bloomberg report.
Some of Nokia's top executives will be making the move to Microsoft with him. In addition, about 32,000 Nokia employees will become Microsoft employees. Most of them will remain working at Nokia's manufacturing and assembly facilities around the world. About 4,700 of those employees work in Finland in research and development, engineering, design, and operations and will remain there.
Nokia's first Windows tablet, the Lumia 2520, hits store shelves this week. The tablet features a 10.1-inch HD display, 4G-LTE connectivity, and a 6.7 MP camera.
Starting Friday, the black version (which looks like the only color available for now) will be offered for $400 with a two-year AT&T; contract. It will also be available for $499 with no contract, according to the Microsoft Store.
AT&T; is also offering a bundle deal that brings the Lumia 2520's price down to $200 with a two-year contract, if you also purchase a Lumia 925, Lumia 1020 or Lumia 1520.
Separately, in some Windows apps news, Microsoft has released its first 3D printing app, called 3D Builder.
The app works on Windows 8.1 devices. Windows 8.1 "makes 3D printing possible because it is native to the operating system, meaning the OS offers plug-and-play support for printers, understands 3D file formats, and connects lots of apps with lots of hardware to deliver offering a seamless printing experience for customers," according to Microsoft.
And finally, Flipboard is now available for download in the Windows Store.
Microsoft Ventures has chosen its third startup to make a seed fund investment in: Zula, a cross-platform mobile productivity app to improve team collaboration.
Zula aims to streamline team productivity and communication tasks such as file-sharing, messaging, conference calling and quick poll-taking.
Microsoft did not say how much it invested.
It's the third seed investment for Microsoft Ventures since it launched in June as the overarching umbrella under which Microsoft groups its efforts aimed at fostering tech startups.
The other two startups funded so far are SkyGiraffe, which helps businesses deploy mobile apps, and Ranku, an online education discovery engine.
The McCaigs' love story began, as these things often do, over food.
But not a dinner date. Nor even a quick coffee.
That cookbook -- their brainchild -- is a collection of recipes from Microsoft employees worldwide, presented with personal stories from the employees about the role those recipes played in their lives, and lush photographs of the food.
Those cookbooks -- there have been three volumes published since 2011 -- have received some high-level recognition. The first two volumes won the 2013 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards' categories for best publisher: printing, and (in a tie) best charity cookbook in North America. The third volume is a finalist in the corporate category for the 2014 awards.
More importantly, proceeds from cookbook sales have raised $175,000 for FareStart, a Seattle-based nonprofit culinary training program for homeless people.
The cookbooks started this way: Back in 2010, both Wadley and McCaig were working in the Services division at Microsoft -- she in worldwide operations services, he in the consulting services business. They had met briefly once or twice but that was the extent of it.
One day, they were both helping at a Services division cook-off held during Microsoft's Giving Campaign -- a monthlong series of events held at the company each October to raise money for charities.
Wadley approached McCaig, saying: "Wouldn't it be cool to capture some of those recipes."
McCaig agreed, thinking it would be even better, though, if they could do a company-wide cookbook.
They wanted to "capture the heart and soul of Microsoft -- love for the individuals that make up our great company," said McCaig, who is credited by his official first name -- Nicholas -- in the cookbooks. "We saw this as an opportunity to capture a piece of their story."
They posted requests for recipes on several foodie discussion lists within the company. As thousands of submissions came pouring in, they received not just recipes but also the stories behind them.
They realized two people weren't enough for the project and ended up recruiting about 35 more employee volunteers, including Liberty Munson, who worked in human resources and became the cookbooks' editor. Munson put together the recipe evaluation process, assembling a team to review whether the recipes were clear and the stories compelling.
In the meantime, as McCaig and Wadley worked ever more closely together, they discovered a shared passion for philanthropy, art and design. As they read through the personal stories revealed with the recipe submissions, they started sharing with each other their own personal stories, including stories about their children from their previous marriages. They laughed together, became great friends, and eventually, something more.
McCaig, who has since left Microsoft and moved on to a company called Fish Bowl Design and Instructional Technologies, recalls that when they were working on the cookbook pages, they divided the work into two piles, each working on his or her own pages.
"When we brought our pages together, I realized the world could not tell who had designed which pages," he said, in a burst of poetic inspiration. "Our designs evidenced what our hearts felt: Unity.”
Wadley, who now works as a senior marketing manager in the Windows division, puts it in more down-to-earth terms.
"We were spending so much time together - day after day," she said. "I was getting more and more excited to get to work every day, wearing cute little outfits. I thought: 'Why am I doing this?' I had to be honest about what was happening. I wasn't looking for anything like this. It blindsided me."
They eloped this past June, getting married at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville. They dined at The Herbfarm afterward.
But the Microsoft Cookbook still played a part in their betrothal. They held an engagement party in Savannah, Ga. One of the highlights: the dishes they prepared, based on recipes from the cookbook that had brought them together.
[This story is running in the print edition of The Seattle Times Nov. 15, 2013.]
In a building on the north side of Microsoft’s Redmond campus, there is much talk of stopping the bad guys.
By that, the Microsoft employees do not mean Google, Apple or Amazon.com.
Rather, the investigators, forensics experts, engineers and lawyers staffing Microsoft’s new Cybercrime Center talk about stopping criminals: software pirates, criminal syndicates that run botnets and exploiters of children.
Microsoft opened the doors Thursday to its multimillion-dollar Cybercrime Center, a 16,800-square-foot facility that is one part crime-fighting headquarters and one part sleek showcase for Microsoft technologies.
Part of the reason Microsoft developed the center was to make sure it had the latest state-of-the-art tools it needed to fight increasingly savvy criminals.
“As the cybercriminals are getting more sophisticated, our abilities are getting more sophisticated,” said David Finn, associate general counsel of Microsoft’s digital-crimes unit, during a tour of the facility Thursday.
The center brings together company units that focus on piracy and intellectual property theft, and on digital crimes, including botnets and malware and technology-facilitated child sexual exploitation.
About 35 of Microsoft’s 100 employees worldwide employed in those units are now based in the Cybercrime Center, which also includes Microsoft technologies such as Site Print, which can map online organized-crime networks, and PhotoDNA, which helps find and remove some of the worst images of child porn online.
Large touch screens from Perceptive Pixel, a company Microsoft purchased in 2012, line the walls, showing off Excel Power Map, a 3-D data-visualization tool.
[Continue reading the story here.]
And here's a video from Microsoft on the new center:
Longtime Microsoft executives Eric Rudder and Harry Shum are moving into new roles in the company, with Shum moving up into the senior leadership ranks.
Rudder will take on the newly created title of executive vice president for advanced strategy. As such, he will be responsible for key cross-company tech initiatives (though the company is not saying what those initiatives are for competitive reasons). He will remain on the senior leadership team -- the company's highest level of leaders.
Rudder currently is executive vice president of advanced strategy and research, leading Microsoft Research as well as trustworthy computing. He had also served as the company's chief technical strategy officer.
Harry Shum will be taking over as head of Microsoft Research and trustworthy computing. He will gain the title of executive vice president for technology and research, and become part of the senior leadership team.
Shum currently leads Bing engineering and, before that, led Microsoft Research in China.
Both will report to CEO Steve Ballmer and will take on their new roles in mid-December.
Here is Ballmer's email to employees on the moves:
From: Steve Ballmer
To: Microsoft - All Employees
Date: Nov. 13, 2013
Subject: New Roles for Eric Rudder and Harry Shum
Today, I’m excited to announce new roles for Eric Rudder and Harry Shum. Eric will take on a newly created role as Executive Vice President, Advanced Strategy, and Harry will take on Eric’s current responsibilities as Executive Vice President, Technology & Research. Both Eric and Harry will report to me and both changes take effect in mid-December.
Eric has led our Advanced Strategy & Research group for the past year. In that time, the team has tightened the connection between our incredible MSR work and the devices and services we are bringing to market while advancing the ball on a number of critical strategy and policy issues. As we continue our transformation to a company that delivers high value activities through devices and services it is critical that a senior leader is accountable for certain key, cross company technology initiatives. In this new role, Eric will do just that.
Harry Shum currently leads Bing engineering and prior, he led our MSR China team. He is uniquely positioned to drive exceptional forward-looking research that pushes the frontiers of computer science, while also driving impactful technology transfer through deep connections with our product teams.
MSR has been an amazing source of innovation for Microsoft and the industry, and our commitment to cutting edge R&D; is as strong as ever. You only have to look at some of our big technology bets like Xbox, Bing or Windows Azure to see the great collaboration that MSR has brought to help accelerate our efforts to deliver differentiated devices and services to our customers.
With Harry moving to this new role, the Bing engineering leaders will report directly to Qi Lu on an interim basis. They will not miss a beat as they continue the strong momentum in growing share, improving financials, and leveraging search as a strategic differentiator across our devices and services.
Please join me in thanking both Eric and Harry for their leadership and congratulating them on their new roles.
Microsoft is opening today its Cybercrime Center, a 16,800-square-foot facility that brings together its experts and technologies focused on online crimes.
The center, located on Microsoft's Redmond campus, focuses on crimes associated with malware, botnets, intellectual property theft and technology-facilitated child exploitation.
Microsoft would not say how much it is spending on the new center, which houses technologies that, among other things, allow its team to map online organized crime networks and identify global cyber threats in real time.
Research firm IDC has come out with its latest figures on smartphone shipments and it says Windows Phone shipments have gone up 156 percent compared to a year ago.
Of course, Windows Phone was starting from a very low point a year ago, allowing for that big percentage jump.
In the third quarter, 9.5 million Windows Phone units were shipped, constituting 3.6 percent of the smartphone operating system market. That's up from 3.7 million units and 2 percent of the market last year.
"Windows Phone posted the largest year-over-year growth worldwide of any of the leading operating systems, a result primarily driven by the support of Nokia," according to IDC. "By itself, Nokia accounted for 93.2% of all the Windows Phone-powered smartphones shipped during the quarter, marking a new milestone in the company's short history on the Microsoft platform. Participation from other vendors, meanwhile, still seemed a mixed bag with more vendors participating from a year ago, but volumes still far behind Nokia's own."
Android, meanwhile, captured 81 percent of the market (with Samsung accounting for 39.9 percent of all Android shipments in the quarter), while Apple's iOS had 12.9 percent.
Here's IDC's chart:
[This post has been updated with more details of the new review system.]
Microsoft is getting rid of its stack-ranking review system -- its much-criticized practice of ranking employees against each other during performance reviews.
In an email sent to company employees today, Lisa Brummel, Microsoft's head of human resources, wrote, in part, that the review process will now have:
No more curve. We will continue to invest in a generous rewards budget, but there will no longer be a pre-determined targeted distribution. Managers and leaders will have flexibility to allocate rewards in the manner that best reflects the performance of their teams and individuals, as long as they stay within their compensation budget.
No more ratings. This will let us focus on what matters – having a deeper understanding of the impact we’ve made and our opportunities to grow and improve.
In the stack-ranking system, Microsoft managers had to place a set percentage of their direct reports into each of five silos, ranging from a "1" silo for top performers to "5" for the bottom performers. The bottom-ranked employees typically ended up seeking opportunities in other parts of the company or elsewhere.
Stack ranking has drawn continual fire from employees, many of whom felt the system rewarded internal politicking, withholding of information, and backstabbing, rather than innovation or cooperation.
A Vanity Fair article last year blamed Microsoft's "lost decade" in large part on stack ranking.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had, in the past, defended stack ranking, saying: "I think everybody wants to work in a high-performance culture where we reward people who are doing fantastic work, and we help people who are having a hard time find something else to do."
But Ballmer had also announced a massive company reorganization in July, designed, in part, to foster better cooperation across the company. He said then that "whether our existing performance-management system needs to change to meet the goal of fostering collaboration is something that Lisa Brummel would take up."
In an interview today, when asked why the company kept its stack-ranking review system for so long, Brummel said the company has used several different review systems over the past several decades. Brummel said each of those systems "seemed to be right for the time in which they were implemented."
"This big move [starting today] to something very different from what we've had is just that," Brummel continued. "It's not saying one system is better than another. It's what system aligns best with what the company needs to get done and what we need to do to go forward."
Brummel said that the companywide reorganization, begun in July, provided "the perfect opportunity to implement these changes. You always want the people plan to align with the business strategy of the company. Now is a beautiful confluence of those things."
The new review system no longer puts people into silos, nor does it have rankings or ratings. Rather, it relies on more direct meetings between managers and their direct reports -- now labeled "Connect" meetings, in which employees set down their core priorities, what they plan to do until their next Connect meeting, and what they've done to meet those commitments since the last Connect meeting.
Each division decides how many such Connect meetings its employees will have, with a minimum of two each year.
"What you end up with is a collection of feedback that's closer to the time it happened," Brummel said. "It's an opportunity to collect more feedback, more frequently, rather than trying to recollect once a year."
That's necessary, she said, because Microsoft is moving to a more rapid delivery cadence, where it's delivering updates to its programs and services far more frequently than it has in the past.
"The idea that you try to accrue everything in one year, and label someone's performance, doesn't make sense for rapid-delivery cadence," she said.
The company's compensation budget remains the same, and employees and managers will still meet around August and September to discuss compensation. The difference is now "there's no review write-up attached to it," Brummel said. "The compensation is then based on the sequence of Connects over the year."
In response to a question about whether changing the review system is jumping the gun, given that Microsoft is searching for a new CEO who might want to implement a different review system, Brummel said she was confident this was the right move.
The company "has a new strategy," she said. "We're moving forward with it. All the divisions are lining up behind what we need to get accomplished. There's no reason people programs shouldn't be doing the same thing.
"I'm betting [the new CEO] will say it's a good thing," she continued. "If they don't say it's a good thing, we'll be back at some point in time trying to do something different. But I think it's our responsibility from our human resources perspective to help the company move forward."
Here's the full text of Brummel's email:
To Global Employees,
I am pleased to announce that we are changing our performance review program to better align with the goals of our One Microsoft strategy. The changes we are making are important and necessary as we work to deliver innovation and value to customers through more connected engagement across the company.
This is a fundamentally new approach to performance and development designed to promote new levels of teamwork and agility for breakthrough business impact. We have taken feedback from thousands of employees over the past few years, we have reviewed numerous external programs and practices, and have sought to determine the best way to make sure our feedback mechanisms support our company goals and objectives. This change is an important step in continuing to create the best possible environment for our world-class talent to take on the toughest challenges and do world-changing work.
To learn more about the new approach to performance and development, please join me for a Town Hall today at 2:00pm PT, either in person in building 92 or via webcast (see details below).
Here are the key elements:
· More emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. We’re getting more specific about how we think about successful performance and are focusing on three elements – not just the work you do on your own, but also how you leverage input and ideas from others, and what you contribute to others’ success – and how they add up to greater business impact.
· More emphasis on employee growth and development. Through a process called “Connects” we are optimizing for more timely feedback and meaningful discussions to help employees learn in the moment, grow and drive great results. These will be timed based on the rhythm of each part of our business, introducing more flexibility in how and when we discuss performance and development rather than following one timeline for the whole company. Our business cycles have accelerated and our teams operate on different schedules, and the new approach will accommodate that
· No more curve. We will continue to invest in a generous rewards budget, but there will no longer be a pre-determined targeted distribution. Managers and leaders will have flexibility to allocate rewards in the manner that best reflects the performance of their teams and individuals, as long as they stay within their compensation budget.
· No more ratings. This will let us focus on what matters – having a deeper understanding of the impact we’ve made and our opportunities to grow and improve.
We will continue to align our rewards to the fiscal year, so there will be no change in timing for your rewards conversation with your manager, or when rewards are paid. And we will continue to ensure that our employees who make the most impact to the business will receive truly great compensation.
Just like any other company with a defined budget for compensation, we will continue to need to make decisions about how to allocate annual rewards. Our new approach will make it easier for managers and leaders to allocate rewards in a manner that reflects the unique contributions of their employees and teams.
I look forward to sharing more detail with you at the Town Hall, and to bringing the new approach to life with leaders across the company. We will transition starting today, and you will hear from your leadership in the coming days about next steps for how the transition will look in your business. We are also briefing managers and will continue to provide them with resources to answer questions and support you as we transition to this approach.
I’m excited about this new approach that’s supported by the Senior Leadership Team and my HR Leadership Team, and I hope you are too. Coming together in this way will reaffirm Microsoft as one of the greatest places to work in the world.
There is nothing we cannot accomplish when we work together as One Microsoft.
Microsoft is announcing today that it's partnering with library systems across Washington state to provide technology training online to the general public.
The program offers the Microsoft IT Academy curriculum and can result in certifications showing proficiency in certain fundamental technology skills.
The user would initially have to go to a library to get an access code to the program but can then use that code anywhere that she has online access. The courses themselves are self-paced and can be accessed anytime, according to Microsoft.
The Washington State Library Microsoft IT Academy, as this partnership is called, offers three levels of courses: basic digital literacy, Microsoft Office training and advanced skills for IT professionals.
The courses are free, while those who choose to pursue certification will need to pass tests at certification centers at their own expense.
Some 385 libraries across the state, including the Seattle Public Library and King County Library systems, trial libraries, and community and technical college libraries, are taking part in the program.
More than half of the libraries involved, including the ones in the Seattle and King County library systems, are ready to go with the program today, Microsoft said. Other libraries should be able to offer the training by January, if not sooner.
Microsoft has released an update to its Surface 2 tablets.
The update, which installs automatically, includes improvements to battery life, the Type and Touch covers, and camera and audio system.
There is no November update for the Surface Pro 2, though there were October updates for both the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2.
More info on the update is here.