04 Apr 2012

Disclaimer: I do not work for Microsoft and these are my views based on discussions with multiple people at Microsoft which I have stitched together – maybe I misunderstood everyone and this is all wrong too. All examples I use are my own. I am no lawyer – check with a lawyer for legal & license advice.

tl;dr: Microsoft is really worried about being sued and thus is risk adverse to “stuff from the internet”. It is better to tell Microsoft what you dislike, not how to fix it. Learn about licensing content.

Paper Work

A few years ago I went on an amazing trip to work with Microsoft but before I could do that I needed to sign not only a NDA, but also waivers for the work I would do – which makes sense. I did it for free and Microsoft didn’t want me to sue them for money later for my work. Not only that I had to sign them, my employer had to do the exact same thing. Once again because I work for someone else who could claim money from Microsoft and Microsoft lawyers had deemed that a risk and needed to be protected.

This involved a lot of time and money, it is VERY expensive to have lawyers review documents from other lawyers and the DHL the originals half way round the world, but it is far cheaper than being sued.

I know that neither myself of BBD would sue Microsoft for the work I did, but that doesn’t still the hearts of those lawyers who live in a world of ugly mean liars that will cheat the system if it was easy and good. I wish it wasn’t this way but some wishes don’t happen.

The Users Voice

A while back Microsoft started spinning up loads of uservoice.com (UV) sites to collect feedback and I believe they are successful in getting some things changed. There is an odd issue I see on UV especially with how Microsoft deals with it, that being as technology advanced users & developers we are taught to give the most detail as possible – really there is nothing like too much detail… however in UV, it seems that Microsoft ignores them and favours those who do and give very little. A great example of this, is in Visual Studio land where we can compare the current top two ideas: this short idea which is “under review”

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versus to this guy who has pages of details and even as taking the design and proving a lot of it could work – for all his hard work, nothing.

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WTF?! Microsoft doesn’t listen to me

If you read both suggestions they seem to say the same thing except the lazy guys one got the reward, right? No – it is more fundamental than that. The first one is really just discussing the what & why the VS colour change that is an issue, the second piece of feedback though is discussing how to fix it. The problem for Microsoft is if they take the second guys stuff, a person who hasn’t signed a waiver, the how guy has a legal ability to sue Microsoft for the money they owe him for work/royalties etc… And Microsoft legal won’t allow that to happen because that is their job, to protect Microsoft legal issues.

This is not a complaint about legal, I am sure they are nice people that are just doing their job and it is annoying their job and my wishes do not align...

The thing about taking the what feedback is Microsoft is pretty safe in taking and improving VS in anyway they see fit and that is why the what & why is under review and not the how.

Licensing & Public Domain

The next that will be brought up is that this is work in the public domain and thus “free”… wrong. Public domain work is more a legal trap than anything, and there is so many steps that you need to jump through to get access to using that “free” work that often it is easier to redo it yourself. This is why ANYTHING you do should have a license, even if you want to just give it away and never see it again or if you want someone like Microsoft to be able to use it.

For software check out a good open source license, such as BSD 3-clause which basically says do what you like with my work and I promise I won't sue you except if you use me as an endorsement for your product which contains my work. For non-code items,  like art, music or blog posts have a look at the creative commons licenses.

Microsoft can fix this too

Microsoft could reach out to people with good ideas and get them to sign waivers (WAY too much work and also maybe risky after the work is provided), but better would be to adopt an approach like StackExchange (SE) does. SE states if you provide feedback on their sites it is creative commons.

Microsoft could do the same and even put in a waiver clause on UV, I don’t know if UV allows for this, but Microsoft is big enough to get it done. It doesn’t solve great ideas that are posted elsewhere, those still required YOU to take the time to learn a little about licensing, public domain and so on and take the right steps so we can ALL benefit… not just the lawyers who get paid to say no.

Comments

Correction's picture

This isn't correct: For software check out a good open source license, such as BSD 3-clause which basically says do what you like but sue me and you can use me as an endorsement for your product which contains my work. Should rather read: For software check out a good open source license, such as BSD 3-clause which basically says do what you like with my work and I promise I won't sue you except if you use me as an endorsement for your product which contains my work.
Robert MacLean's picture

Thanks for the info - have corrected
Correction's picture

No problem!
chanoch's picture

I think you'll find is that there's no rule that covers you if the idea has been discussed elsewhere first, and so the waiver could be invalid and MS would have spend money to ensure the idea hasn't been discussed elsewhere to avoid it. I'm pretty sure that the reason BSD and other licenses get away with it is because they don't have the money to be sued for
Evan Hamilton's picture

I'm not sure I follow you. One has 800 votes. One idea has 6k votes. It's great that the 800 vote gentleman provided detail, but it makes sense to me that Microsoft is focusing on what the majority of customers are asking for. They may want color, but based on the votes they don't specifically seem to want a Zune-style UI. Disclaimer: I work at UserVoice.
Robert MacLean's picture

They were merely two suggestions I picked because they were both fairly similar on the surface, I did not take vote count into the discussion as that is another metric that teams must weigh up when deciding.

The point of the post was not to look directly at those but look at how a company like Microsoft could be forced to chose one over another so they do not have to deal with the legal issues of intellectual property taint.

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