Microsoft’s Evangelism Practices: Unethical?

This is just too good to pass. These are direct quotes from Microsoft’s "Generalized Evangelism Timeline," an internal document that was made public during the Bristol Technologies v. Microsoft anti-trust case.

BTW, the document is referenced in James Plomondon, a Technology Evangelist at Microsoft for eight years. (Thanks to Tatyana Kanzaveli for twittering about James’ post.)

I copy these lines without further comment. They speak for themselves.

8: The Slog

Guerrilla marketing is often a long, hard slog.

slog (släg) v. slogged, slog•ging, slogs. -tr. To strike with heavy blows, as in boxing. -intr. To walk with a slow, plodding gait. 2. To work diligently for long hours. -n. 1. Long, hard work. 2. A long, exhausting march or hike. [Orig. unknown] -slog’ger.

—American Heritage Dictionary, 1991

In the Slog, Microsoft dukes it out with the competition. MSDN and Platform marketing are the regular forces, exchanging blows with the enemy mano a mano. Evangelism should avoid formal, frontal assaults, instead focusing its efforts of hit-an-run [sic] tactics.

[…]

I cut out three paragraphs that are pretty unremarkable.  Here comes the part that got my attention.

Working behind the scenes to orchestrate "independent" praise of our technology, and damnation of the enemy’s, is a key evangelism function during the Slog. "Independent" analysts’ report should be issued, praising your technology and damning the competitors (or ignoring them). "Independent" consultants should write columns and articles, give conference presentations and moderate stacked panels, all on our behalf (and setting them up as experts in the new technology, available for just $200/hour). "Independent" academic sources should be cultivated and quoted (and research money granted). "Independent" courseware providers should start profiting from their early involvement in our technology. Every possible source of leverage should be sought and turned to our advantage.

I have mentioned before the "stacked panel." Panel discussions naturally favor alliances of relatively weak partners – our usual opposition. For example, an "unbiased" panel on OLE vs. OpenDoc would contain representatives of the backers of OLE (Microsoft) and the backers of OpenDoc (Apple, IBM, Novell, WordPerfect, OMG, etc.). Thus, we find ourselves outnumbered in almost every "naturally occurring" panel debate.

A stacked panel, on the other hand, is like a stacked deck: it is packed with people who, on the face of things, should be neutral, but who are in fact strong supporters of our technology. The key to stacking a panel is being able to choose the moderator. Most conferences organizers allow the moderator to select the panel, so if you can pick the moderator, you win. Since you can’t expect representatives of our competitors to speak on your behalf, you have to get the moderator to agree to having only "independent ISVs" on the panel. No one from Microsoft or any other formal backer of the competing technologies would be allowed – just ISVs who have to use this stuff in the "real world." Sounds marvelously independent doesn’t it? In fact, it allows us to stack the panel with ISVs that back our cause. Thus, the "independent" panel ends up telling the audience that our technology beats the others hands down. Get the press to cover this panel, and you’ve got a major win on your hands.

Finding a moderator is key to setting up a stacked panel. The best sources of pliable moderators are:

  • Analyst: Analysts sell out — that’s their business model. But they are very concerned that they never look like they are selling out, so that makes them very prickly to work with.
  • Consultant:These guys are your best bets as moderators. Get a well-known consultant on your side early, but don’t let him publish anything blatantly pro-Microsoft. Then, get him to propose himself to the converence organizers as a moderator, whenever a panel opportunity comes up. Since he’s well-known, but apparently independent, he’ll be accepted — one less thing for the constantly-overworked conference organizer to worry about, right?

Gathering intelligence on enemy activities is critical to the success of the Slog. We need to know who their allies are and what differences exist between them and their allies (there are always sources of tension between allies), so that we can find ways to split ’em apart. Reading the trade press, lurking on newsgroups, attending conferences, and (above all) talking to ISVs is essential to gathering this intelligence.

[…]

I cut out three more unremarkable paragraphs and a couple of intervening subsections.  They are followed by this beauty.

11: Mopping Up

Mopping Up can be a lot of fun.  In the Mopping Up phase, Evangelism’s goal is to put the final nail into the competing technology’s coffin, and bury it in the burning depths of the earth.  Ideally, use of the competing technology becomes associated with mental deficiency, as in, "he believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and OS/2."  Just keep rubbing it in, via the press, analysts, newsgroups, whatever.  Make the complete failure of the competition’s technology part of the mythology of the computing industry.  We want to place selection pressure on those companies and individual resistant to such unhealthy strains, over time.

12: Victory

Some technologies continue as competitors long after they are true threats – look at OS/2, the Operating System that Refused to Die.  It is always possible – however unlikely – that competitors like OpenDoc, SOM, OS/2, etc., could rise from the dead… so long as there is still development work being done on them.  Therefore, final victory is reached only when the competing technology’s development team is disbanded, its offices reassigned, its marketing people promoted, etc.  You have truly and finally won, when they come to interview at Microsoft.

Victory is sweet.  Savor it.  Then, find a new technology to evangelize – and get back to work!

There’s a lot more to this document which I recommend reading.  It details in black-and-white many of the practices that people suspected were at work, but could never prove.

Others may well do it, too, but Microsoft elevated it to a fine art.  And in the process has held back the industry by killing off healthy competition.

What do you think of these practices?  Do you think this is so pervasive that it is unfair to pick on Microsoft?  James Plomondon proposes that Technology Evangelism be professionalized to avoid these kinds of scorched earth practices.  Do you think that’ll work?

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