- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

REDMOND, Wash. — Among the 62 buildings that dot the gigantic Microsoft campus east of Seattle is a museum with glowing accounts of lives transformed through technology. "At Microsoft, we believe the real measure of our success is not in the

power of our software but in the power it unleashes in you," says a display by the entrance. "Realize your potential."

On an adjoining wall: "How far can I go? What can I be? How can I compete?"

Microsoft's intense competitiveness helped it shape every area of American culture and mores through technology, said Thom Kozik, a former Microsoft business development manager for interactive media.

"The Federal Trade Commission looks at Microsoft and thinks it's this arrogant, dominant company taking over the world," he said. "Actually, they are very protective and trying to think what leg up will someone else get if they don't grab every opportunity.

"Even when we were at the top of the game," Mr. Kozik said, "we were always afraid someone would steal our lunch money. It was: What is Lotus going to do?"

Microsoft's innovations in software technology have helped proliferate the Internet to 80 million Americans, who spend an average of 8.8 hours a week online. Worldwide Internet use is expected to climb to 500 million people by 2003.

"They are trying to create a visible lifestyle for everyone kind of ecosystem where they are like the water or the air," said Dean Takahashi, senior writer for Red Herring, a technology magazine. "Microsoft provides the environment that makes it possible to run all these high-tech gadgets. They provide the operating system, whether it is in your cell phone or PC or hand-held computer or game console. It's all connected in some way.

"The demographics are on their side. Every day, there are fewer and fewer people who've not used computers. More computer users are inducted, or born, every day."

Sure enough, the museum has a children's computer area, along with a bulletin board of fan mail to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

"Dear Bill Gates," reads a missive from Jana Robles, 10, of Kennewick, Wash. "I don't know much about you other than you have a lot of money and you have developed a computer or something like [that]. What do you do for a living?"

She, along with some adults, could have gleaned that information from the May issue of Money magazine, which described Microsoft's $40 billion in cash reserves and its $25 billion in revenues during 2001, among other portfolio details.

The software giant also has a legendary corporate culture. According to one museum display, employees "play pingpong in lobbies adorned with valuable art, sometimes work all night, never wear ties, plan outrageous pranks and throw their managers into Lake Bill," a man-made pond on Microsoft's 5.3-million-square-foot main campus.

The nerve center of the complex, known as the Data Center, houses more than 8,000 servers and is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Employees, who can choose any one of 24 cafes at which to snack, send 3 million e-mail messages a day. Microsoft receives about 200,000 resumes a year but hires only a few thousand people.

"It's a cultural experience, going on campus," said Bob Senatore, senior vice president of Comforce Corp., a company that provides consulting and staff for Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft. "You hear many foreign languages in the cafeterias there, which are built to keep people on campus.

"They have a tremendous appeal worldwide. My wife a former museum employee would tell me of people who'd take their vacations to the Northwest not the best place to come to, because it rains 90 percent of the time here hoping to visit the campus and glimpse Bill Gates."

Microsoft employs 49,928 persons worldwide, three-quarters of them men. The average age is 34½.

"I find myself trying to get my people to operate culturally like they did at Microsoft," said Mr. Kozik, who left Microsoft to start Sourceron, a New York software company. "That is, think around every angle, problem and opportunity and openly debate things that many chief executives would find argumentative. But it's not personal. You are just trying to thrash out ideas. That kind of approach is foreign except at the top-tier companies."

It was also an around-the-clock kind of workplace, he said, adding that employees bought futons wholesale so they had a place to sleep in their offices.

Those who did not perform to Mr. Gates' liking got e-mails telling them so, usually between midnight and 2 a.m. Employees called such missives "flame mail;" one of several unique terms in the "Microspeak" lexicon.

"You'd start work at the crack of dawn, take a break in the afternoon to play basketball, then work into the wee hours of the night," Mr. Kozik said. "What I missed after I left there was being surrounded by other smart people walking into a conference room and coming up with new concepts and working on product ideas and knowing people fought for the privilege to be in that room. You get addicted to that.

"I left because I could not compete with the 24-year-olds anymore. After Bill and Melinda French got married, I would venture a lot of people there breathed a sigh of relief, saying, 'Now we can live normal lives again. Having a family life must be OK.'"

Being wired is not only OK, it is essential, according to one museum display of a mannequin in a business suit carrying a cell phone, a tape player clipped to his belt and a laptop bag across his back.

The "cyberquin," as he is called, is powered by a motor that keeps his arms and legs in a running motion. The idea, said the spokeswoman, is to showcase how mobile computer devices are usable anywhere, anytime.

The way Microsoft can do this, Mr. Takahashi said, is to be indispensable to the ordinary person. In his book, "Opening the Xbox: Inside Microsoft's Plan to Unleash an Entertainment Revolution," he tells how Microsoft challenged Sony in the video-game business.

"Microsoft wanted to have the foundation technologies in the home," he says. "They had the PC, but that was stuck in the office or the den of the home as a productivity tool. There are these twin pillars they had in the home: to control productivity and entertainment, and they didn't have the entertainment tool or platform. So they wanted to know how to move into entertainment.

"They are hyper-competitive, so Bill Gates had a strategic retreat. He identified the Sony Playstation 2 as something they had to respond to. They had an internal competition to figure out how they could best come up with a response, which they called a 'beauty contest.' After a few meetings, Bill Gates sided with the Xbox team.

"It's a digital lifestyle concept. They are trying to sell this 'Windows everywhere' vision. They do not want you to do anything electronic unless it's with their software."

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