Bill Gates seemed to draw on personal experience a few years ago when he pointed out one of the biggest risks of modern communications.
“Today, if you e-mail things around, it's very typical for the information to go far and wide,” the Microsoft chairman said in a 2003 address to a conference in Seattle. “The next thing you know, it's in the newspaper.”
Well, it happened again this week. As documented here in recent days, a federal judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit against the company unsealed a trove of internal Microsoft e-mails turned over as part of the case. The messages provide a new glimpse into Microsoft's behind-the-scenes dealings. But it's hardly the first time.
Here, then, in no particular order, is our list of the top 5 Microsoft e-mails of all time -- the messages they never meant any of us to read.
Allchin, then the Microsoft Windows chief, sent this self-described "rant" to Gates and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in the midst of the company's work on Longhorn, the code name for the operating system that would become Windows Vista. The message, with the subject line, "losing our way," outlined Allchin's frustrations at the time:
I am not sure how the company lost sight of what matters to our customers (both business and home) the most, but in my view we lost our way. I think our teams lost sight of what bug-free means, what resilience means, what full scenarios mean, what security means, what performance means, how important current applications are, and really understanding what the most important problems [our] customers face are. I see lots of random features and some great vision, but that doesn't translate onto great products.
I would buy a Mac today if I was not working at Microsoft.
The message was disclosed during the company's Iowa antitrust trial. After it surfaced, Allchin said he was "being purposefully dramatic in order to drive home a point," and that the development process was dramatically changed after he sent the message.
Honorable mention goes to another Allchin e-mail that surfaced during the Iowa trial, with the provocative subject line, "sucking on media players." Read it and the ensuing exchange here: PDF, 2 pages.
Raikes, who plans to retire from the company later this year, sent this e-mail to the iconic investor as an academic exercise, of sorts -- outlining Microsoft's business strategy in an effort to demonstrate to Buffett the value of the company as an investment. Among other things, Raikes highlighted the dominant market position of Windows and described the "pricing discretion" that Microsoft has been able to exercise.
"In some respects I see the business characteristics of Coca Cola or See's Candy as being very similar to Microsoft," Raikes wrote, referring to two of Buffett's high-profile investments. "E.g. in FY96 there were 50 million PC's sold in the world, and about 80% of them were licensed for a Microsoft operating system. Although I would never write down the analogy of a 'toll bridge,' people outside our company might describe this business in that way."
Raikes added later, "There is an R&D charge to the business, but I'm sure the profits are probably as good as the syrup business!"
The message didn't turn Buffett into a big tech investor, but it was helpful to plaintiffs pursuing the company on antitrust charges. It surfaced years later as evidence in a class-action suit against Microsoft in Minnesota.
This was the first in a series of leaked Microsoft memos received by open-source guru Eric S. Raymond. They're known as the "Halloween" documents because that's when the first of them surfaced.
The memo is notable in part because it marked Microsoft's rising awareness of open-source software, such as the Linux operating system, developed by a worldwide community of programmers. It also showed how the company was thinking about protecting its business from Linux, with bullet points including, "Fold extended functionality into commodity protocols / services and create new protocols."
Microsoft, Email, Company Affairs, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer