Understanding Microsoft

Part 18. The Toolbox

There's nothing like a good set of tools. There is a certain "feel" that a solid hammer or a favorite drill has, a familiar feel based on years of happy and successful use. A workingman's tools say a lot about his or her character, because the craftsman often chooses his or her own tools. Thus we can note whether they prefer Craftsman or Stanley or Husky or some other brand. We can draw conclusions based on how much money they are willing to spend, and on whether they choose all the tools from the same manufacturer or "mix and match."

A workman choosing tools seems like such a simple and elegant way for a manager to show respect for their employees. It basically costs the same thing to have Procurement get a crate of tools, then find out that some of them don't feel comfortable or don't match a particular work situation, and then go out and make corrections, as it does to simply allocate a certain amount of discretionary money to each worker and allow them the freedom to choose. The worker is thus treated with respect and is given credit for the ability to use some common sense and judgment. Perhaps a diligent worker so treated will even pay a little extra out of their own pocket for an especially nice set of tools; after all, they are going to be using them every day, perhaps for many years.

Of course this particular way of running a business works because tools come in standard sizes. Nobody will sue a toolmaker for making a 5/8-inch wrench, because the number "5/8" is public property. The same goes for guages of wire and the sizes of screws, nuts, and bolts. Therefore the workers can buy these standard sizes and simply choose the heft and feel and brand-name features that they are most comfortable with. A worker is known by his or her choice of tools, and there is no question that a well-made set of tools which pleases the worker will accomplish the task.

However, when the work to be done is with information instead of nuts and bolts, the scenario changes completely. Instead of showing respect to the "data craftsman" in their workforces, more and more managers have become dictatorial in forcing only one set of tools upon all their workers -- as if "one size fits all" was somehow more reasonable for computer users than for blue-collar workers. Instead of wisely showing respect for the individual needs of each worker, information managers require absolute conformity to the Windows model, treating their highly-paid white-collar employees with less respect than even a janitor. Once locked-in to Microsoft products, superior alternatives are forbidden by the dictates of the management -- and the software contracts.

Sure, they will make some weak attempt to compensate the workers for their loss of freedom, individuality, and work effectiveness -- such as allowing individual styles of dress and grooming, or having frequent office parties -- but this does nothing more than increase the level of frustration felt by the information workers. Instead of allowing craftsmanship and individual interaction with favorite tools, we now see the way Microsoft views the modern workplace: nothing more than a simple-minded assembly line, treating workers like identical, interchangeable pieces of machinery. Once in control of the marketplace, Microsoft shows itself to have the same command-and-control mentality they once railed against.

Most recent revision: January 3, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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