Category: Microsoft

On Microsoft, a few months out.

I’m a few months out from my time at Microsoft, and in a new gig in a new environment (GAEMS, in case you didn’t see.). It’s given me some perspective and time to think about the company in general, especially since I have read the Vanity Fair article summarized here.

While I can’t quibble with the accuracy of a lot of the points the article makes (now that I have some distance from it, I really now understand how damaging Microsoft’s performance review model is), I certainly feel the article is unfair in blaming Microsoft for a lot of mistakes while glossing over or minimizing its successes.

I don’t think you can call a decade “lost” when Windows 7 did so well, and Xbox, Kinect, and Halo are names known even to my mom. The excitement in the tech space alone over new devices like the Surface show me that while certainly Apple is perceived as “more cool” and Google, weirdly, is starting to be perceived as “more evil” I don’t see a place in there where Microsoft is perceived as “Dead.”

Microsoft is certainly executing on a variety of things now, and while organizationally it has some challenges, concepts like Smartglass and making that work on competing platforms like iOS and Android clearly shows the company is capable still of pivoting according to the realities of the market and doing so with cool technology that provides a real benefit. The Windows team is finishing up Windows 8, Office is looking to other platforms, and even the more staid stuff like Windows Server still innovates in ways that most people will not notice.

I may be an ex employee, but I’m still bullish on Microsoft. 

But that performance review model is a real hindrance and in my opinion has got to go.

In which I leave Microsoft.

Over the past year I’ve been doing quite of bit of thinking. Nothing specific, nothing groundbreaking. Just plain old thinking. I turn 40 this year. Despite the wonderful ability in Microsoft to change careers pretty dramatically inside the company, I’ve been there nearly 18 years and it’s the only world I’ve really ever known. I feel too strangely comfortable, and too strangely tied.

So over the past several weeks I’ve made the decision to resign and have been working with my management for an orderly transition. My last day will be February 15th.

On the 16th, I’m going to head down to Dallas to visit my family. Then I’m off to JocoCruiseCrazy! I have no other plans beyond that. I’m a free agent! One with 18 years of experience in technology, public and written communications, and 5 years spent deep in the entertainment business. If you have something you think I’d be good at, by all means feel free to contact me at Stepto at Or you can buy my book or the audio version of my book via the links to the left (shameless plug).

Nothing will change with regards to my Twitter or blog, I plan to return to doing a lot more writing here on new topics and video game thoughts.  And I’ll continue to be a super tweeting twitter guy who tweets a lot, again keeping a video game oriented focus.

For anyone wondering, I want to make sure I am clear: This is a positive thing. I have nothing but confidence in the future of Microsoft and specifically Xbox and Xbox LIVE. I have enormous gratitude for my time there. I want to finish my next book, and explore other opportunities.

So there it is. I have no idea what the future holds, for the first time in my life.

This ought to be interesting!

In the time honored tradition of Microsoft employees who make the decision to leave, I just sent my farewell email.  In another tradition, Microsoft doesn’t comment on specific personnel changes and I’m going to be honoring that. I’ll be declining any media requests for now since until the 15th I’m still a Microsoft employee, and after that I plan to be enjoying rum drinks and being disconnected from everything for a while. I’ll be back online and in Seattle on the 28th.

Here’s my goodbye mail, presented here with some personal names removed:

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.

On a warm Dallas day April 11th, 1994, I grabbed my keys and wallet and headed for the front door of my apartment. I stopped short when I realized I was going to need my building access badge that I had just been given that previous Friday. I walked into my bedroom and grabbed the badge, making a mental note to remember to keep it with my wallet at night so I wouldn’t forget it in the morning. It was my first full day at Microsoft. I was 21.

Since that day (very nearly without exception) I’ve carried a Microsoft badge with me basically where ever I went. That April day I was a contractor with Microsoft, A-Stepto. The following January I was hired as a Microsoft FTE and issued a new email name, SToulouse. Because everyone had already started calling me Stepto, my manager had them change it to Stepto. It stuck.

I wrote in my book about some of the amazing things I’ve been a part of at this company. Shipping Windows 95. Traveling the world in the training organization teaching support engineers about upcoming technologies. Being a security PM and spokesperson for the entire company on security issues. Getting to play a part in the success of Xbox, Xbox LIVE, and Kinect. I can’t possibly conceive of the good fortune, challenges, and rewards I’ve gotten from almost 18 years at Microsoft happening to me anywhere else.

But I’m going to go see just to make sure.

February 15th 2012 will be my last day at Microsoft. My reasons for leaving are complex and personal, but the parting could not be more amicable. I continue to believe this place makes great technology, and I am absolutely thrilled for the future of Xbox and Xbox LIVE.

What are my plans? I don’t have any! That’s both scary and exciting. Well, it’s also a bit untrue. The day after I leave I’m headed out to join my Internet friends on JoCoCruiseCrazy in the Caribbean. And I’m nearly finished with my second book, on a topic unrelated to Microsoft.

But after that I don’t have anything lined up. I’m going to see what happens.

My team will continue its work as always, there will be no interruption. In the meantime don’t worry, we have top men working on an orderly transition. Top men.*

After almost 18 years There’s too many people to thank. First and foremost CSS for my start at Microsoft in the Las Colinas office. TwC for my wonderful time there working at the Microsoft Security Response Center. I’d like to thank Xbox, my team and the entire staff of my wonderful enforcers who work so tirelessly to help protect the Xbox LIVE service. It’s been an incredible privilege and honor to work with people so friendly, dedicated, and nearly impervious to naughty Internet slang.

I’d like to thank Microsoft for an unbelievable set of opportunities, an incredible education that they paid *me* to obtain, and for the opportunity to be neck deep for five years in my first love: video games.

My leaving’s not tied to any event or thing, so I’m not out the door just yet! Please feel free to drop by or chat. After the 15th you can reach me at But be aware I probably won’t be able to answer you until I arrive back in Seattle on the 28th because I’ve always been the guy that checks my email on the beach and I’m not going to be that guy anymore.

I wish you all the very best success. Godspeed and please…

Be excellent to each other.


*I apologize for the gender specificity, but it’s a movie quote. I’ll let you go Bing it. :>

Sometimes your OS is like Diogenes, looking for an honest hardware report.

A friend bitched to me, a particularly youthful friend, about how hard it was to create a Windows 7 based USB boot key. He was incensed that you had to use a command line utility to create an NTFS partition that was bootable on the USB drive’s partition. While he was blah blah blahing about how computers would be far better off if Microsoft had never existed because of how hard we make everything, I tuned the email out and took a trip through the wormhole.

The development of Windows 95 really was a watershed moment in computing.  For the first time, an operating system was going to work alongside BIOS development to end the ritual of hardware IRQ jumper settings, arcane memory offsets, COM port conflicts and…

Wait.  It’s likely some of you young’uns probably have no idea what I am talking about. Ok imagine this, every time you want to use some new application on your Apple Jesus Phone you have to solve a Rubick’s Cube, then thread the eye of a needle blindfolded, followed by drawing a per point accurate Mandelbrot fractal using only a thick tip ink quill pen and a Bounty paper towel.

Now you know what it was like to get a 9600 baud modem working under Windows 3.1.

Except it was harder.

When you bought a new hardware card for your PC, you had to physically modify tiny plastic covers over jumper pins on the card precisely such that no one card would interfere with any other card’s resource settings. Never mind trying to not slice your fingers on the razor sharp interior edges of the computer case.

This was roughly like trying to separate, through mere persuasion only, four extremely hungry fat men from reaching for the same rib on a plate of only four ribs.  When two grabbed the same rib, well let’s just say the whole dinner got interrupted. Never mind the other two who mistake your bleeding fingers for ribs.

Thus was born the idea of “Plug and Play” or, as it was known before it had an easily mocked name, “soft jumper setting”. 

The idea behind plug and play is that the Operating System, the computer BIOS, and the hardware cards that you installed would never need any more hard configuration than simply plugging the card in.  Everything would be handled through software such that conflicts could not occur. If they did, then the OS, BIOS, and hardware card could be set through software to resolve the conflict instead of creating a situation where the entire machine could not start due to resource conflicts.

Windows 95 was the first widely available operating system that supported this type of capability.  At the same time, it had to work with existing hardware set solutions.  So during its development a lot of testing went into the hardware detection section of the install for the product.  Essentially, when you first installed Windows 95 it would go through an investigative phase where it queried various elements of the computer both hardware set and software set and tried to understand what was on the computer so it could either use it, or prompt you for a driver that would allow the OS to use it.

The problem was, some hardware was unprepared for being jabbed in the ass and being asked who the hell they were and what they were doing.

Case in point: a particular Uninterruptable Power Supply used a serial based interface to the computer to link its software monitoring of power status to the UPS battery itself.  During setup, Windows 95’s hardware detection of the serial COM port caused the UPS to think the power had been cut.  If setup lasted longer than the UPS battery, then the entire setup would fail because the power would die and the computer would unexpectedly switch off.

In another case, detection during the beta had a harsher effect due to buggy hardware.  A particular laptop manufacturer used a BIOS that had a unique way of responding to a hardware PnP query.  When Windows 95 calmly asked the BIOS “Hi, who are you and what version are you” the BIOS put a gun to its head and replied “YOU’LL NEVER GET ME TO TELL” and would overwrite its firmware strap code with zeros, rendering the entire computer a doorstop. It actually had to be physically repaired by the manufacturer. It’s one of the few documented cases of actual computer suicide that I have ever seen.

Of course, even back then BIOS manufacturers were trying to implement OS type features.  Once the FAT32 file system was introduced, in place conversion of FAT16 to FAT32 file systems became possible.  BIOS manufacturers had developed “Hardware Hibernation” capability into their products, meaning that by hitting a button on the computer the BIOS, using the OS file system driver, would dump the contents of the RAM to a file on the hard drive to be read on next boot.

Great idea.  Unless your BIOS couldn’t read the file system on next boot.  They could write using the OS to FAT32, but on next boot couldn’t read the hiberfile. This again rendered the computer essentially a doorstop because you couldn’t point the BIOS bootstrap to anywhere else.

I faded back to the rant email about how its all so very hard today, because of us.

I hit reply and simply said “Get back to me when you have a fat man gnawing on your fingers”

Homophobia and Virtual Communities

It’s an insanely busy summer for reasons I cannot yet reveal.  However I’m extremely proud to be participating in a panel this weekend on Homophobia and Virtual Communities live in San Francisco being put on by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).  Besides getting to visit one of my favorite cities, this is an extremely important topic that I’m privileged to get to talk about alongside some really smart folk.  The panel participants, besides me, are:

  • Flynn DeMarco (Alias: Fruite Brute), Founder of
  • Dan Hewitt, Senior Director of Communications & Industry Affairs for the Entertainment Software Association (ESA)
  • Caryl Shaw, Senior Producer in the Maxis Studio (Electronic Arts, Inc.) 
  • Cyn Skyberg, VP of Customer Relations at Linden Lab
  • Moderator: Justin Cole, Director of Digital & Online Media, GLAAD
  • The press release discussing the topic can be found here.  It takes place July 18th and you can reserve a spot to attend here if you are going to be (or already are) in the area.  I hope to tweet LIVE from the panel and look forward to the conversation on how we can enable safer communities online.

    I am free part of the time I am in the city, so hit me up if you want to hang out!

    If you’re a geek, and you’re not reading Raymond Chen, I think you should.

    Raymond’s been at Microsoft since before there was a [Time event] to [Time demarcation]. His blog is an endless awesome examination both of Microsoft code lore, Microsoft speak lore, Microsoft, code, speak and …lore. I feel very fortunate to know him (in the Microsoft culture-email-sense meaning we talk from time to time in email.  Actually it occurs to me I don’t know him at all personally.  Well crap now I feel kind of like an asshole, I should totally go buy him lunch or something.)

    Where was I…oh.  This post in particular is a good intro as to why Raymond’s blog is informative but also interesting no matter if you know the code or not.

    His blog is worth your valuable time.

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