Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Corporations Should Take Stances

There has been a lot of talk up here in the Seattle area about Microsoft softening its position on gay rights from supportive to neutral. It may have done them more damage than any technical faux pas in the last ten years. I certainly feel less enthusiastic about their software.

Microsoft's social policy shift bothered me more than the fact that I've paid for a lot of things in my Enterprise License that really weren't delivered. But then, they will be. Longhorn will ship someday, and hey, less buggy is better than fast, right? But I don't yet know if Microsoft will change its position on gay rights. And while I never did count on ship dates, I did count on Microsoft's personality.

Microsoft's personality?

Yes. Maybe that's a stretch, but "corporate culture" is too bland. So I've been thinking about this for a few days, and here is my take on why I feel so betrayed:

Corporations have a lot of power, and in some cases and some arenas, they have more power than governments. Certainly global corporations with Microsoft's fiscal clout have more power than most single governments do, regardless of the regulatory role that we in government play. So the choices corporations make matter. They influence staff, customers, and the media. In other words, in Microsoft's case, just about everyone. I heard Bill Gates talk about the power of software just a few months ago, in person. He meant it. He's right, but Microsoft is even more powerful than its software.

I expect different attitudes, positions, marketing, and even product, from Apple than I do from IBM. From Newman's Own than from RJ Reynolds. These companies value different things. I don't make all of my decisions on what product to buy based on company values, but it is one factor among many that forms part of my buying decision.

Corporations can take political positions. They can make a difference based on their values. In the past, Microsoft has always clearly valued diversity, including trying help make it happen by taking political positions. They can make more of a difference than some governments (see above).

So when a company with the power and clout of Microsoft changes position on something important to me personally, I feel betrayed, and even mistrusting. This is kind of tough; in the past I've defended Microsoft when other CIO's and I have been in the room talking about bundling or security or marketing practices. Now, I'm not so sure how much I can trust them to be themselves.

Now, let's hope this argument doesn't convince Microsoft management that the bland choice of a neutral position is the right one, and that they would have been better off to have never taken a position in the first place.

In other words, Microsoft, don't change your personality....someone has to lead, and corporations matter a lot in this world. I used to be sure Microsoft was one of the good guys in the social policy arena.


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