Microsoft employee apologizes to developers

James Plamondon admits calling developers 'pawns' was wrong

James Plamondon, the former technical evangelist for Microsoft who in a 1996 speech called independent software developers "pawns," said Wednesday he now "regrets" using the metaphor.

In an e-mail sent to Computerworld, Plamondon called third-party developers "key industry influencers" who are "critical" to an IT company's success.

"Therefore, describing key industry influencers as 'pawns' is both offensive and inaccurate," Plamondon wrote. "It mischaracterizes the mutually supportive relationship that must exist between a platform vendor and its platforms' early adopters, such as that which Microsoft and independent software developers created in the 1990s. I regret having used the 'pawns' metaphor; I apologize for any misplaced ill will it may have caused towards Microsoft; and I won't use it in [the] future."

In addition to the pawns comparison -- a reference that became public last week in testimony at the Comes v. Microsoft antitrust trial in Iowa -- Plamondon also compared wooing developers to a "one-night stand."

Plamondon is a former Silicon Valley-based Mac software developer who joined Microsoft's Developer Relations Group in 1992 and served as one of its chief technical evangelists for eight years before leaving. Plamondon now lives in western Australia, consults for some local high-tech companies and is working on a book "about the theory and practice of technical evangelism," according to his Web site. He also spelled out his views on independent software vendors in comments posted last May on Parallax.

The comments in his January 1996 speech to other Microsoft technical evangelists was cited by Ronald Alepin, an expert witness for the plaintiffs, as an example of Microsoft's mistreatment of independent software vendors. Microsoft's withholding of key application programming interfaces in the late 1980s to then-competitor Lotus Development was presented as further evidence of the same thing.

The comments generated heated reaction at blogs and sites frequented by developers, such as Slashdot and Dave Winer's Scripting News.

Experts who spoke to Computerworld agreed that Microsoft's market success built heavily on strong, open relationships with software developers writing for Windows and other platforms. At the same time, those relationships can sour when Microsoft decides to offer its own software in direct competition with its now-embittered software partners.

In his e-mail, Plamondon wrote that "no company has ever created such a supportive environment for independent developers [than] Microsoft has -- because no other company ever recognized the overwhelming importance of independent developers to its own success." He offered a quote from 17th-century, free-markets philosopher Adam Smith: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest." That philosophy, he said, permeated Microsoft's policy toward independent software vendors.

Plamondon's e-mail did not mention comments he also made that attracting developers relied on tactics similar to convincing someone to have a "one-night stand."

Complete transcripts of testimony have been posted online by the plaintiffs in the Iowa case. They allege that Iowa consumers overpaid for Microsoft software as a result of the company's anticompetitive practices and are seeking up to US$330 million in damages from Microsoft.

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