Should Microsoft employees openly use iPhones?
A report in The Wall Street Journal suggests there is tension in Redmond over the love some employees have for the iPhone. Are some people at Microsoft overreacting?
It's like Katie Holmes telling Tom Cruise she prefers Brad Pitt's movies. It's like Rupert Murdoch's wife googling a Wall Street Journal article to get past the paywall. It's like Reggie Bush telling Kim Kardashian that her sister Khloe is cuter than she is.
This is hurt, anguish, and embarrassment all wrapped up in one corporate migraine. The problem, you see, is that there are quite a few people at Microsoft who love the iPhone. At least that is what an article in The Wall Street Journal is suggesting.
The article offers stories of Steve Ballmer himself pretending to stomp on an employee's iPhone. It tells of Microsoft employees being sheepish about exposing their Apple-made contraptions in meetings. It even suggests that as many as 10 percent of Microsoft employees might be in the thrall of the Cupertino King.
Naturally, there will be those who suggest such behavior is heresy. Ballmer, according to the article, explains that when his father worked for Ford, the family only drove Fords. But in those days, corporations were slightly different beings than they are now. People believed they had a job that would last forever, rather than one that might not survive the next clever little financial ruse from some halfwit on Wall Street or the next pandering to Wall Street by a halfwitted CFO. Employees offered loyalty, because they thought it would be returned. What hope is there now of that?
It is, though, a ticklish area. Does an employee's preference for the iPhone suggest that Microsoft products aren't good enough? Why, yes it does. At least for them. But does that have to be a bad thing?
Ad agencies sometimes become (even more) neurotic when they entertain clients whose products many at the agency don't use (or even privately loathe). The truth is, you can create fine ads to sell Daewoo cars without ever driving one. You can happily sell a bank where you don't have an account. Please may I also confess that I've done successful campaigns for both baby shampoo and tampons, while, strangely, not being a user of either?
If the Journal's tales are accurate, then perhaps the different behaviors of Microsoft employees say more about the people than the products.
If there are those who harass iPhone users, that reflects those people's management styles. If there are those who are embarrassed about being seen with an iPhone, then perhaps it might just suggest they are worried about their careers and desperate not to inspire ire. Are those the kinds of employees that thrive at Microsoft?
While some, such as Microsoft software engineer Eugene Lim, reportedly use their spare time to give public talks about developing apps for the iPhone, others sneak around not wishing to be seen as traitorous.
There seems even disagreement amongst senior Microsoft figures about how this issue should be handled, though in 2009 the company reportedly performed a little tweak to its corporate cell phone policy. You only get your service fees reimbursed if your very smart phone uses Windows Phone software.
At heart, though, perhaps the message that resonates most personally and most deeply in the heads of both management and employees might be: "Why couldn't we have made that? Are we really not cool enough?"