How to write a press release

September 5, 2007

After reviewing the forthcoming release announcement for 4.0 beta 2 spearheaded by Jos (out shortly), I feel that we really missed out by not learning from the masters of misdirection. We were able to soak in and learn from the genius that is the OOXML press release, but not this morning’s announcement for Silverlight:

“Silverlight is the only solution in the market today that enables content creators to tap into the broad ecosystem for Windows Media technologies while taking the Web’s rich interactive application experience to new levels,” said senior Microsoft VP Bob Muglia.

Bob is a long-time sufferer of Oral Diarrhea, yet I’ve never found a translation option for him on Babelfish. If only Jacob Rideout was here to get Sonnet in shape for MS press release parsing. Wade: “What’s Windows Media?” Bob: “It’s a broad ecosystem of technologies.” Wade: “I’ve heard there are no more well-defined levels left for the Web’s rich interactive application experience. Can you confirm?” Bob: “That was true until today. Now we have Silverlight.” God I pray this was penned by an intern under his name.

My honest question: What’s a “level”? What’s the next level? How do we know it really isn’t a half a level we’ve gotten? Or if MS has really outdone themselves and we’ve gained two levels of rich interactive application experiences? Is the level for the richness, the interactivity or the overall application experience? Is there something like a tcp OSI layer model I never got the memo on? Maybe a level like with the Capability Maturity Model? How can we ever pass MS if we don’t know the next levels of rich interactive application experiences? This really put Oxygen, Plasma and Webkit peeps at a disadvantage!

And how does this relate to the broad ecosystem of technologies known as Windows Media? What could possibly symbolize a comprehensive environment of diverse symbiosis better than Windows Media? Is there any way the World Wildlife Fund could use Windows Media imagery? The wikipedia entry really does a disservice; it doesn’t make it sound broad or like an ecosystem at all.

My points in this Muglia-like incoherent rambling?

  • When you have very little to say in a press release, it shows. MS has been playing the “Me too” game by engaging in offering reactionary diversification to appease shareholders way too late and continues to do so from a stance of weakness (C#, Silverlight, XBox, online search, Zune, OOXML). Seriously, read that list again. They were so happy with VB and MSN that they could focus for years on flight simulators and mouse ergonomics. Their current initiatives almost exclusively focused on playing catch-up. They’re screwed; and their press releases are becoming more transparent and forgetful. They have nothing to say, they can’t mention their competitors’ dominance, and don’t provide investors/employees/enthusiasts/consumers with any reason to think they’re gaining ground (XBox360 aside). The only reason I care about Silverlight more than my cafeteria’s Mystery Meat Daily Special is that hopefully some small level of competition will prompt Adobe to get its shit together with Flash interoperability. Five years ago Adobe would have had a collective heart attack if MS entered this arena; I’m certainly not advocating underestimating the power of Mordor/Redmond, but it’s a different situation today.
  • Because KDE still has a more technically inclined community, we’re lucky enough to avoid such watered down press releases. Jos is able to write with specificity on KDE 4.0 beta 2. I know lately there have been debates on how KDE 4.0 has been presented or what been promised over the last two years, but we’ve been very consistently saying: “Don’t oversell. There’s no point to over-hyping in an open community with an open source code repository. You only damage promotional credibility because people can too easily verify your claims.” And I don’t think we have. We’ve always tried to keep KDE in the news throughout this long release cycle, but I don’t think anyone has been guilty of promising something sensationalistic. My goal has been to remove some of the stigma of marketing and promotions and if we’re off-track it’s your right and duty to let us know. Maybe in the future when we have a broader and less proficient user base (a consequence of world domination) we will have to water down our announcements like this MS press release. But not today.

2 Responses to “How to write a press release”

  1. Ants Aasma Says:

    You are completely correct about that press release. To paraphrase an Adam Sandler movie: “Mr. Muglia, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

    But I do take issue with the downplaying of some of the technologies mentioned. While ranging from not exactly open to completely closed, some of them are technically pretty good. Admittedly the timing consistent with reactionary diversification has given them the benefit of being able to learn from other peoples mistakes. C# for example is a really good and well designed language, in my humble opinion the 3.0 version is one of the best statically typed languages around. And Visual Basic 9.0 is one of the most interesting languages period, combining duck-typing and optional static typing, first class functions, lambdas, integrated query language and xml literals, generics and so on, on top of a really capable runtime. That runtime is also what makes Silverlight interesting. Having dabbled a bit with developing Flash, the Silverlight option makes it look like a joke. I really believe Microsoft still has the momentum to push Silverlight deployment to wide enough levels quickly enough so that developers will start to use it. I actually hope they will, because although it isn’t exactly an open standard, there is an open implementation coming, and it’s a lot more open than Flash is (and not a pain to develop in while at it). As far as I know there aren’t any viable open alternatives on the horizon.

  2. Gábor Lehel Says:

    That’s precisely the thing. We should be pretty glad for the current situation, because MS behaviour is highly predictable:

    – catching up? innovate like mad and come up with great tech
    – in the lead? slow down, consolidate position, and stifle competition

    Microsoft continually playing catchup but never getting ahead is the best you could hope for. Unless you own stock, anyways.

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