An open letter to Steve Ballmer:

On December 6, 2004, in Rants, by

Mr. Ballmer: 


My name is Susan Bradley and I’m a Small Business Server MVP.


This is my open letter to you:


A while back in the blogosphere there was a blog post that [per reports], made a lot of impact on Microsoft.  It was a post on how Microsoft lost the API wars by breaking backwards compatibility and focusing on web applications.  The infamous Joel on Software post was discussed and even nominated as one of the top essays on software for the year.  There’s another trend out there in the tech world that disturbs me even greater than APIs and web applications.


In general, in my view there are three things that impact Microsoft: 




Product Support. 


I’m putting you, Mr. Ballmer on notice that I’m going to be very carefully monitoring one of those three.  I sincerely hope you are not making a grave short term mistake that will have huge long term consequences more than you realize.


Security is still a big public relations nightmare.  Even though I believe that any operating system can be made secure and you have employees of your firm practically living out of a suitcase trying to get CIOs, admins and techs to realize this, that’s a long term problem still being worked out.  But for the most part, all in all, I’ve seen the changes that the Security push has made and am quite pleased.  I think we’re on the right path.  Sure, we’re still fighting over features versus security, but we’ll be doing that until our dying day.


Licensing and simplicity in the Microsoft world is an oxymoron.  I can’t tell you how many times myself and my fellow Most Valuable Professionals have brought up to even as high as to you at the Microsoft MVP summit last April, that licensing “sucks” and the attitude we constantly get back is that they’ve tried to make it flexible.  It’s not flexible, it’s complicated and confusing and you practically need a team of Attorneys to figure it out.  When 32 SBS MVPs have long threaded email discussions over the interpretation of what a DEVICE CAL is all about, sir, you’ve got a problem.  Small Business Server platform in particular is “supposed” to be easy, simple, and I’m sure I’ve got a few grey hairs under this hair coloring I apply every now and then that I’m sure are directly caused by me trying to track down my correct information for Software Assurance.   To top it off when we’ve had to go up the ladder to clarify licensing and then go back to local Product Managers because THEY were giving incorrect information about licensing, sorry, but you have a problem. 


And now we come to the reason for this blog post in the first place. 


Support.  In my mind it’s the ONE absolutely positively one thing that Microsoft has over any other platform, over any other operating system out there.  Support.  You’ve supported me.  I could be guaranteed that if I called in and specified “SBS” that there would be a person on the other end of the phone call that was an SBS expert, might even have it installed at home, and might even have been around the product longer than I have been.  As has been discussed on other blogs, the beancounters at Microsoft apparently have been looking around to cut costs and one area that is now under the block to chop is support.  


I just heard that starting next year; front line support for the Small Business Server platform [the first call] will be to India.  Now before you think that this is about nationalism and loss of jobs or anything, it’s not.  I’ve heard that the folks that used to be SBS product support team members in Charlotte will just be moving around to other areas and Mothership Los Colinas will be our main escalation “home base”.  [The term of “Mothership” is an affectionate term that I use that refers to the places in the world where the technical support staff that live and breathe SBS work out of].


While we will still have “Mothership Los Colinas”, “Mothership Shanghai”, but we will no longer have “Mothership Charlotte”.  It’s not about a concern of where SBS will be supported; it’s a concern of the loss of history with the product, a loss of team members, a loss of connections to the community out here.  Now to give credit where credit is due, we’ve expressed our concern and those folks in Microsoft that understand how special the SBS community is, are ensuring that there are connections and ties be put back in place.  But it still concerns me that the first call will be to a person who might not have the depth of history with this product that I do.  I’ve lived and breathed an SBS box since SBS 4.0 in 1999.  I have a network at the office and one at home.  I have a Virtual PC version on my laptop.  I know when this system sneezes and catches a cold.  I know when Security Patches hurt us and when they don’t.  I know what works and what doesn’t work on this box.


Already we’ve seen erosion in the support surrounding the SBS platform.  We used to get 2 free calls on the SBS 2000 platform; now on SBS 2003 we have guaranteed newsgroup response.  Even then, some folks have indicated that they are not getting the guaranteed response that they thought they would.  Me, I’m just a volunteer in the newsgroups and it’s not my job, it’s just a hobby.  Granted an addictive hobby, as addictive as blogging, but I do it out of passion for the platform, for this community.


I’m always amazed of the attitude towards product support I see elsewhere [and sometimes with large firms with premier contracts], that the attitude is that support is not good and sometimes useless.  I’ve never felt that way about the support that the Small Business Server platform has received.  SBS product support rocks.  In fact the folks that first coined the phrase SBS Rocks was Product Support Services in Charlotte [at least that’s my understanding]


Funny thing, though, this is only a USA phenomenon.  In fact outsourcing of support has been going on overseas for some time and my fellow MVPs from the International arena were actually quite pleased to see that your firm is finally outsourcing US support because they hope that once we in the United States have as lousy support as they have had to suffer through that perhaps, finally, the overall quality of support will be universal… that is we will ALL have lousy support. Perhaps only then will a long term systemic plan of action to the problem of support at a level and quality that is appropriate throughout the world will be addressed.


I wouldn’t call myself a Microsoft partner but your support policies impact a lot of Microsoft Partners out here.  The ones that sell your products.  Your Small Business Server boxes.  Your real sales staff members.  I will say that I’m a wacko end user who only wants what’s best for SBS and the customers of SBS.  I always have since the first day I went searching for help and guidance and found the SBS communities and used the SBS support.


There’s a scene in the Goldie Hawn movie “Protocol” where she’s testifying in front of the Senate and she tells the Senators …the gist of it is…. that it’s her fault that the events of the movie happened… that there is no such thing as a free ride…that it was up to her to make sure that they, the Senators and others in the Government, were doing their jobs.  Her character in the movie said “I’ll be watching you.”


Well Mr. Ballmer, this is a blog post to put you on notice.  I’m a SBS community member.  I’m used to a level of support that I and my community have come accustomed to.  I’ve called in the past, paid the US$245 and more than gotten my money’s worth.  I’ve been pleased with the support I’ve received.  I think my community has been too.


Here and now, I’m putting you on notice that I’ll be watching out here and monitoring.  And making sure my SBS community gets a fair deal.  We deserve the support that we’re accustomed to now. We’re rolling out your new technologies faster than those big firms.  We deserve folks that care about our Community, about our platform.  We deserve long term support and not short term solutions.


I hope you understand, Mr. Ballmer that I think this cost cutting binge your firm is on lately is very short sighted.  I’m a shareholder and I’m concerned that the short term decisions that your beancounters are doing now will hurt the company in the long run. 


Partners can learn other operating systems and tend to choose the best solutions for their clients in the long run.  You take away support, or have it lowered to a level that makes it comparable to everything else out there, combined with the complexity of licensing, and small businesses don’t have quite the same resistance to rip out and totally change that large entrenched firms do.


Bottom line, Mr. Ballmer, if I see erosion in the level or quality of support that I see now, that my community is used to now, you’ll be hearing from me again. 


I’ll be watching you.


Update:  12/14/2004:  Director of SBS, Eugene Ho responds:


22 Responses to An open letter to Steve Ballmer:

  1. Amy Babinchak - Harbor Computer Services says:

    You go girl! Without good support SBS will no longer rock, period. Community can only get you so far. We need the support behind us to feel comfortable installing this complex product to our small business clients.

    SBS is mostly installed by small consulting firms like mine. A reduced level of support for SBS could have the effect of crushing my little VAR business. We need the backing of good technical support at Microsoft. I’m not so arogant to think that I know it all. Lame suport puts us in the same boat with the open source folks — I don’t want to go there.

  2. Axel Larson says:

    I fully agree with Ms Bradley. SBS is such a great product that even we who have absolutely no sales skills can sell it — as long as we can get the support to make it work as advertised. Lose that support and you lose a whole army of sales staff.

  3. I am a registered Partner and Small one man business. I bacame a MVP by helping support SBS in the Newsgroups and I agree completely with Ms Bradley. My ability to sell and support MS SBS is dependent on continued PSS support when critical business down situations arise that cannot be solved on a timely basis through the Newsgroups or by less qualified technicians who are not familiar with the complexities of the integration of SBS. It should be obvious I would not have been selected for MVP without considerable skill sets but there have been times when I have had to call PSS on critical issues. My customers have never failed to be impressed with the quality and Timeliness of MS support.

    Thank you for Listening

    Frank McCallister, COMPUMAC

  4. Anthony says:

    What are you expecting from this open letter? Do you expect Ballmer to respond? Are you getting over the fact that M$ is offshoring PSS to India? What is your pain?


  5. Susan says:

    I emailed this to Mr. Ballmer yes, and he has responded to me in the past. I’m just putting Mr. Ballmer on notice that I will be monitoring this. If I feel that the support that I am accustomed to in any way is reduced, I will be emailing him again. Right now I have contacts in Charlotte, in Texas, in Shanghai. I don’t in India.

    I know when things "hurt" the SBS community. When we, the community, lose the connection with support that we’ve been accustomed to now, we all lose.

    I’ll be monitoring that the level of communication that I rely on now for the SBS community will not be affected.

    I’ll be calling in once the transition takes place to monitor the quality of phone support.

    This is just a letter to let Mr. Ballmer know that I’ll be watching. I’m making sure there IS no pain to my community.

  6. Hilary Cotter says:

    I have called on SQL Server support been directed to India. Now I have nothing against India, or East Indians. However, have you ever called someone on a cell phone and strained to hear through the static? That is what it was like. Then the support engineers were in general terrible. One did not even have SQL Server installed on her desktop. The other had no idea what vbscript was. He knew all about .Net!

    Problems which normally could be solved in several hours, now take days as the engineer has to understand the problem, research it, and get back to me.

    This simply won’t work in a production environment.

  7. Quite frankly PSS was a lifesaver to me on SBS 2000. It was a major change from SBS 4.0 and 4.5. The quality of support wa outstanding. It was more than "just follow this procedure." I walked away with a much greater depth of knowledge.

    More than that, I became completely sold on the package. I am a small VAR. I deal with small businesses. I always quote SBS. Microsoft support is an important part of that.

    One of the distinguishing factors that we have over open source is having a vendor you can contact and suggest product improvements. A vendor where you can pick up the phone and say: "I have t get this running for my customer." This can happen in some pretty high pressure situations. There is nothing more frustrationg than getting a support person who isn’t familiar with the product or its real life applications.

    Through the years, Microsoft has done a great job of becoming approachable. This is especially true for those of us who deal with small business. Please, "don’t fix what ain’t broke."

  8. Our company, North County Technology Group (NCTG), is a Microsoft Certified Partner with the Networking Infrastucture Solutions competency. We focus on the small business market and specialize in the Small Business Server. My business partner and I have experience with this product back to the first release of this product – SBS 4.0 in 1999. Our former business name was InTouch Systems and we have been Certifed Partners since 1997.

    We contact MS PSS many times each year. As a Certifed Partner we receive 5 support calls for use at our discretion. This year we have initiated contact about 20 times. We concur with Susan’s history of support and would like to add that Business Critical Support (formerly Server Down Support) has been most important to the timely resolution of qualifying issues. In past years, getting someone who knows about or understands the unique characteristics of SBS was virtually impossible. Now (finally) we can almost always get a support professional who really knows this unique product (a collection of servers on one box) and resolve the issue whether it is a one hour call or one that spans a few days.

    Watching the support erosion over the last two years at an organization like Dell Computer has been painful (to my clients and me). The only area that is still worthwhile is server support and Dell now contracts with Central America for some of that support (which has been acceptable as far as I’ve seen and much better than that contracted with India in the past). The real problem is that some of our clients are hearing that Dell is not as good as it once was and are requesting an alternative. Hence we now work with Hewlett Packard. Reputation is important to all of us.

    We utilize some outsourced contacting services too. Our company subcontracts some development projects with two different India based companies. My business partner has been doing subcontract work with them for about ten years now. Not all projects go that route but it works for some and allows us to provide the technical expertise required and the turnaround time desired. We provide all the ‘human contact’ element to our clients which is what makes the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful undertaking.

    We know that there is always pressure to streamline and improve business performance and that the decisions can be difficult to make. We also know that NOT listening and NOT considering all implications in advance can be permanently damaging to a reputation that has taken many years to build. Our business depends on so much that Microsoft does and there are many out there waiting in the wings to jump on the ‘alternative OS bankwagon’. Let’s not give them more fuel for that fire.


    Karen Christian

    North County Technology Group

    Microsoft Certified Partner

  9. Mark-Allen says:


    Did you really email Steve, or just posted it here?



  10. Susan says:

    I really emailed both Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates. I’ve already received communication that because of travel he’s not going to get back to me right away but plans to.

    I’ve emailed Steve before and he has emailed me back.

  11. Jason says:

    dont understand why people have such a problem with MS licenseing (especially for SBS). MS generally have nice whitepaper to cover all your answers (that said I never trust product managers for any advice).

  12. Susan says:

    Come out to the newsgroups… we do.

    And if your statement is true how come my vendor screwed up my SA order, and people in AU were told that SA on an OEM box would not be able to be moved, we get people confused over device versus user cals, and our SBS boxes can’t accurately count what licenses we have.

    Then we still need a SharePoint that allows a private logon but does not "suck" a domain cal.

    The PUR document gives me a headache.

  13. Mohammed.Athif Khaleel says:

    Hi Susan,

    I really appreciate your efforts towards the SBS Community. Tho I am not part of that & I am much more in to SUS/WUS Groups, but I really feel you are doing a lot.

    Kudos to Susan.

    Have a nice day,


    Mohammed.Athif Khaleel.

  14. Cindy says:


    I hope your letter has success and that support for SBS will not lessen. Our clients, for the most part, have only one server that they rely on to keep thier businesses alive. They do not have failover servers. When they are "down" they are bleeding – quick and efficient support must be an absolute, not a wish list item.

    There is nothing worse than speaking from a cell phone to a person in India (who has a heavy accent )- every other sentence is "I’m sorry, would you repeat that, I didn’t understand what you said." You must speak in "MS" not just English. You cannot use any colloquialisms – they are not understood, and confuse issues. On some support calls to India it feels like they are going through a script and cannot jump over the non-relevent parts. I think this is because they do not know the products they are supporting and cannot visualize problems and/or make connections between cause and effects..

    Susan – you ROCk and all your efforts for the SBS community are noticed and appreciated.

    Cynthia Slade

    Chicago SBS UG

  15. Scott Lyon says:

    I completely agree with you here Susan, The India thing will level out eventually – there are teething problems in everything (Although lets hope the next time I’ve got to enter the licensing codes over the phone it is not through a heavy accent – Just a jibe at licensing again).

    My voice will not do very much, but your voice and obvious knowledge does carry weight. You have my full support. SBS may be more intuitive than other systems, but unless you have a team of folk (regional variations absolutley required) that can provide hands-on knowledge the OS and friendly free information movement will win out.

    I’m from the UK and our military only use opensoure now. And from past trends, industry usually follows suit soon after the military. MS provides uniformed hierarchies and protocols that go beyond language and culture. But if the strength of unity comes under threat flaws become exploited.

    Lets hope 2005 with it’s XML driven filling system will keep the network communicating!

    Take care

    -Scott Lyon

  16. Fred Andreone says:

    Hi Susan:

    You are the best Marketing person SBS has and Microsoft should listen.

    Customer satisfaction is the key to any succesful business and support is most crucial in achieving that satisfaction.

    If SBS is a profitable product and MS continues to see sales growth in the product line then they may act on your suggestion. Customers will probably end up having to pay more for local support if they make it available.

    Keep up the gret work.

    Kind regards


  17. robert forys says:

    What Ms. Susan Bradley writes to Sballmer is right on the money!

    There is ALOT more that could be said: but for now, her concerns depict reality.

    I for one have experienced the VERY instances that she refers to; and want to echo her statement of "We deserve long term support and not short term solutions."

    Like her I want substantiative action from microsoft!

  18. Anonymous says:

    First off…great article. I wish there was a Susan in the Exchange user community to advocate for them to Steve and Bill.

    I am a MS FTE (blue badge) in PSS and it was just painful to see a lot of my friends in the SBS group in Charlotte being given 60 days to find another job within the company or lose their job. There is a certain camaraderie that you build with people working around you – the attitude that if we have a really difficult issue then we will all work through it and fix it – I can’t imagine having the same with somebody in India or China.

    Being a management major I follow a lot of the "inside", "cloak-n-dagger" stuff in Microsoft’s corporate management and the people who are responsible for these short sighted practices which will haunt MSFT in the future are people like Rick Devenuti (rickde at microsoft dot com), Lori Moore (lorim at microsoft dot com) and Marlena Werder (marlenaw at microsoft dot com). I bet these corporate big-wigs will be lining their pockets with fat paychecks and move on before the repercussions are felt – leaving us the employees, the company and most importantly you the customer in the lurch.

    Clearly this isn’t that dynamic, ravenous and innovative MSFT of the 80s and 90s…this is the lazy, deceitful and greedy MSFT of today.

  19. Susan says:

    …well…. all I can say is that we SBSers have indeed built up a relationship with Mothership Shanghai as I call them. The guys and gals over there do have a bond with us and really want more of a bond with the MVP community.

    I for one still see a lot of hard working people who care.

    But don’t worry, I’m still keeping an eye on things.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I just found this post and read it out of curiosity. Being another MS FTE (Blue Badge) I can definitely tell you its really bad in PSS now. I am not in SBS but Directory Services. I get calls daily from India engineers who really have no clue, and unfortunately just want to punt the call if its something that is not in their "script" or knowledge base. Yes we take the escalations for now and fix the problem then let the customer talk to our managers who can’t do a darn thing about India.

    Our call volume is through the roof now and even backed up with Premier customers due to the drastically reduced # of FTE’s. Microsoft has been very smart about letting go some employees by firing a few at a time for "performance reasons" so as not to attract bad press. Of the FTE’s on my team that are left, more than half are looking for a new job. Even both my Technical Leads are looking employment and they have 15+ yrs with MS combined. I have several years myself.

    Until MS starts losing money and market share this isn’t going to change.

    Know anyone that needs a really good Active Directory engineer?