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The Curious Case of Martin Taylor

Who killed Martin Taylor? Well, nobody did. As far as we know, he's still alive. But his career as a Microsoft big shot is dead, and nobody is quite sure why. In a bizarre story that sounds like a plot twist out of a spy novel or a gangster movie, Taylor, who was in the public eye for Microsoft just two days ago, suddenly doesn't work for the company anymore.

Taylor, in case you were wondering, is -- sorry, was -- a Microsoft VP and head of marketing for Windows Live and MSN. That's right. He was the guy tapped in March to fight the marketing fight in Microsoft's battle of a lifetime, the struggle against Google (and others) for Internet supremacy on many levels, from search to software as a service (the latter of which we wrote about in RCP in our March issue). That made him a very important guy, largely because search, in particular, is one of the few battles that Microsoft is losing (even right at home in Redmond) and badly wants to win. In fact, Steve Ballmer is staking much of the future of the company on the Windows Live-MSN effort (as we told you right here in "RCP Update" a month ago). Add to that the fact that Taylor, a 13-year Microsoft veteran, was once one of Steve Ballmer's right-hand guys, and this disappearance becomes even more strange and disquieting.

Taylor's was obviously a sudden departure and seems to have been completely unplanned. Just a couple of days ago, he was featured in a Q&A on Microsoft's Web site about Windows Live and the launch of Windows Live Messenger, the company's new instant-messaging client. He was, in fact, supposed to be an integral part of the company's big press push around the Windows Live concept, or brand, or offering...or whatever it's supposed to be.

We'll see now whether Microsoft believes the old saw that there's no such thing as bad publicity, because Taylor's departure will probably make bigger news than this week's Windows Live Messenger launch ever would have.

And speaking of news, Microsoft's handling of this little episode with the press has been the source of high comedy. The Redmondians apparently handled Taylor's unexpected departure with all the tact and aplomb of Saddam Hussein's old information minister. Check out this yarn from Forbes (which should be lauded for working the word "habitué" into a story about Microsoft): "Yesterday when reporters were seeking to interview Ballmer's head of Windows Live Marketing on the unit's new Instant Messenger offering, they were told that Martin Taylor had been held up in a Dallas airport and would be stuck there until Monday. The following day, after Taylor's e-mail address began bouncing back any electronic missives, the software giant finally gave notice: 'We've made the difficult decision to part ways with Martin Taylor,' it said in a statement."

Held up in a Dallas airport! There is absolutely no question that next time an employee here gets fired (which hopefully won't ever happen), we'll be speculating here in the office as to whether he or she "got held up in a Dallas airport." Thanks for the catchphrase, Microsoft!

And while it's pure speculation to say so (because, again, we don't know what happened), it does at least sound as though Taylor got fired. That "difficult decision to part ways with Martin Taylor" statement doesn't really sound like the classic "pursue other opportunities" or "spend more time with his family" line we usually get when some high-profile person bails on a job. Really, though, it doesn't matter all that much why Taylor is gone. What matters is that in a time of instability for Microsoft -- with Bill Gates' announcement and Ray Ozzie's ascendancy still fresh on observers' minds -- the company has lost not just a veteran and Ballmer confidant but also a key player in perhaps its most important (and, in a relative sense, maybe its least successful) operation. And that's bad news for everybody in and around Microsoft.

Are you concerned by the current instability in Redmond? What do you think happened to Martin Taylor's job? (And be creative if you want!) Let me know at lpender@rcpmag.com.

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I Want One Like Twiki From Buck Rogers
"In the future we all die; machines will last forever. Metal things just turn to rust when you're a robot" -- from the song "Robot" by the Futureheads. Worth a download, that one. Anyway, because Redmond hasn't already done enough to stray from the Windows-Office axis (Xbox, anyone?), welcome to the Microsoft Robotics Studio era.

Thus far, not everybody is overly impressed…

What do you want from your Microsoft robot? lpender@rcpmag.com

Ellison Leaves Harvard Hanging
Oracle's head honcho just had to find a way to get into the news after last week's Gates bombshell, didn't he? Apparently Larry Ellison hasn't ponied up the money that he promised Harvard for the Ellison Institute for World Health a while back.

Larry, listen. Don't blow your money on Harvard. Gates has world health covered, anyway. You don't want to play second fiddle to him again, do you? There's a little private school in Texas that could use a new football training facility and some stadium upgrades. E-mail me -- we'll talk....

Helping Redmond Help Itself
I've asked in recent editions of the newsletter what you thought about the Microsoft Forefront brand name and whether you had any helpful suggestions for Redmond for the name of its coming iPod rival.

Brian chimed in on Forefront: "Honestly it's probably the worst name I've heard in years. Hopefully it is just a temporary name. Who thinks up these names?"

People who get paid a lot more than I do, Brian, that's who. And I'm afraid it's permanent.

For MD, the Forefront name brings up bad memories: "The name has negative connotations to me. Back in the early 1980s, I purchased a less-than-useless spreadsheet from a company call ForeFront Technologies."

That one goes back into the archives a bit, MD. I wonder how many people at Redmond even remember that app.

As for the "iPod killer," Matthew writes to say that it already has a name:
"The name for the rival is simple: The Pocket PC. It plays all your movie/music files, and it has Office and other apps, too. Play solitaire while listening to your MP3s and waiting for that e-mail. Why re-invent the wheel? They already have an iPod killer; they only need someone in marketing to wake up."

And from Rick, the e-mail of the week: "I'm not sure on the name, but I hope the outside cover is made of rubber. Like a super ball. Then tie the bounce affect into the reboot that Microsoft software needs."

Got any more thoughts? Drop me a line: lpender@rcpmag.com

Posted by Lee Pender on June 21, 2006 at 11:53 AM