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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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March 16, 2009 5:28 PM

More labor unrest at Microsoft: Custodians want subcontractor to restore jobs

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 6 demonstrated at Microsoft's Redmond campus for a second day Monday. Their gripe is not with the software giant but with a subcontractor, SBM Site Services of Sacramento, Calif., which was awarded the custodial contract in December to clean buildings at the corporate campus.

Since then, SBM has reduced the number of workers on the contract to 300. Jessica Berg, a spokesperson, said the company has laid off only 10 workers. The SEIU agrees that there are about 300 workers on the contract now, but says that represents a reduction of 60 jobs from the previous subcontractor, ABM Janitorial Services. Fred Prockiw, an organizer with Local 6, said ABM employed about 360 people for the same workload. A representative of ABM could not immediately be reached.

The remaining employees say they're being asked to make up the slack.

"The workload's too much," said Dirk Koteles, 56, who picks up trash and sweeps Microsoft's parking garages for $12.50 an hour, plus medical benefits. "They won't give us overtime to do all this extra stuff. They expect us to get everything done in eight hours."

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February 12, 2009 3:55 PM

Microsoft opening retail stores

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

After years of rumors, Microsoft today confirmed that it's delving into retail. The company is hiring an executive "to create a better PC and Microsoft retail purchase experience for consumers worldwide through the development and opening of the company's own retail stores," according to this news release.

To lead the effort, Microsoft hired a retail executive with 25 years of experience at Wal-Mart. David Porter, most recently head of worldwide product distribution at DreamWorks Animation, will report to Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, who rose from checkout clerk to chief executive of Wal-Mart's Sam's Club division. Turner joined Microsoft in September 2005.

[Updates throughout, 5:04 p.m.]

Microsoft has taken tentative steps into retail in recent months. As part of its broad Windows marketing campaign, the company launched "Windows-branded sales environments and store-within-a-store concepts" at Circuit City and Best Buy. It created a team of "Microsoft Gurus," similar to Nordstrom's personal shoppers to help people shop. It also built a "Retail Experience Center" in a Redmond warehouse to study PC buying.

It will be up to Porter to determine the when, where and what of the retail stores. A spokeswoman said via e-mail the company will target "a small number of high profile experience stores in a few major cities around the world."

The purpose of the stores, according to Microsoft's release, "is to create deeper engagement with consumers and continue to learn firsthand about what they want and how they buy."

As far as products, expect the stores to carry Microsoft software and hardware -- including the company's Xbox 360 game consoles. Microsoft is still determining whether the stores will sell PCs and other products from the company's partners.

As bluejava2 pointed out in comments on this post, Microsoft had an earlier retail presence in San Francisco's Metreon mall.

The store was called microsoftSF, according to the spokeswoman. "The space was owned and operated by Sony Retail Entertainment," she added via e-mail. [Update, 5:42 p.m.: Check out this news release from June 1999 that describes the microsoftSF store in greater detail. It carried "everything from software to sweatshirts."]

Of course, people are immediately comparing Microsoft's retail efforts to Apple, which has had immense success with its retail stores. The Apple Stores, like the company as a whole, have a following that borders on the religious. The ifoAppleStore blog covers every detail of Apple's retail outlets, including how the company arranges the table displays.

And today's report on ifoAppleStores underscores just how tough a comparison it will be: "Apple plans to entirely reorganize and refocus space within the stores to emphasize customer education, and software over hardware. ... The front section of the store will promote, 'Why You'll Love a Mac,' catching visitors when they first enter the store. The section will have signage and brochures pointing out the advantages of a Mac over a Windows PC."

Some initial reaction to Microsoft's retail moves:

Mary Jo Foley: "I've been very vocal in complaining about the dwindling number of retail stores where users can evaluate Windows PCs from different vendors, side-by-side. ... I'm doubtful Microsoft is going to be able to pull off anything as sleek and hip as Apple has with its retail stores."

Sam Diaz: Gateway, "[t]he once-strong PC maker, which is now part of Acer, tried desperately to make a retail store work years ago. It added training classes, a service department and even made room on its shelves for other electronics devices that interacted with a PC - such as mp3 players and digital cameras. But nothing paid off. I don't know if Microsoft - which really has no brand cachet for physical products other than Xbox (and maybe Zune, too) - can pull off a retail model any better than Gateway."


More, 5:32 p.m.: Joe Wilcox reminds us that he has prodded Microsoft to open retail stores for two years running. "There will be fear of channel conflict. But c'mon. CompUSA is gone. Circuit City is going. Who can guess which Microsoft retail partner is next. Microsoft is right to open stores. It's retail partner ranks are shrinking."

Emil Protalinski notes that Fudzilla actually reported this rumor in April 2008. His take: "A store full of software and PCs running them isn't enough to keep me interested. A fun-filled lounge-like environment though, I could see working quite well in Microsoft's favor." He also dug up the image above from The Simpsons.

And while we're watching cartoons, check out this clip from a recent episode of The Simpsons sending up the Apple Stores:

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January 20, 2009 12:06 PM

Microsoft slows some real-estate expansion amid bleak economy

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft's rapid facilities expansion in the Puget Sound area is slowing as the company navigates the bleak economy.

A source provided details of a plan including changes to construction projects, which this person said was approved by Microsoft Chief Financial Office Chris Liddell in December. The person asked for anonymity while sharing internal details.

The plan calls for a three-year delay of all construction projects, with the exception of Building 111. This apparently refers to new construction, as Microsoft is planning to complete the major West Campus expansion it embarked on in 2006, with some buildings ready for occupancy as early as this spring.

Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos said the company was limited in what it could say because it is in a "quiet period" ahead of its second-quarter earnings report on Thursday.

"Like any well-managed business, we routinely check our assumptions and planning needs against our assessment of the economic environment," he said in a statement. "As part of this process, which we undertake quarterly, we look at many scenarios and options. ... In light of the economic situation, we will also delay some planned construction on the north part of our campus."

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October 1, 2008 7:30 AM

Update: Microsoft campus expansion on track as employment growth continues; campus sports bar confirmed

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Driven out Highway 520 lately? That big cluster of buildings running west of the freeway to 148th Avenue Northeast and along Northeast 40th Street, they weren't there a year ago.

That's Microsoft's huge west campus expansion, announced in early 2006, taking shape. The growth spurt, laid out in what the company thought would be a 15- to 20-year plan, is on schedule for completion next year.

The cluster of nature-themed buildings meant to house Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division have been built over a huge underground parking garage, five levels deep. Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos said the garage will be ready for cars in February. The first new building is on track for occupancy in March 2009, with the last one scheduled for July 2009.

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September 23, 2008 10:09 AM

Microsoft nearly doubles its Connector bus service

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A year after Microsoft launched a bus service to ferry employees from communities around the region to its Redmond campus, the company is expanding the Connector again.

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September 17, 2008 10:47 AM

'Office' star Rainn Wilson, not Seinfeld, to emcee Microsoft employee meeting tomorrow

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Justin Lubin / NBC

Rainn Wilson, star of "The Office," rumored to be hosting Microsoft company meeting.

A tipster tells me that Microsoft has enlisted local boy Rainn Wilson, star of the NBC sitcom "The Office," to host its annual company meeting Thursday. People initially thought the host would be Jerry Seinfeld, who has recently hitched his wagon to the high-profile Windows campaign. "We were told the host would be 'comedic,'" the tipster says, "so [Seinfeld] was the natural assumption, but Wilson, I think, will be a much more enjoyable emcee. ... [T]he Rainn carrot is enticing some of my co-workers to now go to the meeting."

I'm trying to get confirmation from Microsoft on the logistics of the company meeting, which is typically held at Safeco Field and can surprise some commuters with heavy traffic for a weekday morning in Sodo. Last year, the company also delivered some significant local news on the morning of the meeting, including a major investment in downtown Seattle real estate and a private shuttle network to save employees from driving alone to Redmond.

(Update, 11:40 a.m. and again at 12:13 p.m.: Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos confirmed that the meeting will be held at Safeco tomorrow morning from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., which is shorter than normal. Wilson is indeed the emcee. Other presenters include Microsoft execs Steve Ballmer, Ray Ozzie and Kevin Turner. No definitive word on whether Bill Gates will be on hand. Bill Gates will not be there.

So far, about 21,000 23,000 employees have registered, which is a few thousand more than in previous years. Gellos noted that the company deliberately scheduled the meeting in the middle of the day to avoid impacting the morning or evening commutes. It also has a fleet of 212 buses to bring employees to and from Redmond and minimize the traffic impact. Buses will leave the Eastside between 9:30 and 10 a.m. and return beginning at 3 p.m.

Microsoft is conducting a food drive at the event to support Northwest Harvest and the Food Lifeline, agencies that are straining under the pressure of higher fuel prices and the slowing economy, Gellos said.)

Meanwhile, we've done some interesting stories on Rainn Wilson over the years, so check out these tidbits about the guy who ran with a posse of "Dungeons and Dragons aficionados" in his days at Shorecrest High School.

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August 26, 2008 7:00 AM

More detail on Microsoft environmentally sustainable food service, Certified Green Restaurants

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


Composting at Microsoft.

In addition to the compostable utensils, expanded recycling and composting outlined in today's story, Microsoft is pushing ahead with more changes to its food-service practices in 2009.

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July 28, 2008 2:42 PM

Virtualization company VMWare leasing East Wenatchee data center from Sabey

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Wenatchee World this morning reported that VMWare is the latest company to bring a data center to the hydro-powered server farms sprouting east of the Cascades.

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May 1, 2008 11:13 AM

Microsoft's Bellevue footprint getting bigger still; excerpts from today's employee meeting

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The company is confirming today that it plans to lease the 26-story City Center Plaza, under construction at Northeast Sixth Street and 110th Avenue Northeast in downtown Bellevue. That would be on top of more than 1.3 million square feet of office space it nabbed last spring, and its swanky Lincoln Square digs.

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April 14, 2008 10:30 PM

More on Microsoft's new South Lake Union 'Touchdown Space' for employees

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Microsoft employees trying out the company's new "Touchdown Space" in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood on Monday were impressed with the design and seemed genuinely pleased at what it could mean for their work-life balance.

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