eople leave Microsoft all the time, and many of them pass along their departing thoughts in e-mail messages to their colleagues. But the missive sent by David Stutz, a respected technical thinker within the company for more than 10 years, is more intriguing than most.
In his last job, Mr. Stutz, 46, was a group program manager for Microsoft's "shared source" initiative a crucial effort at the company to deal with the threat from the open-source software movement partly by sharing more Microsoft code with universities and industry partners. And after leaving the company on Feb. 7, Mr. Stutz last week posted what he termed a "sanitized version" of his retirement e-mail message on his personal Web site (http://www.synthesist.net/).
His e-mail includes some colorfully irreverent language. "Recovering from current external perceptions of Microsoft as a paranoid, untrustworthy, greedy, petty, and politically inept organization will take years," he writes.
But Mr. Stutz's e-mail message is mainly a warning from a Microsoft loyalist. In an e-mail interview last Friday, Mr. Stutz said his departure from the company was "amicable" and that "Microsoft is a wonderful place for those who want to jump in and express an opinion that is backed up by careful thinking."
His retirement e-mail message is a critique of Microsoft's strategy for competing in a computing world where complex networks are more important than single devices, like the PC. The Internet, the Web and open-source software projects in which communities of programmers contribute improvements, which are distributed free, are all part of the steady advance of networked computing.
In the network world, Mr. Stutz contends, the best future for Microsoft is to focus on building the layer of software that integrates network technology together to do useful things. But that layer, he suggests, is not an operating system like Microsoft's Windows, which is tied to PC technology. "To continue to lead the pack, Microsoft must innovate quickly," Mr. Stutz writes. "If the PC is all that the future holds, then growth prospects are bleak."
Inside Microsoft, there has been a debate for years over how Windows-centric the company's strategy should be. The rise of the Internet in the mid-1990's started it. But Mr. Stutz writes that the "Internet wave" was a "phenomenon that Microsoft co-opted without ever really internalizing into product wisdom."
Open source software projects like the Linux operating system, Mr. Stutz warns, are the new face of the same challenge. "Open source software is as large and powerful a wave as the Internet was, and is rapidly accreting into a legitimate alternative to Windows," Mr. Stutz writes, before his admonition to colleagues.
"Useful software written above the level of the single device will command high margins for a long time to come. Stop looking over your shoulder and invent something!"