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The company behind the curtain

‘Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters’ offers a peek inside Microsoft. Books hed: The company behind the curtain dek: ‘Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters’ offers a peek inside Microsoft.

If you’re lucky, Microsoft’s never-ending political saga hasn’t left you feeling you’ve heard enough about the most talked-about tech company in the world. Because if you’ve taken any interest in the company and its legal foibles during the last decade–whether you love Microsoft with a passion or you can’t wait to see Linux take over the computing world–you won’t want to pass up the chance to read Adam Barr’s “Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters: What I Learned in Ten Years as a Microsoft Programmer” (iUniverse, $22.95, paperback). It’s an inside account of what it’s really like to work for the company so many people love to hate.

When Barr’s story begins in 1990, he’s just headed off to Redmond, Wash., for his first interview with the company. He gives a candid, detailed account of the company’s notorious interview process, both as a young Princeton graduate (Barr had to endure two interviews before being asked on board) and later as a developer interviewing talent from the nation’s top universities–at that time, the only schools to which the company sent recruiters.

After giving a brief glimpse at the high price Microsoft places on its talent (Barr argues that Microsoft’s employees aren’t merely of value to the company, they are its company), and the pressure that creates for prospective hires, Barr takes readers deep into the world of software programming–but without requiring a vast knowledge of the field. Barr does non-technical readers a great service by providing a brief but comprehensive history of computers and software development, but he does so in plain, human language that’s often mixed with personal anecdotes (for example, attending Comdex in 1984 at the age of 14, and writing his own computer games as a teenager).

What becomes apparent after reading Barr’s story is that in order to truly understand and intelligently discuss Microsoft’s business practices and its case with the Department of Justice, one needs to have at least a general understanding of how great software is made and how the software development community works. His perspective–as someone who’s spent the last decade “on the front lines of the PC OS war”–is what makes his account so invaluable. He discusses the differences between Microsoft’s corporate side and its software developers; his own stifled attempts to launch an internal open-source movement for Microsoft’s developers during the creation of Windows NT; and challenges the company faces that remain largely unknown to the media or the business world.

And while Barr defends against many of the commonly held perceptions about what many see as an evil empire (Microsoft doesn’t actually invent anything; its success is based on marketing, not technology; it’s an unethical, unfair company), he also criticizes the internal workings of Microsoft and gives his own informed predictions of what threats loom on the tech heavyweight’s horizon–something MS proponents and Linux backers alike will want to read.

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