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I Sing the Body Electronic: A Year with Microsoft on the Multimedia Frontier Paperback – July 1, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (July 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140176551
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140176551
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,383,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An outsider is allowed into the labyrinth to watch a Microsoft multimedia project from conception to partial completion. If you are interested in understanding Microsoft's strengths--and weaknesses--breaking into new markets, this is a must-read book. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Freelance writer Moody spent the year from December 1992 through December 1993 with six members of a Microsoft unit that was developing a children's multimedia reference product named Sendak. As he was given virtually unlimited access to the group, Moody is able to present a week-by-week account of the trials and tribulations of each team member as they try to make Sendak a viable product. In describing the inner workings of Microsoft, Moody reveals a company not immune to the corporate politics and personality conflicts that afflict huge companies, but one that nevertheless is willing to push the boundaries of technology, driven by chairman Bill Gates's obsession with staying ahead of the competition. Indeed, Moody's accounts of meetings with Gates are compelling. A fast-paced read that does not get bogged down in technical jargon, the book suffers from one flaw: Sendak was far from finished when Moody's year with Microsoft was up, so he describes its completion and launch?the product was shipped in November 1994 under the name Explorapedia?in relatively few pages. 50,000 first printing.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Fred Moody was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, save for four years spent in California, at Catholic seminaries, during the 1960s, and six years spent working with suppressed Russian writers in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the 1970s. He has written extensively about the life and mind of the Northwesterner, about software and other technology startups, and about the troubled psychology of Catholicism. His newest book, "Unspeakable Joy," studies the root causes of the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 19, 1997
Format: Paperback
So many of the books about software development I have read are about an organized, heroic march from conception to delivery. This book is a much more realistic depiction of the chaos and mess that most people actually live with in real world software development. Moody did a good job of just telling the story and not judging the messiness or trying to clean it up to create the typical late night, pizza boxes and Jolt Cola heroic story. He does a good job of discussing the complex human issues surrounding the project and their importance relative to the actually technical issues. Creating the technology turns out to be relatively simple compared to the challenge of getting a group of people from very diverse backgrounds to function effectively as a team. This challenge is particularly strong in consumer technology products because the range of backgrounds required is so broad. The communications and collaboration skills needed to allow artist and programmers to work together are insightfully revealed in this book
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gary Keene on January 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
As mentioned in the introduction, you could read this as a story of success or a record of failure, depending on your focus. The Sendak/Explorapedia was released a year late, overbudget, and did not meet the original design objective of a complete multimedia children's encyclopedia on one CD-Rom. On the other hand, it actually did meet the original estimated release date, and it went on to become a best seller and a benchmark in it's category.

Actually, I think Fred Moody missed seeing the real benefit to Microsoft of the Explorapedia project. While Moody focussed on chronicling the damage created by the personality conflicts and differences in communication styles, he missed seeing the positive consequences of tackling a project like this which pushes the envelope of existing technology.

For instance, here is my take on two of the "problems" described by Moody:

1: In the beginning, there was no software developer assigned fulltime to the project.

Positive result: The designers, who were mostly Mac people, designed the encyclopedia to use Mac-like features, such as sprites with transparent backgrounds. This was not available on the PC at that time, but the positive end result is that when the PC designers finally started work on the encyclopedia, they were forced to come up with solutions that emulated Mac-like graphics features on the PC, solutions which inevitably expanded the capabilities of the PC and brought it closer to the Mac graphics benchmark.

2: Software tools such as Merismus and SPAM were not fully available when the project started.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dexter Aparicio on April 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
THe best book! Makes you feel comfortable if you are new working in a software development job. And how software development basically involves dealing with different kinds of people. ANd all the extremes in personality of the programmer. It also describes the rare and challenging lifestyle that the programmer pursues and chooses...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By "hking8" on December 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
The real value in this book is the great work that Fred did to get inside the development team, and then observe. I've worked at R&D in Microsoft for long enough to know that he probably is telling it largely as it happened. I didn't work on this project but I got pretty damned close.
Yep, it sometimes is that chaotic. It's interesting to see in the book how Fred doubts himself, and says things like "maybe I'm going crazy, but it seems like these people just had another useful offsite, but they all think it went great." Fred, you ain't crazy.
The only drawback of this book is that in places Fred tries to read into situations a bit too much. He steps a little too far out of the observer role a few times, which brings the quality down a bit. Also I think he missed a great opportunity to describe the turn-around (well at least they shipped something) at the end. Maybe he got kicked out around then?
The book has lots of direct quotes and first hand accounts of what went on. Want to see the dark side of things going wrong at Microsoft?? Read this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Roger Bohn on March 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
In the past I always assigned "Soul of a New Machine" to show my students what it's really like to work in a small project team with unrealistic deadlines (i.e. normal high tech). But the technology there is too out of date - 4.77Mhz, single boards for single functions, etc. So I have shifted to "I Sing," with generally good results. The book is 2x the length I would like so I assign selected chapters, but it reads easily enough that most students read the whole thing. They are always amazed by the level of chaos and conflict; in fact it makes them feel better about their own team design projects. The sequence of events is not easy to follow, there are too many characters, etc. so I provide some supplemental information on my web page. This is the best book I know of for a class on high tech development culture. There are plenty of case studies of the auto industry, but most of them are puff pieces and they are all about giant projects. Ditto for books about Boeing. The e-commerce stories are polluted by money and novelty issues (though I keep hoping to find one.)
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