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Barbarians Led by Bill Gates: Microsoft From The Inside: How The World's Richest Corporation Wields Its Power Paperback – June 30, 1999

3.0 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

How has Microsoft been able to crush its competition every step of the way? The company's own version of history ascribes it to something like "really great technical innovation." Barbarians Led by Bill Gates presents a harsher and messier history, sharply questioning Microsoft's ethics and corporate wisdom while underscoring its fierce will to compete.

The authors present a history of Microsoft from the early '80s to the present, covering the big projects, both successes and failures, that defined the company's direction. It's a difficult story to tell, filled with complex technology and a large cast of characters who are rarely in the public eye.

Perhaps the most surprising thing to emerge is how many Microsoft ventures were mismanaged and how many opportunities were missed. The best-known of these is Microsoft's near-catastrophic failure to see the arrival and success of the Internet. The book also details the unplanned success of Windows 3.0, the demise of Pen Windows (which annihilated GO Corp. and its promising Penpoint operating system but little else), and the compromised design and slow success of Windows 95. A final chapter tackles the Netscape-Microsoft Web-browser war and Microsoft's head-on collision with the Justice Department.

Both authors are, in different ways, Microsoft insiders. Jennifer Edstrom is the daughter of Pam Edstrom, Gates's long-time PR chief and spin doctor. Marlin Eller is a 13-year veteran Microsoft developer who has worked on DOS, early versions of Windows, and pen computing. Both stand open to the charge of having an ax to grind, and the reader senses a lot of personal animosity at work. Yet anyone who has followed Microsoft for any length of time will recognize most of the war stories from other sources, and most of the new information presented has the ring, at least, of probability. Indeed, the value of this book is not so much in presenting new information as in marshaling it to paint a portrait of a company that has largely escaped this sort of scrutiny. --Thomas Mace --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Edstrom and Eller dish up the dirt. . . . " (The New York Times Book Review)

"Like the people who populate the book, [Barbarians Led by Bill Gates] is moving, smart, and occasionally profane." (USA Today)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805057552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805057553
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,536,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book will have an impact on the case against Microsoft, since Eller was in charge of an effort to squeeze a start-up Pen Computing firm. In this particular case the book describes very openly the Microsoft practice to fabricate fake product demos in order to create the impression that they would be able to come up with comparable competitive products any time soon. This vaporware approach together with the ruthless marketing methods described in this book gives an interesting insight into how this industry works.
It is notable that the reviewer here either tend to hate or love this book. It makes me wonder how many MS employees reviewed this book ;-)
In combination with the sarcastic anecdotes I consider it a highly entertaining book.
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Format: Paperback
It's always good to have an "insider's view" book. At the same time, when this guy is an ex-employee, you should always ask yourself: why did he leave, and what does he have to gain from writing a book like this?
The authors are evidently very anti-Microsoft, yet at the same time their stories come across not so much as how stupid Microsoft is, but how mismanaged and lucky Gates & Company have been, which is closer to the truth than many people think. Some other books describe Gates and his employees as evil, but this book would characterize them as rather incompetent. It offers a detailed look into how Microsoft committed so many business goofs and yet every time it would come out the winner. After reading it you may even feel sorry for Bill Gates for having to fight so many enemies on so many fronts, some internal.
A book worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A bit of a disclaimer--I worked at Microsoft from 1986 through 1992, with some of the same people Mr. Eller worked with (though in different groups). This is an interesting view of what it was like to work at Microsoft and how the company operates. Even if you worked there, there are stories and situations that didn't make it to the company grapevine. Still, Mr. Eller's interactions with some Microsoft executives doesn't jibe with my experiences. I don't have the same memories of Ballmer, Myhrvold, and Slyngstad as he does. It WAS incredibly competitive, it WAS high-pressure, but it was also the most rewarding and fun place I've ever worked at. It is interesting to read about the behind the scenes decisions and personalities. The book falters a bit when it describes Microsoft after 1995, and the third-person narrative is clunky. Still, if you can acknowledge and accept the biases of the authors, it does tell an interesting story. Unfortunately, the real story of what it was like to work on campus at Microsoft isn't written yet.
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Format: Hardcover
Having read the book more than 15 years after first publication, there is still a timeless aspect to the account from Eller and Edstrom on the inner life of Microsoft, which hasn't been properly highlighted so far: can success be planned?
From the stories on the making of various computer operating systems, one does get the impression that each big leap forward was made despite of, not because of company strategy. The book introduces hidden talents in the organization, neither part of big planning nor covered by company radar, who put all their creativity into preparing the next big thing during off-hours and weekends. This observation seems to match with a similar insider account on competing company Apple, published by Steve Wozniak in his autobiography "iWoz" in 2006.
One of the reasons why things are described chaotic is that Microsoft was in a transition phase during 1983 to 1995, the period mainly covered by the book. Like all companies growing mature, it started with entrepreneurial spirit, with a few trusted enthusiasts on adrenalin - just to get stuck in a big corporate structure later on. What Eller and Edstrom describe throughout many chapters: the shift from technology focus and getting-things-done approaches to inward-looking politics and marketing attitudes. Triggered by the growth of Microsoft, the change towards corporate structure and mentality did result in various reporting functions, assuming responsibility over software developments previously covered by a few programers only. These changes do attract a new kind of people, and in some cases do reject the old kind. With respect to planning of future successes, just setting up structures and business processes to capture customer and market needs is not sufficient. The right mix of people is the key. Breakthroughs do depend on talents and maniacs. Corporate structures do need to attract and keep them, even if they might be difficult to manage.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is easily read in one or two sittings. Highly readable, not dry or boring at all, even though the authors do have an axe to grind. Anyone who has an interest in the history of the computer industry will find it very entertaining. If you liked "Fire in the Valley," as I did, this is a supplement to that book with a focus on Gates and Microsoft. At the price of $4.99 (as of 7-05-2001) you can't beat it for some light summer reading!
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By A Customer on August 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
Despite what many people have said about this book, I found it very intriguing to have learned many problems that Microsoft faced before becoming the name it is today. Who knew that they had many internal problems with programmers from IBM. No one really. This book spills the beans on how Microsoft and luck made them the giant company they are today. This book will inform the reader on many unknowns about Microsoft that I'm positive no one ever knew.
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