Interview with Mary Jo Foley



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Joe Welinske, President of WritersUA, interviewed journalist/blogger Mary Jo Foley about her work covering Microsoft and the IT industry. Mary Jo will be a keynote speaker at the 2009 Conference for Software User Assistance, March 31 in Seattle.


Mary Jo Foley

JW: Tell us a bit about what the transition has been like going from writing print columns for PC Magazine and PC Week to blogging for ZDNet.

MJF: I first got into blogging in 2001. There were two reasons I was interested in it. One was that I always thought it a myth that bloggers are biased and journalists are unbiased. I can tell you after 25 years of writing for a living that no journalists are unbiased. They might try to tell both sides of a story, but when I read an article I can tell you what the author's perspective is. I think it would be more fair to tell our readers what our biases are upfront. For example, if I state "I think Microsoft is guilty of using its monopoly power", then at least you know that when you are reading my stuff.

Secondly I noticed that more and more people were using online sites as the place where they got their information. In the technology sector people are more used to finding information online. So I was afraid to leave myself tethered to print. The emerging area of online information that excited me the most was blogging. Not only do you get to express your opinions but you get to interact more with your readers and speak to people who might otherwise be reticent to talk to you. I've built up a lot of good relationships with Microsoft partners and customers and even people who work at Microsoft because the feel more comfortable interacting in a "forum and comments" kind of way than if I called them up cold and asked for a comment. It's been a good way to get new sources and a wider variety of sources.

In my blog I'm often critical about Microsoft, but I believe I'm fair. There is an interesting relationship you have to have with a company as a person covering that company. It sets you up for a whole dynamic around getting information. How do you get access to people? What does it mean to get access? Are you rewarded for access? How do you know whether somebody is feeding you a company line as opposed to telling you something independently. It is an age-old problem, but it is becoming more visible in the blogging world. Because we have people who don't necessarily have a journalist background, but they can still write about a company and be read. It has become a lot harder for Microsoft and Apple to decide who should have access. And as a reader, who do you decide to believe in and read? You can argue that a writer's reputation is more important than ever because readers have so many sources for information

What are some of the most important developments that you see in the Microsoft world?

Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era

MJF: I lot of my work has been focused around Windows because it is such a ubiquitous platform and developers care about it and need to know about it. So I have up until recently skewed my coverage that way. But I was just talking to my editor the other day and said that what I really need to be writing a lot more about is Azure and the whole Microsoft cloud platform strategy. I feel like the existing developer base is still kind of lost with respect to this topic. The developers know it is something they need to be cognizant of but they don't really know much about the details. And when I write about it on my blog it doesn't get a lot of traffic. But if you said to me what is the most important thing I need to know about as a developer from here on out I would tell you: Azure.

When I talk to enterprise users they say "I don't care about the cloud; I'm not putting my data there." But what Microsoft is trying to do with Azure is to create a really high-level set of services for building mission critical enterprise apps. They know that if you are developing a new application, that you are trying to decide what will be developed for use on premises or for use through the cloud or a combination of both. It is more of an issue for new kinds of applications as opposed to taking your old apps and putting them up in the cloud.

At the same time we can't forget about Windows. I can't seem to write enough about Windows 7. The readers want more and more. Not just on features but the whole positioning of it. What will run, what won't run, is Windows going to be still be the same old Windows we have known as we go forward?" And that's an interesting question. Microsoft has a lot of interesting dynamics to juggle this year both on the cloud and the desktop.

The good news is that Windows 7 is essentially Vista Service pack 3. Windows 7 is not a huge departure from Vista. If you, as a developer, spent a lot of time learning Vista and coding for Vista with user account controls and driver models then you're set up great for Windows 7. If you kept developing just for XP, you're going to have more of a hard time when Windows 7 comes out because you're not going to really be ready. I think developers were appropriately cautious about Vista. However, now Windows 7 is looking more and more like it is going to be released Q3 or Q4 of this year. And no longer are we going to see these five-year waits between versions. I expect Microsoft to release a new version of Windows every two to three years.


Mary Jo will comment further on Microsoft during her session at the WritersUA Conference. Other topics will include:

  • The future of traditional desktop client-server applications
  • Mobile 6.5, pink and rouge services, skybox and skyline, and the impact of the iPhone
  • The ongoing saga of Microsoft and Yahoo
  • Microsoft Live and a subscription-based revenue model

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Joe Welinske: jjw *at* writersua.com
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