Short cuts 71

by Paul Stephens

Paul Stephens takes a sideways look at the world of IT.

HardCopy Issue: 71 | Published: May 10, 2017

Cut Slack some slack!

Spare a thought for Slack. One minute the Canadian communications vendor was world leader in enterprise (i.e. grown-up) chat systems, loved by late night comedy writers and Risk and Compliance officers alike. The next, Microsoft had its tanks parked firmly on Slack’s lawn with the launch of its own grown-up chat app, the notably Slack-esque Teams. It was no laughing matter.

Microsoft has a long track record of spotting a good idea once someone else has had it. In the early 1980s it spotted the Apple Mac’s GUI and came up with Windows, a move which so enraged Steve Jobs that he spent the next decade trying to sue for copyright infringement. It also spotted Lotus 1-2-3, the original spreadsheet with built-in business graphics, and came up with Excel, a spreadsheet with built-in business graphics. Then it spotted Netscape Navigator, the first graphical web browser, which came with its own scripting language, JavaScript. Not too long afterwards it launched Internet Explorer, a graphical web browser with a built-in scripting language called JScript.

None of this is illegal, of course, and Slack itself didn’t invent the chatroom. But in a world where Apple can sue Samsung for putting rounded corners on its phones, Microsoft does seem to have found standing on the shoulders of pioneers surprisingly trouble-free.

Slack’s response was to write an open letter to Microsoft, welcoming it to the chat vendor family while warning that it took more than just features to earn the loyalty of customers.

Slack letter to microsoft image

Slack counsels Microsoft on thoughtfulness and love.

Thoughtfulness and craftsmanship (and love) were equally important, it counselled, as was an open platform that allowed third-party vendors to pick up crumbs from the table – sorry, weave their technologies into critical business processes and workflows. Unfortunately Microsoft doesn’t have a great track record in the crumbs department, as Lotus and Netscape (though not, of course, Apple) will testify. Rooting, as ever, for the underdog, we wish Slack luck.

• Trivia item: Slacks’s original company name was ‘Tiny Speck’.


Decoding Diplomacy

Slack’s open letter to Microsoft may appear to be written in English, but in fact it’s coded in PostTruthScript, a new language for non-actionable allegation interchange developed at the Ballmer Institute for Corporate Diplomacy in Boise, Idaho. Here’s Short Cuts’ translation of some key sections:

“We’re genuinely excited to have some competition.”
We’re not Apple, so we can’t afford to sue you.

‘We realized a few years ago… that every business would be using Slack, or ‘something just like it,’ within the decade.
We knew this was coming, but were hoping to IPO first.

“First, and most importantly, it’s not the features that matter.”
The features really matter, and you’ve nicked ours, you *******s!

“The revolution that has led to millions of people flocking to Slack has been driven by something much deeper.”
… namely the pockets of our investors, but they’ll be getting a tad edgy now that your tanks are on our lawn.

“We’ve spent tens of thousands of hours talking to customers”
Yeah, we know that was dumb – but hey, we’re a startup!

“We’re glad you’re going to be helping us define this new product category.”
Two can play at the feature-nicking game, you *******s!

“We love our work”
Are there any jobs going at Redmond?

[that’s enough translations – Ed]


A bit harsh!

Short Cuts is a huge fan of JetBrains, the Prague-based tools developer that’s so agile it probably free-runs over the rooftops to work every morning. However sometimes even the most nimble of organisations can put a foot wrong.

JetBrains ban user option screenshot

Banned for taking parental leave – a bit harsh?

Looking at the screenshots for the 2017.1 release of its YouTrack issue-tracking app, we came across one that showed a user apparently being banned for taking parental leave. Call us wishy-washy liberals, but we think that’s a bit harsh, and a quick chat with Short Cuts’ HR Risk and Compliance officer confirmed that banning someone for taking parental leave would, indeed, be a one-way ticket to an employment tribunal, as would banning them for being sick, injured, pregnant or on their summer holidays.

We’re sure it’s all a misunderstanding, but would also like to assure JetBrains that the gig economy hasn’t completely taken over here yet, contrary to whatever rumours may be floating around in these febrile times. Perhaps “Suspend Access” would be a more diplomatic way to put it.