Two weeks ago, I attended the Microsoft annual company meeting. I wasn’t planning to attend, but curiosity got the best of me after reading the questions and answers about the event. One of the questions asked, “Will there be loud music?”

“At a company meeting,” I mused.

The answer was “yes.”

The event was held at the home of the Mariners, Safeco Field, a dramatic 47,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof and plenty of room for over 17,000 employees, which were transported there by dozens of commercial buses along with thousands of their own cars and Vanpools. I opted for a comfy seat on a bus.

Unfortunately, the plethora of cars and buses converging on Safeco Field resulted in a horrific traffic jam and my office mate and I arrived an hour late… just in time to loud cheers and clapping as Bill Gates walked onto the stage.

After grabbing a box lunch, we rushed to our seats with the Microsoft Learning group. On the field was a huge stage with two JumboTrons and banks of lights and speakers. In front of the stage were rows of chairs. Our seats were on the first level. Above us were two more levels, packed with employees.

For the most part, everyone was grouped by division with some groups equipped with colored clappers, flashing buttons, matching coats, hats and scarves, Hawaiian shirts, and other distinguishing gizmos. Whenever their group was mentioned, they’d scream. The loudest group was Microsoft Live who were gung-ho about announcing the beta version of a new search engine.

Word-on- the-street was that it was the final year for Bill Gates to speak at company meetings. He spoke for at least half an hour… I was too overwhelmed by the event to remember a word of what he said. Although, I do recall, early in his speech, there was a few second episode of feedback that contributed to everyone’s hearing loss. Gates, not skipped a beat commented that the feedback was necessary to wake up someone that was spotted sleeping.

“Don’t fall asleep,” he quietly warned.

Also on the stage, several times, was Steve Balmer, who was fairly calm until the very end of the meeting, which started at 11 a.m. and lasted until after 5 p.m. The opposite of Gates, Balmer bounces off the walls. He runs up-and-down the rows of employees shaking their hands. He screams at the top of his lungs and says whatever is on his mind. He’s the fire that ignites employees. The perpetual cheerleader. The nuclear reactor that powers the innovation, the marketing prowess, and the engineering excellence of Microsoft.

Astonishing was the software, products and services being developed by Microsoft from games to mobile devices, software servers that power the world’s websites, factories, financial systems, web-based services, and everything in-between.

What stuck in my mind was an application that enables users to perform various tasks by tapping or moving around icons that appear on a tabletop. For instance, Bill Gates placed his credit card on a virtual box that appeared on the table. In the opposite corner, he placed a Zune. In the center of the table was a selection of virtual CDs. Bill was able to “open” the CDs, select a song then drag it into the Zune. The cost of the song was automatically subtracted from his credit card. And the next time he turned on his Zune, the song would automatically be in the playlist.

This tabletop concept was applicable was a variety of industries, including restaurants. Patrons could peruse the virtual menu that appears on the table. In a hotel, customers could use the menu on the table in their room to order room service, select movies to play on their TV and review the various services offered by the hotel, like dry cleaning, location of the work-out room, and so much more. Cool!

None of my blog entries would be complete without mentioning food. Microsoft had available 17,000+ box lunches for employees to grab and eat during the event. Mine contained a scrumptious turkey sandwich with a little container of spicy orzo salad, bag of cut-up apples, kettle chips, macadam nut cookie, and bottle of vitamin water. There were also roast beef, vegetarian, halal and kosher box lunches.

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