Cover image for Renegades of the empire : how three software warriors started a revolution behind the walls of fortress Microsoft
Renegades of the empire : how three software warriors started a revolution behind the walls of fortress Microsoft
Drummond, Michael, 1964-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown Publishers, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 297 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Added Corporate Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD9696.63.U62 D78 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A tantalizing behind-the-scenes look at how a revolutionary new technology is developed and marketed by Microsoft.Though the rules of the computer industry have changed since Tracy Kidder's 1981 book, The Soul of the New Machine, the manipulative culture and intrigue that prevails in large corporations has not. In Renegades of the Empire, Michael Drummond, writing with the same insider access and narrative drive as Kidder, shows how three of Bill Gates's front-line warriors engage in subterfuge, backstabbing and high-level political intrigue to build and sell Chrome, a ground-breaking browser technology. In an exclusive agreement with the author, the three high level employees will lift the curtain on many of Microsoft's controversial practices. Their stories of ambition, lust for power and conquest reveal the Darwinian struggles that go on behind the walls of fortress Microsoft.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The author, a business writer for the San Diego Union, follows the escapades of three men who, as Microsoft employees, secretly created "groundbreaking" software. Software designers Eric Engstrom, Craig Eisler, and Alex St. John, known locally as the "Beastie Boys," put their heads together within the walls of Microsoft and, without permission and supervision, created a software system called DirectX, which allowed Windows to run computer games. They made a fortune for Microsoft, but when the personal rewards within the company were not substantial enough to suit them, they turned their scheming to what Microsoft was now turning its attention to, the Internet. They came up with Chrome, a system that mixed video game capabilities and the computer. The story of Chrome and how it affected both Microsoft and the Beastie Boys is played out against a backdrop of Microsoft's "take-no-prisoners corporate attitude" and its propensity for internecine battles. A very revealing look inside one corner of the computer industry and the personalities that color it. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

This is the story of a failure in the software industry, a Microsoft project that never went into commercial production. The author, a San Diego Union technology and business writer, profiles the oddball team that orchestrated this effort, three characters who stand out even by the unconventional standards of Microsoft programmers (they were known around the company as the Beastie Boys). Their mission was originally to develop programming code that would run computer games from the Windows operating environment, a major step forward for personal computers. Almost as soon as a workable product was created, however, the team switched its sights to the next frontier, the Internet, and attempted to adapt the concept for Web surfers. This effort ultimately failed, due to conflicts in management objectives and bad timing; the programming produced required computing power that, in the mid-1990s was not yet part of the mainstream PC market. The "attack dog" personalities of the Beastie Boys also played a significant role, too significant for any general lessons to be learned from their failure. Although there is plenty of local colorÄinsider descriptions of the Microsoft environment aboundÄand programmers and gaming enthusiasts may find this saga entertaining, they are unlikely to gain any useful insights from a story that hinges more on the clash of particular egos than the more general mechanics of a working office culture. Author tour. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This book, yet another about Microsoft, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the company and at Project Chrome. Drummond, a technology business writer for the San Diego Union and winner of the Society of Professional Journalists Award, describes the background of the three Renegades, or "Beastie Boys," who initiated Chrome and explains how they were recruited by Microsoft. Working together, the three would "create technology that made it possible for computer games to run on Windows 95, a seminal technological feat." However, the Renegades "built their technology without initial approval from their superiors and rammed it through with ruthless determination and indifference to internal political decorum." They then embarked on Chrome, which combined television and the personal computer and had the potential for changing perception and exploration of the Internet. The rise and ultimate demise of Chrome are vividly explored in this book. The implications of the antitrust case against Microsoft are also examined. A fascinating account of the inner workings of Microsoft, this book is an important addition to the literature on Microsoft and is recommended to public and academic libraries.--Lucy T. Heckman, St. John's Univ. Lib., Jamaica, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Chapter 1 ALEX IN WONDERLAND His five-year romp through Bill Gates's Camelot was over. Microsoft security would be walking in any moment to clean out his desk and scan his computer's hard drive. No sensitive materials could leave the building. Alex St. John could almost hear the bootsteps. He knew what to do. He grabbed a handful of Hershey's kisses from a friend's office and dumped them on his desk with a note -- "Help yourself!" St. John, one of Microsoft's fabled "evangelists," was fired that day. He and two colleagues had built DirectX, revolutionary computer-game technology that had turned Windows-based PCs into the world's most popular game platform. The three were now building controversial Web technology, a "browser on steroids" code-named Project Chrome. While he had helped feed hundreds of millions of dollars into Gates's software Empire, the fact remained that St. John was a rogue soldier who didn't understand how to follow orders and had never paid much attention to the chain of command. Management had any number of reasons to terminate him. Once, after Gates had just inked a major deal with three Sega executives, St. John had piled the visitors into his customized, purple Humvee and torn across the company's manicured lawns -- in front of several horrified senior Microsoft officers. Like the man who buys a pit bull for its ferocity only to have the animal attack him later, Microsoft had it coming. Before the Empire called, St. John was happily self-employed as a computer consultant on the other side of the country. Then his name began pinging on the radar screens of Microsoft talent scouts. St. John had cultivated a reputation in the industry as an innovative and charismatic programmer -- an articulate nerd who could charm even better than he could code. True, he had snapped at previous bosses over what he thought were impractical business decisions. But Microsoft wanted an evangelist, a breed that's sometimes hard to handle. The Empire began calling in fall 1992. St. John was working at home when an independent recruiter phoned to ask him, if he could work for any company, which would it be? St. John was reluctant to answer because he wasn't interested in working for a boss again and doubted any company could pay him as much as he was making on his own. The headhunter stroked St. John's voluminous ego, reminding him of his talents and how those talents could pay handsomely. St. John was a Macintosh programmer, impressed with Apple Computer Corp.'s elegant operating system, a system he thought superior to the early Windows kluges Microsoft was pushing at the time. He conceded that he would once have considered working for Apple, "but they're dead," he told the recruiter. When pressed, St. John said he might be interested in Adobe Systems Inc. and, maybe, Microsoft Corp. Maybe. After some cajoling, the recruiter set up an interview for St. John with a local Adobe representative. The session went well, and the Adobe rep said he'd refer St. John to the company's California headquarters. But Adobe never called back and St. John didn't make any follow-up inquiries. Just about the time he had put Adobe out of his mind, Microsoft called. St. John says he kept stalling, but Microsoft kept calling and he finally agreed to meet a company rep in Boston. "They said they were looking at me for a number of positions," he recalls. "This was very surreal. They never explained what it was exactly they wanted me to do." St. John had been a fan of Microsoft since Bill Gates outmaneuvered IBM in the operating-system realm and usurped Big Blue's monopoly. Think of a computer as a sports stadium. The operating system is the playing field or platform on which all the programs run. All computers need an OS or platform to run word processors, spreadsheets, databases, whatever. Without operating systems, computers are empty stadiums without playing fields. IBM had underestimated Gates and allowed him the rights to license DOS, the Disk Operating System that would become a standard on the first generation of personal computers before Windows. St. John grew more nervous the closer he drew to the interview, scheduled to take place at a downtown Boston hotel. "I didn't realize what my résumé must have looked like to them. I was very naive," St. John says. "I never thought in my wildest dreams I could be working for a company like that." He met with Lee Cole, a Microsoft recruiter. The interview lasted all of ten minutes. Cole didn't seem interested in his work history and was unfazed when he told her he had no formal education. Yet she was aggressive, in-your-face, and wanted to know why St. John wanted to work for Microsoft. "I don't want to work for Microsoft," he recalls saying. Then she asked the crucial question: "What do you like about Microsoft?" "Bill kicks ass," St. John said. "I like kicking ass. I enjoy the feeling of killing competitors and dominating markets." Good answer. Cole suggested that St. John fly out to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, for a Friday interview and a weekend stay, all expenses paid. Just a visit, really. No pressure. He walked out of the interview more curious than ever. After discussing it with his wife, Kelley, St. John flew to the Northwest in mid-December 1992 to see what the storied campus was all about. By the early nineties, Gates was already legendary. He was the visionary Harvard dropout who had spawned the personal computer revolution and whose company was destined to become one of the most revered and feared in history. The morning after St. John arrived, a grueling, eleven-hour round of interviews began. This was not the "no pressure" weekend stay he had been promised. Interviewer after interviewer grilled him -- one even leveled questions while cleaning his fingernails with a menacing bowie knife. An interviewer wondered how St. John would design a better remote control. Another asked, if St. John had ten red balls and ten white balls, how would he distribute them between two boxes, so that a blind man reaching into one of the boxes had the best chance of grabbing a red ball? And, yes, one even wanted to know why manhole covers are round, a question that has become part of the Microsoft cliché. Manhole covers are round so they won't fall through. The question is designed to test for thought process, not necessarily for a correct answer -- although in this instance, a correct answer is almost a must. Microsoft is also big on asking applicants how they would improve the design of gadgets be they bicycles or remote controls. Microsoft wants applicants to demonstrate their problem-solving skills on the fly, not how well they have memorized pat answers. In that same vein, the company also scours résumés for any hint of padding. Excerpted from Renegades of the Empire: How Three Software Warriors Started a Revolution Behind the Walls of Fortress Microsoft by Michael Drummond All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.