Why is Microsoft giving employees phones a big deal?

Last week one of the hot topics in mobile news was Microsoft’s decision to give all of its employees Windows Phone 7 phones. This PC World article about the matter has 1576 related articles according to Google News. What strikes me as odd is why this is even news at all.

It makes sense of companies that develop software and consumer electronics devices to take advantage of a captive group of users, which is their employees, to obtain feedback on the product. It can often be the case that a company’s employees are the most critical of the company’s products, primarily because they have a vested interest in seeing the product succeed. Microsoft has a history of having its employees use early releases of their software products such that Microsoft even coined a phrase for it, “eating your own dogfood.”

The bigger story, in my opinion, isn’t that Microsoft is now giving Windows Phones to their employees, but that they haven’t done it before. Microsoft has been making smartphones longer than Apple or Google, yet Apple was the company that seemingly had the bright idea of giving all their employees a free iPhone first. So, why is this internal decision that Microsoft has made important?

What if you knew an executive of General Motors and you were to meet that person for lunch and he arrived driving a Ford. What does that say to you about that executive’s opinion of his company’s products? As consumers we expect the employees of companies to stand behind the products that they make. In effect giving employees Windows Phones is a very important marketing campaign that to me says that Microsoft is serious about the product. Wouldn’t you, when meeting with a Microsoft employee, expect them to use a Windows Phone?

Another interesting aspect of their decision to provide employees with Windows Phones is that Microsoft is also encouraging them to write apps for the phone. (On their spare time, of course.) I think that this is very smart on Microsoft’s part because it takes advantage of the programming talent within Microsoft to grow the app catalog for Windows Phone, and we all know how important it is to have a high number of apps available for smartphones. Microsoft is also waiving the yearly cost for submitting apps to the Windows Phone store and has stated that it has no problems with employees profiting from the apps that they develop.

In the end, while I don’t think that what Microsoft is doing warrants all of the press that it has received, I do think it is a very good move on their part. Better late than never, I say.