Microsoft Fast: Confusion over NXT and Folio Billing

November 8, 2008

I did a bit of spelunking with the improved search service for Google Groups. If you haven’t tried it out, click here and give it a whirl. In the course of my tests, I came across an interesting thread about Microsoft Fast and its renewal policies for Fast NXT licensees. NXT is a product Fast Search acquired in the pre Microsoft, pre police raid days. I don’t want to explain what NXT does or does not do. You can get up to speed by clicking here and scanning the information on the Fast Search Web site. NXT consists of Folio, which is a long in the tooth content management system.

The thread I discovered on Google Groups can be found here. If the link doesn’t work, just navigate to Google Groups and enter the query “Folio User Groups”. The disclaimer for this series of snippets is that these may be a spoof or doctored. You will have to verify the information that I have located via the Google Groups’ search engine. Beyond that, I am not sure what to make of these points.

Set Up

The seed post is by a person from Canada. You can learn a bit about him here. His post here asserts that he received an invoice, a follow up which he interpreted as annoying, and and, as he stated on September 10, 2008:

I told them to sue me… It is quite insulting to be accused since 1. M&S was paid every year the past many years even though they failed on their part to even produce ONE upgrade every 12 months for their software; 2. if anyone did break any contract it was them when they announced unilaterally that they canceled views; 3. I have been selling/using views since the early 1990’s. We have been FBP and OM whatever they called it then partner and then were unilaterally flushed when they decided to change their distribution pattern; 4. We are a Folio Publisher and views is a software we love dearly, but we are now forced to look for a replacement since it was discontinued unilaterally.

Follow Up

After some posts from other NXT Folio licensees, an individual identified as Jim Moser posted a reply. You can find some information about Mr. Moser here. Mr Moser allegedly wrote the person in Canada saying:

…our [Microsoft Fast] accounting department was simply following up on an invoice. Since it hadn’t been paid and we hadn’t heard from you, we wanted to confirm your intention. This isn’t a new onerous policy started by our acquisition by Microsoft; it’s just good business practice. I’m sure that you, as a business owner, follow up with your customers to ensure payment.

Many of our customers are set up on an auto-renewal process for Maintenance and Support. This process helps ensure that our customers receive seamless M&S [maintenance and support] by (hopefully) preventing accidental lapses in M&S [provisions]. Standard contracts going back to the original Folio Corporation provided for this. Those contracts also have a standard 60-day notification requirement should you choose to not renew. This gives us a chance to appropriately update our systems.

I am certain our accounting department did not “accuse” you. I am also certain that we can find a way to work this out. It does get more complicated once an invoice is issued, but it can still happen.

Please note that we continue to offer Maintenance and Support services for the Folio and NXT products. Maintenance includes correcting defects, delivering software patches. Support includes access to our support staff, who continue to answer questions, provide work-arounds, log defects where appropriate, and help our customers with deployment and functionality questions.

If you have additional concerns, please bring them up with me directly. [Emphasis added by Stephen Arnold to highlight points he found interesting to him. Mr. Moser’s spelling errors fixed for readability as well.]

The bold faced snippets caught my attention. First, the notion of “following up” is given an extra apologia with the gratuitous “simply”. When a customer gets dinged for payment, the vendor wants its money. The “simply” doesn’t make this a routine business business practice. Something is a amiss. I noted the inclusion of “it’s just good business practice”. Hey, there. Didn’t this company’s Oslo office experience a police visit during which the police removed business files and records as part of an active investigation which may be related to improper financial practices. What the heck is “a good business practice” for a company that has the cops sifting through its records as part of a financial investigation. I have to tell you that my pin feathers quivered when I connected–perhaps inappropriately–the police raid with “simply” and “good business practice”. In my freshman rhetoric class in 1962 Dr. Josephine Pearce told us about “cognitive dissonance”. I am not sure if this an example of cognitive dissonance or not. The September 2008 words and the police action in mid October 2008 agitated this old goose.

Second, I am quite surprised with the “certain”. When a person is certain, I think that there is zero chance for error. I have been working since I was 15 years old, and I have learned one thing. I am unable to be certain about one person does. Unless I am there and paying attention or the interaction is captured in some reproducible way, this type of “certain” means zero. In this context, I think the Microsoft Fast Mr. Moser assumes or believes that no person trying to collect a bill would accuse a customer of not paying. I don’t have direct experience being dunned for a late payment. Being an unemployed goose does have its advantages. But I have been on site in a collections agency as part of a project. I have listened to the calls made by the 95 percent performers; that is, the collection professionals who get the money 95 out of 100 cases. I heard some pretty interesting statements. If were on the receiving end of a 95 percenter’s calls, I would probably have my attorney deal with the caller’s employer. Pretty tough talk as I recall.

Finally, I noticed the parental reminded to contact me directly. I interpreted this statement, perhaps erroneously, to mean, “Don’t make this a public issue. Deal with me only, pal.”

Keep in mind that when you read this thread you may draw different conclusions about the tone and underlying implications of Mr. Moser’s comments.

What’s Going On?

I don’t know any more than what’s in this Google Group thread. I did learn that the fellow in Canada understands that he has not been supported with software upgrades. I understand he perceives that he has not received invoices on a regular basis. I understand that he is annoyed that the product has been discontinued. I understand that he is fed up with Microsoft Fast, NXT, and Folio. I understand that an annoyed customer often represents what I call the “tip of the iceberg”. Most people don’t complain. When a person squawks, it is important to find out why, fix it, and convert that customer into an active evangelist for the product. I don’t think this is happening, but I could be off base here.

Second, I see some additional postings that suggest the problem is not confined to the fellow in Canada. That tells me something too.

Finally, I poked around on the Microsoft Fast Web site here. I did a query for “NXT” and got two hits. The product seemed to be orphaned. I ran a query for “Folio” and got three hits, all old. I abandoned my quest for information about NXT, pricing, licensing terms, and customers. Either my search and retrieval skills are so bad I can’t find a product even with the product name as stated in the Google Groups’ posts or the information is not on the Web site. Okay, assume that I am a bad researcher. I navigated to Microsoft and ran the same queries because Microsoft owns Fast Search and its product lines. Here are the first six results:

msft nxt six results

I don’t understand what is going on. I know that the Microsoft Fast building was in Provo, Utah, when I drove by it in August 2008. I saw the sign. Yet when I search for Fast NXT on the Microsoft Web site I get results that are essentially gibberish. Something’s gone wrong here.

Let me wrap this up with several observations:

  1. The Google Groups thread may be spoofed. But if it is real, there is some uncertainty in my mind about the status of the NXT and Folio products. I ask myself, “Why is this product still in a customer’s hands when there is no way to obtain the updates, licensing information, or support contact data?” Either this is carelessness or indifference, right? Maybe this a “good business practice” for Mr. Moser? I’m not involved and I can’t figure out what’s going on.
  2. The reason a customer takes a matter to a public forum is known only to the customer. In this case, if I were a customer and I couldn’t find information about the product for which I was billed, I would be unsettled. Perhaps the writer is less patient than I? Perhaps the writer believed the optimal recourse was to enlist the help of an online user group? Whatever the reason, Mr. Moser doesn’t want the matter in the forum. Mr. Moser wants to deal direct. Okay, but I couldn’t find a Mr. Moser listed on the Fast Search Web site. Maybe this is something more than a simple communications error? I am suspicious.
  3. The police action in October 2008 makes a strong statement about the credibility of the Microsoft Fast operation. A company is innocent until proven guilty. That is my mindset. I just have one question chasing around my goose brain, “Why did the police seize information?”

Let me conclude that the new and improved search feature on Google Groups doesn’t improve either the ease of use of the system nor significantly improve the precision of the results of my tests. Don’t get me wrong. The service is useful, but the search functionality is still primitive compared to what can be done with Google’s PSE and dataspace technology if I understand Google’s open source technical information. Maybe some day those functionalities will be used to make the Google Groups’ content more useful to me.

Stephen Arnold, November 7, 2008


7 Responses to “Microsoft Fast: Confusion over NXT and Folio Billing”

  1. Jürgen Wagner on November 9th, 2008 8:56 am

    To my knowledge, FAST ProPublish (NXT) was one of the discontinued products after the takeover by Microsoft. Another one is FAST Radar…

    This explains, why the Microsoft FAST website does not mention ProPublish or NXT.

  2. Stephen E. Arnold on November 9th, 2008 10:12 am

    Jürgen Wagner,

    If discontinued, is it appropriate for a licensee to be charged? I am on the fence on this matter. If the company uses the product, I say, “Bill the outfit.” On the other hand, if it’s discontinued and not supported, then I say, “No way, José.” Either way, if your information is accurate, it appears that some customers don’t know that the products in questions are road kill.

    Stephen Arnold, November 9, 2008

  3. Jürgen Wagner on November 9th, 2008 4:25 pm

    Well, the exact status of these products needs to be determined with the respective account representatives. I can’t say anything about that, of course.

    What customers pay for is usually maintenance & support, but this could also be a case of a non-perpetual license that needs to be renewed. This may even be a per-use contract, so continued billing is fine. We can’t really say without knowing the details. In any case, I would put this event into the category of merger-related irritations… In no way taking either one of both sides (Microsoft/FAST or the customers), I simply want to point out that this kind of mess is not specific to Microsoft, FAST or any other company. I’ve seen that in other cases of mergers/take-overs as well. In that respect, I don’t quite understand the highly emotional reaction… The customer should put the position into nice words and decline payment, or read his/her contract properly and notice they have to pay indeed. The latter may be a case for immediate cancellation of subscriptions and reason to look out for a product replacement.

    Ah, and about your Google results on FAST NXT: that’s a typical case of trash results as Google does not have a clue about what they return. The documents produced by a somewhat not properly configured instance of NXT will generate this headline.


  4. Stephen E. Arnold on November 9th, 2008 8:05 pm

    Jurgen Wagner,

    The customer can be emotional if he wishes to be. The customer is “right”. The issue of Google relevance is interesting. Perhaps Microsoft Fast should index newsgroups and usenet and show Google how to run a high quality indexing service?

    Stephen Arnold, November 9, 2008

  5. Jürgen Wagner on November 9th, 2008 11:21 pm

    at this point, we’d probably deviate a bit from the original topic and start a discussion about to what extent “semantics” is important and “context knowledge” is relevant to provide proper search experiences. After all, searching is irrelevant – finding is what counts. That’s exactly why FAST (and other engines) are successful with their semantic analysis features (entity and relationship extractions, disambiguations, custom extractions, linguistic cleansing, …) to provide a better end-user experience. Of course, a lot of that does not come out of the box, but that’s why FAST (and others) are a bit more complex than Google, right? The right tool for the right job… and in a complex world, not everything must necessarily fit into a Google search box, although they have their merits as well.


  6. Peter Ring on December 10th, 2008 7:21 am

    You can’t learn much about Folio and NextPage products from the FAST website. And the NXT-based site ( that you refer to is just that – a site based on a NXT content server.

    To clear up your confusion, ProPublish is not NXT, and NXT is not Folio Views. ProPublish is based on FAST ESP. NXT and FolioViews share some technology (indexing and query), but are otherwise quite different animals.

    There is a good acount of the history of Folio Corp here:

  7. Fast Changes: Ancient Norse Myth Becomes Reality : Beyond Search on January 23rd, 2009 11:13 am

    […] Billing confusion plus explanations from Fast professionals here […]

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