Microsoft's developer problem isn't about trust, it's about relevance

Microsoft's developer problem isn't about trust, it's about relevance

Summary: Yes, Microsoft has a trust problem when it comes to developers. But if they fix that, does the company remain relevant to modern developers?

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Build 2014 -- Trust Us

My ZDNet colleague has written a superb piece on the issue of Microsoft and developer trust.

Microsoft has been struggling with a developer trust problem for some time. At some point during the whole "hey, let's reimagine Windows into Windows 8 thing", as an organisation they stopped communicating well, and started to make some really strange decisions.

Things like, developers not getting early access to Windows 8.1 RTM (although this decision was reversed), or limiting access to the Windows Phone 8 SDK.

However, for me -- and I suspect for a lot of developers out there -- the bigger problem is the relevance of the Microsoft stack as we get more submerged into the post-PC era.

Dotcom

In her piece, Mary Jo cites a blog post by ex-Microsoftie John Ludwig, and there's something profoundly relevant in what he says here:

I am relearning how to be a software developer after many years away and it is notable that, not only am I not using any Microsoft technologies or tools, nothing from Microsoft even entered the consideration set as I selected targets, libs, tools, etc.

And that's the relevancy problem right there. How we build software today -- well, how users are asking us to build software today -- isn't well aligned with what Microsoft is putting out there as a toolset.

To be honest, Microsoft has always had a relevancy problem. It's never been sexy or cool to base -- particularly -- consumer-focused services on Microsoft technology. If you go back to the dotcom boom of the late 1990s it was all but impossible to find top-tier web services that were running on the Microsoft stack. For a while, eBay was the only major non-Microsoft-owned site that used IIS, serving some functionality up through ISAPI extensions.

If you look at the most popular websites in the US, it's rare to find any in there that are based on Microsoft technologies. Obvious notable exceptions are Microsoft's own services, and Netflix which leverages Silverlight to provide DRM-enabled streaming to desktop clients. That situation has persisted for nearly two decades.

Obviously, people have been writing software for the Microsoft stack. Visual Studio remains one of Microsoft's billion dollar businesses, but it's mainly been enterprise and corporate clients that have been sponsoring this work.

Now in the post-PC era Microsoft that relevancy problem becomes more acute, and pressure is applied from two sides.

From one side, as post-PC grows there will be more demand for software that runs on non-Windows-based devices. Microsoft has no direct control over the currently dominant mobile platforms in that space. If you want to write software for iOS, or Android, you don't use Visual Studio, and apart from those people using Xamarin, you don't get anywhere near Microsoft technologies at all.

To put it another way, if your boss asks you to build an iPad app, Microsoft doesn't get a look in.

From the other side, pressure comes from a change in user experience expectation. A hallmark of post-PC-class software in contrast to enterprise-class software is that the user experience (UX) tends to be much better. Whereas in enterprise-land we could get away with a user dialog that had four hundred controls, half of which didn't work as expected, and all of which took thirty seconds to load, in post-PC-land that's not the expectation.

The problem now is that those signing off the projects has a post-PC expectation, not an enterprise expectation. Thus even if you are building a classic enterprise app to be rolled out in classic enterprise environments, you're going to end up being judged on the user's experiences of the post-PC world that they enjoy outside of using your clunky enterprise app.

Again, that's a relevance problem because Microsoft's tooling is rooted in providing enterprise-class experience, not post-PC experience. As such developers go outside of whatever Microsoft puts out there and goes with the tooling that the top-tier web services use to drive fantastic web UX.

The question then gets asked, even by shops that have been developing on Microsoft for years, -- is it easier to deliver the software that we want outside of the Microsoft stack entirely?

Conclusion

The challenge here for Microsoft is avoiding a perfect storm where they're both not trusted and not relevant, and it's both of these problems that have to be fixed.

Relevancy can be fixed, but it's going to need an acceleration of work Microsoft has already done in changing how it works with the developer community. More open sourcing their own stuff, more support for popular open source projects, and so on.

To mirror what Ludwig says in his post, yes, Microsoft needs to make a number of acquisitions to help them engage more readily with the community. The "chocolate mess" of assets he alludes to is an absolute requirement, and a strong way forward, although I'm not sure it's the right combination.

Ludwig talks about acquiring Xamarin. That's obvious -- I can't see how that would do anything other than help everyone both inside and outside the Microsoft universe, and I'd love to wake up one day and find that had happened. GitHub? Sure -- it's just a service. Acquiring StackOverflow? I'm not sure that move would build trust within the community. Similar problems would seem to exhibit themselves with the other technologies that Ludwig calls out (NoSQL, Hadoop, etc). Anti-Microsoft sentiment sometimes exists for a reason. I'm not saying this is easy.

But all of this would be a move in the right direction. No one outside of Microsoft cares at all about Windows Store app/WinRT (nee Metro-style app) development. (And before I get shouted down about that, I mean "relatively no one".). But everyone cares about jQuery, Angular, Vagrant, and a thousand one other open source tooling technologies.

It's possible to work through a breakdown of trust with a partner, but if the result of you working through that breakdown is to come face-to-face with a failure of the "so what?" test, you've got real problems.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Microsoft

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37 comments
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  • The War Microsoft Is/Was Waging

    It is not hard to see why Microsoft resorted to strategy of hijacking Nokia (alienating some other OEMs). Microsoft wants to control the hardware companies (like Dell) because with disasters like Vista 8 they just no longer pre-install (or rent) much of Windows. Hyper-V is like a Trojan horse strategy and an idea, not just for servers. Microsoft is trying to dual-boot Windows along with Android devices right now. Nobody needs or wants it, but with enough moles it can become a reality.

    Phones with GNU/Linux are coming (e.g. Ubuntu phones), signaling a trend. Even platforms which Microsoft tried to kill are coming back, notably WebOS (with Microsoft tax) and Tizen (derived from MeeGo), not to mention Firefox OS and Jolla’s Sailfish OS. Microsoft will try to impose inclusion of Windows (see the press), but one must reject it.

    “I once preached peaceful coexistence with Windows,” Be’s CEO Jean-Louis Gassée once wrote. “You may laugh at my expense — I deserve it."
    MacBroderick
    • Do you... Listen to yourself?

      You're sounding a lot less like a tech fan-boy, and more like a self-declared prophet.

      Just because projects are returning, doesn't mean that they will be successful.

      Additionally, all of the products you listed are PHONE operating systems.

      A PHONE will not replace the PC, as both serve completely different uses.

      GNU/Linux is growing in the PHONE space, not the PC market, which is where Windows works best.

      You're comparing an ORANGE and a POTATO, and calling them both TREES.

      (Microsoft isn't trying to dual-boot Windows with Android, its OEMs are.)
      ForeverCookie
      • he's sounding like one of those paid trolls that google hires

        to scan and spam sites where MS is being talked about.
        DontUseGoogleAtAll
      • Re: "GNU/Linux is growing in the PHONE space, not the PC market,

        which is where Windows works best."

        How do you know GNU/Linux is not growing in the PC market?

        Got a real count, not talking about NetMarketShare because they only count enterprise versions from redHat and Suse and they don't even do that well.
        WhoRUKiddin
      • BTW

        "Like it or not, Canonical has salesmen and they are getting the job done:

        Dell now has 400 (they were recently asked by China to expand to 1000) stores in China pushing Ubuntu GNU/Linux on PCs, Ubuntu GNU/Linux has shipped on $7.5 billion worth of hardware in the last 2 years, Dell, Lenovo, Asus and HP are all shipping Ubuntu GNU/Linux PCs,In 2011, Ubuntu GNU/Linux shipped on more PCs than MacOS did in 2007 (7.05million in AAPL FY 2007).

        “Kenyon cited the German insurance company LVM Insurance, who have Ubuntu deployed on over 10,000 desktops; Consultancy firm CapGemini who are rolling Ubuntu out on 10,000 desktop in the next 2 years; Google, who have 10,000 Ubuntu-based desktops and laptops in use; and the Ministry of Defence in The Netherlands, who are using an Ubuntu-based client across a staggering 40,000 desktops.""


        source: http://mrpogson.com/2012/11/12/ubuntu-gnulinux-pc-sales/
        WhoRUKiddin
    • I guess you're spinning of the whole thing means

      even you don't agree with the article seeing you interjected nonsense at the beginig

      "While at Apple I successfully killed a Claris project, 'Drama', which aimed to start a new brand to sell low-end Macintosh computers. I argued that consumers would continue to be willing to pay the price premium for a full Macintosh experience"

      Jean-Louis Gassée

      :)
      William.Farrel
    • well said

      but those Winblows users are too dumb to hear the truth
      shellcodes_coder
      • That's the thing, shellcodes

        there's actual truth, and then there's your "truth".

        So the correct statement would be - "but those Windows users are too smart to hear my truth"
        William.Farrel
  • IF THE POST-PC IS JUST A MYTH...

    Then why do MS proponents have full time jobs debunking it in forums like this?

    You know the old adage, if it walks like a duck!

    Microsoft's biggest problem is they won't be able to charge for Windows going forward.

    Office will follow soon after.

    Expect this to begin with consumers before transitioning to businesses. That's because cloud computing is OS agnostic and doesn't require a heavy OS footprint. Plus consumers already own versions of Office, and let's be honest, the suite has only had minimal changes in 13-years. Not to mention the litany of Office alternatives to choose from; and then theres the fact that you can't beat "free".

    What this all means:

    * MS is already irrelvant to consumers because of mobile and Microsoft's various screw ups

    * Technology will soon render MS an expensive hassle to businesses, who now have alternatives

    * Cloud computing will one day make running a MS shop redundant and fully obsolete

    If I were a MS developer, I would be extremely worried right about now.
    orandy
    • Because....

      Some tech writers are repeating that FUD.
      imscythe
    • You do realize

      Office originally started out as Mac OS project. It was listed as one of the Original software titles for Mac OS 1. It was later ported over to windows, after Microsoft "Liberally borrowed" ideas, and even some of Mac OS code. It only took 11 years for MS to gain parity with Mac OS 1.
      I hate trolls also
      • if you read the list of licenses for osx

        you can see ms is one of the licensers and apple one of the licensees
        DontUseGoogleAtAll
  • Microsoft's developer problem isn't about trust, it's about relevance

    Microsoft will remain relevant. Developers know if they want to make any money that they need to stay on Microsoft's platform especially with recent news stating that developers were losing money on other mobile platforms.
    Loverock.Davidson
  • Microsoft?

    I have nothing good to say about Microsoft. I sort of like the company until I joined their Windows Store program. Their system is terribly poor. A guy who called himself Joe from Windows Store support even sent me an e-mail message in Feb. 2013 and threatened to remove one of my applications. After I finally decided not to renew my account, it was a surprise. They charged me an annual membership fee in Nov. 2013. After I explained that I had asked them to discontinue with my account in Sep. 2013, they refused to refund me. It took me several days to finally convince them that it was they who made a mistake renewing my developer account. And they continue to send me spam news letters from windows Phone Developer Communications.
    jim199D2kF
  • "Easier"?

    It isn't easier to deliver apps outside of the Microsoft stack. There are some "easy" entrance points such as Ruby on Rails, but generally the other stacks tend to have poorer tooling and less full featured environments for debugging.

    It is less costly to run Apache servers, but I think as people move off "host your own" to Azure AND AWS, that differentiation is going away.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • This is dumb

    What on earth are you talking about? 90% of web surfing still happens on a PC. Microsoft is the most important platform for developers and will be for the foreseeable future. Its hard to see an informed objective individual thinking otherwise. There is just no evidence out there to support it.
    Tiggster79
    • This comment isn't really related to the article

      which is not about home users mouse clicking on web pages on PCs or any of that.

      The article is about the relevance of Microsoft's developer stack to today's developers - which is a legitimate debate to have, given that there are a lot of developer technologies out there right now; some Microsoft focused, and some not (and to Microsoft's credit, they support them all on Azure.)

      Developers do not need to use Microsoft's stack to reach PC users. TweetDeck relied on Adobe Air. Facebook is PHP based on a variation of the LAMP stack. Google runs on a mystery GWS stack with Python as one of the language engines. Each happily serves PC users.

      This is what the article is about.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • Cool and sexy are signs of a fad

    and the tech landscape is littered with the corpses of companies that had impressive market shares with what was once considered cool and/or sexy.

    Cool and sexy change to frequently to be stable.
    Emacho
  • No popular websites use MS technologies eh?

    "If you look at the most popular websites in the US, it's rare to find any in there that are based on Microsoft technologies"

    Right! Because no serious Post-PC technology company would use Microsoft technology such as Azure as a service platform...

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/09/02/icloud_runs_on_microsoft_azure_and_amazon
    Samic
  • I agree about what is said about Microsoft. although, it isn't "easier."

    I understand, completely. I started building apps for Microsoft, but I stopped because of the relevance (and trust), and because they didn't care when I caught coding mistakes they had done, and I'd let them know so that it could be fixed. At least Mozilla works differently. And Mozilla seems to use Linux and Linux tools to develop, on top of using Github.
    As for "easier," though, it isn't necessarily easier to develop the other way. But it can be more effective and work better to give users better experience using whatever is developered in Linux with Linux tools.
    Annika Doe