John looked at the Microsoft campus bus stationary in front of him. He heard a little scratching noise coming from underneath and looked down. Instead of a scared kitten, he saw a young software developer - a hipster-type. There was a look about him -- that he had the pulse of the new wave of post-PC consumers. Got a great little product, source code in GitHub, MacBook in his messenger bag, all ready to go.
John crouched down to get a better view. "You alright down there?" he asked.
"Just about," the developer said. "Microsoft threw me under this bus. I'm just trying to get used to it." The scratching noise came as he tried to free his hand enough to furtle around his pocket for his Lumia. He was keen to get a picture of the bus's underside on Instagram via 6tag. "I guess it'll get comfortable enough over time." He wriggled around to loosen some of the bigger stones digging into his back.
"So sad," said a lady who had sidled up to John. "It's the same all over town. Developers keen to show support for Microsoft's new tablet strategy are just being thrown under the bus by Microsoft executives. All he wanted was early sight of Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT to make sure his customers would be adequately supported."
"Huh," said John standing up to address the woman, "he should have bought an MSDN subscription. He got what he deserves for not planning ahead."
"That's the thing," said the lady, "he does. He's fully paid up. And he's on Bizspark. He's got all the Microsoft love you ever did see!"
"Fancy grabbing a cup of coffee?" said John.
The rules used to be simple. There was, in fact, only one rule. If you developed software for Windows, buy an MSDN subscription and Microsoft would look after you. Part of being looked after is getting early sight of new products, including operating systems.
Microsoft has now moved into some weird parallel universe where developers targeting Windows are not allowed to see it before they're expected to support it.
My ZDNet colleague Mary Jo Foley tipped this fact a few weeks ago. Now we know it's definitely a thing: developers are not getting early access to final bits.
Normal Windows, Windows 7-style Vintage Windows, is the biggest operating system in the world. But now you're in a position where if you deliver software for that, Day One of Windows 8.1 you can expect some number of support cases where your app doesn't work right. That number might be "one support case." Or that number might be "every customer you have." You're not going to know ahead of time. Just keep the pizza delivery guys on speed dial while you beg your developers to work overtime to keep your head above water.
Windows Phone? Last October I wrote about how Windows Phone developers were getting a bad deal on API access on Windows Phone 8. Unbelievably, Microsoft has managed to come up with an even worse scheme this time round. This time, it's just "No early-access soup for you" for everyone.
Finally, if you develop Windows Store apps (the new Metro-style/Modern-style/Whatever-style), not only do you not get an OS to test on, but you don't get the final version of Visual Studio to write it in either. For bonus insults, Microsoft won't give a firm date on the Visual Studio 2013 release.
Honestly, if you develop software for Normal Windows, Metro-style Windows, or Windows Phone at the moment, you might as well just give up. No other firm has the gall to behave like this in our industry. The approach is tremendously disrespectful to Microsoft's software development partners.
Every single operating system vendor gives early sight of releases. You may need to sign-up for some yearly program, but Apple, Google, BlackBerry, they all do it. They have always done it. Only Microsoft is stopping.
Why is Microsoft stopping? My pet theory is that the long lead up to Windows 8 (the best part of a year) allowed everyone to decide it was awful ruining the release for Microsoft. This time round, Microsoft stays in control. "You can only see it when it's done," they're saying. Guess what, Microsoft. Windows 8 wasn't very good. Spin it however you want, it wasn't the tech press, pundits, analysts, or early adopters that made it rubbish. It was you guys.
I get the approach of keeping silent and maintaining control. But ours is a professional industry. We are a good industry full of people who write software with diligent care. It's just not possible to do a diligent, professional job and support end users well when software developers cannot touch and experience what they're targeting.
Developers cannot support Microsoft without Microsoft supporting developers. It has always been this way. More to the point, it has always worked when done in this way. There has never been an ounce of controversy about this approach from the outside. It's always made sense.
How many more groups can Microsoft throw under the bus? Windows Phone developers last year; OEMs and retail partners with Surface; indie games developers by deprecating XNA; enterprises and sysadmin professionals by removing TechNet; and now this.
Finally, one more time: If you think that developing for Microsoft platforms is something you want to do, don't bother.
Find a partner who'll love you better.
What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.
Image credit: Rico Shen, Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0, via Wikimedia