Office 2008 for Mac: The straw that broke the backs of Microsoft's Windows developers?

Could it be that a Mac program will be the tipping point for the confidence that ISVs have in Microsoft as a technology partner? One c-level technologist for a Windows enterprise app says "no more" to Redmond's vision.

Office 2008 for Mac: The straw that broke the backs of Microsoft’s Windows developers?
Could it be that a Macintosh program will be the tipping point for the confidence that ISVs have in Microsoft as a technology partner? One c-level technologist for a Windows enterprise app says "no more" to Redmond's vision.

I wrote the other day about Microsoft's Mac Business Unit's announcements about the Office 2008 for Mac Service Pack 1 and the eventual return of support for Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) to the Mac productivity suite.

One reader, a c-level executive at a enterprise ISV told me that this announcement out of Redmond was one waffle too many for his company, one that has relied on Microsoft since its beginnings. The company's product is sold into Fortune 500 enterprises.

"Office 2008 is indicative of a larger problem at Microsoft. To borrow from Alan Cooper, the inmates are running the asylum [the author of the 1999 Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity]. The engineers are making changes with little regard for the millions — maybe billions — of people who depend on Microsoft technology. I wish the VBA flip-flop was the only example."

He then ran down a list of recent actions and inactions by Microsoft that concerned the company. He started off by pointing to the ribbon interface in Office 2007 for Windows. "By breaking the menus, this also broke hundreds of VBA add-ons for Excel."

He continued:

"VML in Internet Explorer. Is this a technology that I can depend on? Will this disappear in a future release of IE? And why no SVG support, especially knowing that Adobe is killing their plug-in?"

"Is there a future in VBA? I thought Office developers for Windows were supposed to stop writing VBA and move to Visual Studio Tools for Office [VSTO], writing add-ons in VB.NET or C# or some other .NET language."

"What about C#? J#? Is anyone really thinking about a Java language for .NET, or are we stuck with half-implementations that could change at any point? Remember what Microsoft did to VB6 programmers.

"Frankly, I sort-of wish Ballmer would jump around and yell "Developers!" a bit more. If Microsoft actually paid attention to the developers using their technologies, they wouldn't make these erratic changes."

(This is a reference to some 7 years ago when CEO Steve Ballmer chanted "developers, developers, developers" to a sales crowd and a few days later to ISVs. He ran around the stage in sweat-stained blue shirt and khaki chinos, which became known as "Dance Monkeyboy." Ballmer reprised it recently.)

The ISV continued. The issue isn't the talent or commitment of the programming by Microsoft's team. It's the on-again, off-again strategy.

"Don't get me wrong, I know many developers at Microsoft and I'm amazed by their skill and talent. The problem is a management vacuum."

He said the company will move its software off Microsoft developer tools and over to Web 2.0.

Now, my Microsoft-centric friends hear my complaints and tell me that Mac developers and users should simply be grateful that Visual Basic is returning to Office. No matter that there's no date for the return and it could be in 2 or 3 years.

In the past, when Microsoft changed its strategy or direction, or was delayed in supplying technology, ISVs and customers just had to suck it up and put on a forced smile. This was because there was no perceived acceptable alternative to Microsoft, whether on the client side, the server side or for tools.

But today, there are many choices. End users and even businesses appear more open to Apple's platforms and tools. No surprise that the upcoming WWDC is sold out.

A revolution doesn't happen with one unjust act, it just appears to be so. In reality, revolution happens after many such small acts. For each company and developer, there's one unjust act that becomes a tipping point. For many, VBA on the Mac looks to be that straw.