Microsoft, the MVP Summit and the New Normal
The MVP Summit, from which I've just returned, is a very important event. The Summit is held toward the beginning of the calendar year, so it's a kickoff of sorts; a good opportunity for MVPs to sync up and compare notes on where we think Microsoft is going. This year, it was especially important, as both the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and the Visual Studio 11 beta were released right in the middle of the Summit event, and the launch of SQL Server was scheduled for about a week later.
At the Summit, I attended a combination of developer- and SQL Server-oriented sessions; I sat in on an important Windows Azure briefing delivered by Corporate Vice President Scott Guthrie; I had some time to meet with the Visual Studio LightSwitch team; and I even learned a bit more about Office 15. And though I didn't attend any Windows 8-specific sessions, enough MVPs were able to download and install the Consumer Preview (despite the Wi-Fi overload this caused) that there was plenty of MVP conversation focused on that product as well.
Hard at Work
A lot of what I saw and heard at the Summit really encouraged me. Despite a significant amount of personnel turnover at Microsoft of late, I found morale surprisingly high, product group members impressively focused, their presentations to be articulate and intelligent, and MVP reaction to be quite positive. I'm coauthor of a book on SQL Server and the author of a blog on Big Data, so I suppose I might be biased (at least in my level of interest), but I thought Microsoft's efforts in both of these areas are especially well thought-out. In addition, the teams' progress with Hadoop and SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse exceeded my expectations.
The Developer Division guys had very good things to report, too. While most of what I heard can't be shared just yet, I'd say that people have a lot to look forward to from OData, LightSwitch and Windows Azure. I genuinely found that team members were listening. Many of us joke that when Microsoft responds to input from the community by saying, "that's good feedback," you know your comment has fallen on deaf ears. At this year's Summit, more than perhaps any event in memory, I really felt like the Microsoft people were listening and, literally, taking notes.
But the one area that has me concerned is Windows 8. That team's communication strategy makes it tougher to gain insight and know that things are solid. Though it certainly won't be reversed, I have a feeling the team's approach will be revised for the next product cycle.
Assess and Execute
I've always found that when Microsoft assesses a problem correctly, it does well at solving it. That doesn't mean Microsoft will, in the near term, transcend Apple's multiyear head start in the consumer tablet space, beat Amazon Web Services in the cloud, or reverse the growth of new programming languages and environments. But what I think it does mean is that Microsoft will make progress in most or all of these areas.
If Microsoft can make big changes in several areas and iterative improvement in others, it may well reinvent itself in a way that's sensitive to its particular strengths. That's very hard to do, especially if it means Redmond acknowledging that its core strength, the PC, has become less central to many peoples' lives, and that open source software has become a commodity fixture at many customer sites.
But above the commodity level, there's big opportunity, and lots of money to be made. Microsoft needs to believe in and align with that opportunity, and it seems it's trying to succeed. If it does, it will be good for the company, its customers, its partners and even its competition.
Andrew Brust is Research Director for Big Data and Analytics at Gigaom Research. Andrew is co-author of "Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2012" (Microsoft Press); an advisor to NYTECH, the New York Technology Council; co-moderator of Big On Data - New York's Data Intelligence Meetup; serves as Microsoft Regional Director and MVP; and is conference co-chair of Visual Studio Live!