Your Platform Needs You
How .NET developers can help Microsoft face growing threats to its .NET franchise.
Windows 7 will hit retail channels in October. In the eight months afterward, a slew of blockbuster releases will follow it. Will this restore much-needed momentum to the bruised Windows platform, and thus to the full stack, including .NET? Honestly, I'm concerned that the answer is no, and I'm worried about the .NET franchise.
If I look beyond Windows, I see mixed results. I'm excited by what's coming in Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, SQL Server 2008 R2 and Windows Azure, but I also know that some important features have slipped out of those releases, and pieces of them are delayed. I'm looking forward to Exchange 2010, but worry that Outlook is becoming a bloated mess. Visual Studio 2010 is impressive, but I'm concerned with the performance of beta 1. I think that Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Silverlight are great technologies, but I'm frustrated that it has taken three releases for the WPF designer to approach the productivity of its earliest WinForms counterpart.
The vultures are circling. Significant developer enthusiasm has shifted from the Microsoft platform to the LAMP stack. I've observed surprisingly strong support among developers for Eclipse-even Visual Studio users who I'd expect to downplay the open source IDE seem impressed by it. Consumer excitement continues in an exodus from Windows to the Mac. Internet Explorer is still losing share to Firefox, as well as to Chrome and Safari. Some of the early wins by Silverlight and WPF, such as Major League Baseball and the New York Times, have been lost to Adobe Flash and AIR. Windows Mobile, meanwhile, is being slaughtered by Apple and even hurt by Palm.
Taken individually, each of these challenges is manageable. But considered in combination, they constitute serious market erosion for Microsoft. Add to this the cumulative impact of Windows Vista's misadventures, a first-ever round of layoffs and the draconian rulings of the European Union, and I think that Microsoft is undeniably, and understandably, off its game.
The trend directly threatens .NET developers. We're able to build many different kinds of applications, for different platforms and devices-Web, Windows, RIA, mobile, middleware, database, BI, portal, you name it-with great efficiency, using a common, core skill set. If we lose that, it would be devastating.
The fact is, no one offers the low-cost, end-to-end, developer-oriented and well-integrated stack that Microsoft does. Apple doesn't. LAMP certainly doesn't. Neither does IBM (remember, I said low cost and well integrated). I maintain that Google isn't even interested in doing so. Oracle has a long way to go, despite its pending acquisition of Sun and its efforts with newly upgraded Fusion Middleware, with price remaining an issue.
A Call to Action
What can we do? Ultimately, customer and partner feedback to Microsoft will bring the change the company and its ecosystem need. Like that of any leader, Microsoft's constituency must help it succeed. People outside of Microsoft must explain what the company is doing right and wrong, and what criticism it faces from both its customers and its competitors. This is valuable intelligence that's surprisingly difficult for Microsoft to get on its own.
It might sound glib for me to argue that you should get the world's largest software company to change its products and strategy. But customers and partners have enormous influence. By way of example, a friend of mine, with no strong links to Microsoft at the time, reported a major bug in Exchange-one so glaring he couldn't believe it got through. The Exchange team did more than fix that bug; they sent my friend a T-shirt stating that he had found Exchange's biggest bug ever.
Of course, I'm talking about bigger issues than a single bug in a single product. But the principle applies: Microsoft is your company, too. You have to be an activist and engage with it. Be forthright. Be honest. Be constructive and respectful. Despite a reputation to the contrary, Microsoft listens attentively when this protocol is followed. It's a customer- and partner-driven company like none I've ever seen. And right now, we have to drive it to change.
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!