Redmond Review

2009 Annual Review: A Year in Microsoft Development

I began writing Redmond Review one year ago, with a column covering the 2008 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC2008). It was an especially opportune time to begin a column that focused on Microsoft and its strategy, given the number of new products and technologies announced at that PDC. Windows 7, Windows Azure and the Office Web Applications were showcased, as were a number of new features in the upcoming Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) 4, getting the audience excited about Visual Studio 2010. There was so much new stuff that it was difficult to keep track of it all.

This year's PDC was different. Windows 7 had just launched, Office and the Office Web Apps were entering their second major pre-release and Windows Azure was about six weeks away from production launch. Yes, Steven Sinofsky showed some early IE9 bits and Scott Guthrie announced and demonstrated Silverlight 4, which looks very impressive. But without a slew of new initiatives, was PDC09 worth it?

The Importance of Follow-Through
I think the answer to that question is yes. And I think the subject matter at PDC09 tells us why. Microsoft needed to finish what it started and incrementally improve on the products and technologies introduced at PDC2008. Microsoft's partners, customers and observers needed to judge Redmond's progress. The PDC2008 initiatives were bold, but they were risky for both Microsoft and its partners. Will the cloud pan out? Will yet another version of Office and SharePoint attract upgrade-weary customers? Will Microsoft's focus on the cross-platform Silverlight environment for mainstream developers undercut Windows, or will Windows 7 return momentum and customer to the OS?

PDC09 gave us insight into how Microsoft and the market might answer these questions. Windows Azure's vision is becoming more pragmatic, adding support for competing open source technologies like MySQL and MemCached, as well as Amazon EC2-like virtual machine role options. SharePoint adds significant value, including the ability to create simple data-over-forms applications without coding. Silverlight brings important out-of-browser and full-fledged, out-of-sandbox capabilities for its applications in a way that makes Windows more valuable, yet avoids the ill will that comes from running on that OS exclusively. Windows 7-driven offerings from OEMs, meanwhile, feature diverse form factors, multi-touch capabilities, battery efficiency and digital media friendliness at such compelling price points that the OS seems especially relevant again.

But danger remains. Windows Azure's pricing model could price smaller developers out of its market. The apparent overlap between WPF and Silverlight is confusing. Free versions of Office Web Apps could undermine sales of the full client. And SharePoint's continued reliance on an Enterprise Client Access License for its most compelling features could ultimately stunt its high growth, leaving more customers on the table for open source Web platforms like WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal.

Tracking the Friendly Fire
Is Microsoft up for the battle? There are competing camps within Redmond-inside the executive echelons and the rank and file-working to take the company in different directions. Will the company expand its horizons, embrace openness and speed innovation, or might it decide to defend its gains against real and perceived threats? In some sense, the competing activist camps are fighting for the soul of the company.

What that means, and I can't stress this enough, is that Microsoft's customers and partners need to keep track of the debate and its outcomes. More than ever, picking the right product, license, development platform and even individual API can make the difference between a great investment that yields a competitive edge, and a lousy bet that leads to lost time, money and business.

As I work to partner with Microsoft, pursue business for my firm, guide our developers, advise our customers and size up our competition-and Microsoft's-I'll report back on that experience, and the observations and decisions that have come out of it. With so many initiatives coming out of Redmond, this much is certain: The stakes are higher than ever.

About the Author

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!

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