Thoughts on Microsoft, after Tech.Ed 2008

After Tech.Ed 2008 (I think) I have some new thoughts on Microsoft. It is in fact a different company than many Internet users and mass media have perceived. It is a lot more than just Windows, Internet Explorer, Office, Live/MSN, and Xbox 360. It is really about developers, developers, developers.

For those who have read my previous 3 days of quick reports on Tech.Ed, I think I might need to explain who I am and why I attended Tech.Ed 2008. I use Windows on the desktop (ahem... it's a work computer!) but I was trained in a university which taught programming on *nix system (UNSW). I had my very first professional gig as C/C++ programmer on SCO OpenServer. I've used Linux for 13 years and Vim has been my text editor of choice over the last 10 years. Coding for a *nix/Linux system is just so much more natural to me.

But then a start up that I was part of (and still is) got bought out by another ISV around a few years ago, and these guys use pretty much Microsoft stack all the way through. So my team (Linux loving, mostly UNSW grads) started living a "double life" at work -- almost all developers worked on Linux, but we have to build and deploy our software on Win2k3 boxes. And now they've just sent me to a convention focusing on the technology that I've been trying very hard to avoid...

Okay. Back to Microsoft.

It's a company that everyone likes to bash. Obviously when I say "everyone", I am talking about those who read Slashdot or those who read TechCrunch (note -- two very different crowd). To them, all the open source projects and new web start ups are pronouncing the defeat of Microsoft. MSFT is in trouble because Windows Vista does not sell. They are in trouble because Firefox/OpenOffice.org/Google Chrome are taking up more shares in the market. Google Docs is so much better than Office 2007 (yeah right). Zune is crap. Jerry Seinfeld + Bill Gates is worse. Etc.

But one of the most important messages I received in the Tech.Ed this year was -- Microsoft is much more than just a software company. While it has also quickly transformed itself into a service company (like Google and Yahoo) and an infrastructure company (like Amazon WS), it is also a well established solution company (think IBM, Accenture, etc). They implement end to end solutions for enterprises with multi-million dollar budget. For those who triumph over the fact that he uses Linux, Firefox and OO.o instead of Microsoft equivalent -- just think about how much tax you have paid to the government, who spent big chunk of the budget on IT projects, many were designed by Microsoft certified architects using Microsoft development tools, deployed on the Microsoft operating systems...

And the scary thing is -- how many other solution companies can provide the entire stack -- from operating system, virtualisation, database, web/messaging servers, development tools, deployment tools, programming languages, web browsers, RIA runtime and the whole lot? Sun, maybe, although most won't consider their own database system of "enterprise grade". Not to mention Sun seriously needs a health check. In Anna Liu's presentation on Wednesday where she showed a slide of a big application stack -- there's a Microsoft product for almost everything. For Microsoft certified professional developers, they probably won't think twice in choosing the right component, because MSFT have already done all the thinking + implementation for them. Talking about vendor lock in...

With so much invested in development stack and infrastructure, developers and architects who have sold their soul to Microsoft platform, are actually one of MSFT's biggest assets. And with 3,000+ attendance at Tech.Ed 2008, this community is definitely not small size. These are the developers who are part of multi-million dollar projects in government, education, banks, etc. It's more than just Microsoft defending themselves from non-Microsoft products. These developers too have been advocating for their SQL Server, for their IIS and for their VisualStudio -- not just because of their loyalty but the entire Microsoft development stack is what brings food on the table for them. Obviously they will stick up for their favourite company in Redmond!

And the Two-Point-Oh people can continue with their yada yada yada. Big corporates are usually immune to them -- at least here in Australia.

Or maybe it is just Australia, which I found is very Microsoft'ised in comparison with many Asia and Europe countries, where some government will explicitly go the open source route to reduce vendor lock in.

Anyway. Sorry about my disturbing brain dump. The rule of the game is more than the mind share of Internet and office suite users, but the mind share of software developers. Not just those in the start ups but also numerous developers/architects in big corps who might rarely raise their opinion on blogs but are solely responsible in picking the tools for their next million dollar project.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for Microsoft, having software products for the entire stack just make mind-share grabbing quite a bit easier.