D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

Microsoft has "Community", it doesn't need a "Cult"

Sunday, May 13, 2007 5:42 PM

Michael Singer posted an article on Information Week  about Microsoft's seeming lack of community (Thanks to Scott for originally posting about the article on GWB). I think that he might have gotten some misinformation from less-than-reliable sources, so I wanted to go through his article and give a Microsoft-ie point of view. Let's review the article shall we?

"Apple has one. So does the Java community, Oracle, IBM, and Google. Lord knows anyone who uses Linux or free and open source software is dedicated to spreading the gospel of St. Linus Torvalds and St. Richard Stallman. But does anyone really worship the Gods of Redmond?"

The question came up in a casual conversation I had at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco this past week."

Ok, first of all Michael...you were discussing this at a JavaOne convention?! Obviously this is going to be skewed. Plus, since it was a JavaOne convention, you aren't going to get wide-ranging input from the 5 people that showed up. ;)

"I was chatting with some Sun Micro PR people who commented that Microsoft's problem these days is that it doesn't have a passionate user/developer base. (Hey, I thought the days of mudslinging were over.). The theory is that while Microsoft certainly owns the majority of user systems, no one seems to really be evangelical about its software: Windows Vista, Office, Visual Studio, SharePoint, SQL Server, and certainly not IE. The same thing goes for Microsoft's hardware. Where are the legions of Zune users? Xbox may be the closest thing Microsoft has to a fanatical fan base, but I'm pretty sure the lines were just as long for the PS3 and the Wii."

Before I get serious about my response to this part, I have to point out that there were people lined up for a 360 months after its initial release, and people were upset that there were shortages. With the PS3, I haven't heard of ANY shortages and many full boxes of the system remain on store shelves.

And again...Michael, you were talking to a Sun Micro PR guy about Microsoft's fan base...probably not the best source for what's really going on in MS land.

Ok...so the serious response: Microsoft DOES have a passionate user/developer base. The current stat on the INETA website (International .NET Association) is that it services 239 user groups worldwide representing 132728 members...and those are just the INETA associated user groups, not counting the IT usergroups and the ones that aren't affiliated. Michael doesn't mention the Microsoft MVP or RD's that exist either, or the role that Microsoft-employed Developer Evangelists provide to the community. The community supporting Visual Studio, SQL Server, and Office is huge. The fact that many people in the Microsoft space still use Firefox instead of IE 7 speaks to how the Microsoft community differs from the other ones in a huge way: We're a COMMUNITY, not a CULT! We don't just automatically take for granted that whatever Bill or Steve say is going to be the best thing ever to come down the pipe, and we're going to let the product groups at Microsoft (who want the feedback) know what we think...as opposed to the millions of Mac-Fanboys who are already gunning to get their hands on the iPhone regardless of how much quality is really provided through it. If anything, the Microsoft community is more stringent to their chosen technology vendor as far as expectations and calling BS than the Java or Linux counterparts.

"Think about it. When was the last time an editor was fired because of a scathing article entitled, "10 Things We Hate About Microsoft?" When was the last time a group of developers stood up at a VS Live show and shouted ... "Yea, man! Orcas Rocks! Language Integrated Query is da' Bomb! New and improved ADO.Net? Oh, no you didn't!" It just doesn't happen."

You should get out to some user group events Michael and see what actually goes down, or to Tech Ed or PDC or Mix (VS Live? Out of all the Microsoft events to pick, you pick VS LIVE?!).

"Conversely, how many e-mails have you received (or written) because someone bashed your favorite operating system or software application? Chances are that you were defending something that wasn't made or acquired by Microsoft."

Well...I'm writing a blog post about your article... ;)

"So while I expect Sun to mouth off, my biggest surprise was that Mary Jo Foley (of Microsoft Watch and ZDNet blogging fame) was standing right there and she validated the theory that customers and developers are just not that into Microsoft. Her take on it was that even Microsoft people she's spoken with acknowledge that developers and users have a lackluster passion when it comes to Microsoft products."

I'd like to know what she's basing that on. In the developer network that I'm apart of, all I hear about is how awesome community events like Code Camps, user group events, and official Microsoft project launch events are executed. I'd also challenge that customers and developers aren't that "into" Microsoft...who are these customers and developers that she's talked to and garnered this information from? Come to Canada, where we have a strong developer community that is definately passionate about Microsoft technology. In the city I'm in, the majority of high-end developer shops embrace Microsoft technologies and not just with a "ho-hum, I guess" attitude. People talk about how horrible the Vista launch has been, blah blah blah, but nobody reports on the AMAZING innovations that Sharepoint 2007 brings to market and the success stories that Sharepoint and Office are going to bring in the next few years. There are passionate Microsoft users/developers out there...again, a SunOne conference is probably not the best place to start a discussion about their existence. ;)

"Does the largest software vendor in the world have people who are actually excited by its products and drive themselves into a frenzy when the latest version comes out?"


"Rob Enderle, principal analyst and founder of the Enderle Group, suggests Microsoft did have a religion and a passionate audience up until 1995, but Microsoft never really nurtured them and they died off. "Now Windows is just part of the PC," Enderle said. "There are still those that admire the company and Gates, but the passion that exists around FreeBSD, Linux, and Apple simply has no analog in Windows. Great products come from passion -- when Windows lost that, it lost its heart."

Is this guy talking about the OS-based group, or Microsoft tools on a whole? Regardless, you can't just say that "Windows" is part of a PC. Are we talking server-level PC, Windows Mobile running on a smart phone, or the typical desktop scenario? What about XP Embedded that runs on thin clients? There have been huge improvements in server-based operating systems from Microsoft. Windows Mobile 6 is getting ready to launch. Vista, with all the good and bad, is still an improvement over XP in many ways. There's still passion at Microsoft for Windows from what I can see.

"What about this: Is Microsoft in such control over its own products that nobody really cares to innovate around Microsoft software? Do they just go through the motions because that's what they use at work?"

A thousand times no! Case in point: the company that created the web-interface for Visual Studio Team System. That wasn't a Microsoft-based solution, but it was so good and innovative and improved the original product offering that Microsoft went and bought it. Look at things like Mono-Rail, an entirely different take on ASP.NET that still leverages .NET languages and features. And consider the possibilities of Silverlight and what that will mean to opening up the .NET framework to cross-platforms like OS-X. Sharepoint 2007 and Office 2007 are the first Microsoft Office offerings in a long time that really carry the weight of a "NEW" software release, and the capability and extensibility of the products will open huge areas of innovation! There is a TONNE of innovation going on within the Microsoft space right now!

"Does anyone worship the Gods of Redmond?"

No, and that's why the Microsoft community is better than the other technology cults that exist. We don't blindly accept what comes down from Mount Redmond as gospel...we test it, challenge it, and provide feedback...and that is the true test of devotion and passion. A common rule in customer service is to not ignore the complaining customer. Why? Because for every customer that complains about what's wrong, there are 5 that don't and you lose the ability to retain them. Microsoft understands that their community is the most important feedback mechanism out there. That's why they release public betas of their software months in advance. That's why they invest so much money into community relations and support of user groups, code camps, and other community-based events.

While the Mac Fanboys and the Java Worshippers and the Linux Devotees continue to wage a religious war against all things Microsoft, those of us that support Bill and Steve are busy working with and working on Microsoft products. Maybe if Sun, Linux, and Mac spent as much time doing that with their own products instead of trying to convince everyone how much better than Microsoft they are, they might actually have more market share than they currently do.

I don't want this to sound like any sort of personal attack on Mr. Singer...I appreciate his article as it gives us an opportunity to discuss the Microsoft community and what its strengths are.

Final thought: not all Mac, Java, and Linux fans are the a-hole zealot type that spits after saying Microsoft and have to prove that they're somehow "better" than us Microsoftians...but for those that are, don't they remind you of this girl?



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