Redmond Review

The Survival of Microsoft's Fittest

Microsoft has been facing heavy competition for most of the last two years. In response, it's changing -- not incrementally, but fundamentally. Windows 8 is a big departure from previous versions. Metro is everywhere, and it certainly seems like all the devices using it (PC, phone and Xbox) are converging, architecturally and organizationally. But this goes beyond technology. Microsoft is reorganizing and reprioritizing, and various teams' fortunes are rising and falling. As such, some people are changing jobs within Microsoft and a large number of people have left the company. This will probably continue for a while.

All of this change creates flux, and not just for people who work in Redmond. The change creates flux in the development platform, and thus it impacts you. The apparent de-emphasis of Silverlight is but one example of such impact. The prominence of HTML5 and JavaScript and of the app store economic model for developers provides you with more. Put these and other changes together and you'll realize that it's not just your imagination: The ground really is shifting underneath your feet.

The Horses Are on the Track
So what can you do? You might be tempted to ignore all this, but that could lead to bad investments of your time, or your company's money. You could sit there paralyzed and not start any new projects, but eventually you'll get tired of treading water. You could jump ship to another platform, but do you really want to do that just as Microsoft seems ready to give you a unified development platform for PC, tablet, phone and maybe even entertainment? The better approach to Redmond's realignment is to be analytical about what makes the company tick, then base your investments on where it wants to go. In other words, align your skill investments with Microsoft's priorities.

What are those priorities? First and foremost, revenue is king. The products, and product groups, bringing in the most money have the most power and influence as Microsoft remakes itself. Products and activities that don't make a lot of money could find themselves in danger, and might maneuver to facilitate the rainmaker products.

The biggest moneymakers at Microsoft, of course, are Windows client and Office. But there are important revenue winners beyond the two perennial cash cows. Windows Sever does great and so does SQL Server. SharePoint is huge, Exchange is king and Lync is a rising star. Dynamics CRM and ERP are growing, and Xbox is finally making some real money. And even if it seems irrelevant to you as a developer, the upward trajectory of System Center is something you should consider.

There are underperformers, too. BizTalk doesn't make much. Neither does Windows Phone. Visual Studio does well, but the Microsoft .NET Framework itself is free. And although there's been a ton of investment in Windows Azure, it apparently hasn't made big numbers yet. If you consider all this, digest it and internalize it, you'll be in a much better position in deciding what to learn, where to specialize and what changes to expect.

Win, Place and Show
For now, focusing on the HTML5/JavaScript model for Windows Runtime (WinRT)/Metro-style applications seems prudent, and that's clearly why Visual Studio has pivoted to support that model in its next release. If Windows Phone and/or Xbox adopts this model, you'll have great entrée into developing for devices and the "10 foot" TV environment. Work with SQL Server and SharePoint, or the business intelligence intersection between the two, and you'll be in high demand, specializing in technologies that are continually invested in by Microsoft.

If you prefer to stick with straight application development, ASP.NET seems the best place to be: SharePoint is built atop it, Dynamics products use it and Windows Azure has a deep reliance on it as well. And speaking of Windows Azure, keep your eye out for new Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) options that it might offer. Platform as a Service (PaaS) has the highest value, but IaaS is where Amazon, the current cloud market leader, makes its money, and where the Hyper-V/System Center private cloud combination has gained traction.

A certain Darwinian evolution is taking place at Microsoft. Some product species are more fit, with better chances for survival. You can understand and work with Microsoft's changes, rather than being passively impacted by them. You have power -- more than you might realize -- in interpreting these changes and using them to your advantage. That's control you need, for yourself and your career. Assert it, use it, and you may well come out ahead.

About the Author

Andrew Brust is Founder and CEO of Blue Badge Insights, an analysis, strategy and advisory firm serving Microsoft customers and partners. Brust is also a Microsoft Regional Director and MVP; an advisor to the New York Technology Council; and co-author of "Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2012" (Microsoft Press, 2012). A frequent speaker at industry events, Brust is co-chair of the Visual Studio Live! family of conferences and a contributing editor to Visual Studio Magazine. Brust has been a participant in the Microsoft ecosystem for over 20 years, and has worked closely with both Microsoft's Redmond-based corporate team and its field organization for much of the last 15. He is a member of several "insiders" groups that supply him with insight around important technologies out of Redmond. Follow Brust on Twitter @andrewbrust.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Mar 28, 2012

So tedious, all of this continuous dribble concerning this latest false messiah, HTML5/JavaScript. None of the major players have anything to gain via platform independence and catering to the primitive nature of the web's lowest common denominator. Time to wake up - everyone is chasing Apple and its success is entirely based upon cloud-enabled native applications. It didn't specificaly set out to change the world in this way, but app stores and the native application deployment model they make possible are the future - web applications will remain, but only for those cases in which mediocrity is worth platform independence. The cloud evolves, the Internet lives on, but the tired-old Web, it finally begins to fade, victim of its overly simplistic beginnings. Silverlight is far from dead, as it's instead morphing into the heart and soul of Windows 8 - the minimalistic runtime capable of spanning the PC, tablet, phone, XBox and more What has shifted, in reality, is clear within the scope of Silverlight 5 - far more invested in its OOB capabilities, very much in keeping with the quickly diminishing importance of the browser: in an Apple-dominated world, the browser matters little. And Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy is reflective of that - Windows 8 is just as much about the increasing dominance of native applications as is iOS. A no-brainer...

Thu, Mar 8, 2012

I agree with Jay. Microsoft's success has always hinged on the developer community, and on Office (and therefore Windows) being the defacto standard business app. The turmoil that Win8 is causing among developers, plus the increasing inroads of Apple [and Android] into businesses, plus a general dissatisfaction with the new development tools and direction, means that the traditional Windows developer base is starting to look elsewhere. That does not seem to have been considered in Microsofts' planned "evolution" -- or what increasingly seems like a path to extinction outside of the back office server farm.

After developing for and with Microsoft OSes and tools since DOS, I will no longer be dependent on them.

Thu, Mar 8, 2012

Your comments seem logical, but it's not what MS is doing. Rather than concentrating on their business and enterprise customers, Win8 and Metro are all about the consumer market for tablets and phones. Neither Win8 nor Metro play well in a business environment, whether in terms of productivity and efficiency, compatibility, or security. Reliance on the cloud and constant wireless connectivity undermines cost effectiveness. With Metro having failed miserably on Zune and WinPhone products, it's being forced on us on the desktop as well as on tablets (where it at least makes some sense); one of its main failings is that it does not scale to large screens, or multi-monitor desktops, or more than about a dozen items on a screen at a time. Without lists or hierarchical trees or menus, most business apps will find it awkward or downright dumbfounding to users. And all those active tiles suck up CPU, memory and disk accesses -- in direct contradiction to Win8's purported emphasis on reduced footprint and efficiency - for things most businesses don't want you doing on a system at work anyway.

How is does this "prioritization" match your analysis?

Thu, Mar 8, 2012 Jay

I agree with your assessment of Microsoft's going forward strategy and I have invested my time in the area of Javascript and HTML5. It has been an eye opener for me and very rewarding to more or less be the beginner again and I believe it has made me a better programmer. I will always appreciate the C# experiences that molded my foundation, but to get a fresh perspective in a changing field has been priceless. I found that I was becoming to dependant on the MS brand and that there is alot more to industry than just them. I did always appreciate MS dev centers, but recently have found them to be little less helpful. I would like to see MS beef up their JS dev center. I just like to have one-stop assurance of quality in reviewing information on the net and felt I got that with MSDN.

Wed, Mar 7, 2012 Rod Mac

To me it's super simple. MS need to allow desktops apps to be peppered with Metro controls. The ribbon control and minimized desktop apps being prime examples. Of course this means side loading... totally by passing the app store. Metro is a desktop companion and will not be a desktop replacement until the winRT stack replaces the current .NET object graph. Should Windows 8 consumer preview have been an interim milestone pre a hitherto unplanned business preview? Probably.

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