Dear New Microsoft CEO

Congratulations on assuming the reigns of one of the best know technology brands in the world. Once you get past your new-hire honeymoon, you have a lot work ahead. You see, Microsoft is dying. Not in the monetary sense, but from an innovation standpoint.

You could continue to license Office and Windows to large enterprises for another decade and make your shareholders happy. But Microsoft’s future viability isn’t about the Office/Windows cash cow, it is about successfully returning Microsoft to a company built on innovation and wonder. As your predecessor so gleefully proclaimed, it’s about developers, developers, developers! And you’re losing that battle.

I’m not a billion-dollar technology executive, unlike what you became the minute you signed your offer letter. But I’ve been in the technology trenches for a while, and the guys in the trenches have a lot better instinct for how the battle is going than the REMFs at the top.

Your challenge is that Microsoft has lost its street cred. When someone says “.NET Developer”, they’re thinking of a minimally-skilled, cube dweller writing Sharepoint widgets. And that’s a shame, because you should be a whole lot more.

I’ve been a Java developer since the JDK 1.1 days, but I’ve tracked the .NET scene since its inception. I used Visual J++, read the language specs for Cool, attended C# training on the Microsoft campus, and deployed more .NET code than I’m willing to admit for fear of being kicked out of my tribe.

You have a great thing in .NET and C#, and your pissing it all away.  I’ve written code in a lot of different languages, and I still think the C# language is about the most powerful, elegant and best-designed language available to developers today.  But you’re allowing your stubbornness and internal politics to kill it by relegating it to best-supporting-actor role for your boring server products rather than driving it as a thought leader for innovation.

How many startups or smart kids in dorm rooms would even give C# more than a passing thought while building the next Facebook? The answer is near zero. Go take a walk around a non-Microsoft technology conference and count laptops. Apple owns. Even those ugly Dells are probably running Linux and not Windows. At SenchaCon this year, I probably saw more Chromebooks than Windows laptops, which must really be rubbing salt in your wounds.

If you want to follow IBM down the path to irrelevance, more power to you. But I always looked at Microsoft as the hometown hero of the northwest, so I hope you aspire to do better.  Here’s a few suggestions to help you out of the gate and to find Microsoft’s mojo.

Step 1: Fire the ignorant fool responsible for stack ranking and fix your culture. You can’t be successful when your internal culture is the equivalent of corporate Hunger Games. Teams play to win. Microsoft is any army of individuals right now. You might be able to hire mercenaries with stack ranking, but you’ll never have cohesion across the company when everyone is in mortal combat with their cube-mates for their very job survival.

Step 2: Give a free Visual Studio Professional and Windows 7 Developer Edition (see below) license to any developer who registers to be a Microsoft developer. Every other ecosystem has world-class tools available for essentially free. You can still make money on your “Enterprise Editions” suckering Fortune 500 clients into paying enormous fees, but the grassroots developers you need to attract won’t pay for it. And Express edition is too gimp. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by getting your tools into the hands of as many people as possible.

Step 3: I use an Apple laptop probably 90% of the time for development, even when it is for tasks I could also do on Windows. The primary reason is the workflow is better. Easy virtual desktops, a full-power terminal, and a window manager that stays out of your face are the primary reasons. You should push out a version of Windows 7 tuned for developers (Windows 7 Developer Edition). Strip it of all the crap for making grandma’s life easier. Include as close as you can get to a real terminal/console (don’t get me started on the suck that is PowerShell). And it should scream when running Visual Studio. Get feedback from developers and churn on it. This is a version of Windows for developers, not Fred in accounting.

Step 4: Make Internet Explorer rock, or get out of the browser game. IE 10 is barely useable, and you all should be embarrassed to even admit authoring any of the prior versions. Everyone I know uses Chrome or Firefox. Swallow your pride and go learn what people want and like from these other browsers. Make Internet Explorer the most standards-compliant browser on the planet. You should own on HTML5 Test and Acid 3. Your JavaScript engine should blow up V8. And start churning! There should be an update to IE every two months, not every two years.

Step 5: Beat Apple at their own game. You picked the wrong battle to get into the hardware market with. An upside-down laptop isn’t revolutionary. Similar to #3, you should go build a developer-focused laptop. With all your R&D power, you should be able to come up with something than can trump a Retina Macbook Pro. Sell it direct to developers. Earn mindshare. Your stock vesting plan should correspond to the percentage of Microsoft laptops being used at conferences in three years. If you walk into OSCON or RailsConf and over 50% of the attendees are using your laptops, you’ve won.

Step 6: Become the new MySQL. SQL Server is a tremendous product. You have a database that is very easy to use, yet powerful and reliable. But once again, you’re caught up in the enterprise world trying to be Oracle instead of being yourselves. SQL Server Web edition should be filling the role you’ve been pushing SQL Server Express edition for. And it should be free. Yes, you’ll eat some short term revenue loss, but you’re in it for the long game. There should be no reason someone picks PostgreSQL or MySQL over SQL Server for a startup. And no, Bizspark doesn’t count.

I know all this sounds like a lot of developer whining, but the people who write code really are The New Kingmakers. Microsoft has a lot of cool stuff going for it, but it feels very fragmented. Microsoft is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of today’s developers, and pretty much screwed for the  future generation. You must change that. Microsoft can’t afford another lost decade.


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