Microsoft: We’re Not Stupid

by Jon Davis 2. May 2010 23:40

We get it, Microsoft. You want us to use Azure. You want us to build highly scalable software that will run in the cloud—your cloud. And we’ll get the wonderful support from Microsoft if we choose Azure. Yes, Microsoft. We get it.

We’re not stupid. You play up Azure like it’s a development skill, or some critical piece of the Visual Studio development puzzle, but we recognize that Azure is a proprietary cloud service that you’re advertising, not an essential tool chain component. Now go away. Please. Stop diluting the MSDN Magazine articles and the msdev Facebook app status posts with your marketing drivel about Azure. You are not going to get any checks written out from me for hosted solutions. We know that you want to profit from this. Heck, we even believe it might actually be a half-decent hosting service. But, Microsoft, you didn’t invent the cloud, there are other clouds out there, so tooling for your operating system using Visual Studio does not mean that I need to know diddly squat about your tirelessly hyped service.

There are a lot of other things you can talk about and still make a buck off of your platform. You can talk about how cool WPF is as a great way to build innovative Windows-only products. You can focus on how fast SQL Server 2008 R2 is and how Oracle wasted their money on a joke (mySQL). You can play up the wonderful extensibility of IIS 7 and all the neat kinds of innovative networked software you can build with it. Honestly, I don’t even know what you should talk about because you’re the ones who know the info, not me.

But Microsoft it’s getting really boring to hear the constant hyping of Azure. I’ve already chosen how my stuff will be hosted, and that’s not going to change right now. So honestly, I really don’t care.

Maybe I need to explain why I don’t care.

Microsoft, there are only two groups of people who are going to choose your ridiculously wonderful and bloated cloud: established mid-market businesses with money to spend, and start-ups with a lot of throw-away capital who drank your kool aid. You shouldn’t worry about those people. The people you should worry about are those who will choose against it, and will have made their decision firmly.

First of all, I believe most enterprises will not want to put their data on a cloud, certainly not with a standardized set of cloud interfaces. It’s too great a security risk. Amazon’s true OS cloud is enticing because companies can roll their own APIs with proprietary APIs and have them talk to each other while rolling out VM instances on a whim. They have sufficient tooling outside of cloud-speak to write what they need and to do what needs doing. But for the most part, companies want to keep internal data internal.

Second, we geeks don’t fiddle a whole lot with accounting and taking corporate risks. We focus on writing code. That code has to be portable. It has to run locally, on a dedicated IIS server, or in a cloud. Writing code that deploys to your cloud—whether a true cloud or locally for testing, it doesn’t matter—if it doesn’t run equally well in other environments it’s at best a redundant effort and at worst a potentially wasted one. We have to write code for your cloud and then we have to write code for running without your cloud. We most certainly would not be comfortable writing code that only runs on your cloud, but the mangled way your cloud APIs are marketed we might as well bet the whole farm on it. And that just ain’t right.

See, I don’t like going into anything not knowing I can pull out and look at alternatives at any time without having completely wasted my efforts. If I’m going to write code for Azure, I want to be assured that the code will have the same functionality outside of Azure. But since Azure APIs only run in the Azure cloud, and Azure cannot be self-hosted (outside of localhost debugging), I don’t have that assurance. Hence, I as a geek and as an entrepreneur have no interest in Azure.

When I choose a tool chain, I choose it for its toolset, not for its target environment. I already know that Windows Server with IIS is adequate for the scale of runtimes I work with. When I choose a hosting service, I choose it expecting to be very low-demand but with potential for high demand. I don’t want to pay out the nose for that potential. I often experiment with different solutions and discover a site’s market potential. But I don’t go in expecting to make a big buck—I only go in hoping to.

What would gain my interest in Azure? Pretty much the only thing that would have me give Azure even a second glance would be a low-demand (low traffic, low CPU, low storage, and low memory) absolutely free account, whereby I am simply billed if I go over my limit. If free’s no good, then a flat ridiculously low rate, like $10/mo for reasonable usage and a reasonable rate when I go over. A trial is unacceptable. I’m not going to develop for something that is going to only be a trial. And I also prefer a reasonable flat rate for low-demand usage over a generated-per-use one. I prefer to have an up-front idea of how much things will cost. I don’t have time to keep adjusting my budget. I don’t want to have to get billed first in order to see what my monthly cost will be.

I’m actually paying quite a bit of money for my Windows 2008 VPS, but the nice thing about it is there are no surprises, the server will handle the load, and if I ever exceed its capacity I can just get another account. Whereas, cloud == surprises. You have to do a lot of manual number crunching in order to determine what your bill is going to look like. “Got a lot of traffic this month? We got you covered, we automatically scaled for you. Now here’s your massive bill!”

Let’s put it this way, Microsoft. If you keep pushing Azure at me, I can abandon your tool chain completely and stick with my other $12/mo Linux VM that would meet my needs for a low-demand server on which I still have the support of some magnificent open source communities, and if my needs grow I can always instance another $12/mo account. Honestly, the more diluted the developer discussions are with Azure hype, the more inclined I am to go down that path. (Although, I’ll admit it’ll take a lot more to get me to go all the way with that.)

Just stop, please. I have no problem with Azure, you can put your banner ads and printed ads into everything I touch, I’m totally fine with that. What is really upsetting to me is when magazine and related content, both online and printed, is taken up to hype your proprietary cloud services, and I really feel like I’m getting robbed as an MSDN subscriber.

Just keep in mind, we’re not stupid. We do know service marketing versus helpful development tips when we see it. You’re only hurting yourselves when you push the platform on us like we’re lemmings. Speaking for myself, I’m starting to dread what should have been a wonderful year of 2010 with the evolution of the Microsoft tool chain.

 

[UPDATE: According to this, Azure will someday be independently hostable. That's better. Now I might start paying attention.] 

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Peeves | Software Development | Web Development

Is The Microsoft Stack Really More Expensive?

by Jon Davis 5. September 2009 23:17

As a Microsoft customer, who at times rambles on with a fair share of complaints about Microsoft’s doings, I want to take a moment to discuss Microsoft’s successes in making its development stack affordable, equal to or even more so I’d argue than the LAMP + Adobe stacks.

Let’s Get Started

If you’re developing for the web, Microsoft makes it easy to download everything you need to develop on the Microsoft stack for free with a do-it-all download application called the Microsoft Web Platform. Everything you need to get started is available from that tool for free, including (but not limited to):

  • Visual Web Developer 2008 Express (FREE)
  • Silverlight tools for Visual Web Developer (FREE)
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Express (FREE)
  • IIS extensions such as FastCGI for running PHP applications (FREE)
  • ASP.NET add-on libraries, including ASP.NET MVC (FREE)
  • Tons of free, open source ASP.NET applications (FREE)
  • Tons of free, open source PHP applications that can run on IIS (on Windows) (FREE)

I’ll even go so far as to repost a pretty Microsoft-provided button.

(FREE)

Windows

Let’s get the obvious realities of Microsoft stack expenses out of the way first. Microsoft is a platforms company. They make their money off of our dependence upon their platform. That platform is Windows. Many people’s reaction to this is to hold up two fingers to make a cross and shout, “Eww, nooo! No! Monopolies, baaad!” I believe I have a more well-rounded response, which is, “Oh! Well dang. If we’re going to build up a dependency upon a platform, that platform (and its sub-platforms) had better be REALLY FREAKING GOOD—good as in performant, easy to work with, reliable, scalable, and a joy to use, and it had better support all the things most all the other platforms support.”

Enter Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7.

Over the last decade, Microsoft has worked hard to achieve, and since Windows Vista (believe it or not) has already achieved, the right to sing the song to Linux,

Anything you can do,
I can do better!
I can do anything
better than you!

 

And yeah I think Microsoft gets the girl’s part on this one, but perhaps only because of:

Boy: I can live on bread and cheese.

Girl: And only on that?

Boy: Yup.

Girl: So can a rat.

By this I simply mean that everything that’s on the Linux stack is also on the Windows stack, plus Microsoft has its own proprietary equivalents that, in the opinions of most of its customers, are a lot better than the open source equivalents. Take PHP for example. Internet Information Server 7 does everything Apache can do plus host non-HTTP network applications, but it also does everything Apache does, functionally speaking, including configuration details and hosting PHP. But it also performs faster than Apache at hosting PHP applications with Fast-CGI and binary script caching installed and enabled. But beyond PHP, which in itself is technically not much more than ASP Classic (Javascript flavor), Microsoft’s ASP.NET is far more powerful and versatile than PHP, and it’s 100% free (after the cost of Windows itself). And don’t get me started about how much better I think Windows is at GUIs and graphics with GDI+, DirectX, and WPF, than the Linux flavors. (Apple, on the other hand, competes pretty well.)

Windows can also execute all the Java and Ruby stuff that you see in *nix platforms. In fact, Windows has all the UNIX subsystem underpinnings to make a UNIX enthusiast comfortable. The shell and all that fluff is a separate download but it’s all part of the Windows package and is free after the full Windows Ultimate or Windows Server license. You can snag Cygwin, too, if you like, if you want to get an even richer Linux-like experience.

So that’s Windows; you can go fully-licensed and get Windows 7 Ultimate ($219) + Windows Server 2008 R2 ($999) as a workstation + server combo for a total of $1,218 plus tax. However, if you’re in a position to care about that much money, I can tell you that you do not have to suffer that amount if you don’t want to.

First of all, Windows 7 Ultimate can perform just fine as a server. Windows Server 2008 is intended more for an enterprise environment that requires prison-like security and needs some very enterprisey or advanced features, such as hosting Active Directory domains, hosting Exchange Server, or hosting some unusual network services for developers with very specialized needs. If all your needs can be met with IIS and a database, so long as you don’t have a million hits a month (there is, unfortunately, simultaneous network connection count throttling built into Vista/7), you really don’t need anything more than Windows 7 Ultimate, no matter how many sites you host. It will scale, too, and in fact Windows 7 is built to handle tens of CPU cores. So, going Windows 7 only takes the total cost down to $219.

Second, if you really do want to go with the Server flavor, you have a couple more options, including a COMPLETELY FREE option which is very easily accessible, but I’ll get back to that later.

I just want to say, though, at this point, that I for one am already a Windows user, and you probably are too, statistically speaking. Our investments have already been made; however, only the Ultimate edition of Windows is one I would settle for as a “Microsoft stack” developer. Mind you, I’ve never had to pay the full price for any version of Windows in many, many years, yet I am currently running the latest and greatest. Again, I’ll get into that later.

Now let’s look at the development languages and the tools that support them.

Development Languages and Tools

The big names among the non-Microsoft platforms for languages and sub-platforms are:

  • PHP,
  • Ruby (on Rails),
  • Python, and
  • Java

Their tools come in many shapes and sizes. They can be as simple as vi or as complex as NetBeans. Many of the good tools people like to use are free. However, many of them are not.

For example, Aptana Studio is a very good web development IDE that supports Ruby, PHP, and Aptana’s own Javascript/AJAX platform called Jaxer, plus it runs in Eclipse so it supports Java as well. But the Pro version costs $99. That’s not free. There’s also JetBrains RubyMine which is also $99. On the other hand, Ruby developers tend to adore NetBeans, particularly over Aptana, and that is free. So go figure, to each his own.

The point is, if you want to get a rich and richly supported toolset, you’re just as likely going to have to pay for it in the non-Microsoft stacks.

On the Microsoft stack side, everyone knows about Visual Studio. The licensing cost for the Team Suite is $10,939. LAMP developers just love to point that kind of thing out. But folks, the fact is, that price is not measurable as the equivalent of LAMP freeware. It’s for an enterprise shop that needs very advanced and sophisticated tools for performing every corporate software role in a software development lifecycle. If you’re measuring the price here and it’s of concern to you, you probably don’t need to choose the most expensive offering to evaluate the costs of the MS stack!

First of all, the Professional edition of Visual Studio, if you’re crazy enough to have to pay for that out-of-pocket (i.e. not have your employer pay for it or get it in a bundled package such as one of the free ones) only costs $799, not $10,939.

Secondly, if money matters all that much to you, and you’re unable to get one of the free or nearly-free bundles (more on this in a bit), you really should push the limits of Visual Studio Express first. It’s free.

Experience Development Tools: Microsoft Expression vs. Adobe CS

Microsoft has been competing with what was Macromedia, now Adobe, for its designer-oriented web tools for a very long time, and finally came through with a reasonable offering with Expression Studio a few years back, which offers very close to the same functionality, at least at a basic level, for creating compelling web experiences as Adobe’s current CS4 Web Premium offering minus Photoshop.

Dreamweaver vs. Expression Web

A surprisingly large number of web designers use Adobe Dreamweaver (formerly Macromedia Dreamweaver) as their standard web creation tool, not far in similarity to the ubiquity of Adobe Photoshop for editing graphics. Microsoft has had an equivalent web creation tool for well over a decade. It used to be called FrontPage, now it is called Expression Web. But let’s get one thing clear: Expression Web replaces FrontPage, it is not a rename of FrontPage. It is, in fact, a different product that accomplishes the same task and in the same general way. By that I mean, as far as I know, very little of Expression Web’s codebase reuses FrontPage’s legacy codebase; it is a total rewrite and overhaul of both the tools and the rendering engine.

Expression Web supports PHP, in addition to its extensive support for ASP.NET and standards-based raw HTML and CSS. Technically, Expression Web is very close to being on par with Dreamweaver, and I think the differences are a matter of taste more than of function. I for one prefer the taste of Expression Web, and don’t know what Dreamweaver offers that Expression Web doesn’t.

Expression Studio includes Expression Design which is functionally equivalent, albeit to a much lesser extent, to Adobe Illustrator. The rest of the Expression Studio suite accomplishes most of the same functional tasks for web design and development as Adobe CS4 Web Premium Suite’s offering. So, to be functionally complete, you’d need to add a graphics editor to Expression Studio before Expression Studio can be compared with CS4.

As for the costs,

Expression Web: $149
Expression Studio + Paint.NET = $599 + $0 = $599
Expression Studio + Adobe Photoshop: $599 + $699 = $1,198

However, I get Expression Studio for free as it is bundled with my Microsoft suite package. More on this later.

Adobe Dreamweaver: $399
Adobe CS4 Web Premium Suite: $1,699

Silverlight vs. Flash

Inevitably, “the Microsoft stack” has to run into the Silverlight stack because Microsft pushes that product out, too. I’m not going to get into the religious debate over whether Adobe Flash is better than Microsoft Silverlight, except to say a couple very important things. First of all, I understand that it’s a no-brainer that everyone has Flash. 98% of the web’s user base has it. That said, supporting Microsoft Silverlight for your user base—that is, getting your users to obtain it—is not hard at all. So let’s just get that out of the way, okay? Yes, I know that Silverlight comes at this cost of a one-click install versus a no-click install. Life goes on.

Okay. Let’s talk about tools. With Adobe Flash, you have three options, really, for developing Flash solutions: 1) Adobe Flash Professional, 2) Adobe Flex (an Eclipse-based IDE for developing Flash-based applications), or 3) third-party apps like SWiSH. Fortunately, Adobe has recently been rumored to be planning on merging Flash Pro and Flex functionality, which is a relief because Flex did not have the design power of Flash Pro and Flash Pro didn’t have the development power of Flex. Meanwhile, though, Flash Pro and SWiSH are hardly tools I can take seriously as a software developer, and unfortunately, at $249, Flex is expensive.

Microsoft, however, offers the functionally equivalent toolset with the Expression suite and with Visual Studio. The Silverlight Tools for Visual Studio integrate with Visual Web Developer, providing Silverlight developers a completely free IDE for developing compelling Silverlight applications. So let’s get that out of the way: You do not need to spend a dime on dev tools to develop Silverlight apps.

Expression Blend, however, which is a commercial product and is functionally comparable to Adobe Flash Professional as well as, in my opinion, Apple’s Interface Builder (with which iPhone application interfaces are designed), is a rich designer tool for Silverlight as well as for WPF (Windows applications) and outputting XAML, the XML markup required for Silverlight and WPF applications. It provides a syntax-highlighting, IntelliSense (code completion) ready code editor for C# and Javascript code, too, so technically you could accomplish much using just Expression Blend, but Microsoft (and I do, too) recommends using Expression Blend in combination with Visual Studio / Visual Web Developer 2008 Express.

Microsoft Visual Web Developer 2008 Express with Silverlight Tools: $FREE
Microsoft Expression Blend: $599 (full Studio suite)
Together: $599
Microsoft Expression Professional Subscription (Expression Studio plus Windows, Visual Studio Standard Ed., Office, Virtual PC, and Parallels Desktop for Mac): $999

Adobe Flex Builder: $249
Adobe Flash Professional: $699 (standalone)
Together: $948

The long and short of it: in terms of cost savings, Silverlight development costs are on par with Flash development costs, but can in fact go a lot further per dollar including at the price of $FREE, depending on how much tooling you need.

Databases

Then there are the databases. The non-Microsoft stacks include primarily mySQL and PostgreSQL, et al. Mind you, these databases work fine in a Microsoft world, too, just like everything else, but the Microsoft stack tends to work best with Microsoft SQL Server.

Okay, let me just say at this point that Microsoft SQL Server 2008 is, by far, a vastly superior RDBMS than most anything I have seen from anyone, in every respect. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly admire mySQL and the other RDBMSs out there, but SQL Server is seriously the bomb.

But let’s talk about pricing. Just like Visual Studio has a prohibitively expensive offering available to enterprise users, SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition comes to us at a whopping $5,999. That’s just a hair less than the price of my Toyota when I bought it (used).

But, once again, there’s an expensive commercial offering for everything under the sun. MySQL also has a commercial offering at $599, which I’ll admit is only 1/10th the cost of SQL Server standard edition but isn’t exactly free either.

But seriously, who comparing development stacks actually pays for this stuff? Read on.

Everything Starts At Free

Technically, one could download the SDKs (for free) from Microsoft and do most anything. Most of it would be from the command line, but even XamlPad.exe is bundled in with the Windows SDK to you create XAML files for WPF with a WYSIWYG preview. (For Silverlight, you might try Kaxaml’s beta release.)

But who on the Microsoft stack wants to use the command line? If you’re new to the Microsoft development stack, the first place you should turn to is the Express suite, which includes among other things Visual C# Express, Visual Web Developer Express, and SQL Server Express. Empowered with each of the components of the Express suite, you as a developer have all the extremely powerful tools you need to accomplish almost any development task, with absolutely no licensing fees whatsoever. There really is no fine print with this; the Express editions have a few functional limitations that are very rarely (if ever) showstopping, and you’re not allowed to extend the Express product and try to sell your extension or to redistribute the Express products themselves, but there’s no pricing structure at all for any of the Express suite downloads.

I must say, the 2008 flavors of the Express products are, far and away, the most powerful software development solutions I’ve ever seen as a free offering, and definitely compete fairly with the likes of Eclipse and NetBeans in terms of providing what the typical developer needs to build a basic but complete product or solution without a software budget. Ironically, in my opinion, Microsoft specifically created a web site for the Express flavors of Visual Studio to make it all look crappy compared to Visual Studio Team Suite. The Express web site does not do these tools justice. Combined, the Express products are very rich and powerful, and the web site makes them look like a boy’s play dough or G.I. Joe.

I must include SQL Server 2008 Express in saying that the Express products are very rich and powerful, particularly if you get SQL Server 2008 Express with Advanced Services including Management Studio Express, this RDBMS suite is insanely powerful and complete, and is by far more capable and powerful than mySQL. And no, people, SQL Server Express does not come with licensing restrictions. It’s free, completely free. Free, period. It has a few technical/functional limitations, such as for example it cannot consume more physical RAM (not to be confused with database size) than 1 GB, and there are limitations to redistributing the Express products. But there is otherwise no licensing fine print. You can use it for commercial purposes. Have at it.

Beyond these Express versions, there’s also #develop (pronounced “SharpDevelop”). #develop is a non-Microsoft IDE for developing .NET applications on Windows, and it’s quite functional. Initially I think it was built for Mono in mind, but in the long run it never implemented Mono and instead Mono took some of #develop and made it MonoDevelop. #develop is a very well implemented IDE and is worth checking out, particularly given its free price. However, since #develop isn’t a Microsoft tool, it’s not really part of the Microsoft stack.

The Cheap And Free Bundle Package Deals

If the Express flavors aren’t good enough for you, now I get to mention how to get everything you might ever need—and I really mean everything, including Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition, SQL Server 2008 Enterprise Edition, Visual Studio Team Suite with Team Foundation Server, and Expression Studio—for absolutely no cost whatsoever. The only catch is that you must be needing this (a free offering). If you don’t need it because you have a heckofalot of money, then, well, go get a life.

Microsoft is still giving away all the tools you need to rely on the Microsoft stack for absolutely no cost whatsoever through a package deal called BizSpark, which basically gives any start-up company—including one-to-five-man micro-ISVs like yourself(??)—an MSDN Subscription with fully licensed rights to use everything under the sun for development tools and operating systems for absolutely no cost (except for a $100 closing fee after a couple years I think?). If you’ve been struggling as a business for more than three years or if your revenue exceeds $1mil a year, you don’t qualify, otherwise if you intend to create a product (including a web site hosted on IIS) that’s core to your start-up, you do. It’s as simple as that. But don’t take my word for it, read the fine print yourself.

[Added 9/26/2009:] If you’re not a software business start-up but more of a web services start-up, creating a web site, or are a web designer, there’s a brand spanking new program for you, too, that’s just like BizSpark but targets you specifically. It’s called WebsiteSpark. I’m injecting mention of this into this blog post but already discussed it in a follow-up post; here are the basics: For a $100 offing fee (a fee that you pay when your license ends, rather than when it begins) you get Windows Web Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008 Web Edition, Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, and Expression Studio 3, and your license ends in three (3) years (same as BizSpark).

But let’s say you’re not really in business, you’re a college student, and you just need the software, without the pressure of being monitored for pursuing some kind of profit. Assuming that you are indeed in college, there’s hope for you, too, a complete suite of software for you including Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition, SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition, and Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, among other things, through a program called DreamSpark. All you need to qualify is to be a student. Congratulations.

An older program I took advantage of a few years ago, while Microsoft was still experimenting with these package deals, was the Empower program, which is like the BizSpark program but costs a few hundred bucks and doesn’t give you the ridiculously extensive Team Suite edition of Visual Studio. You basically have a year or two to enjoy it, and must offer a product within that timespan, after which point they drop you. But it was still a great deal considering the alternative outside of BizSpark was full-on full-priced licensing.

If you want a “normal everyday customer deal”, the MSDN subscription is still a good option. For about $1,200 for the Visual Studio Pro with Premium MSDN, you get everything under the sun (everything in BizSpark), except only the Team Suite flavor of Visual Studio. I’d save up my money for that even now if I didn’t already have what I needed.

Finally, if these still aren’t good enough for you, let me just say that if you work for an employer who provides an MSDN subscription directly to you as an employee (and I’ve had at least five or six employers do this in my career), and you go and use one of the unused licenses of one of the products under MSDN for your own personal use, unless Microsoft or your employer actually bother to check the download or activation history of your MSDN account, *psst* hey buddy, nobody will ever know. *wink* Seriously, don’t pirate. But hey I’m just sayin’. If you’re careful to only use the licenses that are not being and won’t be used (and in most cases with MSDN subscriptions there’s a ton of them), nobody will care.

Windows Web Hosting

All these things said, if you’re building a web site, you don’t likely need to buy Windows at all, other than the Windows instance on which you’re developing your app. You can rely on a third party web host just like nearly everyone else does. The price for hosting an ASP.NET app on a Windows-based server is typically about 20% more than the Linux offerings, but start at $4.99. You typically have to pay a little bit extra, as well, for extensive SQL Server requirements, but the basics are usually bundled in with these hosted deals.

The Costs Of Knowledge

Honestly, at $4.99 or even $10 a month, I don’t know what people would be complaining about. That’s a good price to host a Microsoft tools based solution. Sure, I can get a Linux hosted site running somewhere at as little as $2.99, but this comes at a prohibitive cost to me. First of all, I like most PC users (“most” being statistically speaking) am already familiar with Windows. In order to use Linux hosting effectively, one must explore and consume a lot of knowledge that otherwise has no relevance to my existing work-and-play environment.

Well let’s assume, then, that I know neither, and that I only use Windows for e-mail and web browsing. Let’s assume that I’m looking at PHP vs. ASP.NET and mySQL vs. SQL Server Express.

Linux proponents will say that you can dive right into PHP and mySQL because Linux doesn’t cost anything. But if you’re already running a moderately recent version of Windows, which statistically speaking you probably are, then this point is completely moot. Even with Windows XP (which is nearly a decade old and is showing its flatulent age) you can accomplish much with the tools that are already available to you.

At that point, then, which direction you should choose is going to be purely a matter of taste, vendor support, learning curve, and culture, because you can do pretty much anything on the Microsoft stack absolutely for free, or cheaper than the non-Microsoft alternative (i.e. Expression Studio vs. CS4), at every level, with no or very few strings attached.

I’d argue, then, that the cost of knowledge is the only significant cost factor if you already have Windows and you’re just doing your own thing. Both the Microsoft and the non-Microsoft user communities are strong and will assist you as you learn and grow. However, I prefer the Microsoft path specifically because the education, training materials, documentation, and, yes, marketing, all come from one vendor. It’s not lock-in that I want, not at all, so much as it’s the consistency that I enjoy (not to mention the intuitiveness of the Microsoft platform at every level from a user’s perspective). Everything starts with MSDN and Microsoft employees’ blogs, for example, and from there I get everything I need from help on how to use new C# language features to how to use Visual Studio to how to configure or extend IIS. Whereas, with the LAMP community, everything is fragmented and fractured. If that’s your preferred style, great. Just keep in mind that Windows can do everything you’re already doing in Linux. ;)

[Added 9/26/2009:] As I mentioned (er, injected) above under “The Cheap And Free Package Deals”, Microsoft just created a new program called WebsiteSpark. In addition to the Windows, SQL Server, Visual Studio, and Expression Studio licenses, you also get professional training. This training is still “coming soon”, I suspect it’ll be online training, but it’s professionally produced training nonetheless (no doubt).

Discussions In The Community

Browsing the comments at http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1370834/why-is-microsoft-stack-said-to-be-costly/1376168#1376168 infuriates me. This is actually the reason why I felt compelled to post this blog article. I am so sick and tired of the FUD that ignorant anti-Microsoft proponents keep pumping out. I’m going to assume that the OP’s context was for web applications, but it doesn’t matter much either way.

  • “But still, Linux hosting is cheaper than Windows hosting at pretty much every level.”

Ahh yes, web hosting. At $4.99 or even at $10 per month I really don’t care.

If we’re talking about VPS or dedicated server hosting, that’s another story. Let’s just say I have a Linux VPS I pay $30/mo. or so for, but I really don’t use it for much because it just doesn’t do enough for me reliably and intuitively, and meanwhile this blog is hosted on a $160/mo. virtual dedicated server (hosted) with Windows Server 2008, but it’s heavily used. I feel I get what I pay for.

  • “Linux hosting is almost always cheaper for the simple reason that the MS stack costs the host more to license (which is the point of most posts). Also you don't get development tools with a hosting service. Let's not forget that you're also liking going to need a more expensive "Ultimate Developer, Don't Gimp It" version of Windows desktop to run the dev tools.”

I don’t know what “Ultimate Developer, Don’t Gimp It” means, but I do agree that Ultimate is the best flavor of Windows to do development on. However, you don’t need Ultimate edition to do Microsoft stack development. Visual Web Developer (which is free) comes with its own test web server and installs fine on Windows XP Service Pack 2 or on Windows Vista Home Basic. And its output works great at targeting Windows based web hosts.

  • “I've heard of express editions. I've even downloaded some. I seem to remember a license condition about non-commercial use, although I may be wrong. I don't think the express editions are particularly good for commercial development in any case.”

Hogwash. The Visual Studio Express editions are blatantly characterized on Microsoft’s pathetic Express web site as being cheap, simple, and even a little crappy, but in fact they are extremely functional and capable of doing much more than “hobbyist” solutions. The suite is really very powerful and I for one believe that if Microsoft only had the Express suite and sold it as their commercial offering it would still be a powerful, viable platform for many shops. And yes, you’re allowed to use it for commercial development, and it works great for it.

However, as described above, there are ways to get the Professional and Team Suite editions of Visual Studio and SQL Server Developer Edition (full) without shelling out a lot or even any money.

  • “I don't know Microsoft's specific licensing policies (I can assume they are pretty reasonable), but I can tell you that developer tools are often more pricey than you'd imagine when you start licensing for your company.
    Often when you start buying developer licenses for teams of, say, 20-50 you are starting to talk about millions of dollars up front costs. $100,000 per developer wouldn't be unheard of (not counting the often mandatory annual support fees which can double that number easily).”

Ridiculous. $10,000, which is a tenth of what this guy said, is all it costs to get everything under the sun without one of the special deals like BizSpark. And if you have a team of that size and you’re an established corporation, it would be below you to still be asking the question, “Is the Microsoft stack really more expensive?” It will be business. And I must say, Microsoft doesn’t suck at supporting its fully-paying customers.

At any rate, I must say again, BizSpark (bundled suite of everything) is completely free, with a $100 closing fee.

  • “If you want to use ASP.NET you need
    • IIS
    • A server with Windows (for IIS)
    • Visual Studio
    • A work station with Windows for Visual Studio

    If you want to use PHP, Perl, Mono, Ruby... you need

    • A web server that supports the technology wanted. May be Apache, IIS...
    • An OS that supports your weberver
    • A workstation with any Linux, Window or mac”

This is silliness. If you want to use ASP.NET, you can go Mono all the way on Mac or Linux and never touch Windows or IIS. But ASP.NET wasn’t the discussion; the Microsoft stack was the discussion.

The Microsoft stack infers Microsoft being the vendor at every primary level of the software stack. So of course you need Windows. (And for the third or fourth time, statistically speaking you probably already have it.) And Mono wouldn’t count because it’s not Microsoft, so of course you need IIS. #develop (SharpDevelop) and other non-Microsoft development IDEs don’t count because they’re not Microsoft, so of course you would probably use Visual Studio.

On the other hand, “needing IIS” has no meaning because it’s a part of Windows, it’s like saying you need a hard drive, plus you need a computer (to contain the hard drive). It comes at no cost. It’s not a product, it’s a technology component of Windows.

Visual Studio is also not needed, rather it’s available as an option, and its Express flavors are free. You can also use vi, emacs, Notepad.exe, whatever you like. There is literally nothing that LAMP developers enjoy in their development lifecycle that they cannot establish with the Microsoft stack. If you want to write in vi and compile with a command line using ant and make, great, use vi and NAnt and NMake or MSBuild. If you like your command shells, great, most of the Linux command shells are available in Windows, plus Windows’ PowerShell. Have at it. But please, please don’t assume that you have to use Visual Studio if you use the Microsoft stack but you get to use simpler tools for LAMP development. The Microsoft stack has all those simpler tools at its disposal, too. (Yes, all for free, with the Windows SDK.)

  • “I don't think they're talking about the time required to develop on the Microsoft stack. They're talking about the cost of:
    • tools (Visual Studio, Resharper);
    • operating systems (Windows Vista, Windows Server); and
    • databases (SQL Server 2005/2008).”

*sigh* Need I say more and repeat myself? And if Resharper was available for PHP/Ruby, and I was doing PHP/Ruby development, I’d pay for that, too.

 

Nine Reasons Why 8GB Is Only Just Enough (For A Professional Business Software Developer)

by Jon Davis 13. February 2009 21:29

Today I installed 8GB on my home workstation/playstation. I had 8GB lying around already from a voluntary purchase for a prior workplace (I took my RAM back and put the work-provided RAM back in before I left that job) but the brand of RAM didn’t work correctly on my home PC’s motherboard. It’s all good now though, some high quality performance RAM from OCZ and my Windows 7 system self-rating on the RAM I/O jumped from 5.9 to 7.2.

At my new job I had to request a RAM upgrade from 2GB to 4GB. (Since it’s 32-bit XP I couldn’t go any higher.) I asked about when 64-bit Windows Vista or Windows 7 would be put on the table for consideration as an option for employees, I was told “there are no plans for 64-bit”.

The same thing happened with my last short-term gig. Good God, corporate IT folks everywhere are stuck in the year 2002. I can barely function at 4GB, can’t function much at all at 2GB.

By quadrupling the performance of your employee's system, you’d effectively double the productivity of your employee; it’s like getting a new employee for free.

If you are a multi-role developer and aren’t already saturating at least 4GB of RAM you are throwing away your employer’s money, and if you are IT and not providing at least 4GB RAM to developers and actively working on adding corporate support for 64-bit for employees’ workstations you are costing the company a ton of money due to productivity loss!! I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people restart their computers or sit and wait for 2 minutes for Visual Studio to come up because their machine is bogged down on a swap file. That was “typical” half a decade ago, but it’s not acceptable anymore. The same is true of hard drive space. Fast 1 Terabyte hard drives are available for less than $100 these days, there is simply no excuse. For any employee who makes more than X (say, $25,000), for Pete’s sake, throw in an extra $1000-$2000 or so more and get the employee two large (24-inch) monitors, at least 1TB hard drive(s) (ideally 4 drives in a RAID-0+1 array), 64-bit Windows Server 2008 / Windows Vista / Windows 7, a quad-core CPU, and 8 GB of some high performance (800+ GHz) RAM. It’s not that that’s another $2,000 or so to lose; it’s that just $2,000 will save you many thousands more dough. By quadrupling the performance of your employee's system, you’d effectively double the productivity of your employee; it’s like getting a new employee for free. And if you are the employee, making double of X (say, more than $50,000), and if your employer could somehow allow it (and they should, shame on them if they don’t and they won’t do it themselves), you should go out and get your own hardware upgrades. Make yourself twice as productive, and earn your pay with pride.

In a business environment, whether one is paid by the hour or salaried (already expected to work X hours a week, which is effectively loosely translated to hourly anyway), time = money. Period. This is not about developers enjoying a luxury, it’s about them saving time and employers saving money.

Note to the morons who argue “this is why developers are writing big, bloated software that suck up resources” .. Dear moron, this post is from the perspective of an actual developer’s workstation, not a mere bit-twiddling programmer—a developer, that is, who wears many hats and must not just write code but manage database details, work with project plans, document technical details, electronically collaborate with teammates, test and debug, etc., all in one sitting. Nothing in here actually recommends or even contributes to writing big, bloated software for an end user. The objective is productivity, your skills as a programmer are a separate concern. If you are producing bad, bloated code, the quality of the machine on which you wrote the code has little to nothing to contribute to that—on the contrary, a poor developer system can lead to extremely shoddy code because the time and patience required just to manage to refactor and re-test become such a huge burden. If you really want to test your code on a limited machine, you can rig VMWare / VirtualPC / VirtualBox to temporarily run with lesser RAM, etc. You shouldn’t have to punish yourself with poor productivity while you are creating the output. Such punishment is far more monetarily expensive than the cost of RAM.

I can think of a lot of reasons for 8+ GB RAM, but I’ll name a handful that matter most to me.

  1. Windows XP / Server 2003 alone takes up half a gigabyte of RAM (Vista / Server 2008 takes up double that). Scheduled tasks and other processes cause the OS to peak out at some 50+% more. Cost: 512-850MB. Subtotal @nominal: ~512MB; @peak: 850MB
  2. IIS isn’t a huge hog but it’s a big system service with a lot of responsibility. Cost: 50-150. Subtotal @nominal: ~550MB; @peak 1GB.
  3. Microsoft Office and other productivity applications should need to be used more than one at a time, as needed. For more than two decades, modern computers have supported a marvelous feature called multi-tasking. This means that if you have Outlook open, and you double-click a Microsoft Word attachment, and upon reading it you realize that you need to update your Excel spreadsheet, which in your train of thought you find yourself updating an Access database, and then you realize that these updates result in a change of product features so you need to reflect these details in your PowerPoint presentation, you should have been able to open each of these applications without missing a beat, and by the time you’re done you should be able to close all these apps in no more than one passing second per click of the [X] close button of each app. Each of these apps takes up as much as 100MB of RAM, Outlook typically even more, and Outlook is typically always open. Cost: 150-1GB. Subtotal @nominal: 700MB; @peak 2GB.
  4. Every business software developer should have his own copy of SQL Server Developer Edition. Every instance of SQL Server Developer Edition takes up a good 25MB to 150MB of RAM just for the core services, multiplied by each of the support services. Meanwhile, Visual Studio 2008 Pro and Team Edition come with SQL Server 2005 Express Edition, not 2008, so for some of us that means two installations of SQL Server Express. Both SQL Server Developer Edition and SQL Server Express Edition are ideal to have on the same machine since Express doesn’t have all the features of Developer and Developer doesn’t have the flat-file support that is available in Express. SQL Server sitting idly costs a LOT of CPU, so quad core is quite ideal. Cost: @nominal: 150MB, @peak 512MB. Subtotal @nominal: 850MB; @peak: 2.5GB. We haven’t even hit Visual Studio yet.
  5. Except in actual Database projects (not to be confused with code projects that happen to have database support), any serious developer would use SQL Server Management Studio, not Visual Studio, to access database data and to work with T-SQL tasks. This would be run alongside Visual Studio, but nonetheless as a separate application. Cost: 250MB. Subtotal @nominal: 1.1GB; @peak: 2.75GB.
  6. Visual Studio itself takes the cake. With ReSharper and other popular add-ins like PowerCommands installed, Visual Studio just started up takes up half a gig of RAM per instance. Add another 250MB for a typical medium-size solution. And if you, like me lately, work in multiple branches and find yourself having to edit several branches for different reasons, one shouldn’t have to close out of Visual Studio to open the next branch. That’s productivity thrown away. This week I was working with three branches; that’s 3 instances. Sample scenario: I’m coding away on my sandbox branch, then a bug ticket comes in and I have to edit the QA/production branch in an isolated instance of Visual Studio for a quick fix, then I get an IM from someone requesting an immediate resolution to something in the developer branch. Lucky I didn’t open a fourth instance. Eventually I can close the latter two instances down and continue with my sandbox environment. Case in point: Visual Studio costs a LOT of RAM. Cost @nominal 512MB, @peak 2.25GB. Subtotal @nominal: 1.6GB; @peak: 5GB.
  7. Your app being developed takes up RAM. This could be any amount, but don’t forget that Visual Studio instantiates independent web servers and loads up bloated binaries for debugging. If there are lots of services and support apps involved, they all stack up fast. Cost @nominal: 50MB, @peak 750MB. Subtotal @nominal: 1.65GB; @peak: 5.75GB.
  8. Internet Explorer and/or your other web browsers take up plenty of RAM. Typically 75MB for IE to be loaded, plus 10-15MB per page/tab. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll have lots and lots and LOTS of pages/tabs by the end of the day; by noon I typically end up with about four or five separate IE windows/processes, each with 5-15 tabs. (Mind you, all or at least most of them are work-related windows, such as looking up internal/corporate documents on the intranet or tracking down developer documentation such as API specs, blogs, and forum posts.) Cost @nominal: 100MB; @peak: 512MB. Subtotal @nominal: 1.75GB; @peak: 6.5GB.
  9. No software solution should go untested on as many platforms as is going to be used in production. If it’s a web site, it should be tested on IE 6, IE 7, and IE 8, as well as current version of Opera, Safari 3+, Firefox 1.5, Firefox 2, and Firefox 3+. If it’s a desktop app, it should be tested on every compatible version of the OS. If it’s a cross-platform compiled app, it should be tested on Windows, Mac, and Linux. You could have an isolated set of computers and/or QA staff to look into all these scenarios, but when it comes to company time and productivity, the developer should test first, and he should test right on his own computer. He should not have to shutdown to dual-boot. He should be using VMWare (or Virtual PC, or VirtualBox, etc). Each VMWare instance takes up the RAM and CPU of a normal system installation; I can’t comprehend why it is that some people think that a VMWare image should only take up a few GB of hard drive space and half a gig of RAM; it just doesn’t work that way. Also, in a distributed software solution with multiple servers involved, firing up multiple instances of VMWare for testing and debugging should be mandatory. Cost @nominal: 512MB; @peak: 4GB. Subtotal @nominal: 2.25GB; @peak: 10.5GB.

Total peak memory (64-bit Vista SP1 which was not accounted in #1): 11+GB!!!

Now, you could argue all day long that you can “save money” by shutting down all those “peak” processes to use less RAM rather than using so much. I’d argue all day long that you are freaking insane. The 8GB I bought for my PC cost me $130 from Dell. Buy, insert, test, save money. Don’t be stupid and wasteful. Make yourself productive.

Microsoft: Please use and retain static documentation URLs!

by Jon Davis 2. December 2008 20:03

Microsoft needs to learn how to use their handy dandy URL routing know-how and, for Pete's sake, KEEP TECHNICAL DOCUMENTATION ONLINE at a static URL where it will never move. Said URL should be organized logically where it it will never be meaningless, rather than a codified flavor-of-the-day database/CMS URL.

Bad: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/ms123402.aspx

Good: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/netframework/2.0/breakingchanges/  (redirects to or proxies the "Bad" URL)

I spent several minutes trying to track down the .NET 2.0 Breaking Changes documentation. Microsoft's 404 page didn't even bother to give me any best-guess assistance, it just said, "We're sorry, but the page you requested could not be found. Please check your typing and try again, or use the search options on this page." Sorry? You're sorry?! This was a very important document and only three or four years have passed, and you're "sorry"? You're not sorry. You're lazy. If this didn't happen so regularly I wouldn't mind so much but it seems like anything older than a couple years gets treated this way.

It is not enough if documentation stays online, guys; the URL matters equally, because it's the URL that blogs, forums, and articles reference in everyday online business. You need to name your URLs more carefully than you name the titles of your documents, and keep them forever. 50 years from now I expect the same data to be at the same URL, period.

By the way, the corrected URL for .NET Framework 2.0's Breaking Changes list is: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/netframework/aa570326.aspx. We'll just see how long this one lasts. *sigh*  I'd be tempted to spider it but there's an MSDN Library CD/DVD lying around here somewhere...

 

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About the author

Jon Davis (aka "stimpy77") has been a programmer, developer, and consultant for web and Windows software solutions professionally since 1997, with experience ranging from OS and hardware support to DHTML programming to IIS/ASP web apps to Java network programming to Visual Basic applications to C# desktop apps.
 
Software in all forms is also his sole hobby, whether playing PC games or tinkering with programming them. "I was playing Defender on the Commodore 64," he reminisces, "when I decided at the age of 12 or so that I want to be a computer programmer when I grow up."

Jon was previously employed as a senior .NET developer at a very well-known Internet services company whom you're more likely than not to have directly done business with. However, this blog and all of jondavis.net have no affiliation with, and are not representative of, his former employer in any way.

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