How My Microsoft Loyalty Is Degrading

by Jon Davis 7. June 2008 16:59

I've sat in this seat and often pronounced my discontent with Microsoft or a Microsoft technology, while still proclaiming myself to be a Microsoft enthusiast. Co-workers have often called me a Microsoft or Windows bigot. People would even give me written job recommedations pronouncing me as "one who particularly knows and understands Microsoft technologies".

But lately over the last year or two I've been suffering from malcontent, and I've lost that Microsoft spirit. I'm trying to figure out why. What went wrong? What happened?

Maybe it was Microsoft's selection of Ray Ozzie as the new Chief Software Architect. Groove (which was Ozzie's legacy) was a curious beast, but surely not a multi-billion-dollar revenue product, at best it was a network-based software experiment. Groove's migration to Microsoft under the Office umbrella would have been a lot more exciting if only it was quickly adopted into the MSDN vision and immediately given expansive and rich MSDN treatment, which it was not. Instead, it was gradually rolled in, and legacy SDK support just sort of tagged along or else "fell off" in the transition. Groove was brought in as an afterthought, not as a premier new Microsoft offering. Groove could have become the new Outlook, a rich, do-it-all software platform that brought consolidation of the team workflows and data across teams and diperate working groups, but instead it became just a simple little "IM client on steroids and then some" and I quickly abandoned it as soon as I discovered that key features such as directory sharing weren't supported on 64-bit Windows. So to bring Ozzie in and have him sit in that chair, and then have that kind of treatment of Ozzie's own Groove--Groove being only an example but an important, symbolic one--really makes me think that Microsoft doesn't know what on earth it's doing!! Even I could have sat in that chair and had a better, broader sense of software operations and retainment of vision, not that I'm jealous or would have pursued that chair. The day I heard Ozzie was selected, I immediately moaned, "Oh no, Microsoft is stuck on the network / Internet bandwagon, and has forgotten their roots, the core software platforms business!!" The whole fuzzy mesh thing that Microsoft is about to push is a really obvious example of where Microsoft is going as a result of bringing in Ozzie, and I hardly find a network mesh compelling as a software platform when non-Microsoft alternatives can so easily and readily exist.

Maybe it's Microsoft's audacity to abandon their legacies in their toolsets, such as they have done with COM and with VB6. There still remains zero support for easily building COM objects using the Visual Studio toolsets, and I will continue to grumble about this until an alternative component technology is supported by Microsoft that is native to the metal (or until I manage to get comfortable with C/C++ linked libraries, which is a skill I still have to develop 100% during my spare time, which is a real drag when there is no accountability or team support). I'm still floored by how fast Microsoft abandoned DNA for .NET -- I can completely, 100% understand it, DNA reached its limits and needed a rewrite / rethink from the bottom up, but the swappage of strategies is still a precedent that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I want my personal investments in software discovery to be worth something. I'm also discouraged--the literal sense of the word, I'm losing courage and confidence--by the drastic, even if necessary, evolutionary changes Microsoft keeps doing to its supported languages. C# 2 (with stuff like generics support) is nothing like C# 1, and C# 3 (with var and LINQ) is nothing like C# 2. Now C# 4 is being researched and developed, with new support for dynamic language interop (basically, weak typing), which is as exciting as LINQ was, but I have yet to adopt even LINQ, and getting LINQ support in CLR object graphs is a notorious nightmare, not that I would know but everyone who tries it is pronouncing it as horrible and massive. Come to think of it, it's Microsoft's interop strategy that has been very frustrating. COM is not Remoting, and Remoting is not WCF. WCF isn't even supported in Mono, and so for high performance, small overhead interprocess communications, what's the best strategy really? I could use WCF today but what if WCF is gone and forgotten in five years?

Maybe it's the fact that I don't have time to browse the blogs of Microsoft's developer staff. They have a lot of folks over there, and while it's pretty tempting to complain that Microsoft "codes silently in a box", the truth is that there are some pretty good blogs being published from Microsofties, such as "If broken it is, fix it you should", albeit half of which I don't even understand without staring at it for a very long time. Incidentally, ScottGu does a really good job of "summing up" all the goings on, so thumbs-up on that one.

I think a lot of my abandonment of loyalty to Microsoft has to do with the sincerity of my open complaint about Internet Explorer, how it is the most visible and therefore most important development platform coming from Redmond but so behind-the-times and non-innovative versus the hard work that the Webkit and Mozilla teams are putting their blood, sweat, and tears over, that things like this [] get posted on my wall at the office, cheerily.

Perhaps it's the over-extended yet limited branding Microsoft did with Vista, making things like this [] actually make me nearly shed a tear or two over what Windows branding has become. That Windows Energy background look looks neat, but it's also very forthright and "timestamped", kind of like how disco in the 70's and synth-pop in the 80's were "timestamped", they sounded neat in their day but quickly became difficult to listen to. That's what happens with too strong of an artistic statement. Incidentally, Apple's Aqua interface is also "timestamped", but at least it's not defaulting with a strong artistic statement plastered all over the entire screen. I like the Vista taskbar, but what's up with the strict black, why can't that or other visual aspects be tweaked? At least it's mostly-neutral (who wants a bright blue or yellow taskbar?), but it's still just a bit imposing IMO.

I'll bet it has to do with the horrifying use of a virtualized Program Files directory in Windows Server 2008 where the practice was unannounced. This is the sort of practice that makes it VERY difficult to trust Microsoft Windows going forward at all. If Windows is going to put things in places that are different from where I as a user told them to be placed, then we have a behavioral disconnect--software should exist to serve me and do as I command, not to protect me from myself while deceiving me.

At the end of it all, I think my degrading sense of loyalty could just be the simple fact that I really am trying to spread out and discover and appreciate what the other players are doing. I mentioned before that Mac OS X is still the ultimate, uber OS, but now that I have it, I confess, I had no idea. Steve Jobs is brilliant, and it's also profound how much of OS X is open source, basically all of the UNIXy bits, which says a lot about OSS. Mind you, parts of the Mac I genuinely do not like and have never liked, such as the single menubar, which violates very key and important rules for UI design. I also generally find it difficult to manage multiple applications running at once, for which I much prefer the Windows taskbar over the Dock if only because it's more predictable, and although it violates UI principles I prefer Alt+Tab for all windows rather than Command+Tab just for applications because every window is its own "workflow" regardless of who owns it. But, among other things, building on PostScript for rendering, for example, was a fantastic idea; on the other hand, Microsoft's ClearType would have been difficult to achieve if Windows used PostScript for rendering. Anyway, meanwhile, learning and exposing myself to UNIX/Linux based software is good for me as a growing software developer, and impossible to cleanly discover in Windows-land without using virtual machines.

In other words, the only way one can spread out and discover the non-Microsoft ways of doing things, and appreciate the process of doing so, is to stop swearing by the Microsoft way to begin with, and approach the whole thing with an open mind. In the end, the Microsoft way may still prove to be the best, but elimination of bias (on both sides) is an ideal goal to be achieved before pursuing long-term personal growth in software.

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General Technology | Operating Systems | Software Development | Microsoft Windows | Mac OS X


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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 have no affiliation with, and are not representative of, his former employer in any way.

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