June 10, 2007

It's the Platform, Stupid!

I've continued to read up on this TestDriven.net controversy. I've read Dan's slightly incorrect analysis, a tech writer's take on the matter, another analogy that doesn't quite cut it (think more asking in English for an interpreter [through the Property grid] and then talking in French to the back end)...but it seems to me that everyone involved is missing the overall point...in the long run, the integrity of Visual Studio doesn't matter. It's all about the platform.

Microsoft's development tools as a whole amount for a fraction of a percentage of the income for whatever division that they've been in. In short, the income derived from them is the financial equivalent of line noise. What Visual Studio does do is indirectly drive sales of other Microsoft platforms: Windows, SQL Server, Exchange Server, etc.

Over the last while, I've grown to see what the Express SKU's have been doing...generate a new community for Microsoft. To be fair, the hobbyist community that has surrounded Microsoft's products hasn't always been using legal products, but these SKU's have helped grow the community in a legal manner. This larger community has helped slow defections over to F/OSS technologies.

Other teams have started to build on that popularity. The XNA team has partly succeeded in their aim of bringing game development to the masses. They've even started to build a market around add-ons that go along with XNA Game Studio Express Edition. Yes, that's right...a market in add-ons for a SKU that isn't supposed to have add-ons.

The biggest difference between the XNA team and the Visual Studio team here is their goal. The XNA team doesn't care about the Express SKU...they're using it as a gateway to build their platform. The Visual Studio team is under the mistaken impression that their SKU's are the platform.

Microsoft makes money by making it possible for ISV's to make money building solutions that use Microsoft products. Technologies like .NET, DirectX, XNA, managed code SQL Server stored procedures, all of which either work solely or best with Microsoft technologies. The primary tool that enables ISV's to build solutions is Visual Studio.

My advice to the Visual Studio team would be to stop trying to make themselves more than they are. Quit trying to figure out how to trickle down features to try to get upsells and spend more time trying to figure out how to prevent some of the most common complaints about the platforms. Moves like the one against Jamie only make people wonder if they're going to need a lawyer on retainer to develop against Microsoft technologies.

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