I got a slew of email asking my opinions, most of which I answered in private, declining to post anything given that a) I used to work for the company and b) it really doesn’t apply to most of what I focus on in my VC biz, these days.
But an old friend and fellow X-MSFT worker, reminded me of when we in the Developer Relations Group (DRG) used to yell at anybody who would listen about the need to do lots of what was covered in Don’s (or Microsoft’s actually) laundry list of play nice activities.
So, I’ve decided to merge some of the private comments I offered up and combine them with a few things start ups might want to pay attention to.
First, the normal disclaimer. I used to work for Microsoft, loved every minute of it, and can honestly say the company was very very good to me. So, these words are either sour grapes nonsense or the rantings of a paid shill, pick your side of the aisle and have a seat.
Second, a piece of trivia. Back in the early nineties, Mike Maples and Steve Ballmer continued to believe that developers and third parties making good money off of Windows and the Windows ecosystem made Microsoft good money. It was, contrary to what you think/heard, Mike and Steve who threw some serious fits (and maybe chairs) when the Office bundle was first being put together and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) had some secret voodoo known only to the Office applications folks. There were a number of undocumented APIs floating around and it was not a pretty picture.
Steve pushed hard to get information out to developers. A really smart guy, Kraig Brockschmidt, wrote a book called Inside OLE and did this while on the DRG payroll. DRG bought and gave away tons of these books to try and educate the masses with as much information as possible, knowing the office guys had the advantage of walking down the hall.
The other unknown but important thing Steve and Mike jointly supported was a paper circulated around campus entitled the Undocumented API policy. This document, in a nutshell, told the developers on both sides (Apps and Systems) to, in effect knock that shit off and cough up the calls. It required the apps guys to document when they either found a call or worked around a problem by using things in the OS they found out about via being ‘down the hall’ from the systems guys.
I wrote that document with critical input from guys like Kraig Brockschmidt, Robert Hess, Todd Needham, Alistair Banks, David Beaver, Adam Waikes, and other super smart people. Our goal was to get developers all the information possible minimizing the impact of the water cooler conversation between Apps/Systems.
We had lots of success and I’d argue there are lots of developers out there who benefited from those efforts. I point all of this out just so you have a full set of filters and some appreciation that there have been good faith attempts to try and play somewhat nice for 15+ years. Not perfect, I know, but there were people who had full time jobs trying.
The first set of items are around the PC makers and basically they are seriously fundamental changes to the OEM process inside the company. These are also really easily verifiable with the guys who make the boxes. Adding anything, removing icons, changing menus, etc, is a huge step forward that ultimately will benefit consumers on a number of fronts. Finally, you can have a choice of 80 toasters which toast bread but have cool/interesting ways to do it, you pick what strikes your fancy.
Item 5 in the list is a core and epic change in the way Microsoft does business from a OEM perspective. To illustrate. Let’s say you build a PC and start a non-profit that allows high school senior classes to make money for the prom. Let’s further say that your computer is a massive hit. Or it is not a massive hit. It all doesn’t matter, there is a price list to get Windows on a box. There’s been ‘the price list’ and then ‘the price list’ before. Having been in on some of those OEM meetings which, by the way, vaguely resembled a bad Godfather movie (“Godfather, I’ve come to kiss your ring and ask that you take my money, please) and having seen just how tied up the PC guys were, this is a big big deal.
Item 6 talks about all the APIs, systems and the Windows/Office live stuff, being available to all developers regardless. Near and dear to my heart; glad to see it make the list. It is repeated in item 10 regarding the open protocols and no secret sauce. Again, totally the right thing to do and nothing particularly new here except enough visibility to make it stick.
Here are some points you might want to keep in mind.
1. These are big changes for the company and it will take some knuckles being rapped to make sure it gets into the culture at a DNA level. That will be painful. I think you will see more and more “mini-microsoft” voices screaming louder to make sure these things get into that DNA.
2. Microsoft will still compete with you, your mom, dad, sister, uncle, and dog if there is money on the table. Make no mistake. Microsoft is greedy, hungry and wants to make money. Lots of it. If they see a market that is worth going into and you are in it; upgrade your flak jacket and ‘let’s get ready to rumble.’ The point is that none of this manifesto should, in any way, give rise to the belief the company is just going to fade into the wall.
3. There are 100x more opportunities out there to partner with and exploit Microsoft’s ecosystem then ever before. These new (and voluntary) rules make it easier, not harder. [start cranky 80 year old voice] In my day, there were, at best, 25 ‘evangelists’ tasked with being rabid developer supporters. Today there are 100s if not a 1000 of these young kids running around with that title, heh, kids.. [end cranky 80 year old voice]. But seriously. With the 1000s of MS employee blogs, standard email names (first name.last name at microsoft.com), 1000s of evangelists, as well as mountains of MSDN/Technet/TechEd materials available, there has never been a better time to do stuff on Windows, on the Office System Platform or any of the other Microsoft systems products. And because of the continuing push and success of Linux, Firefox, and the Open Source community, the features, opportunities, etc, are only going to grow.
Kiss a penguin tonight for your Microsoft improvements.
So, that’s my opinion. Lots of changes under way at Microsoft with most of them being helpful to you. I’m not pro/anti-Microsoft rather pro start ups/new deals.