June 29th 2007 – the day developers left Microsoft

There was a time when Microsoft owned the developer community. It could almost say or do anything it wanted, the developers would always follow. However loyalty in business relationships is fragile, it can span time but lacks the core depth of personal relationships. It is governed by the most shallow and transparent of currency the almighty dollar.  During my career the developer has always been at the forefront of jobs that I have had.  Developers were the key to Microsoft’s success and did more than anybody to drive the success of the Windows empire.  Developers were Microsoft royalty.  If you wanted to get lots of free swag attend a Microsoft developers conference.  Laptop bags, T-Shirts, Polo’s, Pens etc..Parties were key as they went late into the evening with lots of food and drink.  Developers were the royalty of Microsoft, treated better than anyone else.

When the world changed it happened quickly.  That change happened on June 29, 2007 when Apple launched the much anticipated iPhone.  It was a breakthrough event in terms of the user experience.  Catapulting what we had known of the mobile experience into a new dimension.  It happened on so many different levels, from touch screen to browsing the web.  But most importantly it fostered a new eco-system of mobile app developers.  Within months Objective C went from being a forgotten development language to a top 5 language.  All of a sudden Apple was the pace to be.  The iPod had been successful, but it was the iPhone that created the new Apple developer mantra.

Mobility would breed new competition.  The biggest threat to all being Google with its Android platform.  They understood that they would need developers and that developers were attracted to open source.  It was interesting that to head up this effort they picked a Microsoft guy, Vic Gudotra.  I had seen Vic speak several times and the word, “showman” would define his speaking style.  He was an acquired taste, a little over the top for some.  Seeing him on TV at an Android Developers Conference was interesting.  As he walked around the Partner booths (just like Microsoft in the old days) he talked each partner up, saying that Android’s success depended upon them.  Every thing he said was not something new he had invented, it was borrowed from a Microsoft past, except now Windows was no longer the platform being promoted.

Ballmer pleaded at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in 2012, to stick with the company.  We have not let you down in the past and we have a bright future.  This was leading up to the Windows 8 launch and having applications at launch was critical.  It was now a decades old Microsoft formula.  Not sure why he needed to beg and pander to his audience.   But I can tell when it happened.  When it became necessary.  The technology is driven by change and sometimes changes generates tidal waves, mass hysteria, a sense of I need to go there if I do not want to be swept under by the massive crash of thunderous waves.  This was the case when Steve Jobs had his moment where he eclipsed the sun.  It seemed just a matter of moments where developers left Windows and flooded to iOS.  Job postings all of a sudden begged for developers who could write mobile iOS applications.  When it comes to money loyalty is a fickle thing.

When you look at the Windows Phone and Surface the designs have come a long way from where they started, as has the OS.  But unlike Microsoft’s origins getting developers to write applications to the Microsoft platform has become much more difficult.  Since the launch of the Apple iPhone and the subsequent success of Android Microsoft has struggled to recreate the sense of nearly spiritual community it had before.  Developer’s have options, but more importantly, as has been said, they have options that can make them money.  The iPhone has created so many opportunities for developers that they dare not stop and go back to Windows development

It does not seem that long ago Microsoft owned the developer community.  That they could whisper anything and a developer movement would naturally coalesce around it  in an organic manner.   Every launch of the new Windows operating system began and was defined by the Microsoft developer community.  In the enterprise Microsoft still has a lot of pull with developers however in the consumer space it is a struggle for Microsoft to garner the attention of developers to write to the Windows OS.  Consumers, unlike enterprises, do not have deep roots with legacy systems.  They are governed by emotion.  Their gut.  Visual stimulation.  Things marketers talk about but only after they have already occurred.

The industry is driven by momentum, by big swings in the technological landscape.  When these sea changes happen it is best to be in front and on-board with the change otherwise you will be left behind in its wake.  Ballmer knew this but he just did not have the vision to see the road ahead.  Now what is left is a company trying to get developers to listen, when in the past they never had to do that.  Apple to its credit saw the move to mobility and enlarged the opportunity.  Once a company or companies develop momentum it is very hard to catch up. As for every one application developed on your platform, the competition gets ten.  To be a leader on the industry you must have developers, when they start migrating it puts your future into question.  For Microsoft that happened one summer day over six years ago.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 31, 2013