Yesterday I attended a Microsoft marketing presentation. Yes it was a cursory demo. That's obvious when you get a first glance at Whidbey, Yukon, Avalon, Indigo, Longhorn, all within one afternoon.
What impressed me most (probably because I had not seen it before) was the forthcoming Visual Studio Team System. It is scheduled about six months after Visual Studio 2005 (Whidbey), which means it will ship in about a year. I think Team System will substantially change the way we develop on the Microsoft platform. Yes, we have been working on component modeling, automated builds, static and dynamic code profiling, unit and load testing, and so on before, but this always used to require N different tools from N different vendors. But this is the first time all of this gets integrated into one big suite. Visual Studio Team System licenses are costly. But after all, it is mainly aimed for enterprise application projects.
Talking about Microsoft marketing, admitted: Microsoft has a notorious history of creating "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt". Promising impossible shipping dates for products and product features was one common strategy, next too ruthless business tactics. IBM experienced this with OS/2, as did 3COM with LAN Manager. Fifteen years have gone by since those days, and Microsoft is still aggressive, but it also grew up. They have stayed on the top of software development companies, many say thanks to the fact that their former CEO was the only real nerd, while his competitors were lead by MBAs who just didn't understand the software business.
Microsoft has also pioneered the concept of "good enough" software - which is just another term for finding the optimal economic balance between code purity and practicality (there is nothing bad about "good enough" software, actually it turned out to be the most successful approach for many shrink-wrapped products). In my experience, Microsoft has improved a lot on quality issues (see also their Trustworthy Computing Campaign). Lately I met with several Microsoft consultants, and all of them were top-notch engineers. When you think about it, this does not come as a surprise: Microsoft always hires the smartest of the smartest. Now they are in the position to do so (50.000 job applications a month - this means they can invite the TOP 5% for interviews, and employ the TOP 1%). But even in the old days, Bill Gates always engaged Triple-A developers. B-people are scared of A-people, so when put in charge, they tend to hire more B- or even C-people, dragging down your work force's qualification level.
Microsoft bashing is a common hobby among many. Some criticize their business behaviour (even the department of justice does from time to time) - one may agree or disagree to that. But I refer to unreflected criticism, the one that has the nature of religious wars (e.g. "Windows sucks, Linux rules"). It's funny to note that this often comes from people who are the least qualified to judge. Very rarely those are Triple-A people, and just don't play in the same league as those who develop the next version of Windows or the next Microsoft development platform up in Redmond (well OK, there is always an exception to the rule: programming gods like Linus Torvalds, Bill Joy or James Gosling are allowed to complain about Microsoft ;-)). Some hacked their time around at college on university systems, hardly ever worked on a major real-life software-project, but instead preferred to build up their little fiefdoms on archaic system that no one else really cared about.
Now, badmouthing Microsoft may make the averagely talented developer look cool, at least in front of those who don't know any better. Here is my advice for all unsolicited Microsoft bashers: Please, grow up! Welcome to the real world - in a professional cooperate environment no one wants to hear your religious rants. Microsoft is there, and it is going to stay, you'd better get used to it.
An interesting fact is that our Microsoft consultants knew very well about the strengths and weaknesses of their products. E.g. they never had a problem expressing their respect for cool J2EE features or the like. And they pointed out in which areas Microsoft still has to improve.
I have been working on Unix, Java and Microsoft platforms, and I appreciate all of them. I have the highest respect for their creators. But I am tired of B- and C-people who seriously think they are in any position to fire unsolicited flames on the efforts of real talented folks at world's most successful software company, just for the sake of boosting their own crippled egos.