The problem with Microsoft…

Some rights reserved by Nick, Programmerman
Attribution Some rights reserved by Nick, Programmerman

Gary Rivlin at Fortune Magazine has some recent articles about Steve Ballmer and Microsoft senior management (The problem with Microsoft… & Why insiders think top management has lost its way). The articles make great fodder given the rise of Apple to be larger than Microsoft in both market capitalization and revenues. What is strange is that I love both of these companies. I’m an ex-Microsoft employee. It was a great place to work. And I have been an Apple fanboy for a long time  (spending my entire signing bonus in 1997 on Apple stock). Let’s be clear Microsoft is still a large powerful company, they have just lost their way in defining the next generation of technology, business models, and customers.

Still, Ballmer needs to do something to shake Microsoft from what, at best, seems to be a textbook case of corporate ennui: MIT’s Michael Cusumano, who has featured Microsoft in several books, including the new work Staying Power, sees a company hopelessly stuck in neutral, in no small part because Microsoft has a weak board and no one expects Bill Gates, the company’s top shareholder, with about 5% of shares outstanding, to oust the CEO, who was the best man at his wedding. “Ballmer has been a good steward of Windows, and that’s about it,” Cusumano says.

Gary Rivlin nailed my feelings and analysis on Microsoft in The problem with Microsoft…. Microsoft is a juggernaut. But the markets and choices are evolving. There are a few successes like Silverlight, Kinect, XNA and Office. But generally the article highlights deeper structural and cultural issues.

  • Windows Platform dominance – Licking the cookie
  • Politicized management culture with “Made men” and “political assassins”
  • Lack of urgency – Massive existing businesses SharePoint is the last $1B revenue business
  • Killing products too early or too late – see Courier (too early) and Kin (too late it should never have made it to market)
  • Stock stagnation – this has a lot of impact on hiring new talent, retaining talent that should retire (under water ESOP buys)

There is lots to love about Microsoft. But I think there are even more concerns for the future. Just look at what the latest generation of big web companies are building on: Yahoo! (PHP, MySQL, Hadoop), Google (Java, Python, BigTable), Facebook (PHP, memcache, Cassandra, Linux), LinkedIn (Solaris, Tomcat, Oracle), Groupon (Java, Salesforce, EC2, Zynga (PHP, MySql, AMF), Quora (MySQL. memcache, PHP). Sure there are shining examples of companies building on SharePoint and SQL Server and Azure, but do they have the size and scale of those previously mentioned? And look at the fight for mobile developers. Appcelerator’s quarterly developer survey shows percentage of developers “very interested” in developing for different platforms: iOS (91%); Android (85%); Windows Phone (29%); sure it’s a head of Blackberry (27%). But this just reinforces my concerns and disappointment. Microsoft is a huge company. And I hope they can continue to build world class products, markets and inspire future developers.

Canadians, Canadians, Canadians


Steve Ballmer is coming to Toronto.

He’s speaking at the Can>Win initiative presented by The Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The event is focused on helping to “define strategies to secure Canada’s global advantage”. The effort is publishing 16 one pagers from thought leaders (there 8 published as of Oct 15, 2009) in a dialogue on what Canada must do next. I’m waiting to see who is lined up to round out the remaining 8 dialogue pieces. I am a little underwhelmed as none of the published pieces are about telecommunications, technology, copyright, education or any of things that interest me. So I’m hoping based on the event participants that these topics will be covered. Speakers like:

  • Dr. Indira Samarasekera,
    President, University of Alberta
  • Parker Mitchell
    Co-CEO, Engineers without Borders
  • Trish Wheaton
    Chief Marketing Officer, Chairperson, Wunderman Canada

I’m hopeful that there will be some thought pieces on topics that interest me.

I wasn’t always a Steve Ballmer fan. He was that funny dancing man from Microsoft. But it was at Mix08 that I changed my mind. Sure, I had become an employee of Microsoft Canada and ultimately Steve is my boss. But it was his interview with Guy Kawasaki that forever changed my opinion of Steve. 

I was impressed with both the depth and breadth of his understanding of the Microsoft business. He was informed about strategy, about operations, about technology, about sales, about acquisitions. I was just blown away at the insight, honesty and the casualness of the conversation. It also helped me understand the “Developers, developers, developers”. Steve is a passionate guy. And he’s very, very intense.

If you get a chance, watch the full interview with Guy Kawasaki and Steve Ballmer. It changed my opinion.

Getting ready for PDC


I’m starting to get ready for another trip to Los Angeles for Microsoft PDC. PDC08 was a great trip, however, it ended really poorly for me. I arrived home from LA and spent 5 days in Toronto General Hospital after complaining all week about chest pain. It turns out that after a heart attack, they take this stuff very seriously, and wanted to do an angiogram. I promise for PDC09 to not hole up in my hotel room and hide because my chest hurts!

Thomas Lewis has a great post on Hotels for PDC09. I’ve stayed at the Westin Bonaventure for PDC08 and CHI98. It’s a great hotel. It was where True Lies was filmed.

“Where do all the Microsofties hang after the event? If you are a fan of edgy chef personalities, you know that you always want to find the dives the chefs go to after their shifts are done. Later in the evening, after evening events and A/V checks are done, many of our kind will head over to the lobby of the Westin Bonaventure where everyone will be hanging out at the bar chatting up the news of the day and talking with attendees. Now, if you are looking to find all the hipster-Microsofties, then you want to head to the club at the rooftop of The Standard. The view there is awesome but the drinks can get expensive.” Thomas Lewis – Devil’s Field Guide to the PDC

But I’m thinking I’m going to change it up for 2009. I’m turning over a new leaf. And in a tribute to my turn-of-the-last-century industrialists I’m thinking the Millennium Biltmore will be my home away from home for a few days in November. I stayed in the Biltmore as part of the planning committee for CHI2000. And while the hotel is not the family estate, it should be fun. It’s only a few blocks from Westin, check out my Bing Collection of the hotels to help find your friends in downtown LA, and it’s something new. Plus how can you go wrong with the name Biltmore?

Knowledgeworx – Junior Developer – Microsoft/.NET

Toronto, ON

Hi – I’m Brent Ashley, independent DemoCamp sponsor and Ajax Pub Nite host.  I am a Senior Developer and one of the founding partners at Knowledgeworx.

Knowledgeworx ( is a leading provider of wireless
infrastructure services, technology asset management and networked device monitoring to the retail sector.  Our products and services are built with Microsoft Sharepoint and custom C#/.NET/MSSQL code combined with a rich and powerful back end toolset consisting of Linux/BSD, Nagios, Mysql, Apache, FreeRadius, PostgreSQL and many other Open Source elements.

We are looking to employ two junior developers, one with a Microsoft/.NET focus, one with a Linux/OpenSource focus.  We are a small shop so there will be lots of opportunity for overlap and cross-learning.

For the Microsoft focused position, we want someone with knowledge and experience with as many of these elements as possible:

  • C# and the .NET 2.0 framework
  • WSS / MOSS
  • building Web Services (client and server)
  • CSS/Design
  • Javascript/Ajax

Our ideal candidates will have a passion for technology, demonstrated participation in the technology community, and a voracious capacity to learn and grow.  You will be eager to work with our intermediate and senior staff who have years of experience and in-depth knowledge to share.

We are currently accepting resumes via email to

Software, support & visibility

microsoftbizspark It’s funny, I’ve asked about startups building on .NET in the past. And with the development of programs like BizSpark the continued support of events like StartupCampMontreal and Founders & Funders, and yesterday’s funding announcement at Xobni, there a number of new opportunities for startups to get access to free software and exposure.

Microsoft Blue Sky competition for the so-many startuppers using MS technology” – Heri

BizSpark is a program aimed at providing startups with access to software, support and visibility. Startups need to meet the following requirements:

  • Is in the business of software development,
  • Is privately held,
  • Has been in business for less than 3 years, and
  • Has less than US $1 million in annual revenue

There are no initial costs. At the end of the three years there is a US$100 fee. Startups can participate in BizSpark for up to 3 years, (assuming they haven’t changed ownership or gone public in years 1 or 2). The program includes Visual Studio Team System Team Suite (VSTS) with MSDN Premium for development, testing and demonstration purposes. There are also production licenses for Windows Server, SQL Server, BizTalk Server, and Office SharePoint Server. It’s a pretty complete package for startups looking to gain access to the tools for design and development.

How do I sign up?

First you need to find a Network Partner.

What is a Network Partner?

“Network Partners are active members of the local software ecosystem engaged with high-potential, early stage Startups. They are organizations specifically focused on supporting software entrepreneurs and Startups, or whose activities include a focus on promoting and supporting software Startups, through programs, mentoring, networking, business advices, financial and legal assistance or similar services and activities.” – Network Partner Program Guide

Basically, these are the folks supporting startups. In Canada today, there were over 20 Network partners including:

I keep looking for Network Partners to join the program. I’ve been working on folks in Alberta, British Columbia and on the East coast. Turns out there is a lot of ground to cover in this country. If you have an organization that supports start-ups in Edmonton, Calgary, Sudbury, Charlottetown, Halifax, Dartmouth, St. John’s, Quebec City, Yellowknife, drop me a note and I’ll do my best to get them to register. Or if you think you should be a Network partner, sign up using the Champ ID = davcrow.

If you can’t find a Network Partner, drop me a note.

Other Programs

If you don’t meet the requirements for BizSpark, there are other partner programs. I’m not an expert here, I find that most early stage companies are limited due to the “being in business for less than 3 years”. The other program is Empower for ISVs. I’m not entirely sure where you fit if you’re offering a SaaS solution outside of BizSpark. But there are programs that can help, check out the SPLA and SaaS On-Ramp Programs

BlueSky & Ignite IT

blueskyThere are 2 programs that offer developers and ISVs an opportunity to showcase their products and solutions. The Microsoft Blue Sky Innovation Excellence Award offers Canada ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) a way to gain access to product experts and members of the Emerging Business Team Portfolio Managers (think Christopher Griffin, Don Dodge, Cliff Reeves and others), exposure on MicrosoftStartupZone and a case study, access to new technologies and architectural guidance, software tools, among other things.

igniteitawardsThe Ignite IT Awards are a Microsoft Canada awards program aimed at celebrating the problems that were solved through IT solutions. There are both Developer and IT Professional stories. There are 2 prizes of $5,000 along with exposure. These aren’t primarily startup focused, however, since a lot of startups should be using technology to solve a problem and the Submission Form is nothing more than your elevator pitch. It’s should be good practice to practice giving your pitch and creating a 60 second video demonstrating why your solution is valuable. Think demo or clip of happy users. My thought is that this could easily be repurposed to help explain to your potential customers the power and benefit of your solution.


Blogging Azure

    windows-azure Microsoft released the initial details about the cloud computing platform at PDC in October. The platform is roughly a 3 layered approach. Best I can figure it’s very similar to an existing server configuration. Just like I have operating system and server topology in a data center design, I need to do the same in building a cloud application.

    Steve Marx provides an example Hello Cloud application in Learning to Build on Windows Azure. Basically he writes a standard ASP.NET application, and then separately configures the runtime environment. It’s interesting because it allows for a level of abstraction around the platform: compute, storage and management. CloudEnterprise has an interesting comparison of Windows Azure to Amazon AWS, Google App Engine and VMWare. 

    Feature Microsoft Amazon Google VMWare
    Availability Early private CTP Commercial available Public beta Announced
    Computing Architecture Windows 2008 virtual machines Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) to upload XEN images Python and run on shared application server layer Move virtual machines between environments
    Storage Cloud Storage Services (blog, table & queue) + SQL Services Simple Storage Service (S3) and SimpleDB Datastore APIs
    Message Queue Cloud Storage Services Simple Queue Services (SQS)

    Table adapted from

    I’m trying to relate it to my experiences building Rails apps and deploying on EC2 and S3 instances. It feels different than the Amazon AWS approach. It feels less like hosting a VM instance on Amazon infrastructure and using their storage and queuing service to scale my architecture. But learning to use EC2, S3 and SQS took some time. I’m thinking it will take additional time and prototyping to learn how to architect and build my web apps to run on Azure (bigger challenge seems to be teaching me C#). It’s different.  

    Intro to Windows Azure Services Platform

    Windows Azure Blogs

    • Windows Azure – Windows Azure team official blog.  Yes, nothing there now, but more will come, so subscribe. J
    • Cloud Compute Tools Team – The team that built the Visual Studio integration for Windows Azure.  Points to lots of good resources by individual team members.
    • David Aiken – Windows Azure Technical Evangelist
    • David Lemphers – PM on Windows Azure
    • Gus Perez – Developer on Cloud Compute Tools
    • Jim Nakashima – PM on Cloud Compute Tools
    • Sriram Krishnan – PM on Windows Azure
    • Steve Marx – Technical Strategist on Windows Azure

    Other Blogs & Resources

    • AzureFeeds – Aggregation of a bunch of feeds (including most of the above)
    • David Burela – Playing with Silverlight and WCF in Windows Azure services
    • Mike Amundsen – Currently doing some work against Windows Azure tables
    • Tanzim Saqib – Wrote a couple nice pieces about Windows Azure, but haven’t seen a lot lately on the topic…

    Improving the mobile browser


    The latest set of announcements at PDC have focused on improving the end user and developer user experiences. Windows 7 is a continued evolution of the desktop user experience. Internet Explorer 8 is a web standards compliant browser.

    There is a gaping hole in the browser on Windows Mobile. 

    skyfire-betaWhy does a browser on mobile matter? Look at the Rogers market share this past quarter as a result of the iPhone. Is it phone bling? Definitely. But it is also a device that has a desktop class web browser.

    Skyfire announced their open beta today. It boasts an impressive set of features including:

    • New Super Bar that combines search and URL entry into one bar
    • Skyfire can now be set as the default browser
    • New search bar on the Homescreen
    • New start page redesign
    • Faster start-up and page loading times
    • Share a link via SMS
    • Invite friends to download Skyfire via SMS
    • Save an image
    • Download files

    And the best part is that Skyfire also supports Flash video on Windows Mobile. The web is the primary distribution channel for content, wether your on a mobile phone, a custom application or dedicated device. The richness of the experience can be improved (see LukeW’s summary of Mix07 Beyond the Browser). And it’s great to see a desktop class browsing experience come to Windows Mobile.

    Give customers choice

    Mark Relph has been talking about Choice and Flexibility (part 2) for customers. Today with the announcement of Windows Azure you can start to see how Microsoft is trying to offer the rich user experience choices and the choice of infrastructure, on premises or in the cloud, for developers, IT Pros and ultimately consumers.


    What you get is the opportunity to figure out what is right for you, your developers, your organization, your customers and your applications. The goal is to provide designers and developers a common set of Services that can be mixed an matched. If your a startup, you can decide to keep your application, infrastructure and services in the cloud leveraging the ability to instantly scale your applications and manage your costs. If you are an existing company with a large IT investment, you can leverage your existing corporate infrastructure layering in the pieces that allow you to grow or reduce your costs through the economies of scale offered by the cloud services.

    You can start see the applications and tools that Microsoft has been shipping in context. Internet Explorer 8 is a tool for accessing software in the cloud. Silverlight 2 is a way for designers and developers to create compelling rich Internet applications. Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) is a powerful environment for desktop software development. As developers you get a shared set of tools (Web Standards, Javascript, JQuery, .NET, XAML, C#, VisualStudio 2008) that can be used to build applications and services.


    Developers can begin to build solutions that fit the needs of their audience. It is about being able to build the right solution for your company, your audience, and your market using the appropriate tools and technologies. ProductWiki is building a web service for open product reviews. Me.dium is building a shared social browsing experience. ThoughtFarmer is enterprise collaboration tool that lives behind the firewall. Xobni is mail analytics and improved communications integrated in Outlook.


    It’s about choice. The choice of device. The choice of user experience. The choice that fits your business and your customers. It’s about the flexibility of the platform to grow and evolve as you do.

    PDC kicks off tomorrow


    Getting ready to head to LA for Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (which begs the question as a non-professional developer what am I doing at PDC?). I’m preparing for a week of some in depth Microsoft experiences and announcements. Next to the coffee or the bourbon, the keynotes are the best part of a conference. I’m expecting big things from Ozzie, Scott Guthrie, Steven Sinofsky, and Don Box.

    I love the layout of the Timeline application. It’s a great way to access details about each session and build a personal schedule. A higher resolution monitor (I’m running at 1280 x 800) would have meant a little less scrolling, but generally a good experience. Here are some of the sessions out side of the keynotes I’m looking forward to.

    • The Future of C# presented by Anders Hejlsberg
    • A Lap around "Oslo" presented by Douglas Purdy, Vijaye Raji
    • Windows 7: Design Principles for Windows 7 presented by Samuel Moreau
    • Oomph: A Microformat Toolkit presented by Karsten Januszewski
    • Office Business Applications: Enhanced Deployment presented by Saurabh Bhatia, Andrew Whitechapel
    • Developing for Microsoft Surface presented by Brad Carpenter, Robert Levy

    It’s great to see sessions by the Mono team. Having spent a couple of days hanging out with Geoff Norton at FSOSS in Toronto.  I am blown away by the work that is going on by the Novell team and the Silverlight team to build a new cross-browser, cross-platform runtime. They are building some great tools.

    This will be my first deeply Microsoft conference. Yes, I’ve attended the internal events, but I’m really interested in observing and participating with the folks that build Windows applications, applications for the web on the Microsoft platform and learning more about their experiences.

    Mix09 <3 Your Web

    PDC is less than a week away, and it appears that the Mix team is busy announcing plans for Mix09 in Vegas.


    Agenda & Speakers

    There is a great list of the usual suspects and the some new faces including:

    Restyle & 10k Smart Coding Challenge


    Do you hate the style of the Mix site? Change it. Use your own CSS and images to ReStyle the Mix homepage. This is a great opportunity for local web designers to create a new experience. 


    Inspire the world with just 10k of code.  It reminds me of Stuart Butterfield’s 5k competition. It’s a great chance to win a conference pass, hotel accommodations and a gift card (money) for time in your Vegas.

    What could you create for the Web if you only had 10 kilobytes of code? It’s time to exercise your minimalist creativity and get back to basics – back to optimizing every little byte like your life depended on it.


    Both of these challenges have the same prize:

    One winner will receive a pass to MIX09, hotel accommodations and a Visa gift card. Other great prizes are to be announced. Official entry requirements, procedures, rules and restrictions coming in November.

    What: Mix09
    When: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 (all day)
    Where: The Venetian Hotel
    Las Vegas, NV   USA