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.

Goodbye Microsoft, so long and thanks for all the bits

Photo by
Photo by Stuck in Customs

Can you believe that it has been 1230 days since I announced I was joining Microsoft? I’m guessing a lot of people lost out on that one in the over/under pool. Well, it has been a fantastic 3 years, 4 months and 7 days so far, unfortunately there are only 4 days left until it’s over for me. Effective Friday, September 24, 2010 I will be leaving Microsoft Canada.

I’m heading back into the fray. Or as John so eloquently puts it, I will be starting on a new path, with some old friends and the plan is actually quite simple:
Have fun and try to take over the world responsibly. I’ve spent the past 3+ years talking to entrepreneurs about programs like BizSpark and trying to help them build on the emerging Microsoft technologies and platform. I’m looking forward to getting back in the trenches and using customer development to build and ship products.

I’m not alone. There are a few of the folks that I’ve worked with or been lucky enough to call a friend that have also left Microsoft in the past year including: Don Dodge, Adam Kinney, Scott Barnes and others. This didn’t impact my decision to leave, it’s more just a curious observation.

As a sidenote, I’m pretty sure that John will be looking for a ISV DE (in non-Microsoft acronym speak: a developer evangelist focused on independent software vendors). What does an ISV DE do? Here’s the ISV DE job description from Belgium.

The ISV Developer Evangelist mission is to drive platform adoption and revenue growth with depth and breadth ISVs. The ISV Developer Evangelist is focused on winning ISV adoption of Microsoft platform technologies by working with ISV senior technology decision makers within these organizations. This is accomplished by collaborating with the ISV PAM (Partner Account Manager) to build a well-managed, mutually beneficial alliance that drives revenue growth and expands the reach of strategic Microsoft products within the partner’s solution portfolio.

It was a great time to be a part of the Developer & Platform Evangelism team at Microsoft Canada. And if I’d consider working with John Oxley (@joxley), Mark Relph (@mrelph) and the team again in the future. If you’re looking for a fun gig working with ISVs including startups and emerging companies, make sure you follow up with John.

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?

“Make Web, Not War” aka Can’t We Just Get Along?

Joey provides the details the upcoming ‘Make Web, Not War” event in Toronto and Vancouver.


Make Web, Not War is happening today in Vancouver (June 2, 2009) and next week in Toronto on June 10, 2009. (Let’s not start about disaster that is the web presence, frames, Flashturbation, no deep linking, etc.). Microsoft released the Web Platform Installer, WebPI for short, version 2 includes IIS7, SQL Server, Visual Web Developer, ASP.NET and PHP. That’s right, PHP and the ability to install popular PHP and .NET open-source applications including WordPress, Drupal and more.

Here’s my take, it’s great to see Microsoft embrace web technologies. The web is a mash of technologies from operating systems to application servers to database servers to web servers to development frameworks to AJaX frameworks to CSS frameworks. It’s all about choice. You can mix and match the pieces that make the most sense for you at a moment in time. And now that choice, flexibility and power come to web developers that run Windows operating systems.

Not everyone has the flexibility of choosing each of the layers. When I worked at Rye High, I built applications initial in ColdFusion 6 and Oracle 8i because it was what was available. The addition of FastCGI and PHP to IIS opens the available tools to many developers and IT professionals that run Windows in their corporate environments. The WebPI makes it drop-dead simple to install PHP and Drupal or MediaWiki. Pick the right tool for the users, the tasks, your infrastructure and support. Make informed decisions.

Are there limitations? Definitely, part of the fun is playing in the boundaries and pushing as close to the edge as possible.

Come together right now over me

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” – Alan Kay

The event is about focusing on the task at hand. Let’s make a better web. Let’s solve problems. By helping developers gain access to the applications and platforms they want is important. Microsoft is starting to understand, again, the power of an ecosystem. Rather than fighting to convert PHP developers to ASP.NET, you can see the empire embrace and enable the tools that are a part of the web.

Further evidence of this acceptance of PHP as a language and a tool of the web can be seen PHP SDK for Windows Azure. The addition of Java in the Azure world.

Toronto –  June 10, 2009

I’ll be talking about the web, open platforms, innovation and karma at the Toronto event on Wednesday, June 10th at the Ted Rogers School of Management (use the entrance at 55 Dundas Street W.) and runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m..

It’s a full-day event with presentations by:

The Toronto event will feature breakfast, keynote, web partner community showcase, another keynote, lunch, breakout sessions, a Windows Server 2008 InstallFest, a web developer technical session and the FTW! competition final showdown. It’s be a very full day.

The registration fee for both the Vancouver and Toronto events is “donate what you want”, with a suggested donation of CAD$10. The money will go to a good cause:, the anti-bullying network.

Hope you’ll come out!


What: Make Web, Not War
When: Wednesday, June 10, 2009 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM
Where: Ted Rogers School of Business

55 Dundas St West
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C5

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

Independent’s Day

Microsoft is hostingxna an free evening event at Fed Hall at UWaterloo talking about gaming, XBox Live Community Games, and entrepreneurship. The event is looking is scheduled to have a series of short presentations about how to build a gaming studio. It will feature folks from Microsoft, Frozen North, Infusion Development, and KPMG.

XNA Community GamesMicrosoft has been criticised about the need for a App Store for Windows Mobile (it’s coming). While the story on mobile is emerging, the story for gaming launched in November 2008. Xbox Live Community Games and XNA Creators Club allow designers and developers to create, share, and play games created by others. The FAQ has details about who can submit games and how you can make money. There is additional support for students and startups in getting access to the tools. Students can full access to developer tools at DreamSpark: Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, SQL Server 2008 Developer Edition and XNA Game Studio 3.0. Startups can join BizSpark and gain access to MSDN Premium for almost free (it’s a $100 after 3 years or an exit event). If you are a startup, there are additional benefits in the BizSpark program including access to Network Partners like nGen – Niagara Interactive Media Generator, Communitech and others across Canada that can help support your business development and growth. You don’t need to be in BizSpark to access the services of these groups and others. And there are other fantastic resources like York Technology Association, MaRS, Interactive Ontario, and others.

Kudo One of the most exciting tools that will be release in the Spring is Kodu (formerly Boku) from Microsoft Research. Kodu is programming environment and language designed for kids. The programming environment runs on the Xbox and is built in XNA. It was shown as part of the keynote at CES 2009 (750Kb).


The conversation on January 29, 2009 won’t be focused on the technology. It will focus on the mix of technology, business development, and programs available to Canadian video game entrepreneurs to help them get started.

To register, visit or send Kayla Spiess an email with your name and other contact details.




What: Independent’s Day
When: Thursday, January 29, 2009 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Where: Fed Hall

University of Waterloo
Waterloo, ON   Canada

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.


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.