Opinion: With more choices than ever before, software developersMicrosoft's most critical constituencymay not be so willing to wait indefinitely on Longhorn and will start looking else.
By most measures, it might seem that Microsofts crucial customers are the PC builders who license Windows for bundling on new machines. Those hardware original-equipment makers, though, are not the companys most critical constituencyand Microsoft knows it.
Yes, PC OEMs depend on Microsoft to support new hardware features and to generate customer demand for more hardware resourcesand Microsoft depends on those OEMs for preload licensing revenues. But Microsoft depends even more on software developers to channel customer demand toward Microsofts platform, so that OEMs will continue to consider it a no-brainer to stay with it instead of looking at lower-cost alternatives.
Its developers, therefore, who create the software mandate that drives the hardware industrys choicebut that developer constituency has now had its nose pressed to the glass of the Longhorn candy store for a long, long time, while the sign on the door promising imminent Grand Opening keeps getting replaced with announcements of continual postponement. Little by little, those developers are starting to look up and down the street to see where they might find more immediate gratification.
What those developers are seeing is an expanding array of choices that are defined by Internet standards, not by Microsoft road maps. Theyre seeing business environments like Amazon.com and its virtual storefronts, content environments like Google and iTunes, and on-demand computing resource environments like Suns $1-per-CPU-per-hour grid.
Theyre seeing a world whose axis no longer passes through the PC: one that increasingly revolves around media industries, such as music and photography, whose offerings are quickly becoming the greatest stimulus for buying a new computer or mastering a new application.
Developer excitement has been palpable at events like Microsofts Professional Developer Conference in October 2003, where the company demonstrated the exceptional power and conciseness of its Indigo communication framework and its declarative programming technologies. The post-browser world of Internet applications was arguably defined at those Los Angeles sessions, where major Internet players like Amazon.com showed their prototypes of applications that combined rich client-side visual interaction with pervasive behind-the-scenes Web services.
Significantly, Amazon.coms back end runs on Linux, but the companys developers still understood the likely future importance of the Windows client. That understanding might now be evolving, though, in more eclectic directions as Internet access growth becomes dominated by mobile-phone and automotive devices rather than traditional PC sales.
Click here to read why Microsoft says Longhorn matters.
Microsofts public pitching of its long-awaited Longhorn update has focused on end-user power and convenience, with emphasis on features such as automatic maintenance of virtual file system views. What Microsoft knows better than any other software provider on the planet, though, is that end users dont actually make the important decisions that lead to platform dominance.
Dominance decisions are ultimately made by application developers, who determine which platforms will be the beneficiaries of their own crucial investments in developer training, tool acquisition and platform-specific feature exploitation. Those choices create the applications, some of them mass-market but many more of them custom-built or vertical-market tools, that drive platform choice and sell associated hardware.
Microsoft has demonstrated for many years a thorough mastery in maintaining developer mind share, and it has posted an impressive menu of dramatic forthcoming enhancements to developer productivity. Developers have responded to the promise that theyll be able to write less code but gain more leverage from database disciplines and pervasive Internet connectivity.
At some point, though, the door to the candy store had better be unlocked, and there had better be goods in the cabinetsor developers will sate their hunger elsewhere.
Peter Coffee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.