Microsoft Corp. has always touted itself as a company built by and for developers. And as its 30th anniversary passes, that core constituency is more vital now to the companys success than ever, according to executives, developers and analysts.
From the introduction of MS-DOS, which created a vibrant software ecosystem, all the way up through Windows 95, Windows 2000, Windows XP and now .Net, developers have been behind the success or failure of every evolutionary step in the companys history.
"Developers have really always been Microsofts core customer segment," said David Treadwell, corporate vice president of the .Net Developer Platform group at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash. "The applications come from developers; theyre the innovation engine for the industry. I cant overstate the importance of developers."
Perhaps signaling the importance of developers to Microsoft, in announcing a reorganization of the company last month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced that Eric Rudder, senior vice president of servers and tools, will begin to report directly to Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect.
"That will be helpful for the division," Treadwell said. "Eric deeply understands developers and what they want and need."
John Montgomery, director for the Developer Division at Microsoft, laid it out even more simply. "The story, in a nutshell, is theres a complex ecosystem that sits around developing applications and making money off of them," Montgomery said. "And Microsoft has shown itself [to be] pretty good time and again at figuring out how people can make money off of its products."
Anders Hejlsberg, a technical fellow and chief architect of C# at Microsoft, said that when building a new language or platform, "I value simplicity over everything. I always look for simplicity. Simplicity is important in the quest for developer productivity."
Hejlsberg also created Borland Software Corp.s Turbo Pascal and Delphi, which have been touted for their simplicity. And Hejlsbergs history at Borland, which has had an almost-fanatical developer following, indicates he knows how to build products developers want to use.
"I would say that the thing that has drawn me to Microsofts products over the decades is that there has always been, and remains, a sense that productivity is the focus," said Patrick Hynds, chief technology officer at CriticalSites Inc., of Nashua, N.H., and a longtime Microsoft developer.
Hynds said that for every job he works on, the mantra is to get the work done in a hurry. "I have used non-Microsoft languages and the products that go with them, including Java, Perl and the usual suspects, but none of them seems to continually emphasize maximizing my time. After all, time is what I sell in the final analysis."
Cornelius Willis, a vice president at SourceLabs Inc., of Seattle, who used to work in Microsofts Developer Division helping to build the Microsoft developer ecosystem, said: "Contrary to popular opinion, Microsoft does have a strong culture of transparency. It spends a ton of money sharing its plans and is also pretty clear about where it wants to play in the market. There is also an amazing depth and breadth of technical information available on the platform; there really is nothing comparable anywhere else."
However, at times developers have questioned which has been more important to the company: the developer ranks or the Microsoft Windows franchise. But Microsoft officials say the two go hand in hand.
"The most important thing for Windows is being compelling to developers," Treadwell said. "Developers are the linchpin for the success of Windows."
Jim Allchin, co-president of the new Microsoft Platform Products & Services Division, said: "Well, developers do want to touch a lot of customers. We have to make our platform very popular in order for them to do that. If we make their jobs easier, then theyll be more likely to stay on the Windows platform."
After committing to a high-volume, low-cost business model, "the second thing they figured out was [not to] get too hung up on pure computer science," Montgomery said. "Making it easy is more important than adhering to strict rules of object orientation and polymorphism. And the third thing they figured out is having events like the PDC [Professional Developers Conference] is really important because you need to show people what youre doing—show them a lot of leg so they know where youre going to go and make it easy for them to adopt these technologies and at the same time talk about business ideas for how they can make money."