Microsoft Corp. has begun to take a serious look at how its software-as-a-service strategy can be applied to its developer business.
Last week Microsoft moved one of its emerging developer tools strategy thinkers, John Montgomery, from a marketing role, and assigned him to the job of helping to figure out just how the software giant should proceed in this space.
Montgomerys job will be to focus on how Microsoft can bring the vision of its Windows Live and Office Live offerings to help developers.
In a blog post Tuesday, Montgomery said the project he is working on goes by the code name Tuscany. Otherwise, “wed all start calling it Visual Studio Live, which it may or may not be,” he said. However, the Apache Software Foundation also has a Web services-related project known as Tuscany.
S. “Soma” Somasegar, corporate vice president of the developer division at Microsoft, said, “John Montgomery, who was most recently in developer marketing, is now a program manager on my team, thinking about what we should be doing in the Developer Division to support the Live world.”
In November, Microsoft rolled out plans to create Windows Live and Office Live, software-as-a-service add-ons to Windows and Office, respectively. Since that time, Microsoft has fielded a number of Windows Live beta deliverables. A first beta of Office Live is expected to be imminent.
In a blog post from last week, Somasegar said, “A couple of months ago we announced two new Internet-based services from Microsoft—Windows Live and Office Live. These services demonstrate how software is evolving through the power of services. Now, what do these services mean for the developer community?”
Somasegar said there are two things he is thinking about in this regard: “A set of services that we want to provide which will make it easy for developers to develop applications and services using VS [Visual Studio]” and “Support for features in Visual Studio that makes it a great set of development tools for developers to be able to build and consume services.”
In a blog post of his own, John Montgomery said his new role is to “help define what a Live version of Visual Studio might look like. If you think about Office Live and Windows Live, you can see that Live is coming together to mean software that is smarter when its online and back-ended by a set of services. I think most developers get this concept intuitively—that software can (and should) be better when its online.”
And with that, Montgomery put out a call for developers to provide suggestions for what they would like to see Microsoft do.
What Developers Want from
In a subsequent blog post, Montgomery listed some suggestions that developers had sent him, including pair programming, in which developers could work with a partner in a paired situation without the partner being right there, and hosted versions of VSTS (Visual Studio Team System).
“Another theme thats coming out: Whatever we do, it has to be better than opening a window in IE [Internet Explorer] and as easy to work with as visiting a Web site or using a Hosted Exchange account,” Montgomery said.
Meanwhile, Jon Rauschenberger, chief technology officer at Chicago-based Clarity Consulting Inc., and a .Net expert, said, “My initial reaction to the Developer Live stuff is excitement tempered with a nice healthy dose of skepticism. There are lots of things Microsoft could do here that will fail miserably, and only a handful that jump out at me as good ideas. The good ones, however, are compelling.”
One good idea, Rauschenberger said, would be hosted VSTS. “I do think there is an opportunity here,” he said. “If Microsoft can make a hosted version of Team System File—New Hosted Project easy to set up and use, then they can change the way developers collaborate … make it more approachable and productive.
“Theres a huge opportunity here for students and small-medium businesses. Getting a Team System server setup [and] configured is hard and expensive. I think there is a lot of demand for the capabilities Microsoft has delivered with Team System, but not a lot of appetite for the cost and complexity of doing it in-house.”
Rauschenberger said another area where Microsoft should focus its Live efforts is documentation.
“Over the past few months Ive heard from several developers that spend time in both the .Net and Java world that they find it easier to find answers [and] documentation on Java than they do on .Net,” he said. “This surprised me—Microsoft has typically had a lead in this area, but based on what Im hearing from developers, it looks like they are now playing catch-up.”
Both Montgomery and Somasegar said some early bits of the Live focus on developers can be found in Visual Studio 2005, in features like CodeZone integrated help, the Community menu and the ability to create and consume Web services.
While developers acknowledge that those are starting points, they dont go far enough, Rauschenberger said.
“I dont think the current Community stuff in VS 2005 is going to make a difference in this space,” he said. “They need something bigger [or] more sweeping in terms of the developer experience when hitting F1 or searching for answers. The target audience here is the Google-Powered Developers—the developers that jump to Google to find code snippets for the task at hand.”
Meanwhile, Somasegar said, “We will not only offer Windows Live and Office Live as consumer services but also make them available as rich development platforms. Developers will be able to customize, enhance and innovate on top of these services.”
Editors Note: This story was updated to include information from a blog posting by Montgomery.