Microsoft has made a lot of mistakes in its day, but one thing it’s always done right is to treat developers like royalty. Giving developers really compelling reasons to choose Microsoft ensures that enterprises and consumers keep choosing Microsoft too, because that’s where all the programs are.
One of the best ways Microsoft does this is with Visual Studio. It is the best development suite on the planet, bar none. It lets developers make better products in less time, and it makes them not hate their jobs. It keeps programming ‘fun’. And traditionally, Microsoft has practically given this away. Sure, if you walk into a store and look for a shrink-wrapped copy of Visual Studio, it’s pricy. But nobody does that. Through the Empower program, MSDN subscriptions, and more, Microsoft has kept Visual Studio very affordable, and takes off all the restrictions placed on mere mortals. Which is good: developers are probably the least likely bunch of people to pirate software, and they don’t have time to worry about things like licenses and product activation. They’re not using these products. They’re building on them so other people can use them.
But this is changing.
Now, developers have to choose to either live with an ‘inferior’ version of Visual Studio, or pick which ‘Team’ edition to go with. I’m sure the marketing department was really proud of the work they did identifying their market segments, but you know what? That doesn’t work with developers. Am I a Software Architect? A Database Developer? A Test Engineer? It really depends on which day it is, but most often, I’m all of these. And I really don’t like having to choose which features I want to live without, because this is exactly what is happening here.
Sure, I could go for the uber-premium ‘Team Suite’ edition, which does have it all. But that costs many, many thousands, which is well beyond what any mere mortal can afford. In fact, it’s a pretty good part of an annual salary most places in the world. Visual Studio is great, but it ain’t that great.
And worse: the usual channels that developers used to avoid paying retail are slowly being closed, or at least weakened: most of these offerings no longer come with the top-tier edition. More and more software is unavailable to developers through MSDN subscriptions (such as the Expression products), and often, developers can’t even get into beta programs. I develop solutions that use Microsoft Office every day, and I didn’t see the web-enabled versions of these until public release.
All of this is happening at a time when the alternatives are getting harder and harder to ignore. Macs are becoming a significant market segment again, much of the Linux world has rallied behind the fantastic Ubuntu distribution, and the development tools for non-Microsoft platforms are getting pretty damn good. Sure, I’d rather use Visual Studio. But by the time I’m paying more on Visual Studio than my rent, I think I can probably learn to live with Eclipse. And if I do that, my products probably won’t require Windows anymore. And if they don’t, neither will my customers.
I really hope Microsoft wakes up here. These higher prices probably look good on a balance sheet; I’m sure the developer tools division at Microsoft is pulling in huge amounts of cash. But this is a strategically damaging way of increasing revenue: you get a relatively small, yet concrete and immediate, gain in one corner, but you’re slowly, surely, weakening your entire foundation.
Microsoft: give us developers a break. Try going in the other direction: give us more for less. We’ll respond in kind.