The dawn of a new Microsoft

In January 2009, I was at Campus Party Brasil. This was the second edition of this big LAN party in the country, and as was the norm with the event, they hosted a number of presentations, many of them geared towards developers.

One of the several presentations I watched was by Microsoft. They were basically introducing a new version of Silverlight (and its editors) to the audience.

The presentation left me insulted and outraged.

As a Flash and ActionScript developer at the time, I was specially interested – if somewhat unimpressed so far – in Microsoft’s purported Flash killer. I went into the presentation wanting to hear more about their platform, and while I was aware this presentation was directed towards the general audience of the event, I thought I could learn a thing or two about the product.

My hopes went down the drain quick enough, however, as it became clear right away that the presentation was full of lies and falsehoods. In an attempt to persuade the audience towards their product and against Flash, the entire presentation relied in misrepresenting Flash’s features, exaggerating Silverlight’s capabilities, and overall just misinforming the audience about either of the platforms in an attempt to prove the (nonexistent) superiority of their offering. Interestingly, it seemed to work well, and the audience, composed mostly of technology and design students, accepted the speaker’s very eloquent lies without much questioning.

To me, however, it sent a different, but just as clear, message: stay away from this company. When looking for facts, I very much dislike being lied to, and I was very concerned about a company that feels the need to do so when attempting to sell their product.

After the fact, I wrote a pretty long blog article about the rhetoric of falsehoods in tech. This tactic is not new, of course, and something many companies, including Microsoft, have been known to rely on from time to time.

Nevertheless, I never posted the article. In the end, I didn’t have much stake in the topic, I wasn’t interested in engaging with talking heads, and it was clear the technology wasn’t getting anywhere any time soon.

Still, I assumed that was the norm for Microsoft, and stayed away from them for a while. This bet more or less paid off, as Silverlight was left in limbo, XNA was abandoned in the wilderness, and overall Microsoft wasn’t able to commit to any given platform that I felt like using.

That was 5 years ago. How things have changed.

They acquired, and released for free, the most popular Unity development extension plugin. They just rolled out a free version of Visual Studio Professional. The .NET Runtime is now available as open source in GitHub. They have created one of the best ES6-like/JS-transpiler languages, TypeScript. I used to hate the typical .NET APIs, but my current favorite language is easily C#, including its libraries. Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for users of Windows 7. Even their browser engine is looking good, and a new wrapper won’t hurt. This all came with a change of tone I could not have predicted 5 years ago.

This is a new Microsoft.

I wouldn’t say it’s all because of a new CEO. More than a top-down decision to become better, maybe what’s happening here is the shedding of old habits, and the awaited abandonment of hostile tactics that used to work in software development 20 years ago; if anything, it’s the understanding that making developers (and users) happy matters, and the lack of lies and free access to tools help too.

In this day and age, I know better than to commit to any single given platform. But so far I’ve certainly been enjoying this new Microsoft.

  • It’s really cool how Microsoft found the way to keep releasing meaningful stuff. I disagree the change is unrelated to the new CEO (Ballmer was against some of the coolest stuff we have today, like Windows Phone). Of course, this is a major cultural change in the company, and it took years to take place, but the vision of the new leader surely made things easier. As one friend of mine said: Satya isn’t the CEO MS wanted, it’s the CEO MS needed.