Related link: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/print?id=88655
Slashdot picked up a piece wondering if the “first hints of rot” were in the air at Microsoft, which made me think about Microsoft when I first liked their products years ago and what I’ve found lately.
I guess it’s fair to say that I’m returning to Microsoft subjects after
working in fields where they mattered but weren’t the universe, and things
feel very different. When I last followed them closely:
Internet Explorer 4 was pretty much a revolution when it arrived, bringing
huge new scripting functionality. IE 5 for the Mac made similar
improvements on the CSS side. Now that same browser core is a giant dead
weight holding down the Web’s capabilities.
Windows NT Server was stunning not so much because of its capabilities, but because it combined stability with an interface ordinary non-CLI-worshipping humans could understand. I really angered a Novell partisan friend of mine by saying NT would take over what Novell was doing then. (My friend now works at Novell, where he is very happy lately thanks to the Linux work and Mono giving them a new burst of excitement.) Windows 2003 Server rarely feels as interesting, though, and I long since stopped keeping Windows servers at home. The interfaces are kludgey, and at my level of use dedicated appliances (often Linux-based) make more sense.
Even Office, which I’d been using for years, having pretty much lived in Word during college, still had a lot of new tricks up its sleeve. While I still count Word 5.1 for the Macintosh (~1992) as the most overall usable version of the product, they made some major steps in Office as it became a Windows standard. Access 2.0 was an amazing leap forward, IMHO, and the 97 suite made some big changes in standardizing VBA across the line, but since then change has been largely incremental. (And yes, the XML support is a
thin candy shell along the outside edges. When it goes deeper, as in Word, it generally breaks.)
Today, I see a lot less interesting going on, though there’s still some interesting work going on there, some I’d even bless with their hallowed word ‘innovation’:
InfoPath took an XSLT parlor trick (making it two-way) and turned it into a forms application. A forms application with a confusing marketing picture, yes, but…
SharePoint may be the first sizable improvement in how people use Office since email became ordinary. It’s not rocket science, but it manages some complex tasks cheerfully.
The .NET Compact Framework and Pocket PC generally intrigue me, though it’s hard for me to say that it’s very different from J2ME with a slightly more native-environment-friendly twist.
I’m looking forward to seeing what they have for show and tell in the future, but I can’t say at this point it feels to me like
they’re thriving. Their sheer momentum should keep their space open for a while, however!
What’s the most exciting thing Microsoft is doing today? (Seriously!)