I was chatting with some Sun Micro PR people who commented that Microsoft's problem these days is that it doesn't have a passionate user/developer base. (Hey, I thought the days of mudslinging were over.). The theory is that while Microsoft certainly owns the majority of user systems, no one seems to really be evangelical about its software: Windows Vista, Office, Visual Studio, SharePoint, SQL Server, and certainly not IE. The same thing goes for Microsoft's hardware. Where are the legions of Zune users? Xbox may be the closest thing Microsoft has to a fanatical fan base, but I'm pretty sure the lines were just as long for the PS3 and the Wii.
Think about it. When was the last time an editor was fired because of a scathing article entitled, "10 Things We Hate About Microsoft?" When was the last time a group of developers stood up at a VS Live show and shouted ... "Yea, man! Orcas Rocks! Language Integrated Query is da' Bomb! New and improved ADO.Net? Oh, no you didn't!" It just doesn't happen.
Conversely, how many e-mails have you received (or written) because someone bashed your favorite operating system or software application? Chances are that you were defending something that wasn't made or acquired by Microsoft.
So while I expect Sun to mouth off, my biggest surprise was that Mary Jo Foley (of Microsoft Watch and ZDNet blogging fame) was standing right there and she validated the theory that customers and developers are just not that into Microsoft. Her take on it was that even Microsoft people she's spoken with acknowledge that developers and users have a lackluster passion when it comes to Microsoft products.
I can kind of support this theory. Last year, I spent time consulting for a Visual Studio group within Microsoft whose goal was to engage with more developers. The idea was to create a "community" effect similar to the one enjoyed by the Eclipse project. The group's budget included a contest and subsequent resource Web site. The contest garnered about two dozen entries (yawn) and the Microsoft group certainly considered the project a work in progress.
So my question is this:
Does the largest software vendor in the world have people who are actually excited by its products and drive themselves into a frenzy when the latest version comes out?
Rob Enderle, principal analyst and founder of the Enderle Group, suggests Microsoft did have a religion and a passionate audience up until 1995, but Microsoft never really nurtured them and they died off.
"Now Windows is just part of the PC," Enderle said. "There are still those that admire the company and Gates, but the passion that exists around FreeBSD, Linux, and Apple simply has no analog in Windows. Great products come from passion -- when Windows lost that, it lost its heart."
What about this: Is Microsoft in such control over its own products that nobody really cares to innovate around Microsoft software? Do they just go through the motions because that's what they use at work?
Dan Kusnetzky, principal analyst with the Kusnetzky Group, blames corporations for the complacency.
"As long as organizations and individuals adopt the Microsoft way of doing things, they find it easier to adopt a Microsoft tool for the next thing they wish to do. This approach leads to market control, not to an emotional rush," Kusnetzky said.
And what about the seeming lack of Microsoft fanboys? Resignation is the feeling.
"My sense is that once they've started down Microsoft's path, they quickly discover that Microsoft's creative use of incompatibilities keeps them on Microsoft's chosen path," Kusnetzky added.
Does anyone worship the Gods of Redmond?