Microsoft may not realize it, but they are putting themselves in a bad spot they may not be able to break out of without a herculean effort. Whether the intent is there or not, Microsoft has slowly eroded the confidence and loyalty of IT Pros everywhere. And, whether or not Microsoft is listening now they will have to soon as the increasing chasm is causing IT Pros to suggest alternate solutions (non-Microsoft) first in a lot of cases. I've heard this constantly in the communities over the past few months, where Linux and Mac are being favored over Microsoft-centric solutions in companies that have been dedicated and loyal customers for so long. Companies are questioning Microsoft's company direction and management is relying on IT Pros to lead the way.
For some reason, every time I think about this topic, an 80's song pops into my head. There was a one-hit wonder in the 1980's called Steel Breeze with a song called "You don't want me anymore." The lyrics go like this (with my modifications, of course):
I remember, IT Pros, on the day you left
You said you'd never understand, oh
But I keep thinkin' if you try real hard
You can give me just one more chance, 'cause
You don't want me anymore
Let me explain, 'cause I don't wanna lose ya
You don't want me anymore
Tried so hard, so hard to please ya
If there were only one or two reasons for IT Pros to feel unloved by Microsoft, IT could just move on and forgive, but the breadcrumb trail over the last year or so has led many IT Pros to believe that Microsoft simply doesn't need or want them anymore. In last week's Windows Weekly 331: Sewage as a Service episode I was given the opportunity to make a guest appearance and talk to this.
At IT/Dev Connections last week, there was a definite concern among attendees that Microsoft needs to do something quickly to fix the damage, change direction, and let IT Pros know that they really do still fit within a Microsoft-centric world. After thinking about it a bit, I've come up with 3 three areas I believe Microsoft could make improvements right away and IT Pros would start to forgive them.
TechNet Subscriptions Replacement
As most of you are aware, Microsoft handcuffed, blindfolded, and summarily executed a 15 year program that allowed IT Pros access to full versions of Microsoft software. IT Pros used the software access to download and test applications within their labs and environments. In truth, the TechNet subscriptions helped sell Microsoft products, and in killing off the valuable asset, Microsoft not only shot themselves in the foot, but angered many. Many are still angry about it.
Microsoft offered alternatives such as Microsoft Virtual Academy and the TechNet Evaluation Center, which are all free, however there's a problem with each solution. Each of Microsoft's Virtual Academy components assumes that companies use Microsoft's products exactly like Microsoft intended them to be used. They are reported to run slowly, and consistently behind in product updates. The evals in the TechNet Evaluation Center are all limited to 180 days, which causes IT Pros to have to completely rebuild their labs every 6 months. Not only is this a pain for IT Pros, but a lot of companies can't make a functional decision about updating to a new product in 6 months' time.
Microsoft needs to invest time and resources here to develop something that IT Pros can live with. The longer Microsoft waits, or the quieter they become over the issue (hoping it will just go away), the bigger the chasm becomes. Even a simple blog post that says "we're working on it" would be enough to sway IT Pros back into the fold.
A Cloud IT can manage
Microsoft has been investing the majority of their development cycles into Windows Azure and other Microsoft Cloud properties. IT Pros are sick of hearing about the Cloud, and frankly, the way Microsoft is approaching it leads them to believe that Microsoft hates IT as an entity. I've written about it before (In the New World Order, Microsoft's Biggest Competition is IT), and many in IT believe that Microsoft has started a war of sorts, trying to ultimately eliminate IT.
Part of the problem is the way Microsoft is communicating advances for Windows Azure. Windows Azure is an amazing accomplishment and valuable service, but as Microsoft continues to mirror on-premise services in Windows Azure, they tend to leave IT Pros out of the equation.
Microsoft needs to put IT Pros first, or at least ensure they know that Windows Azure needs to be managed. Earlier today, I found a great step in this direction with the release of a free eBook called: Introducing Windows Azure for IT Professionals. So, maybe Microsoft is already trying to fix this. We'll see, but the true disconnect is that Microsoft is not being clear on what IT's future is within a Microsoft Cloud world. Microsoft needs to step-up, be clear and truthful, and give IT Pros real direction – whatever that may be.
As an aside, at IT/Dev Connections last week Mark Russinovich stated that IT Pros are NOT going away anytime soon. However, a few statements later he also said that one of the massive Windows Azure datacenters is being run by 2 people.
Invest in true community events
TechEd is a great conference which I've been part of for years, but in reality it's an event, owned by Microsoft, that is used to promote messaging. The event itself is owned by the marketing group at Microsoft, so you have to expect a certain level of marketing-ese in every Microsoft-led session. TechEd attendance runs close to 12,000 attendees each year, and now that Microsoft has chosen to allow TechEd to devour the Microsoft Management Summit those attendance numbers should grow. Of course, there are not many that are happy about the loss of a great, community event in MMS, so maybe TechEd's numbers won't increase by that much. It's tough to create an overall sense of community in a crowd that large. Microsoft surely tries, but even the venue that has to be chosen due to the large attendance numbers is not conducive to community. Conferences work best when the event center is connected to the hotel. Many have issues with Las Vegas as an event location, but it truly is the best venue for community.
Microsoft needs to find a way to invest in or support some real community conferences. I was totally and happily astonished last week at IT/Dev Connections on how truly different it is than TechEd or MMS has been in the last few years. MMS started as simple idea to bring like-minded IT people together where technical community came first. IT/Dev Connections is so very much like the early days of MMS that it had me almost in joyful tears of remembrance. It really is that good. It's been called a "conference with a User Group feel" by many who attended last week.
Microsoft can better show they love IT Pros, not by giving them an event created and managed by Microsoft marketing, but by supporting events where community already exists. Microsoft needs to go to their customers, not expect their customers to go to them. That will speak volumes to IT Pros and help heal the rift.
As an IT Pro, what else could Microsoft do to make you "feel the love"? Are there areas I've not identified where you feel Microsoft could do better? Or, has Microsoft simply gone too far already and they can never make it back into your heart?
While you're thinking, I'll leave you some appropriate brain music…