07/07/2013 05:00 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2013

This Is Not Your Father's Microsoft

It looks like Steve Ballmer has set Microsoft up for great success. The reporters focused on the past have missed the incredible transformation that has occurred at Microsoft.

Most people reporting about Build missed the big story from Microsoft. It was a classic example of not seeing the forest because of concentrating on the trees. There has been a gigantic change at Microsoft. And one that I think will work very well for them. Steve Ballmer could well prove all his nay-sayers wrong.

  1. In every talk where any browser could be used, the browser usually shown was Chrome. Even two years ago that could have gotten an employee fired and now it was purposely used in talk after talk. In one talk they were showing how the VS 2013 debugger worked with three browsers simultaneously -- IE, Chrome, and an iPhone emulator.
  2. In several talks showing how VS 2013 and/or Azure could be set to automatically sync with source code the repository was GitHub. Not TFS but Git. (Occasionally the speaker would state that TFS could also be used.) A complete inversion of what Microsoft would do in the past where it would demonstrate using just the Microsoft stack and maybe mention that other services are supported.
  3. Anders Hejlsberg gave a talk on what he and has team have been working on for the past year -- TypeScript. Anders heads up the best language team in the world by far (so good that when he walked on stage he received a standing ovation). Microsoft clearly views JavaScript as more important than anything else in the dev tools arena.
This is not a case of Microsoft working with other systems. They started doing that several years ago. This is Microsoft embracing being a part of a larger ecosystem. A part. And focused on doing their best to integrate well into the other systems.

A secondary, but still important part is Microsoft is listening to feedback and reverting their software where the changes were not well received. Vista was probably the ultimate product where Microsoft tried to impose its vision on the market. But this imposition has occurred across products to a lesser extent throughout their products. This has also flipped where in talk after talk we would be shown changes which were reverting back to earlier versions.

For example VisualStudio now has a color scheme that matches VS 2010 as the VS 2013 colors scheme was so washed out it was hard to use. Microsoft, like Apple, was famous for deciding what was best and that's what you got. Responding to user feedback is a gigantic change for the company.

The Forrest, not the Trees

So why was the above missed in most of the news articles about Build? I think it's because most of the reporters went to the keynotes and reported on those. Lots of cool products. Upcoming software. The start button returning in Windows 8.1. The fundamental cultural change was not clear there. And was I think purposely obfuscated because they wanted the keynotes to be about Microsoft. And in fact, the top levels at Microsoft may not be fully aware of the cultural changes that have occurred there.

It was in the sessions, seeing presentation after presentation, that this shift became clear. Reporting on it required both attending a lot of sessions as well as clueing into the difference. This is the big story out of Build. Not any product. Not any new version. The big story is that Microsoft, a company with 100,000 employees, has radically transformed its culture. And the change will make them much more competitive.

Wait, There's More

  1. Azure, mobile, IE F12, VS2013, blah, blah, blah. Ok, lots of cool stuff about each covered in the sessions. Lots of neat new software coming. Watch the sessions - well worth it. My favorite quote from any session was in one of the Azure ones "the only way to fully test your application is in production." True but rarely admitted.
  2. Really nice that they gave us so much cool stuff -- 2 tablets, Adobe Creative Suite, Office 365, and more. And the inclusion of Adobe Creative Suite showed again Microsoft embracing a market leader over their own software.
  3. Microsoft is all in on HTML5/JavaScript. It's not just ActiveScript (use it - it's a gigantic win), but across the board. The go to software for showing any example was JavaScript. XAML and ASP.NET will continue to be supported but they're dead ends now.
  4. Microsoft is moving to the rapid release cycle big time. Windows and Office look to be moving to yearly. But for every other product it looks to be about every 3 months as they get more features added. There will no longer be distinct versions, it will be what updates you've added. When something is completed and tested, it will be pushed out.
The official "announcements" out of Build -- nothing noteworthy or exciting. The change in Microsoft visible at Build is you were paying attention -- transformative!

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