Microsoft – Dictator or Facilitator?

For years Microsoft dominated the computer industry with it’s Windows operating system and Office business software. It’s empire was built on the massive licensing revenues this generated. Microsoft had control of most desktops and was able to dictate the future. But then things changed…

Microsoft built stuff to run on Windows. It provided languages like .NET and tools such as Visual Studio for others to build stuff to run on Windows. For pre-millenials like myself, Microsoft were the mainstream choice for developing business software.

Then Apple implemented it’s strategy to position themselves as a nonconformist alternative, and Google found ways to monetise free applications that directly competed with Microsoft’s paid offerings. Viable open source offerings proliferated, with vibrant user communities that were not in it for the money, but for the social good of developing useful tools. Finally the massive shift to mobile devices over PC’s, and the emergence of cloud-based services meant that people now expected to their apps to work anywhere, anytime.

Microsoft’s closed, lucrative eco-system was at threat. Developers could sit in any location, using swish gadgets running free tools to build software that could run on different operating systems.

Things had to change, and it looks like they are. All of a sudden Microsoft started selling it’s own hardware – for example the Surface and Windows Phone. It started giving more stuff away for free – Office for mobile, OneNote, Visual Studio. It started embracing the open source community it once rejected – setting up the .NET foundation, and providing free versions of it’s development IDE, Visual Studio. It started producing cross-platform tools (Visual Studio Code) or even acquiring them (Xamarin). It invested heaviliy in it’s cloud-based computing platform, Microsoft Azure.

All of this means a greater emphasis on hardware and services. At the Build 2016 conference they stated “we will present the latest tools and technologies and how they can help today’s developers be their most creative and productive“.

To survive this brave new world, Microsoft are facilitating, rather than dictating like maybe they once did.

By providing nice hardware and great cloud-based services they are hoping to benefit from our increasingly digital universe, and help make it easier for those that are making it bigger.

I think it is vital that organisations embrace open standards. With Microsoft’s recent embrace of the wider technology eco-system can they be true to this principle? Hopefully they can – and be a healthy presence within modern business systems.

Update (Oct 2016): On my latest project for Stockport Council, we developed web applications using ASP.NET Core in Docker containers running on Linux. It was great to use open Microsoft technologies mixed in with other open source, cross platform technologies. Well done Microsoft 🙂


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