I got a fair amount of feedback on my first post, all of it (so far) very constructive.  So today let's walk through some of the queries posed.  (Microsoft legal would like me to add the following disclaimer: This posting is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights.  Now that that's out of the way...)

First, let's start with

...I would like to hear how [s]he believes the small ISV fits into the picture with Microsoft. (Avonelle Lovhaug)

Senior management at Microsoft has recently become very interested in small- and medium-sized ISVs (what we call the “breadth ISV community“).  In the last year, many millions of dollars have been spent on programs designed especially for small ISVs.  That means, quite frankly, that now is a terrific time to be an ISV startup building on the Microsoft platform, because we're going to throw resources at you to try to help you succeed.  Why, that's my job (in partnership with a whole bunch of other people over here at the edge of the campus): figure out how to make small software vendors building on the Microsoft platform successful.   Let me give you some examples of the stuff we're doing:

  • On the technology side, we're
    • Continuing to make all kinds of information available for free on MSDN;
    • Providing heavily subsidized training for ISVs worldwide on key technologies, like Windows Server 2003, .NET, and smart clients (information about these is sent out locally - this is a good reason to let Microsoft contact you when you sign up for stuff, because if you say “Do not contact me“, we won't, even when you wish we would, and we're completely paranoid about privacy - but that's a topic for a different blog entry);
    • Making information and select MS Press books available for free for those key technologies, just by signing up for one of our technical enablement initiatives and saying you're interested;
    • And of course there's the much-discussed-on-this-thread Empower program.  Yes, it is an unbelievably good deal. (Microsoft is heavily subsidizing this program - and we'd like to lose more money by having even more ISVs sign up. <grin> Our targets for this fiscal year, which ends in June, are very aggressive.  Feel free to tell everyone you know about it.)  For $375, you get an MSDN Universal subscription with 5 user licenses, as well as appropriate other technologies to make it possible to get up and running at minimal cost. All Microsoft is really asking in return is that you actually make an effort to develop and ship a commercial application on the Microsoft platform and become a partner eventually.

But as a small ISV, I'm worried about agreeing to things that will end up costing me a lot of money. For example, while it doesn't say this everywhere, in the program guide for Empower is says this about the requirements: "Upon expiration of your membership, make a reasonable commercial effort to join the Microsoft Certified Partner Program based on successfully passing one of the software tests authorized by Microsoft and listed in the table below**." From what I can tell, getting my software tested is going to cost me $800 or more. (Avonelle Lovhaug)

Did I mention that we're even subsidizing the tests right now? 

  • On the business/sales/marketing side,

IMO the toughest thing about becoming an ISV on a small scale is that there's a huge fundamental difference between writing code and producing,selling, and supporting software products. (Scott Sargent)

I have a coworker upstairs, Kevin, who Microsoft Business Builder courses, designed to help ISVs succeed on the business side - in particular, a Business Strategy course, a Financial Forecasts course, and a Business Plans course.  These courses are entirely free, on the theory (I think) that Microsoft benefits sufficiently if our ISVs are more successful than our competitors' ISVs, and so we should do what we can to make them successful.

I would love to know, though, what other things on the business side you could use help with.  Microsoft has a bevy of activities it does on the business side of the house which it seems to me might be useful to our ISVs to understand.  Do you understand product positioning and messaging?  Do you understand how to do market analysis?  (And would you trust Microsoft to show you how to do this?) 

And one final query for today:

Given the impact that our IT environment has on students, and consequently the future knowledge workers in the US, it would seem in Microsoft's interests to assist [Universities]. (Danny Boyd)

My impression is strongly that Microsoft agrees that Universities are critical.  We do, in fact, offer substantial discounts to Universities through the MSDN Academic Alliance program.  In this program, a department can for $799 US license pretty much all of the Microsoft software you could want for academic purposes, and that includes licenses for lab machines, for professors, and for students, including for use on student personal computers.  (That's a far better deal than we're offering ISVs - or anyone else.)