Evangelist CommentaryShort of a miracle, no one expects the technology sector, including the company closest to my heart, Microsoft, to  outperform during one of the worst economies since the great depression.  At the close of the bell on Thursday, April 23rd, Microsoft reported earnings roughly in-line with analyst expectations once one-time charges for job cuts and investments were taken into account. I’m no financial analyst, and although I enjoy studying the market, any financial-market-speak from me is real stretch, but I’m pretty confident I understand this report.

One thing I can do is talk about technology with a passion like no other. That’s why I’ve been an Evangelist at Microsoft for the vast majority of my career.  Given my years of service with the company I like to say I wear my stripes proudly. As a former UNIX guy who stumbled upon a new world of techno geeks at the Windows 95 launch, I can honestly say I’ve seen and experienced quite a bit here during my career.  Having joined Microsoft in what I term their early enterprise growth years, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the company’s growing pains as we evolved our line-up of products from a small collection to the vast portfolio that it is today.

Now that you have a bit of context on me and the state of our business I want to direct our discussion to a money article I read online shortly after earnings were announced where it was stated that, “Microsoft can't point to anything in their mix of products that excites people right now”.  WOW, this completely caught me by surprise. Since I first joined Microsoft the range and reach of our technology stack has grown immensely year after year and continues to this day. Once-upon-a-time I proudly earned and held the distinction of being an MCSD and MCSE, but over the past few years I’ve had to readjust my priorities and narrow my focus on developer tools and application platform technologies just to keep up; the range of product offerings for the enterprise alone is simply too great for any one person to be an expert on.

I really can’t speculate why one would make this statement. I do recognize that people’s perception, hype and excitement in the technology sector is often inspired by the emergence of new gadgets and the coolness factor associated with it. Yours truly is no different in this regard. From a consumer perspective I know that Microsoft, with Xbox 360, Xbox Live and host of popular games is on solid ground here; it’s still cool, hip, and definitely exciting.  Our collection of hardware offerings, most notably keyboards and mice, compete well in the market offering a vast array of styles to suit most any PC user. And Zune, if folks would give it a look, is pretty sweet.  Most owners I know would never surrender it for anything else but a new and better Zune. 

Exciting and cool are relative terms and there meaning varies from one audience segment to the next.  For us developer types exciting and cool usually come in, what some may consider less glamorous forms (however I would beg to differ as I think development is pretty awesome, cutting edge stuff myself), usually with innovations in frameworks, programming languages such as C#, VB.NET or F# or the introduction of new capabilities brought on by the introduction of Silverlight now in its 3rd generation.  As a student of software engineering and after years of waiting, development teams finally have an affordable, comprehensive end-to-end application lifecycle management tool with Microsoft Visual Studio Team System 2008.

I know software innovations may not be exciting and cool to some, but, I can’t remember the last time I got excited about GE’s latest product line and they’ve done one heck of job hanging around in the market for a hundred years or so – again the coolness factor is in the eyes of the beholder and clearly GE is pretty exciting to some as it historically has been producing some sweet business results to stay around this long.  And, as we all know, at the end of the day, it’s all about producing results, growing market share and expanding into new areas.  Yes this economy is awful and everyone is suffering, but I believe Microsoft is holding its own while continuing to make a huge investment in research to innovate on today’s technology while introducing new breakthroughs to enrich the computing experience for every one of us.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about wanting and needing exciting new product technology today – to be honest that is why I have and continue to work for Microsoft. I have that insatiable appetite for new things to amuse and challenge me and I love the fact that I work with a company that gives partners, business customers and consumers the raw tools to develop and create so truly awe inspiring results.  I am amped up about technology like Surface and what people are doing with it; I swear I’ve seen it on every major news network and crime fighting show on television.  How about our free Windows Live Services offering?  How did we ever function without Windows Live Mail, Movie Maker, Photo Gallery, and WriterIE 8 introduces a great overall user experience with Web Slices, Accelerators and Instant Search.  Last night, I used the Facebook, Linked-In and Live Writer accelerators, 3 of the 25 available today and let’s just say THEY ROCK.  I’ve heard for years how Microsoft doesn’t embrace standards, and I can tell you from my own experience that over the last 8 years, with the launch of the .NET Framework, standards have meant everything to Microsoft.  Did you know that IE 8 is the most standards compliant browser on the market today based on the CSS 2.1 standards?  And lastly, there’s Live Mesh, another Ray Ozzie brainchild.  The potential for this application platform is unlimited.

There are the investments we’re making in Cloud Computing with our Windows Online Services offering and Azure Services Platform.  I truly believe our Software + Services strategy and the huge investments we are making in constructing massive data centers to support this paradigm shift in computing positions us well to deliver the most scalable, highly reliable and fastest performing applications for consumer and enterprise customers. The net of it is we are redefining technology as we speak and who better to deliver on this than Microsoft and its partners who provide online services to over 400+ million subscribers of Live and Hotmail mail services today.

Then of course there are our mainstream products, the technologies that used to be the sole bellwether of our companies success – Windows and Office.  Let’s just say Windows 7 is getting a ton of positive press as a leaner, meaner operating system with exciting new features for consumer and enterprise customers. Office 2010 is in the pipeline and though I have not yet had a chance to install it, the promised improvements in features and functionality should earn it high marks. 

Hey, I’m no analyst and the opinions and words written here are that of my own and not of my company, but gosh darn I’m pretty excited about our product line-up.  Today, I took a couple of minutes to jot down a short list of product technologies that I, as a consumer, developer and platform evangelist get excited about each and every day as I head off to work or sit down at a computer.

And I cannot be more excited about the investments were making in students, startups and partners to help invigorate our local software economy:

  • BizSpark – unites Startups with entrepreneurial and technology resources – software, support and visibility.
  • DreamSpark – provides developer, designer, and gaming software at no charge for high school and university students
  • Students-to-Business – connects Microsoft partners and customers with qualified students for entry-level and internship positions
  • Microsoft Partner Program – offers resources to help you meet your business objectives regardless of business size, type, or focus area.

The net of this is that I think this is the COOLEST, HIPPEST, SEXIEST time in our history to be working with technology and more specifically the technology Microsoft is creating to take our customers and partners to the next level. Come on, I’m excited about our product line-up! Are you?  Take a minute to shout out to me the mix of Microsoft products that you’re excited about today.