Archive for the ‘ Business IT ’ Category

Microsoft kills TechNet, pokes IT pros in the eyeball

You can sign the petition to save TechNet here.

By now, you’ve certainly heard that Microsoft is killing the TechNet subscription program.  You can still buy new or renewal one-year subscriptions until August 31st, and your benefits will remain in force for a year.  After that, it’s lights-out.

Ed Bott has a good round-up of reactions here.  He notes:

Microsoft is going through a significant and difficult transition right now, with its enterprise side holding down the fort as the consumer business collapses. It’s hard to believe that the company really wants to kick away its “enterprise fanboys” with an ill-timed, tone-deaf move like this. And yet this is what it looks like, especially if you’re one of the ones getting booted.

To which I can only add: yep.  I am mystified by this move, which seems calculated to generate the maximum possible ill-will while accruing as little gain as possible to the company.

Although Microsoft denies that piracy was the primary reason for cancelling the program, that seems to be the consensus culprit in most online discussions.  The problem with that analysis is, of course, that MSDN offers exactly the same software-access benefit. It’s not only NOT being cancelled, it’s being enhanced and promoted.


Compare and contrast

As countless internet comment-thread ContrariTrolls have eagerly pointed out, however, an MSDN subscription with software access rights comparable to a TechNet Pro subscription costs over $6,000 (TechNet Pro is about $350), so maybe Microsoft feels like piracy is an acceptable overhead on the revenues from an MSDN subscription?  There’s a big problem with this logic, and it suggests that the people promoting it don’t actually work in enterprise IT environments.

The problem is that although the difference between $350 and $6000 is a large (indeed, prohibitive) one for the legitimate IT pro user, it’s chump change from the perspective of both Microsoft and the serious pirate (or scofflaw enterprise), relative to the actual prices of the enterprise software that is potentially being pirated.  I think most of these folks just don’t understand that Windows and Office aren’t the big-ticket items you get with an MSDN or TechNet subscription.

To wit: a BizTalk Server Enterprise license costs over $10,000 per CPU core. The Enterprise SKUs of SharePoint and SQL are similarly mindbendingly expensive.  So when ShadyCorp Manufacturing Concern in Chengdu buys an MSDN subscription and uses the BizTalk and SQL keys to set up a state-of-the-art ESB infrastructure, the money they “save” (and Microsoft loses) is on the order of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. $6K, while well out of reach for IT pro infrastructure folks like myself, is only trivially more than $350 in real piracy scenarios.

Small-scale “piracy” in the sense of using the software for more than the rather narrowly-defined “evaluation purposes” allowed for the TechNet subscription license is undoubtedly common, and I suspect that it always has been.  And that Microsoft always knew that.  Of course, there’s a spectrum of behavior here.  I never felt particularly bad about installing the latest version of Windows and Office on my home computers using my TechNet keys – because the only way to get really familiar with new software is to USE it.  What I have not done is shared my TechNet keys with friends or family, or used them for any business production purpose, ever.  But people do these things, of course.  I doubt it’s a huge loss to Microsoft, and I have to think that they never really cared much about the “personal use on my home computer” end of the spectrum.  But maybe they do now?  We don’t know what TechNet subscription sales numbers are like, of course, so it’s hard to know if jackassery like Paul Thurrott’s repeated promotion of TechNet subscriptions as a cheap way for “enthusiasts” to get their hands on a shit-ton of software for “evaluation WINK WINK purposes” has anything to do with this.

There would have been ways, of course, to use price signals to filter out some large percentage of these “enthusiasts” without also shutting out IT pros. An annual subscription price of, say, $1,000 to $1,500 would probably be off-putting to the “Thurrot says I can get mah Winders fer free, derp de derp!” crowd.  I’d pay that.  I might not LOVE it, but it’s not an unreasonable price for such a valuable professional development resource. There might be fewer subscribers, but any remaining amount would be fewer than zero, which is what they’ll have after August 31st.  You also have to think that if piracy was the real issue, there might have been technical means to preserving the value of the subscription while reducing piracy.  How about making all the products do real, online key activation?  Or make the entire program one based entirely in Azure, deploying the software to VMs without ever sharing the keys?

Since it seems like there would have been ways to tweak the program to address the stated concern, there must be something else going on here.

Microsoft spent decades building relationships with IT professionals by making it inexpensive and relatively easy (through TechNet subscriptions and the certification programs) to become an objectively validated expert in the administration of MS products.  They knew full well that if corporate IT departments were full of Microsoft product specialists with generally positive feelings toward MS, they would win the battle for the corporate datacenter.  And it worked! So why risk damaging the company’s relationship with the IT community right when IT departments are starting to evaluate this new world of cloud services, where Microsoft is no longer necessarily the “default choice” (a position they’ve not been in for decades)?

I suspect “the cloud” is precisely the issue.  If Microsoft’s leadership really does see Azure as the company’s future, we would be wise to understand all of their talk about a “hybrid cloud” as little more than soothing noises designed to keep us all calm.  The reality is that on-premise IT expertise in the enterprise will be less of a strategic advantage for Microsoft in years to come. Indeed, I suspect that some inside Microsoft already think of people like me as the competition for Azure and Office 365. They will be spending the coming years telling my (and your) CTO how much money he could save if he just laid us all off and let Microsoft take care of all this complicated, expensive crap.

Developers are a different story, and that difference explains a lot about what’s going on with MSDN relative to the cancellation of TechNet.  Microsoft is in a desperate battle for developer mindshare. Unless developers get interested, Azure will never be anything more than IaaS. Unless developers get excited, the Windows Runtime and Windows Store will never amount to anything at all.  Without developer attention, Windows Phone will remain in its current distant third place in the smartphone OS market.  These are the platforms MS is staking its future on. In this context, do you think they care if Joe Developer engages in some form of “piracy” with his MSDN benefits?  I’m guessing not.  Microsoft’s entire future depends on developer interest in its platforms.

Please note that I’m not making any argument whatsoever about the relative merits and drawbacks of cloud computing.  This is simply an observation about the changing relationship between the corporate IT labor force and corporate IT vendors.  I assure you that Microsoft is thinking about this in entirely unsentimental economic terms, and we would do well to adopt the same habits of mind.  When viewed from this perspective, IT pros may be facing a new era – one in which Microsoft is just not that into us.


Outlook Affliction

Various “discoveries” regarding Outlook and its functionality (or lack thereof):

  • Fax numbers as electronic addresses:  When you open the Address Book to address an email, you will see two entries for any contacts for which you have both an email address and a business fax number.  If you’re at all like the CEO of my company (or any other rational human being), you’re asking yourself “why on earth would I want to send an email to a fax number?”  Unfortunately, this behavior is by design.  It is intended to make fax numbers “first class” electronic addresses for fax-server/unified messaging scenarios.  It is hard-coded into a DLL for Outlook and cannot be turned off or changed.  The only real workaround is to put an F or “Fax” at the beginning of each fax number – the alpha character(s) prevent Outlook from recognizing the contents of the field as a valid fax number.  You could also store fax numbers in one of the other phone fields, as “Business Fax” is the only field that comes in for this special treatment.  Megaweak.
  • You know that drop-down of cached email addresses that you get when you start typing in the “To” field?  That’s populated from an NK2 file that stores addresses that you’ve either typed in or selected from “Contacts” or your Exchange OAB/GAB.  The thing is, when you select addresses from your Global Address Book, they’re not stored as regular SMTP addresses in the NK2 file.  Instead, they’re stored as Active Directory addresses pointing to the user object in AD.  The CN at the end of the address is a GUID-type string.  And guess what?  Outlook uses THAT CN as the search term when populating the drop-down.  So, for instance, “Alisa Hernandez” shows up when you type a “b” because her GUID starts with a B.  Awesome!
  • Office 2010 has a “compatibility issue” with Type 1 Helvetica fonts from Adobe.  Specifically, touching anything in Word or Outlook with text formatted with these (INCREDIBLY COMMON)  fonts will cause a massive insta-crash, every single time.  Supposedly this issue will be fixed in SP1.  In the mean time, there’s a registry hack that will prevent the crashes.  Open HKLM\Software\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\FontSubstitution and delete the key that lists a font to substitute for Helvetica (usually Arial).

My feelings about these issues could best be summarized as “meh”.