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Sunday, October 30, 2005

PDC Impressions & Recap

Now that things have calmed down a little around here (and before they get nuts this week), here's my long-awaited report from PDC.

I'd say the big unspoken theme this year was "Don't Leave Us, We Can Do That Too!" While watching the Vista demos, I kept thinking things like, "Mac OS X does that now. You can do that now with Konfabulator or Dashboard. Web apps are already doing that with Ajax. Unix has done that for 20 years. That's a cool IE 7 feature, but I'll bet there's a FireFox extension for it within a month." There are some cool things coming in C#, though. Lot's of neat capabilities...that have been in Smalltalk, Python, Ruby, and similar languages for years.

New technologies like Ruby on Rails and Ajax are syphoning off developer mindshare at what must be an alarming rate from Microsoft's point of view. For small, independent companies, the web offers some great development/distribution options. The tools are cheap, the distribution is easy, and the availability is high. At the moment, there is little that Microsoft has to offer to virtual companies. That's changing, but MS has to offer some compelling reasons developers should wait a year or more for the MS version of something that is available now, and so far I'm not sure they're succeeding.

Overall, I'd say what really struck me is that, while MS can still innovate, since all of its products are practically wrapped into one monolithic OS/application environment, they can't do it as fast as all the smaller, more agile companies that just do one product. They are trying to change that, but I think it's too little, too late. MS won't be brought down by another mighty lion, more likely a pack of hyenas.

That said, millions of people will use Vista, but I'm not sure many will intentionally buy it. At least 80% will get it the same way they got XP -- pre-installed on a new PC. It will also expose those same people to the Microsoft versions of the alternative technologies mentioned above, and since probably 80% of users are unaware of those now, they'll seem like new and exciting programs from Redmond...just like a lot of what they've "introduced" in the past.

That's not a bad thing, and you can't really blame Microsoft for making technologies accessible that might otherwise have languished in obscurity. They should really be commended for that. Nor can you blame them for not pointing out their competitors' pre-existing (and often superior) versions. That's just the nature of business. In the coming web app world, though, their future competitors will have nearly the same ability to capitalize on their innovations as MS does now...and that's got to be a scary and motivational thought in Redmond.

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