Recently, it’s been happening over and over: the phone rings after dinner and a call-center pickup system switches in a person with a heavy South-Asian accent who tells us that there is a problem with our Windows system, and offers help.

Dear cold-caller; Yes, there is a Windows problem: Windows is boring. It’s entirely peripheral to anything in my profession that’s interesting; has been for a decade. It adds no energy to the ecosystem, and traps millions of Enterprise workers in an environment that while visually appealing (Win7 at least) is pointing away from where the action is.

But hey, Win 8 looks great, they say, and Metro is bold and different and may even partake of cool. Plus there’s cross-platform synergy with WinPhone7, which with Nokia’s help will snatch back a huge chunk of the mobile market.

I actually hope that at least some of those things are true. Win 8 may be lots of things, but one thing it’ll be for sure is backward-compatible, and work just fine with the substrate of Access and Silverlight and Exchange and WinForms and SharePoint and VBA and XAML and ASP and Visual Studio and .NET and so on and on and on and on, which has accreted too thickly and deeply and firmly in the Enterprise context to be going away any time soon. The people who are stuck there deserve better and I really sincerely hope they get it.

I’m no longer worried in the slightest about any existential threat to what I care about, because the Web and open source and open data formats and open APIs and open networks have all won and the victories can’t be reversed. Least of all by Microsoft.

So nope, there really isn’t anything that my cold-caller from so far away can help with. But good luck to Microsoft, and even though I blow off the calls, good luck to the call-center minions too, and I hope their next job is better.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Justin Watt (Sep 19 2011, at 22:42)

Wow, I didn't realize that malware had made the jump to telemarketing.


From: Mike Kozlowski (Sep 19 2011, at 22:58)

I work in the .NET development arena. I'm occasionally frustrated by .NET developers who seem to have no awareness at all of what's going on in the broader tech world, and don't pay attention to any technology not made by Microsoft.

And then I read things like this, and get frustrated by open source Unicists who seem to have no awareness at all of what's going on in large swaths of the tech world, and don't pay attention to any technology that IS made by Microsoft.

Because the thing is, Microsoft makes some really, really good technologies. C# is my favorite programming language of the moment; Visual Studio is the IDE that made me realize that there was more to life than Emacs and a command line (which I think is still not true in most precincts of the Unixy world); and a lot of the .NET APIs are just highly excellent in general.

If you're a smart programmer, there's a lot of stuff worth paying attention to. But too many people have this weird blind spot, and think that it's all VB6 and COM and irrelevant crap.


From: arcandros (Sep 20 2011, at 00:16)

Wow, this can get religious very fast :)

While I agree with Mike's assessment of the introverted MS world, I'd just reverse all the arguments about Visual Studio and easily find fault with a lot more things then VB6 and COM (we can talk Collections for example and how external iterators just suck)

But this is not the point. IMO Microsoft's two basic problems are backwards compatibility (just like Tim says) and an almost paranoid adherence to the same programming model for everything (which is why ASP.NET is really, really bad for writing web apps) which is then enforced by the behemoth of a memory hog which is VS.

But I would much rather have this discussion over amiable beers than flammable blog comments :)


From: Tony Fisk (Sep 20 2011, at 00:20)

The problem with the Windows subsystem is not mediocre applications/languages (some of which, like C#, are actually quite good). It's the religious fervour with which the features that *are* sub-standard are promoted.

Anyone who has encountered COM/ASP evangelists who insist that they be used, even in standalone apps using one language, will know what I'm talking about. Blargh! Never again!


From: Thomas Broyer (Sep 20 2011, at 00:53)

Totally agree with Mike Kozlowski that .NET and C# are pretty good. ASP.NET is way better and "restful" than, say, JSF (the worst ever Java technology). The Java ecosystem is rich, but way too much overengineered (JavaEE anyone?), and moves too slowly (compare C# 1 and C# 4, vs. Java 5 and Java 7).

JS is great and evolving, but we're stuck with old versions of browsers; and not just IE (see Enterprise people complaining about new Firefox rapid release cycle).

That being said, I totally agree with you Tim that Windows is way too much present in the Enterprise world. Our clients ask us for web apps but still use IE6, and are migrating to IE8. IE10 is promising and might finally free us from the IE-specific paths in our code, but unfortunately we won't be coding for IE10 before long, and then we'll wish we rather code for IE12.

The problem is not much Windows and IE than "the Enterprise world" and how IT departments manage software updates. It's costly to ensure everything still works OK after each software update, but I don't think it's that much less costly to move to the web, because webapps have to be maintained continuously to work in newer browsers (ensuring workarounds for older versions aren't picked up by the newer ones, and adding new ones because new browser versions always come with a few bugs; and moving to web technologies generally mean working in many browsers, which in turn means testing in all of those).

Disclaimer: I migrated to Ubuntu at work when given the opportunity, and I develop in Java all day (GWT + servlets), exclusively for the web (well, mostly intranets actually). I sometimes really miss some C# features (generics, delegates, properties), and I only ever developped in C# 1 and 2, so I never used LINQ, lambdas, etc. At the language level, Java is clearly behind (but maybe I should try something else? Ruby? Scala? Groovy?)


From: Sami Samhuri (Sep 20 2011, at 07:26)

Mike is correct that C# is very good and Visual Studio is a great IDE but give me Emacs, dynamic language X, and a command line any day of the week if that's the ultimatum.

When it comes to the actual experience of making software, I prefer writing Objective-C in Xcode targeting iOS, or even Java in IntelliJ targeting Android, to be less frustrating than writing for WP7 in Visual Studio. Some people may really like XAML and it is nice, concise, and declarative, but it has a long way to go. I should be writing and modifying swaths of generated XML, Xcode does a way better job of that stuff even if it means more typing.

The Silverlight APIs for WP7 also have a lot of catching up to do, that's just a boring old fact of life. Android and iOS are ahead. When the official line from MS is that something as mundane as showing a modal view, like a sign in screen, is "advanced" and tries to justify the hoops you have to jump through to do so that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

There's a reason Microsoft is begging, pleading, and even paying developers to write *anything* for WP7. Devs are not going to do it for fun, they would rather have fun making a great app like Tiny Wings and then roll the dice in Apple's App Store. That's the current reality and a great language and IDE doesn't make any difference. The API matters quite a bit more than the tools, imo of course.


From: Mike Kozlowski (Sep 20 2011, at 07:33)

What it comes down to, I think, is that I don't know what Tim Bray means by "energy to the ecosystem" or "where the action is."

I mean, doing the math on what most programmers do, .NET/Java together comprise almost the entirety of both "the action" and "the ecosystem." But I assume, perhaps unfairly, that these things are being blown off as boring, dull enterprise work (which is true to an extent, but also misguided and condescending to a large extent).

So are we talking about the stuff that's relevant to "web-scale" programming, the backbone of the Facebooks and Amazons and Wikipedias? In that case, you're largely talking about C++ and PHP, and I think we can all agree that nobody voluntarily wants to deal with those technologies.

So presumably, we're talking about the "exciting" stuff, your Nodes and Mongos and Rubys and what-not. And at that point, what's relevant is not how much those techs are used in start-ups (where, Stack Overflow notwithstanding, Microsoft techs are irrelevant), but in how they advance the state of the programming profession. And there, I just think that Microsoft has a lot to offer. C# 4 is a type-inferenced language with first-class functions, lambdas, ability to cleanly interop with dynamic languages (or to create dynamic objects in C#), and a really neat built-in querying facility. C# 5 adds some asynchronous capabilities that are apparently familiar to OCaML developers.

I'm as guilty as anyone as summarily blowing off technology stacks that I deem boring or uninteresting (see what I did to C++ and PHP up there?), but people who do this to Microsoft technologies are making a mistake.


From: Jon Ellis (Sep 20 2011, at 11:56)

If it's any consolation, google feels almost exactly like the next MS from out here ;)


From: epc (Sep 21 2011, at 09:38)

Were the cold calls from Comantra? See


From: Dominic Mitchell (Sep 21 2011, at 12:56)

Leaving aside Windows itself, this pricks my ears. There have been quite a few scams in the UK recently where call centers phone up and say there's a problem with your PC. They then try to talk you into installing some malware under the pretence of helping you sort out your problem.


From: Adrian (Sep 21 2011, at 21:36)

One of the best things Microsoft could do as a software update would be to get Event Viewer to popup a bloody big dialogue box that says "If there's a man on the phone telling you to look here, ITS A SCAM"


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