Early last year, Microsoft ended a popular, 15-year old program that gave IT Pros the ability to download full versions of Microsoft software for testing and education. TechNet Subscriptions was a subscription service counted on by hordes of customers. If not for the service, IT Pros wouldn't have had a way to become familiar with Microsoft's latest product versions, and you could argue that the service inadvertently sold a lot of software and retained a lot of customers. When the service ended, a large community rallied quickly in an attempt to make Microsoft listen and halt the highly illogical move. Yet, Microsoft somehow found a way to justify ending it anyway, causing may long-time customers to start seeking alternatives to Microsoft software in protest. That anti-Microsoft movement continues even today. There's always been an anti-Microsoft sentiment among certain groups, but this is from long-time, loyal customers.
In place of TechNet Subscriptions, Microsoft offered four alternatives. First, the TechNet Evaluation Center, which provides 90-180 day software evaluations of software. IT Pros scoffed at this, citing 90-180 day evaluations to not be long enough. Secondly, the Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) was offered as a way to get educated on Microsoft products. While MVA has improved, it doesn't provide the hands-on experience IT Pros really desire. Third, for support and community, Microsoft promoted its TechNet forums. Many IT Pros visit these forums often, but rarely find the support and community they already find elsewhere. And, lastly, Microsoft suggests using Azure VMs to stand up test labs for its products. An Azure subscription, of course, costs money. Many IT Pros were utilizing old equipment to get the job done.
(In Microsoft TechNet Subscriptions: Flowers on the Grave?, I recently provided my review for each of these.)
2013 was seen by many as the year Microsoft became anti-IT with the company pushing companies to the Cloud and away from centralized, on-premises IT structures through the demise of several IT-focused programs. TechNet Subscriptions was not the only valued service Microsoft took away from IT Pros. For example, the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS), a 15-plus year community conference with a System Center focus was merged (unsuccessfully) into TechEd this past year. TechEd has also now been culled in lieu of an, as yet, unnamed and consolidated event in the Spring of 2015 in Chicago.
Microsoft seems to have taken the old, "it's easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask permission," adage to heart.
It took a while, but as part of the "new" Microsoft, the company seems to be listening more. While 2013 was the anti-IT movement, Microsoft is spending 2014 trying to make amends. When Windows 9 (or, Windows TH as the rumors suggest) information is announced tomorrow, it's been clearly stated that the technical preview will be targeted toward IT Pros. Windows 8, though a solid OS, was undoubtedly a consumerized version of Windows when it released, adding another bullet-point to the anti-IT list. Windows 8 represented a shift in Microsoft's long-standing business focus. Intent on competing with the likes of Apple and Google, Microsoft blindly cast out into consumer waters with an operating system that no one wanted. You could say in doing so, Microsoft alienated businesses, but the truth is that Microsoft dismissed the power of those individuals that run technology for the business. If IT Pros had determined that Windows 8 was a viable upgrade, the whole Windows XP migration fiasco wouldn't still be stinging Microsoft's hide. Windows XP is still in use in a lot of places despite support for the operating system version ending in April of this year. If Windows 8 had been anything close to supportable and IT Pro-friendly, Windows XP wouldn't still be such a huge problem.
Windows 9 Technical Preview for Enterprises will roll out soon. In preparation, Microsoft has unveiled a new TechNet Evaluation Center that, in small part, seeks to show IT Pros that Microsoft does care, or care again. The new site goes beyond simple links to evals, but also seeks to reign in various Microsoft IT Pro offerings, like evals, MVA, community links, and personalized resources. So, it seems they are making an effort. I'd say the effort, sadly, comes from coercion and not from the goodness of its heart. Microsoft may be realizing that IT Pros have a more powerful purchasing voice than they thought, or they may simply be trying to minimize damage while moving forward anyway. Time will tell, but I believe Microsoft is in a deeper conundrum than they still realize. How deep a hole can you dig before there's no turning back, or you just decide to chuck it all and focus on reaching the other side? And, for IT Pros, how many times do you slam your knees before you toss the old table on the firewood pile and a find a new one?
Over the weekend, leaked links to Microsoft's Windows 9 landing page were revealed. They were only available for a brief period before being removed and were obviously not intended to be found prior to Tuesday's Windows 9 information reveal. The page presented verbiage from Microsoft intending to put IT Pros on showcase. And, while we here at Windows IT Pro appreciate the mention, it seems to lack a certain originality. :)
But, is Microsoft latest efforts good enough? Can Microsoft set out to fix an entire year in just a couple months with an Enterprise-focused OS and a prettied Evaluation Center? What will Microsoft's new, combined event next year provide for IT Pros that can't be gotten elsewhere?
What say you? What will it take for Microsoft to win back your trust?