If Steve Ballmer Were Santa, and I Were on His Lap

If Steve Ballmer Were Santa... 
OK, please get any of the imagery from that title out of your mind. It's the holidays, and it's only a metaphor.

And while it's hard to believe, it's the end of the year—an amazing year for me, highlighted of course by the opportunity to work with the talented and wonderful team at NBC Olympics in Beijing. But when I think of 2008, I'm likely to remember this as the year of technical hell. I expect that I've lost nearly 1,000 hours of my life this year to fighting technology: failed hardware, crappy operating systems, drivers and software, incompatibilities between those components, and researching acquisitions of the "lesser of evils" alternatives. So my mood about technology in 2008 is "Bah, humbug."

There are some bright spots on the horizon, and I'll talk about those next time, in my "New Year Forecast" issue. This week, though, I'd like to imagine what it would be like if Steve Ballmer were Santa, and could deliver some of the things that I and my peers and my clients and friends and family desperately need.

These requests go beyond SharePoint to the entire Microsoft technology platform and ecosystem. So if Steve were Santa, my "requests" for Christmas would include the following.

There's a common theme here: communication. Microsoft says it's listening to its customers, but in my client base that's not what is happening. The largest clients have very real problems with manageability and scalability of Microsoft technologies. The smallest clients often get no love at all. And many of the complaints are shared, and are not new. I

'm hearing the same questions I've heard for 15 years: "How can I tell my manager what Joe has access to? How can I know who has access to the payroll? How can I distribute this across my enterprise? How can I make it accessible to nonemployees?"

Fifteen years ago it was about information on file servers. Now it's about that and SharePoint. The business needs for manageability, security, and transparency/auditability have not changed. Neither has Microsoft's inability to deliver answers to these questions. Those are just examples of "listening". On the "talking" side of communication, stop telling us things are perfect: scalable, secure, robust, manageable, blah blah blah.

Sure, the technology may be, on paper, all those things, but in the real world it's not. That's job security for consultants like myself, and for third party application developers, but it's exhausting to the market, and in an economic downturn will result in reexamination of alternatives that appear to be more predictable. So for one last request:

  • Add PREDICTABLE to the list of "benefits" of Windows. While we hear a lot about scalable, securable, and manageable, what we don't get, particularly on the client front, is predictable. I can't predict how long my current installations of Windows 7 or Vista will last before they deteriorate into a molten pile of bits. I can't predict when my system will hang while UAC, Windows Desktop Search, Outlook, VMware and my solid state drive get into a cat fight again or (because now I've identified those problems), where the next cat fight will erupt. My first prediction is that if predictable isn't attained, the mobile phone market won't be the only one Microsoft sees as all but lost.

And on that cheery note (I told you my technology mood was "Bah, humbug!") , let me "tease" you with a truly cheery one. I'm still my optimistic and upbeat self about the future. "Software plus services" is finally beginning to materialize; Azure is as exciting an opportunity as SharePoint, Windows 7 and 2008 R2 have some promise, and Office 14 will, when Microsoft finally starts talking about it, have very exciting stories to tell. There are also some brilliant opportunities, even in a down economy, to improve operations, management, and knowledge in 2009. I'll see you next year with all the good news! Thank you for reading the Update in 2008, and for being a part of the amazing SharePoint community! And I hope that the end of the Julian calendar year, and the holiday season in many parts of the world, treats you extremely well and gives you the chance to be surrounded by peace, friends, and family.

  • Publish the list of who's naughty and nice. The downside of the enormous, global, diverse "ecosystem" surrounding the Microsoft technologies platform is that not everyone follows the rules. Programs are still written that break the fundamentals of least-privilege (i.e., non-admin) execution, that ignore age-old Windows features such as folder redirection, or that refuse to throttle their resource-hogging ways. Perhaps worse is that some of these applications don't play well with others: Put program A and program B on the same computer, and chaos breaks out. Certainly worst are vendors who refuse to make simple adjustments to their applications, drivers, and services so that they will play by the rules. We all know of at least one gigantic vendor that manages to obsolete their devices by delaying or avoiding updating drivers to work with the newest Microsoft OS, and by creating bloatware that can bring a powerful system to its knees. Microsoft has access to a lot of this information, because too often customers blame Windows and call Microsoft for support. The majority of complaints about Vista have less to with Microsoft than with the vendors who don't, and haven't, kept up with the times. The "Certified for Windows" logo is a disaster. The market doesn't pay attention to it. Time for a "stick" instead of a carrot: publish the knowledge of what problems are caused by those apps that are not certified for Windows, and of the problems caused by "Certified" applications that can't play in the same sandbox together.
  • Get the elves marching in the same direction. One of the reasons Microsoft probably won't publish the list of who's naughty and nice is that it would reveal some of its own applications are on the "naughty" list. Ever tried "pausing" Windows Desktop Search and watched it continue to chew up system resources? Ever analyzed the far-less-than-least-privilege permissions applied by some of Microsoft's Active Directory (AD) delegations and client-side features? Ever wondered why so many applications can be deployed by Group Policy Software Installation—oh, except Office? And on the consumer front: Zunes don't "Play For Sure"... hellooooooo?
  • Put under our tree a vastly improved Windows Mobile experience… now! When even Microsoft's most enthusiastic evangelists carry iPhones, the message couldn't be any clearer. Can you hear us now?
  • Let Rudolph enlighten you about Vista and Windows 7. I'm a fan of Vista, which served me very well for all of 2007 before collapsing in 2008, but I'm still a fan. But I'm finally at the point where I'm really, really concerned about the market and cultural fallout of Vista's nuclear implosion. I sat through a Microsoft event last week, the message of which was "Vista really is great, really!" We were told Vista's network stack is so overhauled that it can be up to 10 times faster than XP. But you and I both know... it's not. Maybe the network stack is 10x faster, but everything else on the behemouth, including all the other pieces that don't play well in the sandbox (Desktop Search, UAC, OneCare and god knows what else from third party vendors) mean that I still can't copy files at anywhere near the speed they should be on my gigabit LAN. And as I tried to watch the "Survivor" finale (in standard, not high definition) online, the stuttering made it unwatchable, and nothing in Microsoft's (or Sysinternal's) toolset gave me a way to identify or fix the problem. Sure, I'm guessing Mark Russinovich could have figured it out, but I didn't want to wake him up. Microsoft needs to figure out a way to help us make our systems work. The very nature of its ecosystem is that there are a lot of moving parts. If I need one of those parts to really move, I should have a way to make it happen other than power up my Mac. Stop telling me how great Vista is, and stop trying to sweep the dust under the carpet with Windows 7: Vista with lipstick. If the dynamics of "moving parts" aren't addressed, it won't be any better. My client wants to know why her disk light is flashing incessantly, preventing anything else from happening, and to be able to stop whatever nonessential thing is eating it up. That's not too much to ask, and you shouldn't need a PhD in Windows internals to answer it.
  • Accelerate the sleigh so you can keep up with the times. New mobile and storage options are not so new any more. An example: Microsoft's own knowledge base articles admit known performance problems on solid state drives, which are not new and are, in fact, standard issue on many laptops. Again—moving parts (or in this case, unmoving parts) not playing well together. Fix the problems or tell the market, "If you use Outlook, don't buy a computer with a solid state drive." Preferably, fix the problems!
  • Gift idea for my friends who are admins: make sure that administrative tools (the RSAT or "remote server administration tools") are compatible with each new release of Windows 7. It was insane that Windows Vista was on the market for 18 months before it had a supported, fully functional set of administrative tools with which to manage a Windows enterprise. Don't do that again. You only get one "pass."
  • Gift idea for my friends who are developers: improve the "Step #1" story. The most basic choice that a developer needs to make is how to build their development environment. SharePoint won't run on Vista. So it's either a virtual or remote connection to a Windows Server OS (each of which have their own pros and cons) or using the expensive Windows Server OS as their desktop OS. Oh, but Microsoft's own Windows applications (e.g., the Live applications) don't install on Server. Oops. Sandbox fight. Oh, and HyperV disables power management on the laptop. Darn. It's just not pretty. If you're not making it easy to develop on Windows as you try to make it easy to develop for Windows, there's something that needs to be fixed.
  • Gift idea for all Windows users: Make HyperV available for Vista and Windows 7, so we don't have to use VMware workstation on our desktops and Hyper-V on our servers. And make it not disable all power management. Also deliver the new PowerShell and Active Directory Management console for all OSs, including Vista. If we could run VMs easily on our desktop, it would give us the ability to solve a lot of problems, by "splitting up" those components that don't play well together. If you want Windows 7 to be something more than "Vista with Lipstick", give us some real meat. Show us you mean to help our Windows systems, not just our Windows OS, work better.
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