Feeling Blue about Microsoft? Here's a Welcome Update on Product Availability

Feeling Blue about Microsoft? Here's a Welcome Update on Product Availability

After a week of turmoil, Microsoft cuts us some slack

Looks like we need to give Microsoft some credit: It's been an interesting week. After my ruminations on Microsoft's increasingly hostile stance toward IT pros last week, the erstwhile software giant announced a blockbuster $7.2 billion takeover bid for Nokia, making good on its promise to transition into a provider of devices and services. Since then? Well. It's been a blur.

First, a couple of developments related to my previous editorial, "Does Microsoft Hate IT Pros?"

Last Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it would extend all TechNet subscriptions that were active as of September 1, 2013, by 90 days. This seemed like curious timing when announced, though as you'll see in a bit, it wasn't actually coincidental. The firm also revealed that it would add a number of time-limited evaluation products—such as Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2—to the TechNet Evaluation Center, helping to absorb the pending end of TechNet subscriptions.

Two days later, my partner in crime Rod Trent wrote something that I think is prophetic in his post "In the New World Order, Microsoft's Biggest Competition is IT." "For Microsoft to truly achieve its vision, and to be able to compete directly with Google, Amazon, Apple, and others, its largest competitor must be eliminated," he wrote. That largest competitor? IT. "It's not emotional," he added, "it's just business." Of course, to the thousands of IT pros who will soon find themselves afoul of Microsoft's grand plans, it is of course emotional. This fight isn't over: Expect more news along these lines soon.

Microsoft's planned purchase of Nokia's own devices and services business threw me for a loop last week, and of course analysts real and of the armchair variety will be debating this decision—not to mention Nokia's original decision to back the Windows Phone horse—for months to come. For now, I'll just note that the purchase, coincidental to Microsoft's uncertainty at the CEO level, will make an already murky situation even murkier. And while I do believe that Nokia was the best thing to ever happen to Windows Phone, the last thing the structurally bloated Microsoft needs is another 30,000 employees on top of the 100,000 it already has. A day of reckoning is inevitable.

If there's good news, and I think there is, it's that Microsoft has at least had the common sense to listen to all of the negative feedback it received last month when it announced that it had completed the development of Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2—a process that is still anachronistically called RTM, despite the fact that nothing is in fact manufactured anymore—but would not in fact provide this code to customers until the October 18, 2013, general availability (GA).

The reason this was odd, at least in the case of Windows 8.1, is that developers could have used this time to prep new apps—sorely needed for the lackluster Windows 8 ecosystem—in the two months between RTM and GA. But Microsoft was instead basically holding the software hostage, while promising to update it after RTM—lending further credence to the notion that the term RTM is both out of date and mislabeled. Indeed, though the firm had also hit the Release Candidate (RC) milestone for the Visual Studio 2013 toolset needs to make those apps—speaking of anachronistic, out-of-date product milestones—it had no plans to release that either.

After weeks of complaints, Microsoft relented. IT pros and developers with active subscriptions can now download the final, RTM version of Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 (which includes the Standard, Datacenter, Essentials, Storage Server, and Foundation versions, as well as Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 R2) from TechNet and MSDN, respectively. And, yes, I do think the recent 90-day extension for TechNet is tied to this decision: 90 days from September 1 is December 1, about 6 weeks past the October 18 GA date for these products, and more than enough time to get these greatly improved products into the hands of users who can combat the knee-jerk complaints that are already starting to appear on B-level tech blogs. (You can read my own Windows 8.1 Review on the SuperSite for Windows. Spoiler alert: It's a very welcome improvement.)

But Microsoft didn't stop there. Visual Studio 2013 RC—many, many versions, though curiously not the Express version aimed at creating Windows 8.1 "Metro" apps—is now available for download to anyone with an Internet connection. And Microsoft is promising to release Windows 8.1 Enterprise to MSDN and TechNet in the coming weeks. No word yet on System Center 2012 R2 RTM.

All of these products—Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2, Visual Studio 2013 RC, and System Center 2012 R2, as well as upcoming products such as the new Windows Intune (October) and Windows Phone 8.1 (1H 2014)—were developed in tandem and are considered part of the "Blue" wave of products. The goal is to emerge on the other side of Blue with all of the firm's major product lines transitioned from the old software model to the more modern cloud services model.

Light at the end of the tunnel? I don't know, but I'm sure next week will bring new surprises.

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