Special connect() issue 2014

Volume 29 Number 12A

Last Word : Connect(); the Past to the Future

Keith Boyd; issue 2014

I arrived at Microsoft in 2000, hired as a software test engineer supporting a product that eventually became known as “the browser that wouldn’t die.” It wasn’t a term of endearment. The company and our industry were different then—mobility was limited to traditional laptops and PDAs, and Bill Gates’ vision of a PC on every desk was still the primary driver of corporate and platform strategy at Microsoft. The Web was thriving, but so was the traditional PC business. Microsoft was at the height of its powers.

It wouldn’t last. Microsoft endured a period now often referred to as the “lost decade,” though few realize that the company actually flourished during that time. Revenue and profit increased at startling rates, amazing new products like Xbox and SharePoint created impressive new revenue streams, and core franchises like Windows and Office continued to perform exceptionally well. The accountants were happy, even if some of our partners were not.

Then on Jan. 9, 2007, everything changed. Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, and consumers and developers saw something sleek, sexy and eminently connected. Of course, Apple made one mistake—the company didn’t provide a programming interface or SDK so developers could take advantage of this amazing new device, but that problem was quickly remedied. The era of mobility had truly begun, and Microsoft was nowhere to be found.

Instead, we offered the world Windows Vista, which was released three weeks after the Apple announcement, and Windows Mobile 6 a few days after that. Despite great new developer capabilities like Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Windows Communication Foundation and the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0, history has shown that it was the wrong strategy. Windows Mobile 6 was a great choice for enterprise users, but it lacked the compelling and forward-looking capabilities of the iPhone. Those were tough days.

Fast forward to 2014, and all of that is ancient history. I’m not sure Microsoft ever truly lost its swagger, but if we did, it’s returning. You feel it from our leadership, with Satya Nadella, Scott Guthrie, Terry Myerson, and the rest of the senior team confidently describing Microsoft’s place in a “cloud-first, mobile-first” world. You see it in the actions of key leaders, who recognize that Microsoft is uniquely suited to tackle developer productivity in a multi-device world. You find it in the passion of Microsoft employees, who strongly believe that Microsoft is the best place to build amazing new software and experiences for a mobile world. And not incidentally, you notice it in the value of Microsoft stock, which after a decade of stasis has finally shown signs of life.

Considering my own journey at Microsoft, I frequently think about those dark days in the mid-aughts. I was a documentation manager for WPF, and suffered through the multiple “Longhorn” resets. Like many of you, I was deeply disappointed by our inability to meet our promises to modernize Windows and provide a great new developer API that would help us maintain our edge. But despite those failures—maybe because of them—I see a company that is now stronger, has learned from its past, and is imbued with greater resolve and capability.

Windows is still finding it’s footing in the new mobile, connected world, but it’s awesome to see the progress we’ve made with Windows Phone 8.1 and especially the new line of Surface Pro 3 devices. And what can I say about Visual Studio, which today is the best platform for building apps not just for Windows, but for Android and iOS, too. I feel fortunate to be working on products and services that enable people to enjoy whatever device they choose, with apps and services powered by Microsoft.

Developers have been the lifeblood of our company over the years, and you remain so today—thank you for sticking with us through thick and thin. As you see in this special edition and in all of the amazing announcements at our recent Connect(); event, our commitment to developers is stronger than it has ever been. Welcome to the “mobile-first, cloud-first” era. We’re still here, and we’re going to be here for a long, long time.

Keith Boyd manages the developer documentation team in the Cloud and Enterprise (C&E) division at Microsoft. In that capacity, he oversees editorial strategy for MSDN Magazine. Prior to arriving in C&E in 2013, he held the same role in Windows. When he’s not at work, he’s enjoying time with his family, including his wife, Leslie, and three sons, Aiden, Riley and Drew.