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Top five lessons from TechEd

The pallid economy took its toll on TechEd 2009 attendance. But there were still lessons to be learned or reinforced. My top five:

 1: Microsoft burns with Silverlight fever. This is not a good thing. Microsoft, everyone knows you have Flash envy, but remember that many Web surfers hate, hate, HATE flashy multimedia sites that are more about showcasing technology than providing information. Remember, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.  Show goers blasted the TechEd 2009 web site’s poor usability. Want to scroll down the sessions, put the cursor just there. No, not there. Scootch over–THERE! Try the schedule builder? Fuhgeddaboudit.  One of the greatest things about Google (yes, Google, get over it!) is its sparse interface.

Case in point, one Microsoft partner at the show, has a very, um, dynamic website. Lots of transition effects and moving type. But,  it took five minutes to find out where the company is based and  it’s phone number. Fun  and games for the Web designer, just plain irritating for the user.  

2: Vista is dead. Long live Vista. The week before the big show, Microsoft corporate VP Robert Wahbe was asked if the lack of Vista mentions on the show site meant Vista was, in fact, defunct. Au contraire, he said that Vista remains the way to go for companies who want to make sure their apps will work in Windows 7. Bill Veghte told a slightly different story from the show. Actually a very different story. He advised shops that haven’t started testing Vista–and those who have just started–to test Win 7 instead.

TechEd speaker Mark Minasi admitted on stage that he’s a Vista fan. “I know,  I’m the only one. [but] I like Win 7 even better. One of the best things about it is it’s very much like Vista.”

A showgoer summed it up: “A few years ago they told us Vista would fix all our problems. Now they’re telling us Windows 7 will fix all our problems and we’re supposed to believe it this time.”

 3: Microsoft must get over the feature war.   News flash: Most Microsoft users don’t want more features, they don’t use the ones they have. Most want a computer that turns on and off fast, doesn’t hang, and lets them do what they need to do. One of Microsoft’s problems is that it insists on providing new features that are supposed to “surface” existing features and make them easier to use. The biggest example, the Office 2007 ribbon, mostly just confuses the issue. When a company has to release videos to explain new ease-of-use features, something’s wrong. Word to the wise: The person in charge of the Office ribbon, Julie Larson-Green,   now leads the Win 7 interface charge. 

Attendee: “There was no business case to go to Office 2007. We didn’t move our 300 users to it because there was no reason to.” Microsoft’s primary reason for users to move to the newest office is to stay legal. Not compelling.

 4: Microsoft’s claim to be the low-cost provider rings hollow.  When you compile the cost of the entire stack, and  the cost of keeping abreast of all the interdependencies, Microsoft hadn’t been the cheap or perhaps even the lowest-cost provider for a long time, so let’s put that fiction to rest.  Big companies naturally bark at Enterprise Agreement volume pricing but are really balking now. Nothing like a recession-verging-on-something-worse to give them the strength of their budget-cutting convictions.

Several sources said their companies are negotiating big discounts and Microsoft, for once, is playing along. Oracle has always discounted software license deals big time–so that $40K per CPU for the database ends up being less than half of that. Sometimes way less. But till the past year, Microsoft was loathe to negotiate on its EAs.

Two Microsoft evangelists on a TechEd panel were confronted head on about EA woes by an attendee. Their response boiled down to: “Oh, you’re not using enough of the software you’ve licensed or you’re not using all the features you have.” Another partner panelist echoed that contention. Turned out this panelist’s company was not only a Microsoft partner, but actually under contract with Microsoft. It would have been nice for that relationship to have been disclosed up front, attendees agreed.

In short, the collective Microsoft take on volume license pricing then is: “If your EA is too expensive, it’s your fault.” Interesting strategy.

5: What Microsoft’s integrated stack gives and it also takes away. Microsoft says its stack –from Windows and Visual Studio to the various servers and desktop apps–is the way to go because all that stuff works together so well. However, when one piece gets upgraded, there are myriad issues with the rest of it. Case in point: A session on migrations to Exchange 2007 from Exchange 2000 or 2003, featured nearly 50 slides of known gotchas.  Truly impressive, in a shudder-inducing sort of way. Is this really so much easier than supporting and maintaining the LAMP stack? Are you sure?

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