Can we Take a Moment and Reflect on Microsoft?

With this week’s announcement of Windows Server Nano, the implicit accompanying announcement of .NET Core CLR (the stripped-down version of the .NET runtime that comes with Nano), the announcement of both Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers, and the accompanying announcement that said containers will be manageable by Docker…

Can we take a moment and reflect on this company called Microsoft?

First, from a technical perspective, what the Server team has done is inconceivable, which makes me think that word doesn’t mean what I thought it did.

I mean, let’s be real. Since the early 1990s, Windows NT has been growing and growing. It got a web server. A directory service. Media streaming. One look at the Roles and Features in Win2012R2, and you can see how big the OS has become. The strategy was clearly, cram as much “into the box” as possible, so every customer’s every need is covered.

But then we started to see downsides of having a server OS that was also a desktop OS. The memory cost, the cost of patches, the cost of reboots, it was all pretty high. Server Core was an amazing effort to strip out unnecessary code and get the server leaner – but it always struck me as a bit of a hack. I mean, it wasn’t entirely GUI-free, right? Device driver installers are notorious for expecting some GUI, so that was there. Notepad still worked. But it was a huge step forward, and as Server Core became more capable and modularized, I got more and more impressed.

Be absolutely clear: I fully expected Microsoft’s only way forward with a modern, cloud-centric, datacenter-scale server OS would be to set off an EMP burst over campus, wiping out the source code, and starting over. Basically, what Steve Jobs did at Apple when he came back from NeXT, only vastly more impactful because Microsoft’s code runs on a billion machines or more. 

For Microsoft to not only succeed, technically, with Server Core, but to then move on to Nano – for me, it’s nothing short of a Herculean effort. It would doubtless have been easier (albeit probably less commercially feasible) to simply start over, and there were people who had bets on Microsoft simply building their own Linux distort and calling it a day. But they didn’t. Whether Nano is commercially successful or not isn’t the point; the technical accomplishment of rolling back decades of… well, not “bloat,” but you get the idea… it’s impressive.

And look at what the company is doing with containers. Windows Server containers are going to be awesome. They’re going to give us massively better datacenter scale, just as Linux containers have done for that OS. Hyper-V Containers will do so on a much better level of security and isolation, something many Microsoft customers can’t live without. And to manage it all? For the first time, Microsoft hasn’t created their own management tools, protocols, and paradigms – they’re simply choosing to work with Docker, an already near-ubiquitous management surface for containers. This is not your father’s Microsoft. The Microsoft of just six years ago would have still tried to lock us into their own stack. It’s a small technical detail to most of the world, but I want you to realize how massively huge a big deal this is for Microsoft’s philosophy and culture.

Look, at the end of the day, this software is all tools for getting a job done. And Microsoft is still far from perfect (but so is every other major technology company). But amidst your daily grind, your wish for bug fixes and new features, your desire for easier-to-manage – I think it’s worth taking a moment and thinking about how far Microsoft has come in a very short time. 

For me, it doesn’t matter whether you think these new steps are good ones or bad ones – I’m simply amazed that the company has been able to turn the ship. They could easily not have done so, you know. They could probably have sat for another decade, collected licensing fees and maintenance fees, and been more or less fine. But they didn’t. They’re taking risks, they’re challenging “traditions,” and they’re expressing their vision. Whether you agree with the vision or not is important, since you’re the customer, but at least they’re moving with confidence. The fact that the company can do so is astounding, and it speaks to the courage, dedication, and genius of the men and women leading it and doing all the work.

Our collective journey with Microsoft is far from over, and will likely never be complete. And even though we’re at the beginning of this new fork in the road, it’s impressive as hell, to me, to see Microsoft taking this road. This is a Microsoft I can, if not love, then definitely respect. It’s a company I feel is finally being a software company again, and a competitive one at that. Yeah, there are still gaps – but I’m pleased as anything to see what they’re doing.

Business technology in the Microsoft space feels exciting again.

And I can’t wait to see what comes next.

One thought on “Can we Take a Moment and Reflect on Microsoft?

  1. Istvan Szarka

    I’m very happy for concontainers and Docker too! I think if Microsoft didn’t change, it wouldn’t have even 10 years left. They would become insignificant tech zombies much more quickly. They’re fighting for their future and they’re doing amazing things. On the other hand, Google is becoming like the old Microsoft. Comfortably and confidently sitting on the top, but it won’t last forever either. I also think that you have to know Linux if you want to be future proof as a professional.

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