Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

23 March 2005

Aging at Home and Blindness at Microsoft

The time has come to put the too new skis up for the summer. I went to visit a friend who is far more experienced with ski equipment than I. He showed me how to apply wax to the skis to keep the base from oxidizing over the summer. I had agreed previously to go running with him afterward, and though my knee was sore from Monday I kept to the plan. We had run but a very short distance when the ice and snow patches appeared on the path. Within a few minutes my knee was throbbing while the associated thigh muscle became more and more tight. We spent more time walking between short bursts of running, but I knew I was pushing through a lot of pain. He kindly shortened the run so I could return home.

When I arrived at the house my father-in-law was over to drop off my youngest from her dinner at Grammy and Grampy's house. While we chatted the pain in my knee seemed to increase, so I hobbled off to see if there was any visible problem. I was rewarded with the sight of a great big bruise about two inches above my knee. It appears when I wiped out skiing (a foolish attempt to follow my betters over a jump) my ski must have struck me slightly above the knee. The bruise did not hurt before, but it hurts like heck now!

It is hard to get old.

It also hard to "get" Microsoft, or at least hard to understand them. They are, by all accounts, a company which has grown giant on the labor of a thriving ISV (Independent Software Vendor) market, but which also periodically competes against their own ISVs (DeLorme has been one such target). Their development tools have, historically, been quite inexpensive when compared to other enterprise development systems (i.e. Rational's suite). Just recently Microsoft announced Visual Studio Team System with technologies most of us (ISVs) have been cobbling together from small commercial or OpenSource tools for years. At DeLorme we use:
  • Microsoft Visual Studio (a good development environment with nice ISO C++ compliance)
  • Microsoft Visual Source Safe (a terrible SCM system, just try branching then merging a busy project for four months, we have seriously investigated other tools at least once and plan to do so again soon)
  • Kinook Visual Build Pro (this build app rocks the house for ease of use and integration with so many different tools)
  • Microsoft Visio (it sucks for UML so different teams have been trying alternatives)
  • Microsoft Project (yuck! the database version, for workgroups, has locking problems and the scheduler in general has little capacity to handle rapidly changing teams or agile approaches)
  • Segue SilkRadar (passable, but I am trying to get people to look into FogBugz)
  • CompuWare DevPartner Studio (this tool cannot be beat for memory checking, profiling and coverage analysis; and yes, I have used purify before)
  • Whole TomatoVisual Assist X (for code templates and decent Intellisense, this is a great package, try it for free)
  • doxygen (for extracting documentation from comments)
  • CxxText (for unit testing, and the CxxTest people are GENIUSES! teams are picking up unit testing like never before!)
The tool we are missing most right now is a good refactoring tool (Ref++ crashed all the time for me), but we are laboring with bad software in the diagramming, project management, source code control, and defect tracking area. All areas which Visual Studio Team System attacks and all but bug tracking comes from Microsoft already. Meanwhile, our build system, code editing, and unit testing tools are great. Factor in that the new Team System is about $10,000 more than our current costs and ask me why I would recommend we go that route? I am likelier to start looking seriously at 3rd party or OpenSource tools to fill in for the bad Microsoft tools. In the SCM department, if we go with a product like AccuRev it gets us two fo the items for $750 per seat. Even if we went commercial for each missing piece, it is still less than Microsoft is charging.

I may be getting old, but at least I am not in Microsoft's shoes right now. ISVs can hope this is a trial balloon from Redmond and that the pricing is flexible. Otherwise, I suspect it is a sign that ISVs really are no longer a serious consideration. This year there will be no reason to continue my MSDN Universal or PDC, not that Microsoft would notice the $5,000 missing.


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