Microsoft continues to be the software industry’s leading producer of inept marketing strategies.  Where do their marketing “experts” come from, and how do they keep their jobs?  Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are brilliant, yet they appear just as clueless about marketing by allowing these ridiculous plans to see the light of day.

With Windows XP we have Home Edition, Professional, Media Center and Tablet PC Edition.  Media Center never should have existed, because it is simply XP Professional with another application (called Media Center) installed, and a few extra device drivers for the infrared receiver and TV tuner cards.  Media Center is only available with a new PC.  Is there any logic behind this whatsoever?

In Windows Vista, Media Center functionality is integrated into most of the product line, and can be purchased after the fact.  I guess someone at Microsoft couldn’t figure this one out sooner.  (And by the way, if you’re buying a new PC and have a choice between Professional and Media Center, always choose Media Center because it literally is Professional — without the higher price tag.)

Now, to just make things even more convoluted, Windows Vista is arriving with SIX versions!  Yes, SIX!  They are: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, and of course Ultimate, because the goal is to confuse your customers as much as humanly possible!  Oh, and there are two more versions just for European customers that don’t include Media Player, but you can thank the EU antitrust courts for those.  For at least some of these versions, when Joe Consumer gets it home and installs it, then realizes that he doesn’t have the feature that he wanted in the first place, he can hop online and buy it as a download direct from Microsoft.  Gee, thanks!

Visual Studio 2005 and Team Foundation Server (altogether known as Team System, not to be confused with Team Suite. Sigh…) packaging and licensing is a complete and utter disaster.  Did you know that there is a 50+ page whitepaper for partners that attempts to describe how the licensing works?  It is THAT complicated and THAT convoluted.  The products are overpriced and on a path to failure unless Microsoft gets its act together.  Your average development shop is not going to be able to afford TFS, leaving Fortune 1000 sized corporations as the main customers.  Microsoft’s own (highly valued?) partners, even at the Gold level, do not get licenses for TFS.  Instead, we get a 180 day trial version and a full version of Visual SourceSafe 2005.  Terrific.

There are four different “Editions” of Visual Studio 2005 – “for Software Architects,” “for Software Developers,” “for Software Testers” and “Team Suite” which puts the three former editions together in one box – and is the only one worth buying.  I’m an architect and a developer, and the only way I can use the new architect tools while taking advantage of developer tools like unit testing is with Team Suite, which naturally costs a lot more.  Since my client doesn’t have Team Suite, I had to go with the “for Software Developers” edition and forgo all of the new architecture tools.  I could have used them to design the system we just finished building.  Thanks Microsoft.

You must be thinking that it couldn’t get any worse.  Rest assured that it does: BizTalk 2006 and Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF).  Microsoft just got done putting a huge marketing push behind BizTalk, even including it in the massive VS 2005/SQL 2005 product launch.  At about the same time, they started making a big deal about WWF.  Brilliant timing.

Everyone knows that WWF is going to handle some of the same things that BizTalk does, primarily “orchestrations,” and be easily extensible.  The perception is that WWF is new and cool and the future direction for workflow apps, so why use BizTalk?  BizTalk already had a bad reputation for ease of use in the development tools.  To compound the problem, all of the BizTalk bloggers/authors/speakers dropped BizTalk in a flash, and most are now writing and speaking about WWF.  There are already multiple WWF books coming out.  In contrast, only one BizTalk 2004 book has ever been published, and the main author was Microsoft’s (at the time) product manager for BizTalk.

I believe that BizTalk Server 2006 is going to go nowhere except to those companies already using BTS 2004 or older.  Microsoft’s skilled marketers killed any potential growth for BizTalk 2006 with WWF.  The only hope is that in BizTalk v.Next, when WWF replaces the orchestration engine, it will still be alive as a viable product.

You can look beyond all of these examples to Office, .NET (remember when every new product was announced as XYZ.NET Server?), ActiveX and any number of other cases in Microsoft’s history to see the continued incompetence of their marketing departments.  It’s frustrating to watch, and it never ceases to amaze me that even Gates and Ballmer don’t get it.

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