Wednesday, June 23, 2004

P-p-p-partnering with Microsoft

Microsoft SecretsThanks to a John Lim link, we've discovered further evidence (as if twenty years of consistent behavior wasn't enough) of the folly of a small company "partnering" with Microsoft. And that's even if the market segment is in the critical 'developer tools' neighborhood.

Eric Sink is one of the founders of SourceGear Vault, a successful version-control system geared towards large teams and collaborative development. Now that the market for this type of product looks appealing, Microsoft has decided to enter it, announcing its forthcoming Team Foundation Server (TFS). Now that's their right.

But you ask yourself: why would a small development house, one with no leverage, choose to partner with Microsoft in the first place? After all, their expectation at some point must have been -- if the market proved big enough -- that MSFT would enter the market full-force once it was established in a meaningful way.

And I'll leave the answer to Eric. But my guess is that any tool, which needed tight integration with Visual Studio (the Microsoft development environment), would also require 'special' documentation on Studio. In other words, the really detailed doc that describes all of the low-level glue necessary to make integration truly work. So I wonder whether the price of admission -- to get your hands on that detailed information -- was participation in a partnership program.

And there's the dilemma for an ISV. In his blog, Eric describes the scene when he found out about TFS:

The scene of this announcement was weird. It was an NDA'd meeting of the VSIP program. All of the attendees were vendors of components or developers tools which integrate with Visual Studio. Standing in front of dozens of their so-called "partners", Microsoft staff put smiles on their faces and announced that they will be competing with almost all of us.

There was a lot of emotion in that room. Every VSIP vendor had worked very hard to be a part of Microsoft's "ecosystem" for Visual Studio, only to end up feeling very betrayed. If this is how Microsoft treats its partners, how do they treat their enemies?

So, my recommendation for small software development houses: if you can avoid it, don't partner with Microsoft. Accept a buy-out for a reasonable sum, but don't partner. Integrate (or at least have the option of integrating) with competing, multi-platform technologies wherever possible: MySQL, PHP, OpenOffice.

I love Microsoft's development environment and many of their products. In most cases, they are simply the best you can get. But any small development shop better have their eyes wide open.

Eric Sink on TFS

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