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Some of my best friends are developers

October 9, 1998
by Zac Belado

Sometimes a company gives the development community mixed messages. Take the rather interesting activities at Microsoft in the last month.

Tod Nielsen, the director in charge of developers at Microsoft, spent a good portion of his speech at the Chicago meeting of the Software Publishers Association apologizing for Microsoft's habit of not working well with others. I certainly wouldn't be the first person to suggest that his claims that Microsoft now wants to play fair should be taken with a grain of salt (or maybe a whole bag would be more appropriate?).

I can only imagine that it's a total coincidence that Microsoft is currently undergoing a court process that could result in it getting ripped into bits like AT&T and that it finds itself as popular as the school nurse on Flu-shot Day. It's also another wild coincidence that the SPA, to whom Nielsen's remarks were aimed, has been very critical of Microsoft for the way that it uses its SPA contacts to force foreign companies caught pirating software to buy Microsoft site licenses. But let's be optimistic and assume that Nielsen really meant what he said (and wasn't stifling giggles during his speech) and try to put it into context with other messages sent via Redmond.

While Nielsen was in Chicago holding out an olive branch to software producers, the happy web-elves at Microsoft were busy clearing away any links on the Microsoft website that included information about Samba.

Samba is a Linux implementation of the smb network protocol that Windows uses. With a Linux box running Samba you can substitute a very expensive NT file and print server with a very cheap Linux box. This is a very happy prospect for cash strapped businesses or people who fail to see why a print server needs 96MB of RAM and a tech support staff of 5.

This is, though, not a happy idea for the people that make Windows NT. Replacing high-end hardware (made by affiliates who only put up with Microsoft because it drives a very fast hardware upgrade cycle) and an expensive OS with a 486 and a free operating system doesn't make anyone money.

Microsoft tried to put the "fix" on Samba by changing the method by which encrypted passwords are sent via smb. When this didn't stop the Samba developers (check out the article in the July 98 archive at the Linux Journal website www.linuxjournal.com that explains the process in more detail) Microsoft decided to remove all the supporting information they had on their website that would have helped anyone trying to add a Linux server running Samba to an NT network. A month ago there were 4 tech notes detailing work-arounds for some NT/Samba problems. Now there are none.

How does this qualify as working with developers?

But maybe this is just an isolated incident?

With all the talk about Open Source programming it's not really all that surprising that Microsoft has announced that they will be releasing portions of the code for Windows NT to developers. But, in typical Microsoft fashion, they won't actually let you do anything with the code.

In a very telling quote from the TechWeb article, Tanya van Dam, product manager for NT server at Microsoft, is reported as saying that Microsoft intends

"...to give out source code for things like device drivers and interfaces based on industry standards, so developers can see how Microsoft has implemented these standards and follow the company's lead."

What I find most frightening about that statement is the notion of a distinct Microsoft implementation of industry standards.

Am I missing the point here? Aren't they standards because everyone uses them the same way? If Microsoft has their own version then it really isn't a standard is it? Is the point of this exercise really to help make developers' work easier by opening the internals of the NT Server OS -- or is it an attempt to make sure that Microsoft doesn't have to conform to any standards but their own?

What's next? A Microsoft implementation of SMTP?

This from a company that says it's not in a monopoly position but spends most of its time trying to ensure that the only way to do business, write code and wire a network is Redmond approved.

The grass is just as brown

Not that Microsoft has a monopoly on belligerent attitudes.

Macromedia announced, in the middle of recent beta testing, that the next version of Authorware will not ship with Mac support. No Mac authoring environment and no Mac playback.

And no feedback or input from Authorware developers.

There is certainly little doubt that Authorware is far more popular (at least as an authoring environment) as a Win95 program. But instead of trying to rectify that situation, or looking at what turns Mac developers away from the product, they decided to just drop Macintosh support.

Now it's certainly understandable that the company would not want to ship and support a product if it had dwindling sales, but how does that explain the abandonment of Macintosh playback as well? I can remember a time when PCs were a fraction of the authoring and playback market for Director. That never seems to have stopped them from supporting Windows though.

This also does nothing to address the number of developers that have already invested time and money producing cross-platform training using Authorware. What are they supposed to do now? Buy a new computer lab?

Or maybe they can just find another authoring environment? 1 Authorware package versus the cost of 20 or 30 new machines. The math isn't hard to do.

Ultimately Macromedia can run itself any way it wants (and Deck users certainly know that) but would it hurt to warn developers? If Mac Authorware support was such a albatross around Macromedia's neck (a fact I remain unconvinced of) then why not at least leave Mac playback options in the product so that developers can continue, in the meantime, to deliver their existing content?

Some days that job at Starbucks looks mighty appealing.

Zac Belado is a programmer, web developer and rehabilitated ex-designer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. He currently works as an Application Developer for a Vancouver software company. His primary focus is web applications built using ColdFusion. He has been involved in multimedia and web-based development, producing work for clients such as Levi Straus, Motorola and Adobe Systems. As well, he has written for the Macromedia Users Journal and been a featured speaker at the Macromedia Users Convention.

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