commentary Could recent decisions by Microsoft mark the beginning of a mass defection by developers worldwide?

Last week, Microsoft dampened relations with its developer community by revealing changes to its MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) subscription service and releasing different editions for its Visual Studio 2005 development tool.

This follows the recent petition by more than 200 of Microsoft’s own MVP (Most Valuable Professional) members and thousands of developers to urge Microsoft to continue the development of the older version of Visual Basic, and help preserve their investment in existing applications.

Licensing changes to MSDN was meant to simplify the structure and give smaller companies access to the service but the negative response has been clear — the new pricing structure is too costly, according to some of Microsoft’s core supporters, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and consulting firms.

As Microsoft moves into the -application lifecycle tools” market, which address different phases of development typical in enterprise software development, the company hopes to make the full set of Visual Studio Team System a premium on top of current the MSDN Universal subscription.

Many developers have been disappointed with the lack of upgrades and new products from Microsoft over the past year, including service packs to the current Visual Studio 2003 release, but making MSDN subscriptions less valuable can only be a slap in the face to some of its staunchest supporters.

Microsoft’s response to this is that Team Studio is meant for medium to large enterprises and not small shops. It claims its pricing is fair when compared with IBM and Borland.

However, as the company aims for further enterprise acceptance, it could short change its own developer community by selling what can be called crippleware to smaller, yet influential players. The effect of this could see a flock of developers move away from Microsoft’s tools and platform.

For lessons, Microsoft only needs to look at the aftereffects of Red Hat’s move away from its developer and early adopter communities to focus instead on enterprise customers. The developers left in droves, and are now known as -Red Hat refugees”.

With a large amount of ISVs in Australia, many developers will be keeping an eye on Microsoft Australia’s plans for local pricing. As one customer told an MSDN product feedback forum recently, “The success of Microsoft developer tools has been built on the back of independents like us that evangelise about their effectiveness in the large enterprises”.

The ball is in Microsoft’s court.