There's been a big change in Microsoft in the past five or so years. The biggest thing we've noticed is the increased transparency on key initiatives. The change isn't limited to Microsoft, tho. Weblogs have increased communication between vendors and consumers, which has been great, from a consumer standpoint. I love knowing about what's coming and feeling like I have some say in the future of my favorite apps -- albeit merely a perception and not reality in some cases. I look at the various Microsoft projects and think about how the level of transparency differs. It's kind of amazy how the Visual Studio team is so open, yet the IE team is so closed. I'm starting to think there's a pattern, tho. There seems to be a relationship between the amount of competition a product has and the level of transparency of its team.
Think about it, Visual Studio is unequalled. The closest competition is Eclipse, which is for a different platform. .NET is pretty much the same. Java's out there, but seems to be declining in popularity more and more. Sure, there are plenty other development platforms out there. .NET isn't even the most used; but I'd argue that it is the most popular and newsworthy. Anyway, the point is that, since there isn't a lot of active competition for .NET and Visual Studio, the product teams share a great deal. We have a lot info about what's coming in the next release of Visual Studio and have been seeing previews since before Visual Studio 2008 was released. How many other companies do this? Name one.
Then there's Windows. While Windows may be the most used operating system in the world, there is competition. Consumers are looking at the Mac and the corporate/government world has always kept an eye on Solaris and the various flavors of Linux. The thing I find funny is that it's never about features when discussing Solaris and Linux; at least that's the impression I get. There's obvious competition that's always on the heels of Windows, but the lead is undeniable. Given the comfortable lead, the team shares a good amount. Of course, with the issues Vista had, I expect we'll see slightly less transparency this go-round. We should see a list of features and plenty of CTPs, but not quite what the VS team does.
IE has a lot of competition. The browser market has almost always been a heated battle. IE's losing market share because of the stagnation of IE6, but finally made a comeback with IE7. The market has changed, tho, thanks to Firefox. Opera has always been out there, but never made too significant of an impression. That's too bad, because I think the Opera team does have something to show. The truth is, all browsers are lacking innovation. When's the last time we saw something new? Anyway, I think this heavy competition is why we haven't seen anything from the IE team. I think they have something up their sleeve -- something truly innovative. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, tho. I'm sure we'll see CTPs and/or betas, but not quite as much as with Windows. Zune is another product in this area; perhaps even more so than IE.
The relationship between competition and transparency makes a lot of sense, when you think about it; especially in the corporate world, where money's at stake. I just wish everyone would share insight into their goings-on.