ICYMI: Head in the Sand About Cloud (part 1)

(“In Case You Missed It Monday” is my chance to showcase something that I wrote and published in another venue, but is still relevant. This week’s post originally appeared on OrangeMatter)

A recent argument on Twitter (“What?!” I can hear you exclaim, “People disagree on Twitter? This cannot be true!”) highlighted for me just how persistent people can be in holding on to outmoded beliefs, despite the overwhelming preponderance of evidence to the contrary (“WHAT!!” I can hear you exclaim even more loudly, clutching your pearls as you shriek, “People on Twitter won’t listen to reason or recognize facts? What has this world come to??”).

No, this discussion wasn’t about the usual topics that passionate people argue over—important topics like, “Who is the greatest starship captain?” (Malcolm Reynolds) or “How does one properly pronounce ‘gif’?” (hard ‘g’ as in “gift” or, more relevantly, Graphics interchange format). No, this was a debate about something significantly less urgent: cloud computing and specifically Microsoft’s role in its ongoing adoption and use.

Before I continue, I’d like to be crystal clear: this series is not about shaming any specific individual. I’ve seen the opinions they expressed repeated uncountable times across social media, in forums, at conventions, and in the hallways and meeting rooms of businesses where I consult. So, if it seems like I’m avoiding specifics to protect the speaker, that’s true, but only because the speaker could be (and likely has been) many of us, at one time or another.

It began as a social media post from someone promoting a talk they will be giving, a talk which would feature a tour of Microsoft’s Azure cloud offerings.

Somewhat unexpectedly, one especially vehement skeptic responded to the thread.

“I’m really sick and tired of hearing about Azure. I get it. You want everyone to be paying you monthly.”

The original poster—the person who was giving this talk—responded amicably, if somewhat sarcastically, “Yearly works also. Or pay as you go. Or use the free tier. But this talk is mostly about code and open source frameworks.”

To which the skeptic replied, “I can’t remember the last time I watched or attended a Microsoft presentation where every example or demo didn’t run in the cloud. Also, why does Microsoft feel the need to have their stuff run on Apple or Linux?”

And, as is the way on the internet, we were off to the races.

In writing this post, my focus is not to argue, point-for-point, every statement the skeptic made. That would be unfair since they’re not part of this conversation. Instead, my aim is to highlight the anti-patterns in thinking that sometimes trip up IT practitioners as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology: differentiating between the empty hype of vaporware, compelling solutions which (inexplicably) never capture market share, and the true sea-changes in technology which occur but are rare.

Anti-Pattern 1: Worrying That the Vendor is Trying to Please Everyone

Responding to the comment about why Microsoft would want “their stuff” running on Apple or Linux, one person responded, “I’d guess the need to have MS’ stuff run on Linux is driven by customers? Shot in the dark here.”

The truth is, Microsoft has always wanted “their stuff” to run on as many platforms as possible. Once upon a time, the hardware architecture for IBM PCs was materially different than so-called generic PCs. With little fanfare, Microsoft modified the Windows NT installer to detect IBM’s Micro Channel Architecture and install the appropriate files. Another example: Do you remember Windows CE? Not many do, but it was designed to run on not only x86 processors, but also on ARM, MIPS, and SHx systems.

So yes, Microsoft (as well as every vendor, whether they sell computer hardware or software, construction equipment, or baked goods) is trying to please as many segments of the buying public as possible, while also maintaining a standard of quality and reliability such that people continue to buy their stuff. That’s the point of, you know, selling things.

What is subtly being implied here, however, is that the skeptic is concerned with the way the vendor is taking precious development time away from things that they care about to make things for a segment of the public that they, personally, don’t care about.

If you can recognize this impulse in your thinking when it crops up, then you are (hopefully) on the way to seeing how very short-sighted, small-minded, and ungracious you are being. First of all, from the view of that other segment, you are the one draining and distracting the vendor’s resources! You wouldn’t appreciate it if the vendor dropped your line of production entirely in favor of them, right? Meanwhile, it is literally impossible to list all the times that a vendor’s exploration of a secondary market led to a massive improvement in their primary product line. Research and expansion tends to benefit everyone.

Are there times when a vendor is stretched too thin and ends up letting all the spinning plates fall? Of course. But the odds of it happening to a company with the scale and resources of Microsoft are slim indeed.

This Is the Internet. You Know It Didn’t Stop There

The skeptic had more to say, other commenters had more to reply, and I have more opinions to share about the entire conversation. Check back for my next update, when we take a closer look at obsolescence-induced anxiety.

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