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Dear Microsoft: Get on the boat.

by Brandon on May 19th, 2005

Dare wrote a post with the title Microsoft Missing the Boat on Programming Language Trends.

Coincidentally (or not?  Maybe Dare read my mind) – I was preparing to write an entry with almost exactly the same title!  My topic is a bit different.  Dare wrote about how Microsoft has neglected certain types of languages (scripting, VB, etc), and appears to have been inspired by Chris Anderson’s post.

I’m certain that they’re both right.  No doubt about it, Microsoft has been blindly focused on C# (and to a lesser extent, Managed C++ and VB .NET) for a while now. 

However, my concern hasn’t been what type of language they’ve been ignoring, but rather what kind of developer they’ve been ignoring.  So who have they forgotten about?  My friends. 

Dear Microsoft,

Many of my friends, both here in Albany/Troy, and back at the University of Rochester, are computer geeks.  More than a few are CS students.  Guess how many of them have Visual Studio on their computers… That’s right, none.  Now guess how many of them use Emacs or Xcode?  Yeah, pretty much all of them.

Microsoft needs their own Emacs type of program.  Or their own Xcode.  The “Visual Studio Express” products sounded promising to me at first.  But then I discovered they’re just replacements for what used to be “Standard Edition” products.  In other words, they’re not entirely lightweight, they’re not especially flexible (one product per language), and they aren’t free.

Microsoft has arguably the best development suite on the planet.  But they aren’t using that to attract young, up-and-coming developers to their platform.  They’re also neglecting hobbyists.

Back at U of R, they start CS students with Java.  One or two people might download JCreator, but upwards of 90% of the class always uses Emacs for their Java development.  Most of them SSH into a Unix server to do it, but some (especially those running Linux or OS X) run it on their own computers.

So what am I asking for?

I’d like to see Microsoft release a language-agnostic source editor like Emacs, with some of their spiffy Visual Studio features, and include it on the Windows disc.  It should support all the major languages out of the box:  C/C++, C#, Java, and maybe VB/VB.NET.  Although I’d understand if they were relunctant to include Java support.  But even if they don’t, the tool should still let you write Java code and do all the basic stuff that Emacs always does (indenting, parenthesis matching, etc).  And you should be able to point it at whatever compiler you want to use.

It should also include the basic MS C/C++ and C# compilers.  Add in some basic debugging code if you want.  But it doesn’t really even need to be a full-fledged IDE.  All we need is an editor.  Notepad is severely lacking.  They can call it “Microsoft Editor” or something, to fit with their usual no-nonsense (no-creativity) naming scheme.

Make it run on all versions of Windows and make it freely downloadable today.  Then (and this is the tough part), put it somewhere in that extra 3.4GB of space you have on the Longhorn DVD.

Just do what Emacs and Xcode do for Linux/BSD and OS X… and keep it simple.  It won’t compete with Visual Studio in any significant way… it will just be a path for students/hobbyists to eventually get to VS. 

Oh, and bring back FrontPage Express.  Make it just like FrontPage 2003 without the WYSIWYG portion.  Just the code editor.  That part rocks.  Maybe give it a better name than FrontPage Express, though.  You can call it Microsoft Editor HTML Edition 2005 for all I care.  Actually scratch that, the Microsoft Editor I already told you to build should be able to handle that functionality just fine.

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