I realize I’m courting controversy with the title, but for good reason. I’m going to set aside any unsavory or otherwise questionable aspects of Microsoft business practices to focus on one that has worked very well for them and I believe can for MeeGo as well:
I’ve made it clear with this blog that the bulk of my information management and software development experience evolved in Microsoft business environments. That naturally led to heavy involvement in Microsoft’s developer community, which included local and regional product launch and outreach events.
And one thing Microsoft does know how to do is throw a party. I remember vividly the roaring 90s, when thousands of people packed the streets of downtown Dallas, Texas for the Windows NT Workstation 4.0 launch, each clutching free disks loaded not just with that cool new operating system but with fullblown Office as well. And even when things slowed down after the 2000 tech bubble bust the parties continued, just a little smaller. Great food, cool prize drawings, handouts of expensive software. Oh, and key presentations too.
In recent years, however, Microsoft has further scaled down the face-to-face engagements. There are many factors driving this but my guess is the general economic malaise is the biggest one. Which is unfortunate for Microsoft, because this is the exact sort of time when companies need to work harder on presence.
And that brings us to MeeGo. Even as part of an organization rather than corporation, MeeGo is going head-to-head against well-established commercial offerings. One reason the prospects of companies like Microsoft are in decline is because those of open source players are on the rise.
I am concerned here though because of a response I received from MeeGo-partner Nokia when I raised the need for regional, physical community outreach (primarily for developers, testers and superusers): that before Nokia committed to such efforts, they needed to first be assured there was enough interest to justify the expense.
I can understand such hesitancy from any executive far removed from the subject, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that this is a circular scenario. There certainly won’t be much interest if it isn’t seeded and cultivated. Success will depend on investments made without fear. Failure will be a self-fulfilling prophecy borne of inaction.
After talking with European and South American friends at KDE’s Akademy 2010 recently, I get the feeling this is largely a dilemma for the United States. There’s plenty of the necessary activity in the rest of the world; it seems the US has been abandoned to RIM, Apple and Android. If it’s in the MeeGo plan to leave that as the status quo, that’s one thing– but if Nokia, Intel and other partners still see the US as a viable market then MeeGo outreach here isn’t just a want it’s a desperate need. And given the mostly-closed operating environment here, a US MeeGo push will have to be nothing short of spectacular as I’ve noted previously.
So the challenge goes out to MeeGo. Of course it will be interesting to see who takes ownership of what activity. Is it the responsibility of the Linux Foundation to manage this outreach? Or would it be best managed according to need and participant interest, such as Nokia directly funding Qt and mobility-based events?
Some things that work for Microsoft don’t translate to MeeGo. Microsoft makes quick friends of developers by bribing them with free copies of operating systems and development tools– lures that aren’t available to open source solution providers. And there are as many differences between MeeGo and Microsoft as there are similarities.
That doesn’t let the MeeGo sponsors off the hook. Nokia, Intel and others need to “kidnap” developers away from their current comfort zones. They will have to come up with a convincing sales pitch for Qt development over the likes of Visual Studio (maybe not so difficult) as well as alternative incentives. Free or discounted devices, CPU giveaways, free classes– that’s a good start.
Prying developers loose from commercial enterprise will take some work but it’s not an avoidable option, and it will take more than online appeals can muster. MeeGo needs to physically get out in front of developers, and in a spectacular way. Big, splashy campaigns. Roadshows with lots of hands-on demonstrations. Echoes of the upcoming MeeGo Conference 2010 in every major region, especially the US, Brazil and southern India.
An article I read today likens developer advocacy to Ohm’s Law. Good analogy. MeeGo will definitely need to electrify the developer community.