bridge of the enterprise: It’s About Time!

I have read a lot lately about Microsoft’s new plans to conduct audits of their development practices in an effort to improve the quality of the product going out the door. I, for one, am thrilled to hear this. The idea that Microsoft will now expend some effort to ensure the product works is great news.

It does, however, raise some questions in my mind. These questions include some real basics like: Did Microsoft care about the quality of the products they were selling before? Has Microsoft ever heard of initiatives like TQM, Malcolm Baldridge and ISO? Why has this taken so long?

I believe Mr. Balmer deserves kudos for this initiative. He is apparently the one pushing this change, and that should ensure that it happens. While this is great news, things like internal review processes, better customer relations and integration between applications and software versions are things that much of the industry has provided for some time now. Yet Microsoft is the largest software vendor in the world.

Perhaps this new initiative will help ensure the stability of NT 5.0. The latest rumblings put beta three in November and release in June. This news should be very welcome to companies who plan to make an early transition to this new version. If there is an improvement in the quality of what ships from Redmond, this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate it. NT 5.0 is so new, with so many lines of code, that problems could be everywhere. If it were to ship virtually bug-free (nothing ships completely bug-free), and those bugs are minimal, Microsoft would have made a serious statement.

The time has come for this statement to be made. If Microsoft is going to become the enterprise player it is hoping to be, they should give careful consideration to providing a transaction-level, critical platform with the same stability and reliability they expect in their own environment. When Microsoft is ready to stop production, order taking and invoicing while their systems are down for inexplicable reasons, I’ll eat my hat. Until such time as all of those systems are running on NT – or whatever it may wind up being called – Microsoft has made the statement that they are not willing to bet their company on their operating system. In the meantime, lets get back on track with the cleanup of those pesky bugs.

I believe Microsoft’s intentions are true, that they want to build a reliable and robust operating system platform. It may well be that this new initiative, spearheaded by Mr. Balmer, is just what the doctor ordered. Maybe Windows 2000 Professional and all of the server variants will set a new standard from Microsoft. This would be great. Just think if this new standard for PC and server software came out with the same reliability as, say, V4R3 of OS/400. Now that would be cool. That would also send a message to the industry. With as much new code as is supposed to be in 5.0, it would be a major message indeed. This would be akin to the changes in code when IBM went to V3 in support of RISC architecture. IBM has done it, can Microsoft?

The message would be that the PC/Micro architecture has reached a level of maturity where it can be exploited to its potential. Finally, the PC would have found it’s niche and would not require the level of baby-sitting and coddling that, to date, has been the case. This is the time when mission-critical – not word processing, but payroll and shop floor control and sales order management and invoicing – can be trusted on a scale to these systems.

Go, Mr. Balmer, go. This may be the dawning of a new era.

A veteran of the IBM midrange arena since 1983, Chris Gloede is executive VP for Business Solutions Group in Wayne, Pa. cgloede@thebsg.com.