Why Microsoft makes a mistake with the MSDN subscription changes.

Eric Sink blogs his thoughts into the world about Team System, the pricing, MSDN and the recent uproar about all of this. I agree with him about the positioning of Team System, the pricing related to that positioning, the MSDN licensing as it is now and how it is misunderstood.

Though I think a lot of the uproar isn't about the fact that small ISV's or independent consultants want to use an enterprise targeting system like Team System (or as Sink put it: want to use a Boeing 747 to get to McDonalds). I think the real reason behind a lot of the negativity about the new MSDN model is fed by the fact that these developers, myself included, simply want to buy a package from Microsoft which allows them to write software, use sourcecontrol, have unit-tests, use fancy designers and do bugtracking/issue management.

In the past year, Microsoft bombed us with their Team System propaganda and a lot of people were very pleased to see Microsoft made a fully integrated system which did everything: allowed you to architect webservices, test your application with fully integrated test tools, use bugtracking/issue management and much more. This was what they're waiting for for years.

Microsoft offers developers a set of MSDN subscription flavors. These are often bought by ISV's to get every tool they need for a lower price (i.e.: per developer, the licensing costs are lower, if you buy for each developer a universal subscription). Because the universal subscription has everything you needed as a developer, it was the obvious choice: VS.NET enterprise architect was included, VSS and a lot of other tools/servers required for development of n-tier applications (the type of application most developed).

With the propaganda fed to these developers and ISV's for the past year about Team System and its functionality, the obvious expectation was that to get your hands on it, a MSDN universal subscription would be enough. After all, that was the package you bought for a developer if you want all developer tools that developer needed, right?

Though, this isn't the case with the new MSDN subcription model. For the first time, the MSDN flavors require a choice to be made: are you an architect? A developer? A tester? And if you need more developer tools, you have to pay more money. A bit strange, because, an ISV buys the MSDN package to get all the tools needed for development in one easy to purchase package.

These two things: the choice you have to make which team system functionality you want to use (the client version) and the requirement to shell out more money for the functionality you actually need, are the real reasons why people are upset.

Let's start with the first, the choices. I'm a small ISV, and with me a lot of people are. Because we have to make a choice what each developer at our small ISV is: architect, developer or tester (according to Microsoft), these developers can only use one of the three available applications while these developers need all three, as they wear more hats (often all three), not one. It's as if developers at small ISV's don't need to write tests or don't require an integrated test suite (I use testdriven.net, very good, but not as feature rich as Team System's features), and it is as if developers at a small ISV's don't need an architectural toolkit to design webservices or other higher-level design system. These small ISV's get VS.NET Enterprise Architect today when they purchase MSDN universal licenses for their developers (or should I say: testers/architects?). So Microsoft apparently changed their minds what developers at these small ISV's do.

Let me be blunt: Microsoft doesn't get it when it comes to what their customers need. That's right: need, not: want. These are two different things. If you as a developer can't use a feature you need, you'll be angry. If you as a developer can't use a feature you want, it's too bad, life goes on. Why doesn't Microsoft get what their customers need? The vast majority of developers in the world aren't large corporate developers, but work at small(er) ISV's. They were buying the MSDN subscriptions to get the tools they need. As times change and Microsoft did build the functionality these ISV's need now and in the future (real sourcecontrol, real integrated testing system, real bugtracking/issue management), they want to purchase that functionality from Microsoft using the MSDN subscriptions. Because that was the most affordable package to buy for a developer.

Though, they're not able to do that anymore, not by using MSDN subscriptions. They have to make a choice: who's the architect here, and who's the tester? What if there are just two people in the ISV? Buy three MSDN premium packages to get the applications for all three hats? Or is Microsoft really thinking developers at small ISV's don't test, don't need sourcecontrol, don't really need issue-management/bugtracking and don't need higher order designers for the applications they need? Oh, do I hear you say... "but you can buy it for a little more extra $$$" ? Ok, fair enough, but what's the use of having MSDN subscriptions if they're not enough? Why not make these MSDN subscriptions worth purchasing so they still contain the tools these ISV need? Why belittle small ISV's by forcing them to make a choice because their developers don't seem to test and use bugtracking systems and use sourcecontrol systems?

The other point, the money required to get the the functionality you want, is related to the first and is also related to the hype built up in the past year. As expectations grew higher and higher, and as developers saw that what Microsoft was creating was what they needed, it's a bit of a pain to understand that what a developer needs now comes at a price of $10,000.= instead of a $2,500.= (or thereabout). (looking at functionality, not at positioning, which is marketing/business related, not developer/feature related). There is only one question possible here: why?. Why did Microsoft bypass the small(er) ISV, by not offering the tools they need, while the functionality is there?

Personally, I can understand the pricing for Team Foundation Server as it is a product positioned at the enterprise teams. What I don't get is why I can't buy a package from Microsoft for a reasonable price, which gives me a Visual Studio.NET 2005 with integrated testing, bugtracking, issue management and higher level designers for services. Because I don't need them because I don't have 8,000 employees? The functionality is there, it just has to be packaged.

So what's there to do? Well, for small(er) ISV's, it's perhaps more efficient now to simply not purchase a MSDN subscription anymore, but buy a VS.NET professional edition per developer and buy /get the other services elsewhere, for example Source Gear's Vault. Or use subversion + the NCover/NUnit tools and a free Linux-based bugtracking system. Because, why would a small ISV still look at Microsoft for the tools it needs? After all, according to Microsoft, developers at a small ISV have just one single task...


  • Exactly...! That's where we are.

    After reading the MS blogs I think they've designed Team System to suit a Microsoft style development team structure, and the marketing material\SKUs reflect that.

    So what happens to the rest of us?

    The pressing problem is that if Microsoft don't fix this soon, there will be far fewer Beta2 testers - not many people will bother testing it if they feel it is too expensive.

    Best regards


  • Excellent point, Steve! I too won't bother team system installations here, as we won't shell out that money for the system and will keep using our current setup of open source tools.

    And the irony is: these open source tools do work also and I can't help it but I recommend these to others if they ask me what we use. Why would I recommend something from MS instead?

  • Well said!

    I am a IT Manager and developer. I am the only developer but I still want testing, source control etc. Microsoft allways seem to think developers working big teams and it bugs me

  • How can a startup company shell out the money for this functionality to develop on .NET? I thought MSDN subscriptions were a great idea, and a huge money saver to get all your tools. How is Microsoft going to go up against Java/Eclipse which has a ton of plugins for functionality, and is free of charge? Visual Studio used to be cheap compared to Websphere and other Java IDE's. IMHO the .NET framework is more preferable over Java, but why choose .NET if you have to go around and grab third party/open source tools (like you do with java) to get your job done.

    I have a feeling there will be a "Internet Explorer" effect with this. Microsoft won't do crap about it until they notice market share dropping.

  • Microsoft has made a huge mistake here. The large majority of small ISV's and consultants use Microsoft products because we have (had) access to their products at a low cost for development and felt Microsoft was "getting their money" from when out development work was put into production by our customers who paid for the full non-development licenses. For enterprise development Microsoft's model works, just too bad their is not much enterprise development being done in exclusively Microsoft shops. Since VSTS is obviously where MSFT is putting its efforts, are the small guys just going to be kicked to the curb. Our companies cannot afford to spend an extra 10K per developer/ per year. I know for Senior developer this cost might be justified, but how about the new hires making less than $40K and requiring months of training on Team System?? First time in a long time I have begun seriously looking at alternative development solutions.

  • Greg, Jason, _excellent_ points.

  • Frans, excellent distinction between wants and needs. It goes to heart of this vain attempt at "social engineering" of our development organizations...many of which are haphazard such that a good many developers where two or three hats.

    My guess is that a lot of companies (mine included) will balk at the "barrier to entry" price of VSTS Suite for all developers, and will attempt to pidgeon-hole their developers into a single role to save money.

    This won't bode well for those shops already using agile methods like TDD. In fact, I think it will have a chilling affect and cause some to rethink using TDD since the tools cost too much (and they don't want to rely on open-source tools). Sad, sad, sad!

    The other problem with this high "barrier to entry" is that even though it will probably be cheaper than competing products (ClearCase, Perforce, etc.), shops tend to get locked in after "investing" $20-50K over the previous 2-3 years...and are unwilling to switch. Why? Because a lot of shops modify their SCCS's to do sensible things like "forced dry-run builds before checkin". (That's just the tip of the iceberg to this lockin...) If MS doesn't supply a 1-CAL VSTS Suite and 1-connection TFS in MSDN Premium, then it becomes VERY HARD for the Staff Developers and Project Leaders to justify switching to an even lower-price set of products. (Esp. since they're a "1.0" release!)

    In short, the lack of 1-CAL VSTS Suite and 1-connection TFS in MSDN Premium will disenfranchise a lot of experienced developers into bothering to help sell the product to their mnagers and company. MS will be losing a large chunk of their unofficial sales force!

  • I had already dropped Visual Studio itself (and webforms, actually) because of the pretty extreme bloat of the system. I wasn't even thinking about price at the time, but now there's a new reason to do this.

    Perhaps this is a viable option for you? Just dump the whole thing, use NAnt or the 40-line assembly compiler I wrote, and any text editor like TextPad or Crimson or vim.

    You can use bugzilla or something quick and home-grown for bug tracking, CruiseControl or something home-grown for continuous integration, mbunit for unit testing, and subversion for source control. All those things work well, are free, and aren't big frameworky things that you have to spend a lot of time adapting.

  • I'm not sure I agree. Let's look at what's changed in terms of pricing: nothing :). Microsoft still offers nearly the exact same products for nearly the exact same price. They come out with an addition to its development tools that represent a certain value, and they provide a package that includes that addition at an increased cost.

    The problem is that we're so used to Microsoft's practice of providing *all* of its products for "free" in its Universal Subscription that we feel like we're owed.

    Do I feel like Microsoft is missing the boat in not providing these tools for the small-ISV, or single developer consultancy? Yes; most definitely, yes. And they probably will, given time. However, for now - *nothing has changed*. We can continue to get all of the same tools - which still include all of the server products - for nearly the same price as before. Why are we complaining? Our value proposition hasn't changed. We're just mad we don't get the new stuff, and we're mad MS chose to support the big folks first. This seems to me more a case of size envy. :)


  • Call me what you will, but frankly I don't see the big deal. I work at a small ISV. Today we use Visual Studio 2003 (w/MSDN-U) + Compuware DevPartner Studio (profiling, coverage, debugging) + NUnit + TestDriven.Net + Surround (SCC) + TestTrack Pro (bug-tracking) + Visual Build Pro (automatic build tool). Next year...we'll use Visual Studio 2005 (w/MSDN Pro) + DevPartner Studio + NUnit + TestDriven.Net + Surround + TestTrack Pro + Visual Build Pro. Might check out NAnt at some point, but no rush. Development will be no more expensive than it was this year, and no less functional. Personally, the thought of trying to move all of our existing pieces from the current system which works *just fine* for us to an entirely new system sounds hideous. I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole if it were FREE.

  • Their pricing doesn't work for us either. My company I work for doesn't make software but we have a number of developers that do work in small teams(sometimes) usually it's one developer per dept. There is no way in h3ll my company is going to cough up that kind of cash for development tools. They will have us switch to something else before they will pay that kind of cash. We are the largest company of our kind in the US so my guess is many companies that do the same thing as we do will also be dropping MS tools in light of this pricing. If we can't afford it I'm sure they can't either. We already dropped all of our MSDN subscriptions. I wonder if we are going to be made to switch to Borland now in light of this? We already use them for some projects, this makes it look like it soon might be all projects. I was already pushing them to switch to Vault anyway so this might be just the ammo they need to totally switch over. I am going to look into FogBuzz or Bugzilla for bug tracking too. I think MS made a very, very bad decision with their pricing model here.

  • I do work in a reasonably large shop. We don't have thousands of MSDN Universal licenses, but it is 100+. And even though I am in a large shop, I wear multiple hats just like the folks in the small ISVs.

    I've been holding off on looking at alternative tools with the promise of VS2005 and VSTS. However, that is about to change as I seriously doubt my employer will be willing to pay quadruple the current price for 100+ developers.

  • The $10,000 price just doesn't fit small ISVs. What worries me even more is that Microsoft has now established a pattern of locking Visual Studio to .NET framework version. So, the $10,000 I shell out for this year's .NET 2 framework won't last 5 or 10 years unless I pay another $5k a year to keep it up to date. My immediate reaction is to start looking at other development solutions and possibly platforms.

  • Developers(1)(2)(3), Developers(1)(2)(3), Developers(1)(2)(3), Developers(1)(2)(3), Developers(1)(2)(3), Developers(1)(2)(3),Developers(1)(2)(3)....

    (1) Must have budget to support $5000/year software habit.

    (2) ISVs/MicroISV's not welcome.

    (3) Patent Pending. Not sure on what but ...

  • Jeff,

    "However, for now - *nothing has changed*. We can continue to get all of the same tools - which still include all of the server products - for nearly the same price as before. Why are we complaining? Our value proposition hasn't changed. We're just mad we don't get the new stuff, and we're mad MS chose to support the big folks first."

    I think that *because* nothing has changed, there is really no need to re-new a MSDN universal subscription, as the value added by the new model is none (IMHO). Much more efficient is to pay 799$ per professional license, as you get sqlserver dev server with that anyway.

    But the functionality is there, it's been written, though not accessable using the same way we always accessed _every_ developer toolkit out there. MSDN Universal gives you a dev license for biztalk server and MS CMS, two products which costs 10 times more than TFS...

  • WOW. Who came up with their pricing ideas? So, if I want 1 or 2 people with integrated source control, bug tracking, tests, etc.... I have to pay $10,939 + $2,799 for TFS and $5,089 more if I want "Team Test Load Agent" (no idea what this does, but sounds like how we do load testing?)... for a total of $18,827.


    Well, I'm really annoyed now. I held off looking at some of the other solutions since they aren't as polished as TS is gonna be... but at that price... screw it.

    And Eric's "747 to McDonalds" -- that's a really bad comparison. Even if it's just 2 people developing (hell, even one), I still might want a nice integrated system.

  • Slowly MS is alienating their users AND their developers. It wont' be overnight, but they are changing the landscape for themselves in a hugely negative way. With so much bad press, I'm shocked they keep pulling bad PR stunts.

    Linux zealots don't even need to be involved.

    I hope Novell does well with Mono, at least my investment wouldn't be wasted in the long run.

    Remember: Regardless of how MS folks try to sell us on this new direction they aren't listening ... Perception IS Reality.

  • One of the biggest problem with this pricing is that going into the future, Microsoft will be boxing developers into a narrow set of tasks. As an independent developer, I primarily bring architectural and development skills to the table. I can layout your system and build it. Microsoft is essentially saying no, you only design *or* build the system. Mr. developer, you do not need architectural tools and you, mr. architect do not need the development tools and neither of you need automated testing. Ridiculous.

  • Microsoft has some pretty bad timing with all of this. I recently used Eclipse with JDK1.5 and the VE and GEF. The progress that they have made over the last two years is astounding. Now that somone over in OpenSourceLand(tm) is actually paying attention to integration the tools are getting much better.

    And then MS pulls this stunt.

  • "Or use subversion + the NCover/NUnit tools and a free Linux-based bugtracking system."

    This is exactly the type of thing I've been working on and documenting how to set up. Subversion auththenticating through LDAP to AD, Trac as a Wiki/Bug tracker, CruiseControl.Net, NDoc, NAnt, NDepend, etc. Perhaps I should finish it up and publish for people.

  • Eric Sink would, of course, stand to agree with this price change ... his company produces the products that will nicely fill the niche, in smaller ISVs, MSFT is creating by the 300% price hike. ;)

  • Actually, after really going over things and learning more, it only looks as if I have to shell out $2700 for TFS. Team Suite looks nice, but I'm not sure how much of it I'll need. Testing is still in Dev edition (although, not some types). The architect edition has "Whitehorse". Maybe that'll be cool. But I dunno yet.

    The Load Agent Test Team or whatever it's called is for running distributed tests. That seems a steal at $5K.

  • What Team System has done to the load testing market.

    We have been looking for a tool to do load testing for our Web (and possibly) Winforms applications. Due to the fact that team system was on it’s way and may be included is the ISV Advantage programme, or made affordable for Microsoft partners in some other way, we have delayed buying a load testing solution. With are not a Microsoft partner, however if we got a ‘free’ load testing tool for become one it would be worth the time and afford of becoming a partner.

    The price of Team System (test edition) is not that match different from a 3rd party load testing solution once you have pay for a reasonable number of virtual users (say 50+). However 3rd party load testing solutions tend to have a cheep version that can be use by developers for testing with a low number (under 10) of virtual users. If we went with Team System, none of our developers will even be able to run a load test on there machine to repeat a “single user” problem.

    With all the time we have had to spend looking at the different tools, and trying to get agreement from management and the board to spend money on a load testing tool, we could have taken one of the open source ones as a base and written out own (make it cope with ViewState). Like most companies, it is easy to “spend time”, but “spending money” is a lot harder…

    We use CVS and subverson (on new projects) for source code control, as they are good enough and avoided having to get everyone to agree to buy a source code control system. They are not the best solution, but I rather spend time sorting out a problem with a bit of software, then have to try to talk a director into spending money, if I enjoyed getting people to spend money I would be a sales person and not a programmer.

    Getting agreement to buy MSDN is still hard but only had to be done once it is included 100% of what I needed to do my job. I rather only have to get agreement to a single order event if it costs a bit more (it’s not my money after all). However with the price going up to $10,000 MSDN that no longer an option!

    I have also noticed that some of the 3rd party vendors of load testing tools seems to have stop realising new versions of there software until they see what Microsoft does. How can you justify developing a testing solution, when one day soon (with in next five years) Microsoft may drop the cost of theirs to the point that a lot of your customers at it for “free” as part of the normal MSDN level?

    Given the very high level of lock in with source code control, and the fact that the enterprise level software is so match more complex, I can see how someone can complete with Microsoft on source code control. However with testing tools, I have found that the enterprise level software is quicker to learn then the cheaper packages. The cheep load testing tools do not even have any logging to tell the tester what has gone wrong. Therefore I would like the high level testing tools if only they were affordable.

    Ian Ringorse

    Ian at Ringrose dot Name

  • "However, for now - *nothing has changed*"

    It is a change, we used to get all new tools & servers with MSDN Universal. This is probably only the first item to be dropped from the not-so-UNIVERSAL-anymore msdn subscription, I guess this could be a trend as Microsoft still wants to make the same amounts of money.

    And if it is a trend, it obviously is a very good reason to put more time in alternative solutions.

  • UGH! The more time I spend in .NET the more I think it sucks. I've been doing .NET since VS.NET 2002. I've done Java (JBuilder, TogetherSoft, Netbeans, and Eclipse).

    Swing is getting better every release, it's not half bad now... winorms sucks and is buggy. ASP.NET is much better than winforms, better architected better thought out...

    The one hope I had was that everything would be lovely when .NET 2.0 / Avalon / TeamSystem came out. Now I am still thinking they DON'T GET IT.

    Developers are the key to your platform... if you have the developers you have the OS / Server market!

    Maybe Mono is the answer, I don't know... Java is more robust and they have OpenGL accelerated widgets in Java 5.0 SDK (not on by default).

    It would be simple for Microsoft to smash Java and deal a large blow to linux by open sourcing their developer platforms and giving away the goodies.

    Avalon is a great fresh start for the desktop and interesting for the web as well... we are all drooling to use this cool stuff. But you are too slow MS!!!

  • "It would be simple for Microsoft to smash Java and deal a large blow to linux by open sourcing their developer platforms and giving away the goodies."

    wasn't that what java and linux proponents were claiming when commenting on overtaking MS?

    giving away your IP does not a bill (Bill) payment make.

Comments have been disabled for this content.