Microsoft to developers: Here are the toys, now let the grown-ups play

About a year ago I was chatting with an MS evangelist that felt pretty confident about the future pricing of VS 2005 and the associated tools. To his credit, he was right in some respects. The standard and pro versions of Visual Studio are certainly more affordable than they used to be and address a certain market.

But what they really did is pushed off what we already had and made it less expensive, and decided to charge more for the really useful stuff that makes it worth the upgrade. Look at the feature matrix. Can you spot the problems? I don't know about you, but the idea that users of the standard or pro versions don't need unit testing is absurd. Look around, Microsoft... everyone is doing test-driven development these days. It's as essential as the debugger.

I guess the reason I'm so annoyed is that I, like a huge percentage of developers out there, have to wear many hats. I'm more often than not a one-off developer and/or architect working in a team on a contract basis with my own hardware and software. I need all of these tools so I can get away from the nightmare combination of NUnit, NAnt, VS, etc. So unless I can score an MVP nod for my projects or site (something not getting any easier by making posts like this, I'm sure), or for being the author of an ASP.NET book, I have to shell out more than two grand for an MSDN subscription to get what I really need. I refuse to believe that my situation can't be duplicated among thousands of other developers.

This is the kind of thing that makes for such great fodder among the open-sores zealots. For those on the fringe of choosing a platform, this is not exactly going to make Microsoft a slam-dunk for anyone.


  • here here.

  • What's worse is that with the pricing announcements yesterday, say as a MSDN Universal user you side-grade to the MSDN Premier with VSTS Developer...for free (as part of the migration plan away from MSDN Enterprise/Universal). The cost to upgrade to MSDN Premer with VSTS Team Suite will probably be ANOTHER $2000! (Unless they're going to announce a special discount for that upgrade...)

    I'm inferring this additional $2000 upgrade price from the price differential between the renewal prices quotes for MSDN Premier with VSTS Developer (~$2300) and MSDN Premier with VSTS Suite (~$4500). (See for details...) In fact, they haven't yet specified what the upgrade cost will be. But judging from the webpage, I'm pessimistic they're going to be "giving it away" they're going to great lengths (cannabalizing the Enterprise and Universal levels) and only us to side-grade to one of the 3 "role-based" version of VSTS.

    If they stick us with a $2000 upgrade (or even a $1000 upgrade), then I guess I won't be getting the entire VSTS Suite anytime soon...and have to resort on continued use of NUnit at home... Also, that $10K price tag for new base licenses will be a hard sell at work!

    Methinks they're making a really BIG pricing mistake with current MSDN Universal subscribers! (Making us jump through hoops to get "the whole enchilada"...)

    New car? Who needs a new car?!?!?!

  • I'm not sure (not being an MVP myself), but MVP status only gives you MSDN Universal access, plus maybe "Shared Source". That wouldn't even get you what you're looking for...

  • Yes they're making a big mistake. As I understand it even with Universal pricing you get just one CLIENT option - The server side software is NOT included. I think what annoyed me the most was the way they tried to make out they were doing us a big favour by giving us one of the client options (architect, developer or test) when what they were really doing is saying "You thought an expensive Universal sub got you a chance to look at all Microsoft products - think again!"

    I let my membership lapse for 6 months because I felt I'd got very little of value for the six months before that (prices went up but no MSDN magazine, no journal, no new cases each year). Having just signed up for a three year deal, based on rumours of Beta 2 becoming available this month, I'm seriously hacked off.

  • Eh, who cares if we get unit testing in VS? I mean, we have it now...for *free* with NUnit.

    VS2K5 seems like a lot of fluff.

  • "(something not getting any easier by making posts like this, I'm sure)"

    I can assure you as a person who hasn't been positive about Microsoft in many ways, that being negative about Microsoft, WITH ARGUMENTS, is not a problem, on the contrary: they want (and need) people who critizise them with arguments so they know what they have to improve.

    About TFS, team system is targeted at large teams, therefore, not for the average single-person ISV. Though I'm with you that MS should have done more to include the unittesting stuff into

    However, using today, I can't say I really miss something. True, it requires some tools here and there but has it been different in the past?

  • Client-side only? Now THAT will REALLY suck! HHHuuummm.......just re-read the press release, and sure 'nuf! Only the MSDN Premier with VSTS Suite will contain the VS Team Foundation Server.

    Eeh gads! It looks like Microsoft is making the same money grab that Borland did 5-6 years ago to lock up the Java development tools market. (They raised their base license pricing for C++Builder, Delphi, and JBuilder Professional versions from ~$500 to ~1000, and the upgrades from ~$200 to ~400. That's when I had to stop buying new releases each year. The Enterprise editions doubled in price also.) If you look at the current prices for Delphi Pro, Enterprise, and Architect, you can see a similarity in the pricing structure to the new VSTS pricing. Basically, it's the attitude "charge 'em 3 or 4 times more for the last 10% of the tools".

    And look how Borland's market share has dwindled since then for C++Builder and Delphi... I don't know of anyone that's buying C++Builder Enterprise or Delphi Architect due to the excessively high prices ($3500)...which is higher than the current MSDN Universal. Since the renewal rates for the new MSDN Premier with VSTS Suite are higher than most Borland high-end products, MS might lose some customers back to Borland or even to up-and-coming IDEs like Eclipse!

  • I have to add that I too really don't understand the role choice you have to make. I too wear a lot of hats and it's hard to make the choice: opt for developer? Of course, but then I don't have the nice testing tools. Architect? Then I can test my stuff with the architect engine (as I write developer software) but I can't use the other tools.

  • Steve - I believe you're misreading the press release. Even Team Suite doesn't contain Team Foundation Server; according to Team Suite is just a bundle of the three separate Team Editions. TFS is a separate $2800 SKU.

  • I wonder if you can even use these team system tools without team foundation server! No one has confirmed that (and knowing the trackrecord of MS, I doubt you can work with these without the spicy server version)

    reading more and more about it, I get more and more annoyed about the role based choice you HAVE TO make in the MSDN option you pick, as universal apparently is discontinued? I'm a small ISV, I wear many hats, if doesn't provide the tools I need I won't switch from the free N* tools to tools.

    Though, would Microsoft even care about that I wonder...

  • It's not the pricing model that's irritating. Certainly Microsoft has the right to make a reasonable ROI, and the prices are not out of line compared to other equivalent products (i.e., SCCS's, problem tracking systems, etc.).

    It's the lack of a stripped (1 CAL or 5-connection) version of TFS and the lack of all 3 role-based clients as "developer editions" that's bothering us. Eric Bowen (see the above hyperlink) said it best: it affects the efforts of a lot of small ISVs, consultants, and even corporate developers at gaining worthwhile experience in using the order they may recommend buying VSTS Suite at a company that CAN afford them.

    Granted, some of this training can be achieved by 90-day eval editions, but with SCCS's, problem tracking systems, and work flow systems this becomes burdensome, because after 90-days, any source code, problems, and work items become "trapped". So, obviously, any use of a 90-day eval edition for training purposes would have to be in a contrived environment, not a real development environment. I can think of a lot of usage scenarios that I would have to contrive in order to see SCCS or problem tracking or work flow behavior...instead of just using it for a few months as a live 1-user server and letting nature take it's course with "real usage" on a limited scope project.

    Basically, since they're going to include a use-limtied license for SQL2K5, then there should be no reason why they can't do the same for TFS and all 3 role-based VSTS clients. If they're worried about abuse of MSDN setup packages being illegally spread around amongst multiple developers, then they should implement license keys and activation for all copies of VSTS. (I'm actually surprised they didn't do this back with VS2002 or VS2003...)

    Now back to my curiousity: Chris, you say TFS features are more attractive than unit testing and designers. What features are you talking about? Is there a webpage URL of the feature matrix? I can't seem to find it... (I know about the problem tracking and work item process flow stuff... What other features do you think are valuable? Are you talking about MSF?)

  • "If they're worried about abuse of MSDN setup packages being illegally spread around amongst multiple developers, then they should implement license keys and activation for all copies of VSTS. (I'm actually surprised they didn't do this back with VS2002 or VS2003...)"

    If I recall correctly, in the latest beta of 2002, it had activation, but it was removed before the RC's. One of the disadvantages of activation is that the developer is the licensee of the tools, so s/he should be able to use the tools on any system s/he wants, though with activation, this is a bit cumbersome.

  • Frans, not that I would wish this upon us, but I fear that the days of a skeleton license-key for the MSDN Universal setups for Visual Studio may be over. (Why else would they come up with this 3 "role-based" edition scheme? Possibly they caught wind that many companies were cheating by buying only a single MSDN Universal license for multiple developers. Or maybe they knew, but didn't care...until now!)

    Note that many corporate developers have taken home their MSDN Universal media and installed it on their home PCs, both for working at home and for training. It's possible this new packaging scheme may even be stop that form of license sharing. (Boy, won't corp. devs be surprised!)

    Regardless, turning the MSDN Universal subscription into this DRACONIAN MESS is simply going to encourage license a lot of us need all 3 "role-based" sets of functionality. For instance, a second way of skirting the draconian lack of VSTS Suite, is for companies that have at least 3 developers to buy one copy of each "role-based" edition, and then share the media or licenses (whichever will work) between all developers. If the installers don't disallow it and license keys don't disallow multiple activation, then it's going to happen! (I know so: here in Silicon Valley, surrounded by Java bigots, managers are cheap bastards when it comes to paying for all the licenses they really use...since in Java-land everything is free, right?)

    The BIGGEST problem with the announced draconian distribution method is that even if they leave open the above hole in the install/activation scheme, single developers (ISVs, consultants, contractors, corp.devs at home) are STILL SCREWED, since we can only buy a single MSDN Premium subscription...and can't cost-justify $4500/year for VSTS Suite just to gain the training and insight we so dearly need to guide our customers or corporate employers.

    The MSDN Universal subscription should NOT have been cannabalized . A 1-CAL or 5-connection version of TFS and all 3 "role-based" editions of VSTS should be bundled into MSDN Universal. All the name changing (with "Visual Studio" being dominant in the product name instead of "MSDN xxx") and the overly-complicated "transition plans" is just a pile of marketing rubbish!

    My fear is that Microsoft Visual Studio (and MSDN) may have just "jumped the shark"...much the same as Borland's developer products did 5-6 years ago when they doubled and tripled the prices along with tightening their licenses.

  • Let's be honest though... I hear over and over from Microsoft people that the real money to be made is on server licenses, not the tools.

  • Precisely Jeff! Which leaves us all to wonder WHY oh WHY the draconian tool packaging/licensing scheme, and the webpage after webpage trying to explain the migraine-causing "transition".

    I see this whole thing as merely a "get the VS license cheaters to pony up!" effort (which I can't fault them for trying to fix). But it'll back-fire on the honest MSDN Universal subscribers if they're not careful!

    My theory is that some genius in marketing has finally crufted up a spreadsheet predicting a new revenue stream from all the VS license cheaters (er, enterprises with >5 or 6 developers),,,and said spreadsheet percolated high enough to cause this kind of massive licensing change. I.e., it's a money grab, out to soak the rich and the cheaters (leaving us poor sole developers behind).

    What we need now is a "No Developer Left Behind!" initiative... THERE SHOULD BE A LAW DAMMIT!

  • Ok, so everyone is not happy and how is that different then any other time??? Face it there is no way to make every devoloper happy so complaints come with the scene. Do we as devolopers complain about the prices of the other big toolset (Rational etc)? Large enterprises pay for this without question do we as small devolopers buy those tools no!! Do large enterprise shops buy them of course and MS has to have a competing product as well and guess what it is priced alot cheaper then the others. If you need that class of tool make the investment as I am sure it will payoff.


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