One of my long-standing issues with Microsoft is its inability to control the perceptions surrounding its own products. One of the biggest examples was during the Windows Vista years when, even after the product had been fully patched and worked fine, Apple continued to do a better job to define the image of Windows (compilation of ads here) than Microsoft did, costing Microsoft billions in lost revenue for the millions it saved on a strong advertising campaign. The firm has a history of being penny wise and pound foolish in this regard; saving money on expensive marketing that otherwise would better protect the images of key products like Windows, IE, Office, Windows Server and .NET against nearly unfunded FUD grassroots campaigns from a variety of sources. The latest attack is on .NET, which was Bill Gates' own crowning achievement and his last real legacy to Microsoft.
Let's explore this.
Slashdot Shows the Way
What prompted this rant was a posting on Slashdot asking and answering "Was .NET All a Mistake?" It argued that it was and that not even Microsoft's own developers took it seriously.
Now, I covered the rollout of .NET in Microsoft and my running joke at the time was that it had gotten so out of control that the restrooms were Men.NET and Women.NET. Even the hardware guys had a .NET message as inappropriate as that was. But to suggest that Microsoft wasn't serious about the platform is just silly.
However, recently, there has been some coverage suggesting that Microsoft was going to abandon .NET and if you look in the Slashdot article's comments, you can see a broad range of opinions surrounding this platform. Well, that is actually not true. Slashdot is largely made up of practitioners and the majority seems to be on a different page. For instance, one titled, "Not For My Company" said, "We're a ~100 person .NET shop and we do about 10 million a year with small business. It's worked great for us."
And another countering an argument that "Windows programmers are going to be living with this mess for years to come," wrote "It's a dirty job, and every other Friday I cry all the way to the bank."
You see, .NET isn't going away; it just is appropriate for business applications and is not deemed suitable for many consumer applications, particularly games.
But there lies the difficulty: We are in an increasingly consumer-centric world and increasingly things that don't have a consumer message are seen as obsolete or unimportant.
Perception Is 100 Percent of Reality
The thing companies like Microsoft don't seem to get at an institutional level is that it doesn't matter what the truth is. It really doesn't. What matters is what folks believe it to be. We see national elections turn on false information about someone's military background; some lose because they are positioned as traitors, and others whose military history was spent getting shot down are positioned as heroes. The lasting lesson being that if you can't own your own image, you can't assure your future, and Microsoft and most technology companies, with the exception of Apple, don't own their own image.
For instance, let's look at Google. A few years ago, it was seen largely as the new "White Knight" positioned against Microsoft's"Evil Empire." Now it has painstaking built the image of a firm that steals intellectual property and personal information from others in order to make a buck. It has effectively gone from White Knight to pirate, and if you think that won't adversely impact its potential future, you've missed a couple of meetings.
Research In Motion is another company that no longer controls its image. It is a long way from going under, but the growing perception is that it is dead and just hasn't institutionally realized it yet. If Steve Jobs had allowed this same perception to continue to surround Apple when he took it over, there would be no Apple today. The first thing he fixed, largely by getting a huge ironic check from Bill Gates, was the perception that Apple was going under.
If you remember nothing else from this it is that perception is 100 percent of reality. (It is interesting to note that Einstein had his own spin on this, he said "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.")
Wrapping Up: Protecting Your Assets
You might argue that "ets" should be left off of the last word in the above heading. But the takeaway here is that image is the most important thing a company has. For people it is reputation and if you have to protect it. What is also kind of interesting for the .NET perception is that, if you read through the comments, you'll find that there are actually game developers using .NET elements (C#) in XNA studio for Windows 8 games.
In short, while the perception is that .NET is getting weaker (dying), the reality is that it is actually strengthening. But if Microsoft doesn't fix the perception, the negative perception will become its new reality.
That's the power of perceptions. Ignore them at your own peril.