Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Cover Fire or Version Next?

As much as the "I can't find the giddyup juice" aspects of Joel's recent article also struck a chord within me, it seems people have lost sight of what -- to me, at least -- was the more controversial point, buried in the second-to-last paragraph.

After getting all of us to say "yes, yes" with his on-the-money insights about not getting anything done, it must have been much easier for people to agree with the main point of the article (hence the title: Fire and Motion).

To quote only the beginning of the tirade: "Think of the history of data access strategies to come out of Microsoft. ODBC, RDO, DAO, ADO, OLEDB, now ADO.NET - All New! Are these technological imperatives? The result of an incompetent design group that needs to reinvent data access every goddamn year? (That's probably it, actually.) But the end result is just cover fire. The competition has no choice but to spend all their time porting and keeping up, time that they can't spend writing new features." Read the rest at if you haven't already.

Microsoft is in the business of selling product. FogCreek is, too, for that matter. Or Honda. Or General Mills. And the funny thing about being a product company is that you need to constantly introduce the latest and greatest, the big splashy "New!" that keeps existing customers purchasing updates they don't need, and entices new customers to your product.

But Microsoft has a ton of their own businesses they need to support, without necessarily worrying about sending volleys over the various SmallCos out there. Think of all the MS Press books that will come out of .NET, all the training, all the extra money from developers updating the certifications, not to mention the revenue from the product itself. At let's not forget about the shareholders, and their desire to see net new (.NET new?) business.

It's only cover fire if you react to it as such. Most people, including Joel, don't ( ).

Thoughts? When should you duck when your competitor introduces a new product? When is it simply version 2.0?

Robert K. Brown
Friday, January 11, 2002

I interpreted that part as Joel further justifying his dislike of "required" technologies like XML.  I don't necessarily agree, but I find it easy to empathize with his position.

Gates once said something along the lines of, "The way to make money in this business is by setting de facto standards."  So it's not unreasonable to say that MSFT notices benefits for having others follow their standards.

Anyway, it's not like these new APIs like XML totally supercede 60 years of computer science.  These technologies are very immature, and one best make a conscious decision whether or not to be an early adopter.

Friday, January 11, 2002

It is easy to tell the difference between reacting to cover fire and making cover fire.  Look at the feature you are currently working on. Is this an innovation that will help your customers? Or, is it something the sales/marketing people asked for to fill out the feature checklist?
When the sales weasel comes by, you hate to be rude. You never say, “No, we would never ever buy your product”. You are nice and you say, “I would buy it, but is doesn’t do (insert useless feature here)”. From there the sales guy talks to sales manager, he talks to marketing manager, they talk to a VP, VP to CEO, CEO to VP of engineers, VP to software manager, to the programmers boss. The story gets better with every telling. By the time the loop is complete, some poor code monkey is told; “If we had this feature we could have sold 20 million copies”.
Smart companies filter this noise. There is not enough money, or developers in a smaller company to waste time on features that no one really cares about. Microsoft can throw money at the problem.  Smart companies look for the features their customers need. That may be different from what they ask for or want.
This ties in with what Joel wrote on the chicken and egg problem.  Excel took over from 1-2-3 because the people at Lotus were not watching. It is much more difficult to take business from Microsoft. They did it to their competition, they are watching for the same tricks.

Doug Withau
Friday, January 11, 2002

Interesting viewpoint.  Not only does Joel believe that supporting all these access strategies is bad, he proclaims publicly that it would be bad. 

This means that his products are fairly immune to this cover fire, since he can proudly say, "No, we shouldn't support that."

Saturday, January 12, 2002

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home