REDMOND, Wash., September 2, 1998 — Morris Beton has always admired the way Microsoft works with its partners. As an executive at Attachmate Corp. and IBM for nearly two decades, Beton observed firsthand the way Microsoft gave independent software vendors (ISVs) a head start building Windows-compatible applications at a time when other platform vendors offered little assistance.
Now at the helm of Microsoft’s Developer Relations Group (DRG), Beton leads the group whose work he once admired from the outside. As director of DRG, Beton works with thousands of third-party developers annually to create support for the Windows platform and related Microsoft technologies.
“The thing DRG has done consistently over time is to go out and drive an abundance of solutions built for customers and end users, and to make those solutions very attractive for them,” says Beton, an energetic man in his mid-40s. “That’s really the biggest thing this group does.”
A graduate of Columbia University and New York University’s Graduate School of Business, Beton joined the DRG in 1994 after working for 15 years in various marketing and technical positions at IBM and one year as vice president of development at Attachmate. He was appointed director of the DRG last year.
Formed in 1984 to generate application support for Windows 1.0 among a handful of developers, the DRG, along with other Microsoft groups such as the Application Developer Customer Unit (ADCU), now works with over 40,000 developers and employs more than 2,000 people worldwide who work with outside developers. Microsoft spends more than $268 million annually on developer-related activities, including research, conferences, marketing assistance, training programs, product support and publications.
As director of DRG, Beton is charged with educating developers about new technology initiatives. Beton gathers information about new technology efforts taking place within Microsoft and works with top Microsoft executives to define Microsoft’s technological direction. Once that direction is defined, Beton’s job is to communicate it to the developer community.
“My days are consumed with a lot of meetings, trying to understand internally where we’re going and how to steer our technology initiatives,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of technologies and a lot of paths for developers to take, and we’re constantly trying to figure out how to simplify that and give them direction.”
With hundreds of development projects taking place simultaneously, developers who build products that work with Microsoft platforms sometimes find it challenging to determine which of the many projects have the most important implications for their own specific development efforts.
DRG addresses this problem in a number of ways. It assigns “technical evangelists” to help developers identify technology initiatives critical to their development efforts. It provides a Development Lab to offer technical assistance to developers on a variety of issues. It hosts a broad range of events such as the Professional Developers Conference, which is designed to educate developers about future Microsoft technological initiatives and Developer Days, a one-day event aimed at providing information about Microsoft technologies to more than 75,000 developers in 120 cities worldwide. And it offers online services such as MSDN, the Microsoft Developer Network and the Site Builder Network to provide enterprise developers, start-up developers and Web professionals with information on Microsoft initiatives.
“We’re trying to do some very pragmatic, grassroots, down-to-earth things that developers like,” Beton says. “We’ll have a conference and we’ll pass out 13 CDs of information, and it’s all software developer kits, betas and alphas. It’s things that they can get their hands on, and they really appreciate that.”
DRG’s work benefits both Microsoft and its partners and customers, Beton says. Microsoft benefits by ensuring that a variety of third-party applications support its platforms. This drives the success of the Windows platform because customers purchase operating systems based on the range of software and hardware available to support them. Developers benefit by receiving up-to-date information about Microsoft technology as it is being developed. As a result, they can build their applications more cost-effectively and reduce the time required to bring their products to market. Customers benefit by being able to take advantage of a wide variety of Windows-based applications and features, such as support for 3-D graphics and True Type fonts and built-in access to printers, scanners and a broad array of peripheral devices.
Dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, Beton logs onto the company intranet in his corner office overlooking a stand of evergreen trees on the Microsoft campus. Using Windows NT as an example of his group’s work, Beton shows a visitor the detailed records DRG keeps on each company with which it works to encourage application support for Windows NT 5.
“There are 28 evangelists working on this, there are 231 companies represented and 359 products,” he says. “If these ISVs can leverage the benefits of NT 5 and pass those on to their customers, then their product benefits, their customers benefit and we can sell NT 5. So that’s kind of the way we work.”
Asked about DRG’s successes, Beton rattles off a long list of achievements: 350 applications were developed to work with BackOffice in the first 18 months of the program; 100 applications with SQL Server in the first 1-1/2 years of that program; 27 for the product launch of Exchange Server; and 40 for the Internet Information Server product launch. More than 1,000 channels were developed for Internet Explorer 4.0, and 350 applications are being built to support Windows CE. “Those are great successes,” Beton says. “I feel really good about those.”
Partners credit the DRG with helping them develop Microsoft-compatible products faster and more cost effectively. Mark Chealander, vice president of engineering at FileNET Corp., says Beton’s group provides the details he needs to develop FileNET document management software products right alongside Windows NT.
“Microsoft support for the ISV community is the best in the industry,” Chealander says. “The level of documentation, the level of developer support, is unparalleled.
Wayne Hom, chief architect at Walker Interactive Systems, Inc., which develops financial applications for the Windows platform, says his relationship with Microsoft’s DRG helps Walker deploy its research and development funds more efficiently by making sure the company’s development efforts complement rather than duplicate Microsoft initiatives.
Hom says the support he receives through Microsoft’s MSDN program exceeds that of other partners. “The assistance we get from Microsoft is significantly more technical,” he says. “Having the software tools early, the preview of technologies, seminars, conferences and events as well as online information is just phenomenal. We don’t get that kind of information from other partners.”
York Baur, vice president of Cyberprise Server products for Wall Data Incorporated, agrees. “I do think we are given a higher degree of access to technology and information from Microsoft than we experience with most partners,” he says. “Morris specifically has been to see us a number of times, both at lower and executive levels in the company, and we feel like we enjoy a very good relationship, and appreciate his professionalism and openness.”
Beton’s co-workers credit him with setting a clear direction for DRG and responding quickly to Microsoft’s transition from a Windows company to a company that also supports the Web revolution and the proliferation of small, non-PC devices.
“Morris’ leadership guided DRG as we transitioned away from a Win32 evangelism business to a much broader and richer evangelism role,” says Ted Hase, a group program manager who works for Beton. “He has brought focus, vision, credibility and leadership to DRG.”
“Morris has dramatically improved the effectiveness of the organization by better focusing on its key priorities,” said Vic Gundotra, director of Platform Marketing for Microsoft. “He is a relentless advocate for the cause of external developers. He’s focused on simplifying Microsoft messages, and works toward helping developers find success on the Windows platform.”
“Morris is an excellent strategic planner,” says Sue Bohn, a group manager at DRG. “He recently organized a two-day, offsite planning meeting for the DRG leads. This offsite meeting produced a unified set of goals for the entire team and a vision for what DRG should focus on for the next year.”
Beton says he plans to focus his attention on four themes during the coming year: Windows NT 5, Windows DNA, DirectX and Windows CE. The key challenge in each of these areas will be to select a few key technologies for developers to incorporate into their products from the hundreds of technologies available.
“We have to be very careful about what we pick because these technologies take a huge amount of time for the ISVs to implement, and it can have huge impact for years,” Beton says.
While his job has its challenges, the rewards come with helping developers succeed right along with Microsoft. “You can have somebody do obscure things, but if it doesn’t translate into something very tangible for the ISV, then it’s really a waste of time,” Beton says. “But if it can translate into something very tangible-into revenues, into better PR for the company, into something that helps their products or launches the next product-then you know you’re doing the right thing.”