James Governor's Monkchips

Don Ferguson Joins Microsoft. 5 things you didn’t know

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Donald Ferguson joins Microsoft. Ben you are right.

Don was a seriously heavy hitter at IBM. He has taken lumps from people in the past, including me, but some of those barbs were undoubtedly unfair. After all when you’re at the very apex of the IBM Software Group tree its kind of hard to take a hardcore lesscode approach.

So here are some things you don’t know about Don.

1. Don actually did get the memo.

2. Don has a great sense of humour. Picture Sam Ruby on the barbeque.

3. At college he was called Silent Don; because he is more of a doer than a talker, what he says has weight:

I am from rural New England. This blog used all my words for the next three days.

4. Don is a martial artist, a Kenpo black belt, and could kick your ass rather than taking a barb in good humour.

—question for my readership- is there any correlation between talkers and coders and abstraction?—

So what about IBM and lesscode?

It was quite simply not Don’s job to hack away at the towering edifice of IBM legacy code, but rather to make sure that everything worked together where possible. Don was by definition sitting on a bear at IBM. Its pretty hard to simplify a portfolio when you keep making acquisitions (IBM’s new lightweight M&A approach notwithstanding.)

It was for others to take up the lesscode no legacy baton, and create rhythm with it.

That is – Don had to deliver useful abstractions and in many cases did. Competitors may hate the fact IBM customers buy so much middleware, which probably explains why they are pushing into the space so agressively. Lets face it – IBM SWG (No Big Blues) is evidently singing right now, certainly compared to SOA arrivistes such as SAP (market underperform) and Oracle (“this was a miss“).

Also bear in mind the retooling in flight that has gone on under Don’s watch as chief software architect. Lotus and Rational particularly have been dramatically cleaned up and made ready for purpose.

One of his projects, which will likely now get a boost at is the service component architecture (SCA) specification, which is designed to make SOA less complex. SCA began life as an IBM and BEA-led project, but it may now be a foundation for a WS-* 2.0 reboot between IBM and Microsoft.

But who is to say what Don’s agenda will be, other than Don himself. I was interested to see his vision for the business here.

  • Software appliances and SW configurations integrated with virtual middleware
  • Situational applications and end-user Web programming
  • An enterprise SW architecture that includes open source, good enough middleware and products from IBM and other companies
  • SOA and business policy/rules
  • Composite Applications and Business Services
  • SW evolving to exploit next generation HW, e.g. multi-core and intelligent network storage.
  • SOA and EDA
  • A web approach to data and storage
  • Recipes, Patterns and Templates
  • Web 2.0

Its pretty obvious why Microsoft is appealing place to be given that list. If nothing else, its virtualisation ambitions are more interesting than IBM’s at this point. Some will of course say that Don’s hire marks out more IBMification of Microsoft (more process, more architecture, more legacy, more tight coupling). But Ray Ozzie, who Don will be working for, is fundamentally a loosely coupled architect. And IBM’s record in delivering software to time and to budget is not something to sniff at.

So what about the 5 thing?
5. Don, like Jon Udell, another new Microsoft hire, is a PHP fan (take that, astronaut accusers…)
Some at IBM will be happy to see Don go (with change comes opportunity). But they surely respect his contributions. Others will miss him.
Me – I hope he blogs occasionally at Microsoft so I can enjoy his bon mots, Silent Don or not. I will finish with a story about Ferguson’s hero, Calvin Coolidge, which indicates why noone should write off the contribution he is likely to make at Microsoft.

Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge was also from rural New England. A newspaper reporter was going to the White House for a state dinner. She bet her editor that she could get Silent Cal to say more than three words to her at dinner. At dinner, she charmingly told the situation to Silent Cal. His response. “You lose.”

disclaimer: IBM is a patron, Microsoft is an occasional client.

update: I expected more from /. The discussion just seems to be the usual IBM sucks stuff. I do agree there is a bit of a disconnect between developers and managers in SWG though: morale is not all it could be.


  1. You might be giving Don a little too much credit. His “useful abstractions” were often more complex to use than the APIs they wrapped. He did have some interestings concepts in the CORBA space, but I don’t think anything was ever released as a mainstream product

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  3. John Hess – i may be giving Don too much credit, as you say, but you dont become chief architect at SWG without some pretty serious technical chops, and some achievements under your belt. I would also argue he leaves IBM in pretty good software health.

  4. James, since you are a fan-boy, you might enjoy this on how Don wants to change the web.

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