The rise and fall of Microsoft’s UX platform – Part 1

I am a little shocked at how fast my tweets spread across the interweb this week regarding my thoughts on HTML5, Silverlight and WPF. I’m not shocked by how fast people picked it up, or the fact that a well-respected journalist like Tim Anderson was able to take these tweets and built out quite a comprehensive story around it that actually fitted to the context of my tweets – I love Tim’s work, as he is one of the few journalist online that actually has integrity.

What shocked me is how arrogant Microsoft staff was to the reaction or the sense of false belief that this was all some secret that everyone outside of Microsoft wasn’t privy to? Again, take a few tweets piece them together and a journalist was able to weave these threads into a pretty informed article or two around it all. I know Mary Jo from ZDNet has similar notes and so on.

Taking a step back understand why the information is just sitting there waiting for a spark or two to ignite it and it has to do with a number of reasons but all center around one theme – internal culture.

Inside Microsoft headquarters most will agree that the company is a very top-down driven organizations in that executives make micro level decisions on behalf of people who were hired to make these level of decisions simply because it’s a combination of politics, trust or what I commonly call “Geek Fame” (being seen to being the one in the know / seat of power). It’s a flawed system and as a result generates a lot of frustration on a variety levels to the point where gossip occurs I think in a more widespread fashion as having knowledge is power.

I draw your attention to this culture and others have as well countless amounts of times, simply to highlight at how well known the HTML5 is the future is within the company – so for Microsoft to establish a “Let’s interview and interrogate all who knew Scott that we know about” is definitely a fool’s errand and classic mistake made.

Why did I do it?

Having said all of this, here is the reason why I said the things I said. It wasn’t about grinding an axe with an executive or ex-manager here and there; it wasn’t about getting a sense of self-inflated power / geek fame it was purely because I felt this conversation needed to be had more broadly and more openly beyond internal politics within the company.

The future of .NET is an important issue that we should all have say in, and I make of point of stating why – Up until now, .NET has been a mixed bag of weird decisions driven either by Scott Guthrie’s org down or via some random fiscally focused team that wants to solve some random metric that in the end has no real sense of purpose other than to look like it’s solving a problem and less solving one.

I say this as my professional career within Microsoft has been both product management and street level evangelism and I see massive disconnects daily between what people inside corp believe to be true and what is actually occurring at the street / cubicle level – massive disconnects. I’m not filled with a sense of arrogant belief that I’m the chosen one to bring about this connection; I’ve tried and failed many times at this problem myself. I am however someone who is indifferent to pissing Microsoft off by exposing this upcoming flawed approach to technology futures to the wider community for further discussion. I’m in a position of knowledge and I could have used this to my own personal advantage. I didn’t, instead of just tipped what I knew onto twitter along with some silent blessings from folks within Microsoft – which came with a cautionary “If you do this, it will help but you will be alone and they’ll attack you from all sides once it happens”.

What did I say?

Everything I’ve said isn’t a massive shock to the core of most out there, in that its pretty well known and established that the Windows Team(s) aren’t a fan of managed code in the wild and as a result there has always been this kind of gang / faction warfare between Developer Division and the Windows Organization. As the reality is, Windows is a titan inside Microsoft given it’s the flagship money earner and as a result they kind of a have this sense of ruling power over many other teams – rainbows and all things “let’s work in harmony” PR aside, deep down that’s basically it in a nutshell.

Silverlight and WPF are something in which a lot of teams internally just aren’t fans of and has a variety of reasons attached but the main one that used to piss the Window’s teams off was that the notion that the CLR should be cross-platform is in many ways an attack point on Windows adoption – furthermore it’s pretty well known that Bill Gates himself allegedly said in a meeting regarding Silverlight as being “the fuckyou windows product” (I wasn’t in that meeting myself, but it’s a story I’ve heard told many times).

The skirmishes between these two org tree’s is pretty common and I’ve seen some of the effects first hand myself, overall though what I am seeing today is that WPF has lost the support it could have had from the start in favor of Silverlight. This in turn has put Silverlight out in front as the preferred UX option in the .NET stack but the problem with Silverlight is that it has a limited amount of features that most dev’s want and furthermore it’s still being plagued with issues around ubiquity (random stats announcements aside, it’s having trouble getting to the magic 70%).

WPF is dead

WPF however has more ubiquity than Silverlight today, it’s got approx. 70%+ ubiquity in Windows based machines and furthermore it’s gotten deeper traction when it comes to Independent Software Vendors (ISV’s) so it presents quite a complex problem in around investment and it’s overall future.

On one hand, it’s pretty widely known within the company that WPF has been ear marked for death for quite some time and had it not had such prolific ubiquity or ISV’s that build software used by many on it (Autodesk 3DSMAX, Visual Studio, Expression etc) it would have been taken out back and shot long ago. It simply is too hard to kill, so the only way Microsoft to date knows how is to either spend majority of its focus on convincing developers that Silverlight is the better option and/or reduce the noise around WPF altogether hoping that others will pick up on the subtle tones that it’s better you don’t adopt but under the Smokey hazed veil of the a-typical response “It depends”.

WPF has no investment, it’s kept together by a skeleton crew and its evangelism / community efforts have little to no funding attached to it. It’s dead, the question now is how is the corpse going to be buried and no amount of cheer leading will change that outcome in the near future.

HTML5 is the future.

Given Silverlight is the preferred platform going forward next comes the discussion around how the web applications of today can be transformed into desktop applications of tomorrow. Rich Internet Applications is a fad, but it does present an interesting question around the role an operating system plays in both start-ups and enterprises of tomorrow – especially given the cloud is being positioned in the market as being the software of tomorrow’s future.

Plug-ins though haven’t had a great run in the past few years, given Apple’s recent boycott it simply presented an ideal opportunity for the Windows team to come out from within their respective development caves to announce that maybe, just maybe they can regain some lost footing in the application development space by meeting HTML5 half-way.

What if, you could take JavaScript and make it faster and easier to develop against whilst at the same time leveraging a basic UX language like HTML5/CSS and in turn create desktop applications? It can be done and if you were to bake in specific API’s within Internet Explorer itself, it can also provide you capabilities to ensure that Windows is a chosen platform of the future especially given it has proven time and time again that it can resell itself in rapid succession (ie: see Windows 7 sales).

You get ubiquity, you get millions more developers beyond your 6million+ saturation levels and lastly you can potentially generate much easier sales beyond what you have today around tooling.

It sounds really good on paper but it’s filled with flaws, irresponsibility and had this been strategic play vs. tactical it could be great. The reality is, Microsoft has a limited vision when it comes to big bets and rarely does it go beyond 1 or 2 fiscal years.

I’m not being bitter or venom filled in my response here, I’m just highlighting what others have said and have seen (including myself) in around where this is all heading.

If you have ever been inside Microsoft planning meetings for products, you will notice a common thread and that is no real strategy is in place its very tactical most of the time – agility is good, but where are you heading tomorrow is the question that often gets ignored or left unanswered.

Knowing this, knowing the culture and behavior models within the company I simply look at this overall discussion and simply feel the need to speak up and say “hey, this sux, because it will impact a generation of developers down the road and you are very dangerous now Microsoft, you really need to slow down a bit and think for a change”.

HTML5 and Silverlight can’t co-exist within the company and no matter how many blog posts on “It depends” you produce, customers want answers that are direct and to the point – even if they don’t agree with you, but knowing where you stand is important.

I’m simply about highlighting the disconnect here and if the Windows 8 / IE teams of today think that Silverlight / WPF is something they can deprecate because they dislike people in DevDiv or its current model then think again, as this is one of those rare moments in time where you have a hung jury in terms of which of the two is really the best bet.


Microsoft executives can call for heads on who leaked what all they like, they won’t get an accurate answer to these questions here as in the end everybody knows about the on goings of Windows 8 teams future plans, the reason being is the staff below the executives are frustrated and in turn staff are looking for ways to express this frustration beyond internal discussion lists.

After posting my tweets, I’ve gotten more inside information that I’ve ever gotten from staff anonymously of course.

If Microsoft truly wants to beat their competitors and raise an army of happy developers across the globe, they need to stop celebrating mediocrity within, reduce the churn of having top-down politics and lastly stick behind a product through the good and bad times whilst also keeping their eye on the ball beyond 1x fiscal year.

Evangelism isn’t working as it once used to, the community/customers are confused daily in around what’s new inside Microsoft and all they really want from the company is some straight answers that don’t involve the words “It Depends”.

This in turn comes back to the various incentive programs within Microsoft as once you have a large number of over-achievers / smart people being given skewed metrics they in turn game the system for either career power or money? This is how the machine works internally but externally its exactly why you have programs that only work a fiscal year and lastly why there is such a vast amount of rapid succession in product releases that really don’t appear to solve problems? If anything in turn create more.

The question I put to the VP/CVP’s within the company is this – Why do you think my tweets got such large amount of attention? Is because customers are still confused or is it a case of them searching for answers that aren’t as obvious. Rather than look for folks to punish internally for my tweets you should really take stock of why it occurred, how it occurred and what’s going to happen next.

Times up Microsoft, you really need to think long and hard about what it is you’re doing for the future of .NET that is beyond a fiscal year or tactical playbook. Really do a long hard review of the business and if Microsoft thinks its marketing consists of a blog post on Scott Guthrie’s blog? Then there is a problem beyond what some ex-employee once said on twitter.

I’m not a disgruntled employee, I'm just a confused and frustrated customer who has high hopes for the company’s future.

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  • BlueCollarCritic

    Wow. What an article. Very much looking forward to PART2.

    I previously worked for a company who made too many decissions based on internal politics then what is best for the customer and the only reason the company remained sucessful is that they offer the best option in their market.

    The reality is that you don’t have to provide a great or even good solution to dominate your makret, you just need to be better then the competition and they are.

  • pingpong

    @Robert H: there are many adjectives which could be used to describe WPF, but ‘sleek’, ‘fast’ and ‘responsive’ are certainly not among them.

  • Keoz

    haha is funny how such a fool person gets this much attention, how old is he? who pays him to say such foolishness? does he actually have got his hands dirty on the technologies he talks about? or is one of those chairmans of a company who has no developer perspective at all and forgets to get dirty sometimes
    Well what can you say about someone who don’t put his name in an “article” anyway

  • leo

    @ Robert H:
    I could not agreen more

  • Bill S

    ***This article lost me @ MS only plans a year or 2 ahead. Considering i recall videos from 5 years ago when they announced their SAAS vision and now i see it delivered Azure,Hotmail,Office LIve, Sharepoint live,Spaces,SkyDrive,XBox Live, soon MS TV + kinect,

    so ill retitle the article for fun


    ***no one uses browsers anymore
    ***browser went from being only way to access internet/web apps to the last choice
    ** on my iphone/win mobile/PC i can check my favorite web sites, check my bank balance, update my social status (not very exciting) get the news and weather without EVER opening up a browser

    HTML has a very serious limitation it requesires a browser to run. browser is the plugin (not the other way around) and any application that requires a browser to run is an antiquated idea at best. Why would i want to write an application that actually requires you to have a web browser on your computer to access it.

  • axyalms

    if microsoft wants to be in the top it must be doing stuff in a standar way, no 1 in the enterprise uses silverlight, its inly for some cute apps on teh web that no enterprise uses them, and of course not everything would be cloud bases, not all enterprises have enough programmers or resources to move to RIA applications, they will use old fashioned interfaces, and nothing could do about them, and theres always the question if. if you really need a vissauly RIA aplication ? of course not, enterprises just want applications that works not RIA Applications, those are for fancy enterprises thata wanna look modern, besides.. its time for microsoft to addopt open standars and promote them we are in a global environment not just a few closed source apps that interacts only with another closed source and non – standart apps, this is the internet and microsoft has to show somme support to open source community like, some big-companies does, and making standarts we dont like more copys of java, flash and other stuff that no1 wants to use!

  • Old Guys Rule

    Your view is disgruntled. You are right and guess what? It was the same in the 80s. Thats why the best project managers and developers left to go indie. Microsoft makes Windows. if you want to make shoes, they aren’t going to drop everything and come to you.

    Its not complicated. Welcome to the machine, shut up hang on and do what you are told. Your opinions and suggestions are not wanted except when you draw inside the lines and make your boss look good. Oh by the way we’re laying everyone off who won’t take an 80% pay cut.

    It should turn your stomach that Eric Schmidt has Oh,bama’s ear; Schmidt is as disconnected as the brass crushing your hopes, dreams and aspirations. Sucks, huh? Next time don’t vote with the sheople.

    I suppose Paraguay is your best bet regarding the impending nukular fallout. Thanks to the Nazis & the Vatican, no extradition either.

    Learn to duck.

  • Whoa, why doesn’t this story have anything about HTML5 in it? That should play heavily in the future one would think.

  • Peter

    Why is everyone all over the Visual Studio 2010 is “fully” made in WPF. The very first beta had already lots of WinFormsHost stuff and it was very slow. Then they made it faster and you know what, it even contained more WinFormsHost stuff. The editor, solution explorer, all are just old winforms hosted in WPF. They didn’t do that without reason.

  • Nick Polyak

    HTML and JavaScript are not very good for programming large business applications. (Never heard of one created purely in them). HTML/JavaScript Web sites usually have tons of back end functionality (mis-)used also to support the front end operations just because of the deficiencies of those languages. So I do think that complex business apps will be created in Silverlight/WPF.

  • goce wrote:

    Just a thought: Has anyone considered that maybe the whole Windows as OS is… well not dead, but on it’s way down?

    Apple fanboy ? mr. goce 😉

  • Nick Polyak

    I do not quite understand is my comment so controversial that it cannot pass the moderation process?

  • Nick Polyak

    I read your comment on June 10th about microsprinting. Sounds very sane. You even recommend using MVVM.
    What happened between now and then?
    How will someone use MVVM in HTML + JavaScript?

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  • Meni

    Silverlight fans: watch this from the IE9 launch keynote If this doesn’t convince you the end is near, i don’t know what will.

    Summery: the Bing team is bullish on HTML5. Oh, and one of silverlight shining techs, the picture zooming thing, can be done with HTML (Not even 5). One quote from that demo: i had to right-click to show him there are no plugins. SL isn’t mentioned once.

    I understand there are different teams at MSFT with different agendas.

    SL Fanboys: please stop pushing a closed (yes, as of now, it’s closed and patented) technology only because you learned it. Your customers will thank you, and so will I 😉

    Web dev is hard, no way around it. There is a lot to learn, so start today 🙂

    me? just a fanboii of open-standards

  • bob

    @ Meni:

    HTML5 is great but it’s

    a) unfinished
    b) uncertain which features will run in which browser
    c) uncertain how well features will run in which browser

    so it’s easy for Apple and Microsoft to say “we love HTML5 but if you want to build a *REAL* application for iPhone, use this other SDK”.

    Does any of these companies really want you to write your app in HTML5 and then run it on Windows/OSX/WP7/iOS/Android/Linux?

    That is – do they *REALLY* want to kill the cash cow that powers their business?


  • If I’m supposed to develop enterprise apps with HTML5 and JavaScript in the future then I’ll rather change the profession 🙂

    No one can convince me that HTML5/JavaScript is better solution for building enterprise business apps than Silverlight, and no one can convince me that HTML5/JavaScript can become alternative to WPF in desktop computing. But also no one can convince me that I would be better using one of these two technologies to build CMS or DMS instead using HTML5/JavaScript either.

    There is simply no magic technology that will solve all problems and cover all scenarios. When they say “It depends” it’s because it really does depend on what problem you are trying to solve.

    WPF and HTML5 are two end points on the scale between richness and reach with Silverlight in the middle, and they said it many times.

    You wanted a moment of fame – you got it, but IMO this is only a speculation.

  • Meni

    Bob, “That is – do they *REALLY* want to kill the cash cow that powers their business?”, so basically you think MSFT and Apple would not let open standards get too capable? I kinda buy that.

    What’s Google’s interest? To push Android? Chrome? Well, I believe they want the status quo to continue. Status quo meaning relatively open web NOT tied to a single company (ahm, Facebook, ahm). That is day and night from Microsoft. Call me naive, but i really buy Google’s do no evil.

  • Meni

    Bob, “That is – do they *REALLY* want to kill the cash cow that powers their business?”, so basically you think MSFT and Apple would not let open standards get too capable? I kinda buy that.

    What’s Google’s interest? To push Android? Chrome? Well, I believe they want the status quo to continue. Status quo meaning relatively open web NOT tied to a single company (ahm, Facebook, ahm). That is day and night from Microsoft. Call me naive, but i really buy Google’s do no evil.

  • Vizcayno

    I believe that Microsoft has the resources and intelligence to dramatically raise the level of abstraction in the development of computer systems. People flee complicated things and that makes them lose their time. They are increasingly dependent on the use of images because an image speaks for thousands of words.
    Do you imagine someone with little training that is capable of taking previously agreed drawings representing specific action or to an object that can be understood and performed by a computer? you that can establish rules by hand/type writing on a screen and provide the results you want. Imagine that you do not have to worry about the security of networks, data provider, the complicated processing forms, Microsoft and its powerful base software/best practices can control that, forget concepts/products such as WPF, WCF, NoSQL, RIA, etc. Do not let the people to care about that.
    Previously agreed drawings may make reference to a type of input data (database, xml, text, files typing by screen, mobile device, mixed input, web page, screen RIA, WPF, etc) and processes are the hard codes saved within a table settings/configurations (referencing existing Web Services, etc) business rules and on the outputs that are similar to those shown in the entry workflow. Millions of people saying computers what to do and anything that requires expertise and which is requested by these millions of people is left in the hands of expert systems. Let billions of people to be creative and to outwit the wall if necessary, let billions to learn along the way and help evolve computer science at higher levels.
    I have never seen until now an application that “almost playing and naturally” help make programs to people. And now thanks to the boom of social networks, many people have already much culture for computing. In addition, people could indistinctly make programs using from their desktop to their mobile devices.
    Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, InfoPath.exe, ProgrammingPlayer, …

  • alpinismo

    I don’t know about all the HTML5 speculation in this article, but from my experience within MS, WPF is dead. Silverlight is no longer a subset of WPF, even if it started out that way. They’ve become increasingly divergent. It’s quite telling that Windows Phone 7 apps are written in Silverlight instead if WPF. Silverlight has better performance due to the fact that it’s optimised as a plugin running on limited resources (aka web browser). WPF is a slow as molasses resource hog.

    Anyone who disagrees with this article regarding Silverlight and WPF either do not use those products, or are drinking the Kool-Aid. 

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  • @ Meni:
    Google’s interests don’t really lie in the “front end”. They have build their revenue based on the SAAS model that feeds their advertising and metrics business.

    From their point of view, a “standard” front end extends their reach since it lowers the barrier of entry for everyone who chooses to go that way.

    But with Flash being on Froyo and Andy Rubin (Android inventor and Google VP) stating that Silverlight would be welcome on the Android platform, I think they really don’t care HOW the data gets to them. Just as long as it does.

  • I disagree. WPF has an amazing future. seek has greater than a hundred jobs for wpf right now. Like you said awesome products are being made with wpf everyday. .NET 4 added amazing performance enhancements to wpf. The certifications offered by Microsoft for VS2010 make it clear that WPF has a bright future.

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  • Well said. And yes, it is strange that once you start to comment on something that has truth behind it the anon tippers from within MS come knocking at your door, thats been my experience as well. As far as I see it, with mobile procs hitting dual/quad core over the next year or two it wont be a problem to put Silverlight in a mobile browser, HTML5 may be on just as equal footing moving forward.

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  • pootow

    Can you imagine <script src="util.dll" type="dotNETAssembly/Application"></script>? Take a look at
    WPF is dead, Will HTML5+JS be the future of Desktop? What about .NET? Web browser War II?

  • Good riddance to proprietary garbage like WPF and Silverlight. Flash is going the same way also.

    HTML5 is the smart choice. Works on any platform, OS and browser, not just retarded Winblows.

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  • DRead

    Bill S: “on my iphone/win mobile/PC i can check my favorite web sites, check my bank balance, update my social status (not very exciting) get the news and weather without EVER opening up a browser”
    …in the BROWSER on your phone.

    But that is beside the point. This article is about the future of applications running on Windows (whatever Windows becomes) and the development tools Microsoft will provide to create and run those applications wasn’t it? It wasn’t really about hardware (which still needs an OS). Did I miss something?

  • Demigrog

    OK, WPF is dead. Now what? Microsoft has not provided an alternative for desktop apps. The new XAML stack is only useable in Metro and on Win8, neither of which is appropriate for my projects. Silverlight 5 is still not as powerful as WPF and cannot be hosted in WinForms or WPF (other than in a nested browser, yuck), making it difficult to migrate large applications over time. A complete re-write in Silverlight OR Metro would cost tens of millions for my project. I love WPF, but its performance is simply bad, especially compared to the Metro XAML stack. WPF 4.5 at least fixes the airspace issue, and with that I can mix in Direct2D for fast immediate mode rendering. Got to convince management to drop XP support to get that, of course.

    So, it is WPF 4.0 for the foreseeable future, with hopes of moving to WPF 4.5 and Direct2D for performance critical rendering.

    I asked about the possibility of using the WinRT XAML engine from desktop apps in the future, and got lots of sympathy from Microsoft developers but not much hope. Frustrating, as if they had done that I’d be deliriously happy. So close!

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  • Well, it’s 2013 and WPF is doing fine. I spoke with a Microsoft developer at the Xamarin Evolve conference 2013 in Austin, TX. I asked him about Microsoft’s ambiguity regarding WPF. He told me that WPF was not dying or going away. He told me that Microsoft advertised HTML5/JS and XAML/C# + WinRT because it was relevant to the release of Windows 8. IMO you can still find jobs in COBOL and Visual Basic 6. WPF will live as long as we want to use it.

  • masher

    Its 2014 and looking back at who was right. You sir were correct. Perhaps more correct than you realized. Once Microsoft abandoned the .Net faithful we looked around and realized there were all sorts of places to go. And so we went. Javascript does run everything now and it runs best on Ubuntu, Chrome OS, OSX, and iOS.

  • Marvin Varela

    Update: It is 2016 and WPF is doing fine. Additionally, XAML+C# in WinRT is also growing and evolving. I guess technologies do not get killed by anything, they die only when people stop using them.

  • Saying WPF is the same as XAML/C# in WinRT is like saying Xamarin is the same as Silverlight.

  • Marvin Varela

    Nobody said they are the same. But from a developer’s perspective, if you know WPF, you already know 80% of the XAML/C# API in WinRT. That is what everyone overlooked at the time of the WinRT release. Everybody focused on the mention of HTML5, ignoring that XAML and C# were still the main way to create applications for the Windows Store; and WPF and Silverlight developers already knew most of what was needed in order to create those apps.

  • Marvin Varela

    Now that WinRT XAML apps can run in a window on the desktop, would that have solved your problem? I know it is probably too late for you since the comment is 4 years old, but I am curious.

  • That same line “if you know it you’ll know the rest” was conjured in a room by us years ago, so its always interesting to see it parroted back to me.

    You can’t take your actual skills beyond the cubicle, and that’s the underlying point that gets lost with that line. Sure the dev can re-use his/her skills to a point (not so much with Xamarin, as you know its not actual same same for parity). If you only target Windows and only windows but to be clear, pre-Windows 8 then WPF plays a role in your tech discussion.

    Now if you want to target Windows 8 and above you have two choices, do you double down on WPF or do you go the new UI namespace …given there’s no real “bridge” between the two you then have to rely on some science experiment named PCL to hopefully buy you some tech mess back?

    Either way you’re likely in a room talking about your app’s actual compatibility in the windows spectrum …