It looks bad, I mean it really just looks bad. The President of Server & Tools in PDC just came out and pretty much implied that the race between HTML5 vs. Silverlight internally is over. The winner by way of Presidential nominee is HTML5.
It's easy to assume that maybe Mary Jo got it wrong, that maybe she took some journalistic spin to the overall story and tricked BobMu into saying things he didn't want to (it's what Journalists tend to do sometimes). Think again, Mary Jo doesn't play that game and its exactly why she gets these types of interviews in Microsoft, so why start now?
It's also easy to assume that maybe BobMu is just some empty jar head executive who says a few buzz words here and there? someone who typically isn't informed of the inner workings of one out of many products that fall within his portfolio? sorry, that's not true either. Each quarter when I was in the team, we'd have what we call "RTB's" - Reviews of the Business. It's that point in time where the team would put together a PowerPoint deck that covered everything from roadmaps through to metrics associated with the said product. BobMu was not only informed, he'd make decisions that we'd all react to post such meeting. He was informed and unless he was heavily medicated, he meant what he said.
What's the story then?
It's not like I didn't warn all about this turn of events a few weeks ago, (read part one of this post). The story isn't whether Silverlight is or isn't dead. I don't think Microsoft could even kill off Silverlight to make way for HTML5 just yet (HTML5 is simply still a science project in the market). I think what we are really seeing is a company as large as Microsoft in chaos.
You've got a President doing PR 101 mistakes, You've got a marketing team that double down on a single product instead of their entire UX Platform portfolio, you've got the Internet Explorer team writing their own messaging that confuses the masses against existing messaging. You've got an IE9 demo at PDC that smells, tastes and looks like a previous one in MIX07 only without the word Silverlight in it? You've got Silverlight not making an appearance at PDC which isn't a bad thing given MIX is really the party for Silverlight, but given market conditions - YOU SHOW UP.
Bottom line is this, the entire Server & Tools business within Microsoft is in dire need of marketing reform. The strategy coming out of Redmond is chaotic at best, the design and develop discussion has obviously changed within the belly of the beast. The problem is, they've kind of forgotten to inform the masses of this and we're only just starting to see glimpses of the inner truth now - and its frightening the kids especially when its Halloween time!
I did want to dedicate this post to how Microsoft has shut down the entire "designer engagement" strategy across all divisions, but clearly this is simply a symptom of what we're now seeing unfold online.
Microsoft is by all outward appearance shutting down its vision of the circa 2007 UX Platform, it's now winding it back to secondary citizen in favor of the new shiny object, HTML5?
I for one reject our new HTML5 overlords.
The problem with moving Silverlight & WPF back to the end of the visibility line, is that nobody really has sat down and asked existing rich client developers what they think of this new vision? it's a forced entry into the market mixed with a whole bunch of messaging from the Internet Explorer team that's labeled "Trust us, we have this covered" seal of quality assurance.
The one team in which has breed so much distrust in Microsoft. It's probably the biggest cancer within Microsoft and is the main reason why the Consent Decree exists.
It's one thing to get onto a soap box and declare a true x-platform strategy like HTML5 the future? it's one thing to say "open standards or bust" as being the mission statement of the world's future software ecosystem.
Someone just point out where the strategy exists for moving people both willingly and unwillingly across the desktop/plug-in divide over to this new world, because if Microsoft is running this show, we're all basically f#$%ked - I say this as right now, they couldn't organize a virgin in a brothel to get laid (as they would be too busy fighting over which girl was the prettiest).
Silverlight vs WPF vs HTML5?
Pete Brown last week released a blog post around the future of WPF which talked about successes and hints at the future of the platform. Pete did something extremely hard in making this post come together, he went internally and asked a simple question "Where is this bus heading?" and that's just before PDC2010 as well - big hat goes off to Pete for pulling this together, as many have tried and failed that little mission.
It's still not enough though! - now before you grab your pitchforks and declare me a jaded hateful ex-WPF/Silverlight team member, hear me out.
The reason I say it's not enough is that we just heard 200+ engineers are working on Silverlight/WPF and looking at the new additions to WPF, i can't but help wonder how thinly the team are spread. There is a lot of surface area to cover inside WPF, the biggest of which is around performance and getting line of business grade features onto the table. The WPF team are reacting to the data they have and unless there is radical changes since October last year in the way they get this data, it's still a ways off (the product usage data etc inside Microsoft is simply disconnected and a mess, features are skewed between what looks fun vs politics etc).
It's not enough, there needs to be a consolidated marketing strategy around the product(s), there needs to be an Evangelism rhythm that maps out how this drum beat gets played out worldwide, i.e. its one thing to announce how you intend to build something - its entirely another to actually get that message to every developer you possibly can.
It also needs to connect back to Silverlight. It needs to fit in with how developers can navigate the ye olde "It Depends" response from Microsoft. The guidance Pete used was old, I know as it was something we crafted back in July last year - "Use Silverlight until you hit a wall, then go WPF" was pretty much the summary we came up with (even then I remember thinking, that's just bullshit but what else can we say? WPF is dead? :D)
WPF also needs to connect back into HTML5? so how does the new IE9 overlords and WPF play in the same sandpit together? at what point do you separate the two? Windows 8 team have ideas on this, but I'm pretty much betting that the HTML5 story will get more air play in that pool of brilliance.
Lots has been said in the past month, bottom line is this. The technology is currently a big software buffet, we have loads of options and different portions on the table to pick from. We need informative views more so than ever now, given the emerging mobility vs. desktop discussion and more importantly how all these pieces fit together.
Microsoft lacks the marketing muscle right now to answer these questions, they simply just don't have the maturity needed to lead this vision forward. You've got pretty much majority of the executive branch abandoning ship and the competitors they used to just sweep the legs out from under are basically starting to get their act together.
Adobe for one has its act together finally, I've watched this company for years fumble around in the dark around this entire discussion. At MAX 2010, they not only connected it together but they did so in a way that is slow, simple and has the appearance of saturation + ubiquity.
Microsoft's shows up and starts waving its hands in the air about Internet Explorer 9, Azure and how Silverlight is now winding down - not to mention zero WPF discussion (except for Rob Relyea - owner of WPF Team - picking up the Developer Platform & Evangelism divisions dropped ball and doing a PDC session on WPF).
Bob Muglia needs to really take a hard look at his organization tree and start putting together a plan of reform. This isn't a technology problem anymore, it's a marketing one pure and simple.
As for Silverlight Marketing Team getting ahead of the PDC2010 fall out? – “Out of Office” summarizes it all.