The rise and fall of Microsoft’s UX platform – Part 4

 

WPF Time of Death.

Time to call it, December 2nd 2010. Seriously, I have thought about the Silverlight Firestarter event for a few weeks now with a focus on reading how the rest of the world kind of digests the vNext of Silverlight.

Its very clear if you read between the lines that Silverlight is shaping up to replace the WPF workload, and whilst Microsoft will roll out the engineers + shipping routine its pretty much all they aren’t doing before WPF is officially declared dead. Shipping is realistically the one thing they have left and even that’s looking a bit sketchy and cumbersome to watch.

It’s clear with Silverlight5 my old comrades in arms at Redmond have even stopped paying lip service to the x-platform discussion with many of the new features being Windows specific. It’s also clear given Windows Phone 7 failing in the market that now is not the time to give Microsoft’s biggest competitor, Apple momentum or face an internal career firing squad.

WPF has enormous amount of hidden potential, its not marketed but its there. It’s not a bad desktop platform to build against and majority of the issues that I have personally faced with the product are due to basically quality assurance sloppiness. Its still got work-around solutions though, so you in turn forgive it’s sins.

Technically being ok is not enough though, you need to go wide and far in promoting its existence and the return on investment you could potentially yield from the platform. That’s not happening and its also clear that there’s zero paid community evangelism efforts in market right now to uphold this line of thinking.

An example, Where is the WPF fire starter Microsoft? where is any event for that matter that focuses on exploring the bounty of WPF?

Scott Guthrie’s blog is typically a marketing announcement channel given his geek-fame over the years. It’s often we in marketing would joke (sarcasm) “its a good thing we have ScottGu’s blog, as boy we almost needed an official marketing site for Silverlight” – jokes aside, Scott doesn’t talk about WPF at all (check out the below tag cloud)

WPFDead

If i were to audit Microsoft today online and tally up WPF vs. Silverlight, which would win? Argue with the notion that something is dead or isn’t but its definitely clear that WPF hasn’t a bright future as its technology cousin – Silverlight.

Windows Phone 7 – Fail.

I have predicted that I think WP7 is going to not win consumers over but I figured that it would take a couple of years before that is realized. Hearing reports that the device has small units of sale and now some resellers are slashing prices in a hope to stimulate the market to buy, is just downright disappointing.

Its not that the phone is bad, its actually got a load of potential. As whilst I’m a WPF fan at heart, I do still also enjoy working with Silverlight (which has this kind of polarizing effect on me). I just think that the Metro User Interface is simply killing the products potential.

It’s important to call that out, given this is the “face” of the brand. It looks tacky, not well thought out and clearly lacks usability principles needed to navigate a small device. It puts to much emphasis on typography and downplays visual elements to provide structure and grouping to the components within (ie Extraneous Cognitive Load).

The keyboard is to primitive and the keys are narrow. I’ve sat down and looked at the iPhone and Wp7 keyboards and for me the WP7 looks like a prototype version of the concept. The keys don’t necessarily guide you to aim for the middle, where as the iPhone keys are spaced but at the same time the hit area isn’t exactly confined to that space. You in turn are more likely to focus on your target even though the spacing is artificial.

Typography is weak and at times doesn’t even do the basics – in outlook a list of bold means new, unbold means read, yet you still don’t even get this? The menu system is a endless vertical nightmare, as whilst its great to list things its important to also balance out your screen between scrolling and displaying. I find the constant scrolling down to be cumbersome and annoying especially when you’re debugging an Application you’re writing for the phone.

I could list more and I’ll be talking 1:1 with Wp7 Product Management, but i think my point here is made, this phone needs more energy and focus. It has enormous potential ahead of it but for the space price or thereabouts as its biggest 800lb gorilla competitor is simply unrealistic. Lower the price or fix the UI, make a choice as the UX for Microsoft is dying as-is. Which brings me to my next point.

Designers aren’t interested anymore.

If you look at the AppStore market place, majority of the apps are visually engaging and have definitely some design bloodlines in the room. If you look at the Microsoft marketplace its pretty clear that designers aren’t in the room in large quantities.

No designers means wasted technology, wasted technology means some team internally right now is coming up with the “fix” for this (which in their minds is an engineering problem not an engagement problem). The reality is you can throw all the tools you want at this problem as well as the platforms, but unless you truly evangelize in a non-aggressive way to this market. You’re just wasting good money on technology that goes nowhere.

If you were to compare 2007/2008 Evangelism efforts to present, You would see this massive disconnect between strong in your face marketing to the art community to today being a bunch of engineers high fiving one another about how awesome things are.  The reality is, unless you can add some design blood lines to this new UX driven world, your technology hasn’t moved forward, you’re just rebadging old technology with much weirder UI.

Summary

Silverlight 5 is WPF’s new replacement, and I really don’t have that much of a problem with this other than if you’re going to make this the vNext desktop focus, then commit. Don’t do it half-assed, get those 200+ engineers and get your butts into gear and open it up more. If you aren’t going to do this, then take 100+ engineers out of that 200 and get them to focus on doing more with WPF so that the two are more aligned to save cross-targeting related issues – as news flash Redmond, nobody really thinks that far ahead as to which technology is likely to give them an outcome they desire. Choosing Silverlight first then hitting a wall and retreating back to WPF is unrealistic as it means people need to know its faults completely end to end and how these map to their business constraints upfront? sorry no.

Windows Phone 7 needs something. It needs a more structured approach to user experience and it needs to solve WPF and Silverlights initial problem – how to get designers to the cause. Unless Microsoft gets off their butts and re-invest into the designer focused communities, these products are destined to follow the same non-starters as previous incarnations of the Windows Phone operating systems as well as the low saturation levels in the wild of both Silverlight/WPF publically.

“There are certainly some functionality shortfalls, and we are going to work to address them,” – Joe Belfiore  / Microsoft.

Microsoft needs to get back to evangelism 101 and more importantly the notion that just because you ship doesn’t mean you’re committed to the future. Creating features and releasing them isn’t enough, unless you broadcast and win the hearts & minds over all you’re effectively doing is having a bunch of engineers in Redmond high five one another over a release that could be epic if it got momentum – FAIL.

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  • John Hollensworth

    I can only speak for myself BUT i love my HTC HD7 and I personally know 3 other people that have purchased it on a plan. I and the others moved over from iPhone and we came across mainly because we wanted a change from iphone.

    I like the tiles and and i really like how fast this feels, also there are some beautiful apps compared to the iPhone versions (IMDB, Ebay, Netflix, Faebook etc.)

    I’ve fallen in love with zune and the xbox integration, i never had zune before BUT i just put out for the pass and just wow!!

    The email app is a killer feature in my opinion, i’m in there more often than my desktop outlook.

    From my personal opinion i love the metro feel of wp7, ive had it for 1 month only thou.

  • Bob

    Windows Phone 7 is doing just fine. Calling it a failure is a clear sign you know nothing about the mobile market or Microsoft.

    Everyone I show it to loves it. I lost my first Samsung Focus to my wife who refused to give it back after trying it. The second to my sone who fell in love with the Xbox integration. My daughter is eyeing my third and will probably get it. And I’ll buy a fourth. Once you use WP7, you don’t want to go back.

  • Art

    Why does Microsoft see it in their benefit to push developers to Silverlight at the expense of Wpf?

    Silverlight doesn’t seem to have any future other than as the Xaml enabled version of .Net Compact framework for Wp7.

  • Art

    PS- I had an HD7 and took it back less than 24 hours later. The screen is awful and the wifi reception is terrible. Samsung Omnia 7 is the only good Wp7 device that I’ve seen.

    I found the constant scrolling cumbersome as well. And despite Microsoft’s claims, I found that more clicking was required to do things on Wp7 than on Android or iOS. And every app looking so similar was headache inducing.

    Mobile IE7 is tough to live with as well.

  • Chris

    One of the most disheartening things about the posts you put out is the absolute and complete bias involved.

    Let’s start with Windows Phone 7. We are currently in a market oversaturated with smartphones, with BlackBerry, iOS, and Android having a definite lead. That being said, we also live in a world where wireless companies charge absurd fees for breaking contract and cell phones are, believe it or not, pretty expensive when purchased without the contract subsidy. So why didn’t the masses flock to WP7 on day one? Any number of reasons, but the most positive sign for the platform is that every single person who I have talked to who has either tried or demo’d a unit has purchased one. I cannot comment on the issue that Art had with the HD7, but my Samsung Focus has drawn a fair amount of attention anywhere I have it, and quite frankly the UX of this phone against iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, or previous Windows Mobile (all of which I have access to via friends and family) has no contest. The lack of ‘original’ or ‘creative’ applications at this point has more to do with the very recent release of the platform than anything else, specifically that there is a large amount of anti-Microsoft bias from folks who speak nothing but the rhetoric of ‘tech journalists’ or other equally uninformed, outspoken individuals. No offense intended. Give the platform time and it will get the market share it rightly deserves.

    As far as WPF, there is currently a significant amount of development happening around this technology and one of the main reasons why it does no receive the spotlight is because it is a solid platform. Yes, there are quirks, but the same can be said for any development platform. In speaking with several CEOs and a myriad of consultants that I have professional relations with, Silverlight and WPF are equally viable for many projects that they develop, when it comes down to actual implementation it is a decision based purely on the requirements for the project- in other words, if they do not specifically need any of the Silverlight-specific features (for example, they strictly need a Windows desktop application), WPF wins, every time. The technology used should suit the requirements of the project, and quite often WPF is a perfect fit.

    And then Silverlight. Who was it that lampooned the death of this technology not too long ago? Did said author happen to speak with any of the companies that I am familiar with who have *nothing* but Silverlight projects lined up, with almost every single implementation coming in under budget and in less time than anticipated? Could it be that Silverlight is a very viable platform, with a reach and featureset that will always be ahead of the curve to technologies like HTML5, and quite frankly those who are so determined to damn Silverlight are quite often people who have never written a line of Xaml?

    Honestly, you’re a good writer and by looking at your career you have had a pretty successful run, but at this rate you’re barely a step above the tech journalists who will take posts like this as the basis for their regurgitated attempts at ‘journalism’. There are many folks out there who make their livings on these technologies, so while you get a miniscule amount of internet fame for your commentary, be aware of the fact that your opinion is quite contrary to the reality of the situation around these technologies, and while the internet is a system where anyone can write their borderline muckraking theories and thoughts, sometimes it’s a better option to speak on what you *know* as opposed to where your personal bias directs your technological outbursts.

    Cheers.

  • Ahh the old “Its solid and done, therefore needs no more attention” argument 🙂

    Not only is that the last refuge for those who are in denial its actually incorrect. WPF is not done it has a plethora of bugs/issues that have yet to be resolved. It not only has these but it lacks parity with the Silverlight on a number of use cases in the wild where it was once promised it would – i know as i do remember being in the meetings where we pinned our hopes/dreams on it.

    If you’re a current (keyword being current) Silverlight/WPF developer today then you’re world is much like a fishbowl (everything is great and vast) as thats all you know and see. The reality is world-wide the numbers don’t stack in the favor of the technology, in that yeah say 200,000 companies world word are working actively on Silverlight or WPF? that sounds impressive and can look ‘busy’. The reality is it needs significantly more, given for example there are around 6million .NET dev’s in the world today (approx). That means your market oppurtunity is significantly high and accounting for saturation / ubiquity of the said technology its coming in weak and needs more attention.

    Just because Microsoft ship doesn’t mean they commit, having a handful of engineers actively maintaining software isn’t a sign of commitment. It’s simply upholding the obligations of ensuring the integrity of the platform is kept in tact – especially given military contracts etc world wide have a 20 year golden handcuffs attached to ensuring longevity of any Microsoft technology.

    As for using random pockets of the web for sources, sure I can by the argument that this is probably the vocal minority? but to see them uniform in their opinions both online and offline, not sure i’d settle on this being a misguided view and more to the point perception shapes reality in this business. It’s why Microsoft are often obsessed with our they are perceived in the market by tech bloggers and press, as these are what are deemed as “influencer’s” in the market.

  • samuel

    @ Bob:
    bet your dog is getting one too???

  • Amit

    I was thinking abt taking webforms job. But now I see Asp.net MVC on the rise. Do you have any insights about the future of webforms?

  • @ Amit:
    Having dabbled in a bit of the ASP.NET Product Management at MSFT, i’ll take a crack at your quesiton hehe.

    WebForms is in what I call maintenance mode 🙂 ASP.NET MVC is where Microsoft would prefer you start heading towards (well that’s where the bulk of the attention will be focused anyway).

    There’s not much you can do for ASP.NET going forward in the WebForms space other than clean up the code it outputs and make adjustments (ie recently jQUERY etc).

    The strategy going forward is that if you want rapid development (ie don’t care just get it done) WebForms + Drag n Drop + Ship works. If you want pixel precision (I care about the code that is spat out of WebForms) then MVC is your way forward.

  • Fallon

    Windows Phone, despite some of the missing features, is a really nice phone.

    However, if you’ve seen the ads on TV, they seem to assume that people know what the phone can do. I’ve talked to the technology challenged in my family, and most of the have Android phones.

    It’s not like they really care, but they were loving the multitouch finger sizing of photos. Showing me that feature like it was something new and great.

    They’ve never seen an iPhone, but they saw the commercials of the Android, BTW, they didn’t even know it was Android, the only knew the EVO name.

    If you ask them about the Windows Phone, they have seen the ads, but they’ve never seen them show the features they’re interested in.

    For some reason, the Windows phone commercials talk about everything else, but what the phone does day to day.

    The best Windows Phone commercial was the one that showed you can do XBox Live. Finally something different, lol.

  • Mark

    I might be wrong but it seems that the Windows teams (among others) are not crazy about .NET.

    Scott, do you think these teams will consider using .NET on a large scale in the near future? Or will they continue to invest in modern native code ?