Understanding “Why would Microsoft do that?”


There is a consistent theme that I often see when I have been invited into conversation(s) regarding Windows 8 and the whole HTML5 saga. The main undercurrent is "Why would they do that?" and it is a perfectly valid question that often gets lost in the whole opinion / news pieces that are floating around.

Understand the metrics first.

Inside Microsoft you are really goaled around a metric that involves the words "market share" in that somewhere along those lines your entire reason for drawing a pay cheque distills down to that. You have to help Microsoft grow its market share across all battlefields and there are multiple battlefields in play.

Battles are what are happening in today's software industry. It is quite competitive and cutthroat in many places and often mercy is for the weak.  Companies on both sides often play by the rules governing ethics but often more so than ever it is not the case under the covers or behind closed doors. There are often many tactics at work that the audience(s) and customer(s) do not always see.

For instance, when Silverlight/Expression was heating up in the early days the battle between Adobe and Microsoft was quite intense (I myself was caught up in it quit easily). You'd have situations where Adobe would threaten to shut down a conference if Microsoft Staff showed or you'd have Adobe specifically target Microsoft showcase wins the next year and spend large amounts of $$ to win the customers back to create the perception that these customers had buyer's remorse.

Apple, Google, IBM and Oracle all suffer from the same somewhat software industry driven guerrilla warfare style tactics. It is a competitive sport and staff within get quite emotional and aggressive at times about it - like a thunder dome of super geeks.

Tactical approaches and competitive aggression is what fuels Microsoft often. It has also to answer the question you have around "Why would they do that" simply put; it is about building an army primarily.

Understand the Tactical Programs

You have programs in play like BizSpark - an idea to give the software away for free in order to seed start-ups into adopting the Microsoft technology stack. It is the old heroin addiction formula at work, in that the first hits free but the second and third will cost you. Ensure an addiction takes place then the monetization will follow.

HTML5 + Windows 8 are no different. The prospect of enticing never before heard of developer hordes - also known as the Alternatives to .NET development into adopting Windows 8 platform(s) via the HTML5/JavaScript route is worth the risk to Microsoft.  It is about socketing these peeps in early, get them acclimatized to the Microsoft technology stack and from there you can bleed the monetization models outwards into channels that you can declare internal victory over.

Understand the Compete motions

The thing though is this playbook or this strategy is in no way different to the days when .NET was first created and it is again a rinse/repeat formula being played out.

The motivation is growth around developer share (that is an obvious objective around winning) the other objectives are also around competing head to head with Google & Apple. Google is the main focus though, this company is taking bodies from Microsoft staff lines often and if you were to look at the past two years around who's left the .NET development teams as well as the Internet Explorer teams for Google it's almost alarming.

Google don't need to compete with Microsoft, they just need to re-hire their staff and I often giggle about this as I once wrote an internal memo regarding Adobe compete whereby I said "We should make a $300k a year offer to their entire evangelism staff to work for us, we say here's $300k now go sit in the park and enjoy life for the next 2 years as it would be cheaper than what we spending on compete for Adobe".

Google are kind of doing that in many ways.

Understanding the gullibility.

Google are also provoking Microsoft into adopting their tactics and more importantly forcing the companies hand into moving Internet Explorer closer towards a HTML5 Future(s) than before. For instance they punk'd Microsoft into fixing the JavaScript engine within Internet Explorer because they had the company convinced that this was their biggest fear around how Microsoft could beat Google. Microsoft took the bait and the funny part is the person who worked on that engine is now working at Google today.

Google played Microsoft and it is this small random pocket of competitive insights that often go unnoticed in the industry. These small little gems of "hah that was funny" all add up to the situation we see before us today around why Windows 8 looks and is likely to act in the way it is.

There is no real strategy here, just tactical competitive reactions played out that do not often give pause to the massive impacts it places on the hordes of developers who wear the Microsoft logo on their blogs / resumes etc. with pride.

Microsoft is doing a terrible job at corporate communication(s) and the most frustrating part of all is that it is the actual fans of the brand that are noticing the most.

That is probably a small glimpse at how a competitive situation can motive product lines into making snap decisions the way they have been in the past five years.  The reality is you the customer out there who use the technology actually play somewhat a smaller role than you do think around feature selection and roadmaps for product designs.

It's often a competitive influence that drives the most decisions and sure compete leads to innovation right and that's something we should all embrace - except if the tax is instability.


For a deeper insight into this topic around “Why” Listen to a podcast I did list week titled “Windows 8 Round Table” via TalkingShop DownUnder.


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  • reymond

    This is re-post of what wrote on SilverLight.Net forum about the similar subject:


    I bet Google must be laughing their head off watching Microsoft acting like the dysfunctional Simpsons family. They know all too well HTML5 is not ready giving their run-away success in Android/Java in contrast with them having little to show for in the HTML5/JS front despite all the talking for several years.

    There are two ways to beat your opponent in the business world:
    A Make better products than your opponent.
    B If A fails then fool your opponents into making bad products.

    If you are Google what would you do? While you have failed to challenge Windows/Office with the H5-honed ChromeOS/GoogleDocs, you did throw Microsoft off-balance and got them 2nd-guessing their own platform.

    It’s a nice setup to execute plan B. Here’s how: Keep beating the HTML5 drum to mislead Microsoft deeper onto the bridge to nowhere HTML5 platform. Lure disheartened SL/WPF/.Net folks to Android world, “Look Java and C# are almost the same so there’s not much transition pain, and we are serious about supporting Android. We will not back-stab you guys like Microsoft just did.

    The benefits are: All the resources Microsoft pouring into HTML5/JS are the ones unavailable to improve their existing technologies (such as WPF/SL). If Microsoft’s HTML5 effort fails as miserably as ChromeOS/GoogleDocs then Google wins. If miraculously Microsoft succeeds in HTML5 then Google still wins b/c Goolge is HTML5 and HTML5 is Google. Any progress Microsoft makes in H5 benefits Google automatically. Meanwhile Google could open their arm to the disgusted .Net/SL/WPF pros that have no interest in H5/JS at all. These guys could come on board of Android to improve it and expand the mind shares.

    It’s win-win-win-win for Google. If I’m Eric Schmidt I’d be celebrating now.

  • Eduardo

    I think that the why behind killing WPF is that new PCs are getting *less* powerful, and they can’t rely on hardware to make WPF perform well. And they have selected HTML because they can gain thousands of devs that have departed to the web world.

    Details in this blog post http://divisionsoftware.com/post/6235530955/why-microsoft-dropped-wpf-and-picked-html-js-for

  • Ruebn

    It is time to think about the reasons behind recent Microsoft steps. The company does not have a track record of bold bets, quite on the contrary. It has, on the other hand, a decent track record of anticipating hardware trends on its core business. Even when it has failed, and windows vista is the primary example, the decisions are understandable. Now the company has: i) suddenly abandoned its aero graphic design paradigm; ii) introduced a peculiar metro design based on a dozen of colors, very simple forms, a very clean typography, extremely minimalistic iconography; iii) entered a very awkward partnership with Nokia, thus in practice put into jeopardy any attempt to make it windows phone 7 take over fast (who will put decent money on a new platform when there is a preferred partner?) taking a very long time to deliver new products (Nokia has been delivering smartphones worldwide for quite some time now, it still has a huge market share, so what is the difficulty in delivering a windows phone ready piece of hardware very fast?); iv) explicitly ignored all the industry practice of migrating the mobile system to the tablet, but will deliver an unique system for both the desktop and the tablet. Is the company anticipating some major shift in display technology? When we consider the recent evolution of e-ink like color displays and the transparent Samsung amoled display, one has to wonder if we are at the vicinity of a commercially viable transparent led-like screen laid over a reflective e-ink like color display (with few colors and very simple shapes, since we are miles away from deep color and complex graphics in the e-ink arena). If this is viable in a couple of quarters, it will constitute a major revolution in the tech industry. Whatever apple my say, to read anything lengthy on an iPad screen will clearly injure the eye in the long run: too much light and too short distance does not seem a healthy combination. To leave a reflective background and only emit radiation for the content displayed constitute major improvement in user experience and clearly claims for a new approach in graphic design of software. One approach that seems to match Microsoft new paradigm very well. Does these fellows know something that we don’t know about?

  • D

    Microsoft is doing a terrible job at corporate communication(s) and the most frustrating part of all is that it is the actual fans of the brand that are noticing the most.

    riagenie 😉 – you nailed it with the above statement. In the late 90s MS’s kicking to the curb the “legacy” technologies in favor of .NET and C# could be done without losing too many devs because

    1)there weren’t many language alternatives;
    2)dev communication wasn’t via the web – twitter/facebook;
    3)alternatives to development tools and OSes were sparse;
    4)ASP.NET C#/VB.NET was “new”
    5)web standards hadn’t blasted off completely

    This is no longer the case and communications, err lack thereof, are picked apart. MS can’t hide behind inefficiencies in information distribution. Nor can they take a technology that has been around for over a decade and spit polish it to glow anew for devs who have been working in the field.

    The strategy of abandoning existing technologies no longer works and will only hurt their revenue streams. There are many options for developers to write code in other languages for other platforms. MS needs to understand this and show greater respect to devs that have invested years of their lives working with MS products and provide roadmaps for the technologies. The roadmaps should allow for feedback from developers that use the technology to illustrate how demand for the technology will keep it alive. MS should not rely on evangelists with ears to the ground for the feedback cycle.

    MS can fix this.

  • At the core of the controversy is the expectation that Windows would take a dependency on Silverlight. Why would the developer community expect that? Windows has a long history of depending upon web technologies:
    * IE bundled with the operating system
    * Active Desktop
    * Vista Sidebar Gadgets

    At no point in history has Windows taken a dependency on managed code, .NET, WPF, or Silverlight. Such a dependency would be backwards, since Windows is a platform and .NET is a framework. I see no reason for it to start with Windows 8.

  • Amit

    Devs: Hey MS! whats going to be your future strategy?

    MS: It Depends!

    Devs: Would you keep on developing and PROMOTING the existing technologies?

    MS: It depends!

    Devs: Would you keep us informed about the changes?

    MS: It depends!

    Devs: Are you going to f**k with the careers of millions of devs?

    MS: It depends!

    Devs: Give us a final answer, “Can we trust you?”

    MS: It depends!

  • Nicolas

    Why HTML5/JS on the desktop ? Reason is simple. Make an enhanced HTML5/JS fully compatible with standard HTML5/JS (as in browsers) but with features for your platform. In particular feature to do some serious UI desktop programming.

    Then magically all web dev become expert and efficiant at developping app for your OS but… And desktop app can benefits from web designers. Of course, all enhanced app work only on this OS. The objective is simple. Transform websites into improved native app. And make web developper windows developpers.

    Well the base application is available for everybody, but the true experience is… for windows users.

    MS is assured to stay the OS market leader for another 20 years.

    Silverlight ? Who care really ? No so many people use that anyway. Why not ask them to support JavaFX while you are at it? It will continue to work for the next 10 years before vanishing.
    .NET ? Well existing application will continue to work anyway. .NET will be used for real native applications along with continous support and improvement for server developpement. I’ll even bet that HTML5/JS will be melt with .NET.

  • Tim

    Interesting article mate.


    Why are there random words in the middle of the page?

    Between every paragraph there’s a random letter sticking in to the page

    And they are generated graphics too…

    Looks super weird + makes the site look broken :/

  • Pingback: Why Silverlight Disappearing is a Bad thing for Office 365 | jmikewatson()

  • Denis

    Interesting article. Small offtopic question – why your articles do not show properly with IE9? 🙂

  • Nothing intentional just this wordpress plug-in science project of a piece-o-crap-third party blog… needs more attention.