Ex-Silverlighters and how they influence the vNext

On the Interwebz, when you stumble your way through the various “Silverlight is dead”-style blog posts, what you will most likely see is the theme around skill transference. Silverlight advocates of the past, who have now switched over to WinRT, have begun to spread the message that not all is lost. You can take your Silverlight skills to WinRT!

It’s Kool Aid Time: this year’s batch is Raspberry.

When I read posts like these, I simply shake my head and admittedly get a little annoyed at the existence of such posts. More to the point, I’m also getting weary of seeing MVP’s of the Silverlight of yesterday flipping the script and now putting out a public audition for WinRT MVP auditions. I get the mindset that often goes into these style posts, and in many ways you have to give these folks credit, as they have simply have moved on. Unfortunately like most people inside cubicles around the world, the luxury of riding the new wave(s) is often restricted to a small cluster of adopters and influencers. You know these people: they are usually the same people on stage at a conference somewhere telling you what you’re doing wrong and how you should adopt vNext tech to do better.

Back to reality.

I’ve been at the birth of a new technology; I’ve been in a team that spent millions on marketing and seeding the new technology to over 6 million .NET devs and around 500 million PC’s worldwide. You could say I’ve seen a lot and learnt a lot from that experience. The one consistent ingredient to seeding a technology is what we collectively call the “influencer”. The idea is you round up a bunch of Community Leaders, you shower them with Glass Awards, titles like MVP, or at the very least make them feel important or as your “favorite”, and then you get them to tell people your message (as the theory is that this in turn adds authenticity to your message). When I was an Evangelist, I went from being an unknown non-.NET developer in an Adobe/Macromedia scene, to being suddenly invited to speak at Microsoft Conferences, Twitter Followings, Facebook Friend Requests, Invites to Business Deals/Meetings and so on. You feel as if you’re now the one being dated whilst at the same time you in turn make others feel the same the ripples of influence continue. That’s how you artificially pump a community up around a technology adoption. There are different flavors to the approach, but ultimately, your job is to become a band manager and not the rock stars (you scale more).

The messaging framework.

When the time comes where you need to broadcast your message to the crowd of followers, your main focus is to ensure you get traction around repeatable messaging. That is to say, you ensure that you all sing from the same hymn sheet and with enough repetition this message will be the consistent soundbyte you hear at a local conference near you. For example:
  • Silverlight isn’t dead; it will be around for 20 years.
  • You can take your Silverlight skills today and reuse them with Win8 tomorrow, as in the end it's just XAML and C#, right?
  • And so on..
These are examples of how you frame the conversation to break down resistance, or what Steve Jobs would call the “distortion field”. It’s sneaky, and often if you’re not paying too much attention, it will creep up on you and then you find yourself saying the above as if it became suddenly your idea (kind of a mutated confirmation bias at work?).

Change is the enemy.

That’s how you flip the script; that’s how you get people to stop looking behind and start thinking about what’s coming up. You can shift an entire community from the old to new in under 2-3 years using that formula mixed with enough conference blitz, blog post(s) and so on. This is, however, all a false sense of change. That is to say at the conference / front lines, it looks as if things are moving forward fast, quick everyone get on the new wave! At the cubicle level, the environment that when the conference etc. is over and everyone retreats back to their various developer enclosures. They are still likely staring at WinForms, Windows XP, WPF, Silverlight and so on for the next 1-2 years minimum. This is where the thinking around change truly festers, as now it’s less about having XAML and C# skills but more about how to use them in an upcoming project. The bottom line is if you are writing Silverlight/WPF, the very notion or idea that you can transfer your skills in 2-3 years when Windows 8 dust settles is really pie in the sky broad stroke thinking. Today, you have to File-New Silverlight/WPF Project, as it’s realistically the environment in which you are likely to get success in this .NET space. You could go down the path of HTML/JS and really get ready for devices of tomorrow, but that’s tomorrow, this is today. Silverlight is at the end of it’s life, and in turn anything that takes a dependency on it is sure to decay over the next year or so. Windows 8 is not a desktop release; it’s a tablet release. The future around how Windows 8 plays a role in businesses of tomorrow is still a huge unknown. Microsoft really needs to stop switching gears so fast here. If the future is to gravitate towards the next wave, then fine. Change is good, yet do so in a manner that has clarity attached. Stop hiding behind the sound bytes of the usual muffin eaters at the same conference(s). Stop just abandoning the toys of today because they aren’t as shiny as the ones you make tomorrow. Spend more time in the transition or bridging between the old wave and the new wave, whilst lastly settle on a message around how you transfer and not throwaway messaging of “well if you know how to write code you can write better code tomorrow”. I think it's clear we all can learn a language or two. That’s not the point, the point is: What incentive do I have to relearn (or go backwards in) in order to move forward? WinRT is Silverlight 1.1 or 2.0 when it comes to development experiences. Windows Phone 7 Development vs. Windows 8 Development isn’t as clear as it could be. Lastly, if Silverlight has no more releases left in it, then how do other products like Lightswitch, Expression Blend, Visual Studio, etc. get affected by the end of life stigma?

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  • Scott, 

    I completely agree with you on this and glad that you have continued to blog an honest view of the world of Microsoft. Most of your articles that criticize Microsoft is almost from the point of view of a parent who is watching their child who was on the path of success to fail. 

    After I was nominated a number of times for MVP, I began to see the flaws in the system. I was excited to share things about Silverlight and help developers and the community. I enjoyed speaking but once I was even nominated for Silverlight, I felt like any user group or event I spoke at, I had to speak on Silverlight if I wanted to achieve MVP. I also began to notice that several (not all) mvps were either simply just retweeting and copying or linking to some of the core blog writers out there (in other words kissing up and making it look like they did 10k tweets a week).  I say this because on a number of times I had articles completely scraped from my blog to an MVP’s site. There are a number of things that I saw MVPs doing to make themselves look more important but in the end they did not help the community by spending time away from their family traveling the country to speak, or write books but merely pointing to the real authors who did not get the credit.

    I do think there are some MVPs that do some great things and really do care about the community. Microsoft loves to make it seem that you are doing the best for the community but it is really about Microsoft. They choose which direction to go despite the need of the community. 

    I have done a lot of Silverlight/WPF/ect consulting, many for high profile clients and high profile microsoft related projects. But my main business is a CRM type app for nonprofits, we have hundreds of customers and the biggest mistake we made was trying to move to Silverlight. We spent a ton of money and time and because of issues with Silverlight and the misdirection from MS, it caused our business to loose a lot of respect in the market. We are about to release our app but as an HTML5 app because of the choices of MS. I can’t begin to tell you how much money I personally lost because of this.

    After all they have put me through, it is hard to trust them for anything. We are quickly moving all our projects off the MS stack completely. I still do a lot of consulting for MS type projects, but I won’t put my own money towards ms products because of my experience. 

    Thanks for the posts and keep up the good work!

  • Hi @twitter-20263329:disqus 

    Thanks for your kind words.

    I agree that there are a lot of MVP’s in this space that actually do some genuine great things, example Joseph Cooney here in Australia is not only liked but also well respected for this, he doesn’t echo Microsoft and when he does present you get your money’s worth. Then there are what you call the ass kissers, as an Evangelist and Product Manager I’ve had to deal with these more so as an Evangelist (as we used to be the ones that did the nominations).That aside its not an indictment on MVP, there’s a plus and negative associated with this overall community program but ultimately the fault lies at Microsoft’s front door – more to the point, those in charge of the rules around how an MVP is identified.

    Silverlight doesn’t really need new features, it does still need a lot of work around stableizing and tool support – especially Expression Blend and VS 2010. If nothing else this is where Microsoft Windows 8 wave teams need to invest a little more than they care to, as if they can build up trust around the AS-IS support it paves the way much more in regards to the TO-BE.

    Sadly they will see that as a sign of weaknes, specifically “why would you spend money on the old when the new is more important, it will only distract people away from the new”.

    To which I’d answer that they not only have no clue who they are dealing with but treating this equation as a zero-sum outcome is the first of many mistakes to come.

    You can celebrate the new whilst supporting the old but you just can’t yank the old away, bury it and then herd everyone to the new. It only breeds further duress, confusion and anti-trust.

  • I think one of Silverlight’s biggest down falls was the tooling, they were always focused on the next version of Silverlight and it never really stabilized. The blend team did some great things rather quickly but the challenge is competing with HTML based apps there are 50 great tools that you can use and a much larger community to leverage. 

    The biggest thing I have learned about the whole Silverlight fall out is to not put all my trust in any one company. I was burned by waiting on patches, fixes for Silverlight which always seemed to be in vNext. So these days I want something solid which doesn’t have to be dependent on vNext. I need proven tech these days because my customers don’t care, they want products that work, they don’t care that it has all the bells and whistles. 

    I know for me and many others, I have lost a lot of trust in MS. I know several companies that because of the Silverlight fall out have decided to pull out as much of the MS stack (sql to os to dev) as fast as possible. So I think they don’t really fully realize the impact of this one decision.

    For me I am diversifying my experience and expanding my knowledge while moving my company away from MS as much as possible. 

  • LightSwitch allows you to create good Silverlight LOB apps today. It also has a great future. I spent the past few weeks making mobile and Android apps using LightSwitch over the past few weeks: http://lightswitchhelpwebsite.com/Blog/tabid/61/tagid/34/OData.aspx .

  • kinect_dev

    I don’t understand why MS didn’t just call it Silverlight on WinRT. Why did they have to call it Xaml + C#? I mean that would have made everyone happy. Just bump the version to 6.0 to justify all the breaking changes and we’re good.

  • kinect_dev

    I agree that it was a major breach of trust for MS to neglect Silverlight developers as it has been. I disagree about the tools, though. The main thing I always liked about Silverlight was the tooling. I had Blend and VS from the get go, so I may be different from those who went the express route. Silverlight was on a blazingly fast release cycle in the good old days. In fact I started a number of projects in one version of SL only to be out-performed by the SL dev team as they released new versions faster than I could.

    But even today I am having a really hard time finding good tools for HTML5 development. I really miss the layout tools in blend, I miss data binding, I miss writing things once and knowing they will behave identically on all supported devices. Even today I can whip out a Wp7 or Silverlight application in a fraction of the time it takes me to slog through an HTML5 site.

    IMHO the ipad was silverlight’s downfall. Now I’m out for revenge by writing WinRT apps /:)  (In Xaml + C# of course).

  • @twitter-20263329:disqus 

    It was a hard schedule for the Blend team to occupy, in that when we finished Silverlight Runtime it was usually months in an advance to MIX or when you guys got access to it. The Blend team then would play a reactive role to the Runtime and Visual Studio Teams needs post final build(s) (not to say they weren’t working in parallel where possible).

    By the time they were able to then produce a shippable result it was usually around MIX or thereafter. Once MIX was over, the Silverlight teams were usually finishing up planning for vNext or at times even working on features already.

    This then left the Blend team shipping and then without even a hint of post release triage were then onto the next release. 

    Overall the Blend team were constantly under the pump to catchup and had a few dependencies on team(s) that weren’t just the Silverlight runtime folks. 

    Anyway, I do have a lot of respect for the Blend guys, they did pull off a lot with the finite resources and schedules they were given but I do agree, the tool needs to be matured more and really needed a stronger UX mindset behind its feature design(s) and UI composition itself.

    Trusting Microsoft is getting simply getting harder and harder to defend these days. I am a little hopeful that post win8 drama’s they will settle down and start to build out a much stronger momentum around the dev futures… assuming that Win8 dev plat is widely accepted.

  • If you asked someone they’d probably dribble off some rant about Branding and solidifying the Windows 8 brand more blah blah. I agree though, as Developers beyond a Silverlight style API couldn’t really give two shits what powers things under the hood, just keep the SDK in a fairly consistent manner whilst keep devs abstracted from the rest

    It’d be *no pun intended* a win/win.

    Back to confusion…

  • When Silverlight 2.0 came out it was radically different (it used C# and Silverlight 1.0 only used JavaScript). Nobody lost their mind (of course it had backward compatibility).

  • Valid point but also important to note that nobody adopted Silverlight Until around its 3rd release
    It also gained terrible reviews or stalled adoption when it was in a JS only format

  • Matthew Rowan

    I also got so tired of the TFS story I’ve stopped going to the user groups. There was rarely any focus on how to get the best out of the current, just always talk about vNext, and by the time it came round nothing appeared new, because it had been preached what was coming for over a year.

    I think Windows 8 is pushing things to the new in a level greater than the Silverlight chase. Windows Desktop Gadgets support really surprised me how quickly Microsoft is dropping Windows 7. Going to the old gallery.live.com, which wasn’t updated with the rest of Windows Live, instead of updating or leaving it, they drop it a year before Windows 8 is to be released with the message:

    Looking for the Windows Live Gallery? 
    Because we want to focus on the exciting possibilities of the newest version of Windows, Microsoft no longer supports uploading new gadgets. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still get gadgets. The most popular and highest-rated gadgets are still available on this page.

    Some info for gadget developers:
    You can now use your HTML5 and CSS3 skills to build Metro-style apps for Windows 8 Consumer Preview. To get started developing Metro style apps, go to Windows Dev Center.

    How is Windows 7 not the “newest version of Windows”?!

  • Amit

    Its not just about silverlight anymore. They are planning to use Html/JS for Office15 and RESTful cloud services using modern C++. So .NET as a whole is going down the drain. Surely .NET will not go away overnight but its market share is going to shrink considerably. Everybody understands that change is needed but the manner in which the change is being brought is disastrous for the developers. Its good for MS to make things clear instead of keeping people in dark with the usual PR crap. They cannot fool all the people for all the time. 

  • Jaime Bula

    Msft has to stop treating developers as their employees. After the silverlight prank is hard to get back on their band wagon. Getting away from Microsoft has fast as I can.