Steve Ballmer leaving will make no difference.

The villagers are unhappy; they are blaming the poison / toxic well (share price) of their beloved Microsoft land on the wicked warlock – Steve Ballmer. He has to go, and when he is gone, all in the land of Microsoft will return to the happy times, life as we know it will be better and food will of course be much tastier.

Firstly, Clue the f*ck up.

If Steve Ballmer came into his office today and said "dang it, you are all right, I have to go. I hereby resign, bye!" nothing and I repeat nothing would change. The problems inside Microsoft are definitely leadership issues but at the same time, the source of the pollution / toxic situation is well within the leadership areas.

Think of Microsoft product teams as clans within a larger empire. All clan leaders are thirsty for power (most anyway) and depending on the moon cycles any one of them can take over the other clan’s turf as it really comes down to individual success and less about how that clan leader made his/her clan successful. If you do well in XYZ Company, you will in turn be moved into a position that you can continue your success in – point and case, Scott Guthrie (CVP and likely Bill Gates replacement) is now in charge of Windows Azure.

Knifing the Steve Ballmer baby as one person put it, is really only going to create a power vacuum. The moment he gets thrown off campus all major players within the clans will jockey for the next seats of power and you whilst there will likely be an immediate freeze on all roles (until the caretaker / new person gets his/her business cards etc. printed) there will still be some internal knife fighting taking place.

The reality is that Microsoft’s "toxic" issues are not a result of one rogue Executive it is more to do with a whole layer of General Managers, Directors and Presenditial masses. Even guys like Scott Guthrie who is undoubtly liked by all is one you definitely don’t want to piss off in the internal Microsoft circles (I’ve seen him rain his Gu-lighting, he can be a hardass just as much as the rest of them – to loosely quote something to the words of “Last guy who f*ked with me I stuck his head in my fridge” ..funny point is we all then looked for his fridge…dunno why).

The culture within allows bullying, in fact it’s very "lord of the flies" at times when there is little or no direction and/or worse when there is failure upon failure occurring (as you end up with "hey I can fix that, get of my way…followed by more…"hey I can fix that fix, get out of my way") moments.

Steve Ballmer needs to go but not for a sweeping reform but more to do with starting the engine that may one day lead to a sweeping reform. If Steve Ballmer is fired from the Microsoft tomorrow it won’t making a licking difference as you really need to shed people like Lisa Brummel (VP of HR) first. HR inside Microsoft are as useful as a blind/mute/deaf lawyer in a murder case. The crime has been committed but you best study your own defense and the legalities within as HR will just nod, smile and wonder what all the talk is about as they have the role guides, global citizenship programs that go nowhere and do nothing to attend to  that or think up new ways to screw staff over with ideas like "we should remove all towels from carpark shower rooms…that will save us $$$!!"

Microsoft have lost many quality staff the last 2 years, some of the folks that have left I know whilst others I only know of. I sit back and think, "Wow, that guy and that guy oh and that girl…they will be very hard to replace…" so far I have not seen a replacement for them, I have seen a lot of new knuckleheads try to fill their shoes but ultimately have come unstuck.

DevDiv Silverlight team for example is in a weird place and furthermore that product is going backwards not forwards. Silverlight 5 has some interesting new features but the engineering component to Silverlight was never a problem, it just like WPF suffers from the same surrounding issues – lack of interest.

End is simple. Get rid of Steve Ballmer but face the reality it will not make that huge of a difference to both the share price and culture within. All it will do is create a vacuum of chaos initially and may adjust the culture slightly at best.
90,000+ employees do not take their marching orders from a single man. It goes through layers of bureaucratic passive aggressive stakeholders first.

Related Posts:

The principles of Microsoft Metro UI decoded

The phrase “authentically digital” makes me want to barf rainbow pixels. This was a quote pulled from a Windows Phone 7 reviewer when he first got a hold of the said phone. At first you could arguably rail against the concept of what Authentically Digital means and simply lock it into the yet another marketing fluff to jazz a situation in an unnecessary way.

I did, until I sat back and thought about it more.

Issues Presented.

Metro in itself has its own design language attached, they cite a bunch of commandments that the overall experience is to respect and adhere that is to say, someone has actually sat down and thought the concept through (rare inside Microsoft UX). I like what the story is pitching and I agree in most parts with the laws of Metro that is to say, I am partially onboard but not completely.

I’m on board with what Metro could be, but am not excited about where it’s at right now. I state this as I think the future around software is going through what the fashion industry has done for generations – a cultural rebirth / reboot.

Looking back at Retro not metro.

Looking at the past, back in the late 90’s the world was filled with bold flat looking user interfaces that made use of a limited color palette given the said video capabilities back then wasn’t exactly the greatest on earth. EGA was all the rage and we were seeing hints of VGA whilst hating the idea that CGA was our first real cut at graphics.

EGA eventually faded out and we found ourselves in the VGA world (color TV vs. black n white if you will), life was grand and with 32bit color vs. 16bit color wars coming to a conclusion the worlds creative space moved forward leaps and bounds. Photoshop users found themselves creating some seriously wicked UI, stuff that made you at the time thank the UI gods for plug-ins like alien ware etc as they gave birth to what I now call the glow/bevel revolution in user interface design.

Chrome inside software started to take on an interesting approach, I actually think you could probably trace its origins of birth in terms of creative new waves back to products like Winamp & Windows Media player skins. The idea that you could take a few assets and feed them into mainstream products like this and in turn create this experience on the desktop that wasn’t a typical application was interesting (not to mention Macromedia Director’s influence here either).

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I think we all simply got on a user interface sugar induced high, we effectively went through our awkward 80’s fashion stage, where crazy weird looking outfits / music etc was pretty much served up to the world to gorge on. This feast of weird UI has probably started to wind down to thanks to the evolution of web applications, more importantly what they in turn taught us slowly.

Web taught the desktop how to design.

The first lesson we have learnt about design in user interface from the web is simple – less is more. Apple knocks this out of the park extremely well and I’d argue Apple wasn’t its creator, the Web 2.0 crowd as they use to be know was. The Web 2.0 crowd found ways to simply keep the UI basic to the point and yet visually engaging but with minimalist views in mind. It worked, and continues to work to this day – even on Apple.com

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Companies like Microsoft have seen this approach to designing user interface and came to a fairly swift rationale that if one were to create a platform for developers & designers to work in a fashion much like the web, well desktop applications themselves could take on an entirely new approach.

History lesson is over.

I now look at Metro thinking back on the past evolution and can’t but help think that we’re going back to a reboot of EGA world, in that we are looking for an alternative to design in order to attract / differentiate from the past. Innovation is a scarce commodity in today’s software business, so we in turn are looking at ways to re-energize our thinking around software design but in a way that doesn’t create a cognitive overload – be radical, be daring but don’t be disruptive to process/task.

Inside Microsoft what I can presume, the ECG group found a way to hijack existing patterns in terms of user recognition and make use of modern signage found inside bus station, railways, elevator marshal areas etc and declared this to be the way out of the excess UI scourge.

I like it, I like this source of inspiration but my first instinct was simple – I hope your main source of success isn’t the reliance on typography, especially in this 7second attention economy of today. Sure enough, there it is, the reliance in Windows phone 7. Large typography taking over areas of where chrome used to live in order to fix what chrome once did. The removal of color / boundary textures in order to create large empty space filled with 70px+ Typography with half-seen half-hidden typography is what Microsoft’s vision of tomorrow looks like.

Metro isn’t Wp7, Metro is Microsoft Future Vision.

My immediate reaction to seeing the phone (before the public did) back inside Microsoft was "are you guys high, this is not what we should be doing, we are close but keep at it, you’re nearly there! don’t rush this!". This reaction was the equivalent of me looking at a Category 5 Tornado, demanding it turn around and seek another town to smash to bits – brave, forward thinking but foolish.

This phone has to ship, its already had two code resets, get it done, fix it later is pretty much the realistic vision behind Windows Phone 7 – NOT – Metro.

Disbelief?

Take a look at what the Industry Innovation Group has produced via a company called Oh, Hello. In this vision of tomorrow’s software (2019 to be exact) you’ll see a strong reliance on the metro laws of design.

The Principles of Metro vs. Microsoft Future Vision.

In order to start a conversation around Metro in the near future, one has to identify with the level of thinking associated with its creation. Below is the principles of metro – more to the point, these are the design objectives and creative brief if you will on what one should approach metro with.

Clean, Light, Open, Fast

  • Feels Fast and Responsive
  • Focus on Primary Tasks
  • Do a Lot with Very Little
  • Fierce Reduction of Unnecessary Elements
  • Delightful Use of Whitespace
  • Full Bleed Canvas

You could essentially distill these points down to one word – minimalist. Take a minimalist approach to your user interface and the rewards are simple – sense of responsiveness in user interface, reliance on less information (which in turn increases decision response in the end user) and a reduction in creative noise (distracting elements that add no value other than it was cool at the time).

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In Figure 1, we I’d strongly argue you could adhere to these principles. This image is from the Microsoft Sustainability video, but inside it you’ve got a situation which respects the concept of Metro as after all given the wide open brief here under one principle you could argue either side of this.

Personally, I find the UI in question approachable. It makes use of a minimalist approach, provides the end user with a central point of focus. Chrome is in place, but its not intrusive and isn’t over bearing. Reliance on typography is there, but at the same time it approaches in a manner that befits the task at hand.

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Microsoft’s vision of this principle comes out via the phone user interface above (Figure 2). I’m not convinced here that this I the right approach to minimalism. I state this, as the iconography within the UI is inconsistent – some are contained others are just glyphs indicating state?. The containment within the actual message isn’t as clear in terms of spacing – it feels as if the user interface is willing to sacrifice content in order to project who the message is from (Frank Miller). The subject itself has a lower visual priority along with the attachment within – more to the point, the attachment has no apparent containment line in place to highlight the message has an attachment?

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Microsoft’s original vision of device’s future has a different look to where Windows Phone 7 today. Yet I’d state that the original vision is more in line with the principles than actual Windows Phone 7. It initially has struck a balance between the objectives provided.

The iconography is consistent and contained, typography is balanced and invites the users attention on important specifics – What happened, where and oh by the way more below… and lastly it makes use of visuals such as the photo of the said person. The UI also leverages the power of peripheral vision to give the user a sense of spatial awareness in that, its subtle but takes on the look and feel of an “airport” scenario.

Is this the best UI for a device today? No, but it’s approach is more in tune with the first principle then arguably the current Windows Phone 7’s approach which is reliance of fierce amounts of whitespace, reduction in iconography to the point where they clearly have a secondary reliance and lastly emphasis on parts of the UI which I’d argue as having the lowest importance (i.e. the screen before would of indicated who the message is from, now I’m more focused on what the message is about!).

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Celebrate Typography

  • Type is Beautiful, Not Just Legible
  • Clear, Straightforward Information Design
  • Uncompromising Sensitivity to Weight, Balance and Scale

I love a good font as the next designer. I hoard these like my icons, in fact It’s a disease and if you’re a font lover a must see video is Helvetica. That being said, there is a balance between text and imagery, this balance is one struck often daily in a variety of mediums – mainly advertising.

Imagery will grab your attention first as it taps into a primitive component within your brain, the part that works without your realizing its working. The reason being is your brain often is in auto-pilot, constantly scanning for patterns in your every day environment. It’s programmed to identify with three primative checks, fear, food and sex. Imagery can tap into these striaght away, as if you have an image of an attractive person looking down at a beverage you can’t but help first think “that’ person’s cute (attractive bias) and what are they looking at? oh its food!…” All this happens despite there being text on the said image prior to your brain actually taking time to analyse the said image. To put it bluntly, we do judge a book by its cover with extrem amount of prejudice. We are shallow, we do prefer to view attractive people over ugly unless we are conveying a fear focused point “If you smoke, your teeth will turn into this guys – eewwww” (Notice why anti-cigarette companies don’t use attractive people?)

Back to the point at hand, celebrating typography. The flaw in this beast despite my passion for fonts, is that given we are living in a 7 second attention economy (we scan faster than we have before) reliance on typography can be a slippery slope.

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In Figure 6, a typical futuristic newspaper that has multi-touch (oh but I dream), you’ll notice the various levels of usage of typography (no secret to news papers today). The headings on purpose approach the user with both different font types, font weight, uppercase vs lowercase and for those of you out there really paying attention, at times different kerning / spacing.

The point being, the objective is that typography is in actuality processed first via your brain as a glyph, a pattern to decode. You’ve all seen that link online somewhere where the wrod is jumbled in a way that you first are able to read but then straight away identify the spelling / order of the siad words. The fact I just did it then along with poor grammar / spelling within this blog, indicates you agree to that point. You are forgiving majority of the time towards this as given you’ve established a base understanding of the english language and combine that with your attention span being so fast paced – you are more focused on absorbing the information than picking apart how it got to you.

Typography can work in favor of this, but it comes at a price between balancing imagery / glyphs with words.

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The above image (Figure 7) is an example of Metro in the wild. Typography here is in not to bad of a shape, except for a few things. The first being the “Pictures” text is making use of a large amount of the canvas, to the point where the background image and heading are probably duking it out for your attention. The second part of this is the part that irritates me the most, in that the size of the secondary heading with the list items is quite close in terms of scale. Aside from the font weight being a little bolder, there is no real sense of separation here compared to what it should or could be if one was to respect the principle of celebrating typography.

Is Segoe UI the vision of the only font allowed? I hope not. Is the font weight “light” and “regular” the only two weights attached to the UI? what relevance does the background hold to the area – pictures? ok, flimsy at best contextual relevance but in comparison to the Figure 3 above a subtle usage of watermarks etc. to tap into your peripheral vision would provide you more basis to grapple onto – pattern wise that is. Take these opinions and combine the reality that there is no sense of containment and I’m just not convinced this is in tune with the principle. It’s like the designers of metro on windows phone 7 took 5% of the objectives and just ran with it.

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Comparisons between Figure7 and Figure8, the contrast in usage of typography is different but yet both using the same one and only font – Segoe UI. The introduction of color helps you separate the elements within the user interface, the difference in scale is obvious along with weight and transforms (uppercase / lowercase). Almost 80% of this User Interface is typography driven yet the difference in both is what I hope to be obvious.

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Don’t despair, it’s not all dark and gloom for the Windows Phone 7 future. Figure 9 (Above) is probably one of the strongest hints of “yes!” moment for the siad phone I could find. Typography is used but add visual elements and approach the design of typography slightly differently and you may just have a stake in this principle. The downside is the choice of color, orange and light gray on white is ok for situations that have increased scale, but on a device where lighting can be hit/miss, probably need to approach this with more bolder colors. The picture in the background also creeps into your field of view over the text, especially in the far right panel.

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Alive in motion

  • Feels Responsive and Alive
  • Creates a System
  • Gives Context to Improve Usability
  • Transition Between UI is as Important as the Design of the UI
  • Adds Dimension and Depth

I can’t really talk to these principles via  text on a blog, but what I would say is that the Windows Phone attacks this relatively ok. I still think the FlipToBack transition is to tacky and the reality between how the screens transition in and out at times isn’t as attractive as for example the iPhone (ie I really dig how the iphone zooms the UI back and to the front?). The usage of kinetic scrolling is also one that gives you the sense of control, like there are some really well oiled ball bearings under the UI’s plane that if you flick it up, down, right or left the sense of velocity and friction is there.

If you zoom in and out of the UI, the sense that the UI will expand and contract in a fluid nature also gives you the element of discovery  (Progressive disclosure) but can also give you a sense of less work attached.

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Taking Figure 11 & Figure 12 (start and end) one could imagine a lot of possibilities here in terms of the transition were to work. The reality that Reptile Node expands out to give way to types of reptiles is hopefully obvious whilst at the same time the focus is on reptile is also in place (via a simple gradient / drop shadow to illustrate depth). Everything could snap together in under a second or maybe two but it’s something you approach with a degree of purpose driven direction. The direction is “keep your eye on what I’m about to change, but make note of these other areas I’m now introducing” – you have to move with the right speed, right transition effect and at the same time don’t distract to heavily in areas that aren’t important.

Content, Not Chrome

  • Delight through Content Instead of Decoration
  • Reduce Visuals that are Not Content
  • Content is the UI
  • Direct interaction with the Content

Chrome is important as content. I dare anyone to provide any hint of scientific data to highlight the negative effects of grouping in user interface design. Chrome can be over used, but at the same time it can be a life saver especially when the content becomes over bearing (most line of business applications today suffer from this).

Having chrome serves a purpose, that is to provide the end user a boundary of content within a larger canvas. An example is below

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I could list more examples but because I’m taking advantage of Microsoft Sustainability video, I figure this would be sufficient examples of how chrome is able to breakup the user interface into contextual relevance. Chrome provides a boundary, the areas of control if you will in order to separate content into piles of semantic action(s). Specifically in Figure 15, the brown chrome is much like your dashboard on the car ie you’re main focus is the road ahead, that’s your content of focus but at the same time having access to other pieces of information can be vital to your successful outcome. Chrome also provides you access to actions in which you can carry out other principles of human interaction – e.g., adjustment of window placement and separation from within other areas offers the end user a chance of tucking the UI into an area for later resurrection (perspective memory).

Windows Phone 7 for example prefers to levearge the power of Typography and background imagery as its “chrome” of choice. I’m in stern disagreement with this as the phone itself projects what I can only describe as uncontained vast piles of emptiness and less on actual content. The biggest culprit of all for me is the actual Outlook client within the said phone.

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The Outlook UI for me is like this itch I have to scratch, I want the messages to have subtle separation and lastly I want the typography to have a balance between “chrome” and “whitespace”.

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Chrome can also not just be about the outer regions of a window/UI, it has to do with the internal components of the user interface – especially in the input areas. The above (Figure 17) is an example of Windows Phone 7 / Metro keyboard(s). At first glance they are simple, clean and open, but the part that captures my attention the most is the lack of chrome or more to the point separation. I say lack, as the purpose of chrome here would be to simulate tactile touch without actually giving you tactile touch. The keyboard to the right has ok height, but the width feels cramped and when I type on the said device It feels like I’m going to accidently hit the other keys (so I’m now more cautious as a result).

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The above (Figure 18) offers the same concept but now with “chrome” if you will. Nice even spacing, solid use of principles of the Typography and clear defined separation in terms of actions below.

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iPhone has found a way to also strike a balance between chrome and the previous stated principles. The thing that struck me the most about the two keyboards is not which is better, but more how the same problem was thought about differently.  Firstly as you type an enlarged character shows – indicating you hit that character (reward), secondly the actual keys have a similar scale in terms of height/width proportions yet the key itself having a drop shadow (indicates depth) to me is more inviting to touch then a flat – (its like which do you prefer? a holographic keyboard or one with tactile touch, physical embodiment?). If you were to also combine both sound and vibration as the user types it can also help trick the end users sense into a comfortable input.

I digress from Chrome, but the point I’m making is chrome serves a purpose and don’t be quick to declare the principles of Metro as being the “yes!” moment as I’d argue the jury is still not able to formulate a definitive answer either way.

Authentically Digital

  • Design for the Form Factor
  • Don’t Try to be What It’s NOT
  • Be Direct

I can’t talk to this to much other than to say this isn’t a principle its more marketing fluff (the only one with a tenuous at best attachment to design principles would be “design for the form factor” meaning don’t try and scale down a desktop user interface into a device. Make the user interface react to the device not the other way around.

Summary

Metro is a concept, Microsoft has had a number of goes at this concept and I for one am not on board with its current incarnation inside the Windows Phone 7 device. I think the team have lost sight of the principles they themselves have put forward and given the Industry Innovation Group have painted the above picture as to what’s possible, it’s not like the company itself hasn’t a clue. There is a balance to be struck here between what Metro could be and is today. There are parts of Windows Phone 7 that are attractive and then there are parts where I feel it’s either been rushed or engineering overtook design in terms of reasons for what is going on the way it is (maybe the design team couldn’t be bothered arguing to have more time/money spent on propping up areas where it falls short).

People around the world will have mixed opinions about what metro is or isn’t and lastly what makes a good design vs what doesn’t. We each pass our own judgement on what is attractive and what isn’t that’s nothing new to you. What is new to you is the rationale that software design is taking a step back into the past in order to propel itself into the future. That is, the industry is rebooting itself again but this time the focus is on simplicity and by approaching metro with the Microsoft Future’s vision vs the Windows Phone 7 today, I have high hopes for this proposed design language.

If the future is taking Zune Desktop + Windows Phone 7 today and simply rinse / repeating, then all this will become is a design fad, one that really doesn’t offer much depth other than limited respite from the typical desktop / device UI we’ve become used to. If this is enough, then in reality all it takes is a newer design methodology to hit our computer screens and we’re off chasing the next evolution without consistency in our approach (we simply are just chasing shiny objects).

I’ve got a limited time on this earth and I’d like to live in a world where the future is about breaking down large amounts of unreadable / unattractive information into parts that propel our race forward and not stifle it into bureaucratic filled celebrations of mediocrity.

Apple as a company has kick started a design evolution, and say what you will about the brand but the iphone has dared everyone to simply approach things differently. Windows Phone team were paralyzed at times with a sense of “not good enough” when it came to releasing the vnext phone, it went through a number of UI and code resets to get it to the point it’s at now. It had everything to do with the iPhone, it had to dominate its market share again and it had to attract consumers in a more direct fashion. It may not have the entire world locked to the device, but it’s made a strong amount of interruption into what’s possible. It did not do this via the Metro design language, they simply made up their own internally (who knows what that really looks like under the covers).

Microsoft has responded and declared metro design as its alternative to the Apple culture, the question really now is can the company maintain the right amount of discipline required in order to respect the proposed principles.

I’d argue so far, they haven’t but I am hopeful of Windows 8.

Lead with design, engineer second.

Related Posts:

Microsoft’s Behavioral Patterns.

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I’m often engaged in a variety of conversations regarding Microsoft, obviously because I’m opinionated about the company – more to the point, its almost become a niche thing I seem to tap into. In that, I could talk about Google or Adobe but often I get the “that’s your opinion” vibe. If I talk about Microsoft in the same way, i get the “Oh really?!!” interest vibe.

That’s often fueled allot of my soap boxing as i feed off that quite happily and its not that I want the 5sec of fame, its more that I feel I am adding an insight or value to a conversation around me, like I have this small pocket of information that enables someone beside me to unlock a pattern or compounding issue relating to Microsoft and its technology / culture. It’s hard to put into words, but in reality the more people I interact with the more I get this overwhelming sense of “yeah, you’re right, I couldn’t figure out how to say that but yes, that make sense now” moments.

Let me attempt to articulate the flaws I am seeing inside Microsoft as a brand that I personally have found reflected back at me via these conversations (you are feeding my addiction hehe).

Scarcity.

Often Microsoft when they launch a product alert the masses well in advance around what’s coming. They endeavor to flood the market as fast and aggressively as they can with the said product. It often gets to a point where they effectively buy there place in your memory through constant rinse/repeat approach to alerting you. If they don’t get you on the first pass, they’ll get you on the second or third etc. Its an old tactic and with the budgets that also get allocated to various teams that are enough to keep 5-6 startups a live for years, it often comes with a sketchy at best yield.

The problem with this tactic is we as consumers at times are great at ignoring this as we’ve spent a large amount of our adult lives watching this same formula repeat itself over and over. We often can predict its movements ahead of time and so when we see the pattern emerging its easy to then point out the flaws and faults (often allot of the tech journalist profit from this). Those who aren’t used to it see others doing this and go “wow, its like you’re able to see the future!!!” and so this in turn fuels the engine.

If you however, look across the skirmish lines to Apple or Google. They really often more than most, don’t do this. They are often associated with this sense of surprise effect and more to the point they give you this other sense that “while stocks last” or “you better hurry now and get it before others find out and no stock will be left” kind of moment(s) at launch / announcements.

Apple is by far the most effective in the way they announce “new”. Microsoft staff often see this and try a lot of the times to emulate that success but they do so in a way that’s inconsistent at times or often messy / half-done. Yet when ones do succeed (much like a group of tree’s all fighting for sunlight over one another, one will eventually emerge) the said success breeds more “see, it works” momentum and thus the cycle internally repeats itself.

Microsoft has this flaw, they tend to not comprehend that in order to win the masses over one needs to create the element of rarity, there’s no sense of prized ownership or differentiation in their approach. The only time I would argue this has come to the surface – hehe – is well with concepts like Microsoft Surface, XBOX and in many ways with Windows Phone 7 – although that funnily enough is a problem.

I digress, but with Windows Phone 7 I watched the launch with interest in that to me Microsoft was looking for ways to sell the vibe “while stocks last” and “get one now ahead of everyone else” momentum, and they almost had it but for some reason, it was a fizzle effect. They didn’t in a nutshell sustain that momentum, it was a sense or rarity and then it was gone just as fast as it came.

Commitment

If you’ve been a devoted customer for quite some time to Microsoft you’d be hard press to find the said customers to argue that Microsoft is always committed to one particular goal or idea. The reality is, it is often a company that abandons ideas faster at times than they were projected. It has to do with the culture within the company mostly which then spills over into the customer / product lines.

I often make remarks about Victory Emails and how they are so wrong for the company but I don’t articulate why. Here’s why.

Microsoft staff are like abused children in some parts, in that they seek affection / attention through what I would call “ACE” dropping. In that, abused children often do this as a copining mechanism to emulate affection or love given they have often had this part of their lives destroyed. What happens is the said child will wow everyone around them with the first ace up their sleeve and everyone suddenly goes “that’s amazing” and the said child then basks in the glow from this effect.

The effect however only lasts for so long and so they need to keep that momentum alive by dropping their second ACE and again, it happens again.. This pattern repeats itself for an average of 4-5 times at most before the said child starts making plans to abandon these sets of folks and seek out new people to wow / win over.

Inside Microsoft, this is a surprisingly consistent pattern I observed. You’d see these rising stars come in fast and hard, only to fizzle out around the first year maybe second year and then just as fast as they came they’ve left. Think of this like watching a bunch of fireworks come and go and then quietness follows. Its in the quiet times that you peel away the covers and start seeing staff ping / pong around teams via internal transfers and commitment calibrations etc.

There is never really a consistent holding pattern and when you do find that consistency its usually owned by a personality who’s found a way to just sustain the calm effect (under the radar) or is a complete jackass and dominates through power-politics – never really is there that spark of “Wow” in that seat.

If staff can’t commit to a set idea or goal over a large body of time, then how on earth can a product ever remain consistent and focused? If Microsoft were to announce tomorrow that staff transfers were to be put on hold for minimum 5 years – I’d wager you’d see a high exit rate of staff for one and secondly you’d see an entirely different marketing and engineering effort from within the company itself.

The reason being is the rising star’s can’t keep doing their 4 ACE pony tricks to wooo over others and as such you’d likely see a steady / calm growth from within around planning and focus. Victory emails themselves would have less of an effect as “congrats, you did a great job, but, you can either get a promotion or a pat on the back, either way you’re not moving out of this team buddy, sorry!” moments.

Internally until this is solved, Microsoft will always come across externally as a company that lacks depth in terms of commitment.

Clarity

I’m not going to beat on this drum to loudly, but I’d wager i’d be hard pressed to find a single person outside the company that would argue strongly that the company seems to have clear definitive goals around what they do (ie taps into commitment). The problem an internal one yes, but externally they don’t have a sense of clustering or grouping in that their pattern is inconsistent and often hard to parse.

If I were to put a bunch of XX’s on screen right now like this:

XX  XX  XX XX

You would typically see the X’s in groups of two? In that the clarity around that pattern is simple. It’s information if you will is broken into a consistent but clearly defined pattern.

If I were to take that same concept and apply this formatting to it:

XXxXxXXxx

The pattern isn’t as clear and for those of you paying close attention, you may also notice I added an extra “X” without others probably realizing it.  The point here is simple, Microsoft’s approach to product positioning and placement isn’t consistent and as a result you have the secondary effect vs.. the first. You can’t get behind the information as you’re too busy in your own mind, trying to separate the X’s into clusters that enable you to digest the information more closely.

This is how I would illustrate the massive amounts of bad information / inconsistent look of Microsoft’s entire approach to everything it does. There’s not really one person or person(s) being the gatekeepers of the said pattern in terms of how the company saturates the market with new information. It just seems to be a case of inconsistent X’s and at times some other letters mixed in.

Too many Options

I mentioned earlier that Victory Emails are a dangerous beast within. The other reason to this reason is the inherit concept of what success is or isn’t within the company. Popularity wins first, yield comes second is probably a pattern i’d argue as being “yup, that’s about right

If you were to look up research around how humans deal with options, you’d probably settle on the concept “less is more”. On one hand we humans are attracted to options, we all actively want more options than we can handle but in reality we rarely ever agree with the options and furthermore in a consumer driven situation – we often more than most don’t buy more as a result.

In that most research I’ve read on the subject highlights that if customers were given 100 items to choose from, the said customers who were initially attracted would be quite high. If the said situation was reduced to 30 items, the attraction would be much lower than the 100 but the purchasing or acquisition behavior would be actually significantly higher than the initial 100 🙂

Inside Microsoft I often would notice quantitative  analysis was often used as a metric of success “congrats, you’re popular!” where as if you were to peel away the word success here, and study the qualitative analysis of the said “success” you’d find the yield to me much lower.

An example:

“All the major journalists are talking about a products, they reach millions on our behalf, success is ours!”

In reality

“All the major journalists who reach majority of the same customers talked about our products but not in a really in-depth way and often more than none had a negative remark about us or two”

Inside Microsoft you have a PRIME score which keeps track of positive/negative PR, but the point here is that whilst yes you had the journalists from around the worlds full attention – the reality is what does that actually mean? you reached a larger customer base then say your random blog post? but what did that reach mean? and more to the point what effects has that reach on the purchasing or adoption behavior of your customers. Furthermore, how can you then map this against other products in the market and where is the overlaps occurring and lastly who’s really competing for attention – external companies or other teams internally?

Inside the company there’s really no conductor or movie style director who’s keeping a steady handle on how information flows in and out of the company. It often comes in large volumes and is spread far and wide with often no real data to support success or failure – more perception.

Summary.

The point to this post isn’t to beat the crap out of the brand – yet again – it’s more to clarify the patterns I personally see in the way the company approaches us, the consumer. It also taps into conversations I’ve had over the years (employee and ex-employee) with how the products and customers are bonding. The company itself has a large amount of problems that often just don’t seem to finding any hint of remorse or success in stemming the tide of failure.

What I am seeing is an exodus of some no-name on the blogsphere staff shifting over to Google or other. If you look at these staff leaving as isolated “oh, darn xyz left” then it’s not so bad. If you start adding them up and back tracking what they did for the company and more specifically the products they managed or ran, you start to see – well I do anyway – a pattern emerging of “oh wow, this is quite bad as the successors are def not as capable and what does that mean for that xyz work they were doing?”

Staff are important and the end final point I have to say is the above is simply a dump of patterns I see and how the on flow from the centre out is what is causing the most pain for the company. The products themselves will have a bumpy lifespan over time and sure the community surrounding the products will also share the same amount of turbulence. The actual cause of all these bumps though start with the above, these are the engines if you will producing the chaos.

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Hey Scott, WPF isn’t dead he just said so..

I was forwarded a blog post today from a .NET dev – Juan M. Medina. It was a great insight into the cause/effects and now response to some of my blog posts. It however left me a little frustrated mainly around the main issue of the declaration of WPF is dead being lost in translation.

To clarify, if I may.

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Juan walked up to Tim Heuer, Pete Brown and Scott Guthrie and asked them flat out whether or not WPF is dying – is that ex-Employee smoking crack or what? is the underlying point (but Juan is much politer). The response is as expected, in that the staff will usually work hard to show one and all a hint at the technology roadmap, partner success and internal bets being placed on the said product. It’s perfectly fine for them to do this as should either one of these guys deviate in the slightest well it’s both political and career suicide to even think about declaring the said UX platform dormant / aka dead.

It’s not about whether or not they are actively working on the said product(s), putting 3x engineers on a dormant product is still considered progress. The total number of engineers and features being worked on isn’t enough to declare a product alive. It needs more collective effort around it to really drive it home.

Google for example allocated some serious engineering effort behind Google Wave, its dead today. It had a roadmap, it had engineers, it had Google saying similar commitment speeches and it had a descent amount of initial launch public exposure. It’s dead, what happened?

The answer is similar to where I see WPF today, it’s got a bunch of engineers high-fiving one another around what’s coming up next, how cool it is and lastly what people have done with it only when asked.

WPF has no marketing. I’ve covered this in an early post, but that’s the initial point of the "WPF is Dead" and why it’s got both a small amount of engineers as well as maybe one or two warm bodies actively evangelizing and marketing it at best – that’s assuming if you count Rob Relyea and Pete Brown as its entire marketing force.

In not having a collective Evangelism, Marketing and Engineering team working alongside one another, it pretty much becomes this Google Wave like science project. In that you get a list of random features that most people may look at and go "Well I guess, the other guys in the WPF community wanted that, not for me though" that really don’t sync up to the overall collective practical usage today for the said technology. You basically have 200+ engineers all working on features that probably have zero to no impact worldwide with the collective majority who actively use the said technology (who says I’m right or wrong on that?)

Thus, it’s a corpse.

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In order to be successful with a product like WPF, you need to really sit down and analyze the overall feature matrix and think about how it’s being used, where its being used, what the maturity levels are for developers, what features are fun vs. boring, what features are needed for xyz verticals, what features are needed in order to prepare for the next 2 releases and so on..

For example, you look at a feature and you apply something like the following to it:

  • Is this feature completely new to the industry (Deep Zoom, Pivot Viewer etc).
  • Does this feature have full tooling support?
  • Does this feature have learning materials ready at launch?
  • Is this feature fully documented?
  • Has this feature had breaking changes prior to RTM?
  • Does this feature require Level 300+ developer skill maturity in order to comprehend.
  • Does this feature rely on other features?
  • Is this feature a market differentiator?
  • Is this feature a highlight feature (ie RTM talking point)
  • What partners have used this feature and specifically in which demo / examples
  • How often will this feature be used compared to the others?
  • etc..

You ask a plethora of these questions as you need to market, manage and evangelize this feature as if it were the most important piece of the said product. It doesn’t have to be, but it gets your entire product positioned in a way that reduces friction to all that need to comprehend and ask what value the said feature is about to provide?

Features aren’t just bullet points in a blog post.

It’s not about saying "I just committed 200+ engineers and I now have the following shopping list of items ready for you" it’s more about how the said shopping list fixes or addresses real world scenarios – frame the problem then show how the feature solved it.

Collectively all features need some kind of airplay, but you also need to filter out the easy from the hard and focus on spending effort via Evangelism , Blog Posts, Tutorial Videos (level 100, 200, 300 etc) and so on reducing the friction associated with the hard ones. Use the easy features simple ice breakers only, but double down on the hard ones as much as possible.

It doesn’t stop there, you also need to go through and clean up the internet as much as possible around some of the beta / breaking changes for any features that you had prior to release as sadly, transparency comes at a price – confusion. Legacy blog posts need updating as they’ve shifted from just being a moment on an RSS Horizon to being part of your collective documentation world-wide. You need to track some of this and get ahead of it as much as possible.

Last but most important of all, you need to take all this effort and market the crap out of it. You need to spend close to 2 years minimum rinse and repeating the value of WPF over and over. It needs to be broadcasted and when you think you are done, start again.

Coco Cola is a brand the world knows at first sight, they don’t just sit back and go "Well coke is pretty much well known now, it’s a mature brand! – job well done all!" – instead you are constantly reminded of the beverage and how refreshing it’s going to make you feel whenever you get thirsty. They do this as when the time comes and when you face a fridge inside a supermarket, you make a decision within 7 seconds on whether or not you believe them. The constant reminding is done for a reason as its about ensuring coke is your default choice.

Microsoft have yet to figure this out across all of its products. Its why there is a huge contrast between Microsoft and Adobe, Apple and even Google. Microsoft floods the market with "look at me" quick, fast, dirty and uncalculated marketing principles that often change every fiscal.

The others don’t, they typically keep a steady course and iterate on failure and break success. Rinse & Repeat. Apple are the most calculated of all, everything they do is done in a matter that has quality bands tightly controlled.

This week alone you’ve seen two separate fumbles at basic product positioning and press releases from an executive through to a simple press release (Bing 3D maps deprecation announcement was a mess).

To wrap this corpse  up..

My end point is this, walking up to an Executive inside Microsoft and flat out asking "Is that product dead or what?" is not going to get you an accurate answer. Save your question, instead ask

  • What is the marketing strategy for WPF?,
  • What’s the feature catalogue look like beyond what I’ve already seen so far?
  • How often do you plan to ship?
  • Is there Evangelists in my subsidiary that are going to help me market and seed a community around this product?
  • Who are the community leads at Microsoft who can help me with further questions for this product?
  • How do I train developers & designers to prepare for WPF?
  • How does WPF and Silverlight work with one another with the new features?
  • What can I use to convince my work to adopt this technology?
  • How does WPF work with my vertical (finance, health, mining etc)
  • How does the case study you told me about relate to the following features?
  • etc

You keep hammering away at the hard questions around the future sustainability of WPF beyond a few random stats that really don’t give you an accurate picture – eg.. 200+ engineers on WPF/SL? what does that mean? is that 100 engineers on WPF and 100 engineers on Silverlight? do they even need 200? is 200 enough..should there be more? what’s that mean?

Is WPF dead? yeah it is do you know why? because someone forgot to tell us all it’s not.

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The rise and fall of Microsoft’s UX platform – Part 3

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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.

The cold hard reality is that most developers actually probably don’t want to go back to Circa 2005 development with extras (i.e. JavaScript and HTML suck). The entire HTML5 strategy is basically a mess on its own as you’ve got Browser catch-up’s that still need to be done.

You’ve got issues around browser owners looking into ways of forking the HTML5 concept to suite their own agendas? You’ve got tooling coming out slowly and half baked? You’ve got a mixed reaction of what HTML5 actually means? You’ve got anxiety over whether or not JavaScript and HTML can scale? you’ve got millions of devices today that just can’t load HTML5? You’ve got at least a 2-5 year latency effect world wide of enterprise even considering HTML5 in its current form … the list just goes on.

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.

Summary.

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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.

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WPF has no Product Manager.

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WPF has a lot of potential going for it, it’s one of these products that you absolutely hate upfront when you first start on its learning curve but over time you grow to love it dearly as it unleashes a lot of creative potential within you early.

There’s been a lot of talk recently around its futures, namely by myself but also in various forums, discussion lists and so on. It’s both healthy but at the same time it’s not being heard by the right people internally within Microsoft.

WPF has a few problems to sort out, firstly there is what I call the convincing phase, in that getting people to initial embrace the latest version of .NET 4.0 is a challenge unto itself – which has next to no marketing attached. The second challenge, is the ask that folks get behind the learning curve / investment of adopting WPF instead of Silverlight for desktop based solutions. It’s a challenge because Silverlight Out of Browser has confused a little on which is best for what and where. The last but most important challenge of all is the learning curve attached to WPF, as it’s somewhat a very chaotic and noisy Google search to undertake.

Why adopt WPF?

In 2007, I was an Evangelist for Microsoft via Australia for this question. I’d probably give you some prescribed marketing spin that went something like this:

“WPF is for ultimate experience, Silverlight is for great experiences and lastly AJAX/HTML is for good experiences”

I’d then throw up a slide and show you the three pillars of Microsoft UX Platform and how we as a company are investing big into the futures of developer & designer productivity. Its obvious that was a lie, and apologies to any who bought it – as even I bought it.

The reality behind why adopt WPF is simple, you have full control over your user experience on a Windows based PC (both Windows XP  and Vista/Windows7). You have more ubiquity (70% of Windows machines today – have at least .NET 3.5 installed) than Silverlight and in many ways typically have more support around API’s then Silverlight. You have a much more engaging interop story (ie access to the quasi 3D now in WPF but should you want to go big, you can again via interop do more). You have  now a descent amount of download size as well, roughly ~40mb give or take to deploy with.

I could list a whole bunch more reasons, but the end summary is that WPF has a lot of positives attached to it today than people typically think or know?

If it’s so good, Why is WPF dying then?

I’ve thought about this question a lot since leaving the WPF/Silverlight teams. I’ve blogged about the fact I think its dead, I’ve explained many times over the reasons why there is internal politics getting in the way but ultimately what it comes back to is simply a Product Management problem. As a former Product Manager of this product, I simply wasn’t doing my job for WPF. I ignored it, it was easy to do so as Silverlight was the main star in this theater.

WPF isn’t being evangelized anymore, it has zero marketing and more importantly the development team within Microsoft are tasked with all of this as well as partner hand holding and actually development of the said product. Scott Guthrie can throw a random 200+ engineers are working on it all he likes, but ask anyone internally if I’m lying about who does what and where, and I will guarantee you the bulk of the work falls into the hands of the WPF Engineering team to do it all solo.

Point and case, Evernote this week blogged about how they abandoned WPF and went C++ instead, citing performance reasons etc. as the reason(s) why. Fair enough, but what struck me is odd was that none of the usual suspects where jumping ahead of this PR issue, in that typically you see something like this you quickly put some spin on it, reassure the masses with your said messaging framework and rinse/repeat until you get downright annoying about how good WPF is still.

Didn’t happen.

Still not convinced? take Windows 7 Launch. I remember seeing an internal memo about how the said campaign was going to work and more importantly how $300million+ in marketing budget was going to be spent convincing the world that Windows 7 is a good bet this time round. “I’m a PC” was born.

I also remember sitting in a team meeting discussing what story we would pitch for WPF/Silverlight around Windows 7? we soon learnt that Windows 7 had the same developer story as it did Windows Vista. This then resulted in the team deciding that since there was nothing new or shiny to talk about, we’d just leave it be.

This frustrated a colleague and myself. The reason being is that who said Windows Vista + WPF got traction? who said we still couldn’t use the same goals as we did back then! I mean our team even re-branded .NET logo to fit into a more up to date branding strategy.

We simply didn’t go out there and market .NET 4.0 or 3.5 along with Windows 7. We should have been hitting the usual channels, promoting how with WPF you can get blah blah potential out the door. We should have been investing heavily into adoption channels, ensuring the future of tomorrows .NET developer was embracing Windows as well as the potential for cross-platform, cross-device and cross-browser technologies.

Learn once today, Use many tomorrow – or a cheesy tag line like that should have been conjured.

Instead Silverlight is and now Wp7 are being pushed as the sole future(s) of Microsoft. It’s no wonder the Windows team aren’t on board with DevDiv, as when you take a step back and look at what they have to leverage from the developer community – then you are left with a solution that basically works in all other platforms as well as their own? the only chance you get of keeping that genie in the bottle is to bake features that are Windows Specific into place – yet this won’t bode well as that level of adjustment to an existing agnostic product won’t happen as it simply deposits large amount(s) of hate debt into the bank from developers world wide (embrace and extend is a known tactic of Microsoft that breeds distrust and disagreement)

WPF needs Product Management 101

PDC has finally got one session in its talk agenda that is focused on WPF. It took the guy in charge of WPF’s development teams to step up and do Microsoft Developer/Platform Evangelism Team(s) (DPE) job. Rob is an awesome guy and I have a deep amount of respect for his work, it just seems downright disappointing that he’s got to focus on a session talk instead of sitting in a bubble thinking up better ways to develop WPF’s future(s).

MIX and TechEd for the last 2 years has had little next to none (I can think of anyway) WPF discussions happening, essentially Microsoft is putting WPF on its ignore list.

What needs to happen is Product Management 101, there needs to be an actual WPF Product Manager dedicated to its future. At the moment that role fits under the Silverlight Team at best, and is thinly spread between Silverlight, Windows Phone 7 and any if not all Rich Platform compete issues ranging from Adobe centric through to the threat of HTML5. There is no one person really owning this problem, just a few directors appearing to.

Product Management is about protecting the brand, it’s about sitting down with partners and figuring out what features worked vs what didn’t. It’s about thinking about how your competitors are doing xyz and then coming up with ways to differentiate from them. It’s about working with community leads (corporate and street evangelists) ensuring they understand your vision for the future of the said product. It’s about crafting a marketing channel (web page, blog etc) that echoes your reasons for why it exists, where its heading and what successes and failures its had. It’s about investing in learning material on features that are rated the hardest and letting developers discover the ones on their own that are less harder (it plays into the psychology of learning, if you learn something that is a little hard but tad easy, your confidence levels rise). It’s about ensuring others are inspired by your products vision and compete with one another to create beautiful experiences that go beyond your initial baseline of expectations.

None of this exists today. It all sits in the hands of the engineering team who are doing all this and actually coding at the same time.

Scott Guthrie said there were 200+ engineers working on WPF & Silverlight. How many are working on WPF and more importantly how many people are marketing WPF & .NET 4.0 today? If its more than one, then tell me, what have they done lately?

As I seem to be the most vocal guy on the planet right now about WPF and nobody has challenged me head-on in proving me wrong?

I’ve often thought about what I’d say if someone actually asked me to move back to Microsoft Corp and take on this role? my first answer would be – I want to sit next to the development teams and I want a ring fenced budget that I spend solely on WPF, give me those and I’ll do the job again, only this time I’ll execute more precisely.

Ruby On Rails has less to work with and they’ve kicked Microsoft’s butt so badly now, that its now considered a competitive threat! do more with less I guess?

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Windows Phone 7 – A phone without individuality and coming soon music?

Microsoft has announced the Windows Phone 7 officially, it’s the coming out party for this late to the market device. I’m on record saying that I think it’s a “meh” release, in that its rushed and not cleanly delivered as it could of been had there more time, but given SteveB underestimated the true potential the iPhone had on the market – here we are, today, new phone.

The phone itself technically has a lot of potential in terms of what i can and can’t do, I for one am going to buy one because this is the space I dwell in. As for consumers, i don’t see it being a rush to buy thing given a few issues with the phone that i’ve noticed already.

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The first issue is lack of individuality, as i scope out the various hardware manufacturers idea of what their Windows Phone 7 world is going to look like there is clearly a lack of remarkable differentiation between the said devices. In that so far, there’s not a lot of personality to the phones other than some minor slide-outs (some opt for physical keyboards etc) but overall it seems very lack luster in range.

Having not a lot of sizzle outside the operating system to me is an early sign of caution, as phones are really part function but also equally part form (it’s a fashion item as well as a worker focused technology).

The most important aspect that I felt the phone has definitely come up short on is the lack of Zune subscription world wide. I’ve got a Zune subscription in the US via my US Credit Card, so for me I’ve been leeching off this cheap approach to solving my music issues. I pay approx $15 USD a month or so, and I get all the music i want for free via my Zune Device and Desktop (It’s DRM and expires in 3 months unless i reconnect to the Zune Marketplace with a content sync).

Not having this subscription channel straight out of the box basically makes the phone part-brain dead as for me this and XBOX-lite games are probably the two focal points of differentiators for “reasons to ditch Andriod/iPhone” for average consumer.

Why is Zune Music subscription important to Windows Phone 7

It firstly seeds an entrenched market, iTunes currently holds supremacy over our music purchases online, and having to pay $2 per song basically creates a polarizing effect on individuals as on one hand buying the album is cheaper than a physical one in stores but on the other hand why buy when you can pirate?

Piracy is an issue that has a lot of tentacles but one component of piracy is lack of access to a credit card. I mean, take an average 15 year old kid who no doubt is into music to get them through puberty blues. These kids don’t have access to credit cards all the time, so the moment they need to buy a song or two, its a case of bugging parents for the said funds. I’d wager most parents give the kid the brush off and so they are left to pirating off their friends etc for the said songs.

Zune subscription however allows parents to buy a monthly/yearly subscription model. This in turn can then be a gift based approach which in turn can also mean the whole house not just the one child can access the said subscription.

It gets better, having this one child gain access to a library of music is one thing but then freely being able to send the said music selection to other friends is also a potential body punch to piracy amongst this said target audience. It also creates a natural evangelism for Zune subscription and if marketed and managed well it basically can put some much needed pressure on Apple iTunes etc, point is this story can be told in a number of different ways all pointing towards an interesting differentiation between Apple and Microsoft.

Combine the subscription model with Microsoft Points (ie XBOX Live etc) and you also have an abstracted currency exchange that can mask users from emotive based purchasing (who knows how much 923pts translates to in real dollar terms off the top of their heads!)

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Zune needs to go global first time out, it sends a strong message about being feature complete for version 1. Failing to do so and via the usual trickle in late to the party progressive disclosure marketing – aka Microsoft Marketing 101 – simply fails to gain awareness as much as it could or should.

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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.

Summary

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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Microsoft: Stop the shiny object syndrome.

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It’s soon time for yet another product roll out, you’re in the marketing team and faced with a urgent issue – we need example demos to excite the developer base?. Like most other Product Managers you look for the nearest and latest vendor, drop a few hundred thousand in their laps and say the words “Can you make it WoW” and then proceed to wait.

The agency at times will come back with a result that’s either really fantastic or really short on execution – in my exp I’ve noticed more of the later. You then take that said demo, slap on the Microsoft branding on it then send it out into the wild as your own – don’t ask, don’t tell is your response on “how”.

Those of you who kind of know how the behind the scenes works on these kind of things are ok with it, as its part of the machine in which a market gets seeded with the said product. Those of you who look at the new shiny toy on offer are excited and are waiting for the final result. Waiting… waiting…and more waiting but it doesn’t often come.

You probably didn’t get the meme on why end of year reviews come internally come and go which in turn means that all work created in the first fiscal cannot be re-echoed in the second fiscal – so yes, the cool little agency built concept gets thrown out with the previous fiscals trash.

This is how Microsoft markets its products daily ranging from websites, applications through to random programs that are meant to simplify your world into a few bullet points or less.

The reality is this, it gets to a point where you simply just roll your eyes at every new announcement and essentially approach it with an element of contempt or cynicism. To be fair, you’re suffering from the old “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me” effect.

Microsoft really needs to knock it off, its getting somewhat annoying for the customer base. At first I just ignored this overall effect as well I was like many part of the said machine. Now being on the outside of Microsoft and hanging out with the “customers” and “developers” I can see the negative effects it has on the perception of Microsoft today first hand.

I almost want to grab Steve Ballmer and make him sit down in frontline cubicles incognito – like that show where boss’s go undercover in their companies – and get him to see the negative impacts these poorly executed marketing strategies are having.

Disagree? how about this, what if someone were to create a timeline of all the new example apps and promises Microsoft has made in the last 5 years. Then if we were to look at the ones that have sustained beyond a fiscal year, how many do you think would be left?

Microsoft needs to re-focus, re-energize and re-think their current strategies as I think its getting to the point now where there is more noise less signal. I should know as I make a tidy profit right now decoding Microsoft to customers and once they get over the initial shock comes anger then acceptance.

example:

Customer:
“Why didn’t the team do xyz”

Me:
“Because the other team in the org didn’t like it so they had to work around the said team. It’s not an external factor, just an internal political thing”

Customer:
“but i loved it!”

Me:
“Yeah, it was a good idea, anyway..”

Think I’m wrong? ask Microsoft how its going with the design audience discussions? Ask the Windows team what they think of WPF / Silverlight and how HTML5 will play a role? you’ll be quite surprised at the answers of these two questions.

I call this “the shiny object syndrome” (ie once the shine leaves or it gets boring, you’re onto the next one and so on like its seasonal fashion)

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Adobe, you lose.

Like you, I’ve watched from the sidelines this whole Apple vs. Adobe battle take place and can’t but help laugh at Adobe. It’s like watching a geek get all agro because the pretty girl in the class ignores his advances and no matter what he tries, it just isn’t meant to be.

Let’s look at this from a different lens?

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Apple set out years ago to create a mobile device; they built this idea from scratch and spent millions marketing it to the world. It changed the way we look at mobile devices as fast forward today, the iPhone, has more copycat products on the market than any I’ve seen so far. Apple did what it said it would do, it thought differently and it worked. The problem is that it’s up to Apple what goes on it and what doesn’t and for Adobe to sit on the sidelines and piss and moan about “open” is somewhat boring and pathetic. Here a company like Adobe is lecturing Apple on innovation online? Did I miss the big invention of Adobe somewhere?

Adobe honestly thinks they can turn an entire iPhone user base against Apple?

For instance, I remember being on Microsoft campus the day the iPhone 3Gs came out. I remember working late the night before and creeping back home around 5am, driving past AT&T store at Redmond. There was a line around the block so others could get a slice of the iPhone for themselves and as I drove past I noticed a lot of familiar faces in the Microsoft staff directory, some whom would probably get a scolding or initial look at the time for “buying the competitor”.

Today, it’s rumored 30,000 active iPhone connections exist on campus – yet – Microsoft is one of Apple’s biggest competitors? You have people inside the company who bleed blue and would shoot some venomous action your way at the mere sight of seeing the Apple logo. Still folks lined up around the block at 5am to buy this device.

Adobe’s Marketing and Evangelism have simply lost the plot as they are forgetting this is what they are up against, their sole priority is to discredit Apple – to remind you that Apple are a dictatorship and they are starving the world of “potential” innovation.

Here’s the thing though, I’m yet to see Adobe do anything exciting past its Photoshop and After Effects tooling. Flash is a product where I simply see less value in its existence and a product which I may add that Silverlight has not only caught up to in features but in many ways overtaken.

The thing is they’ve had market share with Flash for almost a decade and nothing bad decisions, terrible product marketing and countless stories of their developer/designer community abandonments. Steve Jobs was right, they are and were lazy. As that’s why Microsoft said “enough, let’s make our own” and that’s why others like Apple are following this line of thinking – two giant brands disregarding Flash? Coincidence?

Same playbook, different victim

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When we would compete head to head with Flash back in Silverlight’s infancy we often were the ones of their targeted attacks, much like Apple is today. We’d have constant skirmishes back and forth over random events or some snarky blog comment here and there. Basically the same playbook they are using on Apple today came from Microsoft vs. Adobe and yet despite their attempts they’ve never won on both battle fronts.

Adobe want in on the iPhone Apple said no, I have no dog in this fight other than to say, I’m happy with the way Apple have been pushing the innovation in today’s marketplace and I’m yet to see Adobe even come close to both Microsoft or Apple when it comes to the word innovation.

Today, Adobe just seems to be immature and have finally over-inflated the brands ego. I think Adobe is on a downward spiral for a couple of years as this kind of behavior is going to hit their bottom line, which you can guarantee.

I read this latest post from mesh and just roll my eyes and I actively wonder if Mike actually believes in the spin he’s typing?

http://www.mikechambers.com/blog/2010/05/14/adobe-on-open-markets/

How much more kool-aid can one drink?

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