The consequences of declaring WPF is dead.

When you write a blog post like the one I wrote around WPF being dead, you tend to get a few emails that are either filled with confusion such as “it’s dead?...wtf?” or worse you get the email that basically outlines how you just ruined a perfectly good deal for someone. Having just received one of these emails, I thought I would address a crude FAQ on the pros and cons of WPF being dead.

Question. If we all say WPF, is dead, wont that hurt its present day adoption?

Answer. Yes. Definitely and I have personally been at the bruising end of that conversation. There is no doubt that if we the .NET community declare WPF end of life we in turn let Microsoft get away with their bad decision making (in truth my bad decision making as its former Product Manager) and lastly we shoot ourselves in the foot for future XAML friendly work. Having said that, declaring it dead is important short-term loss but potentially long term gain and I will explain why. Mobility platform adoption is at critical crossroads. Today companies worldwide are under a lot of pressure to discuss what their software offerings in and around web + mobility are likely to be. That is to say, the sales pipelines are handing feedback up stream that ask the question in around “when are we going to be mobile” (not in a literal sense but conceptually). If we today continue to prop up WPF as a “good enough” technology bet knowing Microsoft has abandoned any further support then we are placing the entire .NET community at risk of alternative development. This is to say that most developers who are bored with .NET or do not’ care will not be fussed either way and probably would embrace this all the more. Developers who do enjoy sitting inside Visual Studio and dare I say, Expression Blend might find this a troublesome thought to contemplate. The fact of the matter is .NET development is successful given its tooling story and .NET framework often gets you in and out of the development workload quite fast (I am a former Java/ActionScript developer, so I am not saying this a pure .NET whore). If we ignore the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 proposition in favor of high fiving WPF, well we are placing our short-term bets on desktop development here and now whilst leaving the whole mobility continuance exposed to iOS or Android development. This in turn can have a knock on effect, whereby developers in the .NET space are given a choice of either doubling down on HTML5, up/down-skilling in iOS or Android development practices or worse being outsourced to specialist teams who have prior experience in the alternative(s). WPF has no mobility story other than a remote desktop application on an iPad touching a desktop built in WPF (messy and clumsy). I see the whole Windows 8 proposition as a mess; do not get me wrong Microsoft have done us all no favors with their UI choice(s), developer relations nightmare and lastly internal bickering and constant wave after wave of aggressive behavior. It is time the company either started to fire some executives or regroup and come up with a better strategy than the one(s) they have now. Until such time, it in the end it has been left up to Architects worldwide who have influence to provide clarity around what the Microsoft mobility offerings look like and help position new projects towards this in a calm manner. I am not saying this will happen overnight it will probably take 1-2 years to push the business community into the Microsoft Windows-only mobility space. If we also can carefully, correct Microsoft messaging that WPF is dead whilst at the same time Windows 8 is the next version of WPF (current source code, tooling and skill reuse), you stand a greater chance of success than you do by choosing to downplay its state. The trick is to go beyond Microsoft’s weak guidance today that “Silverlight & WPF aren’t dead, XAML/C# are alive!” as if that was the answer to the question. It clearly needs to be expanded on further and teased out in careful threads on what that actually means. It’s not about XAML/C# it’s about “can I keep my existing work on Windows 8” first and foremost. If they can answer that question with clear and definitive guidance the whole WPF is dead becomes less of a bad taste. If they cannot answer that, then look to the blogger left or right of you and pray they understand Microsoft better than they themselves as its coming down to the ye olde “influencer takes all” position. Ubiquity seems to always be a sticking point with Microsoft. The fact that WPF right now has probably one of the best ubiquity stories that would make Silverlight at its peak salivate with envy still goes largely unnoticed. It has to do with Microsoft’s lack of marketing & evangelism around this but in reality you could knock out a WPF application and reach more audiences than most other languages. Think about that, how many Windows machines are there worldwide, specifically when it comes to Business customers (less consumer). Now what has always been the sticking point about making applications in HTML vs. Windows? Answer – cross platform. Having cross-platform has always been most sort after request and the main core reason why WPF adoption has often been parked in the “maybe next time” bay. The amount of times at Microsoft when I was in the Product Management team we faced this issue we would often just retreat to Silverlight as an answer hoping that would get deals across the line where possible (hence Silverlight got all the investment and WPF didn’t). The reality is Microsoft is a Windows only company and for a while, Silverlight and its x-platform strategies distracted us all, but ultimately that is what killed it. Microsoft cannot as a company afford any more to be semi-agnostic; they are losing so much market share right now it is ridiculous. They now have to regroup (Windows 8 product lines) and go back to their tired playbook of “Windows Only or bus” (it’s the only trick Sinofsky knows). If Microsoft cannot position WPF as a viable solution to real problems and instead are bowled over with weak answers to the cross-platform perception then what are we all doing? Do you keep fighting the lonely fight or do you regroup and rally behind the one thing that actually might get you out of this discussion a bit more cleanly via the Windows 8 pitch. Tooling is tapering off. I do not see Visual Studio 2012+ and Blend+ continuing much more in investment around Windows 7 + WPF.  We all saw this happen with WinForms and it is not as if they will cut and run with these two, they just will not spend too much time on the problems that are faced with tooling for WPF. WPF is likely to still have internal investment so long as Expression Blend and Visual Studio continue to pull from its code base how that spills over to the public though is an open question (that will not yield answers). It is in Microsoft best interest to turn a cold shoulder here on WPF (despite its internal adoption) publically in order to get everyone shifted over to Windows 8 in a more timely manner. If they let WPF linger or keep feeding it backwards compatibility then it turn becomes what Windows XP has been to Windows 7 or Internet Explorer 6 to Internet Explorer 9 … a legacy you just can’t kill off no matter how much you promise “new” is better.

Question. Ok, so you are saying let’s all announce WPF is dead and long live Windows 8?

Answer. Yes. Before you grab your stones and start throwing my way, it comes back to the key driving principle behind why that is. Do you optimize for a short-term gain and in turn leave the mobility and future platform battle to the alternatives or do you instead promote its end of life but do one better than Microsoft themselves by outlining what the transition will look like over the next two years. What I mean to say is, do not just say, “its dead, end of story”.  Instead, say, “It’s dead as long as Windows 7 isn’t alive. The future of WPF however is tied-up in Windows 8, so if we want to get more into mobility then we have a transition moment here. We can continue to keep existing code that we have written and transport it across primarily. Secondly, we can also retain our developers skill sets that we have invested today given the tooling and languages are still intact (with minor and major modifications throughout). It sux and I am facing the same issue right now. As I sit here and type this on my Office 13 Preview via my Windows 8 Install, I am doing so under duress. Do I like Windows 8? I don’t like the UI, sorry I think Metro is a form of mass design retardation in full flight but on the flipside I can live with it provided I get a UX platform that I can do more with. I will trade my dislike for Windows 8 upfront if it can let me create a vision of what I think the software industry should do with its out of date workflows & problem solving. I’ve waited 15 years+ for a descent UX platform to come along, I sat through VRML, DHTML, Flash, Flex, WPF, Silverlight and now this hell spawn known as Windows 8.  I worked as an outsider and insider on all of the above and I’ll be damned if I’ll give up now because some bald headed napoleon complex ass-hat decides “He’s got Steve Jobs beat”.

Question. You are still putting developer’s jobs on the line.

Answer. Yeah I probably am. I am not proud of that fact and when I was part of a team that funded Silverlight & WPF we actively choose to ignore WPF in favor of Silverlight. It was a calculated bet at the time but clearly, the result is we have two products facing a slow death march in favor of a reboot to a solution we almost had at the start. Let me unpick that further. When I first joined Microsoft, we were fighting to get WPF into the hands of .NET developers worldwide. We needed to move everyone from Windows XP over to Windows Vista and in a timely fashion. Microsoft spent millions pushing the agenda alongside getting Office Open XML blessed as a standard (given it would help influence adoption). The whole thing was a mess and as a result Silverlight was born if anything as a way to buy some time around what to do in terms of solving cross-browser and cross-platform related issues (with a keen eye on mobility). Silverlight did its job initially but in the end, the chaos that flowed from those days to today still is haunting us all. My point is that by talking openly about the technology platforms the way I have, I am looking to cut through the political and chaos that is before us today. I am looking to instead help others diagnose the problem aloud as in order to solve a problem you first have to admit you have one. WPF is dead. Ok. Now what. Do you go HTML5? Probably yes, but do you honestly think WPF being alive or dead have influence to this discussion – more to the point do you think this blog is going to send companies racing for HTML5 now? I would say if a decision is to go down the HTML5 path that thought was planted well before I arrived there. Do you invest in iOS or Android? Again, go for it watch the dollars you were going to spend on HTML5 and WPF escalate given its not only foreign development practices to your existing .NET space but you probably will have to absorb the time to up skill or hiring of specialist teams to do the work (India outsourcing can only buy you so much). If this blog is the catalyst to a WPF team getting the termination letters then you were cooked well before I arrived I’m just the 1000th cut.          

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The Unofficial Windows 8 Developer FAQ

Early this week I’ve been talking to a few current and former Microsoft staffers about all things Windows 8. In my discussions I’ve started to gather some gossip in around what happened to Silverlight and lastly the specifics around the DevDiv fall out between Steve Sinofsky and Soma. Should I share the chat logs it is an entertaining read however what did struck me throughout the conversations was how much positivity Microsoft has been squandering due to petty internal squabbles or “dare not speak of that, for the overlord Sinofsky shall smite thee down for saying the nameless one out loud”. Today, I’m going to attempt to do something Microsoft staff should have done long ago or didn’t do correctly or simply were held back from doing so. I’m going to release the Unofficial FAQ on “What Just happened” in Microsoft for developer(s) worldwide. Note: This is all based off internal gossip, second hand information and blah blah, so if you want to call bullshit on the below do so but back it up with specifics on what actually happened – don’t just say “that’s b.s” as we’ll take that as a deflection attempt at setting the record straight. Ready.. (Remember this is from the perspective of “if I was still a Product Manager at Microsoft positioning not official etc.). The Unofficial FAQ

Q. Is WPF Dead?

A. Yes and No. Yes WPF as you see it before you is end of life that is to say no more code will be written for the “platform” given Windows 7 and Windows 8 have different DNA going forward. No as in when we decided to move everything over to leaner Windows 8 platform we had to put both Silverlight and WPF on a diet in order to get Mobility parity / compatibility in check. The Upside is we’ve fixed some of the UI rendering issues that have plagued you in the past; the down side is we’ve had to sacrifice features here and there in the process.  

Q. If I make an Application today in WPF it won’t work in Windows 8 tomorrow.

A. Not correct. Expression Blend uses WPF still in Windows 8, so in a way you’re covered as long as VS2012 and Blend continue to take their cue from the previous XAML Rendering that has been in place since Windows 7. There are certain things you can’t do in Windows 8 going forward though, that is to say new features won’t work in both Windows 7 and Windows 8 for obvious reasons. If they aren’t obvious then …stop coding now.  

Q. Do I have to learn HTML5 or C++ in Windows 8 now?

A. No. The neat trick here is that we took the body of work found in Silverlight and made it handle the rendering of XAML. Now we didn’t take it as-is we again had to scale it back and use it as a starting point for a reboot of WPF/Silverlight to ensure two things happen going forward. The first is that we have WPF/Silverlight parity issues resolved in terms of performance and developer centric API changes whilst at the same time we had to find a way to make Steve Sinofsky believe that Silverlight was killed off. The last point wasn’t a technical issue it was more of a political one and so in order to help give him the illusion of Silverlight’s death we renamed a few namespaces and adjusted a few features here and there to give the appearance of “new” on the “old”.  

Q. Why did you change so much in Windows 8 to confuse us all on old vs. new?

A. We had to find a way to put Internet Explorer back into the hands of the masses in a more aggressive manner. In order to facilitate this internal metric we needed to also scale back Silverlight’s popularity given when you think about its future roadmap and Internet Explorer the two will end up competing with one another. Having Internet Explorer start taking over the HTML5 discussion would also help us win hearts and minds with the non-.NET crowd which would then help boost our internal metrics around Linux, Php, Apache and MySQL/Oracle compete (that has often plagued us for many a fiscal year). Once we’ve placed Internet Explorer onto many devices worldwide we will then ask developers to fork their beloved HTML5 in a way that lets them access Windows 8 further. This in turn will help us regain the lost dominance we once had before all of our Internet Explorer staff left the company to work for Google Chrome. Additionally, it will help us with our many year attempts at attracting more developers to our Windows Server & Tooling business units. Now to answer your actual question it’s important to know the previous strategy for Internet Explorer as now the problem we face both internally and externally is how we are going to balance Internet Explorer’s future with XAML given the old “Silverlight” concept was directly competing with this strategy. In short we had to make it feel there was a lot of change in the room and decided that letting you believe that what’s really happened is that WPF & Silverlight were merged as one and that Silverlight 5 wasn’t the last release as really Windows 8 is Silverlight 6 Desktop. Letting you believe that would keep you preoccupied with that branch of thought where what we need you to do is come back to the Internet Explorer way of thinking – there is no plugin only a browser.

Q. So… you saying Windows 8 is really Silverlight 6?

A. Yeah in concept yes. Technically no, but if you take a step back from our bad messaging, public relation screw-ups and lastly our idiotic executive we pretty much did what you asked – we fixed WPF and Silverlight parity & performance and we made it also work on both desktop and mobile. I give you Windows 8.  

Q. Well ..why didn’t you just say that? Why did you scare us with C++ or HTML5 rhetoric?

A. I have no answer suffice to say there was lots of infighting going on and I don’t see Soma and Sinofsky sharing a beer or two at a BBQ in the near future unless the bottle was broken and one has the other pinned down with a desire to kill..  

Q. You said mobility and parity are you saying Windows 8 is compatible with Windows Phone?

A. Yes. Windows Phone 7 was kind of a hold our place in the line while we figure out what to do next release. It was badly marketed and in the end we were too late to enter the market – not to mention we weren’t ready to talk about the work we were doing with Windows 8. Now that we’ve finally hit reset on Windows Phone via our 8.0 releases we’ve now found a way to put the XAML rendering we have in Windows 8 onto the phone. Well to be fair we really kept Silverlight’s DNA alive in both which has now let us enable you to write applications on both platforms via our new upgraded API’s and tooling (again to give the appearance of new). This is in part why you can’t use Windows Phone 8 code on Windows Phone 7.x compatible devices,  Additionally you would see how we swapped the two out and start to guess what really happened during the Soma vs. Sinofsky fight.

Q. I don’t think that’s technically correct.. if you look at Windows Phone 7 and then look at…

A. I’ma let you finish by stating that the phone may not have changed radically but Windows did that is to say if you were going to drag Silverlight’s work into the new Windows 8 whilst releasing Windows Phone 7 previously then which of the two do you change? The phone or operating system? – Answer is you do both but incrementally.

Q. Hang on so all of Windows 8 is now Silverlight? That doesn’t make sense..

A. No. Windows 8 core is,  (as the messaging and PowerPoint decks say,) new. Now the XAML piece that bolts on top of that core is what I’d call “Silverlight 6” that is it’s all the work that has been done on WPF/Silverlight since their birth converging as one.

Q. Why did Sinofksy and Soma duke it out?

A. It comes back to Sinofsky’s dislike for Silverlight that was in place years before Windows 8. Internally what had happened was the Windows 8 Planning teams felt that Microsoft had lost its way on the importance of web both from a tooling and platform perspective. Silverlight was simply a distraction that got out of control and what they felt was that HTML5 was getting more and more market acceptance. As such it was time to put the genie back in the bottle and double down on Internet Explorer again with an eye this time on integrating the web with the operating system via some minor fork in both JavaScript and HTML5 (eg iecompatiability tag) This of course didn’t go down well with Developer Division as this in turn meant that they had to scrap all the work done with Silverlight to date! The Silverlight team then went to work proving that both options are still viable and that for XAML, Silverlight would be a better candidate to ensure that path continues to occur. Essentially it was an internal two horse race for a while with the deciding vote going to Sinofsky. Unfortunately it was an unfair race given his alleged dislike towards Silverlight, so this in turn become a tense standoff between the head of DevDiv and the head of Windows. It’s rumoured that Soma and Steve had a huge falling out over settling old scores and as a result Silverlight was put into a “do not talk about it” status mode. Despite the executive fallout the Silverlight team (aka XAML team) were moved under the Windows org chart and put to work dragging the old into the new but with a clear direction to forever wipe the name Silverlight from their minds. It’s rumoured that in planning meetings the words compatibility and Silverlight were no-go words. It’s all gossip in the end, but that’s what’s being said at the local water fountain anyway. It could explain why Scott Guthrie went over to Azure. It could explain why you see some of the old Silverlight bloodlines talking in the Windows 8 presentations but finally, it could also explain why the “strategy has changed” remark got former Executive Bob Muglia in a whole world of trouble. Summary Look. The above could very well be fiction and time will tell exactly what has happened here but the more I think about Windows and it’s Phone counterpart the more I start to think what has really happened is a clean reboot to WPF/Silverlight has occurred for the greater good. The downside is that we’ve all been preoccupied with the new UI of Windows 8 and lastly the community wanted to know what the future of the brand Silverlight/WPF was per say (this is awkward). Instead of getting actual answers they were given deafening silence and finally, to this day the overall developer relations overall from Microsoft has been both lazy and poorly executed. What we are seeing is Microsoft power brokers asleep at the helm, specifically their evangelism is dead and lastly their messaging around the transition for Silverlight/WPF has been fumbled to the point where it’s easier now to believe Microsoft has hit “Shift+Delete” on these two products rather than to read the above (too much carnage on the roadmap now). If Microsoft had of come out and said something to the effect – “Look you asked us to fix WPF and Silverlight. We did that, we came up with a way now that lets you develop for our platform in three ways. The first is C++ if you want deeper access to Windows then we’ve tided up our Com++ API’s to a way that C# developers have found palatable. If you don’t want to do native code then you can build applications like you have done with Silverlight in the past, but the difference is it will now  Windows only (sorry). If you then want to build apps that are cross-platform then again we’ve got HTML5 and Internet Explorer story brewing, whilst it’s important to understand that we will not be looking to expand our developer story beyond Windows anymore (there is a certain amount of control HTML5 will give but we still believe Internet Explorer is a better bet overall). Then they show a few slides on how you can write-once deploy to both Desktop, Tablet and Mobile via the XAML/HTML5 and C++/C# story then it becomes a bit of a consolidation discussion vs. a “they’ve killed my favourite toy” discussion we see today. They didn’t do that. That would require actually someone in the company with a backbone or marketing muscle that goes beyond ass kissing to Sinofsky. The problem we have right now ladies in and gents is we are all suffering from Microsoft’s internal bickering and as a result companies are looking to seek alternative to Microsoft for fear that this petty squabbling will continue to spread from not  only the mobility market share losses but to potentially the operating system as well. Microsoft also has to figure out how to also re-engage their hardware vendors going forward given their failure rates in Windows Phones weren’t profitable for these guys and now with Microsoft Surface sending mixed signals it well has now turned into a bit of a question mark above the companies head around whether it can survive beyond its current dominance of desktop market share. Inside Microsoft Server share has dropped significantly and it’s why you see a lot of effort in the web platform stack around enticing Php and MySQL folks back to the logo. The only thing left for Microsoft to control is Office, Desktop and XBOX. Beyond that, they don’t have dominance anymore. Again someone explain to me why Steve Balmer is good for the company?  

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Being diagnosed with bipolar.

It’s been around three months since I had a full time role at a company. I quit my job for a couple of reasons firstly, my dad was dying so I felt more time with him definitely outweighed a pay cheque and secondly I wasn’t in the mood to write or designs software anymore. The months leading up to my resignation was quite emotionally turbulent, in that I hit a point where I just wanted to quit the Software industry all together as it had little or no excitement left in it (despite the advancing UX platform(s) of the future).  To the point where I found myself sitting in the Queensland Police force recruitment seminar and started to get excited about the idea of being a police officer, in that I've kinda always wanted to do this but they don’t get paid as much as a Software developer/designer - so it’s always held me back.

I was bedridden for two months

My dad died soon after I resigned and I found myself pretty much in bed most days watching countless TV/Movies day in day out. I wasn’t depressed, I was more indifferent to the world around me in that I had no desire to write anything or do anything other than just relax and live a stress free existence. This went on for 2 months while I went to a few job interviews and even to the point where I was turning down job offers even though I went to the initial interview? (wasting peoples time basically). It wasn’t until I got a small contract role (4 weeks) to do some UX prototyping (given finances were low) that I began to notice that not only was it time I stopped sitting on my lazy butt but get off it and do some work to ensure my family's bills are paid (given we made a huge dent in the savings). I found something very odd happening within, in that despite the importance of getting the work done in order to get paid, i still found it a struggle to get motivated or concentrate. My first initial thoughts were, maybe I’ve been lazy for to long and i need to just let the cob webs get out my way in order to get back to a developer/designer routine? Two weeks pass and I’m not getting better in fact I’m being worse, in that I’d laze around during the day and then find myself coding/designing until 3am each night to make up for the lost hours. The cycle began to get out of control and it worried not only my family but I myself started to get a bit concerned around why. With this concern, I went into a local GP office and sat down and told her what was going on. She asked me a series of questions that related to emotions/moods etc and history of these events etc in the past. She then left the room and asked one of her colleagues who’s a psychiatrist to come in and ask a few more questions. Two hours later, they both looked at one another and then turned to me and said calmly “we think you are suffering from bipolar”. I was silent, in somewhat disbelief as i’m not depressed, suicidal or any of those i’m just tired? how is being bipolar relevant here? We then went on to discussing what it is, how it is likely to be the cause of a lot of issues within my career/life and so on. Fast forward to today, and i’m taking Lithium as a medication in order to round out the highs/lows of my “mania” that comes with this disorder. At first I was afraid of it being a chemical lobotomy, as I didn’t want to lose my creative edge but at the same time my ability to finish what I start or concentrate for long periods has always been the failure in my career (amount of bridges I’ve burnt). It however is working, whether it's a placebo or not is something I can't answer  - but - I'm getting stuff done now and I'm able to concentrate for long periods without interruption (in 15 years of doing software development & design, it's actually extremely rare to have me concentrate on one task for more than 1-2 hours at a time - yesterday I worked a full 6hours non-stop). I don't think its the miracle cure but I think calming my mind from being a virtual ping pong machine does help stabilize my ideas into work.

It's embarrassing to say you have bipolar outloud.

I’ve tortured myself a little at posting this on my blog, given well it's embarrassing to admit that i have this dark passenger (as dexter would say only minus the killing of course) within me. It’s not that I choose to have whatever this disorder is it’s simply I have to live with it now. It’s something I’ve managed to work around for all my life, in that when I found myself in the lows/highs i’d look to other means to chip away at the problem and they varied from exercise (run/walk it out), drinking (beer helps hehe) or find an external outlet to clear the mind (dirtbike/moto-x riding, fishing, reading, PS3 etc). To now have a label and medication to trump all of the above seems firstly cheating and lastly embarrassing. I have bipolar? will the kids at school make fun of me now? etc etc.

Why now, why is this an issue today?

I first started noticing some signs that my emotions) in general weren’t normal when I was working inside Microsoft. The environment within the company is toxic most of the time so if you’re suffering from a condition that has degrees of both paranoia and high/low emotions, then basically Microsoft can be like making an alcoholic work for a brewery. One specific event comes to mind when i was trying to get the team to leave me alone in order to redo the Silverlight website(s). We hit a point where other members of the team who initially rejected the idea of its creation started to hijack that success I was having with it and thus it created this emotive response mixed with large amounts of paranoia. Long story short, I found myself yelling / swearing quite loud at three members of my team to the point where they had a look of fear on their face as if to say “this guy is losing it!”. I to this day am utterly embarassed with this event as I did totally lose it, it was over something so small yet it was just the start to what I would call my last dark days of Microsoft. I spent the next 3-4 months just being a complete asshole to others in the team that I wasn’t friends with to the point where my ego was getting out of control. The day I quit was a welcome relief to my the group manager Brian, as I could tell he was shocked as to how I went from being "yes, hire this guy now" to being "what the hell just happened". My doctor(s) now tell me that I was probably simmering up until that meeting and from there it was just a downhill race to rock bottom and that had I not reached the point where I was three months ago it was likely that i’d repeat this eventually somewhere down the line. The reason however this time I was just bedridden was simply the passing of my father, in that up until that point I’ve always kept a death grip on my hypomania but with his passing I just let go (giving grief can be a dark time).

Why post here about it?

What is my motivation to tell this story out loud. I’ve thought about this and the main reason is to apologise out loud to people I know and worked with over the years, as the more I think about this condition the more I now realise the difficulty that I may have put people in and lastly to thank those who despite my attitude still believed in my work and found ways to navigate around this. Lastly, to get it out of the way, I have bipolar, it sucks but now I have a name for whatever the hell this is and with a steady stream of medication and/or programs that I can tap into now, then I feel as if I can now get back to what I’m good at - designing software. The ability to have an idea and finish is a goal I’ve always had but never quite reached for almost 15 years. I’m looking forward to sitting down and writing something from start to finish now, and I’m hoping with treatment for this disorder it can happen again. I have bipolar and it doesn’t bother me now.

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Apple gets complaints about consistent incremental growth in their product(s).

Just like in the lion king, out come the Apple execs holding their new king high in the air as if the “circle of life” sound track is about to be played – yet again – hail the new Mac Book Pro and its retina display for it is the answer to a question nobody asked!

Apple Kool-Aid aside, something struck me today about the staying power of a Apple as a brand and it had little to do with the a-typical Steve Jobs circle jerk “he’s the technical second coming of jesus” rants.

Today, we cast our eyes to the big fruit in the RSS filled sky and we have two choices before us. We can either praise and high five Apple for all its brilliance and might – or – we can boo, hiss and denounce it as the new entity within the technology axis of evil for yet another lack luster development in product planning.

To me though something struck me as a stand out thought amongst many in my coffee overdosed bipolar mind. Today we are afforded the luxury of complaining about Apple and how dare they keep a consistent product roadmap that appears to be growing incrementally over the years. There’s no sudden abandonment or about face turn on product roadmaps, there is no product sitting in the portfolio suddenly gone really really quiet from a marketing standpoint to the point you almost would swear it never existed.

They have this nerve about staying fairly committed to their product vision and future and what really gets under my skin is how they keep improving on their designs.

An example comes to mind, the new Macbook Pro. All it has really is a tighter retina display that they borrowed from the R&D they clearly have put into the iPhone/iPad(s). What a cheap attempt at fooling me into buying their product – I’m outraged.

As you all know, I’m a Microsoft .NET developer & designer these days and to be openly frank about this, I don’t like it when a brand sticks to a commitment around their product line(s). I’m not used to it and I expect after 1-2 years the product has to be parked in the “old ideas” parking bay and I await now the new vision of what’s new coming up next.

The idea that you’re R&D can be re-used across all your platform(s) in a consistent and carefully designed manner that isn’t highly reactive to your competitor(s) is quite arrogant and clearly a dumb idea.

Microsoft will show Apple who’s boss, they’ll take the Windows 8 Tablet and ram it down the vegan fruit eating zen smoking hipsters throats. They’ll give them a lesson in how to confuse and alienate their customer(s) with inconsistent visions and platform resets that are a massive answer to a question that nobody asked.

Watch this space Apple as you’re about to be skooled on Windows 8 and yes there is no start button because that’s 25+ years of habitual usage that need not apply anymore – yeah they did it, they meant it and Sinofsky is here to represent it – Windows 8, no start, no finish just existence.

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Watching a father fight cancer.

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Its 11:30 PM on a Thursday night, my father is to my right in bed scared about one thing, drowning. He’s not afraid of dying; he made peace with the concept of what happens next long ago. He’s more concerned about drowning in whatever is pooling inside his chest due to the cancer aggressively growing inside of him. The doctors have said plain and to the point, that what will eventually take my father from this earth will be via drowning on his own internal chest fluids (among other things).

In order to defeat this, he has decided to cheat his fears and up the dosage of morphine and another drug that I can never recall. This will let him pass in a peaceful sleep, much like those ones you have after pulling an all-nighter and crashing at the end of it (Deep dreamless sleep).

I’m not one for talking about death, for me it’s one of those subjects I like to keep at the dark corners of one’s mind, tucked behind the bad memories and stupid mistakes I often make. I don’t seek this subject out; it often seeks me in the form of a friend or relative of some sort dying.

The last time I saw someone die was on a train station platform, this overweight man was slumped on the ground with a railway staff worker performing CPR on his chest and for me it was the most unsettling sight of all. With each compression, his stomach would inflate like a bull frog croaking and what made me stare with shock wasn’t the sight of CPR. It was the scary and most profound thought of a man dying on his own, on a random train platform in the middle of the day with a stranger fighting to keep him alive.

Once the ambulance came and went with his still body, I gathered my thoughts and boarded the next train. I went to work and thought “well, that’s how life goes I guess?” hoping that this new found event in my life wouldn’t fester. Watching that man die has always stayed with me though, I did want to find out his name and offer some comfort to his family, telling them something positive about their loved ones last moments on this earth.

I didn’t, I chickened out and put it down to lack of information to follow up.  That’s a lie though, I could have found out as my old boss from many jobs ago is now the CEO of the Rail Company and I went to School with one of the cops that attended the scene, so getting that information was easy, all I had to do was ask.

I didn’t move, I just sat there staring at others fight to keep someone alive they have never met and put it all behind me.

Tonight, my father lies beside me in a hospital bed, fighting with each breathe to buy one more day, as that’s what his life has now come to – fighting for a day or hour from now.

Dad has put up a fight, he can be stubborn like that, as he was told he had hours to live before, and I think that pissed him off. So much so, he decided to rally, live a few more weeks, probably out of spite or his dislike at being told what to do?

This time, he’s exhausted, it’s the 10th round in a long and brutal battle with cancer, he’s weak and mentally he’s ready. He’s made his peace with god, he’s told his children and loved ones repeatedly how much he loves them and why he’s proud of us all.

Punching out though isn’t still something he will yield on, as despite his exhaustion and all the conditions for a peaceful death are before him, he won’t go. It’s like he needs to go around that corner just one more time to see what’s next, read that next chapter to get closure on the plot or wait to see what happens after the credits in a new Marvel movie for that last nugget of “what’s next”. Curiosity is what I think keeps him alive the most – what happens next?

This is what my dad does, he fights. When the odds are against him, he always seems to dig deep, hunker down and duke it out with whatever is front of him.

My dad all my life has been the guy who refused to let a bully push him/loved ones around him around. The amount of times I’ve seen him push back on this has always left me with a sense of pride. He has always taught my brother & sister that you fight for those who can’t fight for themselves and thinking about all my child hood fights, turns out we did. I did get into a lot of trouble growing up, mostly for being a spoiled know it all brat but also for not letting someone push others around (teachers, school yard bullies etc.).

Yet again, dad sees a bully before him, its name is cancer and he’s simply saying “knock it off”. If he’s going to die, it’s now on his terms and despite the overwhelming amount of force cancer has over him, he’s still throwing some punches.

It’s hard to watch him fade like this, it’s not like the movies and it’s a lot more painful than hearing about a colleague or friend dying. Those are events to people that you are fond of but this is personal, this is your father.

It’s painful for a lot of reasons, as it feels like you’re the one who’s been given the diagnosis of an untimely end which would be easier as that means you’re in control. This however isn’t fair, as it’s the same feelings but you’re not in control, you can’t help them, all you can do is sit beside them, hoping for some Hollywood / Disney moment of a miracle to shine forth.

It won’t come, I get that and I’m not a religious guy to assume this is some “master plan”  - fuck that, there is no plan, there is just existence.

My father will die in the next few hours/days/weeks (hopefully), but he will die with his wife and children beside him, all in agreement that our lives where richer and thankful for his existence.

He won’t die like that stranger on a train platform, he will die on his own terms and surrounded by his loved ones and that for me is a rare gift. Not many of us can get that opportunity in life, to pass away with some forward notice whilst being surrounded by those you love the most.

Watching my father die is more of a gift than I had original realized. I get to say goodbye and tell him how proud and loved he will be..

Cancer you may have won the battle, but like all bullies you will eventually lose.

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The problem with metro is it’s hard to differentiate

I want you all to pause a moment or two.

I want you all to sit in front of Windows 8, and explore it some more and get to be intimate with “metro” as a user interface style. Really, immerse yourself in it and just stare at it, explore every pixel it offers up.

I now want you to imagine that this is going to be your user interface for the next 5years.

Still onboard?

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I have been doing “metro” rinse/repeat designs for quite some time and it has long past bored me to the point where I wonder if I have metro-blindness now. That is I’ve stared at it for far to long that I really need a release valve, I crave something more interesting and has more depth.

This is the part where you respond with the usual metro rhetoric about content-first design, authentically digital blah blah the usual Microsoft Metro Zombie response that often the person at the other end of the conversation has no clue at what even it means, it just sounds smart to say and gives one a sense of authority over the conversation.

I am not saying the path that Microsoft has put the hordes of developers on is wrong but I’m not inclined to say it’s right either.

Who is the target audience?

Today, a 50 something non-techy came into my work pod to talk about the new iPad 3, we talked about what it has and doesn’t have but then I tried to get an unbiased non-technical opinion on Windows 8.

Me: “Have you seen the new Windows 8 yet?”

NonTechGuy: “Nope.. is it out?”

Me: “Not yet, it’s still in beta, but here have a look”

I then watched his facial expression; it looked like he wanted to go to the toilet but was holding back on saying so out of politeness.

Me: “Cool huh!”

NonTechGuy: “is that the whole thing?”

Bottom line was that he was not excited by it and we soon retreated to the iPad conversation. My thinking here is not that well this user speaks for billions of humans worldwide; it was just interesting to see a virgin reaction to basically metro.

This person uses Windows daily and has no issue with it, but when shown Windows 8 front-start screen it had this jarring effect on his senses, as if to say – “this is not what I expected”.

This is the part where someone now responds with “give them time”, “users over time will get used to it”, “I have xyz friends who see the opposite to this view” etc. etc.

I get it, I just disagree with it.

Windows 8 is targeted at us, the tech crowd, the more I think about its practicality the more I contemplate that maybe the reason why Apple is much more successful than Microsoft at this space as they target the baby-boomer style crowd. Microsoft and Google target us and in turn they fail more than they succeed simply because we are much harder to please than the Apple audience.

When Steve Jobs said that they only make products that they would want to use, I think we all in the tech-scene assumed he meant us. He didn’t, I think he meant to say “no, I mean guys my age and people who aren’t preoccupied with engadget/gizmodo style blogs.. I mean me, you people aren’t invited”

The thing that struck a chord today was the fact that iPad3 has failed in the eyes of most tech bloggers etc., yet 50-something non-tech guy walks into the IT cubicle and asks “Hey, you seen the new iPad!”..

Think about that a bit more. Firstly, he has already heard about it from mainstream radio stations and secondly he did not say iPad3 he said “new iPad” (interesting choice of words to parrot).

Metro will outdate itself.

Here is the problem I am starting to see with metro and I am arguably pushing it earlier than Microsoft is with a number of audiences. Metro fast out dates, that is to say initially people’s reaction to the design is positive and emotive. However over time the more and more it gets used, the more and more it will start to taper out, that is to say, you probably are already seeing this with Windows Phone 7.

There is no differentiation; there is no unique upgrade or themed approach to the way you react to data. There is just this metro-zombie existence where if you can slap together a few tiles, fluctuating typography case & size, few background pictures and then some minor rectangle decals here and there. Boom metro installed, payday occurs.

The design and experience over time becomes like chewing gum, the flavor disappears, and soon we are keen to discard and invite new flavor as soon as possible.

I see this as a problem going forward as Microsoft itself can’t control metro in a way that elevates and retains consistency in their emotive experience(s) and to be fair, metro wasn’t born from a scientific analysis, it was born from a group of guys inside Microsoft UX leadership who decided that they wanted to simplify the brand some more.

So what if Microsoft is wrong? What if Metro isn’t the correct way forward and what if it hurts our ecosystem much more than we realize?

Enter Metro-chaos.

Yesterday, out of pure design frustration I decided to do the opposite of what I know about Metro, that is, break the rules, and see what happens.

I came up with this design and then posted it online to see what people’s reactions would be.

MetroChaos4

I got wave after wave of “this isn’t metro” responses, I never got any reactions around how one could evolve this further. I was craving that and was really just curious to see what would happen if you assault this audience with the anti-metro design. I knew upfront what the audience would parrot back and sure enough I got lecture after lecture on what is or isn’t metro (some weren’t even accurate to the actual principles of metro itself).

I could care less whether people enjoyed the design I put forward as it was always just a throw-away composition and was more about me taking some time-out to just evolve a design.

It struck me simply that I worry now that metro-style as we see it from Microsoft will become tomorrow’s WinForm(s) that is to say we’ve replaced WinForm static UI with now a more monochrome blocky style UI. Developers rarely deviate from Microsoft’s theming (see Ribbon and Office theming as examples) and so from here it’s likely we’ll see the tired old look over and over and over.

I worry about this as I think this really could be the step backwards and not forwards in evolving our design energy.

With that, I leave you with just one question – What if Microsoft is wrong, how do we all collectively recover?

I don’t dislike metro, but I’m not excited about it as much as I should be. I want have more fun with it though, I want to see what others do with it out of the confines of the “rules”, as I think this could evolve further!

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Windows 8 Metroholm Syndrome kicked in late last night.

Like 1million of you out there, yesterday I downloaded and installed Windows 8 onto get this – my 27” iMac – yes, I’m that guy.

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Here are my love/hate notes and a YouTube video to match.

What I like

  • Color Choice. I like the vibrant colors, I was skeptical from the initial //BUILD preview we saw that this would work as that iteration of Win8 came off very flat and really shallow baked. This iteration I am noticing some subtle differences and I am growing to accept its existence.
  • Start Menu replacement. I am surprised at how much I do actually like the Start Menu vs. the traditional one; I am always a fan of enabling users to break out of their chrome and into a more contextually driven experience for at times when specific tasks need to occur. I like this approach, it’s still a bit hard to break a lot of habitual usage and muscle memory, but it’s something I can see the Operating System will chisel away at over time.
  • AppStore. I like the AppStore, I think this is long overdue and am looking forward to seeing more about how this can increase the size of my own wallet (or decrement it). I still am skeptical of a try vs. buy approach to selling your apps, to me try kind of pushes prices further down then they need to be (AppStore anti-pattern).

    I like the almost seamless integration between apps, and how you can pin/unpin them to suite your hearts’ content.

What I dislike.

  • Tile Balance. The balance between typography and glyphs irritated me immediately. I found myself ignoring the glyphs and instead searching the text, but found that the text size itself is excessively small. The reason I think this is occurring is the shapes (glyphs) aren’t familiar outlines of entities I’m used to seeing, so my brain flips the concept around, ignores them given they are foreign and instead retreats back to typography for the answer. I think these needs more balancing between proportion and closer to home shape design(s).
  • Grouping. The grouping seemed did not seem to follow a consistent pattern (prolong usage may alter this opinion). That is to say, how it allocates proportional sizes when you start moving tiles around does not immediately offer up a sense of consistency as I found myself at times wanting a particular tile to be bigger than the rest.
  • Whitespace is amazingly wasted. I’m assuming the main driver for this UI is tablet / slate PC’s so I’m willing to cave a little on this opinion. That being said, if it is to go desktop then the reality around monitor sizes (I know Microsoft has this usage data, I’ve seen it myself) is quite alarmingly large. I mean sure I’m using 27” iMac monitor to view Windows 8 so my whitespace is going to be significantly high, but the thing is Microsoft needs to factor this into their designs (whether it by a pyramid of layout states etc.).

    For instance, when you install an application you pretty much have the upper left locked as being the only elements of UI? To me the far right is a huge wasted opportunity as you can still utilise the AppStore upsell here by feeding in one or two apps that are similar to the one you are installing, give the user the opportunity to read reviews of the application and so on. Point is you can still uphold minimalism but do so in a much smarter contextually driven manner.
  • Internet Explorer is terrible experience. I found the address bar being down the bottom to be frustrating at times, furthermore it often would get in the way of websites like Facebook who use the “Confirm/Cancel” buttons in the bottom right. I found when that occurred the address bar got in the way and left I playing a game of hide/seek until I could get to the said button(s). I am not sure what the science is behind moving it from a traditional top placement now to a bottom placement. I think they went a little too far on the “re-imagined” in this case.

  • Movement without touchscreen. Its clear this OS release is primarily optimized for iPad compete, but again if it’s a desktop release then having smarter keyboard control over how you interact with the OS needs optimizing.

    For instance, I found myself wanting to use START + LEFT/RIGHT Arrow to pan the screen left and right vs having to use the mouse and a scrollbar down the bottom (hit zone that alone was frustrating – fits law anyone?)

Summary.

Look, this OS is a consumer release that much is clear and it is also clear that this isn’t a desktop driven focused experience but instead the anti-iPad release. I can see a having legs on tablet devices, and can see the direction they appear to be heading down that path and can get on board with that.

If this however is to reside as being the replacement for our desktop computers accessing Windows etc., then they really need to think beyond the tablet devices here specifically around how not just consumers but workplaces etc. are going to handle this release?

The design was done an ok at reducing clutter and their marketing “content-first” thinking rather comes of still as being somewhat lazy. I think they can still increase more feature density here whilst retaining a minimalist design (web apps etc. do it daily so it is not really a pioneering effort).

I can’t see pre-existing Windows users who aren’t part of the 6million .NET Horde racing out to their local PC dealer to buy Windows 8 and use it, I think the whole operating system has moved a lot of things around, specifically the removal of the Start Bar Icon itself is going to irritate initially.

This Operating system will require a lot of users having to re-learn there way around the operating system and things they have built up over 15+ years of habitual usage has now been removed – that alone is going to send a polarizing shockwave.

I’m keen to see what the next release will look like and how they plan to market this operating system to the world without tablet device as its primary delivery platform. I think that will be the challenge for them in terms of separating the tablet focused way in which computers are to be used from traditional dell driven workplace(s) / at home laptops and pc’s.

Windows 8 is the primary flagship for Microsoft, its got billions of dollars riding on its success and fail so I personally don’t think this company can afford another Windows Vista moment.

I still think Steve Sinofsky has probably cut to much out in order to make the shipping dates when he probably should have pushed the dates back (screw the shareholders) a little more to give this OS more time in the creative oven.

I am however growing to like it more and more, I can see potential in how I could make a buck or two with it (despite the developer SDK story being a hodge podge of PR “how not to succeed” strategies).

Going forward I bleed metro; its really thin blood and made up of two primary colors and the blood cells are grid aligned...

I also came into work today inspired, that rarely happens after using something new from Microsoft! 🙂

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Microsoft Metro isn’t ready to go Dylan electric.

As inflammatory as this sounds, and it will piss quite a few Microsoft fans out there, but let me just get this piece out of the way before you make some snap fang filled responses.

The current “metro-style” as Windows 8 team puts it, simply is at present a huge missed opportunity that seems to be constantly being bent out of shape and isn’t ready to go electric (i.e. Bob Dylan went electric and everyone trashed him for it, who’s trashing now!).

Feature Density is cancer to Metro-Style.

The minimalist approach to design has been pretty much on the web for quite some time now thanks to a lot of creative souls in the CSS movement of the past (A List Apart, CSS Zen Garden etc. have all hinted strongly around grid focused design etc.).

There is really nothing new that the current “metro-style” brought to the table in terms of principles of design, the Zune however did put a new face to the idea that the a website-like User Interface could exist on a Desktop application.

It’s from there that the Microsoft UX mercenaries within various orgs began feeding the fire around what if you combined web design skills with desktop development.

Circa 2005ish we saw the first traces of the idea about bridging the two worlds together, but WPF got bloated and crappy performance and eventually failed in delivering to meet expectations. Microsoft Expression Blend also failed as at the time we found that whilst there where quite a number of downloads via MSDN subscriptions it had no revenue stream coming in and developers tried and pushed it aside. Designers disliked the complexity that came with the product and we at the time burnt quite a large bridge with Adobe in making the two potentially integrate with one another smarter (Adobe vs Microsoft war killed the vision).

It wasn’t until the guys behind the Metro as we know it today decided to regroup and come up with a pitch to the world on how Microsoft branding overall should unite, and to be fair – it at the time was a welcomed strategy (I for one was keen to see its momentum get traction).

Taking a page out of the Zune design it simply grew into what we see today, the infamous “metro-style” UI whereby you have a fairly flat canvas, a lot of typography, some primitive shapes and maybe one or two complimentary colors – boom, here’s your Metro-style application you ordered!

Attractive bias aside, the UI’s do look good and I don’t mind sharing that I’ve made a tidy profit churning these designs out for various clients, as they are dead stupid simple. The problem though I’ve personally found over time and discussed with many other fellow metro-designers out there in the interwebs is around how to navigate the pitfalls of feature density.

What do I mean by feature density?

Feature density is when you have a team of feature hungry customer(s) all wanting and willing to pay large bounties to cram as many features into the one product as possible and despite your many educational rants around “less is more” it plays out in way that basically ends up being a really bad execution of “metro”.

Interestingly when you discuss such things with others they tend to climb on top of that horse and start preaching the gospel around controlling the client, usability studies, user experience principles and what not to the point where you simply roll your eyes, make a hand jerk motion and thank them for listening and walk away from them even more frustrated than you were before – YOU DON’T FUCKING GET IT raging through your mind.

I at first like most out there I guess would be free to say that maybe I don’t get it, maybe I’m the guy who seems to not find the right balance between feature density and design?

The cracks began to emerge.

That is until I started to pay a lot closer attention to the way Microsoft themselves have been churning out applications within their own kingdom of metro`ness. Ahh yes, I’m watching you bozos and I can see what you’re doing so stop trying to hide it.

What I see is this, Microsoft started out with some pretty basic applications that arguably can fit quite snugly on a smartphone or tablet device? As in the end these aren’t necessary hardware elements in the day to day cubicles? They are more at-a-glance, downtime, basic operational use only (some may use them for word processing or two but in general it’s not a work tool at present).

Once you get past what I call “Kiosk” applications you then run into the same problems I’ve had a couple of years ago, how the hell are we going to keep parity with feature(s) in existing software with the new and modernized metro theme?

There’s a number of strategies I’ve formulated to help navigate these waters, but overall it comes back to cutting features down as much as you can and start dividing the monolithic application into user-contextual driven experience (content first is bullshit, context first is righteous).

Microsoft however aren’t catching up to this thinking as fast as I had thought, as I figured they are the ones who created this problem so surely they have some internal best of breed minds on the said problem right?

Wrong.

Look at Visual Studio 11, forget the grey controversy, that’s not the point what is the point is how do you think the Visual Studio team are going to navigate the metro waters with success? They are going to have to make some large sacrifices in features or come up with some radical left brain thinking here to overcome the “less is more” design principles outlined in the Microsoft doctrine titled “Metro Design Language”

Lets look at Office vNext (not officially but you get the point), I mean the current latest version of Office I’m typing this post in now has pretty much the right conditions for a flat metro theme, It’s almost pretty much there except that Ribbon kind of becomes the metro-style anti-pattern (note I said metro-style, not metro-principles).

Ok, so the overall problem with metro is that it’s probably gone a little to far to the left in scaling things back to the point where the grid-design patterns of the web probably aren’t going to map snugly to the desktop development story as even in the right hands it’s a balancing act.

In the wrong hands metro can fall off a cliff fast, you know those designs, you’ve probably seen them, hell even Microsoft itself puts those ones on full display (Microsoft.com itself is an metro-abortion on full display).

There is way out thought.

I think today, Metro itself as we see it in its incarnation is broken, it’s created this ongoing bad habit where if you nuke some gradients, whip up a lot of typography and pander to the masses you in turn get an instant “wow dude, so metro, high-five” – meanwhile you’re just feeling a little cheap inside, as you know that at the end of the day this is not your best work and you are just feeding the metro-zombies what they want.

Its only when I sat down to really think about how I would re-design Visual Studio that a few things began to click in how both I could navigate the feature density problem but also how unready the audiences were for such moves.

The problem I immediately am noticing the most, isn’t just about color selection (which to be fair guys is such a subjective discussion) its more along the lines of change management.

We are willing to accept small incremental changes or even twitter-like kiosk applications that sit on the Windows 8 mutated start bar or Windows Phone 7 install pile – they don’t really affect us as much as we think they do.

You touch my Visual Studio and Office whilst coming up short on whatever habits I’ve established today, expect a severe beating!!

On one hand the current execution of metro simply says “sorry, we’re going to have to make some radical changes here people” on the other hand it will require you the audience to be open to such change.

Its clear right now, in my view, the earlier can be done but the later, nope, that ones filled with a lot of forum focused anger “you suck Microsoft” style rants.

Sorry, Metro isn’t ready in the sense the current users aren’t ready for its minimalist focused design principles as we’re about to break the one known issue with most user experience today – Audiences dislike less is more, instead they are silently ok with the idea of having a 1000 features at their disposal even though the data says they probably use 20% of those features..

Metro isn’t ready for the mainstream.

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Is AppStore bad for gaming business?

Today I was in the iPhone AppStore browsing the noise in hope of finding some signal, I found a game that caught my interest and then immediately went to the reviews to see if the author of the game can back up what they are selling.

I read the reviews and a few of them were pushing the notion that “save your 0.99c” agenda, and I for one was relieved – thankfully I did not waste that 99c I was saving.

That sobered me up, I thought to myself “I’m about to spend 99c on some bad coffee that I’ll unlikely finish while I wait for a meeting that I’ll no doubt move to a different spot for and buy yet another coffee”

The question I have is whether or not the concept of an AppStore is doing the market a positive or a negative in terms of how its conditioning us In making the purchase decisions.

How far have we come where went from spending $20-100 on games to now agonising over a $0.99c purchase and it appears the trending is pushing closer and closer to the $0.00 value.

Is this why we now are seeing games which are free-ware, you know the ones that haunt AppStore and Facebook. These are the games that get you addicted to their crack and slowly encourage you to spend $50 on diamonds to help increase your gameplay? ..give a little but not the entire farm and let the desperate/gullible micro pay their way to the abyss of content gratification.

Millions are being made on this, in fact the assumption we are often making now due to the various amounts of rumours around overnight millionaires occurring due to $2 micro purchases worldwide occurring. Its fair to say that when you do justify the $2 purchase you are silently telling yourself “Well, I’m only paying $2 but these guys are going to get millions because everyone else is paying and it all adds up”

We’ve switched from being a consumer and now have become their collective profit controller making assumptions and assertions round how much they should be allowed to make in total vs. letting the previous way of life which consisted of “Oh, they made money? Good for them” thinking.

I can’t but help wanting to ask more questions around this space, for instance – is this slowly killing the industry, or is it making it better? If word gets out that the gold rush in game development for devices is probably a false economy given its saturation levels are now encouraging mediocrity to dominate the way in which we gain enjoyment from games?

Is it me or is anyone else bored of Angry birds? Yet each season they continue to be the most prominent “this is how you’re supposed to make money and games” posturing.

I look at Minecraft itself and seeing how it was such a low price point to now being one of the biggest earners in the game industry and continue to grow, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Notch made a game that is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars and he didn’t have to pay Apple a cent or abide by the rinse/repeat formula of game development on devices.

Is there stillroom for another Minecraft? Fortresscraft on XBOX pretty much cut & pasted Minecrafts engine but whacked in a XBOX Avatar, charged a small amount and is now making millions.

Nothing creative happened, just lots of rinse and repeat formulas but the upside is these games are no longer expensive wastes of money; they are instead small micro payments – less of a sting in your buyer’s remorse.

Downside, as more and more of these games abuse the new market channels they in turn drive prices further and further down. Low prices mean that in order for truly exceptional games to stand out they first must meet the $2 or above threshold of quality bands. If they then succeed in that, they are then given a huge assumption of “well they earn $2 from millions of us so I’m not willing to pay $5 for it” thinking.

In 5 years, do you think a guy like Notch can get away with charging $15 for a game like Minecraft? Alternatively, do you think indie game developers are about to get a cold reality shock given the bubble may pop?

Will game studios like Valve have to keep lowering prices to the point where they just can’t justify the expensive pushing gaming envelopes further given the yield doesn’t’ add up to the costs it takes to create. If that were the case then they’d need to create 3-5 games that are money makers in order to build a war chest that funds the next killer gaming engine of choice.

Are game engine developers retreating to charging hefty prices for leasing their codebase thus reducing the mod / expansion on innovation from occurring? Why fight the war when you can build the bullets J

Now comes the next question, is Application development about to get worse or better given these market conditions today?

How I feel about buying apps

How I feel about buying apps

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Windows Phone lacks developer experience first thinking.

Today I read that Apple iPhone makes more money than Microsoft does all up, that is to say the phone that Steve Ballmer the CEO of Microsoft used to mock – generates more revenue than his entire company does (who is laughing now).

It got me thinking, let us assume you were inside Microsoft today and you heard this news for the first time, how would you react? How would you adjust your core strategies overall and how do you think this will play out?

Inside Microsoft they have a vision, it centres on the Windows 8 or bust mentality, and that for me is something of a concern given, they really have not done anything new to be openly honest.

Yes, there is Metro which is new, well not really, the initial design execution is new but the concept of taking a minimalist approach to the desktop has been around for quite some time (Adobe really did this well with their CS5 and CS4 product UI’s which you’d be an idiot if you assumed had no influence in design today).

The web has been also doing grid based design for as long as I can remember, so that’s nothing pioneerish going on here either. The idea of some NUI effects and control, sure that’s new I guess but not enough to flip the world into a new way of doing software interaction and development in fact it probably falls down when it comes to data density.

What is new then? The most obvious piece to what is new in this saga is the reality that Microsoft faces around its future. The industry has grabbed Microsoft by the shirt and dragged them into focusing on User Experience first, Technology second and what is so striking about the metro + Microsoft story is that its hinting at some new thinking.

What hasn’t changed though is the technology first approach, Microsoft continues to retreat to its initial bad behaviour, that is to say it thinks in technical terms and not in experience terms. What hasn’t change is that each team is left to interpret the experience strategy and what hasn’t changed is that Product teams make, marketing / evangelism sustain and the divide occurs resulting in both teams looking at one another as if “its your fault we don’t have adoption”.

Allow me to illustrate.

WP-Marketplace-Opportunity-infographic-r09b 011112

Games make up for about 64% of the current Windows Phone 7 sales, which is a little bad given if you’re an Application developer depending on your category of choice you stand to only tap into around 8% of the audience purchasing power.

That aside, Games are the golden ticket in the Windows Phone 7 way of life. Ok, so let’s build a game? Open up your browser and start typing search terms for Windows Phone 7 game tutorials and XNA or whatever you feel is appropriate.

You should be coming up short on examples that mostly live in a small spread across Microsoft random websites that constantly change context and when you’re done there, you should also be drowning in blog posts that are either extremely detailed or very shallow (not quite in between).

That for me is a problem, if I were in the team I’d be looking at this from a perspective of two things. How can I market the potential of this platform in a game centric device world and secondly assuming that thread is off and running how can I sustain this momentum once the devs have taken the bait.

I’m not saying that the key to Windows Phone 7 overtaking the iPhone is games, there’s probably a thousand or more things that need to occur before you even embark on that discussion, what I am saying is the grass roots fundamentals aren’t in place.

Lets say I click my fingers and the $500million spent on marketing to date actually worked, you have an audience of Windows Phone 7 folks over the next 2 years running hot in potential sales of the device. Congrats, 1 in 5 mobile phones sold today are Windows Phone 7.

Now what.

How do you sustain that momentum, how do you encourage more and more solutions to be built for the phone and lastly how do you retain control over the entire experience.

This is a huge problem today within Windows itself, there is so much energy spent on promoting the entire vision of WinRT and its future(s) but there is no on ramping to help the solutions delivery for this vision. Instead, it is a lot of wait and see?

Android has had next to no marketing but yet its retaining a steady share and I’d argue that its developer base of java and mono geeks have really taken this bad boy out for a test drive. It’s not a huge learning curve either, in under a week I was mucking around with the Android development and I’d say the community backing for this phone is quite loud despite the randomness of Google.

It’s still just as bad as Windows Phone 7 but that’s fine, reason being this is typical with any Google solution – Microsoft however can be better than that? They can on board people faster and with more energy than their competitors do as they are staffed worldwide better.

If you ask me, the phone itself is one thing but if the experience at the developer to consumer is filled with random noise and less signal around getting solutions to a mature level of quality, then that’s just the first strike and more to come shall follow.

There is a reason why the Windows Phone 7 marketplace is filled with crappy games or apps, some are good but they aren’t as rich as the iPhone (even then iPhone has crap to).

I’d argue that the competitive advantage Microsoft has right now that isn’t being capitalised on is the stark reality that they have a development experience that is quite rich and inviting the downside is once you get past the Powerpoint style development and want to actually build a Minecraft / Voxel Engine on a phone well you come up short.

If Microsoft’s vision is to ramp developers onto C++ then where is the investment on learning C++? DirectX? XNA? OpenGL? Etc. etc.

This phone needs much more than guys dropping the phone in a urinal as way to entice the masses to the cause. It needs to start at the experience level and work its way back to the technical detail(s). Its not just about building yet another Microsoft website that doubles down on Tutorials its more about thinking and engaging developers in ways that they understand or need massive leaps in thinking around. If Windows 8 and its device strategy can’t sustain the developer base and relies heavily on the market to teach the masses, then its yet another failure on the horizon. Same tactics as last time only more glitter.

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