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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Silverlight and HTML5, Rainbows, Sunshine and Bullshit.

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I look at all the hysteria around technolgyX vs. technologyY and immediately tend to ignore anything said within the blog posts or news articles. It’s not important enough to get all worked up about, as the real core element of these arguments is which is going to be popular vs. which isn’t?

Take the current week or so around HTML5 vs. Silverlight. The reality is most plug-in or desktop centric developers who are content with the status quo probably aren’t even going to be interested in HTML5 unless someone pays them a nice hefty sum of money to do so – if and only when – their current work stream dries up.

The reality of the conversation around these two titans of technology isn’t which is better, its more to the core essence of the argument – which is Microsoft going to favor. It’s an important point to make as when the rainbows and sunshine circle jerks are over, someone has to stand before an Bob Muglia and declare where they are going to spend the budgets for the next fiscal and why.

Windows Phone 7 is obviously going to take the lions share next fiscal, Internet Explorer 9 will also have a hefty amount attached to it as well. This in turn creates a ripple effect downstream as once the budget lines are declared internally it then generates bounty / career opportunities as well. It doesn’t stop there, being seen to be on the winning product of the month is a easy career booster but more importantly it also at times can determine where the Evangelism teams worldwide are to spend the bulk of their energy.

I’ll be fair, Evangelism inside Microsoft has a purpose and that is to be ahead of the technology release waves, in that their job is to get the crowd world wide excited ahead of a release. It then falls back to the marketing / sales pipelines to then sustain that excitement once the Evangelism squads have had their mission re-routed.

The playbook

Here lies the problem with this playbook. The first is that Sales/Marketing folks aren’t really goaled too heavily on Market share centric metrics – they are rewarded more for Revenue share focused metrics. Silverlight has zero revenue share, Internet Explorer has zero revenue share but Windows Phone 7 has revenue share.

Here lies the dilemma though. On one hand you have a product that has a number attached to it that can get sales / marketing teams excited. In order to be effective in promotion of this product they need to excite the wider mass around it – which in turn means free Silverlight marketing. The downside is that Internet Explorer 9 is important as well so Microsoft has to give some focus to the HTML5 cause.

Do you start to see the problems with that? it requires a consistent unique clear strategy on how to separate the two concepts from one another.

This is pretty much why BobMu came out and stated what he said but kind of fumbled it not only once but twice in the process. The reality is that Microsoft will want to slightly turn down the volume on Silverlight so that IE9 can get its share of the spotlight. In order to wind the volume down, you got to start saying things like Silverlight + Mobility over and over while turning up the volume on Internet Explorer 9 + HTML5 + Applications a bit louder than before.

Silverlight gets thrown under a bus.

I have been mucking around with this, and I probably shouldn’t via twitter. That being said, Silverlight isn’t a dead technology – yet – it’s still got legs as whilst Microsoft’s intent is obviously crank Internet Explorer 9 + HTML5 volume pretty loud as well as Windows Phone 7 – the reality is out of the 600k Silverlight developers and plethora of WPF developers left uncounted, they pretty much couldn’t give a rats ass about HTML5 in the first place.

I wouldn’t necessarily declare HTML5 the victor simply because Microsoft said so. I’d look at this more of a case of wait and see, in that sure Microsoft will market the crap out of IE9 but in reality this product is a stillborn brand in the first place and furthermore HTML5 is nowhere near ready for prime time adoption.

All this will do however is scare the crap out of business decision makers who don’t know better. Technical decision makers may or may not be shy about Silverlight and it really comes back to how Microsoft can redeem themselves beyond their current fumblings – (I’m hopeful Scott Guthrie this week at DevConnections will do a better job at his Commitment speech than BobMu alongside leaking some hints around what Silverlight 5 is going to have to ensure people are focused on the actionable elements within such a commitment speech).

In summary.

HTML5 vs. Silverlight is going to be a hot topic until Microsoft tips its hand on which one it favors the most but right now you won’t get that from the company as to do so means sacrificing two legacy brands that are filled with enough hate debt to cause major hurt amongst the masses.

Windows Phone 7 has to overcome Windows Phone 6.5 and below legacy related issues that aren’t technical but more conceptual.

Internet Explorer 9 has to overcome everything from the IE6 disaster through to the IE7 and IE8 disasters all the while showing that they aren’t interested in the Embrace & Extend forking that its historically been known to do. This one brand has caused more negativity for Microsoft as a brand than any other product since Office + Clippy.

You’re going to see Evangelists etc talk about "choice" and "it depends" as that’s all they can really throw at you right now, bottom line for you to think about is not which tech is better but where do you think Microsoft will place its bets next. As once they decide, one of the two will end up in the heap alongside WinForms, WebForms and sadly – *sob* WPF.

The only way I can see Silverlight teams putting out this tire fire is if they release the Silverlight5 roadmap now, it will add weight to the usual fluff commitment pledge as well is giving all a better understanding of how things to come are supposed to connect with one another.

I would like to see a better focused strategy around how Microsoft UX Platform looks tomorrow as the old 2007 one is kind of a bit rusty now given all the new technology variables at play.

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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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