When I first came to the Microsoft community in 2007, I was amazed at how many experts there were covering a breadth of its products. Being from an Adobe/Java community originally we simply had a lot less vocal experts floating about and the ones that were regarded as experts, well they were easily identified through their work. To be fair, that’s really a personal issue as in the end if you assume the blog in front of you is an expert without studying their background or body of work, well, you’re the idiot not everyone else? True. Yet, I see this weird thing happening within the same Community today, that is to say I am reading more and more opinion pieces on Microsoft’s vision of Metro-Design. That is to say, there is quite a lot of blogging echo’s on Metro Design being the way forward, there are quite a lot of folks suddenly taking an interest in Dieter Bram’s 10 principles of design, History lessons on Bauhaus, Transport Signage, Typography 101, Minimalism design for dummies and so on. This is great; the more people can read about these types of subjects the more they can get a sense of bearings around “why” and “what” but it isn’t a launch pad for “how”. The point is, unless these people have cracked open a design tool, sat down and grinded out some pixels for others to interact with and experience than all they are effectively is a digital sign post to the “why” or “what”. They really have no business telling folks on how things should be designed and more importantly how it’s going be an important component in our future. It comes back to being authentic in your opinion or for that matter telling someone about your own personal experiences on why the subject matter such as metro is or isn’t important. You’ve tried your hand at the craft; therefore you’re the one who has something to learn. If all you have done is sat beside a designer who did the work, read Microsoft’s PR/Marketing around Metro and figured this is a great way to launch your conference circuit/blog views in terms of preaching the mindless dribble that often is told over and over – then you’re frankly an idiot. Developers aren’t designers; they are simply people who like design. That statement for me is important as it simply means unless you try your hand at design, you’re not a designer, and you’re the other person in that equation who likes design. The moment you try and fail at design you have earned the right to talk about design, as now you have skin in the game. To future metro design bloggers, less talk more pixels.
Microsoft has this unique gift in their current product portfolios, that is they have a fairly wide range of offerings that at times on their own are quite brilliant and great to use. This now brings me to my state of confusion, that is to say why they spend so much energy and time confusing the masses when its clear their biggest competitor, Apple, have figured out the simplistic pattern of “less is more”.
There is just Windows.Today, Brandon announced what will be the upcoming SKU’s for Windows 8, and yes the ye olde “pro” makes a comeback to a shrink wrap shelf near you. Stupid. Why do they need to separate out the product lines as to me they really should reconsider this approach going forward, especially given Desktop/Device are blurring out one another's value proposition(s). Instead of breaking out a variety of comparison matrix that often as a consumer will result in ticking the lowest cost box, why not instead just let everyone buy a Windows core, that is to say you just “buy” windows. Picture a consumer walking into a retail shop of some kind, they walk straight over to the Windows box, pick it up, buy it and then install it when they get home. The installation wizard steps them through various basic features and so on but on the last screen they are asked “what other features would you like to buy? for 0.99c” The end user ponders, and starts to tick or untick boxes that they think they will need for their installation - which is linked to a Azure ID of some kind. That’s it, no confusion around which Windows SKU you own or at times buyers remorse because you bought the wrong edition which had XYZ feature and now you want that feature but then have to shell out for features you don’t want at a upgrade price of XYZ. Furthermore this then would condition them to an initial introduction to the “AppStore” market model which no doubt they probably have already learnt via their iPhones/iPad interaction(s). Just Windows doesn’t stop there either, you also have this same principle applied to Tablet/ARM/Phone hardware as well as now it's less about specifics of Windows and more about Windows as an abstract platform. Ergo this would also underpin their entire content first strategy that orbits Metro today. I don’t see a cohesive strategy within the Windows Teams, I see snippets of success but there appears to be no over arching cohesive strategy. The problem is still there with individual product teams competiting for consumer awareness and attention. Is Windows a platform or not? if it is, how about it start acting like one and become one and not some comparison matrix which leaves you questioning “Do i need that?” vs “Do I want that” Scott Out.
On the Interwebz, when you stumble your way through the various “Silverlight is dead”-style blog posts, what you will most likely see is the theme around skill transference. Silverlight advocates of the past, who have now switched over to WinRT, have begun to spread the message that not all is lost. You can take your Silverlight skills to WinRT!
It’s Kool Aid Time: this year’s batch is Raspberry.When I read posts like these, I simply shake my head and admittedly get a little annoyed at the existence of such posts. More to the point, I’m also getting weary of seeing MVP’s of the Silverlight of yesterday flipping the script and now putting out a public audition for WinRT MVP auditions. I get the mindset that often goes into these style posts, and in many ways you have to give these folks credit, as they have simply have moved on. Unfortunately like most people inside cubicles around the world, the luxury of riding the new wave(s) is often restricted to a small cluster of adopters and influencers. You know these people: they are usually the same people on stage at a conference somewhere telling you what you’re doing wrong and how you should adopt vNext tech to do better.
Back to reality.I’ve been at the birth of a new technology; I’ve been in a team that spent millions on marketing and seeding the new technology to over 6 million .NET devs and around 500 million PC’s worldwide. You could say I’ve seen a lot and learnt a lot from that experience. The one consistent ingredient to seeding a technology is what we collectively call the “influencer”. The idea is you round up a bunch of Community Leaders, you shower them with Glass Awards, titles like MVP, or at the very least make them feel important or as your “favorite”, and then you get them to tell people your message (as the theory is that this in turn adds authenticity to your message). When I was an Evangelist, I went from being an unknown non-.NET developer in an Adobe/Macromedia scene, to being suddenly invited to speak at Microsoft Conferences, Twitter Followings, Facebook Friend Requests, Invites to Business Deals/Meetings and so on. You feel as if you’re now the one being dated whilst at the same time you in turn make others feel the same the ripples of influence continue. That’s how you artificially pump a community up around a technology adoption. There are different flavors to the approach, but ultimately, your job is to become a band manager and not the rock stars (you scale more).
The messaging framework.When the time comes where you need to broadcast your message to the crowd of followers, your main focus is to ensure you get traction around repeatable messaging. That is to say, you ensure that you all sing from the same hymn sheet and with enough repetition this message will be the consistent soundbyte you hear at a local conference near you. For example:
- Silverlight isn’t dead; it will be around for 20 years.
- You can take your Silverlight skills today and reuse them with Win8 tomorrow, as in the end it's just XAML and C#, right?
- And so on..