Microsoft officially supports Flash’s future over Silverlights past.

In late 2008, I remember being in a strategy meeting to discuss how the ubiquity problem for Silverlight could be energized more. In that meeting we were throwing ideas around how to get Silverlight into various “forced” updates in order to combat Adobe Flash’s “98%” metric which at the time was the biggest threat to Microsoft’s web-app future(s). It was during this meeting we discussed the banning of Adobe Flash on all Microsoft owned websites (which would later take into effect via an executive order to ban Adobe Flash on all sites hosted on Microsoft.com)

Today, Microsoft is shipping Adobe Flash as part of the IE10 browser to help close the loop on the Microsoft Surface “it just works” principle (i.e. play video online etc.). However, they have not shipped Microsoft Silverlight as well, as that would probably send a mixed signal to the market.

Mixed signals like today where each developer is sitting at their cubicle wondering what exactly is Silverlight used for still and is there a future in developing application(s) for it? Despite the 20yr time support pledge from Microsoft whilst alongside the reality that the ratio of adoption from WinForms,WPF and Silverlight still outnumber Windows 8 development.

The reality is the moment Silverlight is put into IE10 and on Surface Pro; automatically developers will likely ignore / bypass the new set of Windows 8 start screen (appstore) and instead continue to develop their applications in a way that works as it would whether you had Windows 8 or Windows 7. By not adding Silverlight to the IE10 install simply places a layer of friction to this workflow and in turn probably encourages these developers to either bite down hard on the Windows 8 *ONLY* application developer workflow and/or retreat back to WPF/WinForms for the same level of development.

Failing that, they will obviously then decide to go for the “it works on all” pipedream known as HTML5/JS and use that as their development platform of choice. In doing this not only did they just cut Microsoft out of the Microsoft UX Platform adoption cycle but they may even instead opt for an alternative to their server-side delivery (doubtful but more and more folks are trying out server-side solutions like node.js).

In all directions you look at this, bottom line is the mixed signal they may refer to is filled with just utter chaos that orbits around which framework you wish to choose and how you wish to navigate all the prickly parts to the Microsoft current “broken promise” strategies on display.

In my opinion, Microsoft should continue to support Silverlight but in a way that goes beyond their comfort levels + limited imagination. Having Silverlight act as a plugin for the “old” would enable developers to bridge the gap between Windows XP, 7 and Windows8 as there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t push out Silverlight 6 as being the XAML Runtime you find today s Windows 8.

Yes it would mean Silverlight 5 apps won’t work in Silverlight 6 but also allowing the two runtimes to be co-installed isn’t a hard thing to achieve (we even talked & spec’d this out in the early days to help with parity in runtime changes for future versions, that and removing the need to restart the browser after you installed given we used 2x process GUID instead of 1x).

By keeping Silverlight runtime in this fashion you allow developers to continue to build muscle where needed in the XAML/C# domain therefore ensuring you have continuation in the ranks around development on Microsoft platform(s).

The pipedream of simply saying to all “stop doing managed code and go for broke on HTML5/JS via our custom built solution” is just that. If you were saying to developers to opt out of the C#/XAML development story and into the HTML/JS then why would I continue to take your beatings Microsoft? Instead, if I do decide to go down this path I will look to keep it 100% neutral.

That is to say to any Microsoft staffer – YOUR AUDIENCE WILL ADOPT MAC/LINUX AND WEAR “I HATE M$ T-SHIRTS

If you’ve ever spent any time inside Microsoft you will come to know one simple thing, Microsoft internally are fierce competitors and you will constantly hear about Apple, Google & Oracle’s movements. Specifically what is being done to combat them and how “unfair” these companies are playing the game (hell look at the Twitter feed of most staffers and its obvious thing to see)?

Never go full retard.

Bottom line is that out of all the bone head tactics I have witness Microsoft perform in the last two years this by far is the biggest and stupidest tactics by far.

Good news is your XAML/C# skills are transferrable right?…anyone?….its just a namespace change guys…come back..guys….

 

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Microsoft and Adobe casual gaming partnership– Casual love or just gaming each other?

I often get many theories floated past me from staffers, usually it is a case of mind candy, and ways to figure out the chaos within Microsoft – kind of like reverse detective work?

Today, I got a great piece to a puzzle I have been trying to put together for quite some time. It comes mainly from a meeting that Microsoft and Adobe CEO’s had a couple of years ago – in secret kind of.

The two meeting for a catch-up was always unlikely, and when those two get in a room there is an agenda, now the question was always – what was that agenda

The working theory is that Silverlights death was confirmed in that meeting, that in order to regain favor with the Adobe crowd you had to basically show your intent has been to knife the baby – get rid of your competitive threat and at the same time work out a strategy into getting the hordes of design audiences at Adobe’s disposal to give Microsoft another look – despite the brand fail of internet explorer / office clippie and many many many more.

The inside gossip I got today was that Microsoft are working together with Adobe to close the gap on the casual gaming market, in that Adobe’s always owned this market online via Flash for many years and to go after it, despite the XBOX brand’s success would simply take a lot of investment.

Instead, Windows team getting into bed with Adobe to produce a tooling story that compliments their future platform strategies around casual gaming makes more sense as it wins on two fronts. The first being is Windows team aren’t keen to own the tooling strategy for this area, its basically to hard and requires a separate war chest to dominate. Adobe is keen to shift away from being the platform story (notice why Adobe is less platform focused these days and gone back to basics on tooling?) and more about owning the tooling that goes with platform(s).

Adobe working with Microsoft also provides a partnership elsewhere; they both get to cross-pollinate with the developer and designer adoptions. If you can get developers to buy, your tools to work with designers both parties win. As Microsoft is desperate to win hearts and minds on the design bloodlines, it is why metro is the default look as despite its marketing fluff; it is simply a case of ascii art meets public toilet signage – idiot proof.

It is not enough and despite the proactive technical audiences raising glasses in favor of the solid color screens known as metro, it still is not sustaining the creative momentum it desperately needs to retain the interruption required to seed a bigger customer base.

Looking back on BUILD conference, I also found it interesting that XNA was not mentioned as much is it could or probably should have been. It like Silverlight was left with a lot of ambiguity around its futures specifically how casual gaming audiences could benefit from Windows 8 in the future.

In fact, sitting down to play with the current scraps of beta that was given to us via this conference and focusing on Window 8, under the hood it’s still murky as to how the overall new platform is going to work with regards to games.

Not only that, but the reality that plug-ins as we know it aren’t going to be friendly within Windows 8 Browser(s) it’s also a bit of a question mark around how Adobe can retain success here going forward. In fact, if Windows 8 does go ahead, it’s basically a case of Flash being shut down the moment that platform gets traction and before you throw the anti-trust argument on the table, remember that no longer applies – the Windows team can push out Silverlight over night to every machine world wide if they wanted to (not as optional either) as legally speaking, nothing is preventing this today?

That was also our intent in the Silverlight team, when the consent decree sunset kicked in we had strategies around how we would get ubiquity worldwide in quite a rapid way – I mean in nine months we pushed Silverlight out to half a billion people under a lot of tight constraints. Today, nothing …despite constraints gone?

Silverlight had to be knifed but why, and WinRT is not enough there has to be a better story on the horizon.

The windows teams are not really interested in tooling or mini platforms, they typically want a locked in way of life in that you buy Windows and THEN the free market opens up.

If the Windows team have any chance of success of having an AppStore model much like the iTunes/Apple story they need to provide a lot of free market opportunities to folks who aren’t already exclusively tied down to Apple (content wise as well as other categories).

Apple have made it clear Adobe has no future on their future platform stories other than tooling for designers to create Objective-C experiences and also they can install such tooling on the Operating System – but that’s it, beyond that Steve Jobs was quite open about his dislike for Flash.

Flash and HTML5 are also becoming quite a topical conversation in the Adobe communities, specifically the FUD around the future of Flash – Yes more Flash is dead posts arriving to an RSS feed near you.

Adobe have to figure out a strategy here around retaining control as in the end despite them spending a lot of time and energy now on tooling vs. their vision of the platform dominance for mobile devices (CTO Kevin Lynch used to always beat that war drum, today, not so much? He was ahead of his time in thinking and cunning strategies to position Flash but in the end, it never stuck).

Microsoft have to bridge this gap and until you see a casual gaming story unfolding at the next BUILD something or someone has to provide the ingredients here to make that work, as in the end this is the carrot that gets you in part Windows 8 adoption with consumers – especially given the Windows 8 in its current form has no level of excitement from Enterprise or Medium Business industries.

Today, I was told a scrap of info but the more I step back and piece things together the more I begin to cast a theory, and this post is a current working model of it.

I could do with more information, care to share?

XNA, where’s that heading next? What is Microsofts casual gaming story in the new Windows 8 world? Why no Silverlight focus on Casual gaming? HTML5 can’t handle it on its own that’s for sure…

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Is Adobe’s new HTML5 Edge tool Expression Blends replacement?

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In October 2010, Steve Ballmer met with the CEO of Adobe the apparent discussion was around how to compete with Apple head-on.

Having been an internal lead on Adobe competes within Microsoft, it got my wheels turning and I tried as much as I could to get some insight into what that meeting was actually about. It was a very weird meeting given the heated competition both Microsoft and Adobe have had over the past 5 years (almost as big as Apple competes).

Adobe have lost some staff to Microsoft so my first thoughts were that maybe the ex-employees are looking to patch a bridge and discuss some ways to work together in terms of how Flash and say XBOX etc. could work together (there’s a huge casual games market up for grabs that uses Adobe Flash).

Today however my spidey senses got all tingly when I saw the new Adobe HTML5 Edge tool sneak peak via Adobe Labs.

This tool is the missing piece in what I call the HTML5 all up story – i.e. it is fine to hack together add-ons to existing tools for HTML5 coding compliance but it needs a designer story.

The more I looked at the sneak the more I started to think about that meeting and how it could have possibly gone down.

If Microsoft wants to sacrifice Silverlight on the web to gain momentum in the mobile device market than overall, the threat matrix for Adobe drops quite significantly. In that, really the only threat to Adobe Flash is around how it sockets into a mobile device such as Android, Windows Phone 7 and so on.

If I was in a meeting with an executive again and I was talking about the SWOT for an Adobe, partnership I would lead in more with opportunities that lead to strengths rather than threats / weakness in this partnership.

Firstly Adobe Flash is likely to be the continues user experience platform for mobile devices – if and a big if – the company can fix performance issues on all.  Creating a universal user experience on all devices is no easy trick in HTML5/JavaScript and having the tooling and cross-compile functionality that Adobe’s been making waves about lately could be a very important technology intersection.

Flash has always thrived at being a parasite on many hosts so it is not as if this is new dangerous territory for it to take such technical dependencies on.  The product also as I stated before has a lot of already existing Casual Games / Widget Apps already made today that could be ported over.

Downside is they do not have the developer base – design yes, developers no.

Secondly, Microsoft has failed at attracting the design market. We spent millions and came up short every time as whilst I use Microsoft Expression Blend daily its one hard cumbersome tool that even most .NET developers won’t touch let alone designers. It just failed.

The Expression Blend team is now parked in the archive bay and I wager Silverlight 5 additions will likely be its last shipment for the product. If that being the case, sure the tool failed at its charter in attracting the devigner audience to the .NET codebase(s) of tomorrow but the problem didn’t go away – if anything it just got worse.

If you are going to then tell designers of tomorrow to build HTML5/JS or even Silverlight vNext solutions for Windows8 and beyond – how do you get them to combine design and development skills?

Adobe.

Adobe have the design audience locked, it’s the only company in the world where in every design agency there is a design tool owned by them either bought or pirated. They make a tidy profit from it as well.

Flash now can produce iPhone and Android based solutions and it would not actually take much to get that solution into Windows Phone 7 given the Silverlight/XAML parity – in fact, some devs in Microsoft have shown that getting Silverlight to cross-compile to a swf isn’t farfetched, as it would seem.

Putting Adobe Flash or at the very least using the same iPhone cross-compile methodology for Windows Phone 7 is a massive win for both. You get a new developer audience on both sides for one and lastly the design audiences can also play their respective roles within the tools they feel the most comfortable with.

Winning as the Sheen would say.

That all being said there’s a flaw in this theory, it positions Adobe to be way to powerful in the device discussion and the last time Adobe/Macromedia held dominance in this space it took Silverlight to wake them up – you don’t want that again, trust me.

How do you keep Adobe in check whilst competing with Apple at the same time as if you create a universal app that works on all devices then this if anything can fuel iPhone’s appstore submissions more so.

The answer is you put your hopes on forking the API’s beyond the HTML5/JavaScript purity. You essentially embrace and extend (yay, it’s so fresh and new right?). Everyone can keep the entire tech on the same playing field initially but with Windows Phone 8 & Windows 8++ it sort of takes on a completely new adoption curve.

That is a good thing as it fuels competition for one and both Apple and Microsoft do not have to necessarily fund large amounts of dollars in both tooling and marketing. Adobe wins because it gets more hordes adopting its tooling but at the same time, it cannot survive unless there’s competition between Microsoft and Apple. Google is the cream on the cake, as it then has to dovetail into the same competition stream – thus a forcing function for their Android story.

All Microsoft has to do is sacrifice Silverlight for the web (video will always be a big problem for both to contend over just like QuickTime vs Windows Media Player) and Expression Blend.

Did I mention XAML team is disbanded and the Expression Blend team has been put in park?

If you can get developers & designers working in both HTML5/JavaScript as well as proprietary platform specific technologies universally its less investment in language / runtime research & development more in terms of differentiation of hardware specific features.

It rather works that way for the console market.

Note: I have no inside goss on this one so this is me just spit balling based of my own conspiracy theories.

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Lifting the Apple vs. Adobe compete veil

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In October 2009 I warned the Adobe community via InsideRIA that Adobe should tread very carefully with Apple and how that if they kept poking the sleeping giant sooner or later they’d react.

It’s now April, and Apple have reacted – and like a great game of chess, it’s not check mate just yet either.

Apple decided this week to update their licensing and block the ability for 3rd party software vendors like Adobe for example, from allowing their tooling and customers to produce iPhone/iPad based solutions that do not make full use of the way Apple intended to enable such vendors in the first place – “It’s my house if you don’t like it leave” is the summary.

A lot of people are asking questions around “why” and a lot of the blame is being pointed at Apple as being unfair and so on. Allow me to interject given I was one of the main Adobe compete leads at Microsoft and secondly my prediction rate on Adobe has been approx 90% correct so far (I guess you’ll have to trust I know a thing or two about the brand).

The lesser of two evils.

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Adobe or Apple who is to blame? who is innocent and who is trying to do the right thing? these are all immediate questions that come to mind when you start seeing the battle lines being drawn between these two “A” brands.

The answer is – it depends.

The knee jerk assumption is Apple isn’t playing fair here that they are the ones holding innovation back on the beloved iPhone/iPad platform(s). It depends, as in Apple’s defense why would you allow a company like Adobe who’s made no secret about this:- the ability and power to lock down the user experience for all devices into a democratic format like Flash.

That plan is effectively the same playbook as Microsoft has used for Windows, own the platform own the industry its that simple.

If Flash was to gain entry to the iPhone/iPad then it effectively puts app vendors and such on the same playing field as other devices and in many ways the unique form factor of that which is the iPhone today starts to lose its initial appeal as it then becomes yet another device. Apple is a company that prides itself on “thinking differently” in that it appears to approach consumer based products in a very unique and at times stubborn – but profitable – way. The brand likes to ensure its products are different from what people expect and that their experiences are unique and a must-sort after thing.

Adobe is desperately trying to change that, they see their future as being the UX platform to the masses – “use my tools and you can produce on all devices and platforms” is essentially their mantra.

Apple, Microsoft and in parts Google aren’t even slightly interested in agreeing on this as they are all acutely aware of the potential hazard products like Flash can become if left to grow organically.

If your going to have democracy, let it be HTML5 then.

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User Experience in technology is now fast becoming a consumer focus as well as an enterprise focus. 99% of my workload is visiting Microsoft customers every week helping them figure out their UX story on disparate technology. I’ve never seen this before  and I’ve been a UX plug-in focused designer and developer for the past 15 years and as my bio states, a Product Manager of one of these technologies. It’s inspiring but at the same time fragile and the reason being is HTML5.

HTML5 for me represents an industry slow-down, in that if we all move to abandon plug-ins and support HTML5 in the way it’s being instructed to, we in turn sacrifice the agility of that which is user experience on the web as we know it today.

Apple and Google are ok with this though, for both of them having HTML5 on the horizon is a good thing. It enables them to still control the way in which they run their unique business models but at the same time it still gives them the ability to block competitors from over-taking their said business models.

An example is today, I can log into my bank ANZ.com.au and handle my financial affairs all through a unique iPhone specific experience. One of the largest banks in Australia reacted to the iPhone and produced a solution that befits a device which today still has minority share.

The point of that example is simple, companies will react to where they perceive the value is and enabling their various application domains to have multiple user interface channels is extremely important and one that is visible on all of their roadmaps for the future. They are all acutely aware that the industry is changing and the lines between Desktop and Mobile are blurring and in a manner that  is going to be a lot harder to separate.

HTML5 however represents a unique value proposition to this technology hazard that’s coming up fast. It effectively puts us all on an even playing field and it also strikes at the heart of everything Adobe represents as it effectively deprecates Flash.

If Apple is able to keep large brands reacting to their business models without having to take a technical dependency on products like Flash, then this in turn solidifies their position in the future in a more healthy way. It’s much more profitable today to starve the Adobe ecosystem out  Apple based devices than it is to allow the said technology to co-exist on the devices – as once that technology gets on the phone all bets are off as sure it will become popular.

It’s not about being ethically right, as this isn’t a Disney movie it’s reality. All software vendors are doing everything they possibly can to dominate a niche in the industry without taking a technical dependency on a foreign software company

Where is Microsoft in all this?

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If i know my old team well, they’d be chuckling at the demise of Adobe and how all their best efforts in marketing CS5 + iPhone just came unstuck overnight. That being said, this is why Silverlight and WPF was built to play by the same rules but differently. Microsoft aren’t interested in holding down a unique experience on their own proprietary devices as well they don’t make hardware. Its in their best interest to keep things on an even playing field provided you buy their operating system first and secondly you develop using their tools for it. If either of those tick boxes are ticked, life is good for Redmond.

If you screw around with those two boxes they will compete against you and hard. Silverlight is a result of this, as it was well known Adobe’s intent was to own the UX platform across it all which in turn interrupts Microsoft’s story in a way that isn’t healthy for the company. Silverlight was born out of that competitive necessity and you’ll soon start to hear random stories on how Windows 8 will solidify their position on counter-acting concepts like Adobe but whilst still embracing the existence of concepts like HTML5.

HTML5 is the brakes for this giant chess game, its the technology safety haven which enables us all to slow the engines down a little and start making stronger bets instead of this ad-hoc technology evolution we seem to be on.

Apple can leverage its concept to propel them forward in a much more controlled fashion. Google will enjoy its splendor as their content business model can remain intact without having content and experiences online forking. Adobe will do what it can to keep their fingers in the HTML5 via their tooling story (and in parts server products) but in reality if HTML5 were to gain dominance it would impact their entire business model in a way that they aren’t yet equipped to deal with.

Apple blocked the Adobe market potential simply out of necessity and future proofing their brand, all you’re seeing this week is one move out of many in this game of industry chess.

Adobe are being attacked on all fronts, they simply MUST stop their immaturity and aggressive behavior in order to survive – otherwise their developer share will continue to drop and Flash will continue to be ignored in lieu of other more appealing approaches to the same thing.

Adobe will win this, public demand will turn in their favor.

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It’s something I hear often a cry of desperation if you will. Adobe don’t have a groundswell of developers to storm the Apple gates and press outlets like New York Times etc may post an article or two around how unfair it is but it won’t be a sustained momentum as they are more inclined to talk in depth about the engaging devices such as the iPhone and iPad bring than what powers them.

What about consumers by large? Consumers are indifferent to technology choice as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Amazon etc are all bombarding them daily with “try my new shiny toy” so it’s hard enough for the tech savvy minded to separate signal from code.

I predict Adobe will lose this bout and despite Adobe’s CTO post today about how they will produce CS5 to do the same as what they had intended and leave it up to Apple to make the next move is a silly move on their part as it effectively devalues CS5’s potential – again. Not to mention his wording just is passive aggressive for example:

First of all, the ability to package an application for the iPhone or iPad is one feature in one product in Creative Suite. CS5 consists of 15 industry-leading applications, which contain hundreds of new capabilities and a ton of innovation. We intend to still deliver this capability in CS5 and it is up to Apple whether they choose to allow or disallow applications as their rules shift over time

The last line in bold was a smart ass response and I took that as being “We will still move forward and we are calling you on your bluff Apple”. As that is a feeble attempt to ignite a public tech riot once the first app gets blocked. Watch how fast it starts and dies down as well.

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Context and Experience Matters.

Hold your hats folks, I’m about to praise Adobe and yes I’m now a confused UX soul as a result of it.

What has got me all hot and bothered in the right way about Adobe, is the Adobe.TV site, as for me it just brought something to life in which I was often quite vocal internally in Microsoft about – contextual synchronization.

In fact, you can see the very deck I used a few years ago on the said subject and it was mainly focused at how stupid and silly Microsoft is with its constant “File->New” website approach. I not only was vocal internally but external as well – recently as last year being picked up by other sites such as Slashdot.org, Tim Andersons Blog  and InfoQ on the very subject.

(Note: Download the deck for full effect here)

 

Adobe have designed the concept where it appears folks who sign in are able to have the content react to their needs vs the end user reacting to Adobe’s needs. As a result, I think this will provide more signal vs noise to consumers of the content (hopefully) but the main thing for future planning around content is that I think it will put Adobe in a better position to see what areas they need to focus on the most. I say this as every time you the end user narrows your selection down,  you are essentially voting with your fingers on the said selection.

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I like this as they have broken the self-selection down into not just categories but also have managed to involve other filtering mechanisms such as “what others say” (ie Most Viewed, Highest Rated etc)

I have dreamt about this concept for quite some time and I hope that the Microsoft various website owners are paying close attention to it.

Why is this a good idea?

Firstly, when you onboard to any technology you face a multitude of challenges most of which is confidence. You need to have this sense of “easiness” associated to a new technology you are about to adopt, so it’s important that you’re not in hunt mode but more browse mode as fast as possible.

Once you are able to overcome confidence issues relating to the technology, you also need to keep focused on advancing along the adoption curve, as you want to build a better tomorrow as fast as you humanly can, but deep down you still want to keep cheating, by skipping over things you probably should pay attention to.

Skipping is important but at some point you will need to go back and and absorb the parts you just skipped, so you kind of need a way point mechanism in the way content is presented to you. In Adobe.TV case you can filter out the irrelevant areas that don’t appeal to you – YET. Tomorrow though you can pick this back up and run with it should you choose to, keyword being choice.

I call this contextual synchronization as the content is synchronized to your contextual needs.

Microsoft has a terrible footprint regarding content of this type, as if you were to look at Silverlight for example there are 4 sites all competition for your attention and that’s just for Silverlight. If You’re a .NET developer your world increasingly gets more and more complex and its hard to parse the information from each individual site, given it’s mostly narrative content and less about serving a contextual need. The ones that don’t focus on narrative are more along the lines of projecting information at you and less working with you and more to the point, there’s no instant reward/recognition approach to learning.

This is important with regards to confidence as if you get a sense of accomplishment for taking the time to adopt or learn something there in turn needs to be a mechanism in place that provides that visual feedback “Good job, keep going” mentality.

Adobe.TV doesn’t have this, but you could easily build on from here? you could add badges or rewards to the context above by outlining that the person is moving along nicely and here’s a T-shirt or something cheap and meaningful to show recognition to the end user for doing a great job at sticking it out.

One day I hope that my vision would come to life, but inside Microsoft there is such a de-centralized approach to the site ownership problem that it would take an act of Executive order to change this – even then it would likely take a few years to filter out externally.

Tim Anderson, a well known IT Journalist who gets paid to navigate the web soup such as Microsoft.com, stated this:

I use “web sites” in the plural because there are many Microsoft web sites. Perhaps there should be one; but as the referenced study observes, there are numerous different designs. There are different domains too, such as Silverlight.net, ASP.Netand so on.

Take my experience this morning for example. My question: how many processors are supported by Windows Small Business Server 2008? My Google search got me to here, an overview showing the two editions, Standard and Premium. I clicked Compare Features and got to here, which says I have to visit the Server 2008 web site to find out more about the “Server 2008 product technologies”. I click the link, and now I am looking at info on Server 2008 R2 – only I know already that SBS is based on the original Server 2008, not the R2 version. It’s not clear where to go next, other than back to Google.

The prosecution rests your honour.

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Adobe the platform company that relies on other platforms.

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In my twitter feeds I’ve been reading a lot of mixed opinions on Adobe, and given I often weigh in on all things Adobe, I thought I’d write down a few of my ideas on where I would take Adobe if I were CEO of the day and was talking on stage to the staff within (now that I don’t work for Microsoft I can express these opinions more in the light of day).

PDF vs SWF?

We are tools based company at present, we can replenish our market every two or so years, but this isn’t going to sustain us for too long. We need to spear heard the Enterprise in a way that allows our file formats to take on more of a de facto standard, much like PDF has today. We can expand more on the concept of “what is a document” further through the use of Flash technology. We however, must approach this concept from a completely different angle.

We must consolidate the two formats into one, but we must also provide developers and designers a HTML like experience in producing these formats. Our mandate is not to pick sides on the plug-in vs HTML battle, our mandate is to absorb both ideas at the same time.

We can provide interactive documents to those who want to go beyond the limitations of HTML today. We also want to enable these same documents to exist on the internet for those who don’t subscribe to this philosophy and a degraded experience isn’t a bad thing, it’s a palatable compromise. In other words, we need to ensure our future file formats work in all devices but done in a way that our tooling is the most superior.

HTML is Flash’s friend.

Browsers are our biggest competitor and at the same time ally. Enabling Flash technology to be injected as the preferred rendering engine for HTML5 will require us to open the runtime more. Instead of all or nothing approach which we have today, we should instead provide a turnkey based approach to this equation. At a core level, Flash should respect the current HTML standards we have today but provide a hook point for us to make additional changes on that suite different file formats outside of HTML.

HTML is still not portable, providing companies the ability to take their web like experiences into other software is our mission. Again, our PDF methodology is much the same as what HTML is today, the difference is we provide a much richer experience in around presenting document based experiences. We stand a greater chance of allowing Microsoft Office works to produce interactive experiences that can work on multiple platforms and devices whilst stil adhering to intended experience being asked from such workers.

We must invite companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple to help shape this future as they do not want to be the tooling providers for our core audience – designers. They want the developer base and its a highly contest arena that we simply don’t have the manpower or finances to contest.

User Experience is our future.

Our customer base represent majority of all user interface design, we should and continue to own the way forward for these types of customers to move the human race forward. Our job is not to compete with Apple, our job is enable tools that empower companies like Apple to do better and more agile user experience assembly. If Apple want an Appstore, our job should of been to provide a tool that enables their customers to produce experiences for their devices – to a specification they need and we can respect. If Microsoft Windows Mobile 7 needs our help to enable their customers a tooling experience that helps design audiences create the next generation of mobile apps, we should be there. We shouldn’t be the platform in which runs these experiences, we don’t have permission to do so.

We are not a platform company. We are a creative experience company.

Our job is simple, provide the missing workflow required in order for platform companies to succeed, meaning we want to empower our design audiences to design for these platforms. Flash technology is simply our portable rich format, it is not a platform – it could be, but we aren’t able to sustain this investment for much longer if we should head down that path.

Humility

.When a company like Apple or Microsoft rejects us, act with humility. End the conversation with “I think we agree to disagree on this one”, finger pointing and passive/aggressive assaults will not yield answers to why they reject us – it simply puts more distance between us.

Instead, listen, understand why they are forbidden to use us in context to what we are doing above. Should Microsoft or Apple wish to compete with us in the tooling space around what we produce, then its clear we are doing something wrong. We are limiting their potential and that is the heart of where we must compete. Silverlight and QuickTime should never of existed, we should have had a solution in place that was palatable to their needs. We failed in that regard, none the less enabling Flash Tooling like experiences to produce Silverlight or QuickTime is where we can regain our strengths. Expression Studio is our competitor not Silverlight.

Summary.

Adobe have squandered a lot of potential in the last 10 years (inclusive of Macromedia). Their staff are aggressive behind the scenes and they often remind me of the “old skool Microsoft” where Kill Sun Kill Sun type attitude ended badly for the said company. Their assaults on both Apple and Microsoft has continued to backfire, yet there doesn’t appear to be any outwardly change in behavior. It’s time they consolidated their efforts into a consistent message behind PR / Marketing spin.

They own the design audience’ at the moment, this however is likely to change at the rate the current competitive climate is looking. Products like Acrobat and Flash are file format stories only, Photoshop, Fireworks etc are tooling to enable these file formats and others to succeed. LiveCycle and Coldfusion are a distraction and should be culled or handed off to the open source community grow on their own and in a manner that is passive to other brands.

Adobe are skating on some very thin ice with all the large powerhouse brands. They require permission for Flash / Acrobat etc to exist, and whilst on the PC there has been great success but those days are starting to wind down. Everytime an operating system is released on a device/pc, Adobe is not there. Customers are easily swayed to new things, and at the rate of where the industry is going, lock-outs are an acceptable process today.

Its easy for me to guess that Windows Mobile 7 will not ship Flash, it directly couter-acts Silverlight’s existence should it. iPhone/iPad/iNext will not ship Flash as Apple see no value in providing such experiences and more to the point video online is the contested space for Apple/Microsoft/Google – so sacrificing that for Flash isn’t palatable at this stage for all involved.

OSX, Windows 7 and beyond doesn’t come with Adobe technology pre-installed now, the saving grace right now is there is a deeply seeded saturation of file formats such as SWF on the web today. That being said, the more lock-outs that occur the less powerful this argument becomes – as it puts downward pressure on webmasters to start considering avoiding using these or albeit provide alternative file formats to solve the said problems.

Adobe need to now ready, aim, fire and less ready, fire, aim.

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iPad is still missing iPlugin due to Compete wars

image I am currently sitting in a hotel in Perth, working on a presentation about Silverlight and at the same time like most people around the world, listening or reading as much information as I can find regarding the new Apple iPad.

Firstly, I like the device and it fits my needs well given I travel a lot and often want to read, watch movies and play stupid games like “Dig It” in Airports or Planes etc. It’s a great device fit for purpose with me, others may find it useless.

How you feel about the device aside, the part that left me uneasy is simply that this will be yet another device to ignore outside technology like Silverlight or Flash. My first instinct is wave my fist at Apple and plead with them to please allow a more open after-market add-on access much like Apple OSX does today.

It however isn’t really just Apple, its pretty much the entire industry today. There is such a competitive marketplace now in around folks trying to dominate the web for profit, that it’s in turn kind of stifled a lot of potential experiences that we as consumers could have.

iPad for example has a nice comfortable looking “surf the web on your couch” feel to it, but you’d probably spend about 20mins on the device before you start seeing a lot of whitespace with this little box in the middle, which represents “oops, this site uses Flash..oh well..” mentality attached to it.

Already your experience is reduced and is this the website it self’s fault or is it Apples?

I’d argue its both these two entities and also Adobe’s – and Microsoft’s etc.

I think what needs to happen going forward is a turnkey functionality approach to the plug-ins, in that unless something like this happens Apple will continue to protect their backyard from invasion of 3rd party plug-ins; it invites a lot of competitive threat to their vision. Microsoft will do the same with devices like XBOX 360 etc and Adobe will push Flash’s agenda well beyond the “it’s just a plug-in, honest” agenda as its no secret they want to own the UX Platform for the web – albeit SWF is the vNext HTML in allot of their eyes ( A vision which concerns Google, Apple and Microsoft).

Google just want you all to stay out of the plug-in space and stick to HTML as it’s more palatable to their business goals. HTML Zealots will cheer but I can’t but help think that HTML is so 1990’s and lacks depth around engaging experiences.

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This is all grand and its interesting to once be in the thick of this competitive nonsense, but in reality we are suffering from a technology stand-off. A lot of great concepts are being presented to the world today, but they are being narrowed down to an obvious competitive stink – disallowing the consumers to gain a richer experience with their chosen purchase.

I think the only way that this can work going forward, is that the plug-in providers such as Microsoft and Adobe probably need that turn-key approach to the products. In that instead of getting the whole hog Flash or Silverlight, you in turn get partial bits instead.

Why?

This enables companies like Google/Apple for example to show face and sacrifice a little to gain more, while at the same time it underpins Microsoft and Adobe’s vision further than what they have to play with today.

It also still allows websites like MSN, CNN etc to still have plug-in experiences and should have little or no impact to what they use the plug-ins for today. As lets face it, most of the broken experiences that you are blocked on in mainstream sites like this are either Video, Informative Slide like experiences or Ads. Are they using webcam? pixelshaders etc? no, not really.

It won’t happen though, as companies like Apple will continue to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It just is a shame that an opportunity like the iPad gets fumbled due to the current competitive landscape. As personally, I really don’t care if Flash, QuickTime or Silverlight wins out in the end. I just want to enjoy the experiences.

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Adobe Open Screen Project – reality check.

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Despite what some folks in the Adobe community think, I’m actually still a big fan of Flash and what it represents. I do however hold Adobe up to a much higher standard than I did with Microsoft, as for me they have shown endless amounts of potential but have in my opinion squandered through either in-fighting or misalignment with the rest of the industry.

I’ve read a many a post on the “Open Screen Project” and whilst the concept of putting Flash Runtime on multiple devices etc is quite an appealing concept, I just don’t see them pulling it off beyond a few million units here and there. It’s a reality check that I think a lot of the Adobe staff need to take a step back and review.

Putting Flash on the iPhone or vNext desktop device is the easy part and I don’t think a lot of companies are realistically against that idea on it’s own. They would be typically skeptical of the technical dependency when you start too look beyond the “Open” PR spin and start focus on the tooling and ecosystem surrounding it.

Adobe just don’t have the developer numbers to support a sophisticated ecosystem it requires. There are a lot of exceptionally talented programmers in the Adobe community, some of which are fighting well above their weight – these however aren’t the majority. Adobe needs more of a groundswell of developers, ones that typically hail from either .NET, PHP or JAVA as their previous breeding ground. To date, they haven’t yielded that as fast as they should/could.

Adobe have been plagued with getting their community to move from ActionScript 1.0 and 2.0 over to ActionScript 3.0 and for the past 2-3 years that’s been a campaign of there’s in motion (i.e. being a little more aggressive in ensuring future roadmaps lock the next generation of ActionScript etc into place, essentially what I call a “duress adoption”). They’ve also recently started picking up on the reality that Microsoft fears daily, PHP has become the 800lb gorilla. There are quite a groundswell of PHP developers out there who don’t typically favor Adobe or Microsoft in a lot of ways and are more than happy to punch out solutions built in a HTML/CSS/JavaScript sandbox.

So why me, someone with little PHP experience? I’ve always felt like evangelism is about growing your developer community and developer relations is about helping the community you have – Ryan Stewart, Adobe Evangelist.

Adobe needs to court these folks and fast, as if they can get these folks to switch gears into the Adobe community lifestyle, they in turn and increase there developer base in a much more significant way than they have in the past by pounding at the Java and/or .NET developer doors.

Assuming they fix the Developer base, they next need to convince OEM manufacturers that their tooling isn’t the liability in this equation. I say that, as whilst its fun and 10x more productive to build Flash based solutions via Adobe specific tooling, this in turn creates effectively a liability in around the concept of being “”Open”. It’s not really Open, its more of a half-hatched Open concept, as producing a SWF outside Adobe tooling is actually not a likely thing to occur in the industry. The reason being is, whilst you can technically make your own SWF, you are still required to fall into line with Adobe’s roadmap and vision of where it all heads.

Implementing software which creates SWF files has always been permitted, on the condition that the resulting files render "error free in the latest publicly available version of Adobe Flash Player." – Wikipedia.com

Point is, that whilst their intentions are righteous and feel open, you have to face reality that this is just shifting the boundaries on a total lock-in and instead of declaring the Runtime and File Format as completely locked, its really the tooling story behind it is where the money tree begins. After all, Adobe aren’t in this business for free, they have shareholders and a $3billion+ fiscal profit expectation to meet.

The tooling component to this equation is really the bottleneck as could you imagine what would happen if say ActionScript 3.0 and Flash were solutions that a Visual Studio .NET developer could write inside the said tooling? It would have a huge impact on both sides of the isle roadmaps that’s for sure.

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