I have noticed in a few places discussions comparing the UI and API of WinRT with Silverlight, and suggesting that it (WinRT) is preferable. Mostly, these were quite old posts (a series of 6 or more at SharpGIS was my first sense of this).
It does raise the possibility that Windows / Microsoft will rebirth or rethink some technologies.
Related (in my eyes, anyway), apparently there is a wider discussion about Windows 9 (based on leaks and conjecture) suggesting that there is to be a complete rethink of Windows market segments in Windows 9 “Threshold”.
It’s summarised here in InfoWorld (December 2013) in an article by some bloke named Woody Leonhard.
He sets the tone in his first sentence:
“If independent leaks are to be believed, Windows chief Terry Myerson appears to be dismantling the Jekyll-and-Hyde monstrosity that is Windows 8, instead replacing it with a triumvirate of products that people and companies will actually want.”
I’ll be interested in Scott’s comments on the triumverate of products, including the quote that refers to Terry Myerson’s supposed intentions.My thoughts/Reply I don't know much about the future of Microsoft because I suspect not many INSIDE Microsoft themselves have a clear definitive handle on that (not to sound jaded, i honestly do believe they are still haggling over how to raise the broken into fixable solutions). I would say this, the company has built up enough equity in the past to make a full focused run at Consumer adoption for products that would typically sell reasonably if not better in enterprise/smallbiz but they in the end hit a wall. I think it was mainly they didn't understand the consumers needs and were to busy trying to graph compete strategies they have used on Enterprise into the same space as consumers (Internally Microsoft can be quite aggressive and paralysed with fear around competitive events - its a huge weakness imho). If you were to unpack Windows 8 today and really take a step back from it all, there's not a lot of negativity associated with what they have done. I look at Windows 8 as the parity release between Silverlight/WPF and all the fixes customers (devs) wanted but it was delivered in a way that traumatised the base. It could have been delivered with a softer approach to change management in that instead of holding a gun to our collective heads with the intent of "upgrade or else" simple things like namespace / sdk related issues would have been enough to build confidence with the developer base around migration / roadmap. A developer would be fine with with Windows 7 WPF/Silverlight development today provided they know eventually with a Windows 8 upgrade the performance and scaleability issues would naturally resolve themselves (ie devs dont spend to much time haggling over the rendering pipeline). If you then combine Windows Phone 8 (which is really still in many ways the Silverlight behaviour) you again then tick the other box around reach on mobility devices. You are still locking them down into a world called "windows" which doesn't piss a lot of enterprise companies off, especially with the current turbulence in the device market we see today. Enterprise companies right now are a little paranoid or scared about their mobility adoption strategies because its one thing to say "I want breadth" and another to say "i want breadth and depth' when it comes to User experiences that count. If a company wants to get their "mobility" story together, they often associate mobility with web because breadth is far more attractive story than a depth discussion. Breadth means HTML/JS because it means I don't have to have specialist teams (Java, ObjectiveC, C#/Mono etc). Depth requires the opposite because you can only put off that problem for so long before someone within a team suddenly comes to work wearing his/her "Java Conference 1998" t-shirt and smells funny because they do Android development. Microsoft had an opportunity to do a simple rinse/repeat on the "Embrace/Extend" model with Windows and like I said, Enterprise would likely have been fine to play in that sandpit (of course they'd keep pushing on the "make my C#/XAML apps work on all" angle every step of the way). In keeping Enterprise bellies full that would have stabilised at the very least their largest piece of the profit share pie, in that they would have bought themselves another 2-5 years to focus on Consumer more without having to pay the tax on losing hearts/minds of business grade solutions. This would have also given them more adoption metrics around the mobility + desktop upgrade story because if a company buys 10-100 units of one piece of hardware because it was easier to develop against well thats 10-100 forced adoption(s) on users which after a while could turn into positive/negative evangelist for those products (Forced adoption is not a bad strategy ...its just ethically horrid). But.. sadly none of the above has happened, instead Sinofsky wen't rogue, went aggressive not just internally but externally and let his own self-inflated arrogance steer the ship in a direction of aggressive change management which has backfired. Now the new heads of state have to figure out how to salvage what they have left into meaningful pieces that can essentially tap into the above behaviours. The article is right, you have really three options - fade out you core business (enterprise) and go full retard on consumers adoption, reverse the namespace/SDK engines and build a bridge between old and new but lose what small foothold you have on consumers - or - abandon consumer focus and retreat back to safety around enterprise/small business. I'd place my money on the 2nd option, bridge building but that's going to be filled with a lot of apologies and the only way they can even attempt to make that work is to ramp up their DPE practices beyond where it is today (that is a lot of people on a lot of planes, apologising and seeding a new/existing audience with solutions). The head of DPE (former CEO of Skype) is a business development numbers guy who clearly has no real passion for DPE, so i don't see how even if they find a way to build that bridge can make that happen (it's an attitude issue as well as a technical one). Building a bridge between old and new is not as scary as one would assume (well i don't anyway), there is a lot of positive work put into the Windows 8 SDK's .. i don't think anyone can say out-loud that Microsoft doesn't get their shit together technically when given the chance, there is and has always been more positives in their technical abilities than negatives - it just always always always comes down to the way in which they deliver the message and react to developer/customer issues of the day. Is it really a case of just refactoring Windows 8 namepsaces or proxy classes of some sort to convince Developers to continue on WPF/Silverlight path? ... Is it a matter of just investing more in that "devigner" tooling problem (Expression Blend makes a comeback but with less reliance of "reflection" based property grids). *shrug* .. i can personally see a way they could rebuild and get on with the Windows 9 approach and I don't think it requires a radical overhaul but more architectural common sense.
Platform Adoption - Use Case.Garnter’s VP recently came out and stated that 80% of businesses by 2013 will be outfitting staff essentially with an iPad like device. It’s a pretty bold stat and you have to remember that Gartner get paid to come up with research by companies that need the said research to abstract their sales pitch from bised to unbiased opinion - that being said - it’s not unreasonable to believe what he stated. Picking up a mobile device like an iPad at first seems like it’s a toy, or unnessary for variety of industries as they will never replace a desktop device. An assumption like this will be short lived in most large companies that are weighing up their platform decision making. Firstly concept of an iPad in the hands of an after hours worker is more valuable than a laptop. The main reason is they are carrying the device around with them and are more likely to whip it out during a dinner with friends than a laptop or slate (excuse me while I take out my laptop, no continue talking vs let me look at this device that almost to the untrained eye gives you the appearance i’m checking the bill for our dinner folder thingy). The worker opens the device, performs some quick “at a glance” review of the data within their company, see’s no urgent issues and continues to go about their evening. Having First response reactions are highly valuable and will be the likely first candidate for mobility in most verticals. It’s more to do with the psychology of the device than its possibilities that is to say you could shift a lot of your desktop solutions onto an iPad-like experience but it won't’ happen until organisations wrap their heads around Security and how they plan to break up their current desktop experience(s) into more finite pieces. Security will be the biggest sticking point initially and UX Technology adoption aside, it comes back to the fear that if a user were to leave the said device at a dinner table then people can shut down a factory or steal intellectual property from a company faster than if they were on say a laptop (yes it's retarded but you know there’s a Security jackass in some IT Division scaring the kids with just that scenario and getting traction). A company will in turn dip their toes in the water, they’ll use Frist Response workflow / process as a way to see if this whole Mobile thing has legs from an investment standpoint and technical adoption acid test.
Platform Adoption - Windows 8 Hijack.Having forked browser discussions or worse having forked staffing of development teams is about as interesting to a large company right now as letting users have free access to an iPad without a SOE lock down. The reality is right now any adoption bet a company makes is likely to be repaved post Windows 8 sales begin as weird as that sounds? If you look at Windows 8 today you’ll see the Google Chrome Logo color scheme spread out into a bunch of Boxes that are basically fluff for the consumer. A few people out there will get all excited about the Metro - err..Modern UI - style experience(s). Companies who have a solid bet on .NET however will be keeping a very close eye on how you can hijack the consumer experiences to suit their agenda(s). Just like in the Original XBOX or Kinect release in which Microsoft had expected the market do X in turn users ended doing mods/hacks to use it for their own needs. A company facing a mobility crisis as the one they are facing today will see past the mickey mouse Windows 8 UI layer and instead hijack it for their own needs. Giving users the ability to wet their appetite with .NET level code on Win8 devices will be enough to hold the door open in the potential “if we don’t build a mobile/web story our competitors and/or customers will kill us” door closing campaigns. That in itself is an interesting thought to let fester, what if Windows 8 saves the Enterprise from having to decide on HTML5/Android/iOS? What if the .NET kids simply keep pumping out a WPF like solution but on a device. Wait, I just looked around and it occurred to me. It’s already happening only downside is they need a way to kill off the Windows 8 AppStore experience and revert back to a “my app will be all you need for this new Surface hardware you have in front of you”. Windows 8 will have a yearly upgrade path, there will be a subscription model that works like it did with OSX Lion and if you combine both Apple payment ideas with Silverlight’s deployment model you have a fairly good enoug Windows 8 story that will keep Business occupied long enough for the merging of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Enterprise Customer Client Thingy story. I’d wager that if business does uptake on Windows 8 they will force Microsoft into a reactive situation where they’ll likely have to sacrifice features set for consumers only and instead opt for Enterprise (which is where they will make their unit sales through the most).
Specialised TeamsCubicles of tomorrow aren’t going to be housed with team members who can write and design for multiple devices at the same time. They will be broken into specialised teams and the more and more business(s) begin to consolidate their branding into the device market(s) the more they will look to simplifying their product portfolios and brands. A team of .NET developers who write HTML and WPF client(s) will most likely need to include an iPhone/iPad, Android/Blackberry team(s) who mirror their offering. Companies will aggressively recruit and look for people who are agnostic in one or mediums but realistically given the complexity involved in all the current UX Platform(s) it just isn’t feasible to find that many people on the market waiting for a job call.
Browser ForkingHaving a specialised team isn’t restricted to proprietary solutions, it will also factor into a more traditional medium of HTML development and design. As strange as this may sound to hear, the idea that HTML5 will bring the industry into a global position of unanimous parity of it’s implimentation amongst all browsers is simply not correct. The only browser that i’d argue has a vested interest in remaining pure would be Google Chrome and that’ simply because having the entire globe of online consumers still accessing HTML work’s to the search engine and advertising model of Google. Having a browser fork in API and extend beyond HTML/JS works to Apple, Google and Microsoft’s favor as well. In fact, I’d argue Microsoft are banking on the ye olde embrace / extend model it’s had in the past (with great success).
Diverse a Product PortfolioOnce companies have audited and forecasted what their internal current development team models will look like for the next 2-3 fiscals, they in turn will need to reflect on which bets to place in which markets that are dictated by their choice of development. It will depend on their choice but even then they still need to figure out how they can leverage an iPhone more than they can an Android (or substitute your own technology bet here). For every device you target brings a variety of constraints and expectations that you need to meet prior to even beginning development. Diversity in choice will ultimately have an impact on a companies brand and consistency model in how they want to broadcast their personality to their respective users. If you target an iPhone for example you have a pretty prescriptive UI design to leverage so it pays to run with it and not against it, given it will reduce your time to market cost(s). Same applies with Android and especially with Windows Phone. Problem with prescribed design isn’t its ability to convey a uniform user experience with an end user it’s core issue is the reduction of being able to stand out amongst your consumer(s). If you spend more you can overcome the prescribed approach but in doing so you also need to ensure you can leap beyond the baseline of expected behavior.
Metro-style could winoutPrescribed user interface design in turn will slowly become more and more weaponised in a way to again have a single designer rule many device(s). If you can invest in a smaller group of design professionals who have custodianship of a brand and the personality that comes with it, you in turn can reduce your costs on having less investment on design and more on engineering. A company may prefer the model of having a centralised design team that works with 3-4 device teams as a way of offsetting cost’s associated with multi-targeting. Metro-style design in turn plays a comfortable role as Android and Windows Phone 7 pretty much lend themselves well to this vision of the way design should be. iPhone/iPad however goes in the opposite way that is to say the composition found within these devices are much more detailed and focused in around theming the experience as much as it’s about enabling an input driven experience. The design(s) to date using metro oppose the idea of having real-world objects embedded into the 2D design composition (less turning knobs, wooden textures etc). The cost for design here is hugely decreased as a result meaning in reality a design team need only wireframe the composition of what they want a particular screen to look like, layer in color and ensure it adhere’s to some basic principles that relate to consistency, minimalism and lastly shape driven pictography / typography (pattern recognition 101). Having a metro-style solution going forward can work on all device(s) and whilst it may go against the iPhone/iPad design grain, it can still sit within and more to the point it would reduce a brand’s chance of inconsitency and personaltiy (closer to the one design on all belief).
Designers did this to themselvesCompanies like Microsoft, Adobe, Google and even Apple have reacted to a problem that was created by designer(s). The problem started the day when designer’s went against the developer grain, that is they forked off onto their own technology stack which was designed for them (Apple). In forking their work flow away from mainstream development this in turn created a workflow issue and in turn fueled companies like Microsoft to invest in a lot of tactical decisions around how to solve this said problem (WPF, Silverlight etc). The forking also gave way to a different approach whereby companies like Adobe began to also invest not just in a x-platform tooling but also for a while there in a x-platform delivery that works with the said tools that designer(s) had grown to love (Flex, Flash). Once Apple had also moved to an Intel chipset this in turn gave away to what I would call the “Apple Developer” generation where over time more and more of a developer centric foundation was being build to which a series of tools could also now target the designer(s) (amongst other creative professionals). Design for the better part still remained in its own cut-off from the rest area and the more and more developer communities that didn’t have a dependency on Windows began to emerge, the more they instead crossed the divide and began to work on Apple with their designer sister & brother(s). The developer defection to Apple created a huge amount of issues and problem(s) from within Microsoft as now they are facing a massive problem around having developers target Windows but also ensuring there are the right amount of designer(s) ready to support such developers. The more applications being built on Windows the more they sell Windows is the simplified formula. Google also now posed an issue whereby they have no real dog in the fight, that is to say Apple or Windows it didn’t matter provided you targeted HTML and helped fuel their Advertising & Search revenue streams of tomorrow. I won’t go further into the various competitive back and forth that has gone on suffice to say at the heart of this entire issue around choice lies the designer. The illusive designer who often costs a lot and produces what will soon become the main differentiator in a companies offering - user experience.
Function is no longer important form isAs the industry reacts to the competitive changes that are ongoing, much like a teenage boy does around the time of puberty - design in will start to become the focal point of such change. A designer will feel suddenly more wanted, targeted and will be taunted and attracted with some quite lucrative offers. Developers will also see this and start or have began to shift career gears and start looking into ways of becoming a designer. Some will fail whilst others will discover a suppressed design gene within lurking and waiting to be unleashed. The designer will however become the leader of the pack, so used to being the one at the back or considered replaceable, they in turn will now become the most sort after as in turn what is replaceable is engineering (the market optimised for function instead of form for over 20years). Here in lies the issue, the designer isn’t really equipped to decide the outcome of a generation of computing, they will always prefer to take the right amount of time to do the right job in a way that adhere’s to their internal principles around how the world should look.
Winter's not coming, a Fork isA designer today hasn’t gone down in price or time to market, the time it takes to produce a design still takes just as much time and effort as it did last year and the year before that. It however got a little more complicated as the canvas now comes in not just a 1024x768 screen (or there abouts) it now comes in a whole host of screen sizes and operating system level imposed limitations. Once the corporations that fork their design teams figure this out, styles like the metro-style will begin to emerge as they in turn can bypass the designer if in some fairly competent hands. As in reality the importance of User Experience Principles has become weaponised with the more specialised teams making their work public for all to borrow/steal. Don’t be suprised if a team in the near future had a designer but now doesn’t and solutions that look like Microsoft Metro were being produced. Google and Microsoft have began and in parts Adobe’s tooling also adhere’s to this as well. Having real world objects in 2D design isn’t a bad or limiting thing, it’s an ongoing design evolution around trialing & erroring deeper design beyond flat monochrome wireframes that have or haven’t been colored in. Don’t knock it as the alternative isn’t as deep in its composition.
Windows Phone 8 is the entry point.I’ve pretty much said a number of times over the past 2 years around how I think Windows Phone 7 will fail with consumers) and to be clear and to the point, it has. Nokia sales are poor, the units adopted vs. shipped are a mathematical failure and lastly the uptake and adoption excitement hasn’t been as attractive as it could have been - despite Nokia’s positive influence in their brilliant marketing blitz. Bottom line is the Phone itself has and always been a “save my position in line until I’m ready to enter the market” strategy. It had to rely on Silverlight teams work to firm up the UX platform strategy and entice an existing development mindset onto the phone. The early marketing campaigns were just embarrassing to watch, there was no structure to the developer engagement model(s) and it was very reactive and haphazardly handled. I stated in 2010 the phone would fail simply because I got a sense this was about to happen, as the more I looked at the future strategies of Microsoft from an insider perspective the more I could see it wasn’t about consumers or developers, it was more about internal staff shuffling and jockeying for power to appear to be solving these problems. Today, Windows Phone 8 plans have been trickled out, and even as I type this I can’t but help criticize the approach taken during the release keynote - excluding Kevin Gallo, given out of the entire keynote it was one guy’s clarity and approach that provided a sense of confidence behind what was brewing. That all being said, I’m positive about Windows Phone 8 going forward. I think Microsoft are finally starting to suffocate the internal politics and are starting to firm up a coherent strategy around what they think the UX Platform of the future is likely to be. The strategy is still a work in progress and despite how polished that the company appear to be around what’s coming up next they are still fumbling their way through the evangelism and marketing rhythms that still have large amounts of work to be done. Windows Phone 8 is the release we should have had, it’s in many ways like the old historical “service pack that fixed the release” which is commonly associated with Microsoft Windows (ie I won’t install until they release a service pack mentality). The phone itself has a lot of potential successful entry points to help kickstart an economy and adoption curve that could definitely, if architected (and I mean a big if!) correctly. Firstly, the phone finally has a what looks like to be a clear vision around how Enterprise adoption can take hold of the said phone that I’m hoping (yet to clarify this) that Windows 8 tablet(s) can also make use of. This one small but significant feature is what I think can make the adoption cycles stand out from the rest as given there is so much ratcheted excitement around the idea of having smartphones and devices handling complex business focused solutions, this is the first of a united platform strategy that has not only less friction for developer(s) to adopt but also feels more natural within most organisations (given .NET adoption to date is deeper within enterprise than ever before). Secondly, the wallet feature is still a bit of a left of center idea around how to commercialize and monetize future solution(s) with regards to the Smartphone/Device market(s). What I mean to say is this is kind of the “Deep Zoom” functionality within Silverlight whereby at first glance you could see usage for it but it really isn’t something that was widely adopted or specifically asked for. I’m hopeful that this feature will get traction across all device(s) more to the point I am dreaming of the day I can buy my coffee from a cafe via my phone vs having to take out my wallet (given they constantly break my notes into coins or I don’t have actual cash on me when I need a coffee). The technology for a phone-wallet like approach is in place but it will still take a large amount of maturity from both the developer community and Microsoft to get this into the market in a meaningful way (which I’m sadly skeptical will happen - much like Cardspace days, good idea just bad execution). Thirdly the NFC/Bluetooth and App to App functionality is quite a powerful little gem when you stop and contemplate its future potential. This one requires some visionary, go on a leap of trust with me ask. The idea that I can have an application and then “bump uglies” with a fellow phone user to not only get the app i’ve just recommended but also potentially share information on the spot, is something that actually makes sense. I’ve personally sat in meetings where i’ve watched people fumble around with sharing information or better yet in desperate search for the idea of continuous client whereby sharing amongst many as the user navigates the said data would be quite a powerful communication tool. This feature I believe will wash over the consumer base with hardly an impact but I do see in the Enterprise space it will definitely have a lot more potential than it has to offer today - provided the phone gets traction, attracts the right designer/developer mindset and lastly can remove all friction roadblocks that may impact its clear line of communication (it’s hard to isolate these given the specifics aren’t clear at the time of writing this).
So it’s a going to be successful right?I said it has potential and I didn’t say it was going to be successful. There is still some blood in the water around those who own the Windows Phone 7 device today being basically given the “thanks for bleeding on our bleeding edge of discovery”. I don’t think this will be an easy hurdle to jump over and should they succeed it’s only due to the fact that the Phone’s consumer failings are going to ensure this level of distrust / toxic venom isn’t as loud as it could have been. I think it will also require a lot of strategic and careful evangelism on Microsoft’s part to seed this within all those organisations hanging onto their sharepoint / .net way of life with a death grip. In order to solve that problem, Microsoft really need to sit down and have a detailed heart to heart with the developer base on what their plans are specifically around WPF/Silverlight/WinForms development today. Kevin Gallo in the Windows Phone 8 presentation actually gave clear guidance on this but I think his message needs to be broadcasted as clearly and cleanly has he gave it. Kevin in my view should be the one who faces the hordes of Developer(s) out there given Scott Guthrie has been shunted to the geek-celeb fame left. Despite this annoyance that the one guy you’d love to hear the most from (Scott Guthrie) isn’t speaking loudly as you’ve grown acustom to is somewhat of a large mistake on Microsoft developer relations part. None the less they definitely need to give Kevin the stage and make him the consistent face amongst many “who cares who this VP is” Microsoft executive crowd. In order to win this over they really need to pick a team that can be the consistent personalities, it’s why Robert Scoble got success in the early Microsoft days. He was your trusted camera guy who roamed the halls of redmond giving you insight into what’s being published from the Software factory known as Microsoft. Microsoft have lost this element of success, they are producing technical solutions that may or may not win hearts & minds but ultimately they aren't clear on what they want to say about the said solutions. They are preoccupied with letting some random executive get on stage and have his & her say to which you never either see them again or you’re still confused as to who they are and why you should listen to them? In order to have Windows Phone 8 win the day, they need to really just drive home the message calmly, clearly and in a unified voice that builds trust. Lastly the entire UX platform strategy is starting to bend inwards, in that they are starting to unite the teams under the one vision which is why I’ll simply leave off with one last ranty thought. I suffer from bipolar but so does Microsoft marketing, in that their entire website strategy is a confusing mess of stupidity and creates more of a problem than it solves. I truly hope Microsoft abandon the “File-New-Website” approach to messaging Windows 8 and Windows Phone by reversing the engines, that is to say unite the entire vision under just one site. Don’t let internal politics screw this next 1-2 years up, unite and build or you’re just going to be yet another ongoing punchline to a bad technology joke. Windows Phone 8 is the reset we have to have simply because it starts to be an additive to a united vision (whether you like it or not).
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.
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..
Change is the enemy.That’s how you flip the script; that’s how you get people to stop looking behind and start thinking about what’s coming up. You can shift an entire community from the old to new in under 2-3 years using that formula mixed with enough conference blitz, blog post(s) and so on. This is, however, all a false sense of change. That is to say at the conference / front lines, it looks as if things are moving forward fast, quick everyone get on the new wave! At the cubicle level, the environment that when the conference etc. is over and everyone retreats back to their various developer enclosures. They are still likely staring at WinForms, Windows XP, WPF, Silverlight and so on for the next 1-2 years minimum. This is where the thinking around change truly festers, as now it’s less about having XAML and C# skills but more about how to use them in an upcoming project. The bottom line is if you are writing Silverlight/WPF, the very notion or idea that you can transfer your skills in 2-3 years when Windows 8 dust settles is really pie in the sky broad stroke thinking. Today, you have to File-New Silverlight/WPF Project, as it’s realistically the environment in which you are likely to get success in this .NET space. You could go down the path of HTML/JS and really get ready for devices of tomorrow, but that’s tomorrow, this is today. Silverlight is at the end of it’s life, and in turn anything that takes a dependency on it is sure to decay over the next year or so. Windows 8 is not a desktop release; it’s a tablet release. The future around how Windows 8 plays a role in businesses of tomorrow is still a huge unknown. Microsoft really needs to stop switching gears so fast here. If the future is to gravitate towards the next wave, then fine. Change is good, yet do so in a manner that has clarity attached. Stop hiding behind the sound bytes of the usual muffin eaters at the same conference(s). Stop just abandoning the toys of today because they aren’t as shiny as the ones you make tomorrow. Spend more time in the transition or bridging between the old wave and the new wave, whilst lastly settle on a message around how you transfer and not throwaway messaging of “well if you know how to write code you can write better code tomorrow”. I think it's clear we all can learn a language or two. That’s not the point, the point is: What incentive do I have to relearn (or go backwards in) in order to move forward? WinRT is Silverlight 1.1 or 2.0 when it comes to development experiences. Windows Phone 7 Development vs. Windows 8 Development isn’t as clear as it could be. Lastly, if Silverlight has no more releases left in it, then how do other products like Lightswitch, Expression Blend, Visual Studio, etc. get affected by the end of life stigma?
The reality check.Will you be able to take your skills to the new Windows way of life, sure, Microsoft are often lazy to execute if not at times paralyzed with fear of taking a risk – but they aren’t completely incompetent although I would favor mandatory drug testing on executives though. The numbers rubbery, but approx. 6million .NET devs exist right now hitting “Tab dot Ship” via Visual Studio so that number is your army and for them to completely abandon them is out of the question. It’s not to say they won’t shelve them when it comes to marketing spend or evangelism efforts, but they won’t just cast them aside. They will focus on HTML5, that IE 10 Metro crack needs addicts and they need to find them early and get them to double down on producing Glow in the Dark Twitter Applications that have Angry Birds built in for extra kudos. This needs to occur because this needs to entice the consumer to stop buying porn online with their credit card(s) and instead switch over to the Microsoft Windows 8 AppStore that works like ITunes AppStore but different (just like the phsycial stores but different, cause Microsoft use Oak wood instead of Birch). C# skills transference though is never really be a dramatic issue, its akin to saying “Don’t worry guys, you know Winforms, here’s WPF, Go!” … oh wait, we did that to and yeah, didn’t quite work out that well. We also tried ASP.NET with Silverlight, again, did not work out so well. This time, though its different because you have more options to choose from and just for extra added confusion, Microsoft aren’t going to confirm or deny whether technologies you have today will be around – sure they show a few strong hints here and there but to actually come out and give a Caesar style “thumbs up” vs “thumbs down” death blow – no, forget about it. Its not like they came out and formerly cancelled MIX either, the conference that let you all know what was coming out for the web and etc. etc. Sadly, Bob Mu former executive let it slip the last time that event was close by that “our strategy has changed” and then after that slip, he was never heard of again.
So what is all the fuss about?Why is everyone getting all caught in knots about Silverlight being alive or dead, nobody’s really volunteered an exhaustive list of features that are missing right? Well maybe Uservoice but who listens to that stupid website anyway.. oops, did it again didn’t I. I think real fuss is more about the concept of patronizing the developer base with yet another executive we probably care less about talking about a technology that we still haven’t figured out why it exists over the old whilst then asking the devleopers to “trust” them and yet not confirm or deny the pre-existing technology that they originally trusted them will continue to exist. I think that’s the core fuss point, I think the PR folks are out to lunch most days and Microsoft probably need to rethink their relationship with WaggEd (the de-facto outsource PR firm) around how they are handling the messaging. In my experience, they can be quite conservative and treat the brand in many ways like it’s a Presidential campaign – cagey, artificial and lastly “good enough” but never quite “great”. Windows team will eventually turn the lights out on the current permutation of Silverlight, specifically on the Windows Phone 7 as when there is a fairly high profile leadership change out, things aren’t good internally. Something is going a miss and Andy Lee’s isn’t known internally imho for his brilliant strategic thinking, so for him to be swapped out and some other yet to be on stage for us all to ignore VP will now take his place. That to me says one thing “We have a change in strategy..err I mean tactics..” Journos and bloggers will hold your hand and reassure you that Silverlight as you know it today will continue and sure, C# and XAML still has a future but its never really been about that its more and always has been about making applications, quickly and without performance or bugs. What the fuss is all about now is do we have to re-pave an old road, where sure Silverlight/WPF have issues there’s no denying that but today, we all collectively have a fairly well rounded knowledge base in and around what they are and how to avoid them. Does that all now have to be reset? Does that mean our Google searches for answers that often get a mix between Silverlight, WPF and CTP/Beta APIs that have breaking changes get that much more polluted resulting in extra hours of wading through rants to get answers? Sadly yes. I’m a programmer and designer, I have over 9 languages under my belt and can use majority of the 3D and 2D design tooling that the planet has managed to cough up. Personally my issue has never been around learning stuff, it’s always been about learning stuff to get stuff done. Nothing personally pisses me off more is having to go backwards when we should be going forwards. Windows 8 going to HTML5.. really… that’s the answer? Does anyone not get the concept that if all browsers were equal then why make them? What’s the differentiation? Answer that question and now you are back in the game of circa late 90’s early 2000 where Browser wars an API forks were all the rage. Oh wait most of the devs that use HTML today were probably dancing to Power Ranger Intros to notice.
I just noticed something about the overall Windows Phone 7 community outreach story. Well I’ve noticed a few things, but the main thing I noticed was the designer haven is non-existent. Looking at the Create.MSDN site which for me appears to be the front-door to “getting-started” with Windows Phone 7, there appears to be no upsell or solicitation in anyway for the “design” community to pay attention to Windows Phone 7.
Huge mistake firstly.
The reason this is not a bright start to the phone, is if you look at all the successful apps on the iPhone and even Android market-places, there actual apps clearly have someone with design muscle flexing their wares proactively. Inside the Windows Phone 7 ethos, it’s admittedly paint by numbers style design (Metro) but still there is potential vein of richness here should you but show some bread-crumbs.
The major selling point for Windows Phone 7 is metro, folks inside the WP7 marketing team can flog “apps” all they like, but in my opinion I’d declare the phone having apps as hygiene (i.e. Well? I expected you to have them so what? you want a high five?..what else you got?). Metro is the differentiator, despite my grievances with User Interface experience(s) I do recognize that pushing these bitter points aside, the phone needs to focus on this and this alone when it comes to the consumers?
Sitting down and having designed a UI for this phone for an upcoming (reveled later) I’m a little frustrated at the amount of Googling (Yes, I said Google, not Bing. Bing is an ass backwards Search engine imho) I’ve had to spend in finding vector icons, inspiration (design stealing) and lastly techniques / resources others have framed when it comes to handling design related issues.
For instance, I’m not a fan of accent colors inside the phone – in that I like certain amount of colors but Red, Green and Orange are imho off-limits. The reason being is most situations that call for “state” often rely on a stop-light palette. If you have your entire UI Green and you have “You’re now connected” green highlight somewhere, well..it gets lost in the accent theme.
On top of that the dark/light auto-inversing is a funny beast to tackle. I get that it inverses the color palette's in a fairly smart way at the same time it catches you a little off guard when you sit down to design. As now you have to keep that in the forefront of your mind whilst designing and at the same time accommodating for foreground and accent color adjustments as they occur.
To a developer this is simply state flipping in and out but for an average designer that’s a lot of conscious palette planning / thinking going on there and not a lot of resources around hinting at that either (Try googling that now, tell me what you find!).
These are the typical scenarios you’re likely to face as a designer, the techniques that go beyond “Look mah, I used the default color palette and I managed to ship! gimme my $1million app store sales now mkay!” moments. It goes deeper and you can’t rely on external blogging threads to carry this workload. As they also have a habit of becoming out dated mixed with spam sites re-gurgitating your blog feeds as their own in order to sucker punch you with Google ads.
My point is simple, the designers are clearly not part of the conversation here and whilst developers, developers and developers is the normal mantra of Microsoft it’s also the major reason you’re failing at the products. If you want proof, go check out he MSDN metrics around Expression sales and uptake of Silverlight solutions that go beyond the default theme(s) created by either Microsoft or Telerik, ComponentOne, Infragistics etc.
Paint by numbers gets you the default positioning of your product and nothing is wrong with prescribed UI. That is until you scope out the iPhone AppStore reviews long enough to see that your application now needs to do something beyond Tip Calculators / FlashLights and Twitter feeds. If you come up short on Function then you better at least deliver on Form.
Microsoft’s AppStore is filled with overloaded function it now needs personality and it needs more design focused bloodlines to underpin the Metro differentiation. If Microsoft can’t factor this into the outbound marketing today, then at least make a start as this will also set Microsoft up for a stronger position for when Windows 8 arrives (given Metro seems to be full steam ahead).
Point and case. Try for giggles, re-create the Office UI inside Wp7 today without leaving Create.MSDN.com and using the default Icons out of the directory found buried inside Program Files (which somehow we’re supposed to inherently know)?
How about Brandon (Marketing Director for Wp7) take the $1k ransom for Scott Adams (Dilbert) and put that towards the funding for hiring a designer minded person to run the wp7 community outbound initiatives. There’s a lot of people who could lift that burden and if anyone in Microsoft want some recommendations, ping me, I’ve got a list of candidates.