Jakob Nielsen is not your Windows 8 Guru heres why.

I can’t believe i’m about to defend Microsoft Design outloud like this. It’s not something I would normally do, however when it comes to the Jakob Nielsen Windows 8 review I just can’t stand to let it slide. Personally I think that entire company is still stuck in the past and has consistently failed to navigate change with a degree of accurate prediction since they declared Flash a fail (Oct 2000) (which translates to in principle to JavaScript based websites a fail).

Furthermore I think they rely on the idea that the end users are all collective virgin users who have never had to navigate or use bad UI in todays software environments. The fact that we as a human race can navigate even dumb solutions such as Sharepoint, Lotus Notes, SAP and a whole host of other really badly design UI indicates that we aren’t as dumb as useit.com would have us believe. Furthermore there is a huge generational change underway whereby the concept of “experienced windows users” would be fair to say my 8yr old son fits that category.

The clue is in the audience sampled as if you get that wrong the rest of the responses are just opinions based around a skewed bias (bad baseline to draw from on their part).  Here is my notes from an internal email I sent around when I was asked “what do you think of the article” from my co-workers.

NOTE: This is a raw / unedited email-centric dump. There is no grammar/ spelling so if you piss and moan about in the comments you really should step away from the computer more.

In case you suffer from TLDR – here’s the short extranous cognitive load friendly version

What the hell was that

 

My remarks:

  •  Novice and Power Users.  “Invited 12 experienced Windows users” is a weak / broad sweeping remark to make that XYZ demographic doesn’t like N-Product. Keep in mind I’m a tough critic of Windows 8’s design, but even I can concede it’s still usable whether the incentive is to use though is entirely different matter (Cognitive Dissonance measures Behavior vs. Incentive).  I would have taken him more serious if he had of used a variety of audience(s) for this (OSX users, Seniors, GenY, IT Professionals, Sales force etc) .. everyone’s experienced In Windows is my point.


Cognitive Overhead.

  • Prospective Memory – I think he’s building up to “learn where to go” and associating it as a bad thing. The concept of a desktop works in favor of prospective memory, meaning “I’ll put x here so I can come back to it later” works in the same fashion as the start overlay. Its not ideal, but to declare this a cognitive overload is an over-reach given over time (behavior) users will settle on a rhythm that suites them. If I press START and start typing my context will adjust to the text I’m typing and so on.
  •  Dual Environments –  The two environments in which he speaks of are WinRT and WinRT Pro, now the clue is in the word “Pro” firstly and it has to do with legacy support than actual user experience (context is annoying when you leave it out huh?). Tablet users won’t interact with the said duality he’s nominated so it kind of is a weak point to rest on and those that opt for the Surface Pro edition are doing so more as a finger in both pies approach to the problem at hand. If I pitched the problem that needed to be solved in that I need the user(s) to have both Windows Now and Windows vNext it shifts the results differently as if I said I need the users to solely focus on vNext only … Again, It feels more about airbrushing the facts without context (Ironic given the guy’s a usability “guru” and how context is important in ux as content).
  • Added Memory.  I see this a lot and I wonder if UX Practitioners suffer from this concept that we all suffer from sudden memory loss at any given point. I understand interruption etc plays into this but in reality we don’t multi task and phones today for example don’t have this issue – if anything given the complexity between switching from apps via navigation routines (ie iPhone double hitting the rectangle and using a slider style switch). I am baffled as to what moment of brilliance the author assumes he/she is uncovering here – I’m kind of lost between whether I dislike his point or the actual website itself’s design.

Multi Window

  •  Responsive & Adaptive Design– I think the author again (they really should sit down and study some basic design principles to articulate the points) probably wanted to say that the design of the solution isn’t responsive and/or adaptive depending on screen real estate. The said applications again don’t make full use of the screen(s) they are being deployed or used upon. I concede that this could be an issue for usage of LOB solutions but at the same time I also reject it. Having window support in today’s UI world is an absolute engineering challenge at the best of times and furthermore buy having to adhere and cater to this we in turn limit our future potential by sticking to the ye olde side by side window usage. As it now begs the question, why are two applications side by side if they are related?  If we have a forcing function which puts emphasis on a single screen visualization would this not cut down on fragmented software delivery? What if the snap screen concept could be more broader in its execution where you allow users to have more than one window at a time but the designs themselves can be responsive to the state in which they are housed? This works better imho than just given floating cascade windows with dynamic border resize + maximize + minimize. It fixes and creates an interesting solution to much bigger problem.Again, the author is kind of saying “it’s changed, I don’t like it”. I didn’t like the day I gave up a tactical keyboard for a touch screen, but I got over it and can type just as fast now. Humans evolve.

Discoverability

  •  Flat styles. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving along the highway and seen the turn arrow being flat and thought to myself “I wish that had a sense of depth, as that would give me contrast to make an informative decision”. The whole idea that we need depth in order to associate action is a kind of “drawing from a long bow”. If you’re a virgin user and never seen something for the first time, yes, you have that moment of initial “wtf” but you explore, because now it’s a puzzle and you have an incentive to figure it out.  Take into account marketing and real-world surroundings it’s fair to assume that the learnability of a solid icon is considered both touchable and untouchable.  You will discover this fairly easily but the learnability is probably shallow but discoverability isn’t – Key differentiation there.  I don’t agree with Metro’s content over chrome metaphor and in the visual he provided it’s an easy fight to pick (grouping is all wrong) but the failures here are easily misleading given he left out the constancy of the design (in that it’s not isolated to one area, it’s throughout and again, surprisingly we all seem to navigate over time without issue – behavior vs incentive again).
  •  Symbology. Probably the only thing I would agree here is that there is way too much of a strong reliance on symbology to convey the context of what the said solution does. There’s no personality attached to apps and functions, meaning I think there still needs to be a balance between core operating and in-app functions and said Applications (one thing iPhone does well as the apps entry icons are able to retain a differentiation whereas Win8 it doesn’t). I don’t think the author articulated this very well but I sense that’s the direction they were heading

Information Density

I won’t bother remarking too much on these areas, suffice to say it’s like I grabbed Angry Birds app, declared iPhone a fail due to lack of 3D support. Probably helps to separate third party applications from the actual said operating system. You can grade an OS based on its actual abilities or inbuilt functions, not by what the ecosystem does with them as that’s a slippery slope.

Desktop computers and horizontal control hasn’t been a failure. I don’t subscribe to the “well on websites it failed” it actually hasn’t, its more to do with screen size, frequency of use and does the UI tease the user to carry out the action. It’s not a complete failure it’s more to do with context and case by case. Now the current win8 mode relies on the horizontal scroll bar or mouse wheel to navigate between the screen and yes I think the missing element here is for the mouse to do the flicking between left/right (kinetic scrolling etc).

Live Tiles.

Agreed. Probably the one area of this article he nailed well. Yeah, the live Tiles for me is like a room full of screaming kids all asking for ice cream and one asking to go to the toilet. Pray you get the later right early.

Charms.

  • Progressive Disclosure has always been a double edged sword. On one hand you free up user from distraction by giving them a chunk of information to process act upon whilst on the other hand you’re easily forgotten and totally rely on muscle memory / learnability to be your UX crutch. I don’t think the author framed this correctly in this case by asserting that the users will “forget” the charm icons etc. I think it’s got poor amount of UX friction associated to it but the idea that Novice/Power users will be absent minded users here is really again an over reach. I find the whole persona attachment in this authors writing to be disconnected and fluctuates between a virgin user and a veteran of 15 years+ user? (settle on them and grouping here clearly needs to indicate the level of friction associated to each point).Had the user stated “I sampled a user with only 6month usage of a computer” then yes, Charms would be hazardous to one’s health. The reality is that’s a generational issue firstly (ie they are deprecating) and secondly there is such a wash of bad UI in software today that the users in general are what I’d call “defensive” in that they have been trained over and over that UI today isn’t always a case of “everything is in front of you where you need it”.  Furthermore if you take a step back in time and look at the green-screen terminals and how data entry operators would fly through the various fields etc one can see that a human and pattern recognition have remarkable abilities.

Gestures.

I’ve not used Win8 Gestures to comment. I want to take the author at his/her word but so far I’m inclined to favor Microsoft here. That being said, Microsoft and Touch have never really been that good together (even Surface Table had issues here). Suffice to say they really need to tidy up NUI in general here and its still the wild west, so in reality anything that all brands put on the table is open to this set of arguments.

Windows 8 Weak on Tablets, Terrible on PC’s.

Yeah this is where the true bias shows through and why my UX spidey senses tingled. It’s in this part you see the opinion shine through which can distill down to that they wanted Win8 to be tablet only UI and desktop to continue the Win7 as-is approach.  It shows lack of foresight for how the mobility and desktop market’s are starting to eat away into the tablet focused approach. How well we handle the ergonomics of going between a laptop to a tablet is still undecided but that’s the direction ones heading. Microsoft are trying to get out ahead of this early and if that means along the way they will fumble some of the UX by giving a duality in both old and new then so be it. In my view if you are given the problem of retaining the old while moving the user base over to the new in an aggressive manner then Microsoft may actually have a winning idea (yes I just praised Microsoft). I would however say that there Metro design style is going to come back and bite them the most and from what I can tell the Author has been cherry picking the negatives in order to build up to a point of how unusable it is. No balanced proposition here other than I don’t like Windows 8 and here’s why (hence the whole paragraph of “I don’t hate Microsoft but..” which translates to “I’m not racist, but..” …there is no “but” ..as everything you just said before it gets lost in cognitive overload (grin).

How the author then goes onto praise Ribbon Menu after spending a paragraph or two downsizing the charm bar “out of sight out of mind” makes me confused

Lastly by asserting that Win7 needs to be replaced with Windows 8 is probably the final conclusion that Microsoft marketing still sucks at its job (ie it’s not an upgrade, its an additive product) and lastly the user should stick more to the UI principles and less to OS Market analysis.

 

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The mission to land a .NET developer on Jupiter.

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Ask not what Microsoft can do for you but what you can do for Microsoft. That’s really the inspiring quote that President of the new colonization group – aka Windows  – needs to say to the unwashed masses of tomorrow.

Microsoft is taking on a mission that looks to go beyond the moon, they want to land on Jupiter and it will be done with Apollo. Still confused?

If you’ve not paid attention to all the codenames flying about the place you’d be forgiven to be confused as there’s a space theme happening and with these code names its quite interesting to see how the objectives for the next generation of Microsoft is likely to shape up.

Jupiter is rumored to be the reset button to Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Silverlight. A reset is the latest suspicion as just yesterday I found out that the XAML ethos within Microsoft has been disbanded and set to various corners of the company.  Some went to Internet Explorer team, some went to Windows teams and others went to Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Why disband the teams? It is time for pencils down folks, let us stop piling on code for the existing stuff but now let us set our sights for the future, let’s be bold. Let us be daring. Why land on the moon when you can land on Jupiter floating on a cloud of Azure? (Ok, I lost myself in that metaphor as well).

Ok fine, I have gone through the seven stages of Silverlight/WPF grief and I am at acceptance I think.

The Mission.

In order to better prepare for the mission ahead, let us think about the various things we need to account for prior to launch (September).

Replace Crew Members.

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Inside Microsoft there is a lot of toxic turmoil going due to internal re-orgs (which is fairly common) that fueled with how the Global Financial Crisis has affected employees etc. it’s no secret that Microsoft are losing some quite influential and dare I say, hard to replace staff to places like Google, Facebook, Amazon and so on. I personally know of three employees who have hated working for Microsoft for quite some time but have been stuck due to housing prices in Redmond etc not being ready enough for a resale – that is – until Google, Adobe, Facebook and soon Amazon have campuses of their own in Seattle.

Now the super geeks have alternative employment options. Microsoft is now on notice, treat me better or I will leave. The later choice has been winning in my opinion and the more the new found employees have sent me messages of "Omg, its way better over here than Microsoft" which has to be salt in some current employee’s wounds whom are likely staring down the barrel of uncertainty in the company given its end of year commitment scoring mixed with the demise of what we used to call the Silverlight/WPF & Blend ethos. What to do!.

Reaching Parity. 

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A gentleman and fellow .NET scholar Jose has done the best he could in reverse engineering Direct UI (rumored to be the leaked incarnation of Jupiter). He has some insights that are both great and disappointing at the same time. The great part is it could very well be the next iteration of what has to come in the landscape of C# and XAML for tomorrow’s UX Pioneers.

The downside is its 3-5 or maybe more steps backwards in the current feature parity you have all eagerly waited for over the past 4 years. There are some fundamentals in the room whilst there are concerns around some of the other features that may or may not make the cut for version one.

If I know Microsoft and I like to think I do, this is likely to be yet another one of those traditional "version 1" moments whereby the team(s) behind the product eventually stumble across the finish line, exhausted but barely breathing enough to shout "Give me feedback on what you want in version 2, it will be better I promise" followed by some metaphor about how it’s a marathon and not sprint to the finish line (We got great mileage out of that with Silverlight and I dare say you could get a few more products out of it yet).

The tooling is likely to be not in place during this version 1 lifecycle as my sources tell me that the Blend Team aren’t cranking out the vNext improved world of Microsoft. I know Steve Sinofsky has had a few ambitions about what the Tooling should look like in the perfect world of Windows vNext frontier and I am guessing he did not play well with others in the Devdiv team(s) to share such ambitions.

That being said, either there is a skunk works tooling team hidden in some random building in Microsoft that others do not know about or the tooling story behind this next frontier is unlikely to be in place before Sept or for whenever this next version of our beloved Silverlight/WPF ethos occurs.
What I mean to say is welcome all to Microsoft 2005. Hold onto your Winforms or ASP.NET MVC  for a little bit longer and for those of you in Silverlight/WPF investment land(s) – try to not focus on the future but the now (best to keep your code base as lean as possible and not to tightly wound in client-side logic).

Put vital organs into Escrow.

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Microsoft are quick to throw technology at a problem first and then ponder as to why the problem existed. I’ve often personally seen strategies – wait, that’s not correct, strategy requires forward thinking – tactical decisions (better) made around trying to grow developer audiences.

The assumption are

"ok, we’re not making our tech palatable enough, lets steal stuff from Ruby On Rails, Apple or Oracle to make it better".

The absolute harsh reality is often a lot of non-Microsoft customer(s) etc. just don’t like Microsoft (Ever liked a girl/guy and they don’t like you back? You try changing your clothes, hair, car etc. and still nothing. Welcome to the Microsoft Developer outreach program, you will fit right in).

The other side of this coin I guess is those of you who adore Microsoft for what they are. You spend thousands of your own dollars to go to various events to listen to Microsoft confuse the absolute crap out of you. The problem is lately, they seem to be a company you just cannot bet on for the future.

Grandiose plans to land on Jupiter may be bold, daring and exciting but is it dependable? Can this company commit to a master plan and is this a plan or just a tactical political brain dump mixed with a lot of Microsoft experimentation.

Is it a case now of not waiting for the next Service Pack but now waiting to see if a product can get past version 3 and 5 before you really consider it as a viable option of the future?

In order to prepare for this next mission, someone has to donate some good will to the fans of Microsoft technology. That means you cannot stick to the ye olde "need to know information" mentality. You got to bring your roadmap(s) for the future and you got to show us that you’re telling the truth that you want to aim for Jupiter and not some closer planet or worse – the unknown void beyond Jupiter.

Commit and stop being assclowns.

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Commit to us so that we may commit to you. No more lies, No more "I’ve got a secret, can you guess!" and lastly no more internal political child play spilling over and into the blogosphere. It’s time to be a big boy company and use big boy strategies with big boy plans mixed with a lot of big girl personality (somehow that did the ladies no favors).

If we are to take on this mission, it’s time for a smarter playbook around transparency and if Steve Sinofsky is willing to bring the "come to Jesus" moment for the company around consolidating the entire product lines into a consistent continuous experience across all devices with a developer/designer experience to boot. Great, I personally will print out a t-shirt that says "I’m back in team Steve" (heh my old team inside Microsoft was called Team Steve…Steve the manager though was a arrogant jerk, different story, different time).

Right now its just a case of me holding up a really sick puppy that others have kicked and telling you all about the neglect its owners have given it. (If I quote that metaphor I was given last night by a friend).

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Windows 8 : Making new friends, Ratcheting Momentum and influencing anger.

After just having a discussion with a journalist today, a question was put to me that I felt I should share some more information around – Why do you think the developers appear to be angry with Windows 8?

It is not that I think developers are angry about code name "Windows 8" being well HTML5/JavaScript friendly in fact it is probably one of those situations where you would easily go "great, not for me but hey who knows how things turn out down the road". It is also not the fact that Microsoft have come out and hinted strongly at the idea of dropping marketing support for .NET going forward in favor of HTML5/JavaScript cocktail of weirdness.

I think what’s happening is developers across the globe in what appears to be millions now (currently on Silverlight.net forums there’s a few threads ratcheting around 11million views – which is 11x the traffic per month that site gets) all basically releasing a lot of pent-up annoyance at the communication blackout – yet again.

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I think this is a case of "the last straw" and it has been lurking for quite some time about Microsoft and a consistent amount of failings around corporate communication 101. To some this appears on the surface to be some idiot in PR being asleep at the helm again (keep in mind often Microsoft outsources its PR to companies like Waggener Edstrom) and so it could be a case of a room full of people pointing at one another for the "what do we say" moment(s). I highly doubt that, I’d wager this is an executive decision and its likely driven by the concept of ratcheting customer momentum for a final reveal in September.

Note: I recently had the VP of Corporate Communications for Microsoft follow me on Twitter post the Windows 8 Fallout(s)…. Why?

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Creating a disruption in the market with the sole intended purpose of getting people around the world to talk more about you in mixed emotions isn’t a brilliant new tactic – it was done in the Windows 7 launch with the Jerry Seinfiled ads that Microsoft bet around $300million on.   Realistically this strategy can often work (we’ve used this formula a few times with Silverlight in the early days) but at the same time it’s what I’d class as a high risk strategy given you could scare people too much.

This is of course speculation as at the end of the day the more Microsoft staffs I talk to internally about this the more I get the growing sense that majority of the staff internally are also in a complete blackout as well. Insiders within Microsoft are telling me that they are both concerned and frustrated at the lack of information coming from Team Sinofsky to the point where they are not interested in whether or not .NET lives or dies but how the heck they are going to clean up after this reveal occurs.

I probed further and asked what kind of convincing points are needed in order to illustrate to the presidential overlords that having 11million+ views all seeing the words ".NET" and "Dead" is probably not a smart play here and short of announcing .NET 5.0 at //BUILD/ you’re digging a very large hole. The response that I later got forwarded to me was one from an executive that stated that unless they see major accounts being withdrawn all that really is happening is interest and group of developers getting emotional about it all.

Yeah, my first impression was "what a jackass" but having sat in similar meetings like this when Adobe AIR was first considered a major threat to Microsoft, all I can say is that’s exactly how the company thinks at a higher level. It’s a numbers game, and hearing stories like "my friend just told me they are moving away because of this" small stories don’t add up to situations like the US Govt calling Microsoft to say "Yeah, the whole .NET confusion thing is something we aren’t happy with and so we’ll be moving to Java/Oracle – thanks bye" moments aren’t flowing just yet or likely to.Measuring account losses due to an event is somewhat hard as deep at your core you can see that the potential is definitely there despite the deafening "the sky is falling!!" emotions running high.

The reality is its unlikely to create havoc for at least a few years should they come out and say tomorrow ".NET is dead, thx" as looking at Windows XP & Internet Explorer 6 its obvious that Microsoft technology is very hard to kill of even with official announcements.

What is the TAX then? What is the one thing you can beat Microsoft around the head with that will send some sense to Redmond?

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Developers, Developers, Developers is that answer.

Microsoft are losing a battle in replenishing the .NET developer share, it’s alleged that for every 1x .NET developer that departs the Microsoft ecosystem there should be at least 2x more to fill their shoes. The reality it’s the opposite – allegedly.

Ok, so we highlight the depletion of the ranks and state "..if you continue scare the kids with the comms blackout that number will increase! And so you be able to control the depletion rates.."

That will not work either, as HTML5 and JavaScript is a nice big juicy cake to sink ones potential teeth into. As the big bet is that if you can convince the world’s developer base – the ones NOT using .NET today – to jump onboard with the new Windows8 concoction called Metro meets HTML5/JavaScript across all screens. Bing! (No pun intended) you just got a completely new market share you did not have yesterday.

That is the bet at the moment, win hearts and minds with a unified platform the world has agreed upon across all languages – HTML and JavaScript.  Sadly, the .NET developer base is being used right now as collateral damage and is considered acceptable loses.

This is dangerous game being played and all the years I’ve been involved in Microsoft this is by far the most interesting and distracting time for the company. In under 48hrs in my opinion Team-Steve managed to undermined and undo a total of three years work by the various people within the Silverlight teams so should the reveal in September be a case of "Look we were just kidding, here’s our roadmaps going forward.." it would still set Silverlight back quite a lot in terms of regaining what marketing momentum is left for the product.

The reality is Silverlight’s marketing & evangelism has been severely reduced from where it once was and the products are now in auto-pilot mode (aka "they are now matured" which is code word for being bored with it).

Evangelism efforts are going to have to dig deep post reveal on September and to be openly honest their record lately for influencing the influencers has been murky if not non-existent. It’s a contact sport Evangelism and I’ve noticed in the past 2-3 years more so that the steam it once had has diminished quite significantly (due to budget cut-backs and basically VP of DPE – Walid Abu-Hadba driving the entire practice into the ground).

It is not that people are angry, they are confused and disappointed.

Let’s hope this bet pays of Team-Steve as the guy before you made a big bet as well. The last we heard of him now is that he’s trying to make it into the music scene so one hopes you’ve learnt to play guitar Mr Sinofsky 😉

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Understanding “Why would Microsoft do that?”

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There is a consistent theme that I often see when I have been invited into conversation(s) regarding Windows 8 and the whole HTML5 saga. The main undercurrent is "Why would they do that?" and it is a perfectly valid question that often gets lost in the whole opinion / news pieces that are floating around.

Understand the metrics first.

Inside Microsoft you are really goaled around a metric that involves the words "market share" in that somewhere along those lines your entire reason for drawing a pay cheque distills down to that. You have to help Microsoft grow its market share across all battlefields and there are multiple battlefields in play.

Battles are what are happening in today’s software industry. It is quite competitive and cutthroat in many places and often mercy is for the weak.  Companies on both sides often play by the rules governing ethics but often more so than ever it is not the case under the covers or behind closed doors. There are often many tactics at work that the audience(s) and customer(s) do not always see.

For instance, when Silverlight/Expression was heating up in the early days the battle between Adobe and Microsoft was quite intense (I myself was caught up in it quit easily). You’d have situations where Adobe would threaten to shut down a conference if Microsoft Staff showed or you’d have Adobe specifically target Microsoft showcase wins the next year and spend large amounts of $$ to win the customers back to create the perception that these customers had buyer’s remorse.

Apple, Google, IBM and Oracle all suffer from the same somewhat software industry driven guerrilla warfare style tactics. It is a competitive sport and staff within get quite emotional and aggressive at times about it – like a thunder dome of super geeks.

Tactical approaches and competitive aggression is what fuels Microsoft often. It has also to answer the question you have around "Why would they do that" simply put; it is about building an army primarily.

Understand the Tactical Programs

You have programs in play like BizSpark – an idea to give the software away for free in order to seed start-ups into adopting the Microsoft technology stack. It is the old heroin addiction formula at work, in that the first hits free but the second and third will cost you. Ensure an addiction takes place then the monetization will follow.

HTML5 + Windows 8 are no different. The prospect of enticing never before heard of developer hordes – also known as the Alternatives to .NET development into adopting Windows 8 platform(s) via the HTML5/JavaScript route is worth the risk to Microsoft.  It is about socketing these peeps in early, get them acclimatized to the Microsoft technology stack and from there you can bleed the monetization models outwards into channels that you can declare internal victory over.

Understand the Compete motions

The thing though is this playbook or this strategy is in no way different to the days when .NET was first created and it is again a rinse/repeat formula being played out.

The motivation is growth around developer share (that is an obvious objective around winning) the other objectives are also around competing head to head with Google & Apple. Google is the main focus though, this company is taking bodies from Microsoft staff lines often and if you were to look at the past two years around who’s left the .NET development teams as well as the Internet Explorer teams for Google it’s almost alarming.

Google don’t need to compete with Microsoft, they just need to re-hire their staff and I often giggle about this as I once wrote an internal memo regarding Adobe compete whereby I said "We should make a $300k a year offer to their entire evangelism staff to work for us, we say here’s $300k now go sit in the park and enjoy life for the next 2 years as it would be cheaper than what we spending on compete for Adobe".

Google are kind of doing that in many ways.

Understanding the gullibility.

Google are also provoking Microsoft into adopting their tactics and more importantly forcing the companies hand into moving Internet Explorer closer towards a HTML5 Future(s) than before. For instance they punk’d Microsoft into fixing the JavaScript engine within Internet Explorer because they had the company convinced that this was their biggest fear around how Microsoft could beat Google. Microsoft took the bait and the funny part is the person who worked on that engine is now working at Google today.

Google played Microsoft and it is this small random pocket of competitive insights that often go unnoticed in the industry. These small little gems of "hah that was funny" all add up to the situation we see before us today around why Windows 8 looks and is likely to act in the way it is.

There is no real strategy here, just tactical competitive reactions played out that do not often give pause to the massive impacts it places on the hordes of developers who wear the Microsoft logo on their blogs / resumes etc. with pride.

Microsoft is doing a terrible job at corporate communication(s) and the most frustrating part of all is that it is the actual fans of the brand that are noticing the most.

That is probably a small glimpse at how a competitive situation can motive product lines into making snap decisions the way they have been in the past five years.  The reality is you the customer out there who use the technology actually play somewhat a smaller role than you do think around feature selection and roadmaps for product designs.

It’s often a competitive influence that drives the most decisions and sure compete leads to innovation right and that’s something we should all embrace – except if the tax is instability.

Summary.

For a deeper insight into this topic around “Why” Listen to a podcast I did list week titled “Windows 8 Round Table” via TalkingShop DownUnder.

http://www.talkingshopdownunder.com/2011/06/episode-58-windows-8-round-table.html

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WPF lip service at it again

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I’ve been watching the WPF Disciples list regarding FIXWPF with some obvious keen interest. The thread has taken on an interesting level of discussion and guys like Pete Brown are doing the right thing, listening, responding and taking notes.

Jaime however has jumped on and given the – we’ve heard it all before – riot act around the UX Platform guidance. You know the one, Good, Great and Ultimate splits sprinkled with “it depends” and basically comes around to the pitch that Microsoft is probably best known for around commitment pledges.

This isn’t an attack on Jaime, I’ve worked with him before and I liked his work in the past, as all he’s doing is talking to party lines and it will be the same guidance you are given no matter who you talk to inside Microsoft.

That being said the bulk of it is lip service and i’ll explain why.

RE: HTML5 vs Silverlight vs WPF (Good, Great and Ultimate).

This guidance is probably the oldest response to keeping the three pillars apart. It hasn’t changed in over 3 years and is unlikely until you see some dramatic increase in footprint regarding Internet Explorer 9 + HTML5.

The idea is to provide developers a linked approach to how the three dovetail with one another and when you look at it from the right angle it almost looks plausible. The reality however is it is poor guidance for one and secondly it doesn’t address the question.

The question really being asked is “which should I bet on” not “which is the right technology for the right job” as quite frankly for 80% of solutions out there i’d confidently state that all three could achieve your needs for line of business applications. The three each have their own taxes  you will end up paying but welcome to software and that’s life.

Back to the question, which should you bet on and this is where the lip service falls short. As the question is also asking which is Microsoft likely to continue investing into – the fact that Jamie for example is no longer a full time WPF evangelist and is now in the Wp7 evangelism rhythms is an indication to that answer. No Microsoftie is going to come out and say “yeah, you better get off WPF unless your writing C++  bridges to .NET, as its going to get murky soon” as the last time a softie even hinted at that kind of raw honesty was Bob Muglia and he was a Senior Vice President – currently looking for a new job.

Choosing between the three really is coming down to your team mates, your needs and lastly your personal investment in learning / continuance in your career. They are really the three core principles involved in making the choice between the three and the usual good, great and ultimate speech has never really returned any hint on success – I dare Microsoft to provide evidence of success here.

If your team mates are all HTML developers with ASP.NET Web Forms skills, then the question they are all having is around which is the easiest and best route to success next. WPF can provide you a core foundation for Silverlight/WPF development but it will test your patience and confidence levels greatly. There is a lot of information decay online around which version of the framework/API still work today vs when they did in the past and lastly WPF seems to have more questions than Silverlight go unanswered – according to StackOverflow.com.

Silverlight is still up for grabs although its clearly shifted its strategy from when I was on the team to be more of a Windows Phone 7 platform and less about the web more so as time continues to flow.

HTML5 is basically a bunch of new tags that are ready for browsers, but in the end you’re still hacking around in the weeds with JavaScript and CSS. To be fair, if you’re an ASP.NET WebForms team, then HTML5 would probably be the quick win – but – its not as much fun as Silverlight / WPF?

My point is, its confusing and the usual lip service really doesn’t bode well for Microsofties as they come off looking like they are a PR machines for one and secondly any trust within WPF vs Silverlight discussion has been eroded due to constant shifts in vision – clearly it highlights that this has been and will continue to be highly tactical reactive product management and less strategic.

RE: Customers want us to invest more into Silverlight.

Jaime goes on to say:

First of all,  a lot of our customers are telling us to invest more into Silverlight.  Let’s say (again made up) that demand is  4-to 1. How do we justify a revamp of the graphics architecture in WPF.  This is not trivial work; the expertise in this space is limited, we can’t clone our folks to 5x to meet everyone’s needs.  

Unless Microsoft’s feedback channels have gone through a massive upgrade / radical change in the last 6 months, I call bullshit on that one. The customers are likely to be folks like NetFlix or Vertigo? (we have no real tangible customer feedback pipelines in Microsoft. It was a nightmare to sift through the chaos to get such answers)  and secondly the reality of that comment is what I call “Oh dear, he didn’t say that” moment. If i was a journalist i would use that firstly as fodder for “See Microsoft just stated they have no interest investing into WPF” – not  only would it be fair game, it’s obviously correct so it’s also not healthy right now.

It’s important to also add that if you starve a product of its marketing budget, then your overall awareness for the product is going to drop dramatically. It’s also fair to state that if the bulk of your attention across the board within the company is on Windows Phone 7 and Silverlight, then its even more likely the customer focus is skewed towards what you’ve been waiving and shaking your hands at the most. To use a metaphor “It’s like giving a child candy and then asking if they should give you more vegetables?”

My only real response to that question is who’s going to walk up to AutoDesk and tell them “Well, we could fix performance issues in 3DS MAX 2010 with you, but sorry, Silverlight is our preferred bet… best you figure out an alternative route filled with C++ and roll your own rendering pipeline".

Jaime goes on to address the likely cost of WPF

Let’s assume we did take on the work.  My guess (again, I am not engineering) is that it would take two years to implement and thorougly test a release.  At the stage that WPF is at, a rearchitecture or huge changes on the graphics stack would be 80% about testing and 20% about the dev work.    It is not a trivial amount of work.   Would we get the performance you want across myriad of devices? We don’t know. WPF bet on hardware, and there is new devices out  there that are trading hardware for battery, weight, or simply for cost.  it would suck to do that much work, make you wait a long time, and then not get there. Let’s get real on the asks; you say “improve perf” but you are asking us to do a “significant re-write”; these two asks are different. 

He has a point, it would be a significant impact to the resources allocated to WPF to get it back to the core promise that was made in 2007 – trust us right? things keep changing? we don’t have a plan just right now, but as things happen we hopefully will!.

It’s a good thing that there are 200+ engineers right now ready to pounce on this problem so it should be a large amount of work, but with that many engineering cycles nothings not attackable according to Scott Guthrie, CVP of Developer Division.

That was a cheap shot Barnes! and it was. My response to Jaime’s remarks there would be “This affects me how?” as in the end you, Microsoft asked me to invest in you years ago. I did, and now you’re telling me its too hard and costly for you to invest back into me? how is that fair and again why am I trusting you over and over when you keep changing the rules? Is this not an abusive relationship now?

RE: We speak to customers.

Comments like this for me a red flags –

3)      You are asking us to listen to our customers.   We agree there and that is exactly what we are doing. Please keep in mind, you are not the only customer – even if you are my favorite one :)-.

image The reason they are red flags as the response at the end of the day says “trust us, we have this covered” as nowhere does Microsoft really ever decompress what customers they have spoken to and any substantial numbers to support it. For all you know, NetFlix and Nokia are the two customers they spoke to and NetFlix executive being on the board of Microsoft whilst Nokia’s new CEO was one of the ex-executives at Microsoft – well you can see how easily you could tear the argument apart if you set about doing so.

The point is, there’s no response you can give as the actual comment is supposed to make you feel isolated and that what you’re saying really is most likely a vocal minority.

Here’s the real deal guys and pay attention to this one as it will bake your noodles. Inside Microsoft there is no one team that handles customer feedback. Multiple teams do it and they approach it from a variety of angles. In the entire time i was a Product Manager and Evangelist within the WPF/Silverlight teams I never once saw or even heard of a central database of customer feedback. The closest we had was an annual survey / report that we collected which gave a health check of the entire Microsoft brand & its products. It was quite shallow in gauging what customers wanted and it’s main purpose was to be used as a large measuring stick for all roles almost in Microsoft to gauge success/failure was per year.

The only way you would get data from customers was if you invited them to Redmond (which is effectively the same as a band inviting a fan over for dinner and asking them what they could do better) or you outsource your needs to a company like Adaptive Path, Forester, Gartner etc to come up with a survey / research around the topic at hand (Don’t be shocked folks, but Gartner Research can be bought for the right price).

Having a listening post inside Microsoft around what customers want or need is chaotic at best and it depends on who’s listening and what the initial agenda is – more so how it maps across. It has nothing to do with constructive feedback or channels of delivery as the higher the decision making goes the further the customer feedback gets from these decision makers.

RE: Let’s compromise?

Jaime does go on to discuss the compromise:

he WPF has looked at the trade-offs, and risk many times.  We are also looking at what customers need. Jer, to you it is all about graphics.  To many others, it is about data.  So, how do we serve all customers??

The strategy is exactly what you have seen/heard:

1) WPF 4.5 is going to have some significant data binding performance improvements.  

2) We are not redoing the graphics framework, but we are doing a lot of work to let you interoperate with lower level graphics so that if you need more graphics perf you can get it, and still keep the RAD of the rest of the framework. 

I often see this style of response from Microsofties (hell, I used to give it). It’s one of those responses you just go “What the f… If you’re going to piss on my head from above at least have the courtesy of telling me its fresh water harvested from a pure spring – make an attempt to keep the illusion alive at the very least.” yes its colorful but the point is, please stop treating me like I’m an idiot as I’ve not given you any indication i think that of you have I?

Cheap shot again, sorry Jaime but we both know that’s a classic “let’s take this offline – abort abort” throw away pacification tactic. As what it really translates to:

“Look, we don’t have engineering cycles to really fix the core problem so what we are going to do is shift the focus in other areas in the hope you will just leave us alone long enough until we can regroup for a better story next year”

Cheap shots again.. but.. in my defense, I’m just thinking on both sides of this conversation. How would I react to the responses in WPF Disciples as a Product Manager / Evangelist and lastly how would i respond to the answers I just gave as a customer / adopter of Microsoft UX Platform.

Is this about Jaime or WPF though?

Now, normally remarks like the ones Jaime has given on a public mailing list are usually ones you give a free pass to with regards to most Microsoft staffers. As at times you find staff arm themselves in the riot gear and just bolt straight into the fray of civil geek unrest and try their best to calm peoples opinions from spiraling into a negative back to a positive.

Jaime, isn’t a young pup fresh out of Microsoft boot camp. He’s a seasoned Technical Evangelist at Corp, who over the years has had deep roots with the WPF team in terms of influence and awareness of their future(s). I’ve personally worked with Jaime a few times and he is very talented and smart person, so my point here is that what he’s just outlined was a slip between what he knows privately as to what’s going on vs what he shouldn’t disclose publically. Furthermore, he speaks for the WPF team and no matter how many times he can throw the prefix “personally, my thoughts are” to his remarks, if that’s what he’s thinking then its highly likely that’s the outcome you’re likely expecting or going to expect.

This isn’t about Jaime though, and I cannot stress enough that I have enormous respect for him professionally and personally. It’s about Microsoft and WPF, and this is simply a highly visible case of internal thinking spilling over into a mailing list. I cannot stress this enough, if this reads as me kicking the crap out of Jaime’s remarks on a thread then please can i simply say it’s not personal its the role Jaime is acting out that is up for grabs. You represent Microsoft, you speak as if Bill Gates himself sat in a room full of journalists and outlined his thoughts, there is no “but he’s a nice guy” moments.

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This is why i have created FIXWPF.org and will work night / day to expose this kind of lip service but instead of opinionated pieces or argumentative out of context text grabs, i instead will hope to back it in a more factual manner with real-world data, so situations like this aren’t a case of constant streams of :-

“trust us, we have it covered”.

No you don’t have it covered, as it costs to much remember?

Related Posts:

MVP – Most Valuable Professional. Is it or isn’t it?

David Woods wrote a blog post earlier this week which he outlines his thoughts on the MVP Program(s) at Microsoft – specifically the lack of value he finds in it.

Here are some notes if you will on some types of questions I’ve witnessed or have sensed gone unasked over the years inside Microsoft.

Is the MVP Program useful?

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It is and isn’t. Its an important concept to have attached to a Product within any company, as the idea in itself is righteous. An MVP is someone who can influence others to explore a given product within Microsoft and that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. The MVP doesn’t have to be the worlds best expert at the said product, in fact a lot of MVP’s are far from that – they are however someone with whom makes an impact within the community.

Impact and influence is why the MVP Program is useful, now the problem with it today is that it’s not consistent in its approach and lastly there are quite a lot of “fanbois” in the program that can at times disarm the program’s true potential – as everyone may paint all with the same brush “bah, bunch of Microsoft yes men, who cares about them..”

MVP Program is broken because Product Teams never tell you anything.

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Yup, they often will keep you in the dark about the product’s next roadmaps and at times treat you as if you were just a TechEd/MIX attendee instead of an MVP. It’s nothing personal, it’s nothing to do with you as a group it has everything to do with the word momentum.

Inside Microsoft when you own a product, you have to fight to get a launch buzz going. You fight because every other team inside the company is pretty much either getting ready to ship or talking about what could potentially ship. You in turn have to fight your way to the top of the headline heap for tech buzz.

I state this as when you have to go through this, telling an MVP is somewhat harmful to your upcoming surprise party as all it takes is an MVP to give Mary Jo / Tim Anderson (Tech Journalists) a heads up and boom not only did the surprise party fall flat but you’ve also given your competitors for the said product a heads up on talking points.

Talking points are important for competitors to know ahead of time, as when the journalists etc. get the said product briefing they in turn look for quotes / sound bytes from the said competitor (just like a political campaign). It pays to be ready.

That’s at the core of why you are probably kept in the dark about products. You got an MVP nomination because you can influence, nobody actually said you’re the chosen one and that all state secrets within Microsoft will fall before you. You need to make peace with that and more importantly you also need to understand that even Microsoft staff don’t get as much information as you do, so that is the reality an MVP today probably needs to come to grips with.

Not true, for example XYZ product team tell me stuff all the time!

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Yeah, I don’t doubt that each product team has their own unique communication pattern with the said products MVP’s. It comes really back to your individual relationships with the said product team. It also comes back to the competitive threat levels attached to the Product(s) you evangelize.

An example is that in 2009 the MVP summit within Redmond, the Windows Mobile team kept their cards close to their chest and it this really pissed off the Mobile MVP’s. I remember at the time thinking “yeah, that’s not a fun team to be in right now” but to be fair, Windows Phone 7 needed to be kept locked down as much as it could be. It was a dangerous secret to let loose given its importance to the device market. Some knew, most didn’t and it was a deliberate decision.

At the same summit, we also wanted to keep features within Silverlight/Expression secret. I remember our team made a point of keeping everyone in the dark. Then Scott Guthrie got on stage and pretty much told everyone everything, so we then in turn went “well, he’s the executive in charge, I guess its out now” so we in turn reacted to this and started the communication pipelines again.

That same year, 3 MVP’s also leaked information around the products and as a result at the time of the summit journalists pickedup on the information and ran with some stories – again, partially deflating the momentum we worked months building behind the scenes for MIX?

I also in that same time fought to NOT have those three MVP’s banned from the program for the said leaks – despite the witch hunt within gunning for them. My rationale was simple, they are excited about the product why do we punish them? isn’t this what we are supposed to do ? Two MVP’s were warned one was banned (simply because he named Kittyhawk aka now as Visual Studio Lightswitch publicly).

Do MVP’s influence the features then?

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In my experience they do. It’s not always obvious but there is definitely influence from MVP’s in most Microsoft Products. The problem I see in this question is I think MVP’s want a direct “you created this xyz feature, well done guys” moment. In reality it can be a small tiny spark of an idea that an MVP threw out there into the void, the teams then digest the concept and come up with some ideas similar to it etc – next thing you know, you have functional specs written and maybe the next release or thereafter, the said spark mutates into a feature.

Point is, you’d be surprised at what influence occurs via the MVP program and how it translates into a feature, its just not always obvious.

Give me an example of MVP influence?

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One year, I had an MVP stay with me for a week in Redmond. He at the time didn’t’ feel as if he got much value out of the MVP summit and had a lot of questions regarding the future of ASP.NET and problems within. I figured, this guy is an MVP who is deserving (he’s good at what he does, he does a lot for the community and most of all he’s quite a humble person to know), so with that, I personally walked him around to as many people within Microsoft campus as I could at the time. We had meetings with the ASP.NET teams and he hung out with the devdiv product managers as well.

I remember one question he asked was “which should I talk about, WebForms or MVC?” and our typical response to that question was “It depends”. This wasn’t helpful for him, so we talked it out more and as a result I watched my team members at the time see first hand that “it depends” response, was bogus. They could see this guy in front of him giving them the raw data that basically WebForms and MVC adoption decisions were a confusing story.

It’s also worth pointing out that during his time with the ASP.NET team a few specs were written based off the chat and as a result I think he made impact beyond what he or I could really measure first hand?

This MVP now works for Microsoft and I think him seeing first hand the internal culture within Microsoft campus influenced not only his expectations of Microsoft but also is likely to have ripple effects for quite some time.

Nobody knew this happened, so my point stands – influence at times isn’t always as obvious and that’s why the MVP program is healthy, despite its many flaws.

Can you help me then to become an MVP?

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I’ve personally been asked a few times to become an MVP since leaving Microsoft and I’ve turned them down. I don’t think I’m better than the program etc, I just don’t think I add value as to me an MVP is someone who is actually genuinely surprised at the recognition. If they wanted to make me an MVP, then it better be because I had influence or did something for the greater good.

Asking or proactively making yourself loud and obvious so that you can game the concept of becoming an MVP for me personally sours the program’s potential. It’s not about having the MVP badge on your resume, it’s about doing all the requirements of an MVP because you firstly enjoy it regardless of the title and secondly you create a two way dialogue with the very people your influencing. I grow weary of seeing the same muffin eaters at the same conferences talking the same crap over and over just so that they in turn can get the local Microsoft Evangelist’s attention in order to get a MVP nomination.

Don’t get me wrong, that formula will yield you a nomination but for me it’s the Microsoft folks who are proactive about the product that one day get an email / tweet about them being nominated as an MVP – to then have this expression of “really, wow, I hadn’t thought I meet the grade”.

Humility is needed more in the MVP ranks and ass kissing / cheer leading within the program is something that needs to be weeded out. An MVP should be also someone who’s not afraid to say “this sux, but this rox” in the same breathe.

Blind loyalty in a MVP is useless.

Never listen to critics, as they are never going to be happy with you, that’s why they’re critics. Never listen to your fans, as they are to busy being happy with everything you say. Listen to the ones that haven’t made up their mind, they in turn will help you more!

How should the MVP Program be reformed?

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Don’t know, all I do know is that its broken at this point. I think it has to do with Microsoft Developer & Platform Evangelism (DPE) has lost its way since Walid (CVP) took over years ago. The DPE guys are all over the place and often their budgets are cut so short that boarding a plane can be an exercise of begging / frustration. I spent over $50k+ in my first year at Microsoft in travel  + expenses alone, even though at the time our T&E budget was around $20k per person. I think its now much less.

Evangelism is important to the MVP program, as they are the ones who should find ways to work with the MVP’s in order to scale the evangelism rhythms. I just don’t’ see that right now.

Its broken, and it needs investigation as to why it’s broken in order to reform it. I think the answers are to few to formulate an actual plan right now.

Related Posts:

The rise and fall of Microsoft’s UX platform – Part 2

Tribes are something we humans seem to never quite shake off and will often seek out mini tribe clusters in everything we do. If you’re into cars, you will typically find a club or social arena where others like you dwell, same with chess, fishing, running, riding bikes etc. pick your hobby and chances are there are others like you surrounding you.

This primitive trait is consistent in technology today, if you are a hardcore Adobe Flash developer you’ll defiantly be hanging out in a spot where others like you hang. If WPF is your cup of tea, you’ll do the same whether it be online or offline. It’s how we learn, communicate and develop our careers into new areas of expertise and it something large corporations know on some level that this is vital to the future success of the company in questions future.

In this second part to my coverage of Microsoft UX Platform state of play, I’m going to zero in on the first generation of tribal elders – Evangelists. As its important to get this part out of the way as in Part 3, I’ll be talking more about how the Design discussion inside Microsoft has been abandoned – or should I simply say, shut down / suspended.

Every tribe pedigree needs an evangelist.

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This tribal mentality is why Evangelism is commercially sponsored as by hiring a bunch of people who are passionate about sharing and asking them to go off and spread the gospel of the respective companies technology is part of the overall marketing via influence. Evangelism isn’t a sales role, it’s in fact a marketing role. A good evangelist is someone who can market a product from a basis of trust, meaning they actually believe in what they are talking to others about – thus why Evangelism and religion often are similar in DNA.

The downside with Microsoft Evangelism is that recently I think it’s lost its way, that somehow it’s gotten into this rut of now being metric focused evangelism. It’s now become obvious that depending on each fiscal year the evangelism team(s) within Microsoft will often suddenly switch gears and start talking about a completely different product than they would have before – simply because it’s new and has to be seeded.

The metric system suffocates evangelism.

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Let me explain what I mean by that having been both a Microsoft Evangelist and Product Manager.

Firstly, as a Product Manager the goal for us as a team was to find Evangelist to flood the market in and around what’s coming up and why it’s important everyone in the field as we called it, paid full attention. Asking the field to do this without a metric attached was simply a weak posture for us as a team to have, as it meant that any who did evangelize our products did so for free, but on the flip side when it came to these said Evangelists handing in their homework for the year (i.e. the fiscal metrics and commitments) they could really only use this kind of work stream as "extra credit".

Extra credit was the carrot you would dangle, but the harsh reality is that being an Evangelist you have basically nearly every team inside Microsoft asking the same thing of you "Please Evangelize this new thing". This in turn would give you some interesting and often absurd metrics to go after when it came to figuring out what you as an Evangelist was about to do for the year.

For example, one year I picked the metric "Grow Silverlight by 20% in the community" and committed to my manager on this. This was essentially me gaming the metrics as in truth, if others world-wide did their jobs I’d get a 20% bump in developer share simply by turning up to work – so it was a low hanging metric. I also had to pick a harder metric like find "5x Silverlight case studies" back when Silverlight was just given its name let alone had teeth around being an actual product. It was an almost impossible metric to have, and so it mean my entire year would be focused on finding or enticing someone in the community to not only adopt Silverlight but make a professional product out of it all within a fiscal year.

I look back on my Evangelism metrics and almost laugh at how easy they were compared to being a Product Manager where the stakes were now higher, but my point is Evangelism lost its way in that it has become metric focused and less on well natural Evangelism?

Product Team vs. Evangelist

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It’s not the said Evangelists fault either – actually they are the innocent ones if you ask me – it’s really more the Product Team(s) in question fault (that and the DPE overlords). I say this, as being in a Product Team we used to set metrics for DPE to go off and fight knowing full well they’d either make them with next to no effort or there was no way in hell they could even come close to the benchmark’s we’d set for them (as we’d set the benchmarks high knowing full well our goal metric was much lower, but felt if we gave them the said metric they’d back off the pedal as soon as they hit it? – reverse psychology kind of thing).

This doesn’t sound bad if it’s a 1:1 relationship between an Evangelist and Product Team? If only that were a possibility, the reality is that an Evangelist gets this same kind of dosage from multiple product teams so in this in turn creates the inherit flaw in the overall system – as if the Evangelist is smart, it’s now a case of gaming the metrics to give them ticks in the boxes they need to in turn focus on what they originally were going to do anyway? evangelize a product they have a strong preference / interest behind?.

Confused? don’t be, but watch a TV series called "The Wire" and the above will start to make more sense, as in the end the overall internal culture within Microsoft is pretty much the same – figure out how to game the metric system(s) internally first, figure out how to do what’s actually important to you second as this will ensure you survive the mid and end of year reviews – as this is where the stupidity of the overall system really comes home to roost (read this article for a better explanation of how retarded this is).

Sponsoring an Evangelist vs. Hiring one.

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Evangelism shouldn’t be about this? it should really be about finding individuals for a given technology set and hiring them or even sponsoring them to evangelize the said topic. Microsoft and other companies realistically shouldn’t make these individuals full time staff? if you ask me and you do simply by reading this post, Evangelist should be put on a 2xYear contract that has very basic level of metrics that are focused on gauging enthusiasm for the said technology and less on faking it. Once the 2year is up, go find others who are then interested in the next wave of technology and so on…

That’s at the subsidiary or geo-location level. The product team’s in question should then be focused on creating street evangelism at the core? in that how do you arm anyone who’s both Microsoft and non-Microsoft with both information, presentation materials and demos etc. so they can in turn evangelize on your behalf? As out of that pool you can then find really good ones to sponsor!

It’s more of a natural evolution, it gets rid of the fat cats who are given this role of a life time and lastly it insures a fresh perspective is put into a community that retains both trust and enthusiasm.

How does this relate to UX Platform?

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Evangelism is the core of what will make WPF/Silverlight and more importantly design audiences pay attention to the future of this product. It needs to be the machine that sustains the said technology within their respective communities. It also needs to be that area of influence and advocacy as well, as having an Evangelist you can reach out to and discuss things is important – as these are the individuals who should know how to find ways to convince the Product Team(s) on how important xyz feature request or bug is!

Majority of evangelism inside Microsoft has been abandoned and is reduced to random twitter/blog conversations that in truth hold little weight. MSDN Blogs are an abundance of noise and at times Evangelists are more preoccupied nowadays at being geek-famous then they are helping others figure out why xyz product is a good/bad bet!.

Evangelism is a contact sport, individuals need to be on planes/buses etc all heading to technology events and cubicles around the country, informing a variety of decision makers of the said technology they felt passionate about – whether it’s showing Silverlight/WPF to a CIO, Creative Director, Developer, Receptionist whatever…

This fiscal year, you’re going to see most of the Evangelist focus in around 2 main products, Windows Phone 7, Windows Azure and lastly Internet Explorer 9 (with a focus on Php compete). I dare you to find an Evangelist who talks about WPF 24/7 as if it was their only metric?

Scott Out

Related Posts:

The rise and fall of Microsoft’s UX platform – Part 1

I am a little shocked at how fast my tweets spread across the interweb this week regarding my thoughts on HTML5, Silverlight and WPF. I’m not shocked by how fast people picked it up, or the fact that a well-respected journalist like Tim Anderson was able to take these tweets and built out quite a comprehensive story around it that actually fitted to the context of my tweets – I love Tim’s work, as he is one of the few journalist online that actually has integrity.

What shocked me is how arrogant Microsoft staff was to the reaction or the sense of false belief that this was all some secret that everyone outside of Microsoft wasn’t privy to? Again, take a few tweets piece them together and a journalist was able to weave these threads into a pretty informed article or two around it all. I know Mary Jo from ZDNet has similar notes and so on.

Taking a step back understand why the information is just sitting there waiting for a spark or two to ignite it and it has to do with a number of reasons but all center around one theme – internal culture.

Inside Microsoft headquarters most will agree that the company is a very top-down driven organizations in that executives make micro level decisions on behalf of people who were hired to make these level of decisions simply because it’s a combination of politics, trust or what I commonly call “Geek Fame” (being seen to being the one in the know / seat of power). It’s a flawed system and as a result generates a lot of frustration on a variety levels to the point where gossip occurs I think in a more widespread fashion as having knowledge is power.

I draw your attention to this culture and others have as well countless amounts of times, simply to highlight at how well known the HTML5 is the future is within the company – so for Microsoft to establish a “Let’s interview and interrogate all who knew Scott that we know about” is definitely a fool’s errand and classic mistake made.

Why did I do it?

Having said all of this, here is the reason why I said the things I said. It wasn’t about grinding an axe with an executive or ex-manager here and there; it wasn’t about getting a sense of self-inflated power / geek fame it was purely because I felt this conversation needed to be had more broadly and more openly beyond internal politics within the company.

The future of .NET is an important issue that we should all have say in, and I make of point of stating why – Up until now, .NET has been a mixed bag of weird decisions driven either by Scott Guthrie’s org down or via some random fiscally focused team that wants to solve some random metric that in the end has no real sense of purpose other than to look like it’s solving a problem and less solving one.

I say this as my professional career within Microsoft has been both product management and street level evangelism and I see massive disconnects daily between what people inside corp believe to be true and what is actually occurring at the street / cubicle level – massive disconnects. I’m not filled with a sense of arrogant belief that I’m the chosen one to bring about this connection; I’ve tried and failed many times at this problem myself. I am however someone who is indifferent to pissing Microsoft off by exposing this upcoming flawed approach to technology futures to the wider community for further discussion. I’m in a position of knowledge and I could have used this to my own personal advantage. I didn’t, instead of just tipped what I knew onto twitter along with some silent blessings from folks within Microsoft – which came with a cautionary “If you do this, it will help but you will be alone and they’ll attack you from all sides once it happens”.

What did I say?

Everything I’ve said isn’t a massive shock to the core of most out there, in that its pretty well known and established that the Windows Team(s) aren’t a fan of managed code in the wild and as a result there has always been this kind of gang / faction warfare between Developer Division and the Windows Organization. As the reality is, Windows is a titan inside Microsoft given it’s the flagship money earner and as a result they kind of a have this sense of ruling power over many other teams – rainbows and all things “let’s work in harmony” PR aside, deep down that’s basically it in a nutshell.

Silverlight and WPF are something in which a lot of teams internally just aren’t fans of and has a variety of reasons attached but the main one that used to piss the Window’s teams off was that the notion that the CLR should be cross-platform is in many ways an attack point on Windows adoption – furthermore it’s pretty well known that Bill Gates himself allegedly said in a meeting regarding Silverlight as being “the fuckyou windows product” (I wasn’t in that meeting myself, but it’s a story I’ve heard told many times).

The skirmishes between these two org tree’s is pretty common and I’ve seen some of the effects first hand myself, overall though what I am seeing today is that WPF has lost the support it could have had from the start in favor of Silverlight. This in turn has put Silverlight out in front as the preferred UX option in the .NET stack but the problem with Silverlight is that it has a limited amount of features that most dev’s want and furthermore it’s still being plagued with issues around ubiquity (random stats announcements aside, it’s having trouble getting to the magic 70%).

WPF is dead

WPF however has more ubiquity than Silverlight today, it’s got approx. 70%+ ubiquity in Windows based machines and furthermore it’s gotten deeper traction when it comes to Independent Software Vendors (ISV’s) so it presents quite a complex problem in around investment and it’s overall future.

On one hand, it’s pretty widely known within the company that WPF has been ear marked for death for quite some time and had it not had such prolific ubiquity or ISV’s that build software used by many on it (Autodesk 3DSMAX, Visual Studio, Expression etc) it would have been taken out back and shot long ago. It simply is too hard to kill, so the only way Microsoft to date knows how is to either spend majority of its focus on convincing developers that Silverlight is the better option and/or reduce the noise around WPF altogether hoping that others will pick up on the subtle tones that it’s better you don’t adopt but under the Smokey hazed veil of the a-typical response “It depends”.

WPF has no investment, it’s kept together by a skeleton crew and its evangelism / community efforts have little to no funding attached to it. It’s dead, the question now is how is the corpse going to be buried and no amount of cheer leading will change that outcome in the near future.

HTML5 is the future.

Given Silverlight is the preferred platform going forward next comes the discussion around how the web applications of today can be transformed into desktop applications of tomorrow. Rich Internet Applications is a fad, but it does present an interesting question around the role an operating system plays in both start-ups and enterprises of tomorrow – especially given the cloud is being positioned in the market as being the software of tomorrow’s future.

Plug-ins though haven’t had a great run in the past few years, given Apple’s recent boycott it simply presented an ideal opportunity for the Windows team to come out from within their respective development caves to announce that maybe, just maybe they can regain some lost footing in the application development space by meeting HTML5 half-way.

What if, you could take JavaScript and make it faster and easier to develop against whilst at the same time leveraging a basic UX language like HTML5/CSS and in turn create desktop applications? It can be done and if you were to bake in specific API’s within Internet Explorer itself, it can also provide you capabilities to ensure that Windows is a chosen platform of the future especially given it has proven time and time again that it can resell itself in rapid succession (ie: see Windows 7 sales).

You get ubiquity, you get millions more developers beyond your 6million+ saturation levels and lastly you can potentially generate much easier sales beyond what you have today around tooling.

It sounds really good on paper but it’s filled with flaws, irresponsibility and had this been strategic play vs. tactical it could be great. The reality is, Microsoft has a limited vision when it comes to big bets and rarely does it go beyond 1 or 2 fiscal years.

I’m not being bitter or venom filled in my response here, I’m just highlighting what others have said and have seen (including myself) in around where this is all heading.

If you have ever been inside Microsoft planning meetings for products, you will notice a common thread and that is no real strategy is in place its very tactical most of the time – agility is good, but where are you heading tomorrow is the question that often gets ignored or left unanswered.

Knowing this, knowing the culture and behavior models within the company I simply look at this overall discussion and simply feel the need to speak up and say “hey, this sux, because it will impact a generation of developers down the road and you are very dangerous now Microsoft, you really need to slow down a bit and think for a change”.

HTML5 and Silverlight can’t co-exist within the company and no matter how many blog posts on “It depends” you produce, customers want answers that are direct and to the point – even if they don’t agree with you, but knowing where you stand is important.

I’m simply about highlighting the disconnect here and if the Windows 8 / IE teams of today think that Silverlight / WPF is something they can deprecate because they dislike people in DevDiv or its current model then think again, as this is one of those rare moments in time where you have a hung jury in terms of which of the two is really the best bet.

Summary

Microsoft executives can call for heads on who leaked what all they like, they won’t get an accurate answer to these questions here as in the end everybody knows about the on goings of Windows 8 teams future plans, the reason being is the staff below the executives are frustrated and in turn staff are looking for ways to express this frustration beyond internal discussion lists.

After posting my tweets, I’ve gotten more inside information that I’ve ever gotten from staff anonymously of course.

If Microsoft truly wants to beat their competitors and raise an army of happy developers across the globe, they need to stop celebrating mediocrity within, reduce the churn of having top-down politics and lastly stick behind a product through the good and bad times whilst also keeping their eye on the ball beyond 1x fiscal year.

Evangelism isn’t working as it once used to, the community/customers are confused daily in around what’s new inside Microsoft and all they really want from the company is some straight answers that don’t involve the words “It Depends”.

This in turn comes back to the various incentive programs within Microsoft as once you have a large number of over-achievers / smart people being given skewed metrics they in turn game the system for either career power or money? This is how the machine works internally but externally its exactly why you have programs that only work a fiscal year and lastly why there is such a vast amount of rapid succession in product releases that really don’t appear to solve problems? If anything in turn create more.

The question I put to the VP/CVP’s within the company is this – Why do you think my tweets got such large amount of attention? Is because customers are still confused or is it a case of them searching for answers that aren’t as obvious. Rather than look for folks to punish internally for my tweets you should really take stock of why it occurred, how it occurred and what’s going to happen next.

Times up Microsoft, you really need to think long and hard about what it is you’re doing for the future of .NET that is beyond a fiscal year or tactical playbook. Really do a long hard review of the business and if Microsoft thinks its marketing consists of a blog post on Scott Guthrie’s blog? Then there is a problem beyond what some ex-employee once said on twitter.

I’m not a disgruntled employee, I’m just a confused and frustrated customer who has high hopes for the company’s future.

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