Creating a designer & developer workflow end to end.

 

When I was at Microsoft we had one mission really with the whole Silverlight & WPF platform(s) – create a developer & designer workflow that keeps both parties working productively. It was a mission that i look back on even to this day with annoyance, because we never even came close to scratching the surface of that potential. Today, the problem still even with Adobe and Microsoft competitive battles in peace-time hasn’t actually been solved – if anything it kind of got slightly compounded or fragmented more so.

Absorbing the failure and having to take a defensive posture over the past five years around how one manages to inject design into a code-base in the most minimal way possible, I’ve sort of settled into a pipeline of design that may hint at the potential of a solution (i say hint..).

The core problem.

Ever since I think 2004, I’ve never been able to get a stable process in place that enables a designer and developer to share & communicate their intended ideas in a way that ends up in production. Sure they end up something of a higher quality state but it was never really what they originally set out to build, it was simply a end result of compromises both technically and visually.

Today, its kind of still there lingering. I can come up with a design that works on all platforms and browsers but unless i sit inside the developer enclosure and curate my design through their agile process in a concentrated pixel for pixel way, it just simply ends up getting slightly mutated or off target.

The symptoms.

A common issue in the process happens soon after the design in either static form or in prototype form gets handed off to the developer or delivery team. They look at the design, dissect it in their minds back to whatever code base they are working on and start to iterate on transforming it from this piece of artwork into actual living interactive experience.

The less prescriptive I am in the design (discovery phase) the less likely i’ll end up with a result that fits the way i had initially imagined it to begin with. Given most teams are also in an Agile way of life the idea that I have time or luxury of doing a “big up front” design rarely ever presents itself these days. Instead the ask is to be iterative and to design in chunking formations with the hope that once i’ve done my part its handed off to delivery and then it will come out unscathed, on time and without regression built in.

Nope. I end up the designer paying the tax bill on compromise, i’m the guy usually sacrificing design quality in lieu of “complexity” or “time” derived excuses.

I can sit here as most UX`ers typically do and wave my fist at “You don’t get us UI and UX people” or argue about “You need to be around the right people” all i want but in truth this is a formula that gets repeated throughout the world. It’s actually the very reason why ASP.NET MVC, WPF and Silverlight exist really – how do we keep the designer and developer separated in the hope they can come together more cleanly in design & development.

The actual root cause for this entire issue is right back at the tooling stage. The talent is there, the optimism is there but when you have two sets of tooling philosophies all trying to do similar or close to similar things it tends to kind of breed this area of stupidity. If for example i’m in Photoshop drawing a button on canvas and using a font to do so, well at the back my mind i realise that the chances of that font displaying on that button within a browser is less likely to happen then inside the tool – so i make compromises.

If i’m using a grid setting that doesn’t match the CSS framework i’m working with, well, guess what one of us is about to have a bad day when it comes to the designer & developer convergence.

If i’m using 8px padding for my According Panel headers in WPF and the designs outside that aren’t sharing the same constancy – well, again, someone’s in for a bad day.

It’s all about grids.

Obviously when you design these days a grid is used to help figure out portion allocation(s) but the thing is unless the tooling from design to development all share the same settings or agreed settings then you open yourself up from the outset to failure. If my grid is 32×32 and your CSS grid uses 30% and we get into the design hand over, well, someone in that discussion has to give up some ground to make it work (“lets just stretch that control” or “nope its fixed, just align it left…” etc start to arise).

Using a grid even at the wireframing stage can even tease out the right attitude as you’re all thinking in terms of portion and sizing weights (t-shirt size everything). The wireframes should never be 1:1 pixel ready or whatever unit of measure you choose, they are simply there to give a “sense” of what this thing could look like, but it won’t hurt to at least use a similar grid pattern.

T-shirt size it all.

Once you settle on a grid setting (column, gutters and N number of columns) you then have to really reduce the complexity back to simplicity in design. Creating T-shirt sizes (small, medium, large etc) isn’t a new concept but have you even considered making that happen for spacing, padding, fonts, buttons, textinputs, icons etc etc.

Keeping things simple and being able to say to a developer “Actually try using a medium button there when we get to that resolution” is at the very least a vocabulary that you can all converse in and understand. Having the ability to say “well, maybe use small spacing between those two controls” is not a guessing game, its a simple instruction that empowers the designer to make an after-design adjustment whilst at the same time not causing code-headaches for the developer.

Color Palettes aren’t RGB or Hex.

Simplicity in the language doesn’t end with T-shirt sizing it also has to happen with the way we use colors. Naming colors like ClrPrimaryNormal, ClrPrimaryDark, ClrPrimaryDarker, ClrSecondaryNormal etc help reduce the dependency of getting bogged down into color specifics whilst at the same time giving the same adjustment potential as the T-shirt sizes had as well – “try using ClrBrandingDarker instead of ClrBrandingLight”. If the developer is also color blind as in no they are actually colorblind, this instruction also helps as well.

Tools need to be the answer.

Once you sort the typography sizing, color palette and grid settings well you’re now on your way to having a slight chance of coming out of this design pipeline unscathed but the problem hasn’t still been solved. All we have done really is created a “virtual” agreement between how we work and operate but nothing really reinforces this behavior and the tools still aren’t being nice with one another as much as they could be.

If i do a design in say Adobe tools I can upload them to their creative cloud quite quickly or maybe even dropbox if have it embedded into my OS. However my developer team uses Visual Studio’s way of life so now i’m at this DMZ style area of annoyance. On one hand i’m very keep to give the development team assets they need to have but at the same time i don’t want to share my source files and much the same way they have with code. We need to figure out a solution here that ticks each others boxes as sure i can make them come to my front door – cloud or dropbox. That will work i guess, but they are using github soon so i guess do i install some command line terminal solution that lets me “Push” artwork files into this developer world?

There is no real “bridge” and yet these two set of tools has been the dogma of a lot teams lives of the better part of 10 years, still no real bridge other then copy & paste files one by one.

For instance if you were to use the aforementioned workflow and you realize at the CSS end that the padding pixels won’t work then how do you ensure everyone see’s the latest version of the design(s)? it realises heavily on your own backwater bridge process.

My point is this – for the better part of 10 years i’ve been working hard to find a solution for this developer / designer workflow. I’ve been in the trenches, i’ve been in the strategy meetings and i’ve even been the guy evangelizing  but i’m still baffled as to how I can see this clear linear workflow but the might of Adobe, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Sun just can’t seem to get past the developer focused approach.

Developers aren’t ready for design because the tools assume the developer will teach the designer how to work with them. The designer won’t go to the developer tools because simply put they have low tolerance for solutions that have an overburden of cognitive load mixed with shitty experiences.

5 years ago had we made Blend an intuitive experience that built a bridge between us and Adobe we’d probably be in a different discussion about day to day development. Instead we competed head-on and sent the entire developer/designer workflow backwards as to this day i still see no signs of recovery.

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I’m Scroogled no sir you’re Scroogled and you’re scroogled.

There are days when I arrive at work, drink my hot cup of coffee brew goodness and read what’s new “On the Line”. Most days they are often filled with moments of what I call “Microsoft LOL’s”. These moments are typically what I often use in my comedy routine with friends in the Microsoft business community whenever we get together to unpick “what just happened” – they are often filled with laughter + “..so..then…they not only did….but they decided to go back for more…” moments.

This morning I scanned my intertubes and saw Microsoft’s attempt at what I can only assume is humour. That is the Internet Explorer vs Google Chrome fight got a bit more bitter due to the company deciding it was a brilliant idea to make T-shirts and hat’s trashing their competitor’s efforts to make an alternative product to their own – Internet Explorer.

Some would say “Well this is how competitors work, its fair game” true, except I should point out that the very people who work on Google chrome used to also work at Microsoft so it’s not like Red vs Blue clones duking it out, it’s in many ways two parents fighting in front of their kids.

If you are in the role of “Evangelist” right now in Microsoft and you’ve been given metrics around Internet Explorer or HTML5 (which is nearly all of them) its moments like these that you really do need to think about updating your LinkedIn Profile to make sure its current. It’s also a good time to brush up on your way to make fun of the company you work for’s stupidity in the face of probably some very angry or agitated community groups who just don’t agree with this kind of tactics.

My goto line would be “You think the Scroogle thing was bad, imagine me right now and how Scroogled I am to be standing here…” or something to that affect. The best you can do from a reach standpoint is absorb the blow, pivot it to being a case of “Yeah you’re pissed, imagine how I feel” and hope to hell your community peer’s look at you with sympathy and not aggravation.

As I write this Frank Shaw the infamous fist waving anti-Google VP of Communications for Microsoft has gone quiet on the PR front. My only question for Microsoft is at what meeting and how much coke was snorted before this idea to put this on your store seemed like a “Funny idea” and should the company update its competitive obsession policies?

Broken ideas

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Microsoft Surface Retail strategy in Australia is broken.

If you walk into a retail store such as Harvey Norman, Dick Smith or JB HIFI in Australia with the sole intent on buying a Microsoft Surface then you will be probably shocked to learn that it is likely to be buried amongst the “laptop meets tablet” mutations.

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The Surface Tablet is hidden amongst an array of competing brands that are usually higher in price whilst being presented as a “laptop” in its initial resting “display” setting. Is there an attempt to highlight its form factor? No and more to the point there is absolutely no attempt to profile the branding of “Microsoft Surface” other than a strange font, which is 10%, compared to the price tag that is clearly the most important focal point.

To me the entire Microsoft Surface marketing campaign in Australia seems to be a broken situation whereby it appears Microsoft Australia are clearly metric / goaled around “impressions” and less about “conversions”. I say that as if the two metrics were linked then getting people into the “stores” would be 30% of the battle as once they are in, soliciting the potential consumers into a purchase would be where the real energy needed to be spent.

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Today, in these same stores if you were to walk in and buy an Apple product you would immediately notice that they are separated from the horde of random brands but all accessories that are officially owned by Apple’s brand machine are also within reach. That is to say they are clearly spending a small sum of their retail channel delivery budget(s) on ensuring that resellers such as these brands are retaining the brand(s) needs (Meyer’s in Australia also acts as a conduit to Apple’s branding).

However, why should Microsoft spend on securing the Microsoft Surface segregation?

Microsoft should and needs to put pressure on retail chains like this to have Microsoft Surface separated from the horde for the following reasons.

  • Price pressure. Clearly, the other brands are opting for the Microsoft Surface Pro approach to tablet & Windows 8 bundling with a high “laptop-centric” price tag attached. That’s fine but in reality if Microsoft wants to invoke change in the OEM channels around price and industrial design then having the beacon of example (Surface) separated ensures that these guys have to compete harder to win hearts/minds more. If Microsoft can put pressure on price models with a “lead by example” model, they can in turn regain some much lost control over this entire cluster f***k of tablet/laptop sales pipeline.
  • Differentiation. Right now, the whole Surface RT in Australia is all you can buy so there is minimal confusion around what the brand “Microsoft Surface” represents. It is only after you introduce Microsoft Surface Pro into the mix that the confusion will start to fester, especially when retail chains like the one mentioned seemed to be preoccupied with price. Having a clear definitive marquee / in-store controlled visualizations of the matrix would help clear up potential buyer’s remorse going forward.Furthermore it would again encourage put pressure on other OEM providers to consider the RT route but I highly doubt that will occur given the current failings of RT today (perception and execution wise).

In Summary, the question in the room still remains unanswered, why did Microsoft enter the tablet space as a hardware provider & not just software. I have read and heard multiple accounts as to why, to which me distills down into simply the “lead by example” formula.

If Microsoft wishes to lead by example then they need to in my opinion work harder to continue to put pressure on hardware brands like Dell, HP, ASUS, and Samsung etc. in a way that forces the consumer to start to consider an actual comparison between the brands and Microsoft’s “best of breed”.

In doing this they would also start to build some muscle & discipline in helping hardware companies focus more on the industrial design of the said device(s) as opposed to just re-using patterns they have formed whilst making Laptops (i.e. look at Android’s screen resolution issues to date and avoid that from spilling over into Windows).

Simply put, I think the overall marketing / delivery service that’s in play today puts strong indicators around the fact that not only is Microsoft lacking hardware leadership they are really living and likely to die by their previous Zune strategies (Good idea, just badly executed).

 

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Windows Phone 8 is the reset we have to have.

I’ve been reading quite a lot of narrative around Windows Phone 8 and mostly around how existing devices are going miss out on functionality.

Looking at the two phones) in theory there is little stopping existing Windows Phone 7 users from having such features) but in truth I don’t think this was ever a technical discussion.

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).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adobe.

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

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

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

Winning as the Sheen would say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It rather works that way for the console market.

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

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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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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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