Today I was in the iPhone AppStore browsing the noise in hope of finding some signal, I found a game that caught my interest and then immediately went to the reviews to see if the author of the game can back up what they are selling.
I read the reviews and a few of them were pushing the notion that “save your 0.99c” agenda, and I for one was relieved – thankfully I did not waste that 99c I was saving.
That sobered me up, I thought to myself “I’m about to spend 99c on some bad coffee that I’ll unlikely finish while I wait for a meeting that I’ll no doubt move to a different spot for and buy yet another coffee”
The question I have is whether or not the concept of an AppStore is doing the market a positive or a negative in terms of how its conditioning us In making the purchase decisions.
How far have we come where went from spending $20-100 on games to now agonising over a $0.99c purchase and it appears the trending is pushing closer and closer to the $0.00 value.
Is this why we now are seeing games which are free-ware, you know the ones that haunt AppStore and Facebook. These are the games that get you addicted to their crack and slowly encourage you to spend $50 on diamonds to help increase your gameplay? ..give a little but not the entire farm and let the desperate/gullible micro pay their way to the abyss of content gratification.
Millions are being made on this, in fact the assumption we are often making now due to the various amounts of rumours around overnight millionaires occurring due to $2 micro purchases worldwide occurring. Its fair to say that when you do justify the $2 purchase you are silently telling yourself “Well, I’m only paying $2 but these guys are going to get millions because everyone else is paying and it all adds up”
We’ve switched from being a consumer and now have become their collective profit controller making assumptions and assertions round how much they should be allowed to make in total vs. letting the previous way of life which consisted of “Oh, they made money? Good for them” thinking.
I can’t but help wanting to ask more questions around this space, for instance – is this slowly killing the industry, or is it making it better? If word gets out that the gold rush in game development for devices is probably a false economy given its saturation levels are now encouraging mediocrity to dominate the way in which we gain enjoyment from games?
Is it me or is anyone else bored of Angry birds? Yet each season they continue to be the most prominent “this is how you’re supposed to make money and games” posturing.
I look at Minecraft itself and seeing how it was such a low price point to now being one of the biggest earners in the game industry and continue to grow, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Notch made a game that is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars and he didn’t have to pay Apple a cent or abide by the rinse/repeat formula of game development on devices.
Is there stillroom for another Minecraft? Fortresscraft on XBOX pretty much cut & pasted Minecrafts engine but whacked in a XBOX Avatar, charged a small amount and is now making millions.
Nothing creative happened, just lots of rinse and repeat formulas but the upside is these games are no longer expensive wastes of money; they are instead small micro payments – less of a sting in your buyer’s remorse.
Downside, as more and more of these games abuse the new market channels they in turn drive prices further and further down. Low prices mean that in order for truly exceptional games to stand out they first must meet the $2 or above threshold of quality bands. If they then succeed in that, they are then given a huge assumption of “well they earn $2 from millions of us so I’m not willing to pay $5 for it” thinking.
In 5 years, do you think a guy like Notch can get away with charging $15 for a game like Minecraft? Alternatively, do you think indie game developers are about to get a cold reality shock given the bubble may pop?
Will game studios like Valve have to keep lowering prices to the point where they just can’t justify the expensive pushing gaming envelopes further given the yield doesn’t’ add up to the costs it takes to create. If that were the case then they’d need to create 3-5 games that are money makers in order to build a war chest that funds the next killer gaming engine of choice.
Are game engine developers retreating to charging hefty prices for leasing their codebase thus reducing the mod / expansion on innovation from occurring? Why fight the war when you can build the bullets J
Now comes the next question, is Application development about to get worse or better given these market conditions today?
I stumbled upon a blog post that I think should be titled - Genius is non-transferable. Nice up beat post about the influence of one Mr Steve Jobs and how his departure is affecting the future of Apple via a thought inspiring post.
This got me thinking about the day Bill Gates officially retired from Microsoft. I was on campus at the time and I remember everyone that I was near talked about this moment and there was a weird vibe around confidence levels. Most brushed his departure as the old guy has left the building, he didn’t do much anyway these days? Others who were more senior and seasoned didn’t follow this thread of thinking. Instead, they were more conservative and gave lofty responses like “we’ll see..” hinting that we as a company have only just began a journey of success vs. failure ahead.
Today, Amazon has setup shop right near Microsoft and recently the company lost or was expected to lose over 3,000+ staff to the ….online bookseller? storage in the cloud? company?. …Google, Facebook etc. have also setup shop just outside the borders of Redmond as well with I’m sure equal numbers of the 3,000 likely to occur as well.
How does the Amazon staff hiring blitz have anything to do with the topic at hand? Its simple for the first time in the history of Microsoft not only does the company have just as rich competitors today, but they also have their medium level competitors parked outside their village. This is a small but equally important issue as now not only is Microsoft HR departments on notice that they need to improve their metrics around success and fail but it also has a significant impact on the quality bands of their products (ie key staff leaving? Good or bad? Depends…)
Pre-Bill Gates departure, Microsoft was still a chaotic organization filled with typical large enterprise issues but it in turn was kept in check by a guy who remember outsmarted the beloved Steve Jobs on a number of business related tactics over the years. You worked hard to outsmart Bill in the organization and he did have a cultural impact on staff – prime example, ThinkWeek Papers.
Post Bill Gates, well products aren’t doing that great other than Windows 7 but in reality Windows7’s success is really a false positive given if you remove Windows XP from the market and force business/consumers down a path – it’s what I’d call a duress driven success.
You have a staff exodus problem occurring and furthermore you have no cohesive strategy around marketing products that at the end of the day are technically well built – Microsoft’s always had a marketing issue never really a technical one.
Windows 8 Predictions
This is going to give people their Microsoft high for the year, then in the following September 2012, he’s going to come back and officially release this to the world thus removing MIX Online from our memories for ever more.
While this is happening he’s then going to spend energy & time building out the desktop concept of Windows as we know it today whilst factoring in the disruption of Windows8 Device / ARM Operating system and its effects on the market.
Apple in turn are going to spend a lot more budget / cycles now to rebuild confidence now that Mr Jobs has stepped down for what we all know now sadly, health reasons. Inside Microsoft they will see this as a moment of weakness, the beloved General has fallen – storm the gates, hard and fast.
This is a software storm of under qualified sugar overloaded officers at best who are going to promise us the world, the future of a brilliant tomorrow when it comes to vNext Software.
The underlying impact here for all of you to consider and the moment in which I personally just shake my head and sigh.
There’s no Steve Jobs and Bill Gates anymore, just punks who think they have the capabilities that these old warhorses once had.
These two didn’t accidently impact our lives worldwide in a once off streak of luck, they had consistent measure of success over the years in everything they did and we in turn backed their abilities in one way or another.
We had confidence.
Today, you look at the landscape of software companies and what they are all busy right now pushing and pulling the industry into what it should be and you have to ask yourself a simple question?
Are you confident we are on the right path now? If that answers no, kind of or not stacking into the majority of “Yes” column. Then we have a problem and future CEO’s like mini-Steve may think he’s got the winning formula but in truth, he’s been too busy copying Steve Jobs/Bill Gates homework he’s not taken time to learn from what they’ve failed and succeeded at.
Inside Microsoft, watch guys like Scott Guthrie as whilst everyone is running towards Windows 8 / Windows Phone 7 gravy train(s), he’s walking towards Azure, a spot where you can easily hide for a while and let the mob fall on top of each other over Windows 8 / Windows 7 device rush.
Mark my words, he’s the one you should all keep an eye on as he has potential to one day become the next Bill Gates / Steve Jobs for Microsoft or maybe a competitor should he jump ship to?(minus the creative part of course).
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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
I’m often engaged in a variety of conversations regarding Microsoft, obviously because I'm opinionated about the company – more to the point, its almost become a niche thing I seem to tap into. In that, I could talk about Google or Adobe but often I get the “that's your opinion” vibe. If I talk about Microsoft in the same way, i get the “Oh really?!!” interest vibe.
That’s often fueled allot of my soap boxing as i feed off that quite happily and its not that I want the 5sec of fame, its more that I feel I am adding an insight or value to a conversation around me, like I have this small pocket of information that enables someone beside me to unlock a pattern or compounding issue relating to Microsoft and its technology / culture. It’s hard to put into words, but in reality the more people I interact with the more I get this overwhelming sense of “yeah, you’re right, I couldn’t figure out how to say that but yes, that make sense now” moments.
Let me attempt to articulate the flaws I am seeing inside Microsoft as a brand that I personally have found reflected back at me via these conversations (you are feeding my addiction hehe).
Often Microsoft when they launch a product alert the masses well in advance around what's coming. They endeavor to flood the market as fast and aggressively as they can with the said product. It often gets to a point where they effectively buy there place in your memory through constant rinse/repeat approach to alerting you. If they don’t get you on the first pass, they’ll get you on the second or third etc. Its an old tactic and with the budgets that also get allocated to various teams that are enough to keep 5-6 startups a live for years, it often comes with a sketchy at best yield.
The problem with this tactic is we as consumers at times are great at ignoring this as we’ve spent a large amount of our adult lives watching this same formula repeat itself over and over. We often can predict its movements ahead of time and so when we see the pattern emerging its easy to then point out the flaws and faults (often allot of the tech journalist profit from this). Those who aren’t used to it see others doing this and go “wow, its like you’re able to see the future!!!” and so this in turn fuels the engine.
If you however, look across the skirmish lines to Apple or Google. They really often more than most, don’t do this. They are often associated with this sense of surprise effect and more to the point they give you this other sense that “while stocks last” or “you better hurry now and get it before others find out and no stock will be left” kind of moment(s) at launch / announcements.
Apple is by far the most effective in the way they announce “new”. Microsoft staff often see this and try a lot of the times to emulate that success but they do so in a way that’s inconsistent at times or often messy / half-done. Yet when ones do succeed (much like a group of tree’s all fighting for sunlight over one another, one will eventually emerge) the said success breeds more “see, it works” momentum and thus the cycle internally repeats itself.
Microsoft has this flaw, they tend to not comprehend that in order to win the masses over one needs to create the element of rarity, there’s no sense of prized ownership or differentiation in their approach. The only time I would argue this has come to the surface – hehe – is well with concepts like Microsoft Surface, XBOX and in many ways with Windows Phone 7 – although that funnily enough is a problem.
I digress, but with Windows Phone 7 I watched the launch with interest in that to me Microsoft was looking for ways to sell the vibe “while stocks last” and “get one now ahead of everyone else” momentum, and they almost had it but for some reason, it was a fizzle effect. They didn’t in a nutshell sustain that momentum, it was a sense or rarity and then it was gone just as fast as it came.
If you’ve been a devoted customer for quite some time to Microsoft you’d be hard press to find the said customers to argue that Microsoft is always committed to one particular goal or idea. The reality is, it is often a company that abandons ideas faster at times than they were projected. It has to do with the culture within the company mostly which then spills over into the customer / product lines.
I often make remarks about Victory Emails and how they are so wrong for the company but I don’t articulate why. Here’s why.
Microsoft staff are like abused children in some parts, in that they seek affection / attention through what I would call “ACE” dropping. In that, abused children often do this as a copining mechanism to emulate affection or love given they have often had this part of their lives destroyed. What happens is the said child will wow everyone around them with the first ace up their sleeve and everyone suddenly goes “that's amazing” and the said child then basks in the glow from this effect.
The effect however only lasts for so long and so they need to keep that momentum alive by dropping their second ACE and again, it happens again.. This pattern repeats itself for an average of 4-5 times at most before the said child starts making plans to abandon these sets of folks and seek out new people to wow / win over.
Inside Microsoft, this is a surprisingly consistent pattern I observed. You’d see these rising stars come in fast and hard, only to fizzle out around the first year maybe second year and then just as fast as they came they’ve left. Think of this like watching a bunch of fireworks come and go and then quietness follows. Its in the quiet times that you peel away the covers and start seeing staff ping / pong around teams via internal transfers and commitment calibrations etc.
There is never really a consistent holding pattern and when you do find that consistency its usually owned by a personality who’s found a way to just sustain the calm effect (under the radar) or is a complete jackass and dominates through power-politics – never really is there that spark of “Wow” in that seat.
If staff can’t commit to a set idea or goal over a large body of time, then how on earth can a product ever remain consistent and focused? If Microsoft were to announce tomorrow that staff transfers were to be put on hold for minimum 5 years – I'd wager you’d see a high exit rate of staff for one and secondly you’d see an entirely different marketing and engineering effort from within the company itself.
The reason being is the rising star’s can’t keep doing their 4 ACE pony tricks to wooo over others and as such you’d likely see a steady / calm growth from within around planning and focus. Victory emails themselves would have less of an effect as “congrats, you did a great job, but, you can either get a promotion or a pat on the back, either way you're not moving out of this team buddy, sorry!” moments.
Internally until this is solved, Microsoft will always come across externally as a company that lacks depth in terms of commitment.
I’m not going to beat on this drum to loudly, but I’d wager i’d be hard pressed to find a single person outside the company that would argue strongly that the company seems to have clear definitive goals around what they do (ie taps into commitment). The problem an internal one yes, but externally they don’t have a sense of clustering or grouping in that their pattern is inconsistent and often hard to parse.
If I were to put a bunch of XX’s on screen right now like this:
XX XX XX XX
You would typically see the X’s in groups of two? In that the clarity around that pattern is simple. It’s information if you will is broken into a consistent but clearly defined pattern.
If I were to take that same concept and apply this formatting to it:
The pattern isn’t as clear and for those of you paying close attention, you may also notice I added an extra “X” without others probably realizing it. The point here is simple, Microsoft’s approach to product positioning and placement isn’t consistent and as a result you have the secondary effect vs.. the first. You can’t get behind the information as you’re too busy in your own mind, trying to separate the X’s into clusters that enable you to digest the information more closely.
This is how I would illustrate the massive amounts of bad information / inconsistent look of Microsoft’s entire approach to everything it does. There’s not really one person or person(s) being the gatekeepers of the said pattern in terms of how the company saturates the market with new information. It just seems to be a case of inconsistent X’s and at times some other letters mixed in.
Too many Options
I mentioned earlier that Victory Emails are a dangerous beast within. The other reason to this reason is the inherit concept of what success is or isn’t within the company. Popularity wins first, yield comes second is probably a pattern i’d argue as being “yup, that’s about right”
If you were to look up research around how humans deal with options, you’d probably settle on the concept “less is more”. On one hand we humans are attracted to options, we all actively want more options than we can handle but in reality we rarely ever agree with the options and furthermore in a consumer driven situation – we often more than most don’t buy more as a result.
In that most research I've read on the subject highlights that if customers were given 100 items to choose from, the said customers who were initially attracted would be quite high. If the said situation was reduced to 30 items, the attraction would be much lower than the 100 but the purchasing or acquisition behavior would be actually significantly higher than the initial 100 🙂
Inside Microsoft I often would notice quantitative analysis was often used as a metric of success “congrats, you’re popular!” where as if you were to peel away the word success here, and study the qualitative analysis of the said “success” you’d find the yield to me much lower.
“All the major journalists are talking about a products, they reach millions on our behalf, success is ours!”
“All the major journalists who reach majority of the same customers talked about our products but not in a really in-depth way and often more than none had a negative remark about us or two”
Inside Microsoft you have a PRIME score which keeps track of positive/negative PR, but the point here is that whilst yes you had the journalists from around the worlds full attention – the reality is what does that actually mean? you reached a larger customer base then say your random blog post? but what did that reach mean? and more to the point what effects has that reach on the purchasing or adoption behavior of your customers. Furthermore, how can you then map this against other products in the market and where is the overlaps occurring and lastly who’s really competing for attention – external companies or other teams internally?
Inside the company there’s really no conductor or movie style director who’s keeping a steady handle on how information flows in and out of the company. It often comes in large volumes and is spread far and wide with often no real data to support success or failure – more perception.
The point to this post isn’t to beat the crap out of the brand – yet again – it’s more to clarify the patterns I personally see in the way the company approaches us, the consumer. It also taps into conversations I’ve had over the years (employee and ex-employee) with how the products and customers are bonding. The company itself has a large amount of problems that often just don’t seem to finding any hint of remorse or success in stemming the tide of failure.
What I am seeing is an exodus of some no-name on the blogsphere staff shifting over to Google or other. If you look at these staff leaving as isolated “oh, darn xyz left” then it’s not so bad. If you start adding them up and back tracking what they did for the company and more specifically the products they managed or ran, you start to see – well I do anyway – a pattern emerging of “oh wow, this is quite bad as the successors are def not as capable and what does that mean for that xyz work they were doing?”
Staff are important and the end final point I have to say is the above is simply a dump of patterns I see and how the on flow from the centre out is what is causing the most pain for the company. The products themselves will have a bumpy lifespan over time and sure the community surrounding the products will also share the same amount of turbulence. The actual cause of all these bumps though start with the above, these are the engines if you will producing the chaos.
WPF Time of Death.
Time to call it, December 2nd 2010. Seriously, I have thought about the Silverlight Firestarter event for a few weeks now with a focus on reading how the rest of the world kind of digests the vNext of Silverlight.
Its very clear if you read between the lines that Silverlight is shaping up to replace the WPF workload, and whilst Microsoft will roll out the engineers + shipping routine its pretty much all they aren’t doing before WPF is officially declared dead. Shipping is realistically the one thing they have left and even that’s looking a bit sketchy and cumbersome to watch.
It’s clear with Silverlight5 my old comrades in arms at Redmond have even stopped paying lip service to the x-platform discussion with many of the new features being Windows specific. It’s also clear given Windows Phone 7 failing in the market that now is not the time to give Microsoft’s biggest competitor, Apple momentum or face an internal career firing squad.
WPF has enormous amount of hidden potential, its not marketed but its there. It’s not a bad desktop platform to build against and majority of the issues that I have personally faced with the product are due to basically quality assurance sloppiness. Its still got work-around solutions though, so you in turn forgive it’s sins.
Technically being ok is not enough though, you need to go wide and far in promoting its existence and the return on investment you could potentially yield from the platform. That's not happening and its also clear that there’s zero paid community evangelism efforts in market right now to uphold this line of thinking.
An example, Where is the WPF fire starter Microsoft? where is any event for that matter that focuses on exploring the bounty of WPF?
Scott Guthrie’s blog is typically a marketing announcement channel given his geek-fame over the years. It’s often we in marketing would joke (sarcasm) “its a good thing we have ScottGu’s blog, as boy we almost needed an official marketing site for Silverlight” – jokes aside, Scott doesn’t talk about WPF at all (check out the below tag cloud)
If i were to audit Microsoft today online and tally up WPF vs. Silverlight, which would win? Argue with the notion that something is dead or isn’t but its definitely clear that WPF hasn’t a bright future as its technology cousin – Silverlight.
Windows Phone 7 – Fail.
I have predicted that I think WP7 is going to not win consumers over but I figured that it would take a couple of years before that is realized. Hearing reports that the device has small units of sale and now some resellers are slashing prices in a hope to stimulate the market to buy, is just downright disappointing.
Its not that the phone is bad, its actually got a load of potential. As whilst I’m a WPF fan at heart, I do still also enjoy working with Silverlight (which has this kind of polarizing effect on me). I just think that the Metro User Interface is simply killing the products potential.
It’s important to call that out, given this is the “face” of the brand. It looks tacky, not well thought out and clearly lacks usability principles needed to navigate a small device. It puts to much emphasis on typography and downplays visual elements to provide structure and grouping to the components within (ie Extraneous Cognitive Load).
The keyboard is to primitive and the keys are narrow. I’ve sat down and looked at the iPhone and Wp7 keyboards and for me the WP7 looks like a prototype version of the concept. The keys don’t necessarily guide you to aim for the middle, where as the iPhone keys are spaced but at the same time the hit area isn’t exactly confined to that space. You in turn are more likely to focus on your target even though the spacing is artificial.
Typography is weak and at times doesn’t even do the basics – in outlook a list of bold means new, unbold means read, yet you still don’t even get this? The menu system is a endless vertical nightmare, as whilst its great to list things its important to also balance out your screen between scrolling and displaying. I find the constant scrolling down to be cumbersome and annoying especially when you’re debugging an Application you’re writing for the phone.
I could list more and I’ll be talking 1:1 with Wp7 Product Management, but i think my point here is made, this phone needs more energy and focus. It has enormous potential ahead of it but for the space price or thereabouts as its biggest 800lb gorilla competitor is simply unrealistic. Lower the price or fix the UI, make a choice as the UX for Microsoft is dying as-is. Which brings me to my next point.
Designers aren’t interested anymore.
If you look at the AppStore market place, majority of the apps are visually engaging and have definitely some design bloodlines in the room. If you look at the Microsoft marketplace its pretty clear that designers aren’t in the room in large quantities.
No designers means wasted technology, wasted technology means some team internally right now is coming up with the “fix” for this (which in their minds is an engineering problem not an engagement problem). The reality is you can throw all the tools you want at this problem as well as the platforms, but unless you truly evangelize in a non-aggressive way to this market. You’re just wasting good money on technology that goes nowhere.
If you were to compare 2007/2008 Evangelism efforts to present, You would see this massive disconnect between strong in your face marketing to the art community to today being a bunch of engineers high fiving one another about how awesome things are. The reality is, unless you can add some design blood lines to this new UX driven world, your technology hasn’t moved forward, you’re just rebadging old technology with much weirder UI.
Silverlight 5 is WPF’s new replacement, and I really don’t have that much of a problem with this other than if you’re going to make this the vNext desktop focus, then commit. Don’t do it half-assed, get those 200+ engineers and get your butts into gear and open it up more. If you aren’t going to do this, then take 100+ engineers out of that 200 and get them to focus on doing more with WPF so that the two are more aligned to save cross-targeting related issues – as news flash Redmond, nobody really thinks that far ahead as to which technology is likely to give them an outcome they desire. Choosing Silverlight first then hitting a wall and retreating back to WPF is unrealistic as it means people need to know its faults completely end to end and how these map to their business constraints upfront? sorry no.
Windows Phone 7 needs something. It needs a more structured approach to user experience and it needs to solve WPF and Silverlights initial problem – how to get designers to the cause. Unless Microsoft gets off their butts and re-invest into the designer focused communities, these products are destined to follow the same non-starters as previous incarnations of the Windows Phone operating systems as well as the low saturation levels in the wild of both Silverlight/WPF publically.
“There are certainly some functionality shortfalls, and we are going to work to address them,” – Joe Belfiore / Microsoft.
Microsoft needs to get back to evangelism 101 and more importantly the notion that just because you ship doesn’t mean you’re committed to the future. Creating features and releasing them isn’t enough, unless you broadcast and win the hearts & minds over all you’re effectively doing is having a bunch of engineers in Redmond high five one another over a release that could be epic if it got momentum – FAIL.
I was forwarded a blog post today from a .NET dev - Juan M. Medina. It was a great insight into the cause/effects and now response to some of my blog posts. It however left me a little frustrated mainly around the main issue of the declaration of WPF is dead being lost in translation.
To clarify, if I may.
Juan walked up to Tim Heuer, Pete Brown and Scott Guthrie and asked them flat out whether or not WPF is dying - is that ex-Employee smoking crack or what? is the underlying point (but Juan is much politer). The response is as expected, in that the staff will usually work hard to show one and all a hint at the technology roadmap, partner success and internal bets being placed on the said product. It's perfectly fine for them to do this as should either one of these guys deviate in the slightest well it's both political and career suicide to even think about declaring the said UX platform dormant / aka dead.
It's not about whether or not they are actively working on the said product(s), putting 3x engineers on a dormant product is still considered progress. The total number of engineers and features being worked on isn't enough to declare a product alive. It needs more collective effort around it to really drive it home.
Google for example allocated some serious engineering effort behind Google Wave, its dead today. It had a roadmap, it had engineers, it had Google saying similar commitment speeches and it had a descent amount of initial launch public exposure. It's dead, what happened?
The answer is similar to where I see WPF today, it's got a bunch of engineers high-fiving one another around what's coming up next, how cool it is and lastly what people have done with it only when asked.
WPF has no marketing. I've covered this in an early post, but that’s the initial point of the "WPF is Dead" and why it's got both a small amount of engineers as well as maybe one or two warm bodies actively evangelizing and marketing it at best - that's assuming if you count Rob Relyea and Pete Brown as its entire marketing force.
In not having a collective Evangelism, Marketing and Engineering team working alongside one another, it pretty much becomes this Google Wave like science project. In that you get a list of random features that most people may look at and go "Well I guess, the other guys in the WPF community wanted that, not for me though" that really don't sync up to the overall collective practical usage today for the said technology. You basically have 200+ engineers all working on features that probably have zero to no impact worldwide with the collective majority who actively use the said technology (who says I’m right or wrong on that?)
Thus, it's a corpse.
In order to be successful with a product like WPF, you need to really sit down and analyze the overall feature matrix and think about how it's being used, where its being used, what the maturity levels are for developers, what features are fun vs. boring, what features are needed for xyz verticals, what features are needed in order to prepare for the next 2 releases and so on..
For example, you look at a feature and you apply something like the following to it:
- Is this feature completely new to the industry (Deep Zoom, Pivot Viewer etc).
- Does this feature have full tooling support?
- Does this feature have learning materials ready at launch?
- Is this feature fully documented?
- Has this feature had breaking changes prior to RTM?
- Does this feature require Level 300+ developer skill maturity in order to comprehend.
- Does this feature rely on other features?
- Is this feature a market differentiator?
- Is this feature a highlight feature (ie RTM talking point)
- What partners have used this feature and specifically in which demo / examples
- How often will this feature be used compared to the others?
You ask a plethora of these questions as you need to market, manage and evangelize this feature as if it were the most important piece of the said product. It doesn't have to be, but it gets your entire product positioned in a way that reduces friction to all that need to comprehend and ask what value the said feature is about to provide?
Features aren't just bullet points in a blog post.
It's not about saying "I just committed 200+ engineers and I now have the following shopping list of items ready for you" it's more about how the said shopping list fixes or addresses real world scenarios - frame the problem then show how the feature solved it.
Collectively all features need some kind of airplay, but you also need to filter out the easy from the hard and focus on spending effort via Evangelism , Blog Posts, Tutorial Videos (level 100, 200, 300 etc) and so on reducing the friction associated with the hard ones. Use the easy features simple ice breakers only, but double down on the hard ones as much as possible.
It doesn't stop there, you also need to go through and clean up the internet as much as possible around some of the beta / breaking changes for any features that you had prior to release as sadly, transparency comes at a price - confusion. Legacy blog posts need updating as they've shifted from just being a moment on an RSS Horizon to being part of your collective documentation world-wide. You need to track some of this and get ahead of it as much as possible.
Last but most important of all, you need to take all this effort and market the crap out of it. You need to spend close to 2 years minimum rinse and repeating the value of WPF over and over. It needs to be broadcasted and when you think you are done, start again.
Coco Cola is a brand the world knows at first sight, they don't just sit back and go "Well coke is pretty much well known now, it’s a mature brand! - job well done all!" - instead you are constantly reminded of the beverage and how refreshing it's going to make you feel whenever you get thirsty. They do this as when the time comes and when you face a fridge inside a supermarket, you make a decision within 7 seconds on whether or not you believe them. The constant reminding is done for a reason as its about ensuring coke is your default choice.
Microsoft have yet to figure this out across all of its products. Its why there is a huge contrast between Microsoft and Adobe, Apple and even Google. Microsoft floods the market with "look at me" quick, fast, dirty and uncalculated marketing principles that often change every fiscal.
The others don't, they typically keep a steady course and iterate on failure and break success. Rinse & Repeat. Apple are the most calculated of all, everything they do is done in a matter that has quality bands tightly controlled.
This week alone you’ve seen two separate fumbles at basic product positioning and press releases from an executive through to a simple press release (Bing 3D maps deprecation announcement was a mess).
To wrap this corpse up..
My end point is this, walking up to an Executive inside Microsoft and flat out asking "Is that product dead or what?" is not going to get you an accurate answer. Save your question, instead ask
- What is the marketing strategy for WPF?,
- What's the feature catalogue look like beyond what I've already seen so far?
- How often do you plan to ship?
- Is there Evangelists in my subsidiary that are going to help me market and seed a community around this product?
- Who are the community leads at Microsoft who can help me with further questions for this product?
- How do I train developers & designers to prepare for WPF?
- How does WPF and Silverlight work with one another with the new features?
- What can I use to convince my work to adopt this technology?
- How does WPF work with my vertical (finance, health, mining etc)
- How does the case study you told me about relate to the following features?
You keep hammering away at the hard questions around the future sustainability of WPF beyond a few random stats that really don't give you an accurate picture - eg.. 200+ engineers on WPF/SL? what does that mean? is that 100 engineers on WPF and 100 engineers on Silverlight? do they even need 200? is 200 enough..should there be more? what's that mean?
Is WPF dead? yeah it is do you know why? because someone forgot to tell us all it's not.
I look at all the hysteria around technolgyX vs. technologyY and immediately tend to ignore anything said within the blog posts or news articles. It's not important enough to get all worked up about, as the real core element of these arguments is which is going to be popular vs. which isn't?
Take the current week or so around HTML5 vs. Silverlight. The reality is most plug-in or desktop centric developers who are content with the status quo probably aren't even going to be interested in HTML5 unless someone pays them a nice hefty sum of money to do so - if and only when - their current work stream dries up.
The reality of the conversation around these two titans of technology isn't which is better, its more to the core essence of the argument - which is Microsoft going to favor. It's an important point to make as when the rainbows and sunshine circle jerks are over, someone has to stand before an Bob Muglia and declare where they are going to spend the budgets for the next fiscal and why.
Windows Phone 7 is obviously going to take the lions share next fiscal, Internet Explorer 9 will also have a hefty amount attached to it as well. This in turn creates a ripple effect downstream as once the budget lines are declared internally it then generates bounty / career opportunities as well. It doesn't stop there, being seen to be on the winning product of the month is a easy career booster but more importantly it also at times can determine where the Evangelism teams worldwide are to spend the bulk of their energy.
I'll be fair, Evangelism inside Microsoft has a purpose and that is to be ahead of the technology release waves, in that their job is to get the crowd world wide excited ahead of a release. It then falls back to the marketing / sales pipelines to then sustain that excitement once the Evangelism squads have had their mission re-routed.
Here lies the problem with this playbook. The first is that Sales/Marketing folks aren't really goaled too heavily on Market share centric metrics - they are rewarded more for Revenue share focused metrics. Silverlight has zero revenue share, Internet Explorer has zero revenue share but Windows Phone 7 has revenue share.
Here lies the dilemma though. On one hand you have a product that has a number attached to it that can get sales / marketing teams excited. In order to be effective in promotion of this product they need to excite the wider mass around it - which in turn means free Silverlight marketing. The downside is that Internet Explorer 9 is important as well so Microsoft has to give some focus to the HTML5 cause.
Do you start to see the problems with that? it requires a consistent unique clear strategy on how to separate the two concepts from one another.
This is pretty much why BobMu came out and stated what he said but kind of fumbled it not only once but twice in the process. The reality is that Microsoft will want to slightly turn down the volume on Silverlight so that IE9 can get its share of the spotlight. In order to wind the volume down, you got to start saying things like Silverlight + Mobility over and over while turning up the volume on Internet Explorer 9 + HTML5 + Applications a bit louder than before.
Silverlight gets thrown under a bus.
I have been mucking around with this, and I probably shouldn't via twitter. That being said, Silverlight isn't a dead technology - yet - it's still got legs as whilst Microsoft's intent is obviously crank Internet Explorer 9 + HTML5 volume pretty loud as well as Windows Phone 7 - the reality is out of the 600k Silverlight developers and plethora of WPF developers left uncounted, they pretty much couldn't give a rats ass about HTML5 in the first place.
I wouldn't necessarily declare HTML5 the victor simply because Microsoft said so. I'd look at this more of a case of wait and see, in that sure Microsoft will market the crap out of IE9 but in reality this product is a stillborn brand in the first place and furthermore HTML5 is nowhere near ready for prime time adoption.
All this will do however is scare the crap out of business decision makers who don't know better. Technical decision makers may or may not be shy about Silverlight and it really comes back to how Microsoft can redeem themselves beyond their current fumblings - (I'm hopeful Scott Guthrie this week at DevConnections will do a better job at his Commitment speech than BobMu alongside leaking some hints around what Silverlight 5 is going to have to ensure people are focused on the actionable elements within such a commitment speech).
HTML5 vs. Silverlight is going to be a hot topic until Microsoft tips its hand on which one it favors the most but right now you won't get that from the company as to do so means sacrificing two legacy brands that are filled with enough hate debt to cause major hurt amongst the masses.
Windows Phone 7 has to overcome Windows Phone 6.5 and below legacy related issues that aren't technical but more conceptual.
Internet Explorer 9 has to overcome everything from the IE6 disaster through to the IE7 and IE8 disasters all the while showing that they aren't interested in the Embrace & Extend forking that its historically been known to do. This one brand has caused more negativity for Microsoft as a brand than any other product since Office + Clippy.
You're going to see Evangelists etc talk about "choice" and "it depends" as that’s all they can really throw at you right now, bottom line for you to think about is not which tech is better but where do you think Microsoft will place its bets next. As once they decide, one of the two will end up in the heap alongside WinForms, WebForms and sadly - *sob* WPF.
The only way I can see Silverlight teams putting out this tire fire is if they release the Silverlight5 roadmap now, it will add weight to the usual fluff commitment pledge as well is giving all a better understanding of how things to come are supposed to connect with one another.
I would like to see a better focused strategy around how Microsoft UX Platform looks tomorrow as the old 2007 one is kind of a bit rusty now given all the new technology variables at play.