The rise and fall of Microsoft’s UX platform – Part 3

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It looks bad, I mean it really just looks bad. The President of Server & Tools in PDC just came out and pretty much implied that the race between HTML5 vs. Silverlight internally is over. The winner by way of Presidential nominee is HTML5.

It’s easy to assume that maybe Mary Jo got it wrong, that maybe she took some journalistic spin to the overall story and tricked BobMu into saying things he didn’t want to (it’s what Journalists tend to do sometimes). Think again, Mary Jo doesn’t play that game and its exactly why she gets these types of interviews in Microsoft, so why start now?

It’s also easy to assume that maybe BobMu is just some empty jar head executive who says a few buzz words here and there? someone who typically isn’t informed of the inner workings of one out of many products that fall within his portfolio? sorry, that’s not true either. Each quarter when I was in the team, we’d have what we call "RTB’s" – Reviews of the Business. It’s that point in time where the team would put together a PowerPoint deck that covered everything from roadmaps through to metrics associated with the said product. BobMu was not only informed, he’d make decisions that we’d all react to post such meeting. He was informed and unless he was heavily medicated, he meant what he said.

What’s the story then?

It’s not like I didn’t warn all about this turn of events a few weeks ago, (read part one of this post). The story isn’t whether Silverlight is or isn’t dead. I don’t think Microsoft could even kill off Silverlight to make way for HTML5 just yet (HTML5 is simply still a science project in the market). I think what we are really seeing is a company as large as Microsoft in chaos.

You’ve got a President doing PR 101 mistakes, You’ve got a marketing team that double down on a single product instead of their entire UX Platform portfolio, you’ve got the Internet Explorer team writing their own messaging that confuses the masses against existing messaging. You’ve got an IE9 demo at PDC that smells, tastes and looks like a previous one in MIX07 only without the word Silverlight in it? You’ve got Silverlight not making an appearance at PDC which isn’t a bad thing given MIX is really the party for Silverlight, but given market conditions – YOU SHOW UP.

Bottom line is this, the entire Server & Tools business within Microsoft is in dire need of marketing reform. The strategy coming out of Redmond is chaotic at best, the design and develop discussion has obviously changed within the belly of the beast. The problem is, they’ve kind of forgotten to inform the masses of this and we’re only just starting to see glimpses of the inner truth now – and its frightening the kids especially when its Halloween time!

I did want to dedicate this post to how Microsoft has shut down the entire "designer engagement" strategy across all divisions, but clearly this is simply a symptom of what we’re now seeing unfold online.

Microsoft is by all outward appearance shutting down its vision of the circa 2007 UX Platform, it’s now winding it back to secondary citizen in favor of the new shiny object, HTML5?

I for one reject our new HTML5 overlords.

The problem with moving Silverlight & WPF back to the end of the visibility line, is that nobody really has sat down and asked existing rich client developers what they think of this new vision? it’s a forced entry into the market mixed with a whole bunch of messaging from the Internet Explorer team that’s labeled "Trust us, we have this covered" seal of quality assurance.

The one team in which has breed so much distrust in Microsoft. It’s probably the biggest cancer within Microsoft and is the main reason why the Consent Decree exists.

The cold hard reality is that most developers actually probably don’t want to go back to Circa 2005 development with extras (i.e. JavaScript and HTML suck). The entire HTML5 strategy is basically a mess on its own as you’ve got Browser catch-up’s that still need to be done.

You’ve got issues around browser owners looking into ways of forking the HTML5 concept to suite their own agendas? You’ve got tooling coming out slowly and half baked? You’ve got a mixed reaction of what HTML5 actually means? You’ve got anxiety over whether or not JavaScript and HTML can scale? you’ve got millions of devices today that just can’t load HTML5? You’ve got at least a 2-5 year latency effect world wide of enterprise even considering HTML5 in its current form … the list just goes on.

It’s one thing to get onto a soap box and declare a true x-platform strategy like HTML5 the future? it’s one thing to say "open standards or bust" as being the mission statement of the world’s future software ecosystem.

Someone just point out where the strategy exists for moving people both willingly and unwillingly across the desktop/plug-in divide over to this new world, because if Microsoft is running this show, we’re all basically f#$%ked – I say this as right now, they couldn’t organize a virgin in a brothel to get laid (as they would be too busy fighting over which girl was the prettiest).

Silverlight vs WPF vs HTML5?

Pete Brown last week released a blog post around the future of WPF which talked about successes and hints at the future of the platform. Pete did something extremely hard in making this post come together, he went internally and asked a simple question "Where is this bus heading?" and that’s just before PDC2010 as well – big hat goes off to Pete for pulling this together, as many have tried and failed that little mission.

It’s still not enough though! – now before you grab your pitchforks and declare me a jaded hateful ex-WPF/Silverlight team member, hear me out.

The reason I say it’s not enough is that we just heard 200+ engineers are working on Silverlight/WPF and looking at the new additions to WPF, i can’t but help wonder how thinly the team are spread. There is a lot of surface area to cover inside WPF, the biggest of which is around performance and getting line of business grade features onto the table. The WPF team are reacting to the data they have and unless there is radical changes since October last year in the way they get this data, it’s still a ways off (the product usage data etc inside Microsoft is simply disconnected and a mess, features are skewed between what looks fun vs politics etc).

It’s not enough, there needs to be a consolidated marketing strategy around the product(s), there needs to be an Evangelism rhythm that maps out how this drum beat gets played out worldwide, i.e. its one thing to announce how you intend to build something – its entirely another to actually get that message to every developer you possibly can.

It also needs to connect back to Silverlight. It needs to fit in with how developers can navigate the ye olde "It Depends" response from Microsoft. The guidance Pete used was old, I know as it was something we crafted back in July last year – "Use Silverlight until you hit a wall, then go WPF" was pretty much the summary we came up with (even then I remember thinking, that’s just bullshit but what else can we say? WPF is dead? :D)

WPF also needs to connect back into HTML5? so how does the new IE9 overlords and WPF play in the same sandpit together? at what point do you separate the two? Windows 8 team have ideas on this, but I’m pretty much betting that the HTML5 story will get more air play in that pool of brilliance.

Summary.

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Lots has been said in the past month, bottom line is this. The technology is currently a big software buffet, we have loads of options and different portions on the table to pick from. We need informative views more so than ever now, given the emerging mobility vs. desktop discussion and more importantly how all these pieces fit together.

Microsoft lacks the marketing muscle right now to answer these questions, they simply just don’t have the maturity needed to lead this vision forward. You’ve got pretty much majority of the executive branch abandoning ship and the competitors they used to just sweep the legs out from under are basically starting to get their act together.

Adobe for one has its act together finally, I’ve watched this company for years fumble around in the dark around this entire discussion. At MAX 2010, they not only connected it together but they did so in a way that is slow, simple and has the appearance of saturation + ubiquity.

Microsoft’s shows up and starts waving its hands in the air about Internet Explorer 9, Azure and how Silverlight is now winding down – not to mention zero WPF discussion (except for Rob Relyea – owner of WPF Team – picking up the Developer Platform & Evangelism divisions dropped ball and doing a PDC session on WPF).

Bob Muglia needs to really take a hard look at his organization tree and start putting together a plan of reform. This isn’t a technology problem anymore, it’s a marketing one pure and simple.

As for Silverlight Marketing Team getting ahead of the PDC2010 fall out? – “Out of Office” summarizes it all.

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WPF has no Product Manager.

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WPF has a lot of potential going for it, it’s one of these products that you absolutely hate upfront when you first start on its learning curve but over time you grow to love it dearly as it unleashes a lot of creative potential within you early.

There’s been a lot of talk recently around its futures, namely by myself but also in various forums, discussion lists and so on. It’s both healthy but at the same time it’s not being heard by the right people internally within Microsoft.

WPF has a few problems to sort out, firstly there is what I call the convincing phase, in that getting people to initial embrace the latest version of .NET 4.0 is a challenge unto itself – which has next to no marketing attached. The second challenge, is the ask that folks get behind the learning curve / investment of adopting WPF instead of Silverlight for desktop based solutions. It’s a challenge because Silverlight Out of Browser has confused a little on which is best for what and where. The last but most important challenge of all is the learning curve attached to WPF, as it’s somewhat a very chaotic and noisy Google search to undertake.

Why adopt WPF?

In 2007, I was an Evangelist for Microsoft via Australia for this question. I’d probably give you some prescribed marketing spin that went something like this:

“WPF is for ultimate experience, Silverlight is for great experiences and lastly AJAX/HTML is for good experiences”

I’d then throw up a slide and show you the three pillars of Microsoft UX Platform and how we as a company are investing big into the futures of developer & designer productivity. Its obvious that was a lie, and apologies to any who bought it – as even I bought it.

The reality behind why adopt WPF is simple, you have full control over your user experience on a Windows based PC (both Windows XP  and Vista/Windows7). You have more ubiquity (70% of Windows machines today – have at least .NET 3.5 installed) than Silverlight and in many ways typically have more support around API’s then Silverlight. You have a much more engaging interop story (ie access to the quasi 3D now in WPF but should you want to go big, you can again via interop do more). You have  now a descent amount of download size as well, roughly ~40mb give or take to deploy with.

I could list a whole bunch more reasons, but the end summary is that WPF has a lot of positives attached to it today than people typically think or know?

If it’s so good, Why is WPF dying then?

I’ve thought about this question a lot since leaving the WPF/Silverlight teams. I’ve blogged about the fact I think its dead, I’ve explained many times over the reasons why there is internal politics getting in the way but ultimately what it comes back to is simply a Product Management problem. As a former Product Manager of this product, I simply wasn’t doing my job for WPF. I ignored it, it was easy to do so as Silverlight was the main star in this theater.

WPF isn’t being evangelized anymore, it has zero marketing and more importantly the development team within Microsoft are tasked with all of this as well as partner hand holding and actually development of the said product. Scott Guthrie can throw a random 200+ engineers are working on it all he likes, but ask anyone internally if I’m lying about who does what and where, and I will guarantee you the bulk of the work falls into the hands of the WPF Engineering team to do it all solo.

Point and case, Evernote this week blogged about how they abandoned WPF and went C++ instead, citing performance reasons etc. as the reason(s) why. Fair enough, but what struck me is odd was that none of the usual suspects where jumping ahead of this PR issue, in that typically you see something like this you quickly put some spin on it, reassure the masses with your said messaging framework and rinse/repeat until you get downright annoying about how good WPF is still.

Didn’t happen.

Still not convinced? take Windows 7 Launch. I remember seeing an internal memo about how the said campaign was going to work and more importantly how $300million+ in marketing budget was going to be spent convincing the world that Windows 7 is a good bet this time round. “I’m a PC” was born.

I also remember sitting in a team meeting discussing what story we would pitch for WPF/Silverlight around Windows 7? we soon learnt that Windows 7 had the same developer story as it did Windows Vista. This then resulted in the team deciding that since there was nothing new or shiny to talk about, we’d just leave it be.

This frustrated a colleague and myself. The reason being is that who said Windows Vista + WPF got traction? who said we still couldn’t use the same goals as we did back then! I mean our team even re-branded .NET logo to fit into a more up to date branding strategy.

We simply didn’t go out there and market .NET 4.0 or 3.5 along with Windows 7. We should have been hitting the usual channels, promoting how with WPF you can get blah blah potential out the door. We should have been investing heavily into adoption channels, ensuring the future of tomorrows .NET developer was embracing Windows as well as the potential for cross-platform, cross-device and cross-browser technologies.

Learn once today, Use many tomorrow – or a cheesy tag line like that should have been conjured.

Instead Silverlight is and now Wp7 are being pushed as the sole future(s) of Microsoft. It’s no wonder the Windows team aren’t on board with DevDiv, as when you take a step back and look at what they have to leverage from the developer community – then you are left with a solution that basically works in all other platforms as well as their own? the only chance you get of keeping that genie in the bottle is to bake features that are Windows Specific into place – yet this won’t bode well as that level of adjustment to an existing agnostic product won’t happen as it simply deposits large amount(s) of hate debt into the bank from developers world wide (embrace and extend is a known tactic of Microsoft that breeds distrust and disagreement)

WPF needs Product Management 101

PDC has finally got one session in its talk agenda that is focused on WPF. It took the guy in charge of WPF’s development teams to step up and do Microsoft Developer/Platform Evangelism Team(s) (DPE) job. Rob is an awesome guy and I have a deep amount of respect for his work, it just seems downright disappointing that he’s got to focus on a session talk instead of sitting in a bubble thinking up better ways to develop WPF’s future(s).

MIX and TechEd for the last 2 years has had little next to none (I can think of anyway) WPF discussions happening, essentially Microsoft is putting WPF on its ignore list.

What needs to happen is Product Management 101, there needs to be an actual WPF Product Manager dedicated to its future. At the moment that role fits under the Silverlight Team at best, and is thinly spread between Silverlight, Windows Phone 7 and any if not all Rich Platform compete issues ranging from Adobe centric through to the threat of HTML5. There is no one person really owning this problem, just a few directors appearing to.

Product Management is about protecting the brand, it’s about sitting down with partners and figuring out what features worked vs what didn’t. It’s about thinking about how your competitors are doing xyz and then coming up with ways to differentiate from them. It’s about working with community leads (corporate and street evangelists) ensuring they understand your vision for the future of the said product. It’s about crafting a marketing channel (web page, blog etc) that echoes your reasons for why it exists, where its heading and what successes and failures its had. It’s about investing in learning material on features that are rated the hardest and letting developers discover the ones on their own that are less harder (it plays into the psychology of learning, if you learn something that is a little hard but tad easy, your confidence levels rise). It’s about ensuring others are inspired by your products vision and compete with one another to create beautiful experiences that go beyond your initial baseline of expectations.

None of this exists today. It all sits in the hands of the engineering team who are doing all this and actually coding at the same time.

Scott Guthrie said there were 200+ engineers working on WPF & Silverlight. How many are working on WPF and more importantly how many people are marketing WPF & .NET 4.0 today? If its more than one, then tell me, what have they done lately?

As I seem to be the most vocal guy on the planet right now about WPF and nobody has challenged me head-on in proving me wrong?

I’ve often thought about what I’d say if someone actually asked me to move back to Microsoft Corp and take on this role? my first answer would be – I want to sit next to the development teams and I want a ring fenced budget that I spend solely on WPF, give me those and I’ll do the job again, only this time I’ll execute more precisely.

Ruby On Rails has less to work with and they’ve kicked Microsoft’s butt so badly now, that its now considered a competitive threat! do more with less I guess?

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

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

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

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

Every tribe pedigree needs an evangelist.

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

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

The metric system suffocates evangelism.

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

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

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

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

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

Product Team vs. Evangelist

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

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

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

Sponsoring an Evangelist vs. Hiring one.

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

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

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

How does this relate to UX Platform?

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

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

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

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

Scott Out

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Windows Phone 7 – Where is Don Draper when you need him?

I’m looking at the latest in many of bad experiences found on Microsoft.com regarding the new improved Windows Phone 7. My first thoughts are, I guess the budget was low this year for the website but then thinking on it i’m probably going to wager that around $200-$500k USD was probably spent on this site via some internal global vendor.

Let me deconstruct the site so you can maybe get a sense of what I see (Lots of visuals). I’ll also compare it to the already entrenched and spark of creation for this phone – the iPhone and its respective site.

Value Propositions.

If you’re taking a product to market, you pretty settle on what you would call the “Value Proposition” in that its your initial promise that you want people to remember the most – it’s what I call the impact / aka upper cut. Windows Phone 7 isn’t clear on what its main value proposition is, its a phone OS which is fine, but what does this phone do that all phones don’t do. More to the point, why did Microsoft spend so much time and energy getting this phone ready for market – what’s the secret sell or sizzle that I’m about to be knocked over in its sheer awesomeness?

Comparison.

Microsoft

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The very first entry page of the site (assuming I come in from here) puts me through approx 5sec animation of what the introduction to the phone is. The first parts are a bunch of squares or tiles which overload me with brands ranging from Bing to Zune (care factor, as these aren’t a household name as yet world wide)?

 

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Secondly I’m hit with what I can only describe as Dr Suess style messaging.

…Say hello to Windows phone
the only phone with live tiles.
less stop and stare more glance and go
less out of touch more in the know?..

I don’t even know what that means. Live tiles? stop and stare? is that even a problem? its less out of touch and more in the know? what do you mean?

It’s one thing to open with a question to trigger an action, its another to completely ignore you and confuse.

Looking beyond the animation and assuming you can read the sequences fast enough, let’s assume the user scans down to the bottom, where I can only guess as being the main hubs of navigation.

  • Explore my choices.
    I’m guessing this is a good start for me to shop for the said phone, important if i already know ahead of time about the phone and i just want to jump straight into purchase mode.
  • Make Windows Phone Yours.
    Demo area, good, so you have a virtual phone I can play with. I’m liking this, as rather then sit through silly marketing speak, i can just play. I click on this, boom, Facebook.com – guess what guys, most corporations around the world specifically block Facebook as a URL given the ample amount of time waste that goes on there (hey i disagree with this but it is what it is). Furthermore, why am I now on facebook? and why aren’t i able to just play with this inside the same website? what If I want to explore what else you have to say? where are my options?
  • The place to shop?
    Oh so this is Microsoft’s “AppStore” ok, I’m seeing some potential here, but can we first establish what the phone is first? I’ll get to that a bit later maybe?

Where is the navigation? oh its the small text above in vertical stack formation with poor spacing.

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Apple

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The first thing you see when you visit the iPhone website is a highly impact visible slide show presentation on the value proposition of the iPhone4. Its bright, its impactful and no branding overload. They could of went to town here on Google maps, iTunes, eBay, Safari etc.. they didn’t, they kept it on point and you focused – here’s what the phone can do that we think is important  upfront.

They also underpin the value propositions with clear well spaced list and palatable enough read around what the said slide show probably just told you should you still not pay full attention. The point is, they are reinforcing what they think you should be focused on and not distracting you off the site. They are making the pitch to you, and are working hard to retain your full attention.

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Looking below this page, notice how they break the navigation into areas of interest. It essentially is attacking the user from a matrix of context as in for those who just want to know what;s inside the phone, features is probably a good bet. For those who are interested in the design of the phone, again, feast your eyes on that link called – Design. OS itself your cup of tea? here you go, here’s whats new and old in the operating system. Apps, Gallery and Technical specs again clearly partitioned and you can at a glance get some deep understanding of what this phone story looks like.

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Apple are very good in their website design comparison to Microsoft, but my points above here is that you are immediately left with a sense of both what’s potentially inside this new gadget as well as given a sense of spatial awareness around finding out ways to find more information should the value propositions still not convince you to go into a store and play.

The main important piece here is getting you into their stores, buying online is fine but lets face it, you will most likely want to play with this phone physically first before you buy. Once I have you in my store i can attack you from all points via customer service reps through to convincing you my promise (value prop) is true. Trust.

Less is More.

Moving beyond the initial sell, let’s go deeper into the site and explore true functionality of the phone. Having a sense of awareness of the depth of the Windows Phone 7 is important  but at the same time you don’t want to overload them with excess information. Let them play with the phone in store or virtually if you can will answer a lot of that excess data but the most important thing is to attack them in a way that they will appreciate in that – give me the basics, give me what i get that i normally wouldn’t get and lastly how does this look visually!

Comparison

Microsoft.

If you click on Discover you are given what I can only describe is a list of random points that dont seem to have a sense of grouping and lastly a sudden need to cram branding overload into the pitch.

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Why do i care about XBOX Live? Bing? Windows Live? Facebook? and more importantly where is Twitter? hey since we are in the mood for name dropping why stop with these.. point is, it’s Microsoft teams pitching themselves first customers second here. It’s obvious and shallow and unnecessary.

The headings are ok, I’m fine with the three (3) sections of break downs, but keep it simple stupid?

It gets worse, I can’t even click on the phone it’s inviting to me that the phone looks virtual, but wouldn’t this be a great opportunity for me to play around with it? explore it? go deeper? ignore your sales pitch and play? as you’re probably not helping me anyway?

As I click on each of the “Discovery Points of Interest” I soon realize that i am first meet with a tagline followed by another click on reading more? I’m all for white space Microsoft but really, this forces my reading habits to slow down to a pace that I’m probably not as comfortable with. Give me the opportunity to speed read through the areas I think could be interesting vs the ones I probably think aren’t? instead I have to go through a 3 click uninspiring process of both reading text and keeping an eye on animation(s) at the same time – i think this may actually qualify for cognitive overload.

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More importantly, what is a hub by the way? (I know because I’m an early adopter and its my job to know) but have we clarified what a Hub is on the website btw? I can’t seem to find out the story behind that? Ignoring the Hub definition if you then click on the Music + Videos Hub you will be meet with the similar looking tagline followed by a more action..clicking on the more action you are then given a fairly reasonable looking paragraph about the story of Music + Video. It however still wants me to click more on finding out about this thing called Zune (living outside the US, Zune isn’t known, so wtf is a Zune?). After that click, I’m now taking to a different area of the site with really what I call a “Well good luck, hope you figure the rest out” purpose. There’s no elegant hand off to this part of the site and more importantly you just broke my concentration.

Shallow experience here in the discovery of this phone. Microsoft are being lazy and not really delving deep into an immersive experience that gives me clear precise clarity around what this phone has or hasn’t got. I can’t skip ahead and i’m reduced to a pace that probably isn’t going to make impact.

Apple

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Let’s not muck around, Apple are good at their feature break-outs, but the thing I liked the most is you can watch a video on the phone itself (Good entry point to watch that expensive advertisement you put into TV/Online no?)

Furthermore, the page asks one thing of you, and that is “Are you happy to scroll down?” and to be fair its a habitual ask meaning its already baked into all users on the web as part of their day to day muscle memory.

The more you scroll down the more you see what’s inside the phone and its simple, Tagline, paragraph, big visual and a learn more point which takes you to a deeper insight into that feature. They position the phone well, they treat you with respect as a potential consumer and they are working hard to entice you into areas of your interest and less Apple’s.

Apple also won’t burden you with brand overload here and when they do, they do so in a way that is digestible. Constant re-use of the phone and screens within the phone that highlight areas of interest. Clicking on iPod you get a good sense of what Music will look like under the iPhone regime and yes they introduced the brand iPod – but they are allowed to, know why? iPod is ubiquitous around the world its an established brand. Zune isn’t.

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Conclusion.

image Microsoft Marketing need to wake the hell up, get back to basics and find a Don Draper style character to head-up their online presence. Loose the Barney & Friends commercials and treat this product like it was the first time in the world you’ve told people about the story of Microsoft and Phones. Stop playing a game of hide and seek with information and more importantly down-play other brands if they aren’t as well seeded.

Everyone in that team needs to pick up a book “Don’t make me think” and learn usability 101 mixed with marketing 101. Get people to stores to play with the phone, make them promises online but make sure you can back them up world-wide. This isn’t a US focused product, its a world-wide one and you need to entice the consumers in a way that makes sense to them as well as keep up to speed with your competitive issues.

This phone needs to beat iPhone and Android, and it needs to win.

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Windows Phone 7 – A phone without individuality and coming soon music?

Microsoft has announced the Windows Phone 7 officially, it’s the coming out party for this late to the market device. I’m on record saying that I think it’s a “meh” release, in that its rushed and not cleanly delivered as it could of been had there more time, but given SteveB underestimated the true potential the iPhone had on the market – here we are, today, new phone.

The phone itself technically has a lot of potential in terms of what i can and can’t do, I for one am going to buy one because this is the space I dwell in. As for consumers, i don’t see it being a rush to buy thing given a few issues with the phone that i’ve noticed already.

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The first issue is lack of individuality, as i scope out the various hardware manufacturers idea of what their Windows Phone 7 world is going to look like there is clearly a lack of remarkable differentiation between the said devices. In that so far, there’s not a lot of personality to the phones other than some minor slide-outs (some opt for physical keyboards etc) but overall it seems very lack luster in range.

Having not a lot of sizzle outside the operating system to me is an early sign of caution, as phones are really part function but also equally part form (it’s a fashion item as well as a worker focused technology).

The most important aspect that I felt the phone has definitely come up short on is the lack of Zune subscription world wide. I’ve got a Zune subscription in the US via my US Credit Card, so for me I’ve been leeching off this cheap approach to solving my music issues. I pay approx $15 USD a month or so, and I get all the music i want for free via my Zune Device and Desktop (It’s DRM and expires in 3 months unless i reconnect to the Zune Marketplace with a content sync).

Not having this subscription channel straight out of the box basically makes the phone part-brain dead as for me this and XBOX-lite games are probably the two focal points of differentiators for “reasons to ditch Andriod/iPhone” for average consumer.

Why is Zune Music subscription important to Windows Phone 7

It firstly seeds an entrenched market, iTunes currently holds supremacy over our music purchases online, and having to pay $2 per song basically creates a polarizing effect on individuals as on one hand buying the album is cheaper than a physical one in stores but on the other hand why buy when you can pirate?

Piracy is an issue that has a lot of tentacles but one component of piracy is lack of access to a credit card. I mean, take an average 15 year old kid who no doubt is into music to get them through puberty blues. These kids don’t have access to credit cards all the time, so the moment they need to buy a song or two, its a case of bugging parents for the said funds. I’d wager most parents give the kid the brush off and so they are left to pirating off their friends etc for the said songs.

Zune subscription however allows parents to buy a monthly/yearly subscription model. This in turn can then be a gift based approach which in turn can also mean the whole house not just the one child can access the said subscription.

It gets better, having this one child gain access to a library of music is one thing but then freely being able to send the said music selection to other friends is also a potential body punch to piracy amongst this said target audience. It also creates a natural evangelism for Zune subscription and if marketed and managed well it basically can put some much needed pressure on Apple iTunes etc, point is this story can be told in a number of different ways all pointing towards an interesting differentiation between Apple and Microsoft.

Combine the subscription model with Microsoft Points (ie XBOX Live etc) and you also have an abstracted currency exchange that can mask users from emotive based purchasing (who knows how much 923pts translates to in real dollar terms off the top of their heads!)

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Zune needs to go global first time out, it sends a strong message about being feature complete for version 1. Failing to do so and via the usual trickle in late to the party progressive disclosure marketing – aka Microsoft Marketing 101 – simply fails to gain awareness as much as it could or should.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did I do it?

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

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

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

What did I say?

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

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

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

WPF is dead

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

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

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

HTML5 is the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Microsoft: Stop the shiny object syndrome.

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It’s soon time for yet another product roll out, you’re in the marketing team and faced with a urgent issue – we need example demos to excite the developer base?. Like most other Product Managers you look for the nearest and latest vendor, drop a few hundred thousand in their laps and say the words “Can you make it WoW” and then proceed to wait.

The agency at times will come back with a result that’s either really fantastic or really short on execution – in my exp I’ve noticed more of the later. You then take that said demo, slap on the Microsoft branding on it then send it out into the wild as your own – don’t ask, don’t tell is your response on “how”.

Those of you who kind of know how the behind the scenes works on these kind of things are ok with it, as its part of the machine in which a market gets seeded with the said product. Those of you who look at the new shiny toy on offer are excited and are waiting for the final result. Waiting… waiting…and more waiting but it doesn’t often come.

You probably didn’t get the meme on why end of year reviews come internally come and go which in turn means that all work created in the first fiscal cannot be re-echoed in the second fiscal – so yes, the cool little agency built concept gets thrown out with the previous fiscals trash.

This is how Microsoft markets its products daily ranging from websites, applications through to random programs that are meant to simplify your world into a few bullet points or less.

The reality is this, it gets to a point where you simply just roll your eyes at every new announcement and essentially approach it with an element of contempt or cynicism. To be fair, you’re suffering from the old “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me” effect.

Microsoft really needs to knock it off, its getting somewhat annoying for the customer base. At first I just ignored this overall effect as well I was like many part of the said machine. Now being on the outside of Microsoft and hanging out with the “customers” and “developers” I can see the negative effects it has on the perception of Microsoft today first hand.

I almost want to grab Steve Ballmer and make him sit down in frontline cubicles incognito – like that show where boss’s go undercover in their companies – and get him to see the negative impacts these poorly executed marketing strategies are having.

Disagree? how about this, what if someone were to create a timeline of all the new example apps and promises Microsoft has made in the last 5 years. Then if we were to look at the ones that have sustained beyond a fiscal year, how many do you think would be left?

Microsoft needs to re-focus, re-energize and re-think their current strategies as I think its getting to the point now where there is more noise less signal. I should know as I make a tidy profit right now decoding Microsoft to customers and once they get over the initial shock comes anger then acceptance.

example:

Customer:
“Why didn’t the team do xyz”

Me:
“Because the other team in the org didn’t like it so they had to work around the said team. It’s not an external factor, just an internal political thing”

Customer:
“but i loved it!”

Me:
“Yeah, it was a good idea, anyway..”

Think I’m wrong? ask Microsoft how its going with the design audience discussions? Ask the Windows team what they think of WPF / Silverlight and how HTML5 will play a role? you’ll be quite surprised at the answers of these two questions.

I call this “the shiny object syndrome” (ie once the shine leaves or it gets boring, you’re onto the next one and so on like its seasonal fashion)

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RIAGENIC is a UX/UI Business.

It’s been a couple of months now since I went full time into focusing on growing a UI/UX business for myself. I thought I’d share my thoughts / notes and adventures along the way so far in the whole Microsoft UX/UI space as a freelancer.

Which are you? a developer or designer?

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How far we have come and yet how so little we have learnt! As someone who worked in/with the Silverlight/Expression teams to make sure the message that Microsoft has entered the UX space and that we’re essentially building a mutated Developer meets Designer and vice versa pixel ninja type person, the reality is people still need to put you into a category.

I often find myself torn between which side of that fence line I sit. As to be blunt i can do both, I know every single API inside Silverlight/WPF like the back of my hand, I can code in 9 languages outside of .NET and aren’t script kiddy languages either. I can do 3D and 2D design to the point where many have commented on my abilities here as being “eye for design” or “you are freakish good” but still i’m tormented by having to pigeonhole myself either category.

The reality is people aren’t ready to accept the person who can do both just yet and it takes a lot of proof to build trust that you can do both. I’ll let you know how I go with this journey over time but for now suffice to say, its new territory for me and yet still profitable as I can easily pick left or right and just swim in either pool where needed.

I need a UX guy urgently.

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I’ve seen this a lot in the past 8 months. I get called in at the last sprint or towards the end of a project and find myself having to triage features vs design vs engineering constraints. It’s the worst time to engage a UX/UI person(s) as in the end you’re asking for a Hail Marry – “can you make this UI look good and functional oh and don’t change the code base in the process?” is a common brief.

The trick I’ve learnt is that I can do it, it just takes a lot more patience and focus –, and you really need to know every single backdoor into Blend as well as the Silverlight/WPF API’s. IT is a challenge but can be a success   if there is enough time  and the communication is clear and expectations are set properly.

The bottom line is folks – Engage early and often. Even if its just 1 or 2hrs of their time per week or day, make sure you have someone in the room who bleeds UI/UX from the beginning of the project. Don’t engage late as the price will go up you won’t be able to salvage as much as you think by then  it’s not a UX consultation its just a pixel polish.

I don’t use Blend, just Visual Studio.

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You are breaking my design heart when you say this to me. Everybody right now who reads this open up Blend and pick a fight with it. If you take the time to get to know it and get to know it well, then when used right can help you out enormously with both Silverlight and WPF development. If you’re a person who likes to indent and keep their XAML neat, stop right now, you are trying to skate up hill.

XAML is not meant to be a hands-on language. It’s a common data format created to allow Design and Code tools to work against the same model without giving up their inherent capabilities. If you are editing it by hand just stop as you are not doing it right.

Pick a color any color.

The amount of times I’ve walked into an engagement and seen a rainbow of colors in the UI has left me thinking that it’s not so much a lack of will power around design it’s more the reality that not everyone is up to speed with color theory (there is a science to color selection).

The easiest tip I give people is this. Typically a brand has one or two colors that are used the majority of the time,  then they  will use white or black for the majority of the content depending on the background composition (white for dark, and black for light). When you design a User Interface for your next Silverlight/WPF project, pick one or two colors and create a ResourceDictionary called [ThemeName]Colors.

ColorePalette Then take that color and break into four shades (2x dark, darker and 2x light, lighter). Now then select what I call your chrome colors, these are the colors you would use for the outer chrome of your UI, in windows its typically around 4x shades of gray (light, lighter, dark, darker) and label them accordingly (i.e. chrmeAccent1, chrmeAccent2) etc. Keep your color naming conventions abstract (use camel or Pascal case – whatever lights your design candle).

Now don’t use any more colors. Lock that in and use these. Don’t deviate at all from this plan unless you have a designer person in the room who is held responsible for retaining the product/projects brand.

Lastly and this is the most important thing I can say to developers world wide:- Don’t use bold colors. Stick to pastel or light colors as you’re typically not ready for the hurdles that bold colors can throw at you. In saying this I did also notice that the MetroTheme that Microsoft has put into play has me a little nervous as it relies heavily on bold color scheming – which is great and cheap way of avoiding depth in a UI but at the same time creates a potential color scheming hazard around highlights vs lowlights and focal areas of your GUI composition.

Typography is also another concern of mine as too much reliance of ye olde text can put UI two steps back instead of forward – people don’t like to read in general, visuals often handle the workload – review the many articles available on “extraneous cognitive load” for proof of this.

MVVM that is all.

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I get that some of you want to get gung-ho with PRISM, MEF or your own framework. Bottom line is this, if you’re starting out and haven’t figured out the tricks and hacks just yet of WPF/Silverlight then you are better off  sticking to  simple MVVM. It handles 90% of your workload and doesn’t require you to learn  WPF/Silverlight and an extra layer of complexity at the same time.

Keep it simple, work to the idea that the code you write in the first year of WPF/Silverlight is code you will want to throw away or refactor later on. It’s natural you write bad code or work onto something that a year later you’ll look back on and proudly say “What was i thinking”. You’ve got your Microsoft UX training wheels on, embrace this openly and you’ll do just fine. Walk into a room and pretend you have it all under control and you’ll fold eventually as you can’t credibly hold that facade for too much longer.

If you can also check out AutoFac as well, this again will compliment your codebase nicely. MEF/PRISM are really for folks who have a team of engineers and are looking to build a complex mammoth size system – that’s the reality even if Microsoft try to deliver a different message  – I’m an ex Microsoft Product Manager so I can spin with the best of them 🙂 hehe.

UI and UX are two different things.

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I need to say this out loud. If you ask someone to do UI, then they will do just that; focus on designing a user interface for an existing concept. If you need someone to wireframe and help you figure out how the whole user interface can be built, that’s where a UX person comes in. They are two different work streams just like a developer and a DBA are different.

You can find people who do both, but keep that in mind.

Oh, I need someone local.

Yes, having someone onsite is definitely a goal a team should always be on the hunt for. SCRUM teams etc benefit from this and it doesn’t need to be evangelized further. I will say however though, having someone working remotely can be just as effective especially a guy like me in Australia.

I say this, as at the moment I’m working on a project with Microsoft and it’s working out in our favor as while they sleep I work, while they work I sleep and we’re able to have a show & tell (i.e. remote stand-up) with one another where the design and development work can meet in the middle actually pretty well. As I’m able to say “ok here’s what I’ve done for you, its in your inbox when you wake up” and in the afternoons they’re able to go “ok, here’s what I need for you to start my day tomorrow” and so the cycle is a 24hr development run that works quite well.

It’s not for everyone but so far I’ve found  it works without any issues other than an expensive mobile/cell bill from my end lol.

Show me some of your work?

There’s a reason why painters and builders never work on their own house – same goes for me. This blog as weak as it looks is still the  front door  for my company – RIAGENIC. I need to get off my ass this month and put my site up but the problem I have is distilling what I do into a webpage that makes sense as I’m my worst client (picky, arrogant and will agonize over every pixel and paragraph in the site).

I also need to find  a way to promote me but at the same time associate myself with a brand, so that for me is a tricky marketing hurdle. I’ll soon see if I can pull it off! 🙂

Find people you can trust and don’t have to babysit.

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I’ve worked with a lot of developers in my time, nothing annoys me more than baby sitting incompetence. I’m fine with newbies learning the ropes, that I find far more rewarding as you’re working with someone who has passion and a determination to learn. It’s the people who are lazy and expect you to spoon feed them every 5mins on “how”. I didn’t learn Cinema4D by sitting next to a 3D wizard and ask “Ok so how do I write an xpresso script that makes the wheels rotate per frame”, I sat on Google and the objective was this “Find how to make wheels rotate in xpresso” and eventually I found it. Along the way I learnt a lot about Cinema4D and Xpresso as i was hunting for my answers.

If you work with me, I will set the benchmark high per person I meet, I will quickly assess your skill set and then raise the bar to challenge you to meet it as I do want to work with people who get it and are smart at what they do.

That being said, I love nothing more than coming into a cubicle of developers and feeling like I’m the newbie in the room as now I’m in learning from others mode.

At the moment I’m working with Joseph Cooney (one of WPF’s first MVP and of learnwpf.com fame). I’m learning heaps from interacting with this guy, and its a fun project at the moment we are on. I don’t have to babysit him and he doesn’t have to babysit me. We just looked at the specifications, agreed on a solution structure and boom, were’ off grinding pixels and code.

The next job I go to where they need a WPF/Silverlight dev etc, Joseph is one i’d recommend – again, its about networking and building relationships and finding people who you can trust and work alongside.

Reputation is a false economy.

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I often hear how folks worry over their reputation. I’ve watched people spend way to much time either building or recovering it from a bad project etc. The simple truth to this from what I’ve learnt is that if you know your work, you approach things with openly and honesty and don’t dump and run as well as admit mistakes, you’ll come out fine.

Just focus on doing good work, reputation has a habit of following and self regulating itself over time.

At times people I’ve heard bad things about on a project often aren’t the ones at fault as  the recruiter / business development sales person didn’t set expectations appropriately or the project was a train wreck well before this person arrived and they were the last ones to hold the steering wheel as it went off the road.

Agile/SCRUM is not a religion.

I’ve seen a lot of developers follow this concept by the book to the point where I often wonder if they are conscious of how badly they have gotten. The correct way and the natural way are two different things and in the end communication is the core piece to this.

Stop arguing over protocol and just focus on establishing a clear line of communication and work on getting estimations as close as you can while at the same time admitting to your fellow team mates the moment you can’t do something or are over on your estimate – just put up your hand and say a simple word – “help”. I personally work under the assumption I’m the dumbest guy in the room, it keeps me calibrated and if you work with me and think “geez i thought that guy knew all of this” that’s fine, but i probably do, but i’ll ask anyway just to make sure.

I’ve felt the wrath of a false hero before, and I ended up having to do his work and mine at the same time only to be burnt for it later on. I could of thrown this person under a bus and said “well actually it was his fault” but in reality, I just absorbed the blame and avoided working with this person since.

That is all.

Note: I am a UX/UI Ninja for hire.

Contact me at scott at this domain.

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Adobe, you lose.

Like you, I’ve watched from the sidelines this whole Apple vs. Adobe battle take place and can’t but help laugh at Adobe. It’s like watching a geek get all agro because the pretty girl in the class ignores his advances and no matter what he tries, it just isn’t meant to be.

Let’s look at this from a different lens?

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Apple set out years ago to create a mobile device; they built this idea from scratch and spent millions marketing it to the world. It changed the way we look at mobile devices as fast forward today, the iPhone, has more copycat products on the market than any I’ve seen so far. Apple did what it said it would do, it thought differently and it worked. The problem is that it’s up to Apple what goes on it and what doesn’t and for Adobe to sit on the sidelines and piss and moan about “open” is somewhat boring and pathetic. Here a company like Adobe is lecturing Apple on innovation online? Did I miss the big invention of Adobe somewhere?

Adobe honestly thinks they can turn an entire iPhone user base against Apple?

For instance, I remember being on Microsoft campus the day the iPhone 3Gs came out. I remember working late the night before and creeping back home around 5am, driving past AT&T store at Redmond. There was a line around the block so others could get a slice of the iPhone for themselves and as I drove past I noticed a lot of familiar faces in the Microsoft staff directory, some whom would probably get a scolding or initial look at the time for “buying the competitor”.

Today, it’s rumored 30,000 active iPhone connections exist on campus – yet – Microsoft is one of Apple’s biggest competitors? You have people inside the company who bleed blue and would shoot some venomous action your way at the mere sight of seeing the Apple logo. Still folks lined up around the block at 5am to buy this device.

Adobe’s Marketing and Evangelism have simply lost the plot as they are forgetting this is what they are up against, their sole priority is to discredit Apple – to remind you that Apple are a dictatorship and they are starving the world of “potential” innovation.

Here’s the thing though, I’m yet to see Adobe do anything exciting past its Photoshop and After Effects tooling. Flash is a product where I simply see less value in its existence and a product which I may add that Silverlight has not only caught up to in features but in many ways overtaken.

The thing is they’ve had market share with Flash for almost a decade and nothing bad decisions, terrible product marketing and countless stories of their developer/designer community abandonments. Steve Jobs was right, they are and were lazy. As that’s why Microsoft said “enough, let’s make our own” and that’s why others like Apple are following this line of thinking – two giant brands disregarding Flash? Coincidence?

Same playbook, different victim

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When we would compete head to head with Flash back in Silverlight’s infancy we often were the ones of their targeted attacks, much like Apple is today. We’d have constant skirmishes back and forth over random events or some snarky blog comment here and there. Basically the same playbook they are using on Apple today came from Microsoft vs. Adobe and yet despite their attempts they’ve never won on both battle fronts.

Adobe want in on the iPhone Apple said no, I have no dog in this fight other than to say, I’m happy with the way Apple have been pushing the innovation in today’s marketplace and I’m yet to see Adobe even come close to both Microsoft or Apple when it comes to the word innovation.

Today, Adobe just seems to be immature and have finally over-inflated the brands ego. I think Adobe is on a downward spiral for a couple of years as this kind of behavior is going to hit their bottom line, which you can guarantee.

I read this latest post from mesh and just roll my eyes and I actively wonder if Mike actually believes in the spin he’s typing?

http://www.mikechambers.com/blog/2010/05/14/adobe-on-open-markets/

How much more kool-aid can one drink?

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Lifting the Apple vs. Adobe compete veil

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

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

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

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

The lesser of two evils.

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

The answer is – it depends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is Microsoft in all this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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