Xamarin & Microsoft merger may yet prove useful to designers.

The .NET community has been fractured for quite some time when it comes to mobile development, and a large amount of hate debt has been banked as a result. Products like Xamarin have been given the appropriate amount of adoption because they have a more agnostic vision of how .NET could work in a truly x-platform / x-device arena.

However, the approach to date isn’t an easy stroll down success lane, as to develop a mobile app even with Xamarin you’re faced with two decisions to begin with. Xamarin “native” or Xamarin “Forms”, each having their own set of pro’s and con’s attached from a pure “developer-centric” perspective.

Next decision after that is how do you design for three platforms (*maybe two*) and still retain constancy – yes I said constancy, not consistency. On one hand designing apps to work inside iPhone is different to how they work in Android – but only up to a specific context (as tradeoffs and split thinking naturally then occurs).

In order to achieve this, you have to essentially begin the same set of compromises you would make with the web, forking your feature design/development vision to accommodate and absorb the various limitations imposed on each platform in accordance to the restraints Xamarin imposes on top (ie there’s an element of decay implied).

To compound issues further, you then have Xamarin not really adhering to the previous iterations of XAML (aka Avalon) and whilst it looks kind of like XAML, it’s really in many ways just XML with limitations (ie you can’t really animate with it using the same Storyboard composition as you once had with Silverlight/WPF and so on). Xamarin’s XAML is the panacea we want but isn’t the same.

Now you have to programmatically design your composition with either a designer’s comps on your second monitor as a guide or worse, the designer is over your shoulder offering feedback loop hell.

Xamarin failed thus abandon it?

Hell no, Xamarin has all the ingredients one would need to really get the .NET x-platform / x-device story going, in fact, I’m more frustrated at the post platform execution than its original foundation itself. The secondary parts above can easily be fixed provided there’s some stronger thinking imposed about how “creative influence” applies to the composition of design – that is to say, at what point does the designer have free control over composition without haggling with a developer on limitations artificially imposed due to what i can only guess at being resource allocation issues on Xamarin’s part.

This, in turn, means that one would need to approach the composition of a Xamarin vNext with the idea or intent of using XAML/C# marriage the way .NET gods intended. What that means to say is that if you took the same conceptual develop/design pipeline that .appx or .xap has today and applied this to Mobile development this, in turn, unites the developer & designer workflow under the one constancy based banner, which in return reduces less feature editing / design cut-aways.

Why is this important?

In 2007, we were faced with a mission to get Designers more engaged with Developers, and that’s why Silverlight/WPF was born. We had small amount of success but in truth, we were side-tracked on conflicting priorities and poor management to really dig in on that same set of problems. Today, the various technical platforms have shifted but the core fundamental issue hasn’t gone away, in fact, it’s gotten smarter about how the two worlds collide – sadly, Microsoft has never really gotten an invite to that discussion due to its retreat positioning.

Microsoft’s answer, in general, has been to remove the designer from the equation given its complexity, instead, they gave developers a cookie-cut style template titled “metro/modern UI design” (aka Paint by numbers developer art) thinking that if you reduce the composition of design to basic minimal aesthetics, you, in turn, reduce the burden or need to have a designer influence the creative process.

That strategy is an utter failure and I’d promote the theory that the reason why Windows Phone has failed as a product is solely due to the UI (given the phone hardware is perfect, development SDK is the easiest by far but the design integration .. too boring, too hard).

Xamarin merger with Microsoft now has the potential to reboot a company’s mobile strategy in a way that it needs more than ever before, however, if the two worlds continue to solely double down on “developers, developers, developers” that don’t factor in “designers, designers, designers” all we really have achieved now is a license model reduction, better Visual Studio support, stronger echo chamber but still a designer stalemate, resulting in continued “developer-only” circle jerk sessions.

Related Posts:

Windows 9 – replacing it with a triumvirate of products

This morning I saw a question posted to the local OzDotNet mailing list I subscribe to (i love me some DL action).  I thought I’d keep this response on my blog for two reasons – I love the sound of my own voice (dah) and this is starting to become a default response I keep giving over and over privately and in parts publicly?

I have noticed in a few places discussions comparing the UI and API of WinRT with Silverlight, and suggesting that it (WinRT) is preferable. Mostly, these were quite old posts (a series of 6 or more at SharpGIS was my first sense of this).  

It does raise the possibility that Windows / Microsoft will rebirth or rethink some technologies.

Related (in my eyes, anyway), apparently there is a wider discussion about Windows 9 (based on leaks and conjecture) suggesting that there is to be a complete rethink of Windows market segments in Windows 9 “Threshold”.

It’s summarised here in InfoWorld (December 2013) in an article by some bloke named Woody Leonhard.

He sets the tone in his first sentence:

“If independent leaks are to be believed, Windows chief Terry Myerson appears to be dismantling the Jekyll-and-Hyde monstrosity that is Windows 8, instead replacing it with a triumvirate of products that people and companies will actually want.”

I’ll be interested in Scott’s comments on the triumverate of products, including the quote that refers to Terry Myerson’s supposed intentions.

 

My thoughts/Reply

I don’t know much about the future of Microsoft because I suspect not many INSIDE Microsoft themselves have a clear definitive handle on that (not to sound jaded, i honestly do believe they are still haggling over how to raise the broken into fixable solutions).

I would say this, the company has built up enough equity in the past to make a full focused run at Consumer adoption for products that would typically sell reasonably if not better in enterprise/smallbiz but they in the end hit a wall. I think it was mainly they didn’t understand the consumers needs and were to busy trying to graph compete strategies they have used on Enterprise into the same space as consumers (Internally Microsoft can be quite aggressive and paralysed with fear around competitive events – its a huge weakness imho).

If you were to unpack Windows 8 today and really take a step back from it all, there’s not a lot of negativity associated with what they have done. I look at Windows 8 as the parity release between Silverlight/WPF and all the fixes customers (devs) wanted but it was delivered in a way that traumatised the base. It could have been delivered with a softer approach to change management in that instead of holding a gun to our collective heads with the intent of “upgrade or else” simple things like namespace / sdk related issues would have been enough to build confidence with the developer base around migration / roadmap. A developer would be fine with with Windows 7 WPF/Silverlight development today provided they know eventually with a Windows 8 upgrade the performance and scaleability issues would naturally resolve themselves (ie devs dont spend to much time haggling over the rendering pipeline).

If you then combine Windows Phone 8 (which is really still in many ways the Silverlight behaviour) you again then tick the other box around reach on mobility devices. You are still locking them down into a world called “windows” which doesn’t piss a lot of enterprise companies off, especially with the current turbulence in the device market we see today. Enterprise companies right now are a little paranoid or scared about their mobility adoption strategies because its one thing to say “I want breadth” and another to say “i want breadth and depth’ when it comes to User experiences that count. If a company wants to get their “mobility” story together, they often associate mobility with web because breadth is far more attractive story than a depth discussion. Breadth means HTML/JS because it means I don’t have to have specialist teams (Java, ObjectiveC, C#/Mono etc). Depth requires the opposite because you can only put off that problem for so long before someone within a team suddenly comes to work wearing his/her “Java Conference 1998” t-shirt and smells funny because they do Android development.

Microsoft had an opportunity to do a simple rinse/repeat on the “Embrace/Extend” model with Windows and like I said, Enterprise would likely have been fine to play in that sandpit (of course they’d keep pushing on the “make my C#/XAML apps work on all” angle every step of the way).

In keeping Enterprise bellies full that would have stabilised at the very least their largest piece of the profit share pie, in that they would have bought themselves another 2-5 years to focus on Consumer more without having to pay the tax on losing hearts/minds of business grade solutions. This would have also given them more adoption metrics around the mobility + desktop upgrade story because if a company buys 10-100 units of one piece of hardware because it was easier to develop against well thats 10-100 forced adoption(s) on users which after a while could turn into positive/negative evangelist for those products (Forced adoption is not a bad strategy …its just ethically horrid).

But.. sadly none of the above has happened, instead Sinofsky wen’t rogue, went aggressive not just internally but externally and let his own self-inflated arrogance steer the ship in a direction of aggressive change management which has backfired. Now the new heads of state have to figure out how to salvage what they have left into meaningful pieces that can essentially tap into the above behaviours.

The article is right, you have really three options – fade out you core business (enterprise) and go full retard on consumers adoption, reverse the namespace/SDK engines and build a bridge between old and new but lose what small foothold you have on consumers  – or – abandon consumer focus and retreat back to safety around enterprise/small business.

I’d place my money on the 2nd option, bridge building but that’s going to be filled with a lot of apologies and the only way they can even attempt to make that work is to ramp up their DPE practices beyond where it is today (that is a lot of people on a lot of planes, apologising and seeding a new/existing audience with solutions). The head of DPE (former CEO of Skype) is a business development numbers guy who clearly has no real passion for DPE, so i don’t see how even if they find a way to build that bridge can make that happen (it’s an attitude issue as well as a technical one).

Building a bridge between old and new is not as scary as one would assume (well i don’t anyway), there is a lot of positive work put into the Windows 8 SDK’s .. i don’t think anyone can say out-loud that Microsoft doesn’t get their shit together technically when given the chance, there is and has always been more positives in their technical abilities than negatives – it just always always always comes down to the way in which they deliver the message and react to developer/customer issues of the day.

Is it really a case of just refactoring Windows 8 namepsaces or proxy classes of some sort to convince Developers to continue on WPF/Silverlight path? … Is it a matter of just investing more in that “devigner” tooling problem (Expression Blend makes a comeback but with less reliance of “reflection” based property grids).

*shrug* .. i can personally see a way they could rebuild and get on with the Windows 9 approach and I don’t think it requires a radical overhaul but more architectural common sense.

Related Posts:

I suspect Windows Phone team are chasing the wrong metrics.

I’ve had an interesting and insightful conversation with Steve Sinofsky the past 24hrs that has got me thinking about the concept of how we measure success. Firstly, I know its freaking me out how much I am learning from the one person that I honestly thought was the single point of failure at Microsoft – but – I was wrong! as I suspect he had more to offer than Microsoft was willing to absorb that or he was too busy trying to steer whatever ship(s) he was steering to discuss.

To the subject at hand.

When I think about Mobility and how we measure the success and failures, I automatically break open my OneNote file on where the numbers are currently at when it comes to Windows Phone 8, iPhone, Android etc. The first thing I often do is review what the market share looks like and then probably grow agitated at how slowly Windows Phone is moving (yay 50% growth, but they need 300% to break into the 3rd place category).

The problem with just tracking market share is the data has no soul, which leads me into the points I’ve been having with Sinofsky around how data is just a signal of behavior but it doesn’t tell you the entire picture accurately.

How do I mean accurately?

If you look at iPhone today you will no doubt see, it has a huge amount of the market share pie, but in all honesty, that doesn’t tell you much in the way of actual usage or replenishment rates. All it tells us is right now on planet earth there is just a very large amount of iPhones floating about the place and typically, many new customers are switching on iPhones for the first time each day we breathe oxygen.

If you however look to your left or right and ask your peers how often do they buy iPhones they may typically come back with an answer that resembles “one to two years” In that they aren’t the ones likely to retain parity with Apple’s release cycles anymore?

What happens to their existing phones when they fade it out? Is it relegated to the grandparents? Given to the kids as a gaming device? Sold on ebay?

That for me is the metric I want to know the most about, how many new phones are people adopting and lastly how long does it take between phone adoptions. Then if you can layer in operating system, form factor (sizes) and latency between adoptions that would probably give early signs of where movement between adoptions is happening.

Having that data set will also tell us all an open transparent story around how each mobile phone corporation in the race for success is able to sustain their adoption & life cycle. It also would give teams like the Windows Phone team a smarter metric to go after as if a typical iPhone customer today is taking 1-2 years before they migrate to a new phone or upgrade that in itself is the period in which you would need to strike aggressively.

How to navigate these waters with the right data is the key and focusing in on who has the biggest slice of the pie tells us an end total of who was smart enough to figure out the overall collective metrics. It doesn’t tell us a story around who’s strategy was successful and where?

For instance, which phone size right now is the bliss point in size? Which phone color is the best? Which phone feature seems to excite the most? And so on.

These are data points and many more like them that are quite hard to mine for given most companies will hide that as much as possible to save embarrassment or alert competitors of success. Which is fine it just sadly feeds the beast around “% marketshare = success” rhetoric.

You can boost your percentage if you just give phones away for free in China/India as sure, it will hurt your revenue model(s) but it would boost your confidence in the market level(s) and probably lighten the burden on your marketing budget as well. Clearly though that is a terrible strategy given it is going after the % and can’t sustain itself long term.

I guess my end point and the lesson of the week is basically, what the definition of success here is in our industry? Is it to have 40%+ market share for a particular brand which in turn influences our decision(s) to buy or are we being shaped / groomed into buying these devices because suppliers are assuming that having market share means an easier sale? Downside is we are probably buying a form factor or device because of noisy influence vs. the right fit.

Point and case – I bought the Nokia 920 because everyone I knew said it was the best of breed at the time for Windows Phone 8. I automatically forgave its size because I wanted to hear that story around it being the best. It took me a day before I developed buyer’s remorse solely on the size of the device as sure it had qualities that I liked about the phone but I really didn’t need to go above my iphone size?

I went into that purchase with two sets of bias and I allowed the bogus data to shape an outcome that I ultimately did not want. Stupid but interesting how I was influenced.

 

Related Posts:

Jakob Nielsen is not your Windows 8 Guru heres why.

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

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

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

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

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

What the hell was that

 

My remarks:

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


Cognitive Overhead.

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

Multi Window

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

Discoverability

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

Information Density

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

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

Live Tiles.

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

Charms.

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

Gestures.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related Posts:

Public Apology to Steve Sinofsky – My Bad.

On Saturday morning, I was in a 1:1 email thread with Steve Sinofsky talking about a few things regarding Microsoft and .NET (mainly what is the future of .NET Framework). In the back and forth Steve stated that he thought my name-calling was unprofessional and that I should at the very least treat him like a human.

“..Dont respect me.  Just act like a human.  Dont say things you would not say to a person face to face in front of others…”

That bugged me a little, as in the end, he was right It was uncalled for from my end. I tell people from time to time that one of the biggest things I disliked inside Microsoft was the bullying behavior that took place. I found the overall behavior of watching someone verbally and emotionally beat others down to be a toxic thing to witness and is why I believe good ideas never rise to the top – yet – here I am via this blog doing the very thing I cannot stand to someone with whom I have a disagreement with in strategy & execution.

I mean I teach my own son that this behaviors not acceptable yet here I am doing it. (Shameful).

There is no need for me to call him names via blog posts and it is probably a good reminder for me that despite my strong disagreements with Steve’s choices in the manner of .NET community in the end he does have one positive thing that I am in firm agreement with – consolidation of the brands.

Windows 8 and so on may or may not be a success and we can pick over the bones all we want but we all mist collectively admit that the first time in the history of Microsoft (that I can remember) the branding and product teams do show outward signs of alignment (which is rare).

That all being said, I submit my humble and firm apology to Mr Sinofsky for any remarks or Photoshop doctoring of images and will not continue this behavior.

Scott Out.

Related Posts:

The Unofficial Windows 8 Developer FAQ

Early this week I’ve been talking to a few current and former Microsoft staffers about all things Windows 8. In my discussions I’ve started to gather some gossip in around what happened to Silverlight and lastly the specifics around the DevDiv fall out between Steve Sinofsky and Soma.

Should I share the chat logs it is an entertaining read however what did struck me throughout the conversations was how much positivity Microsoft has been squandering due to petty internal squabbles or “dare not speak of that, for the overlord Sinofsky shall smite thee down for saying the nameless one out loud”.

Today, I’m going to attempt to do something Microsoft staff should have done long ago or didn’t do correctly or simply were held back from doing so. I’m going to release the Unofficial FAQ on “What Just happened” in Microsoft for developer(s) worldwide.

Note: This is all based off internal gossip, second hand information and blah blah, so if you want to call bullshit on the below do so but back it up with specifics on what actually happened – don’t just say “that’s b.s” as we’ll take that as a deflection attempt at setting the record straight.

Ready.. (Remember this is from the perspective of “if I was still a Product Manager at Microsoft positioning not official etc.).

The Unofficial FAQ

Q. Is WPF Dead?

A. Yes and No. Yes WPF as you see it before you is end of life that is to say no more code will be written for the “platform” given Windows 7 and Windows 8 have different DNA going forward. No as in when we decided to move everything over to leaner Windows 8 platform we had to put both Silverlight and WPF on a diet in order to get Mobility parity / compatibility in check. The Upside is we’ve fixed some of the UI rendering issues that have plagued you in the past; the down side is we’ve had to sacrifice features here and there in the process.

 

Q. If I make an Application today in WPF it won’t work in Windows 8 tomorrow.

A. Not correct. Expression Blend uses WPF still in Windows 8, so in a way you’re covered as long as VS2012 and Blend continue to take their cue from the previous XAML Rendering that has been in place since Windows 7. There are certain things you can’t do in Windows 8 going forward though, that is to say new features won’t work in both Windows 7 and Windows 8 for obvious reasons. If they aren’t obvious then …stop coding now.

 

Q. Do I have to learn HTML5 or C++ in Windows 8 now?

A. No. The neat trick here is that we took the body of work found in Silverlight and made it handle the rendering of XAML. Now we didn’t take it as-is we again had to scale it back and use it as a starting point for a reboot of WPF/Silverlight to ensure two things happen going forward. The first is that we have WPF/Silverlight parity issues resolved in terms of performance and developer centric API changes whilst at the same time we had to find a way to make Steve Sinofsky believe that Silverlight was killed off. The last point wasn’t a technical issue it was more of a political one and so in order to help give him the illusion of Silverlight’s death we renamed a few namespaces and adjusted a few features here and there to give the appearance of “new” on the “old”.

 

Q. Why did you change so much in Windows 8 to confuse us all on old vs. new?

A. We had to find a way to put Internet Explorer back into the hands of the masses in a more aggressive manner. In order to facilitate this internal metric we needed to also scale back Silverlight’s popularity given when you think about its future roadmap and Internet Explorer the two will end up competing with one another. Having Internet Explorer start taking over the HTML5 discussion would also help us win hearts and minds with the non-.NET crowd which would then help boost our internal metrics around Linux, Php, Apache and MySQL/Oracle compete (that has often plagued us for many a fiscal year).

Once we’ve placed Internet Explorer onto many devices worldwide we will then ask developers to fork their beloved HTML5 in a way that lets them access Windows 8 further. This in turn will help us regain the lost dominance we once had before all of our Internet Explorer staff left the company to work for Google Chrome. Additionally, it will help us with our many year attempts at attracting more developers to our Windows Server & Tooling business units.

Now to answer your actual question it’s important to know the previous strategy for Internet Explorer as now the problem we face both internally and externally is how we are going to balance Internet Explorer’s future with XAML given the old “Silverlight” concept was directly competing with this strategy. In short we had to make it feel there was a lot of change in the room and decided that letting you believe that what’s really happened is that WPF & Silverlight were merged as one and that Silverlight 5 wasn’t the last release as really Windows 8 is Silverlight 6 Desktop.

Letting you believe that would keep you preoccupied with that branch of thought where what we need you to do is come back to the Internet Explorer way of thinking – there is no plugin only a browser.

Q. So… you saying Windows 8 is really Silverlight 6?

A. Yeah in concept yes. Technically no, but if you take a step back from our bad messaging, public relation screw-ups and lastly our idiotic executive we pretty much did what you asked – we fixed WPF and Silverlight parity & performance and we made it also work on both desktop and mobile. I give you Windows 8.

 

Q. Well ..why didn’t you just say that? Why did you scare us with C++ or HTML5 rhetoric?

A. I have no answer suffice to say there was lots of infighting going on and I don’t see Soma and Sinofsky sharing a beer or two at a BBQ in the near future unless the bottle was broken and one has the other pinned down with a desire to kill..

 

Q. You said mobility and parity are you saying Windows 8 is compatible with Windows Phone?

A. Yes. Windows Phone 7 was kind of a hold our place in the line while we figure out what to do next release. It was badly marketed and in the end we were too late to enter the market – not to mention we weren’t ready to talk about the work we were doing with Windows 8.

Now that we’ve finally hit reset on Windows Phone via our 8.0 releases we’ve now found a way to put the XAML rendering we have in Windows 8 onto the phone. Well to be fair we really kept Silverlight’s DNA alive in both which has now let us enable you to write applications on both platforms via our new upgraded API’s and tooling (again to give the appearance of new).

This is in part why you can’t use Windows Phone 8 code on Windows Phone 7.x compatible devices,  Additionally you would see how we swapped the two out and start to guess what really happened during the Soma vs. Sinofsky fight.

Q. I don’t think that’s technically correct.. if you look at Windows Phone 7 and then look at…

A. I’ma let you finish by stating that the phone may not have changed radically but Windows did that is to say if you were going to drag Silverlight’s work into the new Windows 8 whilst releasing Windows Phone 7 previously then which of the two do you change? The phone or operating system? – Answer is you do both but incrementally.

Q. Hang on so all of Windows 8 is now Silverlight? That doesn’t make sense..

A. No. Windows 8 core is,  (as the messaging and PowerPoint decks say,) new. Now the XAML piece that bolts on top of that core is what I’d call “Silverlight 6” that is it’s all the work that has been done on WPF/Silverlight since their birth converging as one.

Q. Why did Sinofksy and Soma duke it out?

A. It comes back to Sinofsky’s dislike for Silverlight that was in place years before Windows 8. Internally what had happened was the Windows 8 Planning teams felt that Microsoft had lost its way on the importance of web both from a tooling and platform perspective. Silverlight was simply a distraction that got out of control and what they felt was that HTML5 was getting more and more market acceptance. As such it was time to put the genie back in the bottle and double down on Internet Explorer again with an eye this time on integrating the web with the operating system via some minor fork in both JavaScript and HTML5 (eg iecompatiability tag)

This of course didn’t go down well with Developer Division as this in turn meant that they had to scrap all the work done with Silverlight to date! The Silverlight team then went to work proving that both options are still viable and that for XAML, Silverlight would be a better candidate to ensure that path continues to occur.

Essentially it was an internal two horse race for a while with the deciding vote going to Sinofsky. Unfortunately it was an unfair race given his alleged dislike towards Silverlight, so this in turn become a tense standoff between the head of DevDiv and the head of Windows. It’s rumoured that Soma and Steve had a huge falling out over settling old scores and as a result Silverlight was put into a “do not talk about it” status mode.

Despite the executive fallout the Silverlight team (aka XAML team) were moved under the Windows org chart and put to work dragging the old into the new but with a clear direction to forever wipe the name Silverlight from their minds. It’s rumoured that in planning meetings the words compatibility and Silverlight were no-go words.

It’s all gossip in the end, but that’s what’s being said at the local water fountain anyway.

It could explain why Scott Guthrie went over to Azure. It could explain why you see some of the old Silverlight bloodlines talking in the Windows 8 presentations but finally, it could also explain why the “strategy has changed” remark got former Executive Bob Muglia in a whole world of trouble.

Summary

Look. The above could very well be fiction and time will tell exactly what has happened here but the more I think about Windows and it’s Phone counterpart the more I start to think what has really happened is a clean reboot to WPF/Silverlight has occurred for the greater good.

The downside is that we’ve all been preoccupied with the new UI of Windows 8 and lastly the community wanted to know what the future of the brand Silverlight/WPF was per say (this is awkward). Instead of getting actual answers they were given deafening silence and finally, to this day the overall developer relations overall from Microsoft has been both lazy and poorly executed.

What we are seeing is Microsoft power brokers asleep at the helm, specifically their evangelism is dead and lastly their messaging around the transition for Silverlight/WPF has been fumbled to the point where it’s easier now to believe Microsoft has hit “Shift+Delete” on these two products rather than to read the above (too much carnage on the roadmap now).

If Microsoft had of come out and said something to the effect – “Look you asked us to fix WPF and Silverlight. We did that, we came up with a way now that lets you develop for our platform in three ways. The first is C++ if you want deeper access to Windows then we’ve tided up our Com++ API’s to a way that C# developers have found palatable. If you don’t want to do native code then you can build applications like you have done with Silverlight in the past, but the difference is it will now  Windows only (sorry). If you then want to build apps that are cross-platform then again we’ve got HTML5 and Internet Explorer story brewing, whilst it’s important to understand that we will not be looking to expand our developer story beyond Windows anymore (there is a certain amount of control HTML5 will give but we still believe Internet Explorer is a better bet overall).

Then they show a few slides on how you can write-once deploy to both Desktop, Tablet and Mobile via the XAML/HTML5 and C++/C# story then it becomes a bit of a consolidation discussion vs. a “they’ve killed my favourite toy” discussion we see today.

They didn’t do that. That would require actually someone in the company with a backbone or marketing muscle that goes beyond ass kissing to Sinofsky. The problem we have right now ladies in and gents is we are all suffering from Microsoft’s internal bickering and as a result companies are looking to seek alternative to Microsoft for fear that this petty squabbling will continue to spread from not  only the mobility market share losses but to potentially the operating system as well.

Microsoft also has to figure out how to also re-engage their hardware vendors going forward given their failure rates in Windows Phones weren’t profitable for these guys and now with Microsoft Surface sending mixed signals it well has now turned into a bit of a question mark above the companies head around whether it can survive beyond its current dominance of desktop market share.

Inside Microsoft Server share has dropped significantly and it’s why you see a lot of effort in the web platform stack around enticing Php and MySQL folks back to the logo.

The only thing left for Microsoft to control is Office, Desktop and XBOX. Beyond that, they don’t have dominance anymore.

Again someone explain to me why Steve Balmer is good for the company?

 

Related Posts:

Apple gets complaints about consistent incremental growth in their product(s).

Just like in the lion king, out come the Apple execs holding their new king high in the air as if the “circle of life” sound track is about to be played – yet again – hail the new Mac Book Pro and its retina display for it is the answer to a question nobody asked!

Apple Kool-Aid aside, something struck me today about the staying power of a Apple as a brand and it had little to do with the a-typical Steve Jobs circle jerk “he’s the technical second coming of jesus” rants.

Today, we cast our eyes to the big fruit in the RSS filled sky and we have two choices before us. We can either praise and high five Apple for all its brilliance and might – or – we can boo, hiss and denounce it as the new entity within the technology axis of evil for yet another lack luster development in product planning.

To me though something struck me as a stand out thought amongst many in my coffee overdosed bipolar mind. Today we are afforded the luxury of complaining about Apple and how dare they keep a consistent product roadmap that appears to be growing incrementally over the years. There’s no sudden abandonment or about face turn on product roadmaps, there is no product sitting in the portfolio suddenly gone really really quiet from a marketing standpoint to the point you almost would swear it never existed.

They have this nerve about staying fairly committed to their product vision and future and what really gets under my skin is how they keep improving on their designs.

An example comes to mind, the new Macbook Pro. All it has really is a tighter retina display that they borrowed from the R&D they clearly have put into the iPhone/iPad(s). What a cheap attempt at fooling me into buying their product – I’m outraged.

As you all know, I’m a Microsoft .NET developer & designer these days and to be openly frank about this, I don’t like it when a brand sticks to a commitment around their product line(s). I’m not used to it and I expect after 1-2 years the product has to be parked in the “old ideas” parking bay and I await now the new vision of what’s new coming up next.

The idea that you’re R&D can be re-used across all your platform(s) in a consistent and carefully designed manner that isn’t highly reactive to your competitor(s) is quite arrogant and clearly a dumb idea.

Microsoft will show Apple who’s boss, they’ll take the Windows 8 Tablet and ram it down the vegan fruit eating zen smoking hipsters throats. They’ll give them a lesson in how to confuse and alienate their customer(s) with inconsistent visions and platform resets that are a massive answer to a question that nobody asked.

Watch this space Apple as you’re about to be skooled on Windows 8 and yes there is no start button because that’s 25+ years of habitual usage that need not apply anymore – yeah they did it, they meant it and Sinofsky is here to represent it – Windows 8, no start, no finish just existence.

Related Posts:

Metro: Typography trumps chrome–debunked.

Metro, is fast becoming this unclear, messy craptuclar retardation of modern interface design. In that, the current execution out there is getting out of control resulting in what originally started out as a Microsofts plagiarized edition of Dieter Rams “Ten Principles of Good Design” into what we have before us today.

I am actually ok with that, as if I ever looked back on the first year of my designs in the 90s I’d cringe at the sight of lots of Alienskin Bevels, Glows and Fire plugin driven pixel vomit.

The part though I’m a little nervous about is how fast the microsoftees of the world have somehow collectively agreed that Text is in Chrome is out – like somehow science is wrong, that what we really need to do is get back to basics of ASCII inspired typography design(s) of yesteryear.

Typography is ok, in short bursts.

Spatial Visualization is the key description you need to Google a bit more around. Let me save you a little google confusion and explain what I mean.

Humans are not normal, to assume that inside HCI we are all equal in our IQ levels is dangerous, it is quite the opposite and to be fair the human mental conditions that we often suffer from are still quite an the infancy of medicine – we have so much more to learn about genetic deformation/mutations that are ongoing.

The reality is that most humans hail from a different approach to the way in which we decipher patterns within our day-to-day lives as we aren’t getting smarter we’re just getting faster at developing habitual comprehension of patterns that we often create.

Let us for example assume I snapped someone from the 1960’s, and I sat him or her in a room and handed them a mobile device. I then asked them “turn it on” and measured the reaction time to navigating the device itself to switching it on.

You would most likely find a lot of accidental learning, trial and error but eventually they’d figure it out and now that information is recorded into their brain for two reasons. Firstly, pressure does that to humans we record data when under duress that is surprisingly accurate (thus bank robbers often figure out that their disguises aren’t as affective as once thought) and secondly we discovered fire for the first time – an event gave it meaning “this futuristic device!!”

What is my point, firstly, the brain capacity has not increased our ability to think and react visually is what I’d argue is the primary driver for our ability to decode what’s in front of us.  (point in case the usage of H1 tag breaks up the indexation of comprehending of what I’ve written).

How so?

Research in the early 80’s found that we are more likely to detect misspelled words than we are correctly spelled words. The research goes on to suggest that the reason for this is that we obtain shape information about a word via peripheral vision initially (we later narrow in on the said word and make a decision on true/false after we’ve slowed the reading down to a fixated position).

It doesn’t stop there, by now you the reader have probably fixated on a few mistakes in my paragraph structure or word usage as you’ve read this, but yet you’ve still persisted in comprehending the information – despite the flaws.

What’s important about this packet of information is that it hints at what I’m stating, that a reliance on typography is great but for initial bursts of information only. Should the density of data in front of you increase, your ability to decode and decipherer (scan / proof read) becomes more of a case of balancing peripheral vision and fixated selection(s).

Your CPU is maxed out is my point.

AS I AM INFERRING, THE HUMAN BEING IS NOW JUGGLING THE BASICS IN AND AROUND GETTING SPATIAL QUEUES FROM BOTH TEXT, IMAGERY AND TASK MATCHING – ALL CRAMMED INSIDE A SMALL DEVICE. THE PROBLEM HOWEVER WONT STOP THERE, IT GOES ON INTO A MORE DEEPER CYCLE OF STUPIDITY.
INSIDE METRO THE BALANCE BETWEEN UPPER AND LOWER CASE FLUCTUATES THAT IS TO SEE AT TIMES IT WILL BE PURE UPPERCASE, MIXED OR LOWERCASE.

Did you also notice what I just did? I put all that text in Uppercase, and what research has also gone onto suggest is that when we go full-upper in our usage our reading speed decreases as more and more words are added. That is to say, now inside metro we use a mixed edition of both and somehow this is a good thing or bad thing?

Apple has over-influenced Microsoft.

I’m all for new design patterns in pixel balancing, I’m definitely still hanging in there on Metro but what really annoys me the most is that the entire concept isn’t really about breaking way based on scientific data centered in around the an average humans ability to react to computer interfaces.

It simply is a competitive reaction to Apple primarily, had Apple not existed I highly doubt we would not be having this kind of discussion and it would probably be full glyph/charms/icon visual thinking friendly environment(s).

Instead what we are probably doing is grabbing what appears to be a great interruption in design status quo and declaring it “more easier” but the reality kicks in fast when you go beyond the initial short burst of information or screen composition into denser territory – even Microsoft are hard pressed to come up with a Metro inspired edition of Office.

Metro Reality Check – Typography style.

The reality is the current execution of Metro on Windows Phone 7 isn’t built or ready for dense information and I would argue that the rationale that typography replaces chrome is merely a case of being the opposite of a typical iPhone like experience – users are more in love with the unique anti-pattern then they are with the reality of what is actually happening.

Using typography as your spatial visualization go to pattern of choice simply flies in the face of what we actually do know in the small packets of research we have on HCI.

Furthermore, if you think about it, the iPhone itself when It first came out was more of a mainstream interruption to the way in which we interpret UI via mobile device, icons for example took on more of candy experience and the chrome itself become themed.

It became almost as if Disney had designed the user interface as being their digital mobile theme park, yet here is the thing – it works (notice when Metro UI adds pictures to the background it seems to fit?…there’s a reason for that).

Chrome isn’t a bad thing, it taps into what we are hard wired to do in our ability to process information, we think visually (with the minority being the exclusion).

Egyptians, Asian(s) and Aboriginals wrote their history on walls/paper using visual glyphs/symbols not typography. That is an important principle to grapple onto the most; historically speaking we have always shown evidence to gravitate towards a pictorial view of the world and less around complexity in glyphs around pattern(s) (text) (that’s why Data Visualization works better than text based reports).

We ignore this basic principle because our technology environment has gotten more advanced but we do not have extra brainpower as human race, our genome has not mutate or evolved! We have just gotten better at collectively deciphering the patterns in and in turn have built up better habitual usage of these patterns.

Software today has a lot of bad UI out there, I mean terrible experiences, yet we are still able to use and navigate them.

Metro is mostly marketing / anti-compete than it is about being the righteous path to HCI design, never forget that part. Metros tagline as being “digitally authentic” is probably one of Deiter Rams principles being mutated and broken at the same time.

Good design is honest.
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful, or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

Should point out, these ten principles are what have inspired Apple and other brands in the industrial design space. Food for thought.

Lastly one more thing, what if your audience was 40% Autistic/Dyslexic how would your UI react differently to the current designs you have before you.

Related Posts:

Microsoft and Adobe casual gaming partnership– Casual love or just gaming each other?

I often get many theories floated past me from staffers, usually it is a case of mind candy, and ways to figure out the chaos within Microsoft – kind of like reverse detective work?

Today, I got a great piece to a puzzle I have been trying to put together for quite some time. It comes mainly from a meeting that Microsoft and Adobe CEO’s had a couple of years ago – in secret kind of.

The two meeting for a catch-up was always unlikely, and when those two get in a room there is an agenda, now the question was always – what was that agenda

The working theory is that Silverlights death was confirmed in that meeting, that in order to regain favor with the Adobe crowd you had to basically show your intent has been to knife the baby – get rid of your competitive threat and at the same time work out a strategy into getting the hordes of design audiences at Adobe’s disposal to give Microsoft another look – despite the brand fail of internet explorer / office clippie and many many many more.

The inside gossip I got today was that Microsoft are working together with Adobe to close the gap on the casual gaming market, in that Adobe’s always owned this market online via Flash for many years and to go after it, despite the XBOX brand’s success would simply take a lot of investment.

Instead, Windows team getting into bed with Adobe to produce a tooling story that compliments their future platform strategies around casual gaming makes more sense as it wins on two fronts. The first being is Windows team aren’t keen to own the tooling strategy for this area, its basically to hard and requires a separate war chest to dominate. Adobe is keen to shift away from being the platform story (notice why Adobe is less platform focused these days and gone back to basics on tooling?) and more about owning the tooling that goes with platform(s).

Adobe working with Microsoft also provides a partnership elsewhere; they both get to cross-pollinate with the developer and designer adoptions. If you can get developers to buy, your tools to work with designers both parties win. As Microsoft is desperate to win hearts and minds on the design bloodlines, it is why metro is the default look as despite its marketing fluff; it is simply a case of ascii art meets public toilet signage – idiot proof.

It is not enough and despite the proactive technical audiences raising glasses in favor of the solid color screens known as metro, it still is not sustaining the creative momentum it desperately needs to retain the interruption required to seed a bigger customer base.

Looking back on BUILD conference, I also found it interesting that XNA was not mentioned as much is it could or probably should have been. It like Silverlight was left with a lot of ambiguity around its futures specifically how casual gaming audiences could benefit from Windows 8 in the future.

In fact, sitting down to play with the current scraps of beta that was given to us via this conference and focusing on Window 8, under the hood it’s still murky as to how the overall new platform is going to work with regards to games.

Not only that, but the reality that plug-ins as we know it aren’t going to be friendly within Windows 8 Browser(s) it’s also a bit of a question mark around how Adobe can retain success here going forward. In fact, if Windows 8 does go ahead, it’s basically a case of Flash being shut down the moment that platform gets traction and before you throw the anti-trust argument on the table, remember that no longer applies – the Windows team can push out Silverlight over night to every machine world wide if they wanted to (not as optional either) as legally speaking, nothing is preventing this today?

That was also our intent in the Silverlight team, when the consent decree sunset kicked in we had strategies around how we would get ubiquity worldwide in quite a rapid way – I mean in nine months we pushed Silverlight out to half a billion people under a lot of tight constraints. Today, nothing …despite constraints gone?

Silverlight had to be knifed but why, and WinRT is not enough there has to be a better story on the horizon.

The windows teams are not really interested in tooling or mini platforms, they typically want a locked in way of life in that you buy Windows and THEN the free market opens up.

If the Windows team have any chance of success of having an AppStore model much like the iTunes/Apple story they need to provide a lot of free market opportunities to folks who aren’t already exclusively tied down to Apple (content wise as well as other categories).

Apple have made it clear Adobe has no future on their future platform stories other than tooling for designers to create Objective-C experiences and also they can install such tooling on the Operating System – but that’s it, beyond that Steve Jobs was quite open about his dislike for Flash.

Flash and HTML5 are also becoming quite a topical conversation in the Adobe communities, specifically the FUD around the future of Flash – Yes more Flash is dead posts arriving to an RSS feed near you.

Adobe have to figure out a strategy here around retaining control as in the end despite them spending a lot of time and energy now on tooling vs. their vision of the platform dominance for mobile devices (CTO Kevin Lynch used to always beat that war drum, today, not so much? He was ahead of his time in thinking and cunning strategies to position Flash but in the end, it never stuck).

Microsoft have to bridge this gap and until you see a casual gaming story unfolding at the next BUILD something or someone has to provide the ingredients here to make that work, as in the end this is the carrot that gets you in part Windows 8 adoption with consumers – especially given the Windows 8 in its current form has no level of excitement from Enterprise or Medium Business industries.

Today, I was told a scrap of info but the more I step back and piece things together the more I begin to cast a theory, and this post is a current working model of it.

I could do with more information, care to share?

XNA, where’s that heading next? What is Microsofts casual gaming story in the new Windows 8 world? Why no Silverlight focus on Casual gaming? HTML5 can’t handle it on its own that’s for sure…

Related Posts: