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.

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The fall of Sinofsky ..where’s the gold plated AK47?

Yesterday I read a tweet that Sinofsky was leaving Microsoft and my immediate thoughts were along the lines of most – oh, it is early but not unexpected.

As I read countless more news articles about the event and listen to others give their assertion as to what is happen and how it was not as bad as it looks and so on I simply come to a single conclusion.

Worst retirement party ever.

If you read Sinofsky’s parting letter mixed with Steve Ballmer’s as expected carefully polished internal email one would assume it was a parting of positivity not negativity.

The reality is you do not take a high powered executive like Sinofsky and have him resign effective immediately you setup what they did with Bill Gates – a long goodbye. You temper both your internal staff and external shareholders with a 3month transition at the very least (maybe 6 month). You want to make it feel as if it is Steve Sinofsky’s choice and he now wants to leave Microsoft and go paint in Italy or something mundane like that.
Bring a sense of calm because if you don’t, well you have his name trending in twitter and conspiracy theories that make Microsoft look like they have zero control over the PR beast.

The latter is what actually has happened, Microsoft lost control over this entire thing and that is the part that I think is the most interesting. I personally do not think this was a calm exit, from everything I know about this company this entire issue has been simmering for some time and I think it came down to a titanic power play which seemingly backfired on Steve Sinofsky.

I wonder how the whole thing played out though; I mean you had Steve Ballmer on stage at the Build keynote giving a technical demo that actually did not do any harm – which to be clear in all the years of Microsoft I have never seen before.

That sent some mixed signals early on, as to say “hmm.. Steve Sinofsky is a vain person who likes to soak up his victories, why on earth would he be sidelined at the crowning moment?”

It could very well have been a planned departure – I doubt it – but if that were to be true then first thing Microsoft Board needs to do is figure out why they are paying their various PR firms money as quite frankly this was a disaster beyond most normal marketing/PR fails the company is used to.

As a friend said once “Microsoft takes every opportunity to fail and then comes back asking for more” in this case he was correct – again.

Lastly, I went to Sweden last week and gave a presentation on decoding the Microsoft roadmap where I talk about the rise of Sinofsky and you can view it here.

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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.


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?


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Windows Phone 8 is the reset we have to have.

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

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

Windows Phone 8 is the entry point.

I’ve pretty much said a number of times over the past 2 years around how I think Windows Phone 7 will fail with consumers) and to be clear and to the point, it has. Nokia sales are poor, the units adopted vs. shipped are a mathematical failure and lastly the uptake and adoption excitement hasn’t been as attractive as it could have been – despite Nokia’s positive influence in their brilliant marketing blitz.

Bottom line is the Phone itself has and always been a “save my position in line until I’m ready to enter the market” strategy. It had to rely on Silverlight teams work to firm up the UX platform strategy and entice an existing development mindset onto the phone.

The early marketing campaigns were just embarrassing to watch, there was no structure to the developer engagement model(s) and it was very reactive and haphazardly handled.

I stated in 2010 the phone would fail simply because I got a sense this was about to happen, as the more I looked at the future strategies of Microsoft from an insider perspective the more I could see it wasn’t about consumers or developers, it was more about internal staff shuffling and jockeying for power to appear to be solving these problems.

Today, Windows Phone 8 plans have been trickled out, and even as I type this I can’t but help criticize the approach taken during the release keynote – excluding Kevin Gallo, given out of the entire keynote it was one guy’s clarity and approach that provided a sense of confidence behind what was brewing.

That all being said, I’m positive about Windows Phone 8 going forward. I think Microsoft are finally starting to suffocate the internal politics and are starting to firm up a coherent strategy around what they think the UX Platform of the future is likely to be.

The strategy is still a work in progress and despite how polished that the company appear to be around what’s coming up next they are still fumbling their way through the evangelism and marketing rhythms that still have large amounts of work to be done.

Windows Phone 8 is the release we should have had, it’s in many ways like the old historical “service pack that fixed the release” which is commonly associated with Microsoft Windows (ie I won’t
install until they release a service pack mentality).

The phone itself has a lot of potential successful entry points to help kickstart an economy and adoption curve that could definitely, if architected (and I mean a big if!) correctly.

Firstly, the phone finally has a what looks like to be a clear vision around how Enterprise adoption can take hold of the said phone that I’m hoping (yet to clarify this) that Windows 8 tablet(s) can also make use of.

This one small but significant feature is what I think can make the adoption cycles stand out from the rest as given there is so much ratcheted excitement around the idea of having smartphones and devices handling complex business focused solutions, this is the first of a united platform strategy that has not only less friction for developer(s) to adopt but also feels more natural within most organisations (given .NET adoption to date is deeper within enterprise than ever before).

Secondly, the wallet feature is still a bit of a left of center idea around how to commercialize and monetize future solution(s) with regards to the Smartphone/Device market(s). What I mean to say is this is kind of the “Deep Zoom” functionality within Silverlight whereby at first glance you could see usage for it but it really isn’t something that was widely adopted or specifically asked for.

I’m hopeful that this feature will get traction across all device(s) more to the point I am dreaming of the day I can buy my coffee from a cafe via my phone vs having to take out my wallet (given they constantly break my notes into coins or I don’t have actual cash on me when I need a coffee).

The technology for a phone-wallet like approach is in place but it will still take a large amount of maturity from both the developer community and Microsoft to get this into the market in a meaningful way (which I’m sadly skeptical will happen – much like Cardspace days, good idea just bad execution).

Thirdly the NFC/Bluetooth and App to App functionality is quite a powerful little gem when you stop and contemplate its future potential. This one requires some visionary, go on a leap of trust with me ask.

The idea that I can have an application and then “bump uglies” with a fellow phone user to not only get the app i’ve just recommended but also potentially share information on the spot, is something that actually makes sense.

I’ve personally sat in meetings where i’ve watched people fumble around with sharing information or better yet in desperate search for the idea of continuous client whereby sharing amongst many as the user navigates the said data would be quite a powerful communication tool.

This feature I believe will wash over the consumer base with hardly an impact but I do see in the Enterprise space it will definitely have a lot more potential than it has to offer today – provided the phone gets traction, attracts the right designer/developer mindset and lastly can remove all friction roadblocks that may impact its clear line of communication (it’s hard to isolate these given the specifics aren’t clear at the time of writing this).

So it’s a going to be successful right?

I said it has potential and I didn’t say it was going to be successful. There is still some blood in the water around those who own the Windows Phone 7 device today being basically given the “thanks for bleeding on our bleeding edge of discovery”. I don’t think this will be an easy hurdle to jump over and should they succeed it’s only due to the fact that the Phone’s consumer failings are going to ensure this level of distrust / toxic venom isn’t as loud as it could have been.

I think it will also require a lot of strategic and careful evangelism on Microsoft’s part to seed this within all those organisations hanging onto their sharepoint / .net way of life with a death grip.

In order to solve that problem, Microsoft really need to sit down and have a detailed heart to heart with the developer base on what their plans are specifically around WPF/Silverlight/WinForms development today. Kevin Gallo in the Windows Phone 8 presentation actually gave clear guidance on this but I think his message needs to be broadcasted as clearly and cleanly has he gave it.

Kevin in my view should be the one who faces the hordes of Developer(s) out there given Scott Guthrie has been shunted to the geek-celeb fame left. Despite this annoyance that the one guy you’d love to hear the most from (Scott Guthrie) isn’t speaking loudly as you’ve grown acustom to is somewhat of a large mistake on Microsoft developer relations part. None the less they definitely need to give Kevin the stage and make him the consistent face amongst many “who cares who this VP is” Microsoft executive crowd.

In order to win this over they really need to pick a team that can be the consistent personalities, it’s why Robert Scoble got success in the early Microsoft days. He was your trusted camera guy who roamed the halls of redmond giving you insight into what’s being published from the Software factory known as Microsoft.

Microsoft have lost this element of success, they are producing technical solutions that may or may not win hearts & minds but ultimately they aren’t clear on what they want to say about the said solutions. They are preoccupied with letting some random executive get on stage and have his & her say to which you never either see them again or you’re still confused as to who they are and why you should listen to them?

In order to have Windows Phone 8 win the day, they need to really just drive home the message calmly, clearly and in a unified voice that builds trust.

Lastly the entire UX platform strategy is starting to bend inwards, in that they are starting to unite the teams under the one vision which is why I’ll simply leave off with one last ranty thought.

I suffer from bipolar but so does Microsoft marketing, in that their entire website strategy is a confusing mess of stupidity and creates more of a problem than it solves. I truly hope Microsoft abandon the “File-New-Website” approach to messaging Windows 8 and Windows Phone by reversing the engines, that is to say unite the entire vision under just one site.

Don’t let internal politics screw this next 1-2 years up, unite and build or you’re just going to be yet another ongoing punchline to a bad technology joke.

Windows Phone 8 is the reset we have to have simply because it starts to be an additive to a united vision (whether you like it or not).

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Windows 8 Enterprise Monkey Edition …Why not just “Windows”..

Microsoft has this unique gift in their current product portfolios, that is they have a fairly wide range of offerings that at times on their own are quite brilliant and great to use.

This now brings me to my state of confusion, that is to say why they spend so much energy and time confusing the masses when its clear their biggest competitor, Apple, have figured out the simplistic pattern of “less is more”.

There is just Windows.

Today, Brandon announced what will be the upcoming SKU’s for Windows 8, and yes the ye olde “pro” makes a comeback to a shrink wrap shelf near you.


Why do they need to separate out the product lines as to me they really should reconsider this approach going forward, especially given Desktop/Device are blurring out one another’s value proposition(s).

Instead of breaking out a variety of comparison matrix that often as a consumer will result in ticking the lowest cost box, why not instead just let everyone buy a Windows core, that is to say you just “buy” windows.

Picture a consumer walking into a retail shop of some kind, they walk straight over to the Windows box, pick it up, buy it and then install it when they get home.

The installation wizard steps them through various basic features and so on but on the last screen they are asked “what other features would you like to buy? for 0.99c

The end user ponders, and starts to tick or untick boxes that they think they will need for their installation – which is linked to a Azure ID of some kind.

That’s it, no confusion around which Windows SKU you own or at times buyers remorse because you bought the wrong edition which had XYZ feature and now you want that feature but then have to shell out for features you don’t want at a upgrade price of XYZ.

Furthermore this then would condition them to an initial introduction to the “AppStore” market model which no doubt they probably have already learnt via their iPhones/iPad interaction(s).

Just Windows doesn’t stop there either, you also have this same principle applied to Tablet/ARM/Phone hardware as well as now it’s less about specifics of Windows and more about Windows as an abstract platform.

Ergo this would also underpin their entire content first strategy that orbits Metro today.

I don’t see a cohesive strategy within the Windows Teams, I see snippets of success but there appears to be no over arching cohesive strategy. The problem is still there with individual product teams competiting for consumer awareness and attention.

Is Windows a platform or not? if it is, how about it start acting like one and become one and not some comparison matrix which leaves you questioning “Do i need that?” vs “Do I want that”

Scott Out.

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Microsoft Metro isn’t ready to go Dylan electric.

As inflammatory as this sounds, and it will piss quite a few Microsoft fans out there, but let me just get this piece out of the way before you make some snap fang filled responses.

The current “metro-style” as Windows 8 team puts it, simply is at present a huge missed opportunity that seems to be constantly being bent out of shape and isn’t ready to go electric (i.e. Bob Dylan went electric and everyone trashed him for it, who’s trashing now!).

Feature Density is cancer to Metro-Style.

The minimalist approach to design has been pretty much on the web for quite some time now thanks to a lot of creative souls in the CSS movement of the past (A List Apart, CSS Zen Garden etc. have all hinted strongly around grid focused design etc.).

There is really nothing new that the current “metro-style” brought to the table in terms of principles of design, the Zune however did put a new face to the idea that the a website-like User Interface could exist on a Desktop application.

It’s from there that the Microsoft UX mercenaries within various orgs began feeding the fire around what if you combined web design skills with desktop development.

Circa 2005ish we saw the first traces of the idea about bridging the two worlds together, but WPF got bloated and crappy performance and eventually failed in delivering to meet expectations. Microsoft Expression Blend also failed as at the time we found that whilst there where quite a number of downloads via MSDN subscriptions it had no revenue stream coming in and developers tried and pushed it aside. Designers disliked the complexity that came with the product and we at the time burnt quite a large bridge with Adobe in making the two potentially integrate with one another smarter (Adobe vs Microsoft war killed the vision).

It wasn’t until the guys behind the Metro as we know it today decided to regroup and come up with a pitch to the world on how Microsoft branding overall should unite, and to be fair – it at the time was a welcomed strategy (I for one was keen to see its momentum get traction).

Taking a page out of the Zune design it simply grew into what we see today, the infamous “metro-style” UI whereby you have a fairly flat canvas, a lot of typography, some primitive shapes and maybe one or two complimentary colors – boom, here’s your Metro-style application you ordered!

Attractive bias aside, the UI’s do look good and I don’t mind sharing that I’ve made a tidy profit churning these designs out for various clients, as they are dead stupid simple. The problem though I’ve personally found over time and discussed with many other fellow metro-designers out there in the interwebs is around how to navigate the pitfalls of feature density.

What do I mean by feature density?

Feature density is when you have a team of feature hungry customer(s) all wanting and willing to pay large bounties to cram as many features into the one product as possible and despite your many educational rants around “less is more” it plays out in way that basically ends up being a really bad execution of “metro”.

Interestingly when you discuss such things with others they tend to climb on top of that horse and start preaching the gospel around controlling the client, usability studies, user experience principles and what not to the point where you simply roll your eyes, make a hand jerk motion and thank them for listening and walk away from them even more frustrated than you were before – YOU DON’T FUCKING GET IT raging through your mind.

I at first like most out there I guess would be free to say that maybe I don’t get it, maybe I’m the guy who seems to not find the right balance between feature density and design?

The cracks began to emerge.

That is until I started to pay a lot closer attention to the way Microsoft themselves have been churning out applications within their own kingdom of metro`ness. Ahh yes, I’m watching you bozos and I can see what you’re doing so stop trying to hide it.

What I see is this, Microsoft started out with some pretty basic applications that arguably can fit quite snugly on a smartphone or tablet device? As in the end these aren’t necessary hardware elements in the day to day cubicles? They are more at-a-glance, downtime, basic operational use only (some may use them for word processing or two but in general it’s not a work tool at present).

Once you get past what I call “Kiosk” applications you then run into the same problems I’ve had a couple of years ago, how the hell are we going to keep parity with feature(s) in existing software with the new and modernized metro theme?

There’s a number of strategies I’ve formulated to help navigate these waters, but overall it comes back to cutting features down as much as you can and start dividing the monolithic application into user-contextual driven experience (content first is bullshit, context first is righteous).

Microsoft however aren’t catching up to this thinking as fast as I had thought, as I figured they are the ones who created this problem so surely they have some internal best of breed minds on the said problem right?


Look at Visual Studio 11, forget the grey controversy, that’s not the point what is the point is how do you think the Visual Studio team are going to navigate the metro waters with success? They are going to have to make some large sacrifices in features or come up with some radical left brain thinking here to overcome the “less is more” design principles outlined in the Microsoft doctrine titled “Metro Design Language”

Lets look at Office vNext (not officially but you get the point), I mean the current latest version of Office I’m typing this post in now has pretty much the right conditions for a flat metro theme, It’s almost pretty much there except that Ribbon kind of becomes the metro-style anti-pattern (note I said metro-style, not metro-principles).

Ok, so the overall problem with metro is that it’s probably gone a little to far to the left in scaling things back to the point where the grid-design patterns of the web probably aren’t going to map snugly to the desktop development story as even in the right hands it’s a balancing act.

In the wrong hands metro can fall off a cliff fast, you know those designs, you’ve probably seen them, hell even Microsoft itself puts those ones on full display (Microsoft.com itself is an metro-abortion on full display).

There is way out thought.

I think today, Metro itself as we see it in its incarnation is broken, it’s created this ongoing bad habit where if you nuke some gradients, whip up a lot of typography and pander to the masses you in turn get an instant “wow dude, so metro, high-five” – meanwhile you’re just feeling a little cheap inside, as you know that at the end of the day this is not your best work and you are just feeding the metro-zombies what they want.

Its only when I sat down to really think about how I would re-design Visual Studio that a few things began to click in how both I could navigate the feature density problem but also how unready the audiences were for such moves.

The problem I immediately am noticing the most, isn’t just about color selection (which to be fair guys is such a subjective discussion) its more along the lines of change management.

We are willing to accept small incremental changes or even twitter-like kiosk applications that sit on the Windows 8 mutated start bar or Windows Phone 7 install pile – they don’t really affect us as much as we think they do.

You touch my Visual Studio and Office whilst coming up short on whatever habits I’ve established today, expect a severe beating!!

On one hand the current execution of metro simply says “sorry, we’re going to have to make some radical changes here people” on the other hand it will require you the audience to be open to such change.

Its clear right now, in my view, the earlier can be done but the later, nope, that ones filled with a lot of forum focused anger “you suck Microsoft” style rants.

Sorry, Metro isn’t ready in the sense the current users aren’t ready for its minimalist focused design principles as we’re about to break the one known issue with most user experience today – Audiences dislike less is more, instead they are silently ok with the idea of having a 1000 features at their disposal even though the data says they probably use 20% of those features..

Metro isn’t ready for the mainstream.

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Windows Phone lacks developer experience first thinking.

Today I read that Apple iPhone makes more money than Microsoft does all up, that is to say the phone that Steve Ballmer the CEO of Microsoft used to mock – generates more revenue than his entire company does (who is laughing now).

It got me thinking, let us assume you were inside Microsoft today and you heard this news for the first time, how would you react? How would you adjust your core strategies overall and how do you think this will play out?

Inside Microsoft they have a vision, it centres on the Windows 8 or bust mentality, and that for me is something of a concern given, they really have not done anything new to be openly honest.

Yes, there is Metro which is new, well not really, the initial design execution is new but the concept of taking a minimalist approach to the desktop has been around for quite some time (Adobe really did this well with their CS5 and CS4 product UI’s which you’d be an idiot if you assumed had no influence in design today).

The web has been also doing grid based design for as long as I can remember, so that’s nothing pioneerish going on here either. The idea of some NUI effects and control, sure that’s new I guess but not enough to flip the world into a new way of doing software interaction and development in fact it probably falls down when it comes to data density.

What is new then? The most obvious piece to what is new in this saga is the reality that Microsoft faces around its future. The industry has grabbed Microsoft by the shirt and dragged them into focusing on User Experience first, Technology second and what is so striking about the metro + Microsoft story is that its hinting at some new thinking.

What hasn’t changed though is the technology first approach, Microsoft continues to retreat to its initial bad behaviour, that is to say it thinks in technical terms and not in experience terms. What hasn’t change is that each team is left to interpret the experience strategy and what hasn’t changed is that Product teams make, marketing / evangelism sustain and the divide occurs resulting in both teams looking at one another as if “its your fault we don’t have adoption”.

Allow me to illustrate.

WP-Marketplace-Opportunity-infographic-r09b 011112

Games make up for about 64% of the current Windows Phone 7 sales, which is a little bad given if you’re an Application developer depending on your category of choice you stand to only tap into around 8% of the audience purchasing power.

That aside, Games are the golden ticket in the Windows Phone 7 way of life. Ok, so let’s build a game? Open up your browser and start typing search terms for Windows Phone 7 game tutorials and XNA or whatever you feel is appropriate.

You should be coming up short on examples that mostly live in a small spread across Microsoft random websites that constantly change context and when you’re done there, you should also be drowning in blog posts that are either extremely detailed or very shallow (not quite in between).

That for me is a problem, if I were in the team I’d be looking at this from a perspective of two things. How can I market the potential of this platform in a game centric device world and secondly assuming that thread is off and running how can I sustain this momentum once the devs have taken the bait.

I’m not saying that the key to Windows Phone 7 overtaking the iPhone is games, there’s probably a thousand or more things that need to occur before you even embark on that discussion, what I am saying is the grass roots fundamentals aren’t in place.

Lets say I click my fingers and the $500million spent on marketing to date actually worked, you have an audience of Windows Phone 7 folks over the next 2 years running hot in potential sales of the device. Congrats, 1 in 5 mobile phones sold today are Windows Phone 7.

Now what.

How do you sustain that momentum, how do you encourage more and more solutions to be built for the phone and lastly how do you retain control over the entire experience.

This is a huge problem today within Windows itself, there is so much energy spent on promoting the entire vision of WinRT and its future(s) but there is no on ramping to help the solutions delivery for this vision. Instead, it is a lot of wait and see?

Android has had next to no marketing but yet its retaining a steady share and I’d argue that its developer base of java and mono geeks have really taken this bad boy out for a test drive. It’s not a huge learning curve either, in under a week I was mucking around with the Android development and I’d say the community backing for this phone is quite loud despite the randomness of Google.

It’s still just as bad as Windows Phone 7 but that’s fine, reason being this is typical with any Google solution – Microsoft however can be better than that? They can on board people faster and with more energy than their competitors do as they are staffed worldwide better.

If you ask me, the phone itself is one thing but if the experience at the developer to consumer is filled with random noise and less signal around getting solutions to a mature level of quality, then that’s just the first strike and more to come shall follow.

There is a reason why the Windows Phone 7 marketplace is filled with crappy games or apps, some are good but they aren’t as rich as the iPhone (even then iPhone has crap to).

I’d argue that the competitive advantage Microsoft has right now that isn’t being capitalised on is the stark reality that they have a development experience that is quite rich and inviting the downside is once you get past the Powerpoint style development and want to actually build a Minecraft / Voxel Engine on a phone well you come up short.

If Microsoft’s vision is to ramp developers onto C++ then where is the investment on learning C++? DirectX? XNA? OpenGL? Etc. etc.

This phone needs much more than guys dropping the phone in a urinal as way to entice the masses to the cause. It needs to start at the experience level and work its way back to the technical detail(s). Its not just about building yet another Microsoft website that doubles down on Tutorials its more about thinking and engaging developers in ways that they understand or need massive leaps in thinking around. If Windows 8 and its device strategy can’t sustain the developer base and relies heavily on the market to teach the masses, then its yet another failure on the horizon. Same tactics as last time only more glitter.

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The Likes & Dislikes of Microsoft in 2011

The calendar increments by 1 year now and as it does I think about the last year and ponder what I liked and disliked in my sandbox that I call the Microsoft ethos

Windows Phone 7

  • I liked Nokias approach to branding the product; they really took what they saw and made it the focal point of what the experience for consumers should be. That is, they did what I asked at the start of the year; make the metro design your familiar face in the crowd.

  • I liked the WP7 Design contest; I rarely ever give an endorsement to contests as they are a desperate response to bad marketing, in this case though the designs that came back were actually tidy and immediately wanted you to explore the apps. Now to see if they make it into the appstore.
  • I disliked WP7 marketing from Microsoft, it was chaotic, it lacked depth and $500million in marketing spent later, I still can’t put my finger on one message that you could hang your hat on. Compare Apple iPhone / Android marketing to Wp7 and it baffles me as to what is going on in that team – I think they just carpet bomb SeaTac / LAX airports with it knowing that Microsoft Execs travel through there and hope that’s enough to convince them they are “everywhere” – reality is, Bus shelter ads aren’t putting the wp7 logo on the bottom of their “get our apps” signage – which is a fail.


  • I disliked the WP7 app store pricing model, fact is they are charging the same rates as iPhone devs or there about and in the end you have a marketshare that Samsung is even beating. I agree with Laurence MoroneyReality check for two please and can we have that to go.
  • I disliked the compete b.s that came from Staffers at Microsoft around WP7, fight the internal metrics and rise above the whole “heh did you see that, Apple just copied us!” mentality. Its very weak and if you are to beat the competition then you need to stop watching their every move hoping and praying for a weakness to occur. If Apple copy you, great, internalize that victory but keep it internal and instead move the bar higher as the best way for people to absorb that reality is when someone who doesn’t have an MVP or Blue-badge says “Did Apple just copy Microsoft?”.

Windows 7 and 8

  • I liked the intent for Microsoft to bring balance to the UX force, which is a consistent looking brand / feel across all products from now on.
  • I disliked the execution of the consistent branding. I wished they would keep all design decisions in a central team, which is everything from website design to UI design(s) for products. Allowing individual teams within Microsoft to interpret Metro outside of the central team at this early critical stage is clearly not working. If you want to attract a design enriched audience that want to take inspiration from your work, stop farming it out to agencies who nickel/dime their way through design creation and instead double down on providing a central experience.

    Hate it when Microsoft gets a hold of a design concept..and then just sodomises it #badmetro #bldwin

  • I liked the energy that the Windows teams have around device development, we’ve asked for this way back in the days of Surface birth. I think that’s healthy for the industry and will put touch enabled devices into more and more people’s hands sooner rather than later.
  • I disliked the artificial inflation of the metrics (Windows and Wp7). Inside Microsoft you gauge success based on your ability to ignore qualitative data and instead focus on quantitative given it looks bigger. This often spills over into the marketing engine(s) at Microsoft resulting in just bad reality checks thus creating more distance between the ability to trust anything the brand states.


  • I disliked the development experience required to get access to the touch enabled world. A friend of mine sent me this break down of tag trends over at Stackoverlow, basically if you are working with Silverlight and/or WPF the chances of you not using Stackoverflow in some form of way is next to zero. WPF and Silverlight dead? Can I have an extra order of reality check for team Sinofsky please?



  • I liked the notion that Windows 7 is on the rise over Windows XP, the growth you have is great, and the sooner we can stomp on the neck of Windows XP the happier my development sandbox will be.
  • I disliked the fact that Windows 7 has a huge market share right now, today, that I can’t access and instead am told to “chill” until Windows 8 AppStore comes online via Windows 8. It’s like the Microsoft team decided “How else can I really fuck my customer base over” then some clown in the back puts his hand up and tells them of an idea to hold back AppStore whilst everyone just sits there nodding like he’s telling them that touch will be the future for Microsoft back in 2007 – oh wait… has anyone seen JJ Allard lately as that guys going places.

Silverlight / WPF.

  • I liked the fact we got some releases for these products, shows there is still someone within the company stoking that release fire.
  • I liked Silverlights new 3D capabilities, it hints at what could have been possible had we had it sooner. We back in the early days would often discuss how 3D would be our next frontier of innovation for the product and my hat goes off to the engineering efforts for pulling it off – they worked hard.
  • I dislike that Silverlight release was late and I especially disliked the way it was done. Microsoft phoned in the release, let it happen in the dark of night instead of the grandeur we’ve been used to in the past. That for me sent a clear signal to the developer base – it’s time to move on, finish up your creations and wait for next shiny object to come to a install near you.
  • I dislike WPF feature list, it was less than we were promised (technically it was more tease / flirt) and lastly the release itself was more of an internal upgrade spilled over onto external HDD’s – that is to say, the features were more derived from internal needs than external. MIC check, is this thing on, WPF is dead in the eyes of Microsoft but its far from dead in the eyes of your average .NET code jockey.
  • I dislike the energy spent on HTML5 is the future, I’m yet to meet a developer who uses Silverlight/WPF get excited at the idea of abandoning this for HTML5. It must be the other developers I don’t’ see who want it – well that’s what we may be assuming amongst each and everyone one of us “must be the other guy needs it” (ie “Pretty girl syndrome”).


  • I liked the SDK experiences that come with this ….product? … I think it is much easier at times than people give it credit for. I’ve used Amazon quite extensively this year and often will grow impatient that its not like Azure.
  • I dislike the pricing models for Azure. I’m a fairly intelligent guy but even today I’d not say I can for certain grasp the pricing model needed for me to respond to a work order request from some of my clients (mining companies who pay very large sums of money may I add).
  • I dislike the fact Scott Guthrie is running this only. In the short time he’s been the custodian of this product its gotten better, great, but Scott should be a higher power across all products. Steve Sinofsky you suck the life out of Microsoft development.
  • I liked the way Bizspark program is breaking down the pricing barrier of entry for Azure, I was skeptical of this program when it first started (My office was near the creator of this program back in the day, wand watched its birth). I think this program is what stands between adoption and non-adoption but at the same time it has really piss poor marketing behind it so unless you know someone who knows someone, it needs more help (See Catherine Eibner in Microsoft Australia, she’s got her head screwed on tight around how this should work going forward. Promote her to lead the charge here).

Internet Explorer.

I liked the fact IE6 is hated in a more formal fashion at Microsoft, but overall I just wish this product in its entirety would just die. Everyone else is embracing Webkit, stop fighting the obvious and bend over accept you lost proprietary way of life and jump into the stagnant waters of Webkit FTW.


  • WCF team can rot in hell. I think there is enough issues around this product to simply state, stop what your doing and think about its effects on your audience. Until then, rot in hell.
  • Entity Framework team, make a decision and stick with it or at least promote the reasons why you change APIs and their pro’s / con’s.
  • Zune. Great idea, pitty it never left Redmond zip code.
  • Surface 2 – Great idea, pitty it never left Redmond zip code.
  • Bing. I googled Bing, enough said but the fact you didn’t have a Santa Tracker at Christmas – you are dead to me.

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Wife says: “Stupid Windows 7 Phone!!”

I was waiting for the train with the wife this morning and could hear her mutter a few curse words under her breathe. I stop reading my twitter stream, look over to her and am immediately greeted with a look of “Your to be blamed” for this.

I stupidly incite the upcoming verbal beating with a simple question “What seems to be the problem now?”

Wife: “Your stupid Microsoft friends have made a stupid phone!!!”

Me: “Oh? How so, like what is your beef missy?”

I soon realize that the time for joking with her and ending the sarcastic response with “missy” was not my brightest moment and definitely isn’t my great starting to a new day.

Here response is in the video below, but she has reached a point where she is over the HTC Mozart Windows Phone 7 phone. That is to say, she has made up her mind based on small bits of information around who is to blame and why.

I tweeted the saga live and saw a lot of responses with “That doesn’t happen to me” and “it must be hardware related” which is fine, I guess, yet you have to remember this is an average consumer who buys phones based on “pretty” and “angry birds” decisions only.

To her, this phone is broken and its Microsoft’s fault, end of story.

As an informed person of the whole Windows Phone 7 meets HTC hardware issues, I could easily sway her to the righteous side of things and explain how Microsoft relies on hardware vendors meeting quality bands and so on.

I did that.

Her response was simple and it was brilliantly executed in my opinion.

“Well when your iPhone smashed it screen, I didn’t see you finding the place in China or wherever it was made to figure out the solution. You took it into Apple store and you got it fixed.”

She has a point and to be fair, it is true. If iPhone has issues no matter what the case, I look at Apple and growl.

If a Windows Phone or Google Android has issues, we have three brands to look at and give a menacing growl at – Google, Hardware Vendor, and Carrier.

At some point, you have to figure out which of the three caused you the pain and then try to reconcile the problem with them and so on.

In the case of the Windows Phone 7, sure let us say it is hardware to be blamed? What do I do? Do I attempt to spend my entire lunch hour negotiating with Telstra drones who often hide behind the “look we just sell phones, we don’t do tech support, you need to contact this number…” and wait it out hoping and praying someone gets what you’re saying and either replaces the hardware or gives you some crap excuse about warranty.

In the iPhone land, I walk up to an Apple reseller like NextByte or Apple Stores direct, meet with their “Genius” (which is definitely an overloaded term in Apple Store setting) watch them attempt to figure out the issue followed by an immediate “we’ll have to send this way to get fixed for you” response.

You wait 3-5 business days and then you get an email saying your phone is ready but on closer inspection you soon realise it is not your old phone after all but a new or refurbished phone instead.

The point overall is this. The game has changed, Apple have reset a lot of the rules around not just the shape and operating system(s) of these devices and their features, they’ve also introduced us to a support workflow that despite it still having a lot of flaws and negativity attached after you meet with them, is still the one-stop shop.

My wife has seen me return iPhones due to cracked glass, she has seen me get them back brand new and has only noticed me getting angry at having to be without a phone for n-days.

To her, this is the way it should be to now encourage her to sit down at a Telstra store and figure a way around this issue is simply to hard basket thinking. She’d rather just withdrawal $799 from our back account, drive over to the Apple Store on the weekend, buy the new iPhone 4s and re-join the herd with all her other friends that own one.

You cannot argue with that either, its fair and reasonable thinking given the market conditions and aspirations being made around phones.

Thankfully though I still have an iPhone 4 without the “s” so I was able to convince her to not spend $799 but take my old iPhone4 given I now have an iPhone4s.

Now to buy an XBOX 360 Kinect with the money I saved…

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