MVP – Most Valuable Professional. Is it or isn’t it?

David Woods wrote a blog post earlier this week which he outlines his thoughts on the MVP Program(s) at Microsoft – specifically the lack of value he finds in it.

Here are some notes if you will on some types of questions I’ve witnessed or have sensed gone unasked over the years inside Microsoft.

Is the MVP Program useful?

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It is and isn’t. Its an important concept to have attached to a Product within any company, as the idea in itself is righteous. An MVP is someone who can influence others to explore a given product within Microsoft and that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. The MVP doesn’t have to be the worlds best expert at the said product, in fact a lot of MVP’s are far from that – they are however someone with whom makes an impact within the community.

Impact and influence is why the MVP Program is useful, now the problem with it today is that it’s not consistent in its approach and lastly there are quite a lot of “fanbois” in the program that can at times disarm the program’s true potential – as everyone may paint all with the same brush “bah, bunch of Microsoft yes men, who cares about them..”

MVP Program is broken because Product Teams never tell you anything.

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Yup, they often will keep you in the dark about the product’s next roadmaps and at times treat you as if you were just a TechEd/MIX attendee instead of an MVP. It’s nothing personal, it’s nothing to do with you as a group it has everything to do with the word momentum.

Inside Microsoft when you own a product, you have to fight to get a launch buzz going. You fight because every other team inside the company is pretty much either getting ready to ship or talking about what could potentially ship. You in turn have to fight your way to the top of the headline heap for tech buzz.

I state this as when you have to go through this, telling an MVP is somewhat harmful to your upcoming surprise party as all it takes is an MVP to give Mary Jo / Tim Anderson (Tech Journalists) a heads up and boom not only did the surprise party fall flat but you’ve also given your competitors for the said product a heads up on talking points.

Talking points are important for competitors to know ahead of time, as when the journalists etc. get the said product briefing they in turn look for quotes / sound bytes from the said competitor (just like a political campaign). It pays to be ready.

That’s at the core of why you are probably kept in the dark about products. You got an MVP nomination because you can influence, nobody actually said you’re the chosen one and that all state secrets within Microsoft will fall before you. You need to make peace with that and more importantly you also need to understand that even Microsoft staff don’t get as much information as you do, so that is the reality an MVP today probably needs to come to grips with.

Not true, for example XYZ product team tell me stuff all the time!

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Yeah, I don’t doubt that each product team has their own unique communication pattern with the said products MVP’s. It comes really back to your individual relationships with the said product team. It also comes back to the competitive threat levels attached to the Product(s) you evangelize.

An example is that in 2009 the MVP summit within Redmond, the Windows Mobile team kept their cards close to their chest and it this really pissed off the Mobile MVP’s. I remember at the time thinking “yeah, that’s not a fun team to be in right now” but to be fair, Windows Phone 7 needed to be kept locked down as much as it could be. It was a dangerous secret to let loose given its importance to the device market. Some knew, most didn’t and it was a deliberate decision.

At the same summit, we also wanted to keep features within Silverlight/Expression secret. I remember our team made a point of keeping everyone in the dark. Then Scott Guthrie got on stage and pretty much told everyone everything, so we then in turn went “well, he’s the executive in charge, I guess its out now” so we in turn reacted to this and started the communication pipelines again.

That same year, 3 MVP’s also leaked information around the products and as a result at the time of the summit journalists pickedup on the information and ran with some stories – again, partially deflating the momentum we worked months building behind the scenes for MIX?

I also in that same time fought to NOT have those three MVP’s banned from the program for the said leaks – despite the witch hunt within gunning for them. My rationale was simple, they are excited about the product why do we punish them? isn’t this what we are supposed to do ? Two MVP’s were warned one was banned (simply because he named Kittyhawk aka now as Visual Studio Lightswitch publicly).

Do MVP’s influence the features then?

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In my experience they do. It’s not always obvious but there is definitely influence from MVP’s in most Microsoft Products. The problem I see in this question is I think MVP’s want a direct “you created this xyz feature, well done guys” moment. In reality it can be a small tiny spark of an idea that an MVP threw out there into the void, the teams then digest the concept and come up with some ideas similar to it etc – next thing you know, you have functional specs written and maybe the next release or thereafter, the said spark mutates into a feature.

Point is, you’d be surprised at what influence occurs via the MVP program and how it translates into a feature, its just not always obvious.

Give me an example of MVP influence?

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One year, I had an MVP stay with me for a week in Redmond. He at the time didn’t’ feel as if he got much value out of the MVP summit and had a lot of questions regarding the future of ASP.NET and problems within. I figured, this guy is an MVP who is deserving (he’s good at what he does, he does a lot for the community and most of all he’s quite a humble person to know), so with that, I personally walked him around to as many people within Microsoft campus as I could at the time. We had meetings with the ASP.NET teams and he hung out with the devdiv product managers as well.

I remember one question he asked was “which should I talk about, WebForms or MVC?” and our typical response to that question was “It depends”. This wasn’t helpful for him, so we talked it out more and as a result I watched my team members at the time see first hand that “it depends” response, was bogus. They could see this guy in front of him giving them the raw data that basically WebForms and MVC adoption decisions were a confusing story.

It’s also worth pointing out that during his time with the ASP.NET team a few specs were written based off the chat and as a result I think he made impact beyond what he or I could really measure first hand?

This MVP now works for Microsoft and I think him seeing first hand the internal culture within Microsoft campus influenced not only his expectations of Microsoft but also is likely to have ripple effects for quite some time.

Nobody knew this happened, so my point stands – influence at times isn’t always as obvious and that’s why the MVP program is healthy, despite its many flaws.

Can you help me then to become an MVP?

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I’ve personally been asked a few times to become an MVP since leaving Microsoft and I’ve turned them down. I don’t think I’m better than the program etc, I just don’t think I add value as to me an MVP is someone who is actually genuinely surprised at the recognition. If they wanted to make me an MVP, then it better be because I had influence or did something for the greater good.

Asking or proactively making yourself loud and obvious so that you can game the concept of becoming an MVP for me personally sours the program’s potential. It’s not about having the MVP badge on your resume, it’s about doing all the requirements of an MVP because you firstly enjoy it regardless of the title and secondly you create a two way dialogue with the very people your influencing. I grow weary of seeing the same muffin eaters at the same conferences talking the same crap over and over just so that they in turn can get the local Microsoft Evangelist’s attention in order to get a MVP nomination.

Don’t get me wrong, that formula will yield you a nomination but for me it’s the Microsoft folks who are proactive about the product that one day get an email / tweet about them being nominated as an MVP – to then have this expression of “really, wow, I hadn’t thought I meet the grade”.

Humility is needed more in the MVP ranks and ass kissing / cheer leading within the program is something that needs to be weeded out. An MVP should be also someone who’s not afraid to say “this sux, but this rox” in the same breathe.

Blind loyalty in a MVP is useless.

Never listen to critics, as they are never going to be happy with you, that’s why they’re critics. Never listen to your fans, as they are to busy being happy with everything you say. Listen to the ones that haven’t made up their mind, they in turn will help you more!

How should the MVP Program be reformed?

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Don’t know, all I do know is that its broken at this point. I think it has to do with Microsoft Developer & Platform Evangelism (DPE) has lost its way since Walid (CVP) took over years ago. The DPE guys are all over the place and often their budgets are cut so short that boarding a plane can be an exercise of begging / frustration. I spent over $50k+ in my first year at Microsoft in travel  + expenses alone, even though at the time our T&E budget was around $20k per person. I think its now much less.

Evangelism is important to the MVP program, as they are the ones who should find ways to work with the MVP’s in order to scale the evangelism rhythms. I just don’t’ see that right now.

Its broken, and it needs investigation as to why it’s broken in order to reform it. I think the answers are to few to formulate an actual plan right now.

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What happens when you bring the UX person in last.

How many of you have been to a conference that has a UX/UI Person on stage discussing the mystic art of software development and design? In that said session they at some point raise the slide that outlines you should engage a UX person early and think about UI/UX from the start.

How many of you then go back to your respective cubicles, nodding in agreement but then immediately go into a new project ignoring the said suggestion?

Don’t lie, I see you looking back in a nervous manner and shouting out reasons like “Well, we didn’t have the budget” or “My boss wouldn’t …” etc.

Meet Mr Wolf

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Just like in Pulp Fiction, a guy like me is called in after the crime has been committed. I’m the guy you bring in after you accidently killed someone and its my job to navigate the mess in order to get you back to your life without prison time. If I succeed, you don’t’ spend the rest of your life in jail if I fail, well, learn how to fight using prison rules.

When I come into a team in this situation, the thing that I notice the most is they are looking for guidance around a plan, in that it’s a case of me analyzing the situation, asking a series of specific questions relating to the said scene and then giving them a task list to execute on – whilst being clear to stick to my rules or well, good luck in jail.

The problem with this approach at times is that you have usually one or two people in the room who ask for your help but at the same time are giving your orders on how to clean the mess up quicker – each time they do this they in turn increase their chances of prison time.

It’s a hard balance to participate in from my perspective as I have to figure out a way to firstly give a design and experience to the software’s targeted end users in a way that isn’t just a screen after screen of tree controls and datagrids whilst at the same time having a low impact to the codebase and lastly but more importantly doing it within a very tight timeframe/budget?

Its hard work and you know what, its going to cost you so don’t whine about it.

Had you called me from the start, it would have been a completely different outcome and yes, you’ve heard this thousands of times at whatever conference you last attended – engage a UX person early and let them direct the screens overall compensations – design first engineer second.

I personally have been pulled into over 30+ projects in the last year that have this exact situation unfolding before me, in that it’s the last two sprints of a project, I’m playing a massive game of UX Tetris with WPF/Silverlight or Wp7 and I’m constantly being harassed on time/budget questions.

It sux but that’s the reality of the role I play in this business, the guy who can code and design at the same time. Its why I charge the amounts I do and sure the price attracts attention but in truth If you follow my rules and approach you will come out with a finished result. If you interject along the way with the way you think it should be done, fine, I’ll do it your way but if it fails – given the inexperience so far, it will – then to be fair, you were warned.

My way or the wrong way.

The way I approach situations where I’m brought in at the last hour is via the following routine.

  • The Primitives. In every application you have what I call the primitives, in that these are the buttons, modal windows, textbox’s, scrollbars, checkboxes etc. .. the stuff you get out of the box for free with .NET. My first attack posture is to start building out a resource dictionary library for you to bootstrap your UI against. In that for example TextBox and Button controls I start putting into what I call the UI-Shirt-Sizes, Large, Medium and Small. If your form in question requires the user enter 15chars min/max, who cares, the end user is open to the idea that this textbox is a small one that magically doesn’t let me type more than those pre-defined characters.

    If your software has a large sentence like “Find a users profile”  labels on buttons – guess what I’m going to do, re-label that as “Find..” keep it simple less extraneous cognitive load and more assume the user has used software before they picked up yours.

  • The Layout. Chances are you’ve probably put together a UI that I can only describe as a DataGrid orgy followed by copious amounts of Modal windows and screens that probably looks like the dashboard of a Qantas Jet in terms of fields/inputs etc. Just for giggles, I’m also likely to find a TreeGrid control because of some random hierarchy based navigational weird mutation of a need (you know who you are, there’s no shame in admitting that)

    I’m going to simplify this down to the point where the data flows in a fashion that makes sense to the outcome of the screens purpose. I’m also going to look for ways to make use of a party trick called “progressive disclosure” as you do want the user to feel like they stand a chance at success should they use your software don’t you?

    This is what I call the hostage negotiation in that chances are there is an entity in the room that is locked on the way it works at the moment and its my job to find a way to get you to release parts of the UI so I can find a happy resolution to the situation. I’m going to ask you to give me a little control over how the UI comes together and in return I’ll turn the lights back on followed by some pizza. We need to build trust and you got to work with me on this one, I can make good on some promises if you do!

  • The Validations. I have seen some crazy ways that developers have approached the simplistic concept of alerting the user that they did something wrong. What I have noticed the most is its kind of OnChange vs OnSubmit mode of approach. The reality is validation isn’t that, as you have the “Hey before we show you this form, here’s where you need to focus”, “Hey I just noticed you filled out that field wrong, can you fix it”, “Hey I am about to send this data off and noticed the form isn’t really done yet?” and lastly “hey I know at the time you sent this the form felt like it was good, but the server just called me and told me its wrong, so can you go fix” .. point is, IDataErrorInfo implementation is only going to work so far.

    I focus on this area is this is where at times bugs tend to get brought up and it can be a case of where the most effort can be spent trying to undo user fail. Its important that one approaches this in a way that makes sense to the end user and you also find ways to decode the error in a meaningful way – not one that aims to reduce the user to a dribbling mess of “I don’t speak computer geek?”

    Validation styling and alert states are crucial.

  • The BackgroundWorker. Its not about just fixing the UI look and user experience fail points its also about shift the work into areas that make the application feel snappy. In WPF the UI Thread is an absolute pain in the butt when you at times talk to WCF – in that I have seen a lot of apps that keep the entire workload under the one thread only. In Silverlight this can be a fairly low risk situation given Async works ok, but in WPF it means your application grinds to a halt until the service layer comes back from the dead. It also isn’t just a threading issue its also a latency issue as well.

    Latency is a buzz killer in making the user feel like the application is responsive, it creates this effect in which the user punishes themselves and attempts to pay their debt by trying again and again etc if left unchecked. Its situations like this I look for ways in making the user aware that they did a good job but at the same time finding ways to NOT remind them of time – as time is the enemy given each millisecond you are banking hate debt with the user?

    This is where I look for ways to use some slight of hand techniques to convince the user there isn’t a problem and everything is fast / efficient in the software. I also may lie to the user if I can eg Please wait while Security authenticates you” – damn those Security Nazi’s I agree, it sux but what can you do – its actually an effective way to pacify users as you all collectively shake your fist at IT Department for always riding you about security – when I reality I’m waiting for blah service to wake up from its slumber?

    Point is, find a common villain to throw under a bus or find a way to keep peoples attention away from their watch (eg: Now herding llamas for the great stampede …< MAXIS do this in their games, it works)

I’ll leave there as this is turning into a tomb of gospel around how I approach my job, but the point is that I do have a process and there is a method to my madness. I’ve been in a lot of fire drills with WPF/Silverlight and WP7 and I’ve now settled on some patterns that have produced results  around nice UI/UX and customers happy.

The reality is this though, you could of saved yourself minimum double through to quadruple the amount of money it cost by bringing me in early instead of late. I can’t say it enough, engage early and upfront you will save, you may be skeptical htats fine, but either way a person like me gets paid – its just a matter of how much?

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Microsoft’s Behavioral Patterns.

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I’m often engaged in a variety of conversations regarding Microsoft, obviously because I’m opinionated about the company – more to the point, its almost become a niche thing I seem to tap into. In that, I could talk about Google or Adobe but often I get the “that’s your opinion” vibe. If I talk about Microsoft in the same way, i get the “Oh really?!!” interest vibe.

That’s often fueled allot of my soap boxing as i feed off that quite happily and its not that I want the 5sec of fame, its more that I feel I am adding an insight or value to a conversation around me, like I have this small pocket of information that enables someone beside me to unlock a pattern or compounding issue relating to Microsoft and its technology / culture. It’s hard to put into words, but in reality the more people I interact with the more I get this overwhelming sense of “yeah, you’re right, I couldn’t figure out how to say that but yes, that make sense now” moments.

Let me attempt to articulate the flaws I am seeing inside Microsoft as a brand that I personally have found reflected back at me via these conversations (you are feeding my addiction hehe).

Scarcity.

Often Microsoft when they launch a product alert the masses well in advance around what’s coming. They endeavor to flood the market as fast and aggressively as they can with the said product. It often gets to a point where they effectively buy there place in your memory through constant rinse/repeat approach to alerting you. If they don’t get you on the first pass, they’ll get you on the second or third etc. Its an old tactic and with the budgets that also get allocated to various teams that are enough to keep 5-6 startups a live for years, it often comes with a sketchy at best yield.

The problem with this tactic is we as consumers at times are great at ignoring this as we’ve spent a large amount of our adult lives watching this same formula repeat itself over and over. We often can predict its movements ahead of time and so when we see the pattern emerging its easy to then point out the flaws and faults (often allot of the tech journalist profit from this). Those who aren’t used to it see others doing this and go “wow, its like you’re able to see the future!!!” and so this in turn fuels the engine.

If you however, look across the skirmish lines to Apple or Google. They really often more than most, don’t do this. They are often associated with this sense of surprise effect and more to the point they give you this other sense that “while stocks last” or “you better hurry now and get it before others find out and no stock will be left” kind of moment(s) at launch / announcements.

Apple is by far the most effective in the way they announce “new”. Microsoft staff often see this and try a lot of the times to emulate that success but they do so in a way that’s inconsistent at times or often messy / half-done. Yet when ones do succeed (much like a group of tree’s all fighting for sunlight over one another, one will eventually emerge) the said success breeds more “see, it works” momentum and thus the cycle internally repeats itself.

Microsoft has this flaw, they tend to not comprehend that in order to win the masses over one needs to create the element of rarity, there’s no sense of prized ownership or differentiation in their approach. The only time I would argue this has come to the surface – hehe – is well with concepts like Microsoft Surface, XBOX and in many ways with Windows Phone 7 – although that funnily enough is a problem.

I digress, but with Windows Phone 7 I watched the launch with interest in that to me Microsoft was looking for ways to sell the vibe “while stocks last” and “get one now ahead of everyone else” momentum, and they almost had it but for some reason, it was a fizzle effect. They didn’t in a nutshell sustain that momentum, it was a sense or rarity and then it was gone just as fast as it came.

Commitment

If you’ve been a devoted customer for quite some time to Microsoft you’d be hard press to find the said customers to argue that Microsoft is always committed to one particular goal or idea. The reality is, it is often a company that abandons ideas faster at times than they were projected. It has to do with the culture within the company mostly which then spills over into the customer / product lines.

I often make remarks about Victory Emails and how they are so wrong for the company but I don’t articulate why. Here’s why.

Microsoft staff are like abused children in some parts, in that they seek affection / attention through what I would call “ACE” dropping. In that, abused children often do this as a copining mechanism to emulate affection or love given they have often had this part of their lives destroyed. What happens is the said child will wow everyone around them with the first ace up their sleeve and everyone suddenly goes “that’s amazing” and the said child then basks in the glow from this effect.

The effect however only lasts for so long and so they need to keep that momentum alive by dropping their second ACE and again, it happens again.. This pattern repeats itself for an average of 4-5 times at most before the said child starts making plans to abandon these sets of folks and seek out new people to wow / win over.

Inside Microsoft, this is a surprisingly consistent pattern I observed. You’d see these rising stars come in fast and hard, only to fizzle out around the first year maybe second year and then just as fast as they came they’ve left. Think of this like watching a bunch of fireworks come and go and then quietness follows. Its in the quiet times that you peel away the covers and start seeing staff ping / pong around teams via internal transfers and commitment calibrations etc.

There is never really a consistent holding pattern and when you do find that consistency its usually owned by a personality who’s found a way to just sustain the calm effect (under the radar) or is a complete jackass and dominates through power-politics – never really is there that spark of “Wow” in that seat.

If staff can’t commit to a set idea or goal over a large body of time, then how on earth can a product ever remain consistent and focused? If Microsoft were to announce tomorrow that staff transfers were to be put on hold for minimum 5 years – I’d wager you’d see a high exit rate of staff for one and secondly you’d see an entirely different marketing and engineering effort from within the company itself.

The reason being is the rising star’s can’t keep doing their 4 ACE pony tricks to wooo over others and as such you’d likely see a steady / calm growth from within around planning and focus. Victory emails themselves would have less of an effect as “congrats, you did a great job, but, you can either get a promotion or a pat on the back, either way you’re not moving out of this team buddy, sorry!” moments.

Internally until this is solved, Microsoft will always come across externally as a company that lacks depth in terms of commitment.

Clarity

I’m not going to beat on this drum to loudly, but I’d wager i’d be hard pressed to find a single person outside the company that would argue strongly that the company seems to have clear definitive goals around what they do (ie taps into commitment). The problem an internal one yes, but externally they don’t have a sense of clustering or grouping in that their pattern is inconsistent and often hard to parse.

If I were to put a bunch of XX’s on screen right now like this:

XX  XX  XX XX

You would typically see the X’s in groups of two? In that the clarity around that pattern is simple. It’s information if you will is broken into a consistent but clearly defined pattern.

If I were to take that same concept and apply this formatting to it:

XXxXxXXxx

The pattern isn’t as clear and for those of you paying close attention, you may also notice I added an extra “X” without others probably realizing it.  The point here is simple, Microsoft’s approach to product positioning and placement isn’t consistent and as a result you have the secondary effect vs.. the first. You can’t get behind the information as you’re too busy in your own mind, trying to separate the X’s into clusters that enable you to digest the information more closely.

This is how I would illustrate the massive amounts of bad information / inconsistent look of Microsoft’s entire approach to everything it does. There’s not really one person or person(s) being the gatekeepers of the said pattern in terms of how the company saturates the market with new information. It just seems to be a case of inconsistent X’s and at times some other letters mixed in.

Too many Options

I mentioned earlier that Victory Emails are a dangerous beast within. The other reason to this reason is the inherit concept of what success is or isn’t within the company. Popularity wins first, yield comes second is probably a pattern i’d argue as being “yup, that’s about right

If you were to look up research around how humans deal with options, you’d probably settle on the concept “less is more”. On one hand we humans are attracted to options, we all actively want more options than we can handle but in reality we rarely ever agree with the options and furthermore in a consumer driven situation – we often more than most don’t buy more as a result.

In that most research I’ve read on the subject highlights that if customers were given 100 items to choose from, the said customers who were initially attracted would be quite high. If the said situation was reduced to 30 items, the attraction would be much lower than the 100 but the purchasing or acquisition behavior would be actually significantly higher than the initial 100 🙂

Inside Microsoft I often would notice quantitative  analysis was often used as a metric of success “congrats, you’re popular!” where as if you were to peel away the word success here, and study the qualitative analysis of the said “success” you’d find the yield to me much lower.

An example:

“All the major journalists are talking about a products, they reach millions on our behalf, success is ours!”

In reality

“All the major journalists who reach majority of the same customers talked about our products but not in a really in-depth way and often more than none had a negative remark about us or two”

Inside Microsoft you have a PRIME score which keeps track of positive/negative PR, but the point here is that whilst yes you had the journalists from around the worlds full attention – the reality is what does that actually mean? you reached a larger customer base then say your random blog post? but what did that reach mean? and more to the point what effects has that reach on the purchasing or adoption behavior of your customers. Furthermore, how can you then map this against other products in the market and where is the overlaps occurring and lastly who’s really competing for attention – external companies or other teams internally?

Inside the company there’s really no conductor or movie style director who’s keeping a steady handle on how information flows in and out of the company. It often comes in large volumes and is spread far and wide with often no real data to support success or failure – more perception.

Summary.

The point to this post isn’t to beat the crap out of the brand – yet again – it’s more to clarify the patterns I personally see in the way the company approaches us, the consumer. It also taps into conversations I’ve had over the years (employee and ex-employee) with how the products and customers are bonding. The company itself has a large amount of problems that often just don’t seem to finding any hint of remorse or success in stemming the tide of failure.

What I am seeing is an exodus of some no-name on the blogsphere staff shifting over to Google or other. If you look at these staff leaving as isolated “oh, darn xyz left” then it’s not so bad. If you start adding them up and back tracking what they did for the company and more specifically the products they managed or ran, you start to see – well I do anyway – a pattern emerging of “oh wow, this is quite bad as the successors are def not as capable and what does that mean for that xyz work they were doing?”

Staff are important and the end final point I have to say is the above is simply a dump of patterns I see and how the on flow from the centre out is what is causing the most pain for the company. The products themselves will have a bumpy lifespan over time and sure the community surrounding the products will also share the same amount of turbulence. The actual cause of all these bumps though start with the above, these are the engines if you will producing the chaos.

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The rise and fall of Microsoft’s UX platform – Part 4

 

WPF Time of Death.

Time to call it, December 2nd 2010. Seriously, I have thought about the Silverlight Firestarter event for a few weeks now with a focus on reading how the rest of the world kind of digests the vNext of Silverlight.

Its very clear if you read between the lines that Silverlight is shaping up to replace the WPF workload, and whilst Microsoft will roll out the engineers + shipping routine its pretty much all they aren’t doing before WPF is officially declared dead. Shipping is realistically the one thing they have left and even that’s looking a bit sketchy and cumbersome to watch.

It’s clear with Silverlight5 my old comrades in arms at Redmond have even stopped paying lip service to the x-platform discussion with many of the new features being Windows specific. It’s also clear given Windows Phone 7 failing in the market that now is not the time to give Microsoft’s biggest competitor, Apple momentum or face an internal career firing squad.

WPF has enormous amount of hidden potential, its not marketed but its there. It’s not a bad desktop platform to build against and majority of the issues that I have personally faced with the product are due to basically quality assurance sloppiness. Its still got work-around solutions though, so you in turn forgive it’s sins.

Technically being ok is not enough though, you need to go wide and far in promoting its existence and the return on investment you could potentially yield from the platform. That’s not happening and its also clear that there’s zero paid community evangelism efforts in market right now to uphold this line of thinking.

An example, Where is the WPF fire starter Microsoft? where is any event for that matter that focuses on exploring the bounty of WPF?

Scott Guthrie’s blog is typically a marketing announcement channel given his geek-fame over the years. It’s often we in marketing would joke (sarcasm) “its a good thing we have ScottGu’s blog, as boy we almost needed an official marketing site for Silverlight” – jokes aside, Scott doesn’t talk about WPF at all (check out the below tag cloud)

WPFDead

If i were to audit Microsoft today online and tally up WPF vs. Silverlight, which would win? Argue with the notion that something is dead or isn’t but its definitely clear that WPF hasn’t a bright future as its technology cousin – Silverlight.

Windows Phone 7 – Fail.

I have predicted that I think WP7 is going to not win consumers over but I figured that it would take a couple of years before that is realized. Hearing reports that the device has small units of sale and now some resellers are slashing prices in a hope to stimulate the market to buy, is just downright disappointing.

Its not that the phone is bad, its actually got a load of potential. As whilst I’m a WPF fan at heart, I do still also enjoy working with Silverlight (which has this kind of polarizing effect on me). I just think that the Metro User Interface is simply killing the products potential.

It’s important to call that out, given this is the “face” of the brand. It looks tacky, not well thought out and clearly lacks usability principles needed to navigate a small device. It puts to much emphasis on typography and downplays visual elements to provide structure and grouping to the components within (ie Extraneous Cognitive Load).

The keyboard is to primitive and the keys are narrow. I’ve sat down and looked at the iPhone and Wp7 keyboards and for me the WP7 looks like a prototype version of the concept. The keys don’t necessarily guide you to aim for the middle, where as the iPhone keys are spaced but at the same time the hit area isn’t exactly confined to that space. You in turn are more likely to focus on your target even though the spacing is artificial.

Typography is weak and at times doesn’t even do the basics – in outlook a list of bold means new, unbold means read, yet you still don’t even get this? The menu system is a endless vertical nightmare, as whilst its great to list things its important to also balance out your screen between scrolling and displaying. I find the constant scrolling down to be cumbersome and annoying especially when you’re debugging an Application you’re writing for the phone.

I could list more and I’ll be talking 1:1 with Wp7 Product Management, but i think my point here is made, this phone needs more energy and focus. It has enormous potential ahead of it but for the space price or thereabouts as its biggest 800lb gorilla competitor is simply unrealistic. Lower the price or fix the UI, make a choice as the UX for Microsoft is dying as-is. Which brings me to my next point.

Designers aren’t interested anymore.

If you look at the AppStore market place, majority of the apps are visually engaging and have definitely some design bloodlines in the room. If you look at the Microsoft marketplace its pretty clear that designers aren’t in the room in large quantities.

No designers means wasted technology, wasted technology means some team internally right now is coming up with the “fix” for this (which in their minds is an engineering problem not an engagement problem). The reality is you can throw all the tools you want at this problem as well as the platforms, but unless you truly evangelize in a non-aggressive way to this market. You’re just wasting good money on technology that goes nowhere.

If you were to compare 2007/2008 Evangelism efforts to present, You would see this massive disconnect between strong in your face marketing to the art community to today being a bunch of engineers high fiving one another about how awesome things are.  The reality is, unless you can add some design blood lines to this new UX driven world, your technology hasn’t moved forward, you’re just rebadging old technology with much weirder UI.

Summary

Silverlight 5 is WPF’s new replacement, and I really don’t have that much of a problem with this other than if you’re going to make this the vNext desktop focus, then commit. Don’t do it half-assed, get those 200+ engineers and get your butts into gear and open it up more. If you aren’t going to do this, then take 100+ engineers out of that 200 and get them to focus on doing more with WPF so that the two are more aligned to save cross-targeting related issues – as news flash Redmond, nobody really thinks that far ahead as to which technology is likely to give them an outcome they desire. Choosing Silverlight first then hitting a wall and retreating back to WPF is unrealistic as it means people need to know its faults completely end to end and how these map to their business constraints upfront? sorry no.

Windows Phone 7 needs something. It needs a more structured approach to user experience and it needs to solve WPF and Silverlights initial problem – how to get designers to the cause. Unless Microsoft gets off their butts and re-invest into the designer focused communities, these products are destined to follow the same non-starters as previous incarnations of the Windows Phone operating systems as well as the low saturation levels in the wild of both Silverlight/WPF publically.

“There are certainly some functionality shortfalls, and we are going to work to address them,” – Joe Belfiore  / Microsoft.

Microsoft needs to get back to evangelism 101 and more importantly the notion that just because you ship doesn’t mean you’re committed to the future. Creating features and releasing them isn’t enough, unless you broadcast and win the hearts & minds over all you’re effectively doing is having a bunch of engineers in Redmond high five one another over a release that could be epic if it got momentum – FAIL.

Related Posts:

Hey Scott, WPF isn’t dead he just said so..

I was forwarded a blog post today from a .NET dev – Juan M. Medina. It was a great insight into the cause/effects and now response to some of my blog posts. It however left me a little frustrated mainly around the main issue of the declaration of WPF is dead being lost in translation.

To clarify, if I may.

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Juan walked up to Tim Heuer, Pete Brown and Scott Guthrie and asked them flat out whether or not WPF is dying – is that ex-Employee smoking crack or what? is the underlying point (but Juan is much politer). The response is as expected, in that the staff will usually work hard to show one and all a hint at the technology roadmap, partner success and internal bets being placed on the said product. It’s perfectly fine for them to do this as should either one of these guys deviate in the slightest well it’s both political and career suicide to even think about declaring the said UX platform dormant / aka dead.

It’s not about whether or not they are actively working on the said product(s), putting 3x engineers on a dormant product is still considered progress. The total number of engineers and features being worked on isn’t enough to declare a product alive. It needs more collective effort around it to really drive it home.

Google for example allocated some serious engineering effort behind Google Wave, its dead today. It had a roadmap, it had engineers, it had Google saying similar commitment speeches and it had a descent amount of initial launch public exposure. It’s dead, what happened?

The answer is similar to where I see WPF today, it’s got a bunch of engineers high-fiving one another around what’s coming up next, how cool it is and lastly what people have done with it only when asked.

WPF has no marketing. I’ve covered this in an early post, but that’s the initial point of the "WPF is Dead" and why it’s got both a small amount of engineers as well as maybe one or two warm bodies actively evangelizing and marketing it at best – that’s assuming if you count Rob Relyea and Pete Brown as its entire marketing force.

In not having a collective Evangelism, Marketing and Engineering team working alongside one another, it pretty much becomes this Google Wave like science project. In that you get a list of random features that most people may look at and go "Well I guess, the other guys in the WPF community wanted that, not for me though" that really don’t sync up to the overall collective practical usage today for the said technology. You basically have 200+ engineers all working on features that probably have zero to no impact worldwide with the collective majority who actively use the said technology (who says I’m right or wrong on that?)

Thus, it’s a corpse.

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In order to be successful with a product like WPF, you need to really sit down and analyze the overall feature matrix and think about how it’s being used, where its being used, what the maturity levels are for developers, what features are fun vs. boring, what features are needed for xyz verticals, what features are needed in order to prepare for the next 2 releases and so on..

For example, you look at a feature and you apply something like the following to it:

  • Is this feature completely new to the industry (Deep Zoom, Pivot Viewer etc).
  • Does this feature have full tooling support?
  • Does this feature have learning materials ready at launch?
  • Is this feature fully documented?
  • Has this feature had breaking changes prior to RTM?
  • Does this feature require Level 300+ developer skill maturity in order to comprehend.
  • Does this feature rely on other features?
  • Is this feature a market differentiator?
  • Is this feature a highlight feature (ie RTM talking point)
  • What partners have used this feature and specifically in which demo / examples
  • How often will this feature be used compared to the others?
  • etc..

You ask a plethora of these questions as you need to market, manage and evangelize this feature as if it were the most important piece of the said product. It doesn’t have to be, but it gets your entire product positioned in a way that reduces friction to all that need to comprehend and ask what value the said feature is about to provide?

Features aren’t just bullet points in a blog post.

It’s not about saying "I just committed 200+ engineers and I now have the following shopping list of items ready for you" it’s more about how the said shopping list fixes or addresses real world scenarios – frame the problem then show how the feature solved it.

Collectively all features need some kind of airplay, but you also need to filter out the easy from the hard and focus on spending effort via Evangelism , Blog Posts, Tutorial Videos (level 100, 200, 300 etc) and so on reducing the friction associated with the hard ones. Use the easy features simple ice breakers only, but double down on the hard ones as much as possible.

It doesn’t stop there, you also need to go through and clean up the internet as much as possible around some of the beta / breaking changes for any features that you had prior to release as sadly, transparency comes at a price – confusion. Legacy blog posts need updating as they’ve shifted from just being a moment on an RSS Horizon to being part of your collective documentation world-wide. You need to track some of this and get ahead of it as much as possible.

Last but most important of all, you need to take all this effort and market the crap out of it. You need to spend close to 2 years minimum rinse and repeating the value of WPF over and over. It needs to be broadcasted and when you think you are done, start again.

Coco Cola is a brand the world knows at first sight, they don’t just sit back and go "Well coke is pretty much well known now, it’s a mature brand! – job well done all!" – instead you are constantly reminded of the beverage and how refreshing it’s going to make you feel whenever you get thirsty. They do this as when the time comes and when you face a fridge inside a supermarket, you make a decision within 7 seconds on whether or not you believe them. The constant reminding is done for a reason as its about ensuring coke is your default choice.

Microsoft have yet to figure this out across all of its products. Its why there is a huge contrast between Microsoft and Adobe, Apple and even Google. Microsoft floods the market with "look at me" quick, fast, dirty and uncalculated marketing principles that often change every fiscal.

The others don’t, they typically keep a steady course and iterate on failure and break success. Rinse & Repeat. Apple are the most calculated of all, everything they do is done in a matter that has quality bands tightly controlled.

This week alone you’ve seen two separate fumbles at basic product positioning and press releases from an executive through to a simple press release (Bing 3D maps deprecation announcement was a mess).

To wrap this corpse  up..

My end point is this, walking up to an Executive inside Microsoft and flat out asking "Is that product dead or what?" is not going to get you an accurate answer. Save your question, instead ask

  • What is the marketing strategy for WPF?,
  • What’s the feature catalogue look like beyond what I’ve already seen so far?
  • How often do you plan to ship?
  • Is there Evangelists in my subsidiary that are going to help me market and seed a community around this product?
  • Who are the community leads at Microsoft who can help me with further questions for this product?
  • How do I train developers & designers to prepare for WPF?
  • How does WPF and Silverlight work with one another with the new features?
  • What can I use to convince my work to adopt this technology?
  • How does WPF work with my vertical (finance, health, mining etc)
  • How does the case study you told me about relate to the following features?
  • etc

You keep hammering away at the hard questions around the future sustainability of WPF beyond a few random stats that really don’t give you an accurate picture – eg.. 200+ engineers on WPF/SL? what does that mean? is that 100 engineers on WPF and 100 engineers on Silverlight? do they even need 200? is 200 enough..should there be more? what’s that mean?

Is WPF dead? yeah it is do you know why? because someone forgot to tell us all it’s not.

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Silverlight and HTML5, Rainbows, Sunshine and Bullshit.

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I look at all the hysteria around technolgyX vs. technologyY and immediately tend to ignore anything said within the blog posts or news articles. It’s not important enough to get all worked up about, as the real core element of these arguments is which is going to be popular vs. which isn’t?

Take the current week or so around HTML5 vs. Silverlight. The reality is most plug-in or desktop centric developers who are content with the status quo probably aren’t even going to be interested in HTML5 unless someone pays them a nice hefty sum of money to do so – if and only when – their current work stream dries up.

The reality of the conversation around these two titans of technology isn’t which is better, its more to the core essence of the argument – which is Microsoft going to favor. It’s an important point to make as when the rainbows and sunshine circle jerks are over, someone has to stand before an Bob Muglia and declare where they are going to spend the budgets for the next fiscal and why.

Windows Phone 7 is obviously going to take the lions share next fiscal, Internet Explorer 9 will also have a hefty amount attached to it as well. This in turn creates a ripple effect downstream as once the budget lines are declared internally it then generates bounty / career opportunities as well. It doesn’t stop there, being seen to be on the winning product of the month is a easy career booster but more importantly it also at times can determine where the Evangelism teams worldwide are to spend the bulk of their energy.

I’ll be fair, Evangelism inside Microsoft has a purpose and that is to be ahead of the technology release waves, in that their job is to get the crowd world wide excited ahead of a release. It then falls back to the marketing / sales pipelines to then sustain that excitement once the Evangelism squads have had their mission re-routed.

The playbook

Here lies the problem with this playbook. The first is that Sales/Marketing folks aren’t really goaled too heavily on Market share centric metrics – they are rewarded more for Revenue share focused metrics. Silverlight has zero revenue share, Internet Explorer has zero revenue share but Windows Phone 7 has revenue share.

Here lies the dilemma though. On one hand you have a product that has a number attached to it that can get sales / marketing teams excited. In order to be effective in promotion of this product they need to excite the wider mass around it – which in turn means free Silverlight marketing. The downside is that Internet Explorer 9 is important as well so Microsoft has to give some focus to the HTML5 cause.

Do you start to see the problems with that? it requires a consistent unique clear strategy on how to separate the two concepts from one another.

This is pretty much why BobMu came out and stated what he said but kind of fumbled it not only once but twice in the process. The reality is that Microsoft will want to slightly turn down the volume on Silverlight so that IE9 can get its share of the spotlight. In order to wind the volume down, you got to start saying things like Silverlight + Mobility over and over while turning up the volume on Internet Explorer 9 + HTML5 + Applications a bit louder than before.

Silverlight gets thrown under a bus.

I have been mucking around with this, and I probably shouldn’t via twitter. That being said, Silverlight isn’t a dead technology – yet – it’s still got legs as whilst Microsoft’s intent is obviously crank Internet Explorer 9 + HTML5 volume pretty loud as well as Windows Phone 7 – the reality is out of the 600k Silverlight developers and plethora of WPF developers left uncounted, they pretty much couldn’t give a rats ass about HTML5 in the first place.

I wouldn’t necessarily declare HTML5 the victor simply because Microsoft said so. I’d look at this more of a case of wait and see, in that sure Microsoft will market the crap out of IE9 but in reality this product is a stillborn brand in the first place and furthermore HTML5 is nowhere near ready for prime time adoption.

All this will do however is scare the crap out of business decision makers who don’t know better. Technical decision makers may or may not be shy about Silverlight and it really comes back to how Microsoft can redeem themselves beyond their current fumblings – (I’m hopeful Scott Guthrie this week at DevConnections will do a better job at his Commitment speech than BobMu alongside leaking some hints around what Silverlight 5 is going to have to ensure people are focused on the actionable elements within such a commitment speech).

In summary.

HTML5 vs. Silverlight is going to be a hot topic until Microsoft tips its hand on which one it favors the most but right now you won’t get that from the company as to do so means sacrificing two legacy brands that are filled with enough hate debt to cause major hurt amongst the masses.

Windows Phone 7 has to overcome Windows Phone 6.5 and below legacy related issues that aren’t technical but more conceptual.

Internet Explorer 9 has to overcome everything from the IE6 disaster through to the IE7 and IE8 disasters all the while showing that they aren’t interested in the Embrace & Extend forking that its historically been known to do. This one brand has caused more negativity for Microsoft as a brand than any other product since Office + Clippy.

You’re going to see Evangelists etc talk about "choice" and "it depends" as that’s all they can really throw at you right now, bottom line for you to think about is not which tech is better but where do you think Microsoft will place its bets next. As once they decide, one of the two will end up in the heap alongside WinForms, WebForms and sadly – *sob* WPF.

The only way I can see Silverlight teams putting out this tire fire is if they release the Silverlight5 roadmap now, it will add weight to the usual fluff commitment pledge as well is giving all a better understanding of how things to come are supposed to connect with one another.

I would like to see a better focused strategy around how Microsoft UX Platform looks tomorrow as the old 2007 one is kind of a bit rusty now given all the new technology variables at play.

Related Posts:

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

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

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

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

What’s the story then?

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

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

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

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

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

I for one reject our new HTML5 overlords.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silverlight vs WPF vs HTML5?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Posts:

WPF has no Product Manager.

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

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

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

Why adopt WPF?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Didn’t happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

WPF needs Product Management 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every tribe pedigree needs an evangelist.

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

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

The metric system suffocates evangelism.

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

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

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

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

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

Product Team vs. Evangelist

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

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

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

Sponsoring an Evangelist vs. Hiring one.

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

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

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

How does this relate to UX Platform?

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

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

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

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

Scott Out

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

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

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

Value Propositions.

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

Comparison.

Microsoft

.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Apple

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

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

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

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

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

Less is More.

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

Comparison

Microsoft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple

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

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

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

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

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Conclusion.

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

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

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

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