Dont be a clone, be different.

It’s been roughly a week or so now since I got my Windows Phone 8 iPhone clone – I mean, Nokia Lumia 920 (it was a joke, relax).

The phone itself is quite large, and that for me isn’t an issue except I find my thumbs don’t get as much surface coverage on either side of the phone. The battery life on the phone is nice but the overall user experience within the phone drives me mad.

The camera for instance was annoying because when it came to take a photo I had forgotten I had the setting on close up, so when I took my shot of choice it came out blurry.  It took a while for me to remember that the setting was changed as there was no visual indication that the said phone was in a particular setting – as if having an icon on display all the time was a failure Nokia wouldn’t tolerate (you failed me Nokia)

There are a lot of other settings that also drive me crazy and I could list the postives & negatives all day (Still trying to sort through my emotions on whether this phone will last or go).  However, the one and most crucial thing of all that I dislike about the experience is the App Store clones.

What I mean to say is, despite the various ups & downs that come with having the actual phone – which I can live with – the one piece to this equation is just how immature and terrible the applications that you have on offer are within the Microsoft store. It’s like all the other kids (iPhone/Android) are riding dirtbikes but your parents give you  a new bmx bike (Windows Phone 8) with a fake muffler attached.

I’m struggling even as I type this to come up with some examples of great apps, the ones you cannot live without. The only application that I find actually useful and fairly well designed was Skype. I found Twitter apps to be half-done, broken, prone to “an error has occurred” status messages or the worse offender of all – the official Facebook app (which feels like it was written by a first year programming intern). These are really two applications that a smartphone today must own in terms of unique experience, as these i’d argue are probably the most frequently used outside email (would it kill the design team to use “bold” font to indicate unread emails btw?? and text messaging + threads… really.. threads? what is this a texting forum?).

There is much I’d tolerate about owning this phone but looking at my iPhone apps that are sitting idle and then staring at my Windows Phone I can’t but help develop buyer’s remorse at the moment. I miss my instagram, twitter, flipboard, facebook (yes even iPhone Facebook app), games,  XBMC remote, ANZ Bank and the list goes on and on.

There are really only two applications within the Windows Phone 8 market place that stand out for me – Qantas and ZARA.  The Qantas app is still a bit flat but it looks different enough to give it a pass whilst the ZARA app (Fashion) looks quality elegant / tastefully done – even though I have zero use for it but can appreciate its design.

My underlying point is this. I want to keep using this phone, I want to get off the iPhone crack and try new things but if you keep rinse & repeating the same stupid template driven applications whilst touting “I’m being authentically digital” then you in turn are killing yourselves more than my experience.

If this phone has a chance of success it’s going to come down to development teams engaging a designer and throwing out the Windows Phone 8 “Design Guidelines” by Microsoft.

Microsoft have not a consistent coherent clue as to what good design is and have consistently shown they themselves can’t even lock onto the concept of what good design is. They rely heavily on design agencies, contractors and partners to do the majority of the actual design for solutions they “make”.

There are currently 90+ designers on the Windows Phone 8 “team” and I ask a simple question – What the f**K are you all doing? You’re not helping the community & marketplace that’s for sure.

So please hire a designer today.

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Microsoft needs reimagine Live to be alive.

Today, I thought I might spend a lunch time getting my brain wrapped around the idea of how Single Sign-On works within the Microsoft Live ethos.

Assuming you manage to get past the quagmire of deprecated documentation, installation, association loop holes & hurdles one can finally settle on getting a basic Authentication happening.

Once that was complete It’s now back to reality where you have to also decode the Privacy Guidelines / Settings used for applications that make use of this great ball of angry code.

Throughout this journey one thing has stood out the most. It’s as if someone within the Live “Team” (If there are any people left to call it a team) have not only given up but raised the standards of bad development & audience seeding to all time new high.

It’s easy to just throw Live under a bus, many have been doing it for years but it doesn’t really solely fall in their lap either. I look at you the Windows 8 team, as you clearly aren’t giving this entire scenario much attention – especially when you have devoted so much energy & time convincing us to use our “Live Id” to sign into Windows.

As far back as 2007, Live Id’s were an important metric in the Microsoft camp where the company would even pay large Enterprises kick backs to use Live ID instead of a Gmail/Google account (early stages of User Id meets cloud land grabs). It’s always in many ways held an area of importancebut despite all the fluff around “Windows reimagined” the basic(s) are still a tyre fire and clearly not as well thought out.

For instance, you log into Facebook and you agree to allow some random application access to your details. If later on you wish to retract that offer (not that it would matter) you’d in turn go to a specific area of the site and remove. The same goes with Apple, Twitter and countless other brands to name.

Not Microsoft.

Nope, you say yes to the Application but in from there on out you have to either ask someone or remember that buried deep within your Live ID account management online (via the web only) there’s an obscure link which lets you manage your privacy settings).

As a developer if you want to make use of the Live Id well, you have to abide by the guidelines within Microsoft and ensure you firstly build a “Settings” menu into your application, which then has preferably Permissions, About, Privacy & Account options (I did mention this was opt-in). That to me is a lot of extra work that is in reality not required per app, it should be something in which each developer has no control over. It’s not as if the developer is telling the AppStore what kind of access he/she needs from the said app upfront (oh wait..it is…via scopes).

Instead Microsoft plays the lazy route, makes the developer put together a URL of some sort which outlines their privacy statement(s) out loud (which is really just mother hood statements like “I won’t be evil with your data – said the Nigerian Prince”.

Sadly, this is a huge amount of unnecessary heavy lifiting to get something done which is basic and it’s likely due to yet again Microsoft internal culture spilling over into the various developer relation(s) that’s NOT going on right now. What I mean to say is Live has pretty much lost the bulk of its energy via staff leaving, fired, retrenched or simply given up.

If Live is a toxic cloud of developer stupidity then why would you as a developer target Windows 8 Application Development given the front door is broken.

Now to figure out how I can reset the “Allow this app to access your” permissions – despite removing the said App from my “online profile” it still seems to work. Yes….it’s potentially a bug in their privacy (Oh I wish I could say I made this up).

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The Days of Microsoft Lives.

I was talking to a friend last night about the whole Microsoft fall out. It was a good laugh and the more we discussed it the more a script inside my imagination began to form. I always find myself thinking of Steve Ballmer as this bad CEO played by John Cleese who at times appears coherent and then out of nowhere the mad Ballmer shines through. The below is how I foresee the whole Sinfosky/Balmer fall out and it also touches on the absolute amazing incompetence Microsoft is currently showing around launching two flagship products – Surface & Windows Phone 8.

In all honesty if you had of asked me to come up with a script like below to sabotage the launch of these two products, even on my best day I’d not match the level of brilliance if f**king up the launch that they have done to date (hats off to that amount of failure, that requires skill).

Probably not a good idea to fire most of your Product Management team(s) prior to release though (300 or so got the boot).

 

TITLE:  The Days of Microsoft Lives

The door opens and in walks the CEO, he looks determined but still has the look of the 1980’s car salesman buried deep within.

CEO:
Alright, listen up as we have a lot to get through today. Thank you all for all the hard work you have put into the work so far, it’s been super duper exciting and I want to thank you all for the brilliance you’ve shown. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are going to be the baseline markers for our future successes.

Sinofsky:
If I may sir…

CEO:
Grab some pine Sinofsky and shut your hole.

An awkward chill flows around the room as Sinofsky slowly sits down with an expression of both embarrassment and murderous intent leveled at the CEO.

CEO:
Ok.. firstly given the huge pressure we have at making this release the biggest the will likely produce for some time I need to have our entire marketing and sales pipelines at full steam. With that, I need your resignation Sinofsky.

Sinofsky:
What the f….

CEO:
Basically not a lot of people like you and I asked you nicely awhile back to launch Windows 7 on the tablet and you wanted to play games. Well, you played and lost so with that, resign and clear your shit out by this afternoon. I also need to use you as a way to soften the upcoming failures with the board, so you may hear some things about what you did in the future, best you go along with whatever is said.

CEO:
Now, I need to split his role into two as I never want to see an executive with that much power again. It frightened me a little.

CEO points at two executives either side of Sinofsky.

CEO:
You two, yes you two you’re both in charge but in reality you’re not in charge. Speaking of executives with power, has anyone seen Scott Guthrie? … no?… Good, keep it that way as if he climbs out of that Azure hole we buried him in I want to be the first to know.

Sinofsky:
Actually, he’s doing an amazing job with it and is likely to turn that turd around into a success. I mean it has come a long way since he took over the re…

CEO:
Seriously you’re still here? … Is not there a box you should be filling…

Sinofsky:
Shouldn’t we first figure out what we are going to say to the press? I mean my leaving will create an issue for both the PR for Windows and potentially the stock price.

CEO:
You’re not that noticeable. Get packing, I will talk to the press later about it.

Sinofsky slowly gets up out of his chair and begins to walk out. Giving the CEO a glance as if to say “..this will be your undoing…”

CEO:
Next, I want marketing to blitz the entire globe with ads about Surface and Windows 8, if you can also not separate the two products I think it will help cement that Windows 8 is a tablet and OS without saying that out loud.

Marketing Guy:
Sir, wouldn’t it be prudent to ensure we keep the two separate and we also probably should discuss with supply & logistics about how we are going to supply the demand?

CEO:
What’s your name? ..Does not matter…You are fired.

Marketing Guy leaves the room crying chanting, “I knew I should keep my ideas to myself, damn it, my wife is going to kill me…” as he sobs running into a glass door.

CEO:
Market it  my way people. Next I want to also limit our purchases of Surface online and via our retail stores. It is important we look like Apple In order to beat them at their own game.

RetailStoreExec:
About that.. You know all of Apple stores are designed to reflect the environment they are housed within. In that, they really do go out of their way to work with the existing and surrounding architecture. We should really consider doing that as well as just copy their internal furn…

CEO:
You want to join the others that got fired this morning? Pick one style and keep repeating them we don’t have time to be design focused.. more stores.. supply.. make it happen.

CEO:
Can someone get in contact with Stephen Elop over at Nokia. It is time to move our timetable forward a little on Project Nokia Acquire. I want him to hold off on the Lumia 920 outside the US, if he can shorten stock orders worldwide that will surely lower the share price further for our takeover bid. Also, tell him that we got rid of Sinofsky, as he will be happy with that given Sinofsky used to always undermine him in during his Office days (builds favor you see).

OEMPartnerCVP:
Won’t that also hurt our Windows Phone 8 adoption chances? As wont most hold out for that phone given it seems to be the one with the most features?

CEO:
Yes. You are right but here is the thing: that was Sinofsky’s fault. If we can also bring moral and hearts/minds lower over the Christmas quarter I can then turn the ship around post Sinofsky leaving and make it look like I am a competent CEO and saved the day.

OEMPartnerCVP:
Sir, you realized you said that out loud right. In that, it was not your internal voice.

CEO:
I need your resignation by the end of the day. You know too much.

The camera begins to drift away from the scene with the CEO’s voice getting harder to hear but one last order is heard before the Microsoft logo fades into view.

CEO:
Has anyone seen Guthrie? .. Make sure he his kept on the back bench do not let him out of that Azure cage. He has to many people adoring his abilities and he reminds me too much of Bill… Someone call Bill and make sure he knows that he cannot fire me or I show those Polaroid’s with him & two dead hookers.

Wait…

You are all fired, you know too much now.

 

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Its time to get off the shoulders of UI giants.

In my usual daily grind, I am constantly called into variety of different projects to help out with some of the UX puzzles the teams face. All too often, it is a case of a project is already underway and the person doing the asking has this panic look of “please help us unlock this perceived usability issue”.

I take a deep breath, I think about the problem in front of me, I tap into all the years of experience I have around how one could solve this and last but the most important of all – I wait for an idea to kick in (science, experience and luck). That system has proved to be quite beneficial for me and others I’ve worked with for years until recently.

The change has occurred the day I noticed a Tablet for the first time. I’ve seen tablets for years but recently I sat down and focused my energy on one single thought – “what if Tablets replaced 100% of all PC’s / Laptops”. I am now obsessed with this thought, as while it is not going to come true in the next few years, it does force my skills into an area of unchartered and uncomfortable thinking.

Today most user interfaces have tree controls and datagrids much more often than I am comfortable with. They also have menu(s) that typically drive via the mouse and not touch as with a mouse you have more precision (perception) and a finger you don’t (along with visual black spots due to hand being in the way). This all is fine if you keep the two inputs apart and design for both individually as in the end you are solving two problems right?

Well.. I do not know if that’s a fair call to make (especially given how the desktop vs. tablet could have this transition period). I mean why can’t you build the same UI for both? The datagrid and tree control for example are holding you back but in the end if you can build a UI for touch why can’t that hold true for mouse? (ergonomics and form factors aside, just shut up and work with me here on this stream of thought).

I am thinking that we should probably start tackling the problem of solving the same UX issues we face when wanting to present users with a visual hierarchy and large data sets. I do not think the datagrid and tree controls ever solved this problem but in a way we declared a truce on it via their creation.

Tablets in my view create a unique opportunity for us all to start asking more questions like “Why do you use a Datagrid?, Why do you use Ribbon Menu? Why does Blend work on a 2D top-down design surface instead of a vanishing point perspective?. Why…why…why..”

Start challenging the stuff you assume works, as I don’t recall ever seeing a whitepaper where they outlined “We tried 115 different ways to present data and datagrids came up with a higher score?” as well, they suck and they don’t really help the user as much as say an infographic would?

Imho it’s time to get off the shoulders of our UI/UX elder giants and start doing this differently as with tablets our canvas has been somewhat wiped clean – my fear is we’ll see datagrid/tree/ribbons making an appearance on these devices (metro be damned, you’ll eventually revert back once the metro boredom kicks in).

P.S

If you find the grammar/spelling annoying use the Fix-It.  I’ve typed this on a plane and right now motion sickness is settling in from staring at the computer – must figure out why that happens.

 

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Jakob Nielsen is not your Windows 8 Guru heres why.

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

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

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

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

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

What the hell was that

 

My remarks:

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


Cognitive Overhead.

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

Multi Window

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

Discoverability

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

Information Density

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

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

Live Tiles.

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

Charms.

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

Gestures.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Worst retirement party ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My thoughts on Typescript

I have been asked quite a few times in the last 24hrs how I stand regarding TypeScript – Microsoft’s answer to solving the elephant in the HTML5 adoption room (JavaScript).

First impressions count and they were positive, I studied the marketing material, I installed the plugin and I even wrote some code – outcome yes, it works for me. The work done on this “it tastes like chicken” façade to the JavaScript issue is outstanding and I’d not think anything less of the work Anders spits out from that enormous talent sized brain of his.

I am however suspicious of this concept – time to put my Microsoft trouble maker tinfoil hat back on.

I have mentioned numerous times that there has been this divide or chasm between Windows + Internet Explorer and WPF/Silverlight – that is to say XAML/C# vs. HTML5/JS/C++. It is pretty well documented on this blog and in other parts of the web, and there is not much more to discuss on this suffice to say Typescript is yet another win for the HTML5 camp and loss for the XAML/C# camp.

This Is the part where a Microsoft evangelist or product manager for the team(s) feign innocence and give you the usual “it’s about choice” speech.  True it will be about choice; I just cannot help to think that with all that investment and work gone into C#/XAML mix that taking a few steps backward to prop up HTML5/TypeScript seems an awful waste of time and energy to date.

There is no doubt that I would personally adopt TypeScript/HTML5 when the time comes to write a HTML based solution, as to me it fits nicely with my desired development pipeline. I still think however, the entire web based development pipeline is around 3-5 years behind where XAML/C# is today (I will even throw in Adobe ActionScript/MXML into that mix as well).

My thoughts are simple

  • Ecma6 is hopefully going to crush JavaScripts skull and the abomination of JavaScript we see today will be wiped from the face of the earth hopefully never to be spoken of again (ie Typescript leads that charge from a Microsoft developer standpoint)
  • Internet Explorer is still being regarded inside Microsoft as a standalone ecosystem. I am still nervous and not excited about this thus suspicious of Typescripts charter (that fork in the road for IE vs. other browsers in the parity/ubiquity story is still coming up ahead).
  • HTML5 vs. XAML/MXML. I still roll my eyes at HTML5 mainly as when you’ve used both MXML or XAML in your day to day development then look at HTML5 one can’t but help see the HTML5 has not only gone of charter – yet again. If we are going to go full, tilt XML UI declarative then let us fold Resource Dictionaries into place instead of CSS / style tags and be done with it.
  • Typescript was fun to develop with. I almost got a little giggle at making my HTML do stuff via Typescript that I’ve grown accustomed to with Flex/WPF/Silverlight but it still felt 3 steps backwards. It reminded me of the days of DHTML when we did this kind of thing by ourselves when writing your own JavaScript framework was the cool-kids thing to do (I once – 2004 – wrote a Flash framework that read in XML as instructions on how to design UI, I also did the same for JavaScript.  Crazy eh?)
  • A few people will whine about Typescript being a big ol façade or yet another JavaScript wrapper but the difference form all the alternatives is that firstly, Microsoft wrote this one. Secondly, it comes as a plugin for Visual Studio and thirdly it has a geek-celeb behind it (Anders). Most non-Microsoft developers will give a “hand jerk” motion to those tickboxes but you do not understand the requirement most .NET shops have (which has now been ticked). Adoption will follow, remember this.
  • Typescript reminds me of the days when Adobe/Macromedia switched from ActionScript 1.o to 2.0/3.0. You felt it was a move forward and the idea isn’t new, at the same time it took a long while for existing developers to cross that chasm of adoption. Hopefully it ECMA6 wont fall into that same vortex of pain.

In Summary, Typescript will be a hit amongst the .NET kids out there, I don’t think it will go beyond that but that’s ok as that’s a few million developers out there that it will influence. I think this is still setting the ground work for future Internet Explorer development going forward and stay tuned for more of that discussion.

Why is Internet Explorer its own ecosystem?

Why is Internet Explorer its own ecosystem? Why not say “Web” .. 🙂

I hope this however puts a lot of pressure on the makers of browsers & tooling that JavaScript needs to be abandoned as we know it, that it needs to keep moving forward if we are truly going to reach absolute parity with plugin(s) / native experiences such as Adobe Flex, Silverlight or WPF in way that doesn’t feel like you’ve had sacrifice your first born to achieve parity.

To quote a friend who recently gave his thoughts on HTML/JS development instead of WPF/SL/Flex development

It is like getting a hand job from a crack addict. You know it is wrong, you know it is a substitute for what you really want and lastly once it happens you can never look your friends in the eye the same way again. It however got the job done.

(That was the clean version of that believe it or not).

 

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UXAustralia my take-away opinionitis filled rant.

The past two days I had quite a positive experience at this year’s UX Australia and I cannot recommend how important that everyone next year attend. This is not your normal conference; I mean I have been to many conferences ranging from your barcamps, webjams, adobe maxs, techeds, techreadies, sxsw, mix, wwdc and so on. Sure, these conferences have different pockets of value but in the end, I would confess they were mostly good drinking and social gatherings rather than brain candy. UX Australia for me was 100% street university, where I walked around and felt like I was the dumbest person in the room (which for me is rare thing – after all I am humble ) and I loved it.

Here are some take-always from the conference regarding the art of being a User Experience practitioner.

Trust is still broken.

A few years ago, the Silverlight team spent a tidy sum of money to figure out what the word “designer” actually meant. The main aim of this was to not only size the market but also get a better understanding as to what roles exist under this broad term and how we could position Expression and Silverlight into their wallets / hands.

The research that we got back outlined that the concept of a designer is not merely a person who creates pixels day in day but someone who goes beyond that – information architects, accessibility experts, prototypers, animators and so on.  Their role in enterprise corporations either can be an embedded entity within a cluster of developers, or centralized away from developers.

At the time of the research the initial thoughts were that this was part of the designer evolution, that somehow over time this would blur away from its current state into this mutated “devigner” style creation which in turn would have the bloodlines of both design and developer (segregation shall be removed!).

The last two days, the more I listened to speakers and various conversations the more I started to realize it is probably had the opposite effect. Trust is still not in place and one would say that designers are the ones who are now soliciting developers & management to embrace design. I found that thought the most profound of all as in 2008 we at Microsoft were sending guys like Shane Morris (amazing presenter & UX thought leader) into agencies to solicit them to help developers.

Throughout the entire conference, a theme emerge where it was essentially based around the idea that designers in large corporations need to have a central rally point, stop duplicating work and form a gang. Designers also need to pick small fights and build out from there, ware your opponents down through design based pestering power initially. Lastly educate the developers, as on the basics of design in the hope they will come around to our way of thinking (as if you were missionaries preaching the gospel of Christ to a tribe of engineers).

Trust is still is an ongoing battle between business owners, engineering and designers. For instance, I had noticed that at times speakers would talk about their experience with developers, but in a way that often sounded like “so I showed the natives fire, get this, they made me their god”.  The tone was in a little way a bit offensive but at the same time I did chuckle as when I go to developer conferences they also talk in the same way – it has as if both gangs cannot agree the other is smarter or just as talented. Until both sides can look each other in the eye as equals, I sadly see developers being treated like children prone to irrational decision making and designers as being premadonnas who procrastinate on unimportant things – just make it look pretty.

Note: Not everyone thinks like this, it is just my voiced summary of what I see before me.

Developers and Designers are not the ones at fault.

Continuing with the trust issue, the other noticeable theme I saw emerge was that there was a lot of discussion about how does one get developers to slow down and work with designers. That is to say how to ensure developers value the work of a designer in an office more rather than looking for ways to bypass them unless being told to work with them.

Here is the problem here that I see; firstly, developers and designers are not the ones that need convincing to work on great product(s) – a developer in a cubicle or a designer does not decide Deadlines. Secondly, a Product manager or Product Owner is the ones who typically hold the two entities purse strings and are the ones who decided the said deadline(s). Having a product owner on the side of design is critical no matter what organization you sit in as it not only ensures you have designer buy-in but you also take the pressure off developers from running the shipping gauntlet (agile really only helps you break up the pressure in ‘chunkable’ pieces – yes I made that word up).

In my experience, I have always been able to win hearts & minds with design by focusing on the future instead of today that is you sit down and think about what would make a product owner convert to your cause. The answer is fantasy user interfaces which in turn set the goal posts on “what if we had unlimited time and money, how would we change the world”.

A fantasy user interface can provoke a product owner to think beyond their current limitations, it provides them with a vision of what could happen if they relaxed their tight grip on shipping. A Fantasy User interface could also be used to help sell others both internal & external on what could happen vNext.

My point is everyone is rushing around dating each other in the developer <-> designer cubicles when in reality a designer who paints a vision of the future can in turn create a sense of purpose that transcends beyond what they see before them today. It creates an atmosphere of winning team mixed with “I so want to work on that idea” – assuming the design is good. Lastly if you have everyone thinking positive about design, the laggards or negative jaded souls tend to fall back into line or better yet make themselves known with “cant or but” responses. As once they show themselves, you know who they are and can start to formulate a plan to contain their negativity or resistance.

Summary

The conference was amazing, I did learn a lot and there was only one negative, which was that the conference only ran for two days instead of say five. I think there was a lot of intelligent and useful data that floated around within the room that was untapped furthermore it wasn’t a case of the usual echo chamber speakers that pretty much tell you the usual “web accessibility / usability 101” rules.  The speakers were insightful, funny, energetic, presented flawlessly and lastly but most importantly trustworthy. I never once questioned their credibility or integrity as it was if you were sitting down with someone at dinner who then shares a story with you about something they learned yesterday.

I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it and I would urge anyone in Australia or internationally to jump on a plane and hang out with these cool kids.

Tomorrow I am excited about some new ideas that I want to execute on for my work and I am in a fortunate position where my manager believes in the importance of design already whilst at the same time the developers in all cities are also excited to see what we can all achieve.

Watch this:

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Is Microsoft mobility still a choice for business?

Mobility is fast becoming a topic, which does not seem to yield a concrete answer. The more you sit down and analyses mobility within an organization, the more you begin to notice there is a lot more choice on offer than before. That is to say, not getting an answer is not due to lack of choice. The plethora of choice available is what is causing the paralysation of selecting one or more platforms to adopt.

A company today who as adopted .NET cannot accurately answer the question around which mobile device they should target. They cannot answer this,  simply due to the uncertainty of what Microsoft’s current product line(s) look like today, let alone unsure if what they propose will fit tomorrow. A company first must contend with the idea that the .NET developers within their pod will have to be outsourced and/or up skilled in order to begin mobile development.

Choosing a platform of any kind in the mobility offerings is often times based around a few conditions such as these:

  • Ubiquity. Will the chosen mobility platform work on as many customers as possible whilst giving the maximum chance of profit and/or adoption.
  • Reduced Development Costs. Will the chosen mobility platform increase or decrease development time(s). Will the platform also enable or empower a uniform design experience across one or more platform(s) that compliment proposed ubiquity needs.
  • Workforce Ready. Will the chosen mobility platform stand up to various conditions workforce is likely to put them through in their daily work style(s). Will they be compliant for industrial work not just office work, will they have work around to employee’s wearing gloves (safety) and so on.

These three core choices often will end up dictating an outcome for adoption within an organization. Choices like these are not the only criteria for selection but they often become the core starting point, which then will branch out further into other criteria. A choice will not always just be one it typically is more than one if not all three and often more times than not ends up with compromises built-in.

The choice of platform is a bad thing for Microsoft customers in that it will hurt both Microsoft and the customer. A customer who is thinking about adopting a secondary platform will approach the subject with a sense of relaxed state, despite the anxiety of choice. The reason for the relaxed state is they will have to lower their expectations initially in order to test the notion that XYZ platform will work for them. Furthermore, security teams within an organization will not be able to guarantee or support the security policies that they have developed for Desktop in mobility. Lastly by way of seeking out alternative adoption they in turn build muscle in coping with the idea that Microsoft are not part of the adoption discussion, which results in potential harm to Microsoft itself.

Choosing a non-Microsoft platform is not bad; in fact, many companies around the world actively do this and not only survive but generate enormous profits. Today a company looking towards moving closer to a cloud-like environment may ask the question whether Windows as an operating system continues to be relevant. The rationale for most organizations around owning office is due to “Office” like software and dependency on solutions they use day in day to make their business run (e.g. Architecture firms with ACAD, Finance companies with TAX software etc.).

Mobility today, has the ability to affect the workforce in a way that goes beyond desktop. A mobile device can go from just being an “Angry Birds” casual gaming platform to now being a first-response workflow-processing tool. The device can also become a basic work tool for email, word processing, spreadsheet refinement and even presentation preparation readiness, all for significantly lower cost than desktop.

“Does the desktop software need to exclusively sit on desktop?” which is now become the question most of the vendors are asking themselves quietly.

Microsoft customers also face a secondary influence when choosing mobility, which is financial hardship. The global financial crisis sent most organizations into immediate survival mode, whereby they slashed costs as deep as they could in order to weather the financial storms. By switching into survival mode, they in turn explored options around how to keep their organization lean and agile enough to reduce its capital expense by also switching it over to operation expenses. During this switch, software and hardware leasing also normalized and it was largely due to the suppliers of these two industries also adapting to the crisis by coming up with smarter, more affordable service plans.

Today a customer within the Microsoft community simply faces uncertainty in around the mobility offering they have before them. They see failure at almost every turn, they see developer relations showing visible signs of souring whilst lastly they see Windows 8 “Start Screen” as a massive distraction that they may not desire or want.

Mobility inside the Microsoft community has more noise than signal when it comes to developer skills reuse, existing IP reuse and lastly basic hardware considerations. A seasoned .NET influencer today would find it hard if not next to impossible to predict what the next 2-3 years would look like from a company such as Microsoft. It is fair to say any industry right now cannot predict 2-3 years from now but when it comes to setting up internal discussion or position papers around purchasing, it helps to have at least a hint or clue that arrives at a confident bet. Today, you do not simply get that unless you can read between the lines of journalism or worse, you rely on blog posts like this for the answer.

In summary, Microsoft faces a massive challenge ahead. They first must bring a sense of calm back to their markets by using Surface and Windows Phone 8 in a clear & specific manner that does not involve the word “consumer” (which they will of course). They second must also reassure developers more clearly, that their C# and XAML skill reuse in mobility by providing clear and well-defined instructional-based solutions (dev. center needs work, it is a mess). Thirdly and most importantly of all they now need to convince the business community that their platform is cheap, reliable and touches on the above three points in a manner that trumps all. If Microsoft can produce answers to these few questions, they in turn can regain lost market share within the business communities.

Do you see it happening?

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Windows 8 Search could be better. My theory.

 

Today I wanted to search for Word 2013 in Windows 8. At first, I hit START+W and began typing “Word”, and then of course nothing came up.

Confused, I closed it down and went START+Z then found it the hard way via ALL APPS.

My immediate thought was “hmm my Search experience is broken, this is stupid. I must be doing it wrong”.

Sure enough, I realized after some rinse/repeat frustrations that each icon you click on represents the context in which you are searching. To me, that was far from obvious. It took someone else showing me that workflow before I realized what it was. I have made a point of not watching videos and tutorials before I use Windows, as I am keen to see how a Windows 7 user approaches Windows 8 without a crash course in the upgrades.

Ok, now I get how Search works but what made me a little irritated was that I had assumed Search would act globally. In that just like Bing or Google, you type in your search and then you are presented with results that are global in nature. Google for instance not only has the ability to narrow your search context via its Web, Video, Images etc. but in that initial search screen it also brings those results from each of those into the feed (aggregate function).

My thinking here is that Search should act globally but in order to do so it has to be quite smart in its formula on Windows 8, that is to say if you have 20+ apps installed and each has internet connectivity attached does that mean it makes 20+ internet connections outbound per keystroke?

No.

My thinking is that as you type in search you send out a broadcast to all apps and of course Windows 8 your current keystroke / search criteria. Then what happens is each app has a small agent that has a quite a strict footprint that it uses as a means to begin its contextually relevant search. The moment these agents begin the search they show a state of “I’m finding your answers” (whatever that may look like) whilst at the same time they head off to find the said answers. Once the answers come back it reports in the form of a “total results” meaning it lets the user know that “I have something here, you can now look at me should you find relevance”. This then invites the user to decide if the “Twitter” app may have the answers, it needs and so on.

The formula for search could be refined based on both frequency of use of applications (popularity stack ranking) and chunking with timeouts. In that you can do a search batch at a time so that if the search has to trigger internet connections per app the allow 30-50 at a time with a 1min timeout.

The architecture of Windows 8 right now wouldn’t allow this or scale very nicely but there’s this small little team in Redmond called “Bing” and they have this driving need to compete with another small startup called “Google” (You may have heard of both). I am sure if you grab these guys and their collective intelligence this is a problem that could be solved in a way that shifts people from thinking about Search differently when it comes to Windows 8.

I see this problem with Microsoft now. They are not paying attention per say to the bigger picture, in that if you want to start setting the scene for platform of the future then think beyond Apple competes scenarios. Think of search as being a Windows problem not a web browser problem and more to the point if you want me to embrace the cloud in a fashion that’s elegant start creating endpoint packages that have a sole purpose of empowering developers to write their own search result for agents like Windows 8 Search and so on.

If I was a developer and I paid for a Azure search result service that I basically connect inbound API calls to a data repository of my choice which then gets used by plethora of different solutions out there (Apps, Windows 8) etc. This to me is obfuscating the psychology of the cloud whilst at the same time giving me a content provider a sense of control on how my data gets prepared for searching.

It has not to say that Search engines cannot access this data and then reformat / index it in their own way to prevent me from hijacking the results.

My underlying point is that the future of Internet has and always been this TextInput box with a button next to it called “search”. The next screen will change as we move forward but in reality, more and more users of the internet and computing are keen to see just those two control elements on screen first.

Why make me click, you click.. I gave you what I was interested in. you go find it and do not come back until you have solved it. I don’t care about your architecture limitations, solve it, patent it, sue others once you have patent it but just give me it.

Search could be better!

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