Blurring the Lines of Developers

In the last 10 years the .NET world hasn’t had too many uproars – obviously not everything has come up roses however developers, by nature, are a rather docile bunch. We mostly accept that progress entails a certain amount of adaptability and uncertainty to our skill set, our environment, and our career. Lately things have changed. Developers have, and continue to, express their angst at the radio silence of Microsoft over the Windows 8 and HTML + JS comments. I for one am thoroughly stunned that there hasn’t been an “official state of the world” clarification.

(Note: early builds of Windows 8 appear to contain the Jupiter framework, so all is well. What we today know as WPF and Silverlight will become legacy but the skills, ie. XAML will be carried forward – same flavors with a new twist.  See here for more)

WHY no response?

Is it to create buzz (for a developer conference? – sounds pretty stupid), or simply that Microsoft PR is inept when developers are the target?  I believe Microsoft has a problem and that is decreasing developer attention.

Does anyone love Redmond anymore?

Have you been to a user group meeting lately? Look around, how old is the crowd? What is the age split? If yours is anything like mine, you’ll see very few newbies and that is a problem for Microsoft. You see Microsoft has lost significant attention from developers (btw this is probably the worst I’ve seen it.)  The buzz isn’t about some cool windows platform feature, rather it’s about iOS or Android – Microsoft struggles to get us to care about WP7. Microsoft’s share of the developer mindset is dropping and that is something they are attempting to address.

So what is going on?

Here’s my answer: Microsoft is casting a bigger net. In other words they are cranking up the posing and posturing to put the HTML crowd on notice – basically – “Hey we love you too, why don’t you code for us too”. After all they know most .NET developers aren’t going anywhere, there’s too much invested. But by embracing a standards happy HTML5 crowd and giving them some Javascript punch they are hoping to regain some attention. You see, if Microsoft make it easy for you to target their platform – a la HTML5 – then maybe you’ll try it or at least consider it. Now if they say, here use Silverlight, and download the control, and here’s our XAML syntax, and…. – forget it they lost you.

In other words – Microsoft is in a fight for it’s life.

Yes, it’s true. Hard to believe isn’t it? You see, when you lose developer attention and your latest offerings have been – well uninspiring – what happens in the long term? You’re dead because no one but the gray hairs build for your platform. You become the irrelevant third wheel – the also ran, the oh remember them,  oh are they still around – platform.

So Microsoft I get it. I don’t like but I get it.  You’re not turning your back on me and I’m not going anywhere. What you want is more of me, but a different kind of me. So there, we’re good again.

Dear Microsoft: Is WPF Dead?

Everyone wants to know the answer and, Microsoft, where are you? Seriously, what are doing, why aren’t you answering?  We don’t understand your PR strategy. You’ve got a wide and deep amount of developer hatred focused on you and you do nothing? I remember when we were close. But now apparently our relationship has changed but no one told us.

Oh, and stop telling us to wait until Build! You aren’t Apple – so don’t pretend ‘mystery and secrecy’ can work for you. We are developing LOB applications, not trinkets, don’t treat us like kids.  We make decisions based on your technology stack so don’t ‘hint’ that the our world is going to drastically change and then tell us  – “shhh, you’re not ready yet”. That’s a total dick move and you know it. Uncertainty sucks!

Let me summarize two of our major concerns – then we can go from there:

1) What is dead (pick one or more)?

Silverlight, WPF, .Net, WinForms

2) If the word ‘dead’ bothers you, what would you ‘recommend’ that we – the developers – focus on going forward for non-LOB and LOB applications?  Note we want both because non-LOB probably means without the TPL or entity framework, etc… and like we said – we don’t build trinkets.

BTW, if you do really plan to hold out until Build, you’re answers better be good – sorry we mean fantastic. And get to the point fast, don’t screw around with half-assed non-committal answers either. There’s been too much silence and too much non-commitment lately. Time to man up and set out a clear direction.

Yours Truly,
The bread and butter development community that you have relied on for years.

The Future without Steve Ballmer

On Jan 1, 2011 in an email to friends, I wrote that I believed 2011 would be Steve Ballmer’s last year at Microsoft – in my opinion he had to go. Obviously I’m not the first to think this, but today the chant has gotten MUCH louder. David Einhorn, a high profile hedge fund manager has said the same thing. David does a good job setting up the business rational.

As a developer, we have the technical perspective, which centers around the baffling lack of of vision. Just look at Windows – something Microsoft is suppose to be good at. Specifically look at WPF or Silverlight.  Where in the world are they going with those? IS there any strategy? Any roadmap at all? In my opinion is really doesn’t look like it. Then you have clear outward signs of vision trouble. Here and here and here.

There’s obviously a problem when people start groups like this or when they start asking questions like is WPF dead?

Now whether or not WPF, or Silverlight, or WP7, or MS “thing X”, will exist going forward is not the problem. The problem is that we – the developers – have to make big bets based on too many maybes, rumors, and speculations. Is seems like lately all we get are fuzzy vision statements from Redmond.  There is VERY little concrete direction from Microsoft and I find that particularly troubling. If you are developer check out these vague answers.

So does Ballmer need to go? Absolutely because right now the vision at Microsoft is completely disjointed and that is failure of leadership.


UPDATE: As a developer friend just commented, why is Visual Basic still around? Now I wonder if it’s a lack of vision or lack of backbone.

The promise is sometimes the best part

One aspect of the new Windows Phone 7 OS which I really liked was the promise of universal updates. In others words, I had hoped that the OS updates would go smoother and be more consistent than my experiences with other mobile OS updates. However this hasn’t been the case, and – as this Computerworld article points out –  I’m not alone in my misperception.  I really didn’t need another reason to not get a Windows Phone.

The audience knowing the audience

There is a classic rule of giving presentations that states: know your audience. By following this old adage, you can tailor your presentation to maximize the value to the attendees. In fact, this advice can hold equally true for those which are there merely to attend.  Today’s HBR post by Susy Jackson provides a good example of this. When you are part of the crowd you should know the crowd otherwise attending a conference with the wrong/unpopular tools can leave you looking like an outsider. For example, if – like Susy – you go to South By Southwest, then expect to exchange business cards using a service like Hashable – if however you go to say, a meeting of economists, then go old school and bring paper business cards. Sometimes the small nuances can tip the scale in your favor.

The Happiness Report

I really like the the approach 37signals has taken to gauging customer satisfaction. It is both simple to understand and publicly accessible. I dare say that these are two things which are in short supply in most companies. I am also sure that the purest among you would argue that this approach is far from exact because can not identify specific areas of weakness.  However, it also doesn’t torture the customer with a seemingly endless blizzard of questions just so customer service, or rather an algorithm, can precisely triangulate the problem.  Therefore, even if it is flawed, some measure of success is better than none.  It is also reminiscent of Fred Reichheld’s approach in “The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth”.

Attention Economics and ASP.NET MVC View Templates

Today I was in a discussion that involved ASP.NET MVC and the use of View Templates. One of the arguments for the use of View Templates – specifically custom templates – was the need to enforce a corporate look and feel. Basically the developer would have access to display markup which presented a consistent interface to the end user – in this case a person using a web browser. A specific example highlighted the use of View Templates around validation to present a red asterisk on input fields which required further attention.

As developers this is usually where our justification stops.  Stepping outside the developer box allows a stronger argument to be made. I argue that using View Templates goes beyond merely presenting the user with a visual short cut, and into the world of attention economics.

Herb Simon first introduced this concept back in the early 70’s which simply states that an “abundance of information creates a scarcity [poverty] of attention”. Therefore, what a developer is really accomplishing by using a view template (i.e red asterisk) is to narrow the users attention to only the information that matters most at that moment.  As a result the developer allows the user to efficiently use their attention.

A red asterisk is merely one simple use of View Templates but it highlights the value of creating a “usable” interface rather than squandering a user’s attention and frustrating them with the experience.

Interbrand 2010 Best Global Top 100 List

The Interbrand Global brand ranking came out today, available here. I briefly scanned the report and here are a few highlights:

  • China doesn’t have a single brand on the list.
  • Ferrari, a comparatively small volume company, is at #91.  Ahead of the very high volume and ubiquitous coffee retailer Starbucks at #97. This speaks volumes about how Ferrari is staying true to its heritage of craftsmanship and performance. From personal experience I find that the Starbucks experience is not as consistent as it should be.
  • Apple, to my surprise, is only at #17. That said, it appears to have made the largest move up the list in the past year – even with antennagate.
  • 6 of the top 10 global brands are technology companies.

Check out the rest for yourself here (PDF).