Papa's Perspective

3 Impacts from 2011, and What they Mean Moving Forward -- Part 1

Papa's Perspective on Kinect, Silverlight and Microsoft's changing relationship with developers.

Change is good (and also inevitable). We all want technology to evolve, but it's also human nature to become attached to technology and behavior that makes us comfortable. As we just wrapped up 2011, it's a good time to look back at the impression that 2011 leaves on us and what it all means moving forward. Here are three key developments in the past year from Microsoft, and their possible meanings.

Microsoft Kinect
Simply put, Microsoft changed gaming and computing forever with Kinect. In fact, Guinness World Records has officially named Kinect for Xbox 360 the fastest-selling consumer electronics device ever, after selling 8 million units in its first 60 days. It even outstripped sales of the iPhone and iPad over the same time span. The device continues to sell like crazy for the Xbox (as well as the Xbox consoles). But perhaps more importantly, with Xbox and Kinect Microsoft continues to be very relevant for the younger crowd -- something they struggle with when it comes to Windows Phone.

Kinect has changed gaming; we can only guess at what its ripple effect will be on the type of Minority Report-type games we'll see in the future. But its impact on computing, television, and other devices will likely be just as impactful. My imagination -- which can be quite "out there" -- can foresee a future where a phone or tablet has a Kinect device built in. The possibilities are astounding.

Silverlight
Many of Microsoft's developers may require therapy after 2011. Is Silverlight dead or alive? This topic has certainly been beaten to death. But my point here is not so much about the status of Silverlight, but rather the impact it had (and continues to have) on the development community. While the initial impact of the 2011 announcements around Silverlight (or lack thereof) have seemed to started to settle in for developers, for many of them the pain still lingers.

A lot remains to be seen. Developers will continue to use Silverlight for years to come, but to what degree and for what types of apps? Beyond Silverlight, has the relationship between developers and Microsoft changed? This is a book whose final chapter is yet to be written.

Microsoft changed its modus operandi with developer communications
Microsoft values developers, and treats them better than most rival companies. Their community programs, transparency in road maps, insider programs, MVP programs, events and use of social media have been brilliant strategies for building customer loyalty.

But did 2011 leave a small chink in that armor? Windows Phone and Windows 8 plans were extremely tight-lipped for Microsoft. In the past, at least some developers and partners had access to NDA information on development strategies; this started to change in 2011.

There are reasons for this, some of which I fully support. The world has changed and Microsoft must evolve, too. But make no mistake: Microsoft's communication plans with developers have changed. If they blow the world away with what they announce, this could be a big win. But it's a risk anytime a company changes a winning formula.

Looking Ahead
2011 had a major impact on developers' lives. In a future article, I'll hit on a few other impacts from 2011 and how they could leave a major imprint on us all in 2012.

About the Author

John Papa is a Microsoft Regional Director and former Microsoft technical evangelist. Author of 100-plus articles and 10 books, he specializes in professional application development with Windows, HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, Silverlight, Windows Presentation Foundation, C#, .NET and SQL Server. Check out his online training with Pluralsight; find him at johnpapa.net and on Twitter at twitter.com/john_papa.

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 Rob

I disagree, I don't think MS treats the developer community well at all. After the silverlight announcement I decided to drop MS development (18+ years using MS) I was tired of being dicked around. I abandoned my clients (MS abandoned my clients), and learned obj C and the Apple stack. Love it! It was weird in the beggining, but stick with it you'll love it too. Plus iOS, iPad, and iPhone jobs pay almost double. Best move I ever made. Still, I will miss Silverlight, I don't miss Microsoft.

Tue, Jan 31, 2012 TJ

I think Silverlight needs to become more cross-platform. My company has a good Silverlight website but now people want it to work on other types of devices. We started an HTML5/JavaScript version since that *should* run on anything and ended up with a functional prototype app that worked fine on Windows PC and iOS, sometimes worked on Android (depending on version and device), and didn't work at all on WP7. HTML5/JavaScript just isn't supported consistently enough to be considered a viable replacement for Silverlight.

Sun, Jan 29, 2012

I don't know what else Microsoft could do. XAML is everywhere--on the phone with Silverlight for Windows Phone, on the desktop with WPF, on Windows 8 Metro Apps. Silverlight as a browser plugin is still there for anyone who wants to use it to use it. If Microsoft never updates Silverlight again I can't say I blame them. It never really caught on like they hoped it would, and even though HTML5 is not as fully featured, it is what everyone will use since it doesn't require a plugin and will work on all OS (linux). I think people who were heavily invested in Silverlight are understandably upset. All of us in this field will probably have to deal with a change we don't like at some point, it is practically inevitable if we work as developers long enough. Their XAML skills are still applicable though so it really isn't that bad. This situation is like when a couple breaks up. One person usually feel burnt because they didn't want the relationship to end, but to the outside world, we can see that the relationship wasn't working and that this was the right thing to do. Silverlight for the web didn't catch on like Microsoft hoped, and with more and more support for HTML5, there is not much Microsoft can do to increase Silverlight usage on the web.

Sun, Jan 29, 2012 Alex

Sorry to say this, but I've openly been mocking Microsoft recently and feeling no shame. It redeems to some extent this sensation of utter betrayal, which sits very deeply, in the darkness, where you would usually find remnants of past romantic affection and ruined relationships. And admit it, Microsoft is a breeding pond of mistrust and back-stabbing since Balmer got helm.

Thu, Jan 26, 2012

My career as a Microsoft developer was never more affected by any strategies as much as those of 2010 and 2011. Before Bob Muglia announced on October 2010 the shift in strategy I was a happy Silverlight developer working on fun and interesting projects in an active and supportive community. We had MVPs in Silverlight and TAP programs for early adoption help. There was even a show called Silverlight TV. The tools were a bit raw in Expression Blend but they improved steadily. Moving from ASP.Net 2.0 development to Silverlight full time was really nice and there were jobs. There didn't seem to be an end in sight. Then we had Muglia's announcement, shortly followed by the Silverlight Firestarter to reassure Silverlight developers. Windows Phone was out by then and writing applications was based on Silverlight. The future looked better but slightly tarnished at the end of 2010. Then a year went bye and we all had to wonder. And wait for a new conference. Meanwhile people started leaving Microsoft. People started moving away from the Silverlight team. Then the //build conference happened with major announcements for Windows 8. Software companies had already changed their strategies. And that's about the time that I started to be personally affected by Microsoft's strategy changes. Because of this fiasco, I now feel that writing software for any major operating system (iOS, Windows, etc.) is a privilege. This shift in software development is motivated by the consumer market more than ever. It is going to add volatility to developer's lives. HTML5 was the dream of web standards jealots and the reality is that we are already seeing it fractured by browser vendors or operating system vendors like in Windows 8 and WinJS. So that promise of a write once run everywhere app is still a dream. .Net is now fractured between 4.0 and 4.5. Xaml is the new Silverlight/WPF and we still wait to hear when or if all Silverlight 5 features might be supported. Something vastly better than what we are hearing about needs to come out of Microsoft in the future. Otherwise, why bother writing any software for Windows at all?

Thu, Jan 26, 2012 Isaac MO

The bomb was Silverlight being pushed aside in Windows 8 in favor of some HTML-like API in Metro. No browser plugin support sealed it's fate. You may still be able to install native on Windows 8 but you could always do that with WPF anyhow. So, once Windows 8 comes out, management will soon see what developers already see coming. No new project will be Silverlight after that.

Thu, Jan 26, 2012

What "bomb" did Microsoft drop about Silverlight? The only thing I see is people panicking and Microsoft not doing anything to reassure them. Silverlight 5 just came out. I assume you based your project on what Silverlight currently does (which is a lot) and not based on what you hoped Silverlight would do in the future. In that case it should still be good for your project. Microsoft is supporting Silverlight; Silverlight 5 will be supported until 10/12/2021 (http://support.microsoft.com/gp/lifean45#sl5)--that's a long time. I see technologies come and go over the years; what kind of promises do you want? Silverlight is a mature technology--what more would you like to see in it? It is already far ahead of HTML5 and will be for some time even if nothing new is added.

Thu, Jan 26, 2012

I convinced my company using Silverlight developing a very important product. The investment was tremendous which included manpower and learning processes. When we were in the middle of implementation, Microsoft dropped bomb about the future of the Silverlight. I can not describe the feeling of betrayal, frustration and not mention the pressure coming from upper management team. Now we can not go back to undo our investment, but stuck to it. As a developer, my questions are very simple: Why Microsoft did such strange thing to lose the trust of developers? Why can not Microsoft simply continue supporting/advocating Silverlight, and at the same time to advocate future HTML5 as new trend of development path? As a developer, I feel Microsoft did a lose/lose strategy, I don't trust any new technologies Microsoft promoting now, I stop advocating any new technologies from Microsoft.

Mon, Jan 23, 2012

I remember how it all started. Ballmer going all for it. Soma and Gu firmly behind it. Tim and Jesse promoting it with top quality videos. You were with channel 9 promoting it left and right. Pete too. It was certainly worth all that effort and carried great and immense potential as long as Microsoft kept improving its performance. Developers loved Silverlight and were very passionate about it. Silverlight has proven to be immensely successful with Windows Phone 7. Microsoft should have believed in its own product more than freaking out and blowing it all away by putting it up against an unfinished HTML standard. Silverlight is far superior and in the minds of many developers, this will be the biggest betrayal from Microsoft for a long time to come. Having said all that, developers also needs to understand that the word "Silverlight" may not be spoken a lot now-a-days, but the programming philosophy lives on with XAML development for Metro apps for Windows 8 and with Windows Phone 7 apps.

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 Ian

When Muglia first announced "the shift" in Microsoft's Silverlight paradigm and the SL storm began you used to claim that you "based your future" on SL. Where are you now with this claim ?

Sat, Jan 21, 2012 Fallon

It's all about character. It's bad enough to lie, but enlisting others to lie is really sick. Software is about change, we all know that, and Microsoft should have trusted developers and told the truth. I've stopped using Silverlight and all of the Microsoft products associated with it except for Visual Studio. I'm not mad at them, but when you discover someone with character that bad, you may work with them, but you'll never trust or respect them again. And yes, it only takes one mistake to ruin a reputation when the mistake is fundamental like character.

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