Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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MIXing With the Natives

The term "going native" can be a terribly derogatory phrase, connoting the prejudiced outlook of colonists toward the peoples on whom they've imposed themselves. But it can also be playful or empathetic, summoning images of intrepid travelers who get out of their hotels and try to meet people in the countries they visit, and maybe even eat their local delicacies and learn a few words of their language.

Are platforms like people? Are operating systems like countries? Is Silverlight a colonizer? Is HTML, especially HTML 5, an empathetic visitor to foreign lands? Or is it the conqueror, of Silverlight, of Flash, and even of the Windows API?

Talk about overloaded terms! After two days of MIX keynotes, the word "native" has been bandied about a lot. In the day 1 keynote, we heard a lot about the "native" support for HTML 5 in Internet Explorer 9/Windows 7 today and the greater support coming in IE10 and Windows v. Next sometime soon. In the day 2 keynote, we even saw how the "Mango" update to Windows Phone 7 will bring the same kind of integration between that operating system and its own implementation of IE 9. These operating systems will natively support HTML, making Windows the HTML place to be. Go where the natives go.

So native is a good thing, right? Not so fast. Because native can also refer to an application written specifically for the operating system's own application stack. Like a Win32 app, or a .NET Windows Forms or WPF app. And as much as native is a good thing when it comes to HTML support, it seems like native apps, in the non-HTML sense of the word, were on Redmond's naughty list at MIX this week. In fact, in the day 2 keynote, the only truly native apps we saw were ones that Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore and others showed running on Windows Phone 7 devices, or else they were demos of the Kinect SDK.

So maybe native is good, or maybe native is bad. Or maybe non-native things are bad, which means native is good. Because when something is native, there's something it's not: a plug-in. And in the day 1 keynote, Microsoft Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky, and Corporate Vice President for Internet Explorer Dean Hachamovitch, in talking about IE9 and IE10, were clear that the hallmark of these two browsers is that they have rid of us on our dependency on pesky plug-ins.

Which is noteworthy, because the very centerpiece of every MIX event up until this one was Silverlight, and Silverlight is, of course, a plug-in. The centerpiece has become an adornment, editorially, this year, at least. Draw your own conclusions. But make sure you learn at least some of the native markup language, because not everyone speaks XAML.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 04/14/2011

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