Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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Waiting for Windows 8: A Long, Hot Summer

Microsoft has revealed some things about Windows 8, and revealed a part of the developer story for new Windows 8 "tailored," "immersive" applications. In retrospect, very little was shared. The bit that was revealed to us is that those applications can be developed using a combination of HTML5 and JavaScript. Not much else was said, except that additional details would be revealed at Microsoft's //Build/ conference in Anaheim, California in September.

This has left a lot of people in suspense, and it seems that suspended state is going to last all summer. The problem, of course, is that in the absence of hard information, people fill the void with Speculation, Rumor and Gloom. That's a bit like Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, except that it's self-imposed by the Microsoft community and not planted by Microsoft's competitors.

This is a less-than-perfect situation. Not only is it causing developers to worry about the value of their skill sets, but I am already hearing from consulting shops that customers are getting nervous too and, in extreme cases, opting for non-Microsoft tools for their projects as a result. I'm also hearing from dev tool ISVs that sales have suffered as a result. It's quite possible that the customers moving off .NET wanted to do so anyway and it's also possible that dev tool ISVs are suffering slower sales this year due a slowed rate of economic recovery.

Without hard information, people tend to interpret things negatively. Actually, that's the major point in all of this. While there is a multitude of opinions about what the Windows 8 development platform will look like once fully revealed, there is an emerging consensus around one thing: it sure would help if Microsoft revealed more of its strategy... just enough to quash absurd rumors, stabilize the .NET ecosystem and get people to stay calm.

We've had some reassurances thus far: there will be a Windows desktop mode; we'll still have Windows Explorer, we'll still run Office, we'll still have a task bar, and all the skills and tools we use now will still work there. But with reassurances like that... people still feel insecure. Because telling us that Windows 8 will have what is essentially a "classic" mode sure makes it sound like today's skill sets will soon be "classic" too. And then maybe they'll just become obsolete.

Humans find change scary; it's natural. And when left alone with their fears -- because no one is saying anything to dispel them -- people can go from frightened to paranoid, and can start to view things in a downright conspiratorial light. It would be great if Microsoft stepped into the void now and told us what is coming -- especially because whatever they tell us is bound to be at least a little better than what people think they are going to hear.

I don't know what the announcements will be, but I do have it on authority, from a number of sources, that Microsoft isn't going to talk until //Build/. That means no news until September 13th. Nothing until after Labor Day. You get zippo until after the Back-to-School sales are done.

What to do? Try not to let the dark voices of gloom and doom fill your head. Even in the absence of answers, we still have some important facts:

  1. The .NET developer community is huge.
  2. Microsoft's customers have major investments in .NET, and in .NET skills.
  3. Political infighting in Redmond might make for irrational decisions, but ultimately public companies can't just alienate their advocates and piss off their customers. Spite doesn't trump fiduciary responsibility.
  4. The computing device markets are changing, software is changing, software business models are changing and developers are changing. Microsoft has to keep up.
  5. The HTML + JavaScript community is huge too, and it includes many of the "changed" developers.
  6. Public companies can't ignore new markets nor the popular standards that can help them enter those new markets. Loyalty doesn't trump fiduciary responsibility either.
  7. If Microsoft can appeal to new developers, then it should.
  8. If Microsoft can keep catering to its existing developers and customers -- not just through legacy support, but also through empowering futures -- then it probably will.

You don't have to shove your old friends out into the rain to make room for new ones; you can bring those new constituents in under a bigger tent. I hope Microsoft will enlarge the tent, and I have trouble imagining why it would not.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 06/23/2011

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