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Two Questions with Mark Driver

I spoke recently with Mark Driver, a Vice President at Gartner Research. Mark focuses on the Visual Studio market, so he seemed like an ideal person to provide some insight on how the Visual Studio/.NET tool market functions.

I had two sets of questions that I wanted to ask Mark. First, I was interested in the structure of the Visual Studio/.NET "toolspace" and his answers to those questions make up in this blog. Since we had recently reviewed Telerik's RadControls for ASP.NET AJAX (see the May issue review titled Adding AJAX with Telerik RadControls for ASP.NET AJAX), I also wanted to ask about the "suites" portion of the market. His answers to those two questions will be in my next blog entry.

Peter Vogel: Who makes up the Visual Studio/.NET toolspace?
Mark Driver: The "third party UI control market" is a broad but shallow market. It's heavily dominated by very small vendors -- "Mom and Pop" developers. We see a lot of single point solutions. A few big companies have created a viable business model. But even the big companies aren't that big: a couple of hundred million dollars. It's a great model for a company with 20 employees

There are lots of reasons for that. First, there's so much free out of the box when you get Visual Studio and .NET. On top of that, there's so much freeware and shareware in the marketplace. The proliferation/growth of CodePlex for essentially free software is contributing to the free side of the market, for instance.

PV: Why do developers buy controls?
MD: The first questions are "Why build it yourself? Where's your return on investment in investing time to build your own chart control?" There's zero business differentiation value unless the control you want to build is something unique -- in which case you can't buy it anyway. And if you're not careful, you'll get stuck in the mire of creating system software instead of applications.

Tools are also priced aggressively, with most using a "per developer model" for pricing rather than a "per use" or "per client" model. So buying a control allows developers, for a small investment, to focus on what they should be focusing on: business logic.

And I'll go out on a limb here and say that, in recent years, media rich UIs and Silverlight have focused on UI 'fit and finish'. Why? Because the user experience is becoming increasingly important.

In many ways, Microsoft Office drives users' expectations about the user experience: it's the app people live in the most and so people expect all apps to work the same way. Let's say you're building an executive dashboard for the first time. Your users are using the new version of Office and expect the same kind of look and feel -- a "higher fidelity" user experience. It's like moving from AM to FM to CD quality.

And the investment to create that higher fidelity experience is greater than it used to be. When video games used 8-bit graphics, it took a few people a few months to build a game; now a new game demands large teams and is a million dollar project. So, a developer asked to deliver an equivalent user experience to Office is going to say, "I can give you a cool transition but don't expect me to program it!" You'll need a really high-end charting/graphing component to improve the user experience.

You can't have black text on a gray background anymore. You must not only have good code, but good-looking code. But if you want the "look and feel" with that professional polish, you won't have the time or expertise to do it yourself. Buy the control you need.

Posted by Peter Vogel on 06/01/2010 at 1:16 PM

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