Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Last Post!

I'm closing this blog down and this will be my final post here.

This is partly because I'm not sure Irascian (the company) is going to continue through the rest of the year (the intention was to close down the company when I moved to Switzerland back in May, but I never got around to it)

But it's also because I genuinely think we're moving into a new world of application development, and I wanted a new blog to recognise that, with a different emphasis than this one has had in the past.

One big advantage of a new blog (and new company?) is that I won't have to put up with people asking me how to pronounce 'Irascian' (Clue: it's a fake word derived from 'Irascible' and 'Ian' - pronounce accordingly!).

The new blog is called Fast And Fluid and can be found at

There will be a new web site going live soon and, probably, a company of the same name as soon as I've completed the final company accounts for Irascian Limited.

I hope to see those of you that have subscribed to this blog over the last year or two on the new blog. The RSS feed for the new blog is

Build Conference Day 1: The Links

It was a long day yesterday, with information about the 'new world' of Microsoft development slowly trickling out over my Twitter stream as the day progressed and more and more people digested the keynote and posted their analyses.

Expect more updates in a new blog post as Day 2 unfolds.

Marketing architecture slide

Below is my list of the 'useful information' links I collated over the first 12 hours of Day 1 of the conference, together with added commentary.

Must-see Videos

There are two videos you must see if you want to understand the new world of Windows 8, and how dramatically the world is about to change.

The first is the Day 1 Keynote where Steve Sinofsky gives the big overview of WIndows 8.

The second is the first 'Big Picture' presentation given by Jensen Harris. It runs for 90 minutes, and has a rather 'meh!' title but 8 Traits of Great Metro Style Apps is a tight, well-delivered (unlike the keynote!) overview of the new world of 'Metro Style' apps - the first class citizens of the new Windows 8 world.

If you haven't got time to watch the videos and just want to get to the meat of what's different about Windows RT, then these two articles do a very good job of summarising all the key points: Major UI Themes in Windows 8 and WinRT: An Object-Oriented Replacement for Win32. Alternatively Michael Crump has posted an excellent bullet point summary of the keynote.

If you're a Silverlight or WPF developer just wanting a quick skim of how the announcements are likely to affect you, I recommend reading Mary Jo Foley's analysis Microsoft to Developers: Metro is Your Future.

There's also a surprisingly honest analysis of what Microsoft DIDN'T say at Build from Telerik in their Build Day 1: What Wasn't Said blog post.

Developer Preview of Windows 8

The Developer Preview is available to download immediately at the Official Windows 8 Download site. It's available in several forms, primarily a 64-bit version with or without the Developer tools (preview version of Visual Studio 2012 and Expression Blend 5 for HTML and Javascript which does NOT support XAML :-O) and a 32-bit version that does not contain the Developer tools (so seems completely useless).

If you have an MSDN subscription you will find downloads much faster from there, and you will also find a whole host of other options to download. However if you don't know what terms like 'ADK' mean you might want to review some of the sessions from Build before rushing to download.

Don't forget to also follow the link from the main page to 'Sign up for the Live Technical Preview'. If my experience is typical this involves jumping through a few hoops to sign up, but once you get past the usual Microsoft pain barrier, the Live Preview msi and accompanying documentation are already sat there waiting for you to download.

One thing you'll notice if you install Windows 8 is that at least the lawyers had a sense of humour.

If you want to install Windows 8 onto a VHD then Scott Hanselman (like Scott Guthrie, conspicuous by his absence at the Build conference - this really is a very different new world!) has the definitive guide in his Guide to Installing Windows 8 Off a Virtual Hard Drive (VHD)

Early reports indicate that Windows 8, which needs less power and memory than Windows 7, installs nicely even on old laptops, but that installation in a VM is problematic, with only Virtual Box users having much success. Mr Goodcat has posted some nice step-by-step instructions.

Interesting side note: There are already 3 updates for an O.S. that was only released 5 hours ago! :-O

Expression Blend 5

While the debate about whether or not 'Silverlight/WPF are dead' rages on, I think there's a reason Silverlight and .NET are shown as small boxes in the 'legacy' section of the marketing architecture diagram at the top of this blog post. Although 'XAML' is placed stage centre left there are so far no clues as to which version of XAML this new 'Jupiter' version of XAML is most compatible with - WPF, Silverlight 4, Silverlight 5, Windows Phone, something new? Early reports indicate that most of the Build sessions and examples are focused on HTML5 and Javascript and it's interesting to note that the version of Blend that is included with the Windows 8 download supports only Javascript and not XAML.

The old official Microsoft Blend blog is now apparently dead and there is a new blog (annoyingly with no advertised RSS feed, where the old blog had one!) at Blog

For background information on the new version of Blend for HTML be sure to read Christian Schorman's blog post on Blend for HTML which includes links to other important documentation and overview blog posts.

Other Essential Windows 8 Downloads

If you want sample code, you should download 200 Sample Metro Applications from Microsoft, apparently all written by interns over the Summer period.

Essential Reading

Several links were posted to give information on such things as the new Windows shortcuts, the new controls that give you the Metro experience (animations) for free, etc. I've summarised these below:

Developing a Metro Style Application? Start here

Running Windows 8 Touch on Windows 7 Hardware

Quickstart on Touch Input

Windows 8 Controls List

Windows RT Reference

New Windows 8 Control Shortcuts

Kendo UI - Telerik's new Suite for Metro Style Application Development (HTML5/CSS3/Javascript)

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Build Conference Day 1 Keynote

Well the keynote is over, but things are still pretty muddy with regard to exactly what 'XAML support' (no mention of 'Jupiter' at all) there is going to be in the next version of Windows.

As predicted, the Silverlight shills in the Microsoft echo chamber are all loudly declaring that today's keynote proves Silverlight is not dead. To me, this all reminds me of the time VB6 programmers celebrated VB6 not being dead when .NET was announced even though the emphasis was clearly on the new language C#. At the .NET launch Microsoft even claimed in management briefings that .NET came with millions of programmers who used the world's most popular language, as if a VB6 programmer was the same thing as a VB.NET programmer. Laughable! Silverlight is NOT just XAML people and clearly HTML5/CSS3/Javascript is Windows 8's equivalent of C# where Silverlight is VB6.

In perhaps the most 'echo chamber' moment of all, there is much excitement on the Twitterstream over the news that the next version of Expression Blend will support HTML and CSS. Hoorah! Our skill sets are still valid. We look so much better than those puny HTML/CSS/Javascript guys <snort>

Let's be clear here: takeup of Blend has been pitifully low, despite all the nagging, free licensing and free training incentives from Microsoft. Even the 'You can't be a serious Silverlight Developer if you don't learn Blend' mantra has had little impact.

For good reason.

It's a clunky mess of an IDE. I've worked at enough serious Silverlight development shops now to know that full-time Silverlight developers avoid it like the plague, using it only when they have to (to re-template controls or plot animations, but then cutting and pasting the raw XAML into Visual Studio).

So the idea that this Frankenstein's moster of an IDE can magically transform itself into something elegant, usable and popular, just by shoe-horning HTML5 and CSS3 into it on top of all the other gubbins is plainly ridiculous.

There are LOTS of great HTML5 and CSS3 tools out there - why on earth would you want to use or have to learn Blend instead of one of them?

UPDATE: The free Windows 8 slates given out at the conference come with a copy of Blend that only supports Javascript NO XAML! I think the Microsoft priorities are clear!

The new tablet device (a year away and already wider and fatter than an iPad) looked nice in that it could take a keyboard and drive dual monitors, and featured near instant-on and instant-off. Finally! But what about battery life? Microsoft were unusually silent on this point. There's usually a reason for that!

Then there's the whole 'first class citizen' thing with XAML support (but not .NET/SL, relegated to a legacy 'Desktop apps" box in Microsoft's own architecture diagram). Notice that I said "XAML" and NOT Silverlight because the two are NOT the same thing.

Taking a very simple Silverlight 2 (yikes! What happened to Silverlight 5?!) application and changing a few lines to make it run on Windows 8 is NOT the same thing as taking an Enterprise application in SIlverlight 4 or Silverlight 5 built around the MVVM pattern using PRISM, MEF etc and having it run nicely on this new 'WinRT' platform.

We've all seen Microsoft 'drag and drop' demo's before, and we know how much they have to do with the real world of enterprise development! It's depressing to see so many developers get excited over such a poor, unrealistic marketing demo as if it reflected any kind of reality.

Hopefully some real detail, instead of a 10,000 feet marketing slide with the word XAML above WinRT on it, will emerge over the next few days.

In the meantime I can't resist re-quoting some of my favourite "laugh out loud" tweets of the day that appeared before and after the Build keynote.

@MossyBlog RT @DotNetGlobalPR: This friday we will be giving free phones to people that have deployed Silverlight applications. All 43 of you.

@MossyBlog RT @DotNetGlobalPR: I am really looking forward to tomorrow morning's keynote and my retirement party tomorrow night.

@dotMorten My second #bldwin prediction: VB.NET gets killed of and replaced by the superior punch cards

@Teleriker I <3 alec #bldwin but why is he all over twitter today? :-)

@edmontalvo First slide at Build: "You really need to be at our next conference. It will be epic"

@SteveHebert Build upside down is "plinq". Coincidence? I think no.

@IdeaKitchn I heard at #bldwin the attendees are getting a half Courier

@Zunetracks Holy crap. There's a girl at #bldwin ?

@cuancalgo I see dead languages

@GoldenTao So when does Disney on Ice start?

@martin_evans Feeling embarrassingly geeky watching the #bldwin keynote. If my wife comes in I'll have to alt-tab to some porn.. #ClosetGeek

@Erik_Mork I'm not hearing about the ribbon

@escoz All the 5 people who have touchscreen PCs will be delighted with Win8

@Mathiasshapiro "Today is the day we change everything" Except the way we do keynotes.

@RabidLionGames "Oh Lord. It's like watching Eurovision".

@SittenSpynn "Wow. Look at all those fingerprints"

@AlanNorthern "Did she just whisper 'Don't touch me'?"

@IDispose "Anyone wanting to present should watch Steve Jobs. 10 times."

@MossyBlog "@DotNetGlobalPR Tomorrow's session 'The Future of Silverlight' will be held at 3PM in parking space 33B.""

@MossyBlog I often compare event attendee's as 18yr kids attending their first rave while on ectasy.. at the time it was awesome..then photos emerge.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The "Build" Conference Reboot

It's hard to believe it's 9 months since I last blogged, but in truth very little has changed with regard to the whole Silverlight situation, and I didn't want to get pulled into the whole 'Silverlight isn't dead' shill nonsense that dominates the blogs.

On a personal note, I've just finished my second contract (this time for a Swiss investment bank) where Silverlight was mandated from on high, despite the fact the real requirements for the application's UI were for simple, fast data entry and the delivered app cost way more, and is far less maintainable than if a much simpler design and more widely-used technology had been used. It's great that they mandated Silverlight - it gave me some work that helped pay the bills - but it was the wrong technology for the job, which required lots of 'reach' and very little 'rich': an inappropriate usage of Silverlight, something which I've seen far too often over the last three years.

The icing on the cake of this particular experience was hearing the same manager who'd mandated 'Silverlight across the board' refer in literally the same breath as he extolled the virtues of Silverlight, about 'the new world of iPads and iPhones and other devices'!

So here's a message to managers considering Silverlight 'across the board': if you're on some sort of back-hander from Microsoft, or have some hidden agenda for choosing a basic technology, at least do the basic research before telling the people paying your bills that you will run across all devices!

Not that Silverlight doesn't have its place. I'm still a fan of the technology WHERE IT'S APPROPRIATE, it's just that too many organisations I've worked at seem to be using it where it's inappropriate, with the result that their customers are paying far more than they need to for an application they don't actually want or need.

By the way, if you want to read some compelling arguments around where Silverlight IS appropriate I recommend you check out Jeremy Likness' excellent book on Silverlight Enterprise Application Development. Finally another book I can recommend on top of Pete Brown's introductory volume.

Update: There is also an excellent blog post comparing HTML5 and Silverlight that I forgot when I first posted this blog entry

In the meantime, the glimmer of hope for those of us that have happily stuck with Silverlight over the last 3 years, while Microsoft have shat all over us with their constant over-hyping of HTML5 and JavaScript as the way foreward, is that 'Jupiter', rumoured to be announced at this week's Microsoft Build conference will at least give us a way forward without having to return to basics and go re-learn tedious JavaScript, HTML and CSS.

For me, and a few other developers that I respect, Build will be 'make or break' on whether we stick with the Microsoft stack - Yup, they've pissed us off that much with their complete inability to undersand the marketplace, the competition, or how to deal with developers who help them sell their platform.

The problems with Silverlight and WPF are well-known, if not widely publicised, and exist mainly around huge memory leak problems and poor performance.

Hopefully the 'lessons learnt' from Silverlight and WPF, will fix all that in the new 'Jupiter' XAML-based technology. Let's just hope it isn't the rushed, botched job that resulted in the Windows Phone 7 fiasco or in the usual Microsoft 'smoke and mirrors' take on things they pretend that Jupiter is Silverlight 6!

I'll be kick-starting this blog over the next week as more news comes out of Build. This is Microsoft's last chance, after all the mistakes of the last few years, to redeem themselves and show they can compete with the likes of Apple, Google and Adobe. Let's hope they don't screw it up, although I have to say the signs are not great. Here's just one example (of many over the last 12 months) that indicate they're losing the fight even with their own best advocates.

Couple the different changes of the last 12 months with Steve Sinofsky's unbelievable arrogance when discussing developers or DevDiv rather than WinDiv, the effective removal of Scott Guthrie from public blogging, the departure of Ray Ozzie and Bob Muglia, and a whole multitude of other events, and it's very hard to keep faith or have any kind of optimism that Microsoft have finally woken up to all the mistakes they've made over the last couple of years.

Silverlight is not dead, for reasons Scott Barnes, former Silverlight product manager, pointed out in a tweet this morning: "If Bill Gates got a tattoo 'Silverlight is dead' on his forehead and announced it the same'd still take 5yrs+ to kill it marketwise" (Actually I think he's too optimistic and it will take less than that for it to be killed because it has so few mainstream users in the first place).

But it's on life support (there's a reason why the usual high profile bloggers have all been quiet for the last six months), and a rushed Silverlight 5 RTM release to 'clear the decks' for next year's Jupiter is not the 'proof' that Silverlight has a strong future that many claim it to be, just as calling 'Jupiter' Silverlight 6 is disingenious to say the least.

If you're following Build remotely, as I am, make sure you follow folks like @MossyBlog (hilariously cynical about what Microsoft say vs what they do, but nearly always right), @TimAnderson (ruthlessly honest journalist who won't be bullied by Microsoft marketeers) and @mtaulty (Microsoft employee who is loyal to his employer without resorting to being a shill and has a knack for unemotionally getting to the heart of what's important). Amongst all the noise of the 'wanna-be MVP shills' (or just the plain naive/stupid), their analysis of the next 5 days announcements will be essential reading.

I'll also be making my own quick comments on my new Twitter account of @IanSmithUK (Yes, @irascian is gone for good :-)).

To quote a line from one of my favourite movies: 'Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy week.' (last word changed to make more appropriate! ;-))

Footnote: Can't help quoting my friend Dave Evans who describes Jupiter as 'a gas-filled planet completely inhospitable to human life' ;-)

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Future of Silverlight

I've spent most of my weekend watching downloaded HD video's of the Silverlight Firestarter event held last Thursday. (You can download all the video's from the day via links posted on John Papa's blog).

The first thing to say is, giving credit where credit's due, Scott Guthrie's team did a superb job at turning around all the negative stories about the death of Silverlight that have plagued the technology since rumours of its imminent demise first started to spread in August this year.

The really good news is that there's a ton of exciting new features coming in Silverlight 5 (You can read a very good summary of these on Tim Heuer's blog). These are important features regardless of whether Windows Phone 7 succeeds or not (and the signs for Phone 7 are not good, as an article in The Times (Warning: linked article is behind paywall) earlier this week demonstrated). The keynote did a great job of quickly and efficiently showing these new features off to best advantage. Indeed, it made the PDC2010 keynotes look like the tired, lame relics they were and I would imagine those UK Silverlight developers who made the expensive trip to Redmond for this year's PDC must be kicking themselves that they didn't opt to go to this 'free' Silverlight Firestarter event instead. I suspect many late nights have been had in Redmond to give this event the zing it needed, and Microsoft delivered on the zing big time.

So the good news for those of us working with the technology, and loving it, for the moment at least, is that Silverlight seems to have won something of a reprieve, especially for those wanting to write RIA applications that can run in a browser on the Windows platform.

However I didn't see anything that contradicted my last, rather gloomy, post about the longer-term future of Silverlight in a world full of new devices running non Microsoft software. Despite all the references to 'now' from the speakers, as if these much needed developer productivity features were here today, Silverlight 5 is a year away! A year is a very long time in the currently fast-evolving world of device and platform development, as the last 12 months have shown. I guess this long wait is understandable given that effectively we were being shown material originally intended for next April's MIX11 event, but Windows Phone 7 is proof that such delays can cause what is initially perceived as an exciting product to be delivered still-born. And as I said in my original post, there was never any doubt that there was going to be a Silverlight 5: it's after that which enterprises need to have confidence in if they're to take what is perceived to be the highly risky step of building new applications on top of Silverlight, whose long-term strategic (as opposed to tactical) importance is unclear.

The firestarter event keynote kept emphasising that '70% of user requests are being fulfilled in Silverlight 5', but nobody saw fit to point out that by far the most demanded feature - for greater reach - is being completely ignored. There's a reason why Silverlight was originally called WPF/E (the E being for 'Everywhere') and Microsoft are foolishly ignoring the no.1 most demanded feature from their user base, seemingly to concentrate on Windows-specific features. Bad move. Very bad move. Parity with (replacement of?!) WPF is OK I guess, but not if it comes at the expense of reach and if WPF already delivers what is required for the Windows client base, why waste effort on duplicating that in Silverlight instead of delivering what users have made quite clear what it is they really need. Microsoft had a great opportunity to improve things in this area with the purchase of Novell, who have been working on MonoTouch and Moonlight to port .NET and Silverlight to new platforms, but have foolishly let Attachmate sneak in and take over the company, making the future of these ports extremely uncertain. This is very bad news for those of us wanting to see the platform achieve greater 'reach' as well as greater 'rich' and who think this is the only way the technology will survive longer term.

The problems that have held Silverlight back (mainly around initial productivity because of the steep learning curve), at least as far as developer take-up is concerned, remain and don't appear to me to be being addressed. PRISM v4 has NOT delivered on the promise made more than 18 months ago that best practice guidance was on its way. Try finding anything on 'don't repeat yourself' validation typically required both server and client side in real world applications. Try and find information on taking the recommended Inversion of Control approach for things like event aggregation but also ensure your application doesn't blow up when opened in Blend (a reference to a non-existent 'Blendability' section, highlighted as if it were a hyperlink when it isn't, doesn't count!) Try finding anything relating to WCF RIA Services and how it fits into this MVVM architectural world view. Try finding any reference to Silverlight's Application Extension Services, or ... well you get my drift! There's nothing there!

PRISM v4 seems largely to have been a 'smoke and mirrors' exercise to patch the v2 release, with post-release blog entries rushed out to address basic questions like 'How do I integrate PRISM new 'roll your own' navigation with the Silverlight Navigation Framework?' It's just not good enough after 2 years waiting!

I've heard, unofficially, from contacts within Microsoft that the team working on PRISM was 'large' - but I see little evidence of that in what's been delivered: essentially a bit of freshening up of the release we got 2 years ago. There's some new stuff to support MEF and make sure the acronym MVVM finally appears, but important MVVM reference information hidden away in QuickStart tutorial appendices or great gobs of source code, rather than the main 'take a week off work to read it all' reference book isn't going to get seen or read. Worse, whoever put together the new 'MVVM Reference Implementation' appears to have a very different view of what a Reference Implementation should contain - it's far too simplistic to deserve the 'Reference Implementation' title and it does nothing to bring all the 'smorgas board' options available in PRISM together. So many different approaches have been taken in the different quickstarts that it's small wonder that most developers look at these, scratch their heads and want to run back to the safety of the ASP.NET/AJAX development environment which they understand and can relatively quickly deliver working applications in.

I've recently started work on a new project that is going to be using WCF RIA Services. Being pretty green with WCF RIA Services (It looked too much to me like 'drag and drop demoware' but that's not the message Microsoft are giving their corporate clients) I decided to run the planned architecture by WCF RIA Services MVP and all-round good guy Colin Blair for sanity checking. Over a few emails I mentioned how good I thought John Papa's PDC10 talk on Best Practices for MVVM had been, and how I wished I'd had that talk a year ago instead of having to learn things the long, slow, painful and totally unproductive way. Colin pointed out that John made a mistake using ObservableCollection to hold entities which is a big no-no with WCF Ria Services (some details on why here) which demonstrates how ridiculous claims that Silverlight automatically makes developers immediately productive is: if the Microsoft 'experts' who've been working with this stuff for years can't keep up with the disparate technologies needed for Enterprise Line-of-business apps and use them correctly, what hope for the average developer?

If my experience at several clients is typical, the reality is that most Enterprise developers are still pretty much stuck at an ASP.NET 2.0 level knowledge of C# because they haven't needed to get to grips with all the stuff that came down along the line later. So the real issue in moving to Silverlight is that not only will a developer have to get to grips with a completely new way of programming (XAML-based) and the core Silverlight technology itself, and also the MVVM pattern and far too many competing frameworks to help deliver on MVVM, but also basic techniques they won't have used before like asynchronous programming, understanding Lambda expressions and LINQ, and a seemingly never-ending series of 'supporting' (but required) frameworks like PRISM, MEF, Unity, Silverlight Navigation Framework, Entity Framework, the Reactive eXtensions framework etc all of which have equivalent 'open source' offering which may need to be understood and compared with before making a choice on which are 'the best' for their specific scenario's.

The Silverlight Firestarter was a great kick-off for of Silverlight, but there's still a long, long way to go if Silverlight is truly to move into the developer mainstream. I'm still not convinced that Microsoft (or their Silverlight MVPs) realise how big a task educating developers will be, or even understand that without it mass take-up of the technology is doomed to failure, despite all the enthusiastic reviews from those who have overcome the steep learning curve and learnt to really love the technology.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Silverlight Shenanigans!

Until now I've avoided writing a blog post on the whole "Microsoft are killing off Silverlight" noise that's been reverberating around the Microsoft echo chamber for the last month or two, although I have commented on others posts where basic facts were quite outrageously being ignored. There are three reasons why I haven't rushed to make a blog post:

  1. I saw the way the echo chamber launched an all-out assault on the first person to 'go public' with what was really happening within Microsoft a month or so ago. I've had enough of that already, thank you very much. I don't need any more of it. Dealing with unthinking zealots is never much fun!

  2. It would have been hard to say anything without naming sources for the information that I first heard about back in August, but which wasn't generally in the public domain. That could have caused problems for people simply being honest about what seemed to be happening internally within the company.

  3. There was far too much heat around the subject once the basic 'Silverlight strategy has changed' statement became public last Friday. I wanted a few days out to consider what I was going to say about it.

I'd probably have remained quiet if Microsoft hadn't effectively gone public at PDC. I've been extremely critical of Microsoft in the past, but boy they reached new levels of incompetence at this year's PDC. First of all they made their main keynote a repeat of that given 3 years ago - one that had been used to launch Silverlight, but this time round replaced the word 'Silverlight' with 'HTML5' to promote their brave new focus. One really has to wonder whether those responsible for this farcical state of affairs are idiots, just plain lazy, or simply assumed the developer audience were idiots and wouldn't notice. When you're asking people to travel and pay good money you owe them a hell of a lot more than a tired old rehash of a previous keynote!

Then, in an interview with a journalist at the event, a senior exec reported that the company's Silverlight strategy had changed. The executive, Bob Muglia, effectively stated that the change in strategy was that Silverlight was now focused on Windows Phone, whilst noting as an aside that it had some 'sweet spots' for line-of-business apps. HTML5 was now 'the glue between the front end and the back end'. The message was very clear, and (I thought) very carefully and deliberately worded. This was not a misquote, this was a thoroughly prepared statement.

The echo chamber went ballistic. The Silverlight MVPs went into 'ignore reality' mode and posted long, tedious articles reminding folks how much easier and more productive it is to develop a line of business application in Silverlight rather than with HTML5 (well duh!), adding in great dollops of FUD about lying tech journalists, huge Silverlight demand from businesses, and news that HTML5 would not be ready for another 10-12 years along the way.

The general developer community split into two rather extreme camps: one saying they'd they'd never trust Microsoft again and would now actively look elsewhere for technology solutions, the other rejoicing that yet another 'useless, proprietary shiny toy' from the company was rightly being abandoned.

Yesterday the exec who'd made the statement that caused all the furour was forced into 'damage control' mode and made a new blog post stating that there would be a new release of Silverlight (nobody had ever claimed otherwise!) and basically re-iterating the main points he'd already made, albeit couched in more diplomatic language. Bottom line, as the journalist who'd reported the original remarks pointed out: nothing at all had changed.

So it was extremely disappointing (if entirely expected) that huge swathes of Silverlight MVPs and evangelists have rushed to celebrate the fact that they have been 'proved right' and the 'nay-sayers' were all wrong. Ridiculous posts re-iterating those same tired 'facts' (' says Silverlight has huge market share') or pointing out that all tech journalists are scum, or that people have been too 'emotional' (presumably it's better to be mindlessly 'passionate' instead!) have appeared like flies all over a fresh turd. The message seems to be that all is back to normal, the storm in a teacup is over, we can all relax and the drama queens so quick to attack Microsoft and Silverlight without understanding or using the technology can all bugger off! Hoorah!

What such posters seem to have spectacularly missed is that nothing in the new post contradicts anything at all that caused all the furour in the first place. Arguments about ridiculously low take-up of Silverlight amongst developers AND businesses, (even after three years of marketing hype) are conveniently ignored in the rush to say 'Nyaa, nyaa. I told you so. Silverlight rocks. HTML5 sucks. Shame on you for thinking otherwise'.

Yes, HTML5 and JavaScript do suck somewhat. The tooling isn't there either. And the real mistake Microsoft have made in rushing to announce the 'change in strategy' is that they've done so too early. The tools aren't there for HTML5, Microsoft haven't got them in place, and are clearly some significant time way from having them in place. My guess is that the core developers currently 'on loan' to PRISM or Windows Phone 7 won't be back in their 'real' Silverlight development roles until after Christmas. That means they have a LOT of work to do if they're to make the MIX11 deadline of April 2011 that they need to make to retain any sort of credibility around their Silverlight strategy.

But if you really think that this means that Microsoft haven't made decisions at the highest level that the vast majority of future effort is going to HTML5 rather than Silverlight you're living in cloud-cuckoo land. And, with all due respect, statements from Silverlight evangelists about betting their own careers on the technology (haven't we all?!), losing money on their houses to do so etc etc are totally irrelevant. These folk are not working at the political exec level where these things are decided. Nor, if history is anything to go by, at a level where they will have any real say in the decisions that the various in-fighting political divisions in Microsoft will make that will affect them. It's amazing how nobody's mentioning the fact that Silverlight's biggest internal evangelist, Bill Gates' chosen successor Ray Ozzie, is leaving the company (did he fall or was he pushed?) or taking on board that this might not be the best news for Silverlight's future.

My guess is that Silverlight 5 will be a 'stabilisation' release that unites the browser/desktop world (currently on Silverlight 4) with the phone world (currently on a mix of Silverlight 3, with some bits of Silverlight 4 and some new additional hacks on top of that). I'll be pleasantly surprised if we see much else - there's a reason why former Silverlight Product Manager Scott Barnes tweeted that 'Silverlight and WPF are dead' after a visit to Redmond, and it has nothing to do with seeing lots of bodies working on a new release! The hope has to be that Silverlight's main design tool, Blend 5, will be modified to incorporate some sort of HTML5 Canvas functionality, maybe even some sort of XAML/Silverlight to HTML5/JavaScript conversion. That sort of stuff doesn't get written overnight, and if the last 6 months have demonstrated anything it's that Microsoft finds it impossible to move at anything like the rate they need to move to keep up with their competitors and the shifting device platforms out there.

I don't think anybody's denying that Silverlight's a much better technology than HTML5 for writing RIA applications. That's not the point here. It's irrelevant, just as the same arguments used to justify Betamax over VHS, or HD-DVD over Blu-Ray, were irrelevant when it came to what survived in the marketplace.

If you're a Silverlight developer you should have been looking at HTML5 already anyway. What the announcements over the last month or so have indicated is that, short of a seriously dramatic shift in market demand, device reach and developer interest, Silverlight is living on borrowed time and is effectively becoming a 'niche' product rather than the 'premier UI' for Microsoft that it was announced to be this time last year. No amount of articles from those with vested interests, conveniently ignoring all the evidence or the real arguments, is going to change that!

The only thing that matters in all the heat and noise of the last few days is that a 'shift in strategy' has been announced. You ignore that shift in strategy at your peril!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Is Video Killing Community?

A few weeks ago, before I canceled my Twitter account, I saw an informal conversation taking place between a few of the UK Microsoft community 'leaders' on the subject of an overall decline in attendance and interest in community events over the last year.

I've noticed the decline in some of the user groups I attend and apparently more country-wide events like Developer Developer Developer are also seeing a decline in interest. This manifests itself either through less bums on seats (like the recent Windows Phone 7 event), or through a longer period before the free event 'sells out' (like the upcoming Special .NET event aka DDD8a).

I have my own theories about why the interest hasn't been as great over the last 12 months as it has in the preceding 12 months, but it was interesting to see speculation that video might be one answer to this loss of interest. Could it be that video is encouraging people to stay away and just 'watch the video' instead?

I must admit, the same concern that video might encourage people to 'miss' meetings had crossed my mind when I first started doing video for London-based user groups a few years ago. It's one of the reasons why some user groups specifically told me 'Thanks for the offer but we don't want video'. These user groups feel that video in some ways detracts from the main objective of the meetings which is networking, albeit packaged around a couple of more formal talks. This makes sense to me, and the 'rule' is usually bent when a high profile event, such as Microsoft VP Scott Guthrie flying into town, takes place and it's assumed ahead of time the demand for places can't be met.

As a video consumer I have to confess that video has meant that I'm unlikely to be attending big events like MIX or PDC again. It costs far too much money to sit in a room hearing mainly marketing material presented badly, when a free video means you can at least stop things a few minutes in and move onto something else if the content isn't what was initially advertised.

So far as 'free' community events are concerned though, my personal view is that the impact of video on actual attendance numbers is minimal (but then I would say that!), and when many user groups only have access to premises that limit live attendance to 30-50 people, but even the poorest performing video can garner over 100 views (with the most popular grabbing over 7000 views) then doing video of a talk seemed in the early days like a win-win for both the user group and its members and the speaker wanting to reach as wide an audience as possible.

At the last meeting of the user group I attend as a priority, The Silverlight UK User Group, attendance was lower than normal and for the first time in a long time we had some empty chairs. This is possibly because of a clash with another user group that same evening, possibly because of a clash with a high-profile football match that same evening, or possibly because it's becoming increasingly obvious that what Ray Ozzie described this time last year as 'Microsoft's premier UI' is clearly anything but that. Or it could, conceivably, be the fact that people knew ahead of time I'd be videoing the talks presented at the meeting.

Whatever the reason, the Silverlight User Group organisers asked me to hold the video publication back for a couple of weeks (which then turned into four weeks because I've been lazy!) instead of rushing to get it online as quickly as possible, the way I usually do.

In many ways this debate about video being a possible cause of declining attendance gives me a good excuse to retire from doing community video. Those who followed me on Twitter for the last 3 years (before I deleted my account a week ago) know how disillusioned I've become with not just Microsoft over the last 12 months, but also the current 'community' eco-system that seems to be far too reliant on 'partnership' with Microsoft. I think it's time for me to move on and use my spare time to support things I actually believe in.

The truth is that while it's been a privelege producing video when the subject matter and speaker have been as high as it often has, there have been rather more occasions than I'd like where the talks have not been good and when I've been faced with hours editing, rendering, compressing, uploading and transcoding video that I know nobody will watch past the first couple of minutes. On such occasions, it's hard not to resent the fact that you're stuck at a PC when the sun's shining outside and you know you're wasting hours on something nobody will have any real interest in.

I think it will be interesting to see what happens over the next 12 months in the Microsoft 'community' space. I am totally unconvinced that it's video that's killing user group attendance, but in the meantime I'm happy to finish my community video efforts with a really excellent couple of videos. These last two videos feature Guy Ferrier-Smith giving an excellent 90 minute talk (split over two videos) on the subject of Silverlight Internationalization. This is well-researched material that the blogs and the official Microsoft documentation have largely ignored and there's a LOT of hard work and experience gone into Guy's talk. It's exactly the sort of talk that got me excited about doing video for community a few years back. An opportunity to get the really good stuff out to a wider audience that otherwise wouldn't have access to it.

The latest videos, along with the other most recent user group talks, can be seen on my hosting page on Exposure Room. Enjoy!