Day 3 of the Microsoft Build Conference didn't get off to a great start
First there was a small earthquake in the morning (or as Scott Barnes wittily put it 'That wasn't an earthquake. That was the sound of Steve Sinofsky dumping the last of the Microsoft Developer Division bodies').
Then there was the press reaction to an MSDN blog post "Metro Style browsing and plug-in free HTML5" from the afore-mentioned Mr Sinofsky.
No browser plug-ins for Windows 8 Metro version of Internet Explorer
The blog post explains that the Metro version of Windows 8/IE 10 will not support plug-ins and that there will be no support for Adobe Flash, PDFs or.... Silverlight! If you need to use those you have to go back to the 'legacy box' Windows 7 implementation that ships with Windows 8. But is that really a problem? We all know how much existing Windows users like using the 'legacy' DOS Command Prompt, right? </sarcasm>.
Sinofsky explained the decision to follow Apple's 'lead' by talking about the way plug-ins drained power on new hardware devices and introduced security vulnerabilities
Ah! So, nothing to do with trying to block major competitor Adobe out of the new world of 'Microsoft proprietary' (oops! I mean 'Windows native') HTML5 everywhere then! It was like Steve Jobs had suddenly started writing for MSDN! You could almost hear the collective gasp all the way across The Pond of those Microsoft employees and shills who've been bad-mouthing Jobs for holding back the internet by refusing to allow plug-ins onto the iPad, as they tried to think of how they could justify a 180 degree change in position and thinking.
Not surprisingly, the press saw this as yet another argument to justify running repeat versions of the 'Silverlight is dead' story they've already been running for most of the past 12 months.
The ever-reliable InfoQ at least tried to break the bad news for Silverlight developers dispassionately.
Others got a little more emotional over the issue. "Silverlight is the new COBOL" declared one wag - a sentiment that was re-tweeted across the blogosphere with glee by those who'd been too lazy to ever get around to looking at XAML-based technologies.
Not that everyone took the announcement as bad news. The ever-optimistic Jeremy Likness posted a convincing argument for why this all amounted to a hill of beans, in his eloquent (if rather rose-tinted) blog post If Silverlight is Dead.
Those not wearing the same pink spectacles as Jeremy might want to make this MSDN article their first reading exercise before diving into the new world of Windows iOS tablet - oh I'm sorry I mean Windows RT - development.
The Great App Store Rip-Off - Or Is It?
For most of the last two days the Twitter Stream has been full of tweets about how much better Microsoft are than Apple because Microsoft won't be charging any money for apps sold through their App Store.
The tweets never rang true because a source for this oft-repeated claim was never given, and yesterday Long Zheng broke the bad news that Microsoft intend to take 30% of all sales made through the Microsoft app store.
I don't know what was more disappointing: The realisation that after years bitching about Jobs' huge margin on Apple iStore sales Microsoft employees had decided to gouge Microsoft developers exactly the same way, or the fact that Long Zheng, normally a fairly dispassionate Microsoft observer, had overnight turned into a total shill, liberally adding the phrase 'industry standard' whenever the 30% figure was mentioned. Just because Apple have been in a monopoly position and taken ridiculous advantage of it for the last few years does not make ANYTHING 'industry standard'!
By the end of the day, the percentage had become murkier. The original source for Long Zheng's post was an MSDN article that got mysteriously pulled during the day.
Time will tell how this one plays out, and all the shambles of an exercise did is show how much of all this talk is 'vapourware' that's being made up as things move along, but I'm not optimistic. Developers should prepare to get seriously gouged by Microsoft. And remember the App Store is to be for Windows RT applications. not .NET applications.
For the ordinary developer who hasn't got the time to dive into all this stuff and try the different possibilities, Todd Anglin at Telerik provided some help in the form of a How to pick your platform: Silverlight, Metro or HTML5 Flowchart. (Silverlight developers with a lack of any kind of sense of humour or who prefer to bury their heads in the sand might want to give that link a miss!)
In a separate post Anglin expressed the same frustration most .NET developers felt with Microsoft's inability to 'come clean' about what was now 'dead' (Silverlight? WPF?) and what wasn't (.NET?) ("blah! blah! Nothing's dead. We support things for 10 years after we disband the teams that built the products. Everything's alive, just like VB6 is still alive today. Blah! Blah!") with his post Still Missing in Action at Build Day 2, but things are slowly becoming clearer.
Windows RT Confusion
For a company that keeps talking about 'clarity' (ah, the good old days of the Vista marketing slogans - remember that train crash of an operating system and the whole 'clarity' campaign?) Microsoft sure like to muddy the waters. ESPECIALLY when it comes to explaining what their real intentions are. Remember the 'Windows Phone is for the consumer marketplace not business' marketing message that only hours later suddenly became '.. but it's for businesses too'? Nothing much has changed when it comes to Windows 8 marketing, it seems and there is a still a lot of confusion around Windows RT vs .NET.
The original 'Marketechture' slide Microsoft keep using to differentiate 'legacy' desktop architecture from the new 'Metro' architecture has been the cause of a lot of confusion. Doug Seven attempted to eliminate that with a much improved version of the Marketechture diagram in a blog post he calls A bad picture is worth 1,000 discussions.
The i-Programmer web site, in an otherwise dispassionate analysis of what Windows RT really means stated that WinRT brings us to Year 0 and makes all today's apps 'legacy'. Ouch!
Easily the most re-tweeted blog post of the day was the one from the folks at Mono for Windows RT de-mystified, and rightly so. It's a nice succinct overview.
But before you rush off to go and digest the contents of that link, you might just want to quickly read Samuel Jack's Windows RT - Dial in the right expectations before reading up.
And if you STILL think '.NET is dead' (just to be clear: it's absolutely not. It's stronger than ever ON THE SERVER, just severely diminished to the point of being almost irrelevant ON THE CLIENT), go and read Tim Anderson's Data Access in Windows 8 WinRT. You ain't getting nothing other than WCF RIA Services baby. We're now in an internet, cloud-based server world with everything being served up by web services. Where's Larry Ellison when you need him?!
Windows Phone News (There is None)
Yesterday Steve Ballmer, the man who's so astute and full of insight he dismissed the iPhone as a joke the day it appeared and then a few years later showed he'd learnt humility by making the same pronouncements about the iPad a few weeks after it shipped, admitted that sales of Windows Phone are lower than expected
In other news, Ballmer also announced that the Pope was Catholic.
Anybody who's ever walked into a phone store and tried to buy a Windows Phone knows the thing's a disaster - not because it's a bad product (the reviews are all great, especially from those who own a device), but because nobody other than Microsoft fan boy developers actually want it. And the news for owners doesn't seem to be getting any better with no news on how the Phone fits into the brave new Windows RT world, just news that announcement of the shipment date for Mango expected this week has been delayed. Same old same old.
Windows 8 - Will it Save Microsoft?
Will Windows 8 and its Metro flash-in-the-pan gimmickry be another over-hyped Microsoft turkey in the same vein as Windows Phone?
That seems unlikely.
Admittedly, when Microsoft announce 'We've bet the company on this' with the regularity they do (every damned year since 1995!) it's hard not to be cynical and just dismiss this stuff as 'Windows Phone on the desktop. Meh!'
You only have to look at the overall take-up of Silverlight and WPF in the developer community vs Microsoft claims that 'up to 70% of all internet-connected devices have the Silverlight plug-in installed' to take everything coming out of Microsoft staff and MVPs with a large grain of salt.
An approach that says 'I'll wait a few years before deciding if it's worth me wasting my time finding out more because Microsoft will change their minds again just like they always do and life's too short' seems the best one to adopt.
But to do that would be a mistake.
It's early days yet, and it's annoying that so much of what's been shown in the demo's for Windows 8 isn't actually in the Developer Platform Preview that Microsoft are shipping. But don't be mistaken. Windows 8 and Windows RT are huge and will set the agenda for the decade to come. Using the #bldwin Twitter Stream as a measuring stick, it seems that around 95% of those who've played with the new Windows 8 Metro operating system like it. They like it a lot!
As I type this blog post the Twitter stream is full of Microsoft shills triumplantly re-tweeting the 3 days old 'news' that 500,000 copies of Windows 8 Developer Preview have been downloaded. That information is way out of date as yesterday Microsoft announced that over a million downloads of the platform preview of the operating system had been made. It seems there's genuine interest and genuine excitement around the new operating system.
The same was NOT true of Windows Phone.
Developers, take note: Microsoft have, after several false starts, got their mojo back, and you ignore that at your own peril!
And by some weird quirk of fate, as I typed that last sentence, the postman delivered the new 16GB USB key I need to go and play with the new toys. Stay tuned for initial impressions over the next few weeks....