Unexpected Drama: Windows 8 and Silverlight
In the span of 8 months, Microsoft has managed to alienate Silverlight developers, and many in the .NET community, by failing to effectively communicate its application development strategy as software moves beyond the desktop to the cloud and devices.
The 'Windows 8' interface looked cool and competitive, especially for devices like tablets. Based on what was demonstrated, users will still be able to run "legacy apps" such as the Office suite, for example, in traditional Windows mode.
According to Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows division, Microsoft is planning to talk more about Windows 8 and the new app model at its BUILD conference for developers in September. One of the key strategies behind Windows 8—and the BUILD conference—is to broaden the reach of Microsoft's platforms and development tools to developers outside of Microsoft's professional developer ranks. The strategy is sound; the execution is what matters, however.
About a week has passed since Windows 8 was first demoed and so far, Microsoft is running into some serious communication issues with its developer ecosystem, resulting in tremendous anxiety among many app developers who depend on the company's frameworks for their livelihoods. Silverlight developers, in particular, are up in arms as evidenced by the millions who have viewed or participated in the Windows 8 threads (the first of which was taken down) in the Silverlight forums.
Silverlight developers faced a similar crossroads during the PDC10 event in October when the RIA platform took a back seat--outside of Windows Phone development--and Bob Muglia appeared to confirm a shift in strategy in an interview with reporter Mary Jo Foley.
Some developers fear that the Windows division is calling the shots and panicking because they think there's a chance that .NET/Silverlight/XAML are not a key part of Windows 8 development. That dev scenario appears unlikely based on Microsoft's customer base of corporate and business users. Others are upset because based on the first Windows 8 demos, it appears that "legacy Windows code" going forward may include traditional Windows/.NET apps.
It's too early to get worked up over semantics. C#, Silverlight and Visual Studio are key dev tools for Windows Phone 7 and are likely to become even more prominent for certain types of apps with Windows 8 and the unconfirmed Windows Marketplace.
As Microsoft community program manager Pete Brown commented in the Silverlight forum in response to comments on a Gizmodo article:
Later in the same thread, he reiterated:
None of us at Microsoft can say anything until //build/ in September. No one likes that, including me. That's all we can do, however.
The Windows division (Steven Sinofsky and company) may be enforcing a code of silence until the Build conference but that's probably about it. The definition of software and where it resides is a moving target that depends on market forces outside of Microsoft's control. Microsoft appears to be addressing some of those realities, which is a good sign for developers who have invested in the company's technologies.
With enterprise-level requirements, security issues, the emergence of cloud and devices and the consumerization of IT, Microsoft's strategy going forward is probably a work in progress that depends more than ever on developing a broad developer ecosystem. That ecosystem, however, will still center on the core base of professional developers who have invested heavily in Microsoft's frameworks.
As Paul Newman said in Cool Hand Luke, "what we've got here is a failure to communicate."
Microsoft needs to communicate better with its core developers or risk losing valuable Silverlight and .NET developers. Express your thoughts on the future of Silverlight, the Windows 8 app model and Microsoft's strategy going forward. Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Kathleen Richards on 06/07/2011 at 12:54 PM