Thoughts on the Future of Microsoft Development #pdc2010

The PDC was last week. I have never been (was scheduled once but didn’t end up going), but I try to keep up with everything that they have online, and now even more the blogs and tweets. Here are my thoughts after digesting everything I could.

Strategy

I’m not sure this much of one.. but Microsoft is still trying to figure out and find their development strategy. From back in the 90’s when it was Win32 then MFC and ASP Classic with VBScript + Office/VBA, to then Managed code (.NET C#/VB.NET, and ASP.NET Stacks).. and then WPF/Silverlight, they still and always will keep changing so that developers have to keep learning new things and looking at the next shiny object. There hasn’t been much of a convergence or steady path though. It seems once a developer or team picks up a technology it is already outdated, and I am guessing this will never change.

Anyways, after watching the videos and seeing discussion, this is what I think..

1. HTML5

The web! Ahh, the web. The one place there are no restrictions. Apple is saying, develop under our restrictions, or go out to the web with HTML5, and Microsoft is going to follow suit. If it was ASP Classic, or ASP.NET WebForms, and then MVC, and now HTML5, the web will be around for a while and Microsoft doesn’t want to get left behind. For a while they were touting Silverlight as the “new web” or whatever, but that seems to have changed.

Web applications are good for some things – well, a ton, but not everything. You can’t do some of the richer things you can do on a client on the web, deeper integrations. You can’t really run a web app offline either, no matter what people say, it just won’t be the same as a fat client. Anything I hear from MSFT that says, it does “X” if you use IE9 and I just cringe. Forget IE, let’s make it work for all browsers.

2. Silverlight

If you are developing for the WP7 Phone (who has one? yeah – I thought so), you use Silverlight, other than that, not 100% sure where they are going with this. Use it for video streaming? Games? Flash killer? Basic RIA application that needs a little more integration with the desktop than a standard web app, but less than a fat client. The problem is, what you can and cannot do in Silverlight changes every release – In my opinion they should open it up more, let you do more things with the desktop. Let devs focus on just one set of rules. I have a feeling that Silverlight might just be used as a “glue” technology instead of a “main” technology. The glue between Web and Windows?

3. WPF

Unknown here. Not much at PDC, but some talks. Winforms (like Webforms) is a forgotten technology at MSFT, so to all the people who jumped on those trains, sorry, you need to hurry up and get on the new trains. I have read some places that WPF is the future for desktop/fat client apps at MSFT, and other places where there is no Product Manager, there is barely a team, no support, they are letting it die (ala Winforms), but who knows for sure. What should a developer do? Enterprise and Line of Business applications that need desktop integrations can’t be created in Web or Silverlight, and .NET developers really don’t want to fall back to C++ (although Evernote did – and saw a huge performance gain). Microsoft needs to instill some confidence in developers that a technology they would choose isn’t neglected – to me that is just piss poor business practices. On one hand let’s market the hell out of it (which with WPF really hasn’t been the case, but marketed way more than Win32 or Winforms) and get everyone on the bandwagon, and then let it die, and 2 years later say “X” is the brand new toy you need to focus on. They finally are doing some things at MSFT in WPF, but to what extent? Black magic embedding WPF controls in Winforms or Win32 apps? To me, seeing the pretty awesome data binding stuff with WPF makes it a no brainer. Why not extend the enhanced data binding to Winforms? Why make devs switch?

 

Like I said, more convergence of tools. Use expression blend for front ends? Yes! – but it should be for everything, Windows/Web/RIA, not just Windows/RIA. Language constructs getting to the same level no matter where you code? Yes – sounds like a good thing to me, so why is it so tough?

The new Async framework looks sweet, what else for Windows devs on the .NET side? Can we get some more detailed strategy from Microsoft on where things are going? What to focus on? Companies and developers are stuck making a leap of faith when choosing which technology to use – to make sure they aren’t left in the dust. On the Apple side, it is pretty clear – use Objective C and you can code for Mac, iPhone, iPad, etc. use HTML5 for the web. Should we all be using Java? or C++? Why have .NET devs struggle to figure out what technology to use? So bottom line..

 

1. Web – HTML5/ASP.NET MVC, WCF services, etc

2. Mobile – Silverlight (aside: what ever happened to the .NET CF?)

3. Windows – WPF, WPF, WPF (but don’t forget about console apps and windows services!)

It would be interesting to go to Microsoft dev shops around the globe and do surveys..

“Hey there – what are most of your websites and web services written in?”

    Answer: “Webforms and ASMX services -  we are looking at MVC”

“Hello, what are you doing for mobile development?”

    Answer: “Well, since WP7 phone just came out and who knows if it will take off, we do everything in Objective C for iOS devices or just have a mobile website in ASP.NET webforms, or we have some Java based Android app, and some crappy Blackberry apps or something..”

“Hola, what are you doing for your LOB desktop apps, etc?”

    Answer: “Well we have a few legacy VB6 apps, some Win32 apps, and we have poured tons of time into Winforms over the last 7-8 years, but we want to start looking at WPF”

I bet a majority of the answers would be similar to the ones above. Who the hell is doing anything in Silverlight? Niche apps/markets? What about WPF? A few, and some proof of concepts, but yeah, even the MVC stuff is probably on a slower adoption rate then MSFT would like. Not sure how they solve this problem. One way would be to STOP CHANGING THINGS EVERY TWO YEARS so that dev shops can focus and incrementally move to the new technologies, but I don’t see that happening.

Where do we go from here? Well, I am pretty excited to see what .NET 5 brings. :)

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5 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Future of Microsoft Development #pdc2010”

  1. It seems some MS heads must fall because they don’t know what they’re talking about, this stupid shifting strategy will cause so many top devs LEAVING the sinking boat… Silverlight is the laser sword and html5 is the wooden stick, but if the stupid mushroom spoke…

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  2. A biiiig mistake was made here from MS, the big chiefs who made it should jut resign, they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s stupidity at it’s peak.
    I mean, where are he MS tools for html5??? What is the MS strategy regarding silverlight-html5, the one their customers didn’t know about?? The best devs embarked on wpf/silvelight, trading those for html5 is like trading katana samurais for peasants with wooden sticks.

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