Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Re-Birth of Microsoft & What it Means for Developers

About 4 minutes into the Microsoft preview last week of Windows 8 , the leadership of the Windows team make two points: Windows 8 will ship with Internet Explorer 10 packaged into it at the beginning of 2012, and their new “immersive applications” will be built with their new development platform “which is based on HTML5 and JavaScript”. Immediately the blogosphere went into a rage about the abandonment of .NET, Silverlight, Visual Studio and a lot of other tools that the majority of the developer community had taken years to learn and become proficient in.

There are 3 points about the vision of Microsoft that bear some comment.

First, according to Gartner Group stats, as of 2014, there are expected to be 2 billion computers in use worldwide, with annual shipments worldwide peaking around 300 million in 2011, and remaining there for a few years. By 2015, there will be as many smart mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, in the world. In fact, 200 million more smart mobile devices than PCs will ship this year alone. MSFT has a huge installed base (resident on more than 80% of PCs), but is a laggard and a follower in all mobile device markets (e.g. less than a 4% operating system share in smartphones). It needs to head where the consumers are headed.

Second, the rising tides of cloud computing and mobile web services development actually require that back end enterprise applications will continue to exist for decades. Those who see HTML5 & Javascript & lightweight “languages” (such as PHP & Ruby, MySQL, Drupal, Joomla, etc.) as great tools for “apps” do not delude themselves that the world can do without the skilled experts who work on “applications”. The difference is scale, the difference is discipline, the difference is skill in Java, C, C++, etc. – the languages of computer science. But perhaps the great difference is in the user: the users of apps are consumers, the users of applications are corporate types and web front ends. Microsoft must play in both worlds – this is no change from where they have always been.

Third, though MSFT sucks at usability, Windows 8 & IE 10 mark yet another new opportunity to become great. If Apple has taught us anything, it’s that there are people who can design great experiences, and MSFT management by now knows that Apple doesn’t have a monopoly on them. The design of the Windows 8 demo screens are meant for all machines, they are simple and usable, and they are built using a development system “which is based on HTML5 and JavaScript”.

As Microsoft morphs to become relevant again, big system developers should know that their jobs are safe because the future is about both apps and applications & users and usability. As we move from 2 billion devices needing software to 5 billion devices needing software over the next 5 years, let’s sleep relaxed – those of us in the world of software development have secure futures.