What I Learned From Microsoft MIX 2010

*** I apologize for the “…”; this is a stream of conscious post about my experiences.  Some of it is cohesive, some not. ***

I attended Microsoft’s MIX 2010 conference in Las Vegas the week after 360Flex.  I had previously attended I think the 2007 or 2008 one.  I had actually recorded a lot of video from the first one and trashed all of it.  The 200x one was an EXTREMELY weird conference.  It occured in the Venetian, the same hotel that Adobe’s MAX was at.  So, I had the opportunity to see the vibe differences between the 2 communities, and whoa man… what a difference.

Adobe has more chicks, more of a party vibe, and “appears” more diverse in terms of backgrounds.  In talking to some of the individuals at after parties, the majority at MIX were involved in the Microsoft technology stack in some shape or fashion whereas at Adobe, you had no clue what those people did.  There were patterns, yes, but design, back-end, Flash, Flex, Python…. all over the map.

At the 200x one, when they showed Silverlight 3 new features, I nearly lost my shit.  The audience was really excited about features that I perceived as things the Flash community had done 5 years ago.  Yet, if you looked at the audience, they were eating it up, excited, and you could tell they couldn’t wait to start coding.  After taking some time to reflect, I realized that Microsoft developers use Microsoft technologies.  They don’t “branch out” like Adobe ones do.  That’s why it’s rare as heck to see a .NET dev who uses Flash/Flex for their front-end.  Most use AJAX… generated from Microsoft tools.

This year was different.  I was armed with the understanding that Silverlight really isn’t just about competing with Flash/Flex/AIR in the video arena, but rather providing a missing piece that .NET devs didn’t have in the past.  The features added into Silverlight 1 through 4 match a lot of what us Flash/Flex Developers have.  They also validate our work. It’s also about building on Microsoft’s platform, which is great. You need a great web runtime + a phat browser + device to kick some tail. Apple does it, Google’s doing it… Adobe? Well, no device or browser, but Flash Player rocks, so….

However, no matter how on parity those features get, or even surpass, the Microsoft community clearly is missing the design aspect in terms of designers working with .NET devs.  There are some, yes, but it’s a night and day difference compared to your average Flex consulting firm, or Flash agency, or small software shop that uses Flex.  I even talked to one small .NET shop manager who hired a Flash Designer specifically to get his UX/Design help with their Silverlight/WPF endeavors.

What many predicted finally came true: Microsoft forewent fighting Adobe on the design front, and embraced it.  It’s actually scary vs. cool.  I mean, it’s cool, but damn they did it well.  I haven’t used the tools in production, thus this entire paragraph is suspect, but wow.  They are now supporting PSD (Photoshop) and AI (Illustrator) native import as well as FXG.  Holy.  Shit.  I was on my 2nd cup of coffee, and I still did a triple take when Scott Guthrie mentioned “So, we’re going to import some FXG…”.  Say what?  Where’s Design!?

“Designers don’t use Design, they use Photoshop & Illustrator.”

said Mike Downey when I confronted him about it.  His tone was very matter of fact, confident… almost like, “Yeah man… exactly”.  What that means, though, is that they are on the RIGHT path.  Very cool stuff to embrace the design tools we all use.  Also lowers the barrier of entry for the design agencies to work with these Microsoft shops as partners.  Wow.

Yet again, it was great to see Sketchflow in action.  Rapid prototyping is HUGE in helping sales snag gigs, and now that the .NET world has a way to do this WITH valid design tools, man.

The common theme of the conference was “mobile, mobile, mobile”.  They were pushing their Windows Mobile 7, or whatever the heck it’s called, HARD.  I body checked ‘em on the 3 buttons, and they had some valid use cases.  Everyone codes a back button in iPhone apps… why not remove that step and put it natively on the phone?  Also, making search a first class citizen.  Well… can’t argue with that.

Like I drunkenly yelled at Jens, this was the most amazing keynote I’ve seen in terms of flow and momentum.  Microsoft this year clearly had it down pat.  They had a consistent message, it was effectively communicated, and it inspired the audience into action.  Well… mostly.  While the developer story was picturesque with all the tools working together with a device & marketplace just waiting on you to start coding, the phone doesn’t exist yet.  iPhone does.  When it arrives, though, holy fish.  I believe Adobe can definately have just as a compelling story… but there was just something really professional, confident, and effective at this MIX keynote.  Maybe it was the speakers’ experience level.  Maybe it was good rehearsal.  Maybe it was good content.  Every speaker was certainly very positive and didn’t come across as better-than-thou like in times past.  Maybe it was all it.  Bottom line, it was great, and set a high bar.

….but like I said, the audience is just not a Adobe audience.  If it was, it would of been a lot louder, with random screams and yells, perhaps some heckling.  .NET devs need more Redbull… that’s all I can say.  Maybe some Picasso too.  I don’t know.  Maybe that’s why all the Flex & Flash devs were there. *ahem*

I hopped around sessions to “see what people were working on”.  They were doing the same things we’re doing. CMS systems that have rich front-ends to manage & deploy media.  Video players.  Mobile development for phones that don’t exist (see what I did thar?).  Dealing with scaleable client-side software via modules.  Bottom line, they are a lot like us, doing very similar work.  Sadly, most of the Silverlight specific stuff is still funded-by-Microsoft vs. a client hiring someone/some firm/company.  While the technology seems to be ready, the market isn’t.

And that leads me to my conclusion.  Once they get to 60%, we’re in trouble.  Not big trouble, but we WILL start losing work.  At that point, you have 2 choices.  You can take the Cynergy approach of a few years ago, and go, “Dude, we do both ’cause they both rock!”, or you can just deal with the reduced amount of gigs.  I don’t know to what degree this will affect the Flash/Flex world, but I know a lot of the big clients I’ve had in the past 2 years will no longer exist… unless I code Silverlight.  I, like others, still get a lot of work, so it’s not like we’ll just become unemployed, not in the least.  It’s just that the “MLB’s” and the “Olympics” style gigs will start to flow towards the Microsoft realm vs. the Flash realm.  And no, just because Flash has a higher install base won’t matter.  I can’t compete with free, regardless if my plugin of choice is at 99% and theirs is at 60%.  That said, Java/Python/Ruby etc. still exist in large quantities.  They target specific markets & verticals.  A lot of those is where Flash & Flex still shine, and will continue to do so.  Not everyone on the planet uses Microsoft technology stacks.

ESPECIALLY in the consumer sphere.

That’s what was interesting about the way Microsoft pitched their phone.  To consumers.  They hired all the right people, said all the right things, integrated all the right tools.  While I’m sure the manufacturers will make pimp devices, it’s challenging not to be cynical about Operators.  I guess if Apple can do it with glib, perhaps Microsoft can do it with dough?

Finally, Microsoft is definitely hiring the right people.  They are positioning key individuals in certain parts of the company, removing the old guard who just don’t get the web, nor younger consumers.

Will I be doing anything different after my 2nd MIX?  No.  Yes, I’ll be keeping in touch with my new found Microsoft friends… but until the Silverlight work flows to me vs. me having to form Microsoft consulting/partner relationships, nothing changes in my world.  It’s all about the money.  If people pay, I’ll do it.  Right now, Microsoft pays.  I don’t mind working as a partner for Microsoft, but right now the world knows me as a Flash & Flex Dev who likes to kick ass with Flash Player, not Silverlight.  It’s up to the greenbacks flow to change that. I know it comes off as reactive, but the Microsoft market is large enough that if I did dive in, I’d have zero problem finding clients even if am “late to the game”.

Oh yeah, and lastly, all the “free” software Microsoft is releasing to get you on board is a smart f’ing move.  And Visual Studio still looks awesome… so does C#.  Maybe I’ll go learn Unity this weekend to get taste without having to dust off my PC or install VMWare or whatever it’s called.  Anything I can do to avoid Objective C….

Anyway, thanks a ton to Microsoft for inviting me, I really appreciate it and all the events, they were fun, and I love meeting new people.  It was the best MIX yet, I learned a lot, and I look forward to speaking at the next one!

13 Responses

  1. Great post Jesse (and thanks for the shout out). As the Principal Experience Architect at Cynergy who lived in the Flash world for the first decade of my career, I know exactly where you’re coming from. Spot on on just about every thing. One small point, if you just install Unity, you will actually miss one of the biggest surprises I found when I first started playing with Silverlight. The awesomeness that is developing in a Visual Studio. That IDE is amazing, and such a powerful help. If there’s one thing MSFT does right without question, is understand serious programming and what an IDE is all about.

    Take care, see you at either MIX or MAX…

    rk

  2. Excellent write up Jesse. I also agree with Rick. The biggest difference between the two stacks is how much more mature and well rounded the developer tools are with Visual Studio. My biggest frustration with learning and using Flash & AIR is using Flex. It just seems clunky and inefficient by comparison.

    Again, great write up!

  3. As always jess, fan of your work.

    One year i miss MIX and its the rockstar year. I think they went a little to heavy on the mobile piece and kind of forgot the girl they original took to the dance (Silverlight4).

    You’re spot on about the lack of designers in the Microsoft community. I’m traveling around Australia teasing out the idea that this is lacking but more importantly i’m trialling and researching ways to teach .NET devs who have a bit of design muscle, how to design.

    Its kind of funny reall, Adobe need more devs as they have a healthy amount of designers. Microsoft needs more designers as they have a healthy amount of Devs?

    Why can’t we all just merge :)

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

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  5. I’ve been so slammed after 360Flex I haven’t had a moment to catch up on what went down at MIX. Thx for the download. I guess video viewage will be forthcoming on visitmix.com for me.

    I really like my setup with VMWare Fusion for Visual Studio and SQL Server, and then either Flash Builder or FDT for Flash front end work. And I think I mentioned WebORB.NET before for AMF. It couldn’t get any easier really.

    Anytime I do get a request for Silverlight, it’s ALWAYS for Microsoft.

    Oh, and heck yes C# over Obj-C.

  6. Thanks for the post Jesse! I laughed, I cried and then I retweeted.

  7. Ishai

    As someone who did flash/actionscript work for a few years and now works mainly with .Net, C#, AJAX and silverlight, I can tell you the main reason I never went back to the adobe stack is the developer tools.
    That’s what MS does best, you can’t compare the flash or java dev tools to visual studio, just like you can’t compare MS design tools to Adobe’s tools.

    With silverlight being xml based and working with separate C# code files, writing code for it is much easier.

    It’s unfortunate that designers aren’t getting in to it right now but it’s only a matter of time.

    And i have to say, my browser crashes a lot more often on flash web sites

  8. I’m reading this from my Android Behold II, which has a back button and search as a first class citizen, and it DOES rock.

  9. I’m already at the point where I’m getting more inquiries for Silverlight work than Flex stuff. Then again, I do mostly business to business apps. I’ve even had offers of people willing to get me trained on Silverlight just because I know Flex.

  10. Brent Bonet

    I agree with the “they both rock” sentiment. While it’s been nearly a year since I’ve dealt with Silverlight (v2) I’m looking forward to having a chance to work with it again. At this point you’re correct about installed base of the plugin which has caused me to stick with Flash/Flex/AIR for now.

  11. I think I’ve also come to the realization that (for most) Silverlight is just an offering to .NET junkies who would never consider ActionScript. It’s hilarious hearing stuff like how “the next version of Silverlight will have…” (something that’s been in Flash for years). But—in my opinion—many developers choose one technology over the other based on their experience—which (again in my opinion) is nuts. Sure, I would opt for Flash/ActionScript partially because I know it—but I don’t recall ANY of my customers saying “we don’t care so much about the end product—we just want you to be happy in the tools you’re using”. That just doesn’t happen. Perhaps if faced with a more expensive project they’d care to choose the one that I can do more cheaply—but that’s rare. Also, you could argue one technology is better for maintenance… but still, when it comes down to it “clients” (ultimately meaning “end users”) could care less what technology is involved as long as the end product is great. That’s why Silverlight is a success for the Olympics (also due to the fact it worked). But it’s also why the really cool stuff will continue to come from Flash—provided they stay significantly ahead with new technologies.

  12. GTRoberts

    Jesse – you might want to re-adjust your post, Silverlight is *already* at 60% base ;-) This was said in the day 1 keynote.

  13. Phillip, Flash Player 10.1 and Silverlight 4 are pretty on par feature-wise and if you add the fact that MS is advancing Silverlight about 10 times faster than Adobe does Flash Player, I think Adobe has a lot to worry about.

    The tools are more important that you make it sound – if they weren’t it wouldn’t matter if you developed your Flex apps in Flex Builder or in Notepad – but it does. Better tools make you more productive (lower time to market etc.), your applications less buggy etc. which are all things the end users appreciate.

    And just in case you wonder, I am a full time Flex developer :)

  14. @GTRoberts Negative, it’s hovering around 52 – 55%. Quote from the keynote:

    “…approaching 60%…”

    http://jessewarden.com/archives/mix2010/

    Yes, I know it’s a slight technicality, but if it were EXACTLY 60% or above right now, there’d be a certain large video website for a large company in New York I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work on.

    And yes, I recognize, and am happy for, the fact that it will reach 60% soon and surpass it.

    My point is that “approaching” and “at or above” are huge differentiators in large sales negotiations… and 60 is the magic number to get to.