I am sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to leave back to New York City and trying to gather my thoughts about MIX 2010. This was the first time I was attending Microsoft MIX conference and as someone that spent the last few years focusing solely on Adobe’s technologies, this is definitely out of my comfort zone. I have done C-Sharp/ C++ programming years ago and used Visual Studio 2002/2003 but haven’t kept in touch with Microsoft development tools since then. I had a great time hanging out with the Flash community friends such as @TheFlashBum @adamflater @jefftapper @jesterxl, @Rhall, @__Ted__ , as well as my new Microsoft friends such @adkinn, @brianjo and @thedavedev.
It’s definitely refreshing to be involved and know where other vendors such as Microsoft are heading and it actually helped me better understand Adobe’s road map better. It appears that Microsoft is focusing on three main areas in regards to the Web:
Microsoft is known for sitting on the fence and waiting to see what works and then to launch an assault using their 8,000 engineers’ brainpower. Microsoft advancement is an attempt to ensure Microsoft has a solution for the technology advancement from Apple, Adobe and Mozilla and provides their developers the ability to stay with Microsoft without wondering around to other vendors. It’s like going to a 5-star resort where you get the hair dresser, the beach, restaurants, jewelry stores, a pool and maybe even a golf course, so you have no reason to leave the resort, however, staying at the resort you don’t get the culture and some of your culinary experiences are artificial.
You need to be adventures and explore, which is something the Flash community is not afraid of. Many Flash professionals have embraced other technologies such as open source projects GIT or other 3rd party vendors such PHP, Objective-C and others. It’s not rare to hear that someone is involved in Flash and Unity3d, however, from talking to others at MIX conference, I rarely heard many talking about any other technologies other then MS, and I asked.
Additionally, since MS is sitting on the fence and waiting to see what’s the next big thing, they are paying a price and everything that I have seen isn’t that impressive in terms of showing off new innovative technologies. With that said, I was extremely impresses by the speed and efficiency of Microsoft to reach what took other companies took years to achieve and how they can partner with other large corporations. For instance:
- Microsoft claims that they achieved 60% penetration with Silverlight plugin. Even if the numbers are 55% that’s pretty impressive considering the fact that other plug-ins took years to achieve that type of penetration.
- Microsoft Expression Blend is the equivalent of Flash Catalyst. The product was in the works since 2006 and first released in 2007 and the latest built is pretty impressive considering that MS does not have a long background with design and the tool can even allow importing illustrator, Photoshop and CS4 FXG code.
Windows Phone 7
The biggest announcement was the release of Windows Phone 7 later this year. Let’s look back for a second. In 2004, Windows Mobile took about 23% of worldwide smartphone sales, however, by 2009, it’s shares dropped to 7.9% (according to Gartner). The latest version of Windows Phone 7, codenamed “Photon” is Microsoft’s attempt to increase market share.
Microsoft is going to dictate the hardware requirements and require the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) to include 3 Hardware buttons (Back, Search and WinKey) as well as other hardware requirements such as Touch Displays with 4 sensor points, A-GPS, Accelerometer, Compass, DX9-capable GPU, Proximity and Light Sensors, 256MB Flash RAM and 8GB Storage Memory, HQ camera with Flash and a camera button.
Keyboard and screen sizes of 800×480 or 480×320 are optional but it lacks some basic features such as copy-paste. The latest phone is MS attempts to move forward and be able to compete with Apple and Google. In terms of software, Mobile Phone 7 will include Office, Outlook, IE 7.5, XBOX Live, Social Networking and others. The feature that impressed me the most was the physics API that is used in XBOX and is available for Windows Mobile and SL.
In terms of the business model it is similar to how Microsoft sells Windows OS. Microsoft will make the software for Windows Phones, and OEMs pay Microsoft a license fee for each device they ship. Developers can monetize by selling apps on the Windows Phone Marketplace.
Microsoft is taking a similar approach to Apple’s walled garden and requires certifying apps before they are added to the app store. Developers can offer free apps, such as ad-supported apps, can sell apps by downloading like the iPhone app model, and a “freemium” model in which they could offer free-trial app with an option to buy an upgrade. Developers would get to keep 70% while Microsoft keeps 30%.
From what I have seen so far the device has a while to go before it can really compete with the iPhone. I find it surprising that Apple announced the iPhone in January 2007 and since then they haven’t added any major innovations, in my opinion. At the same time I haven’t seen one Smartphone that can truly provide a GUI experience that is as superior as the iPhone, not even the Droid. I believe that Microsoft needs to start taking some risks and instead of doing “catch up”, provide real software innovations, for instance: context awareness. It would be neat if our Smartphone can recognize that we are at the movie theater based on the GPS and turn the ringer off or recognize that we are sleeping based on the accelerometer is at a horizontal position for a while and go into an hibernation mode.
During the conference I was asking by some MS executives whether the software will include Flash Player 10.1 or at least Flash Lite 3 but I couldn’t get a straight answer, not even off the record. Historically, MS always supported Flash Lite even when they had to purchase the license (prior to the Open Screen Project) but I suspect that it had to do with the underlining OS. During the Keynote, MS pointed out that the device will support the complete full version of SL except for certain graphics APIs so the device is surely capable of deploying FP10.1. But now that MS is competing with Adobe directly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we wont see FP in first release.
Internet Explorer 9
The other big news was IE9. MS has decided not to embrace Webkit and continue their own development. In fact, the new IE9 supports CSS3, HTML5 as well as GPU.
I think that what stood out the most to me is the performance – the new IE9 is faster. How fast? Almost as fast as Safari and appears to handle graphics in some cases better than Chrome or Safari due to the usage of the GPU.
MS engineers appear to be getting very excited during the keynote and other preso by HTML5’s ability to turn few images in 3D space using the GPU. Later I went to a preso by @JasonCWeber about High performance Optimization For Website. Jason pointed out few times stuff like “this type of amazing graphic experience” when he presented the same 3D images floating in space using the GPU. Yes, I agree it’s impressive for HTML but we are in 2010?!
Microsoft Expression Studio is a suite of tools for designing Silverlight application. You can create & import comps from CS4 and using intuitive tool, and add the interactivity, as well as generate code. The tool is impressive and was built from the ground up using .NET but that’s also the caveat – the tool is currently only available for PC. How many designers do you know that use PC? And in fact I asked a few people at MS and they told me that Mac only accounts for 3% of the market, but that’s the 3% you want!
Just as with Flash Catalyst I wonder who is going to be using this tool. Apparently, MS has created a new role called Designer-Developer. Who would be doing this type of development? I attended a great preso by Adam Kinney about Microsoft Expression Blend. MS is attempting to lure Flash designer and developers, however, I don’t see any advantage at this point for Flash developers to start using the tool. MS needs to solve the chicken and the egg problem first. Professionals need work and to be asked to build an application using Silverlight and MS needs to start building a strong portfolio as well as help agencies sell in order to create a case that Silverlight can produce the same type of applications as we see today with Flex. Yes NetFlix is using Silverlight but I haven’t seen any great Website developed with SL. In fact, even SL website needs a facelift.
Additionally, as Flash/Flex developers, we are all used to being the ones converting graphics into code and creating a compelling user experience. Having paintbrushes or the right dancing shoes is useless without having artists capable of creating compelling apps. I believe both Adobe and MS are trying to convince us that UXD people exist. I only know of about 5 UXD people; the rest of the UXD is done by developers.
Coming to the MIX conference and seeing MS trying to replicate design and UXD experiences we at the Flash Community are doing for years makes it clear to that RIA is moving into main stream. At this point Microsoft is the underdog since Adobe is doing RIA since Flex 1.5 and even before that with some smart Flash apps so yes Adobe has reasons to worry but as MS will try to catch up, Adobe has an opportunity to innovate and ensure MS is always the underdog. Otherwise, Flex can die. I also noticed that having MS truck heading your way makes some people in the Flash community pretty nervous about their livelihood. There are about a million Flash developers which most of them don’t devote their entire time to RIA or enterprise development, but building banners and touching the technology on rare occasions, so I don’t believe anyone has to worry. At the same time, about 30 mins ago I got a call from a potential side client that told me that his company’s board of directors are leaning toward Silverlight for creating a program that streams video and allows saving the data into the user’s desktop.
Visual Studio 2010, .NET Framework 4.0 and Silverlight 4
Visual Studio finally got the visual update and a developer can work in Designer Mode just like in FlashBuilder, which is a nice feature for Silverlight development. While watching the presentation, I saw some nice features from the IDE that I would die to have in FlashBuilder. But once again, I am not sure if I am quite ready to start working on a PC.
MS is doing what Flash developers are asking for years and teamed up with EBay to open an equivalent of the iTunes app store for developers, which will help developers to monetize and sell Silverlight software. MS knows how to make money and Adobe should take notes. MS is also going to release an open source framework for tracking usage patterns for Silverlight apps running in or out of the browser.
I was very fortunate to be invited to the event by Microsoft and I will be in touch with my new MS friends, however, tomorrow morning I will be still doing Flash unless I have requests from clients for Silverlight applications.