HTML 5 or Silverlight?

Ah, this is a tough question!

As I mentioned yesterday, I was in Microsoft Office in Montreal for the PDC keynote diffusion after which there was a discussion about the keynote.

The room was filled mainly with freelancers and small company consultants (that is quite typical for a Montreal crowd actually).  More than half of those individuals are Microsoft MVP, which was quite an impressive concentration.

The most heated part of the discussion was about Microsoft message around the HTML 5 vs Silverlight.  Steve Balmer’s message about Silverlight was…  well there was no message, he didn’t explicitly talk about it.  Of course, he talked a lot about Windows Phone 7 development, which has to be done in Silverlight, but he didn’t mention the ‘S’ word ;)

What he did talk about though was HTML 5.  As I mentioned yesterday, that was one of his key messages:  Internet Explorer 9 / HTML 5.  That was touted as the “glue between the client and the server”.  If you read between the lines, you may interpret that Microsoft is now putting its weight behind HTML 5 instead of Silverlight.  If you can read between the lines, you can read it in-the-lines of Bob Muglia, Microsoft President in charge of server and tools business.

This didn’t escape many of the people in the room.  One of them actually made himself a Silverllight expert and basically just learned that he was old news.  As he said, the problem with Silverlight is that once you’ve tried it, you don’t want to go back to java script!

It’s funny, because another person in the room got the same uneasy feeling when we talked about TFS in Azure.  That person is an expert in TFS infrastructure and he just learned…  he was old news.  Both of those are MVPs, so I guess they felt betrayed on many levels.

But above betrayals, if you’re cutting edge today, where should you go?  And where should you advise people to go?

Well…  the thing is, I believe the question is still open.

Silverlight is much more mature than HTML 5 (which is far from %100 the same on every browser today) and much more complete for rich client application.  The demos of HTML 5 flying toasters are quite impressive, but I’m not sure you would like to see a complex application written in javascript / HTML 5 canvas.  Silverlight runs the same on every platform it supports (which is way fewer than where HTML 5 is supported or will be supported within a year).  The programming model is way cleaner, you can separate assemblies, go with a rich class model, etc.  .

That said, HTML 5 is offering quite a good share of what Silverlight is able to offer to the end-user.  The coverage is way broader.  But the developer experience is quite something else.  Hence the complaints in the room.

Now I can see where Microsoft is coming from.  They tied Internet Explorer 9 to the OS (it runs only on Windows Vista and more recent OS) in order to leverage the capacity to use hardware acceleration.  That makes IE9 the fastest OS rendering and animating HTML-5.  The competition will have trouble to follow them, especially that most of them (e.g. Chrome, Fire Fox) are available on many platforms.  So they basically threw a curve at the competition.

A problem with this is that HTML 5 will be standard but the speed won’t.  So you’re back to square one:  do you want to develop rich application on a platform where the performance highly depends on the browser?

I think the dice have been thrown, but they’re still rolling on the table.  For interactive-UI app, Flash & Silverlight will be the way to go for quite a while.  But for simpler UI (ie %90 of what you interact with everyday), HTML is back in the game with HTML 5.

A lot of arguments in the room were around the fact that a lot of companies still have IE 6 on their desktop.  Well, cutting-edge client computing isn’t happening on your corporate desktop, isn’t it?  The winner of the cutting-edge competition today will end-up on your corporate desktop.  Microsoft has two horses in the race, hedging their bet.

PDC 2010 Keynotes

Today was the first day of the PDC 2010.  Microsoft hosts events all around the world, inviting local partners, where they broadcast the PDC keynotes and have a discussion around that afterwards.  I was in such an event in Montreal.

Cloud, Device Opportunities Outlined at Professional Developers ConferenceSteve Ballmer was delivering the keynotes with many Microsoft stars delivering portions and demos (e.g. Scott Gu, Don Box, Mark Russinovich, etc.).  Steve looked a bit less over-the-top energetic today.  Is it the stock going down, his chief architect leaving?  He didn’t tell…

There were three main themes:

  • IE 9 / HTML 5
  • Windows Phone 7
  • Windows Azure

There wasn’t much news in the first two items.

IE 9 is great, fast and supports HTML 5.  We got some crisps demos about how to integrate a site with Windows 7, via branded pinned-down-to-the-task-bar icons, branded (actually, coloured) back/forward buttons, customized jump list and even customized buttons (like the play / stop / rewind buttons you get on the preview of Windows Media Player).  We even got the mandatory “look at this sample site, IE 9 is way faster than Google Chrome”, but they refrained from doing it on every demo.

The message there was that HTML 5 was the glue on all the MS experiences:  XBox, Windows Phone 7, PC, etc. .  That got some eyebrows raised in the assistance where a couple of consultants gambled their short-term career on Silverlight and led to some interesting discussions afterwards.

For the Windows Phone 7, I really didn’t learn much despite not going utterly out-of-my-way to gather information usually (as I do for Windows Azure or parallel computing for instance).  Scott Gu gave a good demo, sporting his typical red shirt.  Beside OData library for WP7 being released today, the real news was the profiler for WP7.  That’s a pretty good beast actually:  it’s able to profile a run of an app, counting the frame per second, CPU utilization, # of objects being instantiated on the screen, etc.  and alerting you when abnormal numbers show up.  It seems like a very good piece of technology.  It should be in beta soon.

The device looks very cool.  I don’t know if it’s just the amount of effort put in the demo, but it really looks cool.  Actually, an enterprise customer in the room with us told us they had access to a few devices during a development project of an app for his company and he really enjoyed the device.  That customer later did an interesting presentation on Windows Azure (http://www.yellowapi.com/).

Now the real darling of this show was Windows Azure.  There I finally learned something and there was a bunch of announcements.  Actually, Microsoft is doing two things.

First, they provided features answering to feedbacks they got from customers.  Among the announcements:  Extra-small cheaper instance, capacity to RDP on your server to better diagnose problems, full-IIS mode (allowing you to deploy more than one web sites in an instance among other things), a caching service (the equivalent to AppFabric or Velocity on-premise) and Reporting Services in the cloud.  Those are all features requested by users and they will strengthen the offering.

Second they basically broaden the spectrum of there offer.  VM role is #1 there:  with this they basically get into Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and compete directly with Amazon (will they be competitive on the price, that is an open question though).  This feature should be available in beta by the end of the year.  Server Application Virtualization…  this is supposed to be the equivalent of App-V on the server side, in the cloud, but didn’t get demoed.  With Network connection, you’ll be able to virtually extend your on-premise network (and domain) to Windows Azure.  TFS in the cloud is…  TFS in the cloud!  It seems to include the source control, work items and even build server (via the VM Role or a worker role for standard environments) but not the SharePoint part nor the cubes.  Azure App Fabric Service bus got some new bells and whistle (something I certainly advocated for), such as durable messaging, but none were demoed.  Finally, a new Market-Place for Azure Services, a bit like Windows Phone Market place, but in the cloud (Project Dallas would become the data market, a sub product of that offer).

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ERATUM:  VM role aren’t IaaS.  This was a mistake from my part.  Please read this article to understand why.

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There wasn’t much timeline given for those features except ‘later this year’.  Nevertheless, those announcements give us the picture:  Windows Azure is getting mature very quickly.  The basis is getting stronger and larger.

Soon you’ll be able to take an on-premise .vhd of Windows Server 2008 R2 and move it to the cloud without much ceremony.  This gives an excellent migration path for all the apps that would be too costly to modify.  Basically, Windows Azure the Consolidate, Virtualize, Cloud roadmap suggested by the Gartner’s of this world.

I’ll tell you about the local discussion in a later post.

Ray Ozzie’s October 2010 Memo

Five years ago, Ray Ozzie, newly arrived at Microsoft, released his famous memo.  In his vision, he showed a transformational path for his company:  Software + Services.

Despite Ray leaving Microsoft, he just wrote a new memo:  dawn of a new day.

In this new memo he once again conjure a vision for his company:  continuous services & connected devices or basically, cloud computing.

File:1939fairhelicline.jpgThe essay is high on style, pulling historic parallels such as the soon 25th anniversary of Windows 1.0 (November 20th 2010), the 1939 World Fair in NYC, and the last decade landscape changes in the technology industry.

Ozzie is quite honest in his assessment, quoting the achievement of his company in the last five years (Windows sales for both consumers and servers, Office relevance, Windows Azure, etc.) and what didn’t go so well (mobile space, social networking, etc.).

He hints at a post-PC world, explaining in length how the success of the PC created a very complex eco-system where the smartest architecture end-up being a legacy hindering progress.  He doesn’t mention how this should affect the future of Windows unfortunately.  No mention of the possibly revolutionary Windows 8.

What he’s more clearly hinting at is that, in the future, the centre of the universe will be the cloud, not the PC.  According to Ozzie, devices will multiply and will consume those continuous services.  The future is cloud-centric.

His vision is a bit blurry.  This is understandable since he won’t be the one implementing it at Microsoft.  On the other hand, he takes position on a lot of technological debate.  For instance, he doesn’t seem to see one form-factor winning any time soon (including the PC), hence his cloud-centric vision.  You can also interpret (which I won’t do here) a bunch of sentences as reasons why he’s leaving Microsoft.

One point stroke me, at the beginning of the memo, when he analyses the failures of Microsoft in the last couple of years:  agility.  He just mentions it quickly and it’s not really his forte I suppose, but the delivery pace of Microsoft has been a big problem for its success in the Internet & mobile space.  Well, that’s not a secret information:  beside few products, such as Silverlight, the delivery capability of Microsoft is quite heavy.  Windows Live, IE 9, Windows Phone 7, etc. are all taking forever to be shipped.  It’s just interesting to see it acknowledged as a reason for lack of success in the very fast world of Social media & Mobile devices.

I’m quite curious to see how Ray Ozzie is planning to spend his days realizing that vision when he’s going to leave Microsoft.  Thos are interesting times after all.

BPOS is dead, long live Office 365

image Starting in early 2010, what was previously known as BPOS version 2 or Union will be available as Office 365.  The name should reflect the availability of the platform (which suffered some reputation step back this summer).  Today the beta is released, available to a 1000+ customers worldwide.

Among the features of the new versions will be partial feature sets of the following on-premise products:

  • Exchange Server 2010 SP1
  • SharePoint 2010
  • Lync Server 2010
  • Federated Identity
  • Dynamics CRM

Another interesting aspect of the new offering will be its declinations, ie enterprise, mid-size business, education, etc.  .  With those new features, we can see the offering being more mature.  They get more competitive for small user-base and more enterprise-ready for bigger customer.

As I wrote here before, I have been quite impressed with BPOS.  The major hurdle for me was the absence of an enterprise single sign-on solution.  This is going away with Office 365.  This makes this offering very attractive.  For instance, even for short-lived collaboration project SharePoint Online becomes a very good solution.

You can see a demo on Channel 9.

Thanks to Mary-Jo Foley to spread the news (here and here).

The end the Chief Software Architect title @ Microsoft?

Ray Ozzy is stepping down the Chief Software Architect role at Microsoft.

He’s going to leave Microsoft in the short future.

Steve Balmer isn’t naming a new Chief Software Architect for the moment.

 

Since Bill Gates left Microsoft, the company has been running from one re-org to the other.  For instance, earlier in October 2010, two new divisions were created with a new president each.  In the recent months, quite a few president and vice-president have been leave the corporation.  For instance, Stephen Elop, formally MS Business Division’s president left for Nokia on September 2010.

It seems it is becoming increasingly challenging to navigate such a big enterprise as Microsoft has become.  Some think Microsoft is engaged in a down spiral, some think it is a necessary transformation.  I tend to be in the second camp.

The market has changed dramatically since the 1990’s.  Players have changed a lot.  In the early 2000’s, we talked about Sun, BAE, Borland, Lycos, etc.  .  Google was a tiny player.  Facebook, Twitter & YouTube (later acquired by Google) didn’t exist.  The internet wave is quite disruptive.  Actually, I find it impressive for Microsoft to stay relevant after so long.

I still find that Microsoft is bringing a lot of good technologies on the table.  Windows Azure has a very bright potential, SharePoint is a leader in the collaboration portal space, the .NET eco-system (including Visual Studio, TFS, Windows Server App Fabric, Silverlight, etc. ) really is top notch, their multi-core concurrency Fx & tools really hit the target, Xbox Kinect is sold-out on pre-orders, Windows Phone 7 seems poised to be a good iPhone / Blackberry competitor, etc.  .

Of course for all those positives, you can find a nice list of flops (let’s just mention the three months fad Kin), but as long as they can re-invent themselves, they will strive.

 

I still wonder what happened with Ray Ozzie.  Filling the shoes of founder Bill Gates might have been too big an order.  He did bring the whole Software + Service paradigm shift inside the company, championed Live Mesh & pushed for Windows Azure.  In the mean time, his Groove got on the ice, looking more and more like a SharePoint client.  It seems like he phased out the minute took the role couple of years ago.  The man had plenty of vision and intellect.  Apparently it’s quite hard to push that through at the moment.

Does Microsoft needs a super star at its head in order to work, like Apple’s Steve Jobs?  I don’t think so.  They have quite a battalion of smart leaders.  The company is still learning to find its balance but it doesn’t lack smart people.  If the leadership manage to get all that intellect to work towards common goal, they won’t need a messiah at their head!

In the mean time, you can follow Ray Ozzie on his new blog.

Thanks to Mary-Jo Foley for spreading the news.

Microsoft’s jQuery contributions as official plug-ins

A quick note about Microsoft’s contributions to jQuery (namely XYZ):  they are now official plug-ins!

We’ve read several months ago about the contributions of Microsoft to jQuery, that is, Globalization, Templates and Data Linking.

Those plug-ins bring a programming model relatively close to Microsoft WPF (or Silverlight) but quite in line with jQuery.  It also shows the commitment of Microsoft to jQuery.