The End of the World (as we know it)

Big news made waves two weeks ago, when Microsoft somewhat cryptically announced that it is going to end the world for its developer community.

Overstating the importance of the decisions to limit Visual Studio Express to “Metro-style apps” development or to drop future .NET development for Windows XP/Windows Server 2003 as I might, fundamentally it is the narrow road Microsoft’s recent communication has taken, that may, should and will scare folks off of the beaten paths.

It looks like they are trying to go Apple Road, but I’m unsure whether they or anybody else knows whether they are going it in the right direction.

Clearly, Microsoft has seen the writing on the wall for a while: the demise of it’s home base, the general purpose computer. Microsoft historically often failed first-to-market, be it web TV, tablet computers, smartphones or smart personal objects (exception: Kinect). And it seems they are more successful, albeit slowly, being second, e.g. with word processors, graphical user interfaces, spreadsheets, file and print servers, directory services, internet browsers, application servers, game consoles, or infrastructure and platform “cloud” services (exception: Zune).

So what they are doing now, starting with I guess the death of Windows Mobile, is trying to be second so quickly, that they don’t seem to be able to take their community with them, users and developers. They see Apple and understand that the retail-style consumer binding is the holy grail of revenue generation and all else will follow. That the cash-flow focused patent and content-rights driven lock-up of digital devices is as desirable as it is inevitable.

That is not what will turn out well for a slow and traditional company like Microsoft.

The abandonment of Windows Mobile and Compact Framework application developers (and users) was the writing on their wall that loyalty to a platform is a one-way street and Microsoft is willing to leave supporters in the dust. Silverlight developers have even been left hanging for a year or so with no communication whatsoever so much that even Miguel de Icaza didn’t feel like talking about it until seriously pressed. Microsoft is closing the doors on its broadly opened-up culture that it lived for the past 10 years.

Now, Microsoft removed the compilers from the SDK. So we had two decades of general purpose personal computing digital freedom on the Windows platform, but that’s about it.

Sure, hobbyists, enthusiasts and learners still have access to a reasonably priced up-to-date alternative (Windows 8 + Visual Studio 2011 Express + Windows Store), but the lock-in into ceremony-rich Metro is a lock-out from the platform and the freedom it provides.

Even if we assume that the paradigms and concepts are shifting, that nobody will ever again learn something about programming by re-writing the “type” command or something like the old Windows Explorer, that words like “keyboard”, “mouse”, “file”, “directory/folder”, “disk”, “form”, “control”, and “menu” will vanish from the digital vocabulary, and that applications will either be small, isolated “apps” or distributed systems with a HTML5/JavaScript front-end, even then there is still no compelling argument to justify the investment of time and money into a closed, narrow, disruptive, new, unproven Microsoft platform more than it would be into the closed and narrow environments that are already thriving.

If the industry goes to embrace short-lived, quick, retail-style, buy/replace interactions, developers should follow suit when choosing their platforms and developing applications or another profession.

It’s about time to go with the flow. But it’s time to go.

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