Tim Anderson published an interesting piece entitled “Microsoft refuses to comment as .NET developers fret about Windows 8”.  In my experience over the last few days “fret” is an understatement.  Developers I know are baffled by Microsoft’s indifference towards them. 

For those who missed it Microsoft gave a glimpse of Windows 8 this week (see video here) and it essentially adopts the tile interface of Windows Phone 7.   Except you can click on certain tiles (like an “Excel  Tile”) and it will open legacy applications complete with taskbar, desktop, file system, and all the other trappings of Windows.  

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I didn’t comment at the time because I think the whole Interface is doomed to failure.  Sure you’re hearing a bunch of pundits and bloggers praise it but that’s meaningless.  They aren’t going to trade their Mac for a Windows machine.  I know this because all those same people heaped praise on Windows Phone 7 yet they’re all still using iPhones.  As for novice users, I can’t see them embracing an Operating System with two different usability paradigms jammed into it.  Anyone who has worked with novice users knows they live and die by definitive rules.  The taskbar is always there at the bottom, you can always right click on an object to see the commands available to you, and so on.  Beginners need consistency.  Windows 8 provides exactly the opposite. 

So it’s really an interface designed for no one and likely to be cast aside like Microsoft Bob, The Windows Media Shell, and all the other shell interfaces Microsoft’s tried to build on top of Windows over the years.

The real problem is in the developers.  Along with the tile interface Microsoft said they consider HTML5 and Javascript the preferred way of developing Windows Apps.  Which absolutely obliterates their developer strategy.  To quote Mr. Anderson’s post…

Microsoft made no mention of either Silverlight or .NET, even though Silverlight is used as the development platform in Windows Phone 7, from which Windows 8 Tiled mode draws its inspiration.

The fear of .NET developers is that Microsoft’s Windows team now regards not only Silverlight but also .NET as a legacy technology. Everything will still run, but to take full advantage of Tiled mode you will need to use the new HTML and JavaScript model.

Underlying the discussion is that developers have clients, and clients want applications that run on a platform with a future. Currently, Microsoft is promoting HTML and JavaScript as the future for Windows applications, putting every client-side .NET developer at a disadvantage in those pitches.

Worse Microsoft is pushing slightly different development strategies for every one of its platforms right now.   Windows 7 is WPF, Windows Phone is Silverlight, Windows 8 is HTML5 and Javascript and ASP.NET is C# based web development (it’s still hard to use Javascript directly in ASP.NET).  This chaos seems to come from directly inside Microsoft…

From the outside, it still looks as if Microsoft’s server and tools division is pulling one way, and the Windows team the other. If that is the case, it is destructive, and something CEO Steve Ballmer should address; though I imagine that Steven Sinofsky, the man who steered Windows 7 to launch so successfully, is a hard person to oppose even for the CEO.

What makes this disaster so maddening is it has been brewing for months now.  Since November of last year when (then) Microsoft Senior VP Bob Muglia all but declared Silverlight dead.  These statements were later revised but the revision looked a lot like back peddling(Microsoft’s Sinofsky did a similar back peddle when asked about Silverlight during the Windows 8 Q&A). 

Yet Microsoft staff continue to be blasé about these changes.  Take this post from Microsoft’s Dare Obasanjo…

Earlier this week, Microsoft took the initial wraps off of the next version of Windows (aka "Windows 8"). As someone who loves personal computing and loves the Web, there’s a lot I find exciting about what we just announced.  If you’re a web developer this represents an amazing opportunity and one that should fill you with excitement.

So while half the .NET developers are flipping out because they believe their skills are now obsolete we’re getting sunny PR talk from Microsoft employees.  The reason I quote Mr. Obasanjo is because I know he’s aware of the problem.  He tweeted about it right after he made the above quoted post…

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So there’s clearly not been an emergency meeting of any kind at Microsoft.   No one’s raised the red flag.  Instead Microsoft continues to watch with painful indifference as its developers run out to buy books on Ruby. 

Addendum: For the record I do think you'll be able to develop Silverlight apps for years to come.  IE is clearly the engine for all these new Javascript/HTML5 apps meaning Silverlight will also work just fine.  The problem, as Mr. Anderson's article lays out, is in pitching the applications in the first place.  No one wants to start a "legacy" app and Microsoft has made all its current tools appear obsolete.