Windows 8 and the Two Worlds of HTML


It’s a commonplace in literature that different people see the world in remarkably different ways.  North Koreans and South Koreans, big-enders and little-enders, Morlocks and Eloi.

What often gets in the way of realizing this basic characteristic of the world is another — possibly modern and very democratic — tendency to believe that we can understand where anyone is coming from if we just try hard enough.  There’s a brotherhood of man and all that, so if we simply sit down and discuss our differences, we should be able to all get along.  Why can’t we all just get along?

One of the hardest things for Microsoft developers to understand is why everyone not-Microsoft hates Windows and the other MS products.  We naturally assume these members of the web and design community are being irrational and remarkably biased.  If they would just sit down at a Microsoft conference / sales pitch and get themselves educated, then everything would be better and we’d be one step closer to world peace.

This past week I had the opportunity – mostly by accident — to attend An Event Apart when it came through Atlanta – a conference for web designers and developers.  What fascinated me was that all the issues and debates that I thought were important were not important at this conference.

First, I thought the most important thing going on with the web was HTML5.  While HTML5 got some play at An Event Apart, it was basically treated as merely a tool.  The real issue everyone was grappling with was the mobile web – whether it requires forking off of regular websites, or if it can be incorporated into the overall design and development process.  Should there be one web for two windows, or a fractured web to support all the different devices coming to market.

Second, no one asked if Silverlight was dead.  For all the angst expressed over the rise and decline of Silverlight in the Microsoft world, it was clear that, for the people at this conference, Silverlight had never made any inroads.  And why should it – Silverlight was able to deliver content to Macs but never actually had design or development tools that could run on the Mac.  The Silverlight story basically ignored all the designers and developers who had made Flash dominant for so long on the web. 

So what did people want to know about?  Whether Flash was dead.  The answer, apparently, is no.  Flash and HTML5 complement each other and … blah blah vampire emergency blah … you can fill in the blanks from all the things people typically say about Silverlight not being dead or Newt Gingrich’s presidential run not being dead. 

Is IE the best HTML5 compliant browser?  At An Event Apart I saw slide after slide claiming that cool web technique XYZ will not work on IE 7, 8 or 9.  CSS animations, responsive web design, etc. all work great on Chrome, FF5 and Safari.  Just not on IE.  I had my laptop open for most of the conference and after a little time I found myself repeatedly using Firefox or Safari rather than IE to do my browsing – I just didn’t want anyone to know that IE 9 was my default browser.

And Windows 8?  It never came up.  People outside of the Microsoft worldview don’t understand the Win 8 story at all.  For that matter, people inside of the Microsoft worldview also don’t understand it.  All we do know is that HTML5 and Javascript will apparently be the preferred development platform for it.

Here’s the rub.  Where are all these HTML5 and Javascript developers going to come from?  Just as importantly, where are all the HTML5 designers going to come from – assuming that we want Win 8 apps to actually look good?

The HTML5 + jquery goodness story seems to be based on the notion that there is a huge reservoir of web developers out in the world that Microsoft can win over to becoming developers for their new operating system.  Developers, developers, developers, right?

How is Steve Sinofsky and his PR team going to accomplish this?  I’ve been through the looking glass; I’ve seen the other side and, quite frankly, those developers Microsoft wants to woo don’t want to have anything to do with Microsoft.  While there’s an element of irrational contempt in all of this, it is also the result of many years of Microsoft not understanding the concerns of the other web community and even outright ignoring them.

Microsoft is possibly playing the longest game of hard-to-get anyone has ever seen.  If that strategy doesn’t work, though, how is MS going to sex up Windows 8 for the other, non-Microsoft, web community?

Because without that other world of HTML, Windows 8 is going to fail.

5 thoughts on “Windows 8 and the Two Worlds of HTML”

  1. Really insightful, if not slightly disappointing article James. I too wonder how this will all pan out, but I'm not even going to bother concerning myself with what may or may not happen until BUILD. I know I personally need to leave my Microsoft bubble more often than I currently do.

  2. Just want to say that you've hit the nail right on the head. The biggest problem for MIcrosofts ambition to appeal to consumers is that they've failed to woo designers. They don't understand them and treat the designer story with contempt (designers use macs so why is there no blend for mac?).

    It's designers who are the inspiration behind the apps and games in the modern world not LOB developers. Without them you are toast.

  3. I think web developers' biggest concern is to stay relevant with the growing use of appstores. This is what they mean by the mobile web – it doesn't work.
    Will apps dominate as the primary method of accessing the internet. And if so, does HTML have a role to play as a cross platform application development platform?

  4. What is a "HTML5 designer"?

    Is this the person who only knows photoshop and throws the design over the wall for a "HTML5 developer" to cut up and make real? If so then how are these people inextricably linked to HTML? They could be "designing" for any old platform like Flash or even a native Windows app. They just do what they are told and follow the crowd.

    Perhaps these "HTML5 designers" are those artistic and photoshop-skilled people who are ALSO great technologists, who understand the minutiae of HTML5 and the subtle details that go into creating a unique HTML5 "design"? If so then I can tell you these people are very few and far between. Lets say 1000 to 1 vs the photshop-monkey I described above. Really we are talking about the 'devigner'. You know, that person worth their weight in gold… very rare people.

    If its the first, then who gives a shit about "HTML5 designers"? They can easily retarget any platform that becomes fashionable enough (note: fashionable != cost effective) it can be sold to clients.

    If its the latter then we are talking about a very small pool of elites. A small pool that punches above its weight. Makes a lot of noise and yes does great things. This is the battle ground then. Maybe 50,000 of these elites exist globally. Ok, lets just call it 100,000. There are already 10M Microsoft developers. If MS can just "win" the hearts and minds of half, or even a quarter of these elites… My point being its not a "huge pool" that needs to be won over. Its just a decent fraction of a small pool. Thats probably their strategy (hope?).

  5. It really makes little sense. As James stated, the non-MS web world is happy with what they're using now, why would they change to tools of a company that they hold a great deal of (maybe unfounded) contempt?

    So let's say Windows 8 goes the complete standards track and works seamlessly with all of HTML5 and javascript. Then that same app will run on any browser, on any operating system. So they lose any competitive advantage on the OS in the sake of interoperability.

    Consider the opposite, they make value-add extensions to HTML5 and javascript that only work on Windows 8. They've got a bit of competitive advantage on the OS but will never win over the non-MS web devs that way. "Oh look, they're hacking up standards again."

    The traditional software markets that MS previously dominated in are slowly drying up. Why by Office, sure the online alternatives still stink, but they're getting better and better? Why by the OS if most apps will transform into web apps that presumably will be standard across all platforms? Why buy dev tools when there is a glut of innovative OSS tools available (Google is throwing gas on that fire)? Why go to their expensive conferences if you're not using any of their products? So far MS hasn't appeared to make any fundamental changes in the markets they address, just putting lipstick on a pig and chasing the competitors.

    MS does still seem to have some promise in the gaming (and perhaps Surface) arena. Get that next version of XBox out that isn't just a gaming platform, but a PC for your TV. Do like the smartphone and package every similar device into one. Make that XBox a DVR, a cablebox, a PC, a web browser, and finally a gaming system.

    Anyway, just a rant from another disenfranchised Silverlight developer.

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