Thoughts on Mix, Ballmer, and the iPhone SDK

I am a software developer and architect (currently using Microsoft technologies) so of course I was interested to watch the sessions from the MIX conference that just happened last week in Las Vegas.

Incidentally, I visited the on-demand web site for MIX using my default browser (Safari on Mac) and of course the page wouldn’t load. Go figure – a web page written by Microsoft that doesn’t work in Safari, a standards-compliant browser. But I digress.

Ray Ozzie is just not a good public speaker. He didn’t seem excited at all (and he sure didn’t get ME excited with his subject matter). His talk sounded like he was reading a newspaper article, not engaging the audience. In addition, his slides had whole movies playing with demos while he was speaking. This is confusing because your mind wants to see what’s going on in the movie. So you can hear Ray speaking but your mind isn’t listening to him because it’s trying to figure out what it is seeing in the movie.

FINALLY Scott Guthrie came on. I have always really liked Scott, ever since the first session I saw him give. In my opinion, Scott is simply the best bet Microsoft has and has had for a couple of years now, regardless of product group or division. Unfortunately he wasn’t on too long before he introduced the IE8 guy, but I know he’ll be back, and I hope he’s the one giving the demos later!

I like the Developer Tools that the guy demo’d for IE8. Those will be useful.

Web Slices is an interesting concept, and obviously born from the Web Clip functionality introduced in Safari about a year ago now. But unfortunately the implementation of Web Slices is very sub-par. At this point (and I could very well be premature and/or incorrect on this point), there appears to be no operating system integration at all, like Apple gave us in Leopard. In other words, if you want to see updated Web Slices, you have to open IE8 and then click on each and every one that you have to view it. I also have to admit that I’m not sure, as a developer, I would want to add extra code to my pages or my site if I want to support Web Slices. The code would be IE8 only, and I think we all know what writing IE-only code has gotten us in the past when we wanted to support more than just IE.

One of the first things Scott did with regard to Silverlight was to show a movie montage of some of the live usage of Silverlight on the Internet. I have to say that I only found 2 or 3 of those particular examples compelling. Most of the other ones you’d never know were Silverlight at all. Could have just been embedded videos or animated images. I would be curious to see a REAL demo real of Silverlight in use today. And, note to Microsoft: We get that it can play videos.

I thought it was really funny when the Cirque de Soleil employee came on the stage and was holding that big tablet PC with the web cam strapped on to it. So 2001.

There were a few demos of Silerlight on mobile devices, and I have to say that after watching this video the other day (http://www.apple.com/quicktime/qtv/iphoneroadmap), I was not excited at all. The Silverlight mobile applications looked jumpy during animations; slow to respond, and honestly, a little outdated already. I don’t think this is a limitation of Silverlight. I believe it’s a limitation of the hardware capabilities of the devices they showed – some of which are quite new.

All in all I’d say that Silverlight is good for the web, but (contrary to what Rocky Lhotka said in his recent blog post) Silverlight is not the future of the web. It will be a part of it, but that will be about it. Only time will tell if I’m right.

Next, I watched the keynote where Steve Ballmer was interviewed by Guy Kawasaki. I thought it was great, for the most part. Steve Ballmer used to be my favorite speaker to watch. After I watched Steve talk about something I’d want to go right out and buy it or try it or develop on it or install it. This all changed for me over the past two years when I realized that Steve Ballmer is perhaps one of the world’s best salesmen. That’s what he does, and that’s what he’s supposed to do: sell Microsoft to people every hour of every day of every year.

After I tried Macintosh computers, iPods, and iPhones, however, I realized that talk is cheap. There was a reason why I had been frustrated a lot. I just thought that was a cost of using a computer. I didn’t realize it was merely a cost of using Microsoft products until I actually tried other ones.

That being said, one of the things Steve said in the interview with Guy Kawasaki at Mix was really just ignorant, incorrect, and a feeble attempt to deflect the potential impact of what the iPhone SDK and selling your iPhone applications on the iTunes store really means to developers.

Of Apple’s announcements of the iPhone SDK, Ballmer said, “They just announced a new runtime today, yesterday, and it sure seems they’re trying to charge a whole lot more money for it than anybody else on the face of the planet. I think they want to take 30% of every bit of revenue that you’d collect on their runtime. I’m not sure a lot of the software developers that I know are going to be very interested in that, but it may mean that Apple is not welcoming open, royalty-free runtimes on their platform, we’ll have to wait and see.” I’d like to set the record straight, and then you can judge Ballmer’s statement for yourself.

First, I can download the Apple SDK for free and develop all I want. If I choose to, I can pay $99 to join Apple’s Developer program, which gives me things like support and resources that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t join. I’d like to reiterate – it includes support. If I want developer support from Microsoft, I have to pay something like $200 per incident (at least that’s what it was a couple of years ago the last time I used it). So Ballmer’s statement that Apple is charging money for the new runtime, and charging more than anybody else on the face of the planet, is just a lie. There WILL be a nominal charge if iPod Touch users want to upgrade, but the new runtime (called 2.0) will be available to all iPhone users as a free download.

Second, as an iPhone and iPod Touch developer, I can sell my application on the iTunes store, thereby reaching every single owner of an iPod Touch and and iPhone in a single place. That is millions and millions of people. And I don’t pay a cent for this, either. The only time I pay Apple is if someone buys my application, and I’m even responsible for setting the price. If somebody buys it, iTunes takes 30% of that sale. I get 70%. I pay no credit card fees, no hosting fees and no bandwidth fees. Ever. In fact, I can even choose to make my application available for FREE, in which case I pay nothing.

Paying nothing to get my app in front of every owner of my target platform, and then keeping 70% of the revenue sure seems like a pretty incredible deal to me. There’s no business for me to run. There’s no hosting issues for me to deal with. All I have to do is focus on what I do best – developing software and depositing checks into my bank account on a monthly basis. So I put the question to you all, especially anyone who has ever written an application they wanted to sell. Do you think 30% is unfair and demonstrative of Apple being unwelcoming to mobile software developers, as Ballmer does?

I have one final thought on watching these two keynotes. Because they chose to make these videos available in Silverlight only, I was forced to watch the stuff from my web browser, sitting at my desk. I couldn’t watch it on my big living room TV like I can with the Apple conference sessions using iTunes and Apple TV. Unfortunately Microsoft’s disconnect within itself proves frustrating yet again. I couldn’t even watch this on my living room TV on my Xbox 360 if I had that whole Media Center PC / Extender thing going on in my house. This is over 3 hours of video that I had to watch, sitting at my desk. And I haven’t even gotten to the sessions yet. Not exactly a good delivery mechanism for lots of content. I shutter to think what it’s going to be like to sit at your computer and watch the Olympic events that aren’t televised.

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