Putting Expression Studio’s demise in perspective

Microsoft’s recent move to disband the Expression Studio suite, and discontinue some of its component products, is the latest example of a retrenchment that is returning the Developer Division (DevDiv) to its roots.  Understanding that history will help make sense of the last couple of years of DevDiv moves, whether you think they make sense or not.

If you go back to the early 90s DevDiv had a fairly straightforward charter.  Its job was to create tools and technologies that attracted developers to the Microsoft platforms.  Pretty much Compilers, IDEs, and wrappers to make the underlying platform (i.e., Windows) more accessible.  From a business perspective DevDiv was designed as a Cost Recovery business.  That is, to keep it from becoming a drain on overall profits it was expected to break even.  In the high growth rate 90s, and with overall sales of development tools a relatively small part of Microsoft’s revenue stream, Microsoft could absorb a 0% margin on its development tools without harming its corporate bottom line.

By the mid-90s DevDiv found itself focused on two new areas, Enterprise and Web development.  On the Enterprise front DevDiv was (and is) subject to the same economics as other businesses (like SQL Server) in that Enterprise-oriented features are very expensive to develop but yield only marginal increases in unit sales.  If you want to continue to break even that means you have to either raise your prices or introduce tiered pricing (or both), or sell the capabilities separately.

Web development had a similar effect in that vastly increased engineering resources were required, outstripping the ability for unit volume increases to keep DevDiv at break even.  The net impact on this was for there to be continually increasing attention on the higher priced editions of the tool set (which by the late 90s was lumped into a Visual Studio family).

But Web development would eventually have an even larger impact.  The first big change was the introduction of .NET Framework and the Common Language Runtime (CLR).  The CLR had been proposed as early as 1994 (and maybe earlier), but it wasn’t taken seriously until the emergence of Java and its runtime as a serious platform competitor.  The .NET Framework created a conundrum for DevDiv as it represented its own platform rather than simply being a wrapper for underlying platforms.  This set up a competition between DevDiv and other parts of Microsoft (certainly Windows, but also Windows Mobile, Office, SQL Server, etc.) for ownership of the platform being promoted to developers.

The Web also allowed another platform competitor to emerge, Adobe.  Adobe’s Flash, AIR, and Flex represented another serious threat to Microsoft’s platforms.  Applications written using them were platform independent, and Flash itself had gained enormous market share as the only practical way to create rich media experiences on the web.  Moreover, Adobe’s business model was the exact opposite of Microsoft’s.  Whereas Microsoft provided development tools primarily in order to sell runtimes (e.g., operating systems), Adobe gave away runtimes in order to sell tools.  Adobe also specialized in entering the application lifecycle much earlier than Microsoft, establishing dominance in the design tool space.

Silverlight (with CoreCLR) and the Expression line of tools were established as a counter to the Adobe platform and business strategy.  This both flipped the business model on its head (give away runtime, make money on tools) and created new tensions between DevDiv as platform provider and DevDiv as creator of tools to attract developers to underlying platforms like Windows.

Meanwhile, as Java adoption by Enterprises picked up, Microsoft faced the dilema that IBM (Rational) and others were providing toolsets that more completely addressed the Application Lifecycle (ALM) than did Visual Studio.  Whereas many of these elements had previously been independent of the platform, if they existed at all, they now had ties to specific platforms.  This further drove Microsoft to expand its Enterprise (and large development team in general) tools offering.

As Microsoft’s growth slowed, DevDiv’s engineering expenses grew, and sales of development tools became a substantial revenue stream, DevDiv became a more noticeable drain on Microsoft’s margins.  To reduce the drain DevDiv would have to move beyond pure cost recovery to actually making money.  That added to the focus on ALM and Design Tools, where competitors like IBM and Adobe had created huge price umbrellas.

The result of all these developments was that DevDiv increasingly appeared to be its own Tools and Platform business rather than being focused on its original supporting role.  And then came the iPhone.   Yes, the iPhone was going to start the ball rolling on what I believe events of the last two years shows is DevDiv’s return to its traditional role.

One of the first things to note about the iPhone was that Apple made development tools available for free.  At the same time Microsoft was requiring mobile developers to purchase one of its premium versions of Visual Studio such as Professional.  For Windows Phone to succeed Microsoft was going to have to give away tools for mobile development.  Second, Apple eschewed any kind of plug-ins for the iPhone browser and designed the rules for the App Store to ban generic runtimes like those of Adobe.  As it turned out the iPhones huge success would end Adobe’s run at becoming a platform vendor.

To compete with the iPhone not only would Microsoft have to move mobile development from the Professional edition to the free Express edition, by basing its development platform on Silverlight it would have to make available a free version of the Expression Blend design tool as well.  Alternatively Microsoft could have created a separate, less powerful, design tool for Windows Phone.  But there was neither time nor desire to do so.  Expression Blend was a powerful way to give the Windows Phone development environment a leg up over Apple’s.

Apple’s blocking of Adobe’s runtime, the rise in HTML5 as a viable alternative to Adobe Flash, and additional platforms deciding to block plugins put the nail in Flash’s coffin.  And took Silverlight down with it.  Silverlight as a cross-browser/cross-platform capability was now neither strategically necessary nor even possible.

Then came Windows 8.  With Windows 8 the Windows team reaffirmed its position as the platform.  Instead of the .NET Framework being the platform for apps on Windows 8, its job is as a wrapper to enable the creation of managed code applications for the Windows Runtime.  DevDiv also reinvigorated its efforts around native code (i.e., C++) development in support of Windows 8’s app platform.  And Expression Blend once again ended up in a central role for app development, pushing it from Expression Suite into editions of Visual Studio.

There have also been leadership and structural changes within DevDiv.  How much of the leadership change can be attributed to a retrenchment from a “Tools and Platforms” business  back to a focus on a role supporting Microsoft platforms such as Windows is hard to gauge.  But I’m betting that has played a significant role.

So now we get to the recent Expression Studio changes.  Without Adobe as a platform competitor a lot of the business justification for Expression evaporated.  There is no free runtime in order to sell tools business model.  Expression Blend has already made its way into Visual Studio, making it superfluous to have a second suite built around it.  While Microsoft once was a leader in basic website design and HTML editing with FrontPage, its Expression Web successor doesn’t seem to have moved the needle.  Visual Studio has always been the tool for more sophisticated website development, so putting all the focus there instead of splitting it with Expression Web makes sense.

That leaves Expression Design as the one area that Microsoft is really just exiting.  I don’t know how successful Expression Design had become, but frankly I think most designers just continued to use Adobe’s tools.  Expression Blend was and is critical because it straddles the design/development disciplines.  But further you get from development the less the tools really are tied to any specific platform.   So with Adobe no longer a significant platform threat there is less pressure to try to unhook designers from Adobe’s tools.  Another way to look at it is that in the long history of coopetition between Microsoft and Adobe the pendulum has swung more towards the cooperation side.

I’m sure there are questions about what all this means for other areas, like development for Microsoft’s servers and its efforts around ALM.  I might comment on those in future postings but it would be too much speculation for this one.

The bottom line when you look at DevDiv over the last couple of years is that the days of it focusing on tools and its own platform as a business are over.  It has returned to its classic charter of being a supporting player responsible for attracting developers to Microsoft’s platforms such as Windows, Windows Phone, Windows Server, Azure, SQL Server, etc.  That’s the context you have to use in understanding any of its recent or future announcements.

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31 Responses to Putting Expression Studio’s demise in perspective

  1. orcmid says:

    I still cling to Microsoft FrontPage 2003, FrontPage extensions on IIS, and the SiteServer model (using VSS integration for FrontPage change-control, FTP for publishing). Expression Web is not a substitute, and for one reason or another FrontPage cannot coordinate with the FrontPage extensions properly from Windows 7 and 8 (so I continue to run that on at least one machine or in a Hyper-V VM on Windows 8 Pro). Of course, the first Visual Web Developer releases were unabashed shills for ASP and fell down as FrontPage replacements. The SharePoint counterpart existed as a substitute only in business division wishful thinking.

    Now, this doesn’t do anything to draw my web sites onto Microsoft platforms (Azure or IIS) since I avoid ASP and the published sites are on LAMP servers using static pages. I continue to invest in Windows platforms for my development and forensic work, along with other efforts targeted to Windows. And those migrations are retarded by my need to preserve my site development model, household applications, etc.

    So I suspect the next move against providing quality general tools will be to morph Windows Live Writer into a Microsoft platform-only developer fly-catcher.

    Of course my use case is less than microscopic in terms of Microsoft’s rent-seeking needs. Still, it’s too bad that Microsoft abandon-ware can’t be moved into the open-source subsidiary.

    • halberenson says:

      I suspect they don’t open source these things because they share proprietary technology from other members of the tool (or other) families that Microsoft doesn’t want, or can’t, open source. So they’d need extensive reengineering, perhaps to the point of making them entirely different products, before you could open source them.

  2. anthonyb says:

    Hi,,

    thanks for the analysis, great article!. Do you believe that these changes inside DevDiv will favour the .net framework languages/tools over the C++ ones inside Microsoft or not?

    • ex-DevDiv says:

      The word is that .NET framework was re-org’ed into the cloud platform (Azure), which moves it away from the tools. From what I’ve heard, Windows is not a fan of the CLR because of decreased battery performance and has preferred to focus on C++ & JS (battery perf of JS? don’t ask me.)

      Note that this is was a very contentious decision because a majority of the Win8 apps are written in .NET. I don’t know how much of this came from Sinofsky (who strongly disliked .NET) or from elsewhere, but the Windows Phone team was also not thrilled with .NET performance. Not sure who much will change with Sinofsky gone.

      • halberenson says:

        I haven’t followed all the org changes simply because that’s rather hard to do these days (with Microsoft’s swing to secrecy), but certainly ScottGu moved to focus on Azure (initially within the Data Platform Division) a couple years back. His previous responsibililities in DevDiv were divided, with many things followin him to DPD. STB is in an evolution to a functional organization (ala Windows) and that has organizational responsibilities very confused from an outsider’s perspective. But it would not surprise me at all for runtime responsibilities to be part of Server and Cloud Division (or whatever it is called these days) rather than DevDiv.

        • halberenson says:

          Clarification, DevDiv still owns core .NET responsibilities.

          • anthonyb says:

            I am curious about the future of C# and only that, .net “as a brand” is surely on it’s way out (or to Azure). Performance on WP8 is very close to that of C++, i mean, a C# app written for WP8 is “cloud compiled” to native code and i have heard that MS are working on a C# native code compiler (for the desktop) too.

  3. Hal,

    Adobe is too entrenched for Microsoft to dislodge.

    Microsoft could have followed a value-destroying strategy where $1 investment destroys competitors revenue by 7x. For example, making some minor monetary contributions to Gimp contributors to provide better Windows compatibility and making XAML plugins for these tools..

    In terms of long term product planning, Microsoft’s divisions do not present themselves as one Microsoft, but each as a disparate unit playing a reactive game. When products are killed this way, careers are killed outside MS as well. Anyone who have been advocating for Silverlight for example, find themselves marginalized. This makes it difficult for enterprises to choose MS technologies by default.

    What we are seeing today is not consolidation. We are seeing the same reactionary behaviour that has taken MS off-course for years. Microsoft needs to make up its mind a general strategy of how it intends to commoditize competitors products, then focus on its core business.

    • halberenson says:

      In terms of technologies and careers…all vendors promote and then kill off products. It is just a fact of life. And yes, careers of those in the customer base who bought into the technology are harmed when a vendor does that. Vendors do take that consideration into account when making decisions, and certainly that is part of why Microsoft’s support policies have evolved over the years to provide very long support windows. But ultimately you can’t keep throwing resources at something that no longer makes sense. And personally I’d rather have the vendor make the roadmap clear earlier rather than later. The worst thing is for a technology to continue to be promoted after it is known that it is a dead end.

      And guess what, customers do the same to vendors. I have a friend at Microsoft whose career was significantly damaged when a customer pulled out of a project because their board suddenly decided to cut the IT budget. The board, seeing their industry hitting a soft spot, did the right short term thing for their company. It was not the board’s responsibility to take the company down in flames to protect the career of a vendor employee. The CIO and other senior executives felt very bad about the project being killed. They may even have felt it was the wrong decision. But s**t happens.

      • The technlogy landscape has evolved.

        Google is the wildcard here.

        It derives no direct revenue from software sales, being primarily a content and ad business. Yet, it has direct interest in preserving the value of HTML as a platform, and retaining its pole position as the default search destination.

        Even so, Google remains a software business at heart that develops much of its own tools, and has not been reluctant to share them with the wider community. Perhaps Google is leaving too much value uncaptured; However, combine this with broader missteps from software vendors of late, it has become harder to bet against HTML/WebKit as a platform for line of business applications, the bread-and-butter of enterprise software.

        Silverlight and Flex were excellent technologies. They mounted an assault on HTMLbut never gained the upper hand in mindshare over the incumbent. The iPad may not ship with Flash or Java, but not even Apple dare bet against HTML.

        There was a time when vendors defined complex protocols as a barrier to entry. WCF, SOAP, etc. The end result is that even the vendors themselves couldn’t keep up fast enough to implement these protocols on new clients. For example, ever tried calling WCF from iOS?

        While it is true that the cutting edge of HTML do not enjoy cross-browser support – browser vendors have converged on a highly functional subset. With all the product rationalisation going on, which executive is going to stick his hands up in favour of a proprietary stack where longevity is far from assured? Who really knows whether Windows RT tablets will be canned in 24 months time if sales were lackluster? What about the alternate scenario where Windows RT sales take off? What would happen to the LOB apps running on iPads? It seems to me that both scenarios lead to HTML as the least worst option.

      • The technlogy landscape has evolved.

        Google is the wildcard here.

        It derives no direct revenue from software sales, being primarily a content and ad business. Yet, it has direct interest in preserving the value of HTML as a platform, and retaining its pole position as the default search destination.

        Even so, Google remains a software business at heart that develops much of its own tools, and has not been reluctant to share them with the wider community. Perhaps Google is leaving too much value uncaptured; However, combine this with broader missteps from software vendors of late, it has become harder to bet against HTML/WebKit as a platform for line of business applications, the bread-and-butter of enterprise software.

        Silverlight and Flex were excellent technologies. They mounted an assault on HTML but never gained the upper hand in mindshare over the incumbent. The iPad may not ship with Flash or Java, but not even Apple dare bet against HTML.

        There was a time when vendors defined complex protocols as a barrier to entry. WCF, SOAP, etc. The end result is that even the vendors themselves couldn’t keep up fast enough to implement these protocols on new clients. For example, ever tried calling WCF from iOS?

        While it is true that the cutting edge of HTML do not enjoy cross-browser support – browser vendors have converged on a highly functional subset. With all the product rationalisation going on, which executive is going to stick his hands up in favour of a proprietary stack where longevity is far from assured?

        Who really knows whether Windows RT tablets will be canned in 24 months time if sales were lackluster? What about the alternate scenario where Windows RT sales take off? What would then happen to the LOB apps running on iPads? It seems to me that both scenarios lead to HTML as the least worst option.

  4. Hate to burst some good writing here but …no.

    We at the time were mainly focused on empowering devs to engage the design audiences via our own tooling in order to get some UX upgrades to ye olde Winforms – as HTML was the perceived threat to desktop development (still is, who knew..so some credit for the early guys for seeing that vision early). Microsoft approached Macromedia for an acquisition in the early days of XAML, but rather than buy it they opted for some 3D tooling story (forget the name wasn’t Truespace but the one before that). They also approached Adobe/Macromedia to try and convince them to abandon MXML and instead make their tools work for XAML which got rejected.

    Microsoft did try and work with Macromedia/Adobe in the early days but as they were maturing XAML they noticed Macromedia was basically copying their entire vision via Flash Platform (keyword being platform). Which basically pissed a lot of people off at the time given Flex/AIR were starting to sound reasonable alternatives to the AJAX tire fire in Enterprise.

    Armed with that layer of rejection Silverlight was sketched out on a whiteboard and soon become a WPF/E and so on.

    I won’t bore you with the Adobe compete and Silverlight’s birth as its been a story told thousands of times, but what I will say is that we competed quite aggressively with Adobe. I have emails between staffers and myself basically behaving in a way that I look back on with embarrassment and can’t but help giggle at how insignificant it all was (given we both died out).

    Throughout it all, Scott Guthrie kept a level head, he’d analyse the data, make decisions and try as best he could to position the runtime in a way that goes beyond it’s initial Adobe threat compete matrix (we used to say that once we beat Adobe with Silverlight and won 5% of the market share back, then we’d have to fight the real fight – HTML which had 95% of the market)…

    Silverlight’s ultimate demise actually came from Out of Browser. As once we positioned OOB to go beyond a runtime we effectively broke charter, we not only had stopped funding WPF but now we’re being quite obvious in our intent to enable developers to focus more on tooling then Windows per say (given we invested quite heavily of making the CLR work on x-plat).

    Its around this time the Windows team began to pounce, shutting down programs where they could and starting to shift the “strategy” back to Windows. As a result Scott and a whole bunch of Silverlighters had to make some decisions on where they needed to go next. Once this started to occur the power that held the product together began to dissipate and as a result it had less heavy weights fighting for Silverlight’s existence orged and more for how best to re-use what was already built into Windows 8. The XAML team were re-into the Windows team and they then spent all of their time / energy making the XAML runtime you see before you in Win8 (basically its almost as if Silverlight = XAML runtime with less features & more aggravation).

    Now why did Expression Blend fail?

    The User Experience for the tool sucked, designers didn’t like it and felt that just because we put all the controls metadata in one gigantic property grid it didn’t help them navigate what you could and couldn’t do. It’s ability to style controls was a mess, the tool itself was prone to bugs that left you confused as to whether it was a Silverlight or WPF bug – but in turn was the tool and so on.

    Basically the tool was rushed, and I watched the Blend team launch the product and then immediately get to work on the next release as it was just this endless cycle of iteration(s). They never had time to refactor the UX as Silverlight was pushing out a release cycle of around 6-9 months which in turn put a lot of pressure on the Visual Studio & Blend teams to do their work (often they couldn’t make decisions until the runtime was baked given they had to embed the runtime as part of their design surface etc..as you can imagine there was a strong dependency on SL team doing X and Blend doing Y). This is why you often saw Blend come months after Silverlight launch (i think we launched Blend 3 around 4-5 months after Silverlight 3).

    So tooling was bad.. but that aside, the ultimate failure was the data surrounding Expression Sales. Expression Studio was mainly deployed through MSDN, so we had to then figure out ways to creatively increase our accounting of “sales” for the product. As if you had an MSDN subscription (most do) then you got it for free right? so who wins that sale as the MSDN subs folks would argue “they had MSDN subs regardless of Expression Blend’s existence, so that doesn’t count” so you couldn’t use that metric.

    The only metric you could use is standalone sales, which were dismal at best. Expression Web was also in a murky area given Sharepoint Designer or whatever its name was was really the one in control of that products future – which around 2009 was shut down internally given it made more sense to abandon HTML tooling for the general web instead find a home in the enterprise sales metrics.

    Expression shut down for a whole heap of reasons but ultimately the main one was due to the tool itself being broken and not being able to account for its existence outside Silverlight. Once Silverlight fell this product would soon follow given it couldn’t stand on its own two feet without it (there were rumours about a HTML5 tooling revival for Win8 but that couldn’t get out the door quick enough).

    Expression may have hinted at an Adobe compete at the early stages (that was mainly a few over zealous Microsoftee’s poking Adobe) in reality its main objective was to become a bridge between Microsoft & Adobe – sadly we just fucked that messaging up completely (some of the Blend team did their best to hold true to this buy creating importers / exporters etc from Adobe to Blend).

    • halberenson says:

      Thanks for filling in details. I don’t see what we are saying as being in conflict, but you expose much more of the sausage making.

      • Sparkler says:

        Hal-
        I think what you mentioned is mostly correct, though I’d definitely emphasize different parts of it more than others.

        Some points:
        “How much of the leadership change can be attributed to a retrenchment from a “Tools and Platforms” business back to a focus on a role supporting Microsoft platforms such as Windows is hard to gauge.”

        This wasn’t so much DevDiv (or STB) leadership changes, this was Windows management getting extremely pissed that DevDiv wasn’t fully supporting Windows. Basically since DevDiv started being a P&L (profit & loss center), they started focusing on what developers wanted, not on what platforms needed. As devs moved to the web, DevDiv did as well. In the grand scheme of things, supporting Windows should probably have been the highest goal, but it was not.

        “Microsoft could have created a separate, less powerful, design tool for Windows Phone. But there was neither time nor desire to do so. Expression Blend was a powerful way to give the Windows Phone development environment a leg up over Apple’s.”

        Expression saw supporting Windows Phone as goal #1 and wanted to do everything possible to help out. IMHO, VS should have done the same, but there were different people making the decisions for these two products (even though they shipped in the same package, go figure). I don’t think it would have made much of a difference, but I think that Microsoft continually underestimates how much of a hole they are in for developers mindshare. Ditto (and then some) for Windows 8.

        The core thing is that this article seems to imply that there was some serious strategic thinking behind these tools- I think it overestimates the decision making process.

        Expression was started by Eric Rudder as a hedge against Adobe and a hedge against the VS team internally (Microsoft loves to have 2 teams competing). It moseyed along essentially as a side-project for quite a few years- pretty much ignored by VS. The thing was though, everyone knew that though these two products (Blend and VS) were on parallel tracks and it would never continue forever- at some point they had to collide.

        After a while, it became ridiculous to have 2 separate XAML design teams (one for VS, one for Blend), with two separate codebases. After VS2010, the VS XAML team was merged into Expression, making Expression responsible for delivering the Windows 8 XAML tooling.

        From this point on, the writing was on the wall- Expression was delivering core functionality into VS but not reporting into the VS org- a non-sustainable position with Microsoft’s politics. The VS org demands full attention, it became clear that the Expression side project had to end.

        So, after the Windows 8 release, Expression was re-org’ed into VS, internal politics raged and the vast majority of Expression’s management was on the outs. With Expression management gone, VS management couldn’t care less about Expression and hence, it’s gone.

        A couple notes-
        At no point above do I say anything about Microsoft’s designer strategy. The designer strategy never accounted to anything more than a hedge by upper management.

        Expression Design was effectively dead after v2 with no major features after that. Expression Web was re-tasked into Blend for HTML in the ramp-up to Windows 8. This leaves the Blend and Encoder as the only products under development, but they had no real overlap. Blend was much (much) larger than Encoder, this is why I use Expression and Blend interchangeably. From the perspective of this article, they are the same.

        The sad part- I think that Expression Blend did things that needed to be done, but that VS never had any real interest in doing (such as animation). With all of Expression’s management gone, the focus will most likely be back on glorified WinForms designer scenarios.

        • John says:

          Geez, this all seems like a huge cluster****. The more I hear about the internal politics that go on inside of Microsoft, the more I’m amazed that a) anything actually gets done other than meetings and b) that Microsoft has managed to last this long.

          With all of these internal stresses, it seems like it might make sense to break some divisions off into their own companies for the good of the products and customers that use them. Makes me wonder if it would have been better for the government to break up Microsoft.

          Would this help or make things worse?

          • halberenson says:

            We’re talking about a nearly 20 year evolution period in this blog entry, so how do you not react to the environment changing around you in that kind of time frame? My description starts pre-Internet and before Microsoft got serious about the Server business, takes into account the evolution required to address the Internet as well as (enterprise) Servers , then encompasses the emergence of both the so-called “post PC era” and the Cloud. Any company that doesn’t embrace change over a 20 year period is doomed. And any company that requires 100% agreement in decisions can not innovate nor move forward. The stresses you see around DevDiv are mostly a reflection of the changes in the computing landscape in which Microsoft plays.

            At Microsoft the Developer Division has a life of its own precisely because so many groups have a need to address the developer audience. By centralizing much of what developers see into a single organization Microsoft avoided an amazing amount of fragmentation that developers would have seen. That may seem funny at the moment, but can you imagine just how fragmented the world would seem if Windows Client, Windows Server, SQL Server, Office, XBox, etc. had pursued completely independent development strategies over the years? They do push hard to get their needs met, and that leads to some fragmentation and some confusion over what is strategic and what is tactical. But it is nowhere as crazy as what would happen if each team had complete ownership of its development environment. And giving DevDiv even more control has the opposite problem, you’d have consistency but probably not appropriateness for the target audience. In fact it is the latter problem that lead to the recent shifts in the lines between DevDiv and the rest of the company.

            And it isn’t like this is unique to Microsoft or to the tech industry. Companies change strategies all the time. Companies have some amount of overlap of competition between units all the time. It’s a consequence of the natural world not having clean lines. Some companies do a better job than others at navigating the fault lines. Some do a better job than others at hiding the sausage making from the public.

            I don’t see how breaking up Microsoft would have helped with this at all. Certainly not from a customer standpoint. Two companies, two DevDivs. Three companies, three DevDivs. Etc. Perhaps less tension over mission within each, but also completely different directions from each. And no guarantee they wouldn’t be subject to the same tensions. Adobe customers have the same IOS and HTML5 pressures obsoleting Adobe’s technologies as Microsoft cusotmers have. And Sun/Oracle Java seems to be in a death spiral.

    • Concur with Hal, not sure where you guys disagree. Fundamental thesis is the same in your comment and his blog post. Level of detail seems to be the primary difference.

    • gyurisc says:

      I quite enjoyed reading the inside story about how the Expression suite born and died. Do you think that it make sense somehow for Microsoft to buy Adobe?

      • halberenson says:

        Not at all. To begin with Adobe’s Market Cap is over $19B, so Microsoft would probably have to pay $25B or more. That would make it four times the size of Microsoft’s previous largest acqusition. Adobe has its fingers in many areas, much of which Microsoft might not be interested in. So it is a lot of money to spend in order to buy something where you’d have to spin off or shut down many of its businesses. Plus, if you prioritized the areas Microsoft really needs help in and what the most helpful acquisitions would be I don’t believe Adobe is going to show up near the top of the list. And at $25B it would have to hold the key to one or two of Microsoft’s most strategic priorities before they’d take a look.

        I’m not saying there is no value to Microsoft here. PDF, for example, is a format that Microsoft would at one time have loved to have under its ownership umbrella. But I think even in that case the need has greatly diminished as both non-Adobe viewers and PDF creation tools have popped up. I just don’t see any strategic requirement for Microsoft to “own” Adobe over partnering with them.

        Most telling though is Microsoft killing off Expression Studio. If they really wanted to be in this business they would have waited until after an acquisition before making that move.

  5. Tom says:

    This leaves me with the feeling that Microsoft is being slowly crushed between two forces – platform and tools. To summarise the article: MS started out making money from the platform. But Java (and Flash) started giving away the platform, so then they had to make money from tools. But Apple (and the somehow-never-mentioned-in-this-article Android) started giving away tools, so there’s no money to be made there, either.

    Microsoft is left not being able to make money on the platform and then not being able to make money on the tools. So what’s the strategy? Start trying to make money on the platform again. Brilliant. How do they think of these things?

    In the consumer space, there are two sources of revenue left: Hardware and advertising. Consumers don’t buy operating systems any more. Consumers aren’t interested in platforms any more. How many consumers even think about iOS v Android v Windows v Symbian? No no. Consumers think about the choice between an iPhone, a Galaxy or a Lumia. Consumers think about an iPad, a Galaxy Tab or a Surface. This is why Motorola, Sony and HTC are finding the mobile business tough; you can’t sell an Android phone, but a Galaxy is hot property.

    Realistically, consumers haven’t bought Windows as a brand or a product for a long, long time. Consumers have bought Windows when they have refreshed their hardware. As the desktop/laptop refresh cycle has slowed, Windows has lost consumer mindspace. I’m still using the desktop system I bought four years ago, and it’s still stupidly overspecced for the web browsing, music streaming and light development I do on it.

    It gets worse for Microsoft. Two years ago, the choice for consumers was between a desktop and a laptop. Both ran Windows because… well… computers run Windows, right? That’s how the consumer thought. Today the choice that a consumer thinks about is between a laptop and an iPad. Even if they can and do buy a tablet that’s not an iPad, the choice they think about is between laptop and iPad. A laptop runs Windows, an iPad runs iOS, but the consumer doesn’t care. Consumers right now want tablets, so they buy iPads, so they don’t buy Windows.

    Microsoft seems to have kind of recognised this, with Surface, but it feels properly half-hearted. Microsoft isn’t betting its future on Surface, it’s dipping its toe in the water, ready to yank it out if it doesn’t go well. Consumers can feel that kind of non-committal market entry, and all the indications are that they are staying away in droves. I’ve not even seen one on sale.

    Here’s a market strategy for Microsoft’s platform & tools division. Build a compelling version of Windows that works for both consumers and businesses. Make it in two editions: A free version which requires an internet connection (at least most of the time) and which displays ads, and a paid-for version that doesn’t require the connection and doesn’t show ads. Consumers will not spend significant money on an operating system today; I’d contend that they never have. Consumers want to buy a system that they plonk on their desk and use. The operating system it comes with is the one it gets.

    Google has a dominant position in search, and it uses that dominance to make money from advertising. Microsoft still has a dominant position in operating systems on laptops and desktops; why not use that dominance to make money from advertising? Do you really think that consumers will object? Is that why no-one uses Google search?

    • Lobachevsky says:

      Clearly a non-player on anything but the Windows workstation, Microsoft Office starts to look like the largest teat on that udder.

  6. Andrey says:

    Microsoft Expression design never became as famous as Adobe Photoshop nor Illustrator nor Core Draw. There is such thing as inertia. They have to make something extraordinary to move aforementioned soft from its position. And they cannot make such effort. It is quite impossible. I suspect that if they have strong position somewhere, they implicitly think that they have such positions everywhere. Sorry people, but it it is not the true. Once I offered them nice technology, that at that very time has no one. They had no interest. Go ahead, boys. I cannot say that I wish you success, it is not the true.

  7. brian says:

    Pity about VS2012 – they have managed to make it virtualy unusable with its mon look – and don’t seem to care. (despites lots of comments from developers).

  8. duaneco13 says:

    To be honest with you I am glad to see Flash go along with Silverlight. I always thought it was disgusting how a small Flash ad on a website could crash your computer. Or that freaking loading animation on a website which was essentially a rather large movie.

    Microsoft, if you put the little pieces together that they don’t talk about wants to turn everything they have into SAAS which actually costs much more in the long run. I’m sorry I meant the cloud model. Case in point… to install Windows 7+ your bios has to have built-n VM. As for phone and tabs which do a lot, none actually can replace a relatively cheap desktop or laptop when it comes to computing power. Even if they could which will not be anytime soon the SAAS (Cloud) business model will be dead in it’s tracks thanks that nasty little issue that has always plagued the internet – bandwidth. It’s simply not out there in the amount required. The true power resides with the ISP’s and Telco’s.

    If you have noticed, hardware and software companies are all pegging their futures on selling digital content. Movies, music, games what have you plus skimming off the top of other peoples software by forcing a user to download applications (apps) from an App store. The ISP’s and Telco’s are also jumping on that bandwagon. The ISP’s and Telco’s are already nipping this fad in the rear by redefining a common word – unlimited which now means limited. Look at the fine print on those contracts you sign. Wi-Fi internet access is already tapped in many markets. They are using the old analog TV frequency bands and many towers are overloaded during peak hours (when everyone is up and using the internet…)

    There is a momentum with phones and tabs but sooner rather than later people will start getting pissed when that movie or song they are streaming stops every minute or so for the next round of packets. Jeez, even if there was unlimited bandwidth how long are people going to be happy with the childish apps available?

    This article is well written but the issue is something that no one cares about.

  9. duaneco13 says:

    To chime in a little more. Microsoft went silly when Bill Gates stepped down. In many ways they abandoned their developers with Windows Mobile 7 and Windows 8 as well. With Windows 7 mobile you couldn’t install the Mobil development add-on to Visual Studio if Visual Studio was installed on a server. WTF? Are they insane? If you are in a regulated industry which requires hardware and software validation throw the mobile version away if the app talks to a server. It has to be developed on the target platform.

    Also I couldn’t develop Window 8 apps on my Vista box…. Microsoft wouldn’t let me. It’s bad enough I have to invest the time and money it takes to learn but who I have to buy new hardware also? That’s an Apple trick that Microsoft fell for.

    A lot of people forget that the Apple own everything proprietary computer model almost put them out of business. Bill Gates bailed them out…

  10. Bob says:

    I changed from FrontPage to Expression Web 2 several years ago and have now gotten used to its idiosyncrasies. While I ‘haven’t followed the gory details of tool development vs. platforms I find that I now need a tool to support HTML5 and CSS3. It’s troubling to now read of the demise of EW. What’s a developer to do? Going to a .NET environment doesn’t cut it since it does not work on Linux. And now with Windows 8 what development tools are available, if any.

    • Arioch says:

      get Aptana for HTML/JS – it has long story and comitted team

      or get Java/Scala/Closure with IDEA or Eclipse.

      Oh, but IDEA seems to had HTML editor and Aptana is Eclipse-based… They kind of converging. If u really need x-plat, then you probably start from any end and still go to the same gravity center ;-)

  11. Sean Dunford says:

    Reblogged this on seandunford and commented:
    Very interesting.

  12. jpluimers says:

    Great article Hal. I love the insight.
    Nitpicking: replace “complete” with “compete” in “To complete with the iPhone not only would Microsoft have to move mobile development from the Professional edition to the free Express edition”
    Thanks for the article!

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