Dear Developer, excuse me while I slap you silly

Today I’m going to abandon my usual balanced friendly analysis approach and play devil’s advocate, because I think there is an audience that needs a wakeup call.    No it’s not developers of consumer apps, I think they’ve already gotten it.  They realize the consumer is in charge and that if they like what you create they’ll fork over a buck or two, accept advertising, or use the app to front-end the service that you are really trying to monetize.  And if they don’t like it, well then there are always at least ten other developers offering a competing app.  No, this is for developers of business applications.  You haven’t yet figured out that you aren’t in charge.  Your masters like to let you think you have real power because it’s easier than enduring the pain when you revolt, but they hold the real power.  And most importantly the purse strings.  And their needs and your wants are diverging.

You can whine all you want about Tablets being only (and barely suitable) for consumers, but when the VP of Retail decides she’s handing all 10,000 store associates Tablets you are going to be writing Tablet apps.  I don’t care if you are working in IT, or for a retail system software supplier, you will write Tablet apps or be out looking for a job.  You will try to use FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) to get them to let you keep using classic Windows desktop  technologies, and perhaps at first you will strike sufficient fear into their hearts that you can win.  But mostly that approach will fail.  The retail associates will rebel against anything that reeks of legacy, and wonder why they can’t have as good an experience as they have on their consumer Tablets.  Business Unit management will look at their competitors, perhaps already using iPads for the same purpose, grow a pair, and let you know in no uncertain terms that their priority is on the optimal modern Tablet experience.  iPads will be one option, Windows 8 Tablets will be another.  But Windows 8 Tablets running Windows Desktop apps will be a non-starter.  If the choice is Windows 8 then the preferred experience will be a pure Metro one.

The VP of IT Operations will look out upon the available Tablet options and his organization’s capabilities for managing them.  He will look at how well they can enforce corporate policies, prevent data loss, centrally control the remote Tablets, tie these systems into their corporate identity systems, and meet audit and monitoring requirements.  He will conclude they can do an OK job for iPads and a great job for Windows 8 Tablets.  Operations is no more in charge than you developers are, but they are much better at FUD.  Developers can walk out the door, but bad operations can put a company on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and the CEO in front of a jury.  They will prefer Windows 8 Tablets, perhaps overwhelmingly.

Your CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) will look at Windows 8 and drool.  They will see things like Secure Boot, the use of Reputation when deciding what applications to allow to run, the smoother more transparent patching process, and other basic security improvements and wish they could immediately force the company to upgrade its entire base of PCs.   Then he’ll look at the Metro environment and how it solves their problem of keeping unsafe applications off of PCs.  He’ll establish policies that require new applications purchased or written for Windows 8 systems be Metro apps.  Anyone who wants to create or purchase new Desktop Apps will need policy exceptions from the CISO and the Chief Risk Officer (CRO).  He’ll also establish policies that favor Windows 8 Tablets over iPads, again establishing an exception process.

The purchasing department will look over the Tablet landscape and the business unit requirements and try to find the lowest priced Tablet that meets those requirements.  Those Tablets will have configurations that work great for Metro apps, but are taxed by heavy use of desktop applications.  They will report that configurations capable of being used primarily for desktop applications, while still meeting requirements for things like battery life and low weight, are far more expensive (or unavailable).

The VP of Retail will look at all this data and decide it would be a crazy waste of her time to convince the VP of IT Operations, CISO, and CRO for policy exceptions and the CFO to approve the more expensive project.  To what end?  To make a few developers happy?  She doesn’t give a damn about developers and is tired of them being the bottleneck to her meeting business goals.  What she cares about is the productivity of Associates, and the improved experience of customers, in her Retail Stores.   And she is convinced that Tablets and a touch-based UI (even on non-tablets in the store) is the best approach.  She will insist on Metro apps on Windows 8 Tablets as the basis of her project as the path of least resistance for achieving her business objectives.

Oh, you developers will go nuts.  You’ll find legacy projects within your own organizations where you can hide and use old technologies rather than wanting to work on new things in technologies you don’t care for.  Or you’ll quit your job to move to a company that hasn’t adopted these technologies yet.  I have had many a friend and colleague followed this path on previous transitions.  One of two things happens.  They find they can’t hide from the technology transition forever and eventually, and unhappily, make it themselves.  Or they give up on their career growth and happily hide away in legacy niches for decades, milking money out of the demands on a shrinking expertise pool.  I have one friend who quite literally left $ Millions on the table because he couldn’t bring himself to move off a beloved but legacy technology in order to take a new job.  Or ask the pool of Cobol developers who had one last great hurrah fixing old apps for Y2K, and then found themselves on the unemployment line.

You developers like to think you hold all the cards when in truth you are the tail trying to wag the dog.  They throw you bones to keep you happy, but when push comes to shove you’ve got a weak hand.  And the market trends, the ones that those of you who focus on businesses  try to dismiss as being “only ok for consumers”, show an explosion in Tablet adoption, new user interface technology adoption, and an overall consumerization of IT going on across the business spectrum.  This “consumerization of IT” thing has been the trend for about five years.  Consumers increasingly reject the old experiences in both their person and work lives.  For the 20-something and under crowd the current Windows desktop experience is about as attractive as the thought of visiting a 19th century dentist.  It isn’t a fad, as many business app developers are praying for.  There is no “Ah Ha” moment that will cause the world to abandon these trends and return to a world of cascading menus and mice.

And guess what folks, if Windows 8 and Metro fail the world you will be left in is not a Windows Desktop world.  Even if Microsoft does offer a fallback to the classic desktop, that will be the OS/360 of the client world.  It will be an IOS, or IOS-like, enterprise computing world.  That VP of Retail isn’t going to abandon her project to give Tablets to Retail Associates.  And neither is the VP of Manufacturing going to give up touch-based UI for shop floor use nor Tablets for those workers needing portability.  Nor the VP of Sales for his reps.   They’ll just go with iPads, or maybe Android Tablets.  And as Apple gains more and more traction with Tablets and Smartphones in the Enterprise, so will Macs.  Especially as Apple unifies IOS and Mac OS.  How long do you really think it is before Apple puts the IOS UI (if not all of IOS) on the Mac and offers Macs that are completely locked to the App Store?

What are the other alternatives?  Chrome OS?  Oh, what are you going to program that in?  It’s a web model, not a local native app model.  Android?  It’s Java/Dalvik and tuned for touch just like Metro and IOS.   I’m not dissing these two (at least not in this context), just pointing out that they don’t really offer a place to run if your goal is to retain the classic totally open, totally general purpose, desktop computing environment that so many feel is an absolute necessity.   That leaves you raw Linux.  And while the powers that be are fine with the use of Linux on servers, they’ve shown no inclination to adopt it on clients.  And frankly speaking, the Linux community (other than as Android’s underpinnings) has shot off so many toes trying to address client use that these days they keep growing more toes apparently so they have more to shoot off.  I’ve given up on any hope that Desktop Linux will ever be more than a geek-toy.  At best you’ll be able to use a Desktop Linux system personally, but all your app development will be for a touch-centric, locked down ecosystem, client device.

So that’s it folks.  The end-user, and “the man” are going to demand Tablets, and Tablet-like natural UIs, and the benefits of the locked down ecosystems, and in the Windows world they are going to demand Metro.  And those developers who resist will learn their true place in the hierarchy.  And it’s not at the top.

Now, let the outrage begin.

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76 Responses to Dear Developer, excuse me while I slap you silly

  1. maxvernon says:

    Thanks for making me want to shoot myself.

    • halberenson says:

      My best friend says that all the time. But not just about things I say to him.

      • Max Vernon says:

        I must say I immediately read your articles even though I rarely agree with all of your thoughts. For me it’s a rare thing to get insight on my chosen development platform (sql server and windows) from someone so close to Microsoft, and yet so willing to call ’em out. Keep it up!

  2. Max Vernon says:

    I’d write a rhetorical diatribe rebuttal except I’m on an Android phone, and its killing me just to write this.

  3. Joe says:

    Totally agree.
    I would say that we’re only just starting to see innovation in form factors and input technology. I’m sure in a few years the current ‘virtual keyboard’ technology will look very primitive.
    That said, I still think this transition for Windows will depend very much on how successful Metro can be made to work with a keyboard and mouse. Hopefully we’ll see evidence of this at the end of the month.

  4. advertboy says:

    I half agree with what you say …. Whoever decides to buy 10,000 tablets for their business and doesn’t ask for the devs input or at least a spokesman for the dev team is asking for trouble..

    I’m all in for the new WinRT stack … BUT I also know the reality of all this is we need to create experiences that will span the entire Windows ecosystem (Win8, Windows Phone, XBox & Windows 7) .. What that means is we need to build for metro and desktop using the best technologies that surface the experiences we want..

    These apps we create will be very rich deeply integrated (sensor, touch, OS, connected devices) based apps.. To get to those on desktop you need something like WPF/Silverlight via XAML and C#..

    Yes so I am all in with WinRT BUT I also know that the best APP’s will be ones that are delivered across WinRT-XAML & existing desktop technologies (WPF,Silverlight,WindowsPhone,XBox) …

    Until MS gives us WinRT on desktop, this is the reality of the Windows ecosystem world!

    You can’t just rule out the Win7 world or the x86/64 desktop world from this future … Sounds like your thinking the future is a Win8 ARM world!!

    If so maybe you should have started off with that !

    Otherwise I agree with a lot of what you say!!

    • halberenson says:

      Win8 is a sea change. In the ARM world it is pure. In the Intel world it is a mix of the new and the old. And we haven’t even discussed the server stack. And so yes I see the older technologies co-existing for a very very long time. But new apps will increasingly be on the Metro/WinRT side of the world, particularly if they target tablets. And the pressure for totally new usage scenarios will be to go for a pure Metro device (be it ARM or X86/64 with no desktop apps allowed). And the use of Remote Desktop or other VDI technologies for accessing legacy systems when necessary.

      Win7? Well it co-exists in this new world, but basically for legacy scenarios. You don’t run Metro/WinRT apps on Win7 (not that Microsoft couldn’t enable that, but they haven’t given any hint of doing so).

      • Max Vernon says:

        It is fantastic to see Microsoft finally making moves on Apple. All I can say is I hope it’s not too little too late. Development with ObjectiveC and having to get past the AppStore cops is the definiton of pain in my book.

  5. Totally agree. What concerns me a little when it comes to Windows as a tablet OS is trying to convince myself that the following statement holds water:

    “Windows 8, building on the success of Metro and Windows Phone 7”.

    In London at least, I don’t see anyone using Metro / Windows Phone 7. When it comes to staying connected folks are using iOS or Android.

  6. Fallon Massey says:

    Best article of the lot, and 100% right on point!

    The only thing I would add is that developers really need to seperate consumption from creation.

    The world is LOADED with end users that are consumers of information, and to a lesser degree creators/developers.

    Even LOB apps are focused on consumers of enterprise information/data.

    It’s time to change and move on!

  7. technogran says:

    From a Granny who’s simply ‘just a user’ I applaud this post! I’ve also done a post on Windows 8 (from a users point of view) which of course is not really aimed at the same audience as this.

    • halberenson says:

      While your post isn’t aimed at the same audience, it touches on many of the same dynamics. The single scariest thing for anyone in the “Windows world” should be to look at the millenials that are, or soon will, enter the workforce. One of my friends was in his daughter’s high school class recently and she (because he’s a Microsoft employee) was the only one with a Windows PC. Everyone else had Macs. Another friend has college age (one recently graduated) children and they are all about Apple and Google. There is no Microsoft in their lives. And they report this holds for their friends as well. iPhone, iPads, and Macs using Google services are at the core of the Generation Y experience. And as they enter the workforce they want the same at work. Above all else this is the dynamic that Microsoft must address if it is to thrive. It has to win over Generation Y because in just a few years they won’t just be the users, they’ll be amongst the decision makers.

      • mcogilvie says:

        And this is bad because? It’s more than just Gen Y- all the bright young assistant professors buy macs too, and a lot of the older ones too. A long period of low-cost, low-quality hardware and high software costs (especially including security and training costs) have left end users disenchanted with Windows. Metro may be Microsoft’s last chance to regain any leadership, but it does not look like a robust software platform to me.

  8. Dennis says:

    I completly agree with article. I also work in IT and some of my coworkers used to complain all the time. IT has to serve people.

    • scott says:

      I agree 110% on your people statement. Do you really know what people want though???

      • halberenson says:

        Nope, but the evidence is growing fast. Both anecdotal data and hard data on purchasing behaviors. Keep in mind that companies like Microsoft get massive amounts of data to drive these decisions. There is no doubt that emails are floating around that analyze RFPs they are getting and detailing how many call for tablets, what the unit split is between notebooks, desktops, and tablets are, and what the trends are month over month.   They are also talking to CIO’s and their staffs about this, conducting focus groups, and of course they subscribe to all the major analyst services.  Telemetry is telling them how usage habits are changing. For example they have a good idea how much email access has shifted away from PCs to specific smartphones and tablets. Both in the consumer and enterprise space. Sometimes you make decisions based on technological advances and a leap of faith that you know what the customer wants. This isn’t one of those times. This one is data driven. Sent from my Windows Phone

  9. scott says:

    So, microsoft is DEMANDING that the world move away from desktops and mice? How pathetically stupid is that? In the past I never bought into the dominant monopolistic Microsoft theories. Now an MS person has changed my mind on that thought. Hal you have really pissed me off on this. You can take your Windows 8 and stick it up your ass. I was excited about 8, now I’m not. Not one bit.

    • halberenson says:

      First of all I don’t speak for Microsoft, so you can’t take anything I say as indicating what Microsoft wants. Beyond that I said nothing about moving away from desktops and mice. What I was pointing out was that our jobs as developers is to meet the needs of our customer, usually a business unit within an enterprise, within the context of overall corporate IT policies. They set the requirements, they approve the final solution, and they pay the frieght. Sure we have input into these decisions, but ultimately we are rarely the decision maker. And the growing trend, for a variety of reasons, is towards new applications that take advantage of this new Tablet thing. And I picked a scenario that is playing out all over the place, plus threw in one of the key demographic dynamics (millenials) that represents the critical end-user target we need to delight.

      I had a very recent experience that illustrates the sea-change that is going on. Two months ago my wife and I went to Sears to look at appliances for a kitchen renovation. As we asked questions about prices and features the salesman pulled out books and had us walk over to a computer on the other side of the department to look things up. As we discussed what we might want he made notes on a piece of paper, which he then promptly had trouble interpreting correctly. As he tried to show us information on the computer we had to keep switching places amongst the three of us so we could see the screen clearly. I pulled out MY iPad and emailed our builder the model numbers we’d selected. Two weeks ago we went back to Sears to order appliances. We wanted to review our original choices and, given a different sale they had going on, look at alternatives. This time the salesman pulled out HIS just issued iPad and went into an app that let us not only look up information about the different models (such as variations from what they had on the floor), but build up our order as we went. We could walk around to look at different appliances on the floor and always have all the information with us. And he could just hand the iPad to us to read when we wanted to look at something. The experience was 1000% better for both the sales rep and the customer. It would be 2000% if Sears had implemented a way to transfer the order as built up in the iPad app to their actual order entry system, but they haven’t. When we were done the salesman had to go to a desktop computer and retype the whole thing into an interface that looks like it is still running on a 3270 emulator. But that just shows how long we all live with our legacies. Hopefully Sears at least has a project underway to automatically transfer the information on the iPad to their order entry system.

      • scott says:

        Thank you for the clarification Hal. Though I don’t buy into the concept that all developers know what people really want. How many folks do you know that REALLY want to get rid of the desktop and mouse? Sure most of them want to try new things, but abandoning the old is not on the top of their list. Everyone I speak with locally and abroad do or has used a tablet. But they also have not removed the desktop from their needs.

        Please don’t be so sure you know what the future holds. That’s all I’m saying.

  10. Bob says:

    I have deliberately avoided the Win8 Developer Preview, but will jump in with the CTP at the end of the month, just like I avoided the .Net Beta 1 but jumped in when Beta 2 was released. I hope that Visual Studio will provide a way to abstract away as many of the touch vs. mouse differences as possible.
    I look forward to developing apps for tablets as long as I don’t end up with a deja vu feeling of being back in the PDP-11 world; great development environment but runtime constraints that made my hair turn prematurely gray:-)

  11. robertlevy says:

    I think this is very accurate… for Windows 9. At //build, the message was very explicit that the WinRT v1 feature set is geared towards consumer scenarios and not at enterprise applications. The list of dev platform capabilities that are essential for enterprise but missing from Win8 is immense. Win8 will get consumers on board and build up excitement in the enterprise. Win9 will be needed to plug all the WinRT gaps and *then* the developer FUD will have no place to hide.

  12. Hughes Hilton says:

    I agree with a lot of what you say, except that I see the combative nature of this article as somewhat of a straw man argument. You seem to be fighting tooth and nail against all of us legacy developers who just want to cling to the past and never adopt new development technologies. Furthermore, we developers seem to be egotistical bastards who think we can dictate from on high what’s good for all of our “business units”.

    That’s a great argument except I don’t think the mythical developers you are combating really exist or, if they do, they aren’t very good developers. All the good developers I know are always chomping at the bit to learn new technologies, try new languages and environments, etc. Most of us are forced to do legacy development at work precisely because the “business units” require it, but in our free time we’re doing development on the latest, greatest tech we can get our hands on. We developers are usually the ones pitching the new tech to our bosses trying to get them to spend the $$ it takes to bring forward legacy LOB applications into the new world, be it iPads, Android phones, Metro WinRT apps or whatever.

    I think it’s fantastic that the business community is finally embracing tablet computing. I don’t think tablets are ALWAYS the right tool for a particular job, but in places where they make sense, I think they’re fantastic tools. I would LOVE it if I could convince my boss (and ultimately all of our customers) that our software should be running on tablets, smart phones, etc. Right now, that’s not the case, but maybe someday it will be. In the mean time, I’ll be getting all the experience I can in my spare time doing personal projects with tablets, smart phones, or whatever the “next big thing” is.

    • halberenson says:

      I did start out by saying I was going to play the Devil’s Advocate!

    • Mr. U says:

      Agreed. This article has a lot to say about BAD developers, but the shorter version of that is just “wow are bad developers bad!” Tablet/mobile adoption in the workplace, however, is overhyped here and beyond, and constantly these days; the confusion between What Consumers Want and Getting a Job Done has never been more rampant. The startup world has successfully hawked their own prowess for so long that even seasoned technology vets are calling for a “future” where everything will somehow magically get done exactly the same way people stream movies and “friend” each other. The fact that “millennials” (as inane a word as any of the startup jargon) don’t want to use productivity tools made by manufacturer x or y is meaningless: each generation since WWII has been better educated and less prepared to get things done, thanks to the relentless drive to turn us all into idiot consumers rather than savvy self-sufficient builders of the future (and, as a natural consequence, destroyers of zombie mutlinational supercorporations, surely much worse “legacy” non-innovators than MSFT or even the stereotypical crap dev could ever dream of being).
      The I in “I/O” is long overdue for a mean reversion, because tech wants it regardless of what the stupid consumer keeps buying, but it’s at least several years away, it won’t be happening on a tablet, won’t be kicked off by a company like Apple (or, likely, Microsoft), and likely won’t be coming from the U.S. The devices to be built around an HTML5-like future do not exist yet, and thank god, because this is the most depressing tech landscape I’ve seen since AOL ran the scene.

      • ShadeSeekerSA says:

        Nicely said Mr U. That resonated with me, though maybe that just means we’re both as disappointed with the world and the things that are FUBAR’d in it.
        And as nice as it is to get excited by where the tech is going, I fear a world where only one ecosystem (Apple or MS) flourishes. Hopefully MS doesn’t fumble the ball on us.

  13. Richard Lowe says:

    I wish I had many of these “problems”!

  14. Brian says:

    I have long thought that one of the things that was missing from Windows was a dead-easy, but optional interface. It’s precisely for people who want only 1 thing, or some very limited set of capabilities. Turn the whole computer into a kiosk at will. Of course we’ve always had this ability within an application but we’ve lacked the equivalent in the OS.

    This is why I support Metro, at least as a concept. I cannot currently speak to the implementation but the concept seems to be moving in the right direction.

    The consumerization of IT could be a bad thing, but as long as it remains a force for weeding out needless complexity, and rooting out bizarre software & systems limitations, I’m for it. Where it shines is in the focus on the user interface. Improvements there, where they really help the client, is time and money well spent.

  15. Pingback: It’s time for corporate developers to get on board with Metro apps « My Web PC Tech

  16. Kudos, Hal. When you get done with the developers, work on the sysadmins. They have even more invested in the past, and less desire to move, in any direction.

    No mention of HTML5 as a preferred platform? Even Microsoft appears to be ‘all in’ with HTML5.

    Microsoft developers have reason to be cautious. Microsoft has lead them down some dead end development paths in the past. Future applications need to be open to all devices as a core requirement. If you’re developing a Microsoft-centric solution and pushing data to ‘foreign’ devices, you don’t get it.

    • halberenson says:

      Sysadmins are a different problem, the operations guys are measured on reducing costs, reducing risk, increasing system availability, meeting GRC requirements, etc. And all of those are best served by being change resistant. So you really have to work on the CxO level to get them to goal IT differently if you want the sysadmins behavior to change. I’ve known many a sysadmin chomping on the bit to deploy the latest technology or feature but find themselves constrained by change management policies.

      I didn’t mention HTML5 because the point of the article really wasn’t around specific technology. The CISO may have an opinion about Metro vs. Desktop apps because the former have significant security benefits over the latter, but he likely has no opinion on the HTML5 vs XAML choice. Neither does the VP of IT Operations. Nor the VP of Retail. The specific technology choices are very much under the control of the development organization itself, they are just constrained by other corporate policies and the requirements of the “customer”. Using a historical example, the CISO might weigh in on the topic of Native vs. Managed code for applications but it is up to the development organization to choose between .NET and J2EE as their managed code app platform.

      I totally agree on the caution point.

      • You’re correct in focusing on the C-level, but I disagree that ‘HTML5 vs XAML’ is a tradeoff. XAML is a solution within the Microsoft ecosystem. I contend that HTML5 (JavaScript, CSS) is the preferred solution for as many applications as possible.

        Managed code/walled-garden/sandbox/legacy app type solutions are required for the real work. I bow to your choice of .Net and J2EE. At what point does iOS get an audition? I don’t want to turn this into a fanboi argument, but at some point, there will be a melding of the old and the new. The future is going to be so cool!

  17. joevi says:

    Excellent stuff Hal

  18. bseddon says:

    Do you work in a large organization? Your argument suggests you may, but maybe not so far up the totem pole. In my experience organzations use technology they can justify – because it helps make money. The guy who comes round to your house to read your meter(s) doesn’t lug around a PC or pen and paper. He or she is equipped with a mobile computer running a specialized app. The combination of app and device helps the utility company bill more efficiently.

    The tablet is a packaging of a set of technology which is going to be suitable in some places and not in others. It’s a boon to a sales person who can show a nice presentation to a prospect. But is it a benefit to a clerk in accounts payable? Almost certainly not.

    In my experience if there’s any need for input then the value of the tablet become questionable. If you need a keyboard, why not use a netbook at 1/3 cost? What benefit does the tablet bring?

    Consumers are not business people. You cite the example of the VP providing 10,000 tablets. If a VP did that then there would have been a cost benefit analysis of spending ~$10m on hardware, support, disruption, new apps. If there’s a benefit the deal would be done. If not, if wouldn’t be. In consumer land, a tablet is a discretionary item. In business it’s not (except in the sense that VP gets one because, well, VPs should, shouldn’t they).

    I have an Android 3.0 device on my desk almost completely unused. The only use it does get is when I need to test an application. It’s underpowered, overpriced, the screen is too small and it doesn’t have a keyboard. A tablet will work for some but for me, a laptop is a much better option.

    So its horses for courses. We do develop apps for mobile devices (not just the current fad device) and have done so for many years. But where they are appropriate. The reason tablets are not pervasive in business is not because we don’t ‘get it’ but because we get it very well. The tablet is not an astonishing new device but a re-packaging of existing tech which is suitable to people in some business units but not in others.

    • scott says:

      This is my same concern 100%. Tablets are great, by all means. But not for everyone or every situation. I’ve recently seen on situation where a tablet would be extremely beneficial. My medical provider’s office is now attempting to go 100% paperless. Unfortuantely they are all dragging around business level laptops to each patient room and around the facility. They are inputting data as they meet with patients, and it’s obviously slow and cumbersome. Plus I see them often plug in their laptop to power supplies littered around the facility. A tablet with a well written app would probably be a god send to these poor folks. Portability, ease of use and less power requirements fit this situation perfectly. So there are places where tablets just make sense. Not all situations though, not even close. The last business I worked for had a large customer service base. Tons of data entry and seemingly inifinite control needed in very data specific applications, and tons of work with scanned documents and such. Tablets would hobble this environment. Even touch screen desktops just wouldn’t do the work as they require. It would slow them to a crawl.

      So for Hal to make a blanket statement like, All development is now touch only, is just stupid and blind.

      • Steve says:

        I’m glad I read all the comments down to here so that I could find a comment that finally scratched my itch. But it is sad that I had to read all the way down here to find it. I’ve read several articles now that seem to jump onto the same tablet/mobile bandwagon without somehow limiting the scope of their incredulity to what tablets are actually good at which isn’t everything.
        Tablets are great and fun and useful in light-weight situations such as consumption or sales, but you just can’t touch your way to non-trivial gaming, data entry, office work, organizing 10,000 emails, graphic design, storing large amounts of data, or, the elephant in the closet, development itself! Imagine trying to develop a mobile app on a tablet! XCode, Flash, MSVC with your finger anyone? For me it’ll be the middle one. It’s bad enough not having (at least) dual monitors let alone a tiny one with a resolution from the 20th century.
        Oh, and lets not forget that having a big fat finger in the way really makes it hard to do precision work.
        Still, I wish my employer would get the move on from Classic ASP. 😉

  19. Bassam says:

    I do not fully agree , but agree to some extent , not every thing can be done by touch interface and metro, also full power apps cant be written because its a safe mode runtime (full access to everything i mean), so its not suitable for many kinds of usage, but i agree there will be a demand for it for certain types of applications and a need for talent in that space will be there but it won’t cause threat to desktop developers as you said because the other type of desktop need in the enterprise is just huge, from very simple writing daily offers and mails that must be wirtten using a keyboard to complex BI reports , ERP apps of all types , finane dept heavy modules , payroll , HR , etc , desktop/metro division will be 80/20 at best case for metro even if metro is fully materialized because that’s the real need and that won’t change even if all consumers are using touch.

  20. len says:

    For those of you looking for a place to hide, tech pubs is still a “deliver the XML and PDF” RFP-driven world and the idea that we might be forced to use a squeeze-me-please-me-make-me-write-bad-checks tablet to do this work belies any knowledge of how it is done. No, WordPress is not the future here and increasingly it looks like a better more-focused less general desktop application is.

    The VPs of Thralldom really are clueless once it gets past Excel and the number of projects where we tried to force fit information into spreadsheets that simply doesn’t belong there because a VP had an epiphany in the john, well, it’s a large number.

    Form, fit, function: choose two wisely and one religiously but choose or lose.

  21. Eddy Vluggen says:

    ..heard people talk about the end of Windows-apps ever since it was introduced, and just like the web didn’t replace all desktop apps, so the tablets won’t.

    Do you really think that large corporations are going to abandon their old hardware, and move to a platform that doesn’t support server-technologies?

    Just some food for thought; Linux has been around ages, and people rather pay for the rich environment of Windows than cope with anything that’s limited in comparison. A tablet is merely a limited laptop, and it falls in the same categories as a thin client.

    Some more food; Visual Basic 6 is still alive, and will be supported on Windows 8.

  22. Tom Dunnigan says:

    I see a future where the consumer becomes the developer. We tell our devices what we want and it makes it happen. Science fiction… Maybe? At the rate technology is advancing, it may not be long. Developers savor your profession, technology may also replace you.

    • amir says:

      And who’ll be developing and maintaining those technologies… fairies?
      Um… Robots building robots, that’s just, stupid. 😛

      Consumers by nature are, well, consumers; tablets are great for quick, short-span consumption of data but anything else and you’ll need a real computer. And like most discussions concerning programming languages it falls down to whichever platform is your favourite and whichever is the correct tool for the job. I for one can’t stand using the MacOS, iOS or whatever Apple is calling their unified operating system nowadays, I’d rather stick a fork in my eye (or someone else’s eye really).

      Trying to cram tablets into every nook (see what I did there :P) is like trying to pick your nose with a screwdriver, sure you can do it but it’s dangerous and someone’s going to end up crying…

  23. Laxator2 says:

    You are right that tablets will be used by people for whom desktops have been overkill for a very long time. In fact the bottom has already fallen off when Asus released the original eeE PC, when everybody realized that they don’t need quad-core processing power most of the time.
    While the desktop will become a niche, it will be a very large niche. Don’t expect the developers who are writing apps for the tablets to write them on the tablets themselves. Yes, you can attach a keyboard, but the time it takes to compile code on a table, makes the PC very desirable.

  24. Anyone says:

    Learn, learn so more… That’s a dev life…

  25. GaryM says:

    As a Windows developer of 20 years, I have seen too much change and too little innovation. The mobile war has already been lost and I see no developments at Microsoft that anticipate what is to follow. Time to abandon ship. Leave your personal belongings (legacy code) behind.

  26. gby says:

    Nice article but lets not forget that not all applications are suitable for touch interfaces. Would you like to program on touch device? Would an accountant want to move hands instead of just typing? What about architects, engineers etc? Millions of people need serious software, to get serious work done and that number will only increase…

    • halberenson says:

      I never claim that tablets replace PCs or that touch replaces keyboards and mice. The right tool for the right job. And my example was one that is rolling out across retailers. For all the professions you mention there are applications where tablets make more sense then notebooks and touch makes sense on non-tablets. But those don’t eliminate the need for high-precision input mechanisms for other apps. And both.are equally “serious” apps in the context of most professions.

      • scott says:

        Hal, Hal, Hal. To state you want to “Slap developers silly” and continue to state that only development will be in the new interface. For goodness sake, YES YOU DID claim quite indirectly and very strongly that touch devices were the only future. If you didn’t mean that then why did you post this article in the first place?!?!

        • halberenson says:

          First I note I’m playing devil’s advocate right up front. Second the entire posting is in the context of what a business unit ("retail") is asking for a specific user base.  It then posits policies that will become the norm over time, but are not specific to touch or tablets. The CISO doesn’t care about those, for example, yet his interests will drive use of Metro on tablets instead of just letting devs touch-enable desktop apps. The CISO’s interests will also drive WinRT etc. on non)touch devices, although arguments against the practicality of that will work for a while (Windows 9?). Sent from my Windows Phone

  27. Johnmb says:

    Great wake up call but then you go and spoil it all by discussing the use of WINDOWS based tablets 🙂

  28. Mac vs. PC, LOL. You guys crack me up still having this same old argument. According to this article, you’re all going to be replaced by an atom

  29. John says:

    While I appreciate Hal’s attempt to play Devil’s Advocate (a pastime I value, share, and enjoy), there are as others pointed out, some counter issues.

    First, history shows that the “end is nigh” time to jump on the “next wave” “coming revolution” hype has a tendency to be overdone. No doubt tablets and smartphones are huge and will continue to be huge, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

    And second, as a couple of people pointed out, tablets and smartphones are excellent for reading/displaying data, but they bloody suck as a data entry tool. Someobody needs to enter the data for all these Gen Y’s to read.

    Good luck doing any serious accounting, banking, design, industrial development, software development on those things. Millions of bloggers are probably not going to want to blog on a tablet or their smartphone. Millions of gamers are still going to want their desktops to play serious games (I doubt consoles will kill that market completely). Business is still business, and the front-end retail associates are not the end-all be-all of that game.

    Having said that, developing some non-MS skills would probably be a good idea. 🙂 and that means me (yikes! i’m gonna be a dinosaur!!)

    • halberenson says:

      I very intentionally picked an application area where Tablets not only make sense but are actually being deployed. The posting doesn’t say desktops/laptops are going away. It does infer that many new and exciting applications will arise as the result of Tablets and Touch. And that the locked ecosystem will become increasingly popular for all applications as a result of the overall benefits it brings to different constituencies.

      But the main point of the article was that developers write applications in a context. That context is a set of user requirements and a set of organizational policies. It doesn’t really matter what developers think of Tablets or Touch, it matters what the user/business unit thinks of them for their application. It doesn’t really matter what developers think of the locked ecosystem if senior IT and corporate management likes its benefits. Etc. Developers of course have input to decisions, but they aren’t in the driver’s seat.

      If established ISV A responds to a tablet-oriented RFP with a hacked up solution while startup ISV B responds to the same RFP with a clean tablet solution, ISV B will win more than its usually expected share of business. How long before ISV A’s management forces developers to do a clean tablet solution? Or if classic developers in an IT shop don’t want to write tablet apps, how long before IT creates a separate department for tablet apps and starts reducing budget in the department writing desktop apps so it can staff up the tablet department?

      • scott says:

        You say “The posting doesn’t say desktops/laptops are going away.”, but in your article you continually hound that “It will be an IOS, or IOS-like, enterprise computing world.” Hal, you are really a confused puppy it seems.

  30. Scot says:

    ” Chrome OS? Oh, what are you going to program that in? ”

    HTML5 + CSS +JS (or Dart, eventually), remarkably similar to what MS is pushing for Metro. While it is web oriented it does have some apps that run locally.

    “I’m not dissing these two (at least not in this context), just pointing out that they don’t really offer a place to run if your goal is to retain the classic totally open, totally general purpose, desktop computing environment that so many feel is an absolute necessity. ”

    I though the whole point of this post “forget the desktop, the world is moving to tablets”, but then we get “don’t use Android, because that lacks the desktop computing environment”. This doesn’t make sense.

    Classic Desktop Computing is probably going to be consigned to VDI anyway, so it won’t matter what client OS the device is running.

  31. Greg says:

    I miss my Commodore 64….

  32. Tom Lemon says:

    Hal, let me give you a reverse wake-up call. You make a great case for Tablets, but your case for the Windows 8 (instead of the iPad) is a non-starter.

    None of the security or cost issues you raise regarding Windows 8 vs. iPad, hold much water. The security issues you describe are already solved by a half-dozen vendors. Cost differences between Windows 8 and iPad tablets will be so puny. People could care less about the whole “open platform vs. closed platform” thing. Apple doesn’t just have a “lead” it has a “spectacular” lead, and every intention of killing Microsoft off (Steve Job’s revenge).

    Windows 8 isn’t even on the radar at most enterprises right now. There is zero Windows 8 presence in the market, and zero mobile developer base. You have a legacy product — Microsoft — that is roundly and overwhelmingly disliked by users and executives for it’s relentless complexity and cost.

    Yes, you have millions of IT people who will fight to get your Metro platform instead of iPad. They will fight not because it’s the better option, but because it will help preserve their stranglehold on corporate IT funds, keeps the “microsoft shops” in power, and prevent end users from gaining more power. End users and executives will see it in this light.

    So at the end of the day, Windows 8 tablets will be perceived by users, accurately, as a product that is trying to push them back into the dark ages, where their choices were dictated…very poorly…by IT departments who push out abysmally bad, productivity-sapping UIs. Just look at legacy enterprise applications…ERP, CRM, etc. Horrible. I could quote you a dozen articles right now that talk about how “broken” the enterprise software world is…and how much long-term pent up anger the users have against the IT people who have built their careers propping up that broken world.

    Maybe Windows 8 tablets will win. Maybe Microsoft will repeat it’s performance of 20 years back, when Windows “came from behind” and crushed Apple’s early lead. But we live in different world…just as likely that Microsoft will lose and end up like Yahoo, Netscape, and a dozen other has-beens.

    • halberenson says:

      There is a decent probability that the scenario you paint is correct. It certainly must be Microsoft’s nightmare scenario.

      One way to look at it is that if Microsoft fails you can blame it on Sinofsky’s slow and steady wins the race approach. If Microsoft succeeds you can blame it on Sinofsky’s slow and steady wins the race approach.

      • Tom Lemon says:

        Yes. Actually I would tend to think that SInofsky’s slow and steady approach is the best strategy for Microsoft no matter what; it will certainly succeed to some extent. And they simply have no choice…the fact is, they aren’t the innovators in this case, they don’t have the organizational DNA to make themselves into innovators, and that is that.

        But it may not win them the first place gold medal as it did in the past. There are profound differences between the mobile enterprise market of today, and the pc enterprise market of 30 years ago. For example, the entprise PC market didn’t have software patents being used to lock up vast stretches of user interaction mechanics, while on the other hand the enterprise mobile market does. That is one example where even a huge player like Microsoft, if late to the party, could simply be locked out.

        The mobile market kind of looks like the Transcontinental Railroad race of the 1880s. The boldest railroad companies that laid the most track (even if it was crappily built) gained massive leverage (millions of acres of prime land, etc). Sorry for the bad analogy.

        • halberenson says:

          I don’t worry too much about the patent issues. Microsoft has a huge patent portfolio, including in the mobile, touch, etc. spaces which is why 70% of Android devices shipped pay Microsoft licensing fees. And they are pursuing the other 30%. What is really different in the mobile space is that Google and others have simply chosen to infringe on patents whereas Apple, Microsoft, and others rely on patent cross-licensing agreements that grew out of an earlier generation of IP wars. So you see lawsuits between Apple and the entire Android community and Microsoft and the entire Android community, but not between Microsoft and Apple (who fought major IP battles at the start of the GUI era). Now Google is desperately trying to beef up its own patent portfolio, by purchasing patents from others (or all of Motorola as an example), so that eventually it has something to offer in a cross-licensing negotiation.

          98% of the reason that large companies file for patents is so that they have something to trade in these cross-licensing deals. Few actually have any desire to cripple competitors with them. But when you show contempt for the $ Billions in R&D that Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Oracle, etc. spend by stealing their IP without compensation then they are going to come after you.

          Small companies and so-called “patent trolls” are another matter entirely. But their often outrageous compensation demands for frequently questionable patents is an equal thorn in everyone’s side.

          Actually most patents are pure garbage, but that is another story.

  33. John says:

    Killer. Possibly the best time in history to be a developer.

  34. Scott says:


    More bad news. Read this exerpt from Gizmodo about Moutain Lion…

    “I’ve been using Mountain Lion for more than a week now, and I got the same feeling I got from Lion: Scott Forstall—Apple’s own Doctor Moreau—is still pushing for an ungodly desktop/iPad hybrid. This is not the future; it’s a patched up genetic experiment anchored in Apple’s past and present successes.”

    Like many are saying here, the “Desktop/iPad” hybrid will not work. This is where Windows 8 is going, and it just won’t work. Period. I’m sure there’ll be a couple odd personalities that will adhere to this new Windows interface. But the majorit won’t. It’s not working for Apple, and it won’t work for Microsoft. The touch interface and the desktop just don’t mix well. Going there is a fatal mistake.

    • halberenson says:

      Four ways to interpret this:

      1) Mac continues to gain market share and thus you are the outlier while the masses like where this is going
      2) Apple’s slow evolution is the worst of all worlds and Microsoft’s more aggressive move is the better way to go
      3) Microsoft is designing for both worlds from the start rather than backporting tablet changes to the desktop and can thus do a better job
      4) You are right and this is going to be a disaster

      • Scot says:

        I think it will be 4.

        Have a look at what’s gone on in the microcosm of Ubuntu, where they have done their best to replace a Desktop oriented UI with the Touch/Tablet oriented “Unity” UI. Arguably, Unity has been a disaster for Ubuntu and I expect the same is going to happen to both Apple and Microsoft, but on a far larger scale.

        • maxvernon says:

          One can only hope.

          However, look at how Office went from having a structured menu system that was easy to use with the keyboard to having the awful ribbon interface that was impossible to use with a keyboard.

          If one follows the logical conclusion of designing for the smallest possible skill set then Windows 8’s Modern Shell (MoSh as Hal is so fond of calling it) is already the defacto interface of the future. I cannot for the life of me figure out how developers will like it, but I suppose whatever pays the bills will be where the work gets done.

          • scottwilkins says:

            Ribbon is harder for keyboard control? Are you serious? Have you even tried to learn how much easier it is? Probably not, that’s why you find it hard. Learn it, you’ll change your mind quickly.

    • Tom Lemon says:

      This is interesting. I can’t decide if it’s important or not.

      Here’s the thing. Most of the enteprise money in the next few years is going to be funneled into mobile technology, which means apps. Apple might in fact be making a smart bet, if they are simply admitting to themselves that the old days of PCs are gone, mobile apps are the hot ticket, so let’s just jump on the hot ticket completely.

      In this case, Microsoft’s agressive moves might also be a smart bet. Hmmm…

  35. Duke Skylurker says:

    Did you mean all Developers in general?
    I am an embedded developer – I create code for hardware on which your stupid tablets run on.
    Why does every 25-year-old-which-just-learned-one-thing-after-college
    assume that everybody is doing the same stuff??

  36. Pingback: Tablets are creeping into business | Hal's (Im)Perfect Vision

  37. thepoliticallecture says:

    Hi. I’m a 28 year old hobbyist programmer (I have zero formal experience in it although I hope to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science in the future. I started at 13 with a Tandy machine and GW-BASIC), and for me, I see Windows 8 (and Metro especially) in a negative light. I had set Win8 up on a virtual machine on my laptop and, even accounting for the performance penalty that the VM brought, couldn’t navigate Metro for the life of me. I really prefer the whole fat desktop client experience that’s currently in place. I do see Metro improving with time and hopefully with some accommodations for mice-and-keyboard users (Microsoft never gets a version 1.0 product anywhere close to ready for prime time), but I hope that the desktop remains for those who want it, and I also hope that Microsoft invests some resources into improving the desktop experience for users even on Win8.

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