The new MSDN, and airline surveys

Microsoft have just launched a new look for MSDN. For as long as I can remember, MSDN has been the gateway to all things Microsoft and development, so it’s always interesting to see how they’ve improved it with their semi-regular updates.

Now, when you land on the MSDN home page, there is a row of buttons inviting you to “use your skills”:


I saw this, and I thought “awesome, this is more of the new Microsoft I know and increasingly love; the Microsoft that is embracing open source and other platforms with their Azure SDKs and support for alternative languages and frameworks, and is capturing some of the iOS and Android market with the frankly awesome Windows Azure Mobile Services.

These days, I identify as a web developer, what with Simple.Web and Node.js and TypeScript and AngularJS and all the other awesome stuff that’s going on in browsers and on web servers. So I clicked that button, expecting to be welcomed into a world of Azure (yay) and ASP.NET MVC and Web API (eh, OK). Instead, I get a page telling me to use my web development skills to build apps for the Windows 8 store. I cannot adequately express my disappointment at this. OK, maybe I can…

I tweeted a couple of choice remarks on the matter, then, out of curiosity, went back to that homepage and clicked the other buttons, one after the other. Whichever button I clicked, I ended up on a slightly different page telling me I should be developing Windows 8 store apps. iOS developer? If I know Objective-C, C# will be easy. Android? If I know Java, C# will be like an upgrade. .NET or Windows apps? You could monetize those skills by building Windows 8 store apps. Designer? Look at Expression Blend for… you know the rest.

I know Microsoft are struggling to compete against iPhone, iPad and Android in its myriad forms, and I believe that a new player in that marketplace with strong vision can make a difference and an impact. I really like Windows 8, on traditional machines and on tablets. I want a Lumia 1020, I really do. But this is not the way to win the hearts and minds of developers. We’re mostly smart people, and we’re wary of marketing at any level, let alone when it’s this facile. This kind of stunt only serves to alienate us, and it reeks of desperation.

The bit about airlines

It reminded me of another experience I had recently. I flew to Chicago for the Monkey Space conference, and for reasons beyond my control I flew via Warsaw with LOT, the Polish airline. Bit of a detour, but I got to fly on the new Boeing 787 DreamLiner (which did not catch fire at any point). The plane was brilliant, with slightly more comfortable seats in economy and cool electronically-tinted windows, but otherwise the experience lacked something. There was a choice of 12 movies, the most recent of which was Argo (worth watching). The cabin crew could have been more attentive, and maybe not throw sandwiches right at your head. So when I saw a “Survey” option on the in-flight entertainment screen on the way home (and bearing in mind that I’d watched Argo on the outgoing flight) I thought I’d fill it in. I was so amazed by this survey that I took pictures, which tell the story better than I can:



Excellent, they want to continuously improve their service. I have a couple of suggestions that might help.

Question 1:


Well, you know, it was nice and all, but…

Question 2:


Actually, I’d describe it as “spoiled by the lack of entertainment and the low quality service”.

Question 3:


Surely! But not with LOT.

And that was all the questions. Thank you for taking part in the survey, your feedback is important to us.

Obviously this is a laughable survey, and the idea that somebody somewhere thought it was a passable idea is deserving of maximum derision. It would have made me angry if it wasn’t so very funny in its own, special, utterly asinine way.

The point is, those “I am a…” buttons on the new MSDN portal are no better than this ridiculous “survey”. They’re asking you questions and they don’t give a damn about your answer. There are genuinely useful sections of the site that those buttons could lead to. iOS or Android developer? Take a look at Azure Mobile Services. Web developer? We’ve got some really rather good frameworks and a best-in-class hosting platform. .NET or Windows desktop? Visual Studio 2013 is going to rock your world. Instead, regardless of what you choose, you end up in the same “PLEASE MAKE APPS FOR OUR PLATFORM” marketing campaign, which you weren’t expecting and don’t really care about at that point.

Like I say, I know there’s a war on and Microsoft are recruiting, but there are good ways and bad ways, and taking one of the most respected technical resources on the internet and turning it into a ham-fisted “WE WANT YOU” poster is one of the worst ways.

What they should do, IMHO

I’m not a fan of posting acres of negativity with nothing constructive, so here are my thoughts on what Microsoft need to do to compete better in the phone and tablet space:

  • It should be possible to develop for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 with a single solution, if not a single Visual Studio project, with the code-sharing between the two maximal. The advantage that iOS and Android have here is that the phones and the tablets are running the same OS, and you can build and publish apps that run on both. Microsoft have made much of the fact that every Windows OS with an 8 in its name is running on the same kernel, so why are the app frameworks and stores segregated? Also, HTML+JS development on Windows Phone, obviously.
  • Compete directly with Google’s Nexus 4 phone, and 7 and 10 tablets. The Android tablet app story has improved immeasurably since Google stepped up and provided a pair of quality tablets at competitive prices, and the new model of the Nexus 7 is getting rave reviews right now; I’ll be snapping one up as soon as Google see fit to let me buy one here in the UK. With Windows 8.1’s new support for smaller screens, I want to see a Surface 7 that matches or exceeds the specs, performance and build quality of the 2013 Nexus 7. And we should hope the rumours about a Surface phone come to something, because right now it comes down to Nokia or HTC.
  • Take a hit on Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 licenses. Apple don’t license iOS, because only Apple is allowed to make iThings, but for Google, Android is not a cash cow; their win comes from getting people on Google’s services, and the income from the Play store. For the exact same hardware specs, an Android device is always going to be cheaper than a Windows device because the OEM doesn’t have to pay for the Android license. There’s plenty of money to be made from the Windows Store and from selling Azure services to app developers.
  • Please, for the love of all the gods, sort out the consumer marketing. Ben Kuchera at Penny Arcade summed this up perfectly in this article, so go read that.
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