Stephen Sinofsky’s departure from Microsoft was rather unexpected, but not unpleasant news, at least from my perspective as a business developer.
Before I explain that, let me say that I really love Windows 7, and feel that it is the best version of Windows ever released. I also really like Windows 8, and have high hopes for its future. These successes are to Sinofsky’s credit to be sure.
As a business developer however, I have been extremely disappointed in Microsoft over the past couple years as Sinofsky ‘flexed his muscles’ within the organization.
Enterprises require predictability and some reasonable level of transparency. Microsoft provided neither of these over the past couple of years. The complete ‘blanket of silence’ surrounding anything to do with Windows 8 was stifling. As a result people at Microsoft were unable to talk about anything useful at all for an extremely long time. The future of .NET, Visual Studio, Blend, and many other key developer technologies became completely opaque.
As a result, many organizations developed strategies to move their business development away from dependencies on Microsoft, at least in terms of any client software development.
If there was any ray of hope over the past couple years, it was in the server and cloud space. This is where all the best known developer advocates inside Microsoft moved to, if they stayed at Microsoft at all. As a result, many organizations felt comfortable using ASP.NET and other server-side technologies, but generally started assuming Windows would no longer be a viable target for client-side software.
Obviously this is horrible for Microsoft, and yet it is a direct result of Sinofsky’s influence on the company.
Even today the story around deployment of business applications to the WinRT platform is at best incomplete, and I think is more accurately described as non-existent. Sinofsky’s apparently dismissive attitude toward anything outside the consumer space has left Microsoft increasingly irrelevant to anyone considering building smart client applications.
In short, the one true stronghold where Windows is currently dominant has been largely abandoned by Microsoft, effectively pushing us all toward building HTML 5 cross-platform apps that don’t rely on Windows at all.
Clearly this is one of the primary areas that Sinofsky’s successor must address and correct – unless Microsoft really does intend to abdicate the business client to commodity browser-based devices (can you say Chromebook?).
Personally, and based on no knowledge of the new people in charge, I am hopeful that they will restore some level of predictability and transparency to the Windows platform and the related development platform. This will help restore some confidence around the idea of building applications for Windows in the small, medium, and enterprise spaces. And I am hopeful that they’ll develop a real strategy and mechanism for deploying business applications to the WinRT platform so Windows 8 can become relevant to more than just the consumer space.
All that said, and for all my criticisms of Sinofsky’s brutal blanket of silence and alienation of the developer community inside and outside Microsoft, he really did something that had to be done – reimagine Windows to bring it into the future. Windows 8 and WinRT really might be the future of smart client development for most organizations.
The foundation is there, and it is now up to his successors to make it viable.