Yet Another Microsoft Bet

Imagine you’re lounging around at a Las Vegas roulette table and a Fat Cat walks up to the table and drops $30,000 worth of chips in front of you. You meekly gaze at your paltry pile of $5 and $10 chips. Soon after settling at the table, Mr. Fat Cat proceeds to put a few hundred bucks on every number and then throws down some more on black, red, odd and even. His goal? He doesn’t want to lose. So he bets on everything.

This is Microsoft. They’re one of the few companies in the world that doesn’t have to carefully mull over their strategic direction. They can simply take all routes. Microsoft has survived and thrived all these years because (a) they’re smart (b) they’re aggressive and (c) they’re in the unique position of being able to bet on everything without putting the entire (or even parts) of the enterprise at risk.
There’s one other characteristic worth mentioning: Microsoft rarely gets it right the first time. In fact, they often screw it up. They usually arrive late to the party with their own “Edition” of the latest thing just to make sure their hat is in the ring. And they usually fall short in the first go-round. But they are relentless. And they eventually get it right. And they’ve learned to stomach the early losses.
Yesterday, Microsoft showed a few of its bets by releasing WPF/E (Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere) and the latest flavor of their Expression series of design tools. In short WPF/E is “is the Microsoft solution for delivering rich, cross-platform, interactive experiences including animation, graphics, audio, and video for the Web and beyond.” In short, it’s Microsoft’s early version of a Flash player. It’ll eventually run in Firefox and Mac platforms. It’ll leverage a subset of XAML and Javascript. This shouldn’t be confused with good’ol WPF – which runs on the Vista desktop (and IE7 I believe) but is built via full blown XAML and C#/.Net.
For the designers out there (interaction designers and otherwise) there’s Microsoft Expression Blend (the “blend” I guess meaning the blend between design and development). It’s the graphical/visual/markup-editing tool that (sort of) brings this stuff together. It’s their version of Flash Professional (sort of) or Flex Builder. Depending on how you look at it. There’s a lot flying around here. These pieces somehow play with Visual Studio and Asp.Net and Atlas (their Ajax implementation).
You can’t help but draw a parallel between Adobe and Microsoft. A two-way highway with both cars going in opposite directions. Adobe heading to the desktop. Microsoft heading towards the world of quote-unquote “cross-platform.” Flash/Flex/Apollo in one corner. WPF/XAML in the other.
There’s just one question begging to be asked though: how far would Microsoft go towards truly cross-platform? Would they go as far as delivering a runtime that effectively marginalizes the value of their desktop? Code written for WPF/E won’t work on WPF. Microsoft has effectively delivered a platform that is incompatible with itself. I’m sure there are arguments for why this is the case. I’d be interested in hearing them. It’ll also be really tough to pierce the loyalty of designers and their tools.
In any case, this is clearly a new arena where the Web, richer experiences and the desktop come together. Adobe and Microsoft seem to be leading the pack with establishing the platforms and tools to light up this new world. From where we’re sitting at Arc90, it’ll be fun to watch…and play along.

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