Turtlenecks and Propeller Heads

It's been a while since I've posted. I've been on the cross-country conference junket of late, and after stops in Redmond, Las Vegas, Redmond, Charlotte, and Redmond again, it's time to get back home and get back to blogging. So of course, I'd like to begin with a brief digression.

Back in the late 90s, I had the good fortune to attend one of Don Box's Developmentor courses on COM+. After a lecture that got deep into the plumbing of transactions, contexts, IDL and v-tables, I got to chat with the man himself. As the conversation wore on, I mentioned how I thought the Visual J++ team did a great job with the Windows Foundation Classes their wonderful form designer. Don proceeded to call me a "Cupertino beret-wearing turtleneck poseur" and wished me luck up playing with UIs up in devenv.exe. I've worn that as a badge of honor, despite my limited design skills.

A few years later, I got to work with real designers, and saw first-hand how their thoughtful, aesthetically pleasing work was turned into an application that looked nothing like what they specified. The reason I gave the designers for this transformation was that "dev tools don't support building UIs like that." They proceeded to call me a "propeller-headed Philistine" and wished me luck playing with makefiles and command-line compilers. I've worn that as a badge of honor, despite my limited programming skills.

Clearly there's an impedance mismatch between the folks do at both ends of the designer/developer continuum, and clearly, the middle ground is occupied by people like me who don't do a great job of pleasing either side. Well, if I learned anything in all my recent travels, I can tell you that this is about to change for the better. In speaking with many ISVs, the overwhelming majority view improving the user experience in their products as a priority for their next releases. We’re about to provide some great tool support to make that possible.

If you’re adventurous and have a machine you don’t mind wiping and reconfiguring, give Vista, Cider, Atlas, and Expression Suite CTPs a try. All are available for download by MSDN subscribers, and together they provide some really interesting possibilities for people like me who work in that middle ground between plumbing and design. After you get your mind around the basic concepts of each of these tools, you’ll see we’ll soon live in a world where the turtlenecks and the prop-heads can collaborate in harmony – or at least co-exist on the same projects without stepping on each others’ work.

You may not be deeply skilled enough to settle in with either crowd (like yours truly), but you can do a lot in bringing them together and then getting the heck out of the way…