September 2011

Volume 26 Number 09

Editor's Note - 'Mango': Innovation from the Inside Out

By Michael Desmond | September 2011

Michael DesmondBy now you may have noticed that Keith Ward is no longer gracing the Editor’s Note page of MSDN Magazine. He has moved on to take the post of editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine, where I know he’s looking forward to doing more direct reporting and writing in the development space. I expect he’ll also enjoy the editorial freedom that comes with running an independent publication.

I know all this because Keith and I have been colleagues for six or seven years now. I even worked for Keith briefly when he was editor of Redmond magazine. In that time, I’ve seen Keith launch new magazines, take principled stands, chase a lifelong dream and dive into covering not one, but two, entirely new fields. To say Keith is a tough act to follow is a testament to tough acts everywhere.

Keith’s fingerprints are all over MSDN Magazine, from the talented lineup of regular columnists to the thoughtful coverage of complex technical subjects. The model he has adopted will no doubt continue to serve the magazine and its readers well going forward.

That said, the September issue of MSDN Magazine sits on the cusp of a strategic change of seasons in the Microsoft development space. Later this month, the long-awaited Microsoft BUILD Conference in Anaheim, Calif., promises to shed light on “Windows 8,” HTML5 and JavaScript development, and the future direction of Silverlight and XAML. I’m not privy to confidential information, but watching the BUILD narrative unfold, I can’t help but feel that Microsoft development could look very different a few years from now.

Maybe MSDN Magazine should look different, too. It’s a conversation worth having, not just among the editors and publishers and stakeholders at Microsoft, but with the developers who rely on the magazine to keep them informed on the tools and technologies they work with every day. I hope to be able to have that conversation with you over the coming months and years, as we wade into what I have no doubt will be deep waters created by the September announcements at BUILD.

The Lessons of ‘Mango’

The July launch of the Windows Phone 7 “Mango” update could be instructive as we look forward. As Blue Badge Insights founder and Microsoft Regional Director Andrew Brust noted in a July Visual Studio Magazine column, some of the most important innovation at Microsoft is coming not from rain-making business units and products like Windows, Office and SharePoint, but from upstart teams like the Windows Phone group. And Microsoft is smartly adapting these innovations to other areas of the business. You need look no further than the Metro-inspired UI of Windows 8 to understand what Brust was talking about.

So when the Windows Phone 7 Mango release went live in July, there was some added import. The update is about more than winning market share from the Apple iOS and Google Android; it’s about gauging what the Windows Phone group can achieve down the road. Yes, a poorly received update could blunt Windows Phone 7 adoption—but the greater harm might be to the innovation the group can bring to other areas of Microsoft.

Al Hilwa, program director for Application Development Software at research firm IDC, offered strong praise for the Mango update, which he said closed the gap between Windows Phone 7 and its competitors. “The key differentiator is the visual appeal of the platform,” he said, calling the application updatable hubs on the home screen in Mango “one of my favorite features. I envision this to evolve into a scorecard of everything that’s important at a glance, once applications are revised to take advantage of it.”

It should be no surprise that Hilwa thought Microsoft did well on the developer front. “I think what the first year of Windows Phone shows us is that a strong developer ecosystem alone is not enough to achieve business success,” he said. “It is, however, one of the hardest things to build, and Microsoft demonstrated that they’re up to that part of the task.”

There are challenges ahead. Microsoft must keep the basic programming model stable as it possibly faces a realignment with Windows 8, Hilwa said—and he added Microsoft would do better to produce a steady stream of feature improvements, rather than drop giant releases like Mango. Still, he predicted good things ahead for the platform.

“Given how late Microsoft started on this project, it has accomplished a great deal in less than a year,” Hilwa noted. “Its chances will be helped significantly with a successful Windows 8 release in 2012, which will create synergies between the PC and the phone in new ways.”