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Mix 2009: Microsoft’s “version 3.0” offering for Web Designers and Developers is here. Now the battle begins!

by David Cearley  |  March 19, 2009  |  Comments Off on Mix 2009: Microsoft’s “version 3.0” offering for Web Designers and Developers is here. Now the battle begins!

 Who hasn’t heard of the Microsoft rule of 3?  It is said that you need to wait for version 3.0 of a Microsoft product to see the “real” offering.  A version of this dynamic is playing itself out at Microsoft Mix 2009. 


Although Microsoft has enjoyed a dominant position with traditional software developers creating desktop and client/server applications it has not been a major force in the web site design and development market.  Microsoft has used the Mix conference to engage Web site designers and developers and position itself as a strategic supplier to this community.  It has taken three years and four Mix events for Microsoft deliver what one can now consider it’s complete “version 3.0 offering” for Web designers and developers.


Think of Mix 2006 the beta release of Microsoft’s web design and development strategy.  At Mix 2006 Microsoft didn’t really have a lot to offer the web developer community.  They presented a broad vision and were primarily in “requirements gathering” mode. 


Consider Mix 2007 release 1.0.  Microsoft released basic capabilities for the new (to Microosft at least) developer constituency.  Silverlight sent a major signal that Microsoft was looking beyond “the desktop” and considered the browser and RIA an important design point.   However, taken together Microsoft’s offerings were incomplete and/or inadequate for most web developers.  Nevertheless version 1 succeeded in getting some web developers to use a Microsoft product and enabled it to learn more about the needs, wants, desires and biases of web site designers and developers.


Mix 2008 was release 2.0 and we saw major upgrades and extensions to Microsoft offerings.  New capabilities such as deep zoom and further enhancement to Silverlight showed that Microsoft was serious about moving beyond the Windows desktop.  Microsoft showed it was serious about enabling a rich web/browser centric experience.  Significant gaps still existed in it’s offerings for web designers/developers but enough was in place to attract companies such as NBC to show what a Microsoft Web development environment could produce.  Many web developers were still not convinced Microsoft could meet all their needs but interest was growing.


This brings us to Mix 2009.  This is release 3 of Microsoft’s web design and development portfolio.   On the IE 8 front Microsoft has now reached parity in compliance with open web standards. With upgrades and extensions to Silverlight as and Blend – especially the addition of the SketchFlow design tool –the key elements are now in place.  While some gaps remain, Microsoft can now meet the primary of Web designers and developers.  Microsoft has the breadth and depth to compete for the hearts and minds of the Web developer community. 


Now the real battle begins.


Will Microsoft automatically win this war?  Is Adobe and everyone else delivering web development and design tools living on borrowed time?  Will Microsoft’s dominant position in the desktop, office and collaboration spaces mean it will inevitably dominate this market as well?  In a word – No.


Many factors will impact Microsoft’s success in the Web design and development market.  The next three years will be all about execution.  Expect intense battles between vendors as they compete to provide tools that make web sites and applications easier to develop with a richer experience for users. Web designers and developers have already chosen tools and Adobe in particular has significant market momentum.  Adobe will not sit still and even Microsoft recognizes that tools such as Illustrator and Photoshop will remain important tools.  Air has significant momentum and Flex currently has a dominant position with early adopter enterprise developers and ISVs creating rich internet applications.  In addition, many people in the world of the Web, Java and Open source simply don’t like Microsoft.  Microsoft will need to convince them that they are not the “evil empire”.  Inside Microsoft there will likely be ongoing debates between those that want to promote a Windows desktop centric approach and those that promote a Web centric approach.  Microsoft must deal with these market perceptions and internal corporate dynamics to succeed.  Ultimately the most likely scenario is one in which Microsoft is a major supplier to the Web design and development market but Adobe and others remain major suppliers as well.  


One final thought.  Competition drives innovation and customer value.  Web design and development is an area where Microsoft faces intense competition.  We are likely to see more innovation from this area than more traditional software development markets.  As a result web-centric design concepts and related tools will likely influence Microsoft’s “core” offerings.  On the developer front SketchFlow could become the design tool for all application development projects.  On the Windows front the focus on RIA could mean that in the long term WPF is dead and Silverlight+ becomes the UI foundation. 


This is going to be an interesting three years.

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David W. Cearley

18 years at Gartner
30 years IT industry

David Cearley is a vice president and Gartner Fellow in Gartner Research and is a leading authority on information technology. As a member of Gartner Research, Mr. Cearley analyzes emerging business and technology trends and explores how these trends shape the way individuals....Read Full Bio

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