Its “a triumph.” Or something like that. This year, theres no Mobility Developer Conference for Microsoft in Europe.
How anybody can say this is good news—with a straight face—beats me. Its a mark of conspicuous failure.
Look at the schedule for this years TechEd in Amsterdam. We have canal boat trips, we have Longhorn road map presentations, we have SQL Express announced, and we have “mobility tracks” as part of the schedule.
This means (quoth the PR spin merchant) “that mobility is now mainstream.”
No, it doesnt. It means that we have the same number of mobile TechEd sessions here in Amsterdam as we had last year in Barcelona. And it means that the MDC has gone away.
The idea that mobility is mainstream isnt even superficially convincing. Sit through the mobility seminars, and theyre the same as last year, with minor updates. How to develop this or that. For the Windows CE platform, using standard Visual Studio software tools. Fine!—but this is ghettoism. This is like looking at the black folks at the back of the bus in the fifties, and saying theyre “fully integrated.”
The giveaway: When you sit down for the Longhorn road map talk, and ask them about mobility.
I sat through the road map trip, and admired the billboards by the roadside. Here are the buzzwords, kids: Operational Infrastructure. Yum. Information Worker Infrastructure!—goody goods. Application Platform, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. All these good things … and mobility too?
Drill down: You find “high performance computing” and collaboration, and identity management, and virtualization, and branch office … lots of lovely alphabet soup components. Mobility? “Well, automated deployment services, terminal server …”
I did ask the weary server marketing people whether they were aware of the MDC shift. “Er, well, we dont talk to those people much,” they admitted. Says it all, really.
Mobility isnt something you can patch onto the top of a standard infrastructure, any more than security is. Its got to be built into the architecture. You cant take a system that is designed for sighted people and expect it to work for blind users; the system has to be designed so that the sighted layer is as much of an abstraction as the restricted user layer.
Microsoft deserves kudos, here in Amsterdam, for kicking the keynote off with “George”— a blind programmer. He sat, in the dark, on the huge RAI conference center stage, and explained that this was what it was like for him, all the time. And then, when the lights came up, he showed just how bad it is; and he didnt spare Microsoft.
Software architects simply dont design their frameworks in a way that allows handicapped users to use them. You have to patch them. He showed some apps, but he also highlighted Internet Explorer, which doesnt allow you to move from a “Search” window to the result. Its obvious if you can see!—but it takes about a hundred clicks before you find it if youre using a Braille reader.
Well done, Microsoft, for letting him do that; but the lesson goes deeper than designing software for people without eyes, or without hands. People without desks are the future. Software that blissfully assumes a 100M-bit connection and a 4-megapixel TFT display and a QWERTY keyboard is the rule. Its not just Microsoft; youll find Novell and SAP and Oracle all showing the same blind ignorance of the mobile users requirements, latency problems, bandwidth limitations and device choices.
The failure of Microsoft mobile isnt terminal. On the contrary, its SmartPhone project is promising and has already taught phone designers a lot—but what the mobile user wants isnt a device.
Mobility is a way of thinking, not a phone, not a PDA, not a pocket card scanner. Its the relationship between the user and the users data.
And it certainly isnt a set of reserved seats at the back of the bus for “those funny people without desktops.”