01 Dec 2011

imageI recently read an insightful post about how being a developer is less about coding and more about tooling, and while I do not agree with all of the post, the fact we as developers are tool obsessed rings very true. This obsession with tools becomes a white hot rage when our favourite tool is threated with extinction or causes a world of panic when a competing tool is proposed without enough information on it.

Let’s look at two key examples of that:

  • WinForms was very popular and when Microsoft brought us WPF, there was major push back from those who did not want to change and learn a new tool. If you reading this, then you are thinking well time solved that, I disagree. This very week I was asked about WinForms vs. WPF again. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, it just gives some of us time to move on.
  • To illustrate the world of panic I can use a more recent issue – Windows 8! Remember all the discussion before //Build about the death of <insert your favourite tool here>? The confusion caused by incomplete discussions around tools we love caused panic.

So what is the solution to this? I think simply a mind set change would be enough. The mind set change needed is to remember that a platform is more important/powerful/useful than a tool. I would like to take credit for this idea, but the first time I heard anyone mention this was a few years back and it was Scott Hanselman talking on MVC almost three years ago to the day. He mentioned that ASP.NET > ASP.NET Web Forms and ASP.NET > ASP.NET MVC. In short he was saying that the core understanding of ASP.NET, the core features and the core uses of the platform are bigger than a single implementation (tool) could be. Sure, you need to learn a new tool, but you aren’t starting at zero if you know the platform.

Silverlight_h_rgbWhy I am bringing this up? It is because of the discussions I have been having about another tool recently: Silverlight. We are approaching the panic stage on this tool due to rumours of it’s demise. However it is VERY important to take a step back and see what the platform is and how knowing the platform means that a tool can move along and we are still able to work/code/make money etc…

The platform Silverlight uses is XAML based UI technologies, a core set of how we can layout UI components using an XML dialect called XAML. This platform also has lots of options for things like binding, the MVVM patterns and so on that are either difficult or impossible to do with other UI technologies (like WinForms for example).

XAML based UI technologies started with a single tool: WPF – an implementation of the platform designed to run on top of the .NET Framework. A second tool, Silverlight, later appeared – this is an implementation of the platform designed to run as a plugin in a browser. A third tool, Silverlight for Windows Phone 7, came next and while very close to Silverlight it had it’s differences as it was an implementation of the platform for the phone. In the last few months we have had the forth implementation of the XAML based UI technologies appear: WinRT. This is the Windows Runtime in Windows 8 and when you develop with C#, VB.NET or C++ your UI technology is just another implementation of the platform.

Every implementation of the platform has been different, some in big ways and some in smaller ways but the core of the XAML based UI technology platform hasn’t changed and there is not a single rumour, plan, or hint that we are even close to seeing the end of XAML based UI technologies. We may see a tool end of life and die (like some rumours say about  Silverlight) or other tools just find completeness and not need new work done (like WPF if) but the platform remains and grows and learning a platform is always more important/powerful/useful.


Matt's picture

As a Win Forms dev I was thrilled when I started using SL/XAML. Then, with WP7, it made me warm and fuzzy to know that I basically knew the platform already.
And then finally, with W8, although there are going to be some hiccups and confusion over the new API's/API's moving around, I can't wait to start dev'ing on it. I have one of those shiny Samsung slates on the way just to mess with it :).

So yes, I think you are absolutely correct. And I think that we as developers need to realize we are buying into Microsoft as a platform, not into any single tool/platform of theirs.

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