The 9 things Microsoft SHOULD be announcing next week at MIX07 (but won't)

Smart Art FunMicrosoft has said they'll have some kind of big surprise to announce next week at the MIX07 conference in Las Vegas. If you want to hear some good guesses as to what will actually be announced, you've come to the wrong place. If you'd like some good guesses, try the following:

But accuracy's not what this post is about. No, this is good old armchair quarterback time. I'm not going to talk about idealistic things like firing half the marketing and legal departments, I'm going to focus on product direction and long term vision things. Ray, if you've been procrastinating on your keynote, I've put together a few talking points for you. Style point: remember that the great speakers of history were men of passion. Wave your arms a lot and bang on the podium.


1. We're going to give away a free "Express" version of Expression Blend

We understand that Silverlight and WPF adoption is going to take a good, free developer environment, so we're adding a simplified version of Expression Blend to our Visual Studio Express family of developer products. We've always offered a free trial version of Expression Blend, but we want to let you know that you can continue to work with a free version of Blend when it goes live. Yes, we're going to have to figure out the naming thing - Expression Express is fun to say, but a little goofy.

2. We're working on an online version of Office (no, it's not Office Live, it's more like NetDocs 2.0)

Sometimes it's all about timing. We were working on an internet based document management system back in 2000, well before anyone had heard of Google Docs. We discontinued NetDocs before bringing anything to market - we weren't clear on the business model, and our first take on this didn't have a clear focus. However, broadband and internet adoption combined with sustainable ad revenue supported models have shown us that it's time to take another look at this.

All you'll need is a Windows Live ID to do basic online document sharing and editing. The service will be supported by contextual ads and will include the kind of support that you'd need to edit and share a soccer team schedule spreadsheet with a small group. We'll be including a more advanced, ad-free version to our Office Live suite for the Essentials and Premium account levels. Of course, we believe that the Microsoft Office product line will be a much better choice for daily use and are confident that our users will continue to see the value in that product line. You'll have the ability to save and edit documents online using the Microsoft Office products.

3. We're going to release a series of free applications for Vista

We put a lot of hard work into the development platform that powers Vista. Unfortunately, our busy Longhorn development cycle didn't give us time to build many cool consumer focused applications that make Vista a compelling user experience. We've started a team that will build modernized versions of programs and widgets with the same feel as the Mac iLife suite. It's a humble beginning, but today we're presenting Windows Live Notes - a tabbed notepad replacement with a lot of cool features. We've got four more applications at different phases of development. In addition to being useful, these applications show off the .NET 3.0 platform that ships with Vista. 


4. Internet Explorer 8 will begin to introduce Firefox style extensions

We heard you loud and clear - extending Internet Explorer is such a pain, the only people who bother to do it are trying to sell products or infect your computer. Whereas Firefox extensions can be as simple as a zipped up JavaScript file, IE's Browser Helper Objects require mucking around with C++ and COM. No big surprise that we don't have a real extension developer community, just a marketplace.

Well, as I said, we heard you. We've wrapped the messy browser helper bits with a simple .NET interface, so you can build extensions in any .NET language. We're working on a new extension framework which allows you to write extensions in XAML and distribute them in a simple zip file.

Additionally, we're doing exploratory work to see if we can support portions of the Firefox Extension Model. We've written an IE extension which can host some simple Firefox extensions - it translates a subset of XUL to XAML and redirects the chrome JavaScript calls to calls in our extension model. We're releasing the Firefox host extension on CodePlex today.

5. A new Microsoft team will to compete with Office, IE, and Visual Studio using the .NET 3.0 Framework

We know that competition for some of our most popular products - Office, Visual Studio, and Internet Explorer - are growing. These are good products, and they've got a lot of good years left in them. The are, however, built on top of decade-old technologies. Would these products be better if they were restarted today, built on the .NET 3.0 stack? It's hard to say - there's no question it would be nice to have these products running as managed .NET 3.0 Framework applications, for a host of reasons - security, maintainability, performance, etc. On the other hand, the hazards of rewriting working applications are well known.

It certainly is a pickle. The software industry is boiling disruptive technologies - many of which we've created. While it's hard to countenance rewriting working applications, it's hard to believe that the leading office suite, browser, and development platform of 2015 will still be running on a mid-90's COM platform.

So, we're going to make sure that we're our toughest competitor. We're funding a team whose job it is to disrupt our business before someone else does. This team will run like a spin-off. This group isn't just going to be creating knock-off applications, they're going to be competing as best they can, so they'll have the freedom to change and create features as they see fit.

We don't have a monetization strategy for this group right now, although you know we do have a history of selling a bit of software around here. The initial goal here is to make sure that we're in a good place in five years, and best way to do that is by getting started now.

In addition to insurance, though, we hope this effort serves some another purposes: we'll be putting our money where our mouth is. By dogfooding the .NET Framework 3.0 in a major way, we'll show that it's a solid platform that's worth learning and investing in. It's been said that Office sets the standard for desktop applications. This move will indicate that we have both a firm commitment to our existing products customers as well as a long term commitment to our development platform.

We're also granting this team opportunity to try some things that may fail. This team will follow our way of doing things - public beta releases, experiments, and a very interactive development relationship with our end users.


6. We're pushing .NET outside the developer division

In addition to some of the things we've mentioned above, we're making a long term commitment to implement the .NET Framework throughout the Windows platform. Our goal is to have more than 60% of Windows running on managed .NET code within 10 years. While our customers don't care what technology Windows runs on, the features they want - reliability, security, more frequent updates - are best achieved on a .NET based platform.

7. Microsoft Endorsed Projects - Better than just copying open source projects

We have significant challenges and opportunities ahead. While we've got a great team, we realize that we'll be able to achieve a lot more if we can work even more effectively with the developer community - especially the growing .NET open source community. Some of the biggest .NET success stories have been open source projects: .Text, Paint.NET, DotNetNuke, CommunityServer, SubSonic, and the list goes on.

We understand that you don't just want us to spend our time re-implementing features that the open source community has already created. We agree.

We're going to be making a few major changes to increase our support for the .NET open source community - Endorse, Ship, and Support.

First, we're going to actively endorse open source projects which have demonstrated technical maturity and stability. This endorsement will go beyond a simple link from our developer blogs or sites; it is an actual certification program similar to our "Certified for Windows Vista" program. By doing this, we hope to recognize outstanding open source projects and stimulate acceptance in the broader market.

Second, we are exploring licensing terms which will allow us to ship open source software along with Microsoft releases. For instance, while the .NET Framework will continue to be shipped as it is, we'll also offer a .NET Framework Extras release which will include open source frameworks such as NUnit, MbUnit, log4net, Rhino Mocks, etc.

Finally, we're also expanding our internship program to include paid open source development positions, similar to the Google Summer Of Code. We'll be starting with ten paid summer open source internships this summer.

We're open to your opinions on what we can do to work more effectively with the open source community. Please give us your feedback at the MIX Open Source panel.

8. We'll release a Zune phone developer API within a year

Everyone's been expecting a Zune phone this year, and without spilling the beans too much I'd say there's a good chance you'll see it. Although the Zune phone isn't based on Windows Mobile, we do see the Zune as a platform, and by that we mean a development platform as well as a media platform. Our number one goal with the Zune phone is to have it out by the end of the year, but we'll have a firmware update within a year that includes version one of the Zune developer API.


9. We're ramping up funding for the Singularity Operating System

We're doubling the Singularity OS team at Microsoft Research from 30 to 60 over the next year. For those of you who aren't familiar with Singularity, it's an operating system designed with reliability as a primary focus and implemented almost entirely in managed code. While we've been clear that this is just a research project and is not designed to become an end product, we are very interested in seeing what we can do with a managed operating system. We've already been very pleased with the results - for instance, we've seen that it performs significantly faster than unmanaged operating systems because we're able to redraw process boundary lines to avoid unnecessary context switching. While Singularity may never become a shipping operating system, we're convinced that this project is vitally important to defining the way Windows 2015 will work.

Today, we're announcing the first VirtualPC release of Singularity OS, available for download. This is just a demonstration project, but we invite developers to test it out. Future demonstration releases will be a little more exciting, as we'll be adding a basic command line compiler and partial WPF support.

With that, I'll open the floor for questions. What do you think?


  • Some of these announcements would make more sense at PDC rather than MIX. Since it's my pretend announcement, I get to ignore that.
  • I don't expect Microsoft to be announcing these things, but I honestly think they should.
  • I think there's a decent chance that for the free Expression Blend product. I think the rest of them are a lot less probable.
  • I understand that Microsoft has tried some of these things before - managed code in the operating system, NetDocs, etc. However, things have changed since then. The .NET Framework has matured, broadband penetration has greatly increased, ad supported web applications have become viable, etc.


  • #5 - don't be silly.
    Microsoft will never actually use .NET for anything, not until the rest of the world has spent 5 more years beta testing it.

  • @Adrian - The developer division is making pretty good use of .NET. It just doesn't seem to be moving outside dev div.

  • You know, having .NET as a base (i.e. #5, #9) really would make our jobs as developers a lot easier.

    It seems that when I'm working on Windows Forms applications, I inevitably need to also understand the native Windows API (pInvoke anyone?) before my application will be really effective. Maybe WPF will change some of this, but I have my doubts.

    I do think that Microsoft is doing a better job of using .NET in some of their newer applications (IIS7, the Expression line of products, Exchange with the PowerShell implementation, etc.), but I would still like to see a more widespread adoption.

    Nice post!

  • Just let me know when you run for president. You'll have my vote!

  • This post could have been written by a 9-year old .NET kid who have never worked for a large software company.

  • @Andre - Do you know many 9-year olds who have worked for large software companies?

  • What problems can we count on seeing with our medical scheduling software, and billing for that matter with the impending health care reform bill? I am hearing the standards are basically being re- invented!

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