My last two years have seen me dabble in a whole swath of things I never thought I’d dip my toes into. The first was web development, arguably inspired by this blog and the trials and tribulations that went into making it what it is today. Having been out of the development game for quite a long time before that (3 years or so) I had forgotten the thrill of solving some complex problem or finding an elegant solution to replace my overly complicated one. This then led me to try a cascade of different technologies, platforms and frameworks as ideas started to percolate through my head and success stories of overseas start ups left me lusting for a better life that I could create for myself.
For each of these new technologies I pursued I always had, at least in my mind, a good reason for doing so. Web development was the first step in the door and a step towards modernizing the skills I had let decay for too long. Even though my first foray into this was with ASP.NET, widely regarded as the stepping stone to the web for Windows desktop devs like myself, I still struggled with many of the web concepts. Enter then Silverlight, a framework which is arguably more capable than but has the horrible dependency of relying on an external framework. Still it was enough to get me past the hurdle of giving up before I had started and I spent much of the next year getting very familiar with it.
Of course the time then came when I believed that I needed to take a stab at the mobile world and promptly got myself involved in all things Apple and iOS. For someone who’d never really dared venture outside the comfortable Microsoft world it was a daunting experience, especially when my usual approach of “Attempt to do X, if can’t Google until you can” had me hitting multiple brick walls daily. Eventually however I broke through to the other side and I feel it taught me as much as my transition from desktop to web did. Not long after hitting my stride however did I find myself deep in yet another challenge.
Maybe it was the year+ I had spent on Lobaco without launching anything or maybe it was the (should have been highly expected) Y-Combinator rejection but I had found myself looking for ideas for another project that could free me from the shackles of my day job. Part me also blamed the frameworks I had been using up until that point, cursing them for making it so hard to make a well rounded product (neglecting the fact that I only worked on weekends). So of course I tried all sorts of other things like Ruby on Rails, PHP and even flirted with the idea of trying some of those new fangled esoteric frameworks like Node.js. In the end I opted for ASP.NET MVC which was familiar enough for me to be able to understand it clearly without too much effort and modern enough that it didn’t feel like I’d need to require IE6 as the browser.
You’re probably starting to notice a pattern here. I have a lot of ideas, many of which I’ve actually put some serious effort into, but there always comes a point when I dump both the idea and the technology it rests on for something newer and sexier. It dawned on me recently that the ideas and technology are just mediums for me to pursue a challenge and once I’ve conquered them (to a certain point) they’re no longer challenge I idolized, sending me off to newer pastures. You could write off much of this off to coincidence (or other external factors) except that I’ve done it yet again with the last project I mentioned I’m working on. I’m still dedicated to it (since I’m not the only one working on it) but I’ve had yet another sexy idea that’s already taken me down the fresh challenge path, and it’s oh so tempting to drop everything for it.
I managed to keep my inner junkie at bay for a good year while working on Lobaco so it might just be a phase I’m going through, but the trend is definitely a worrying one. I’d hate to think that my interest only lasts as long as it takes to master (well, get competent with) and it would be a killer for any potential project. I don’t think I’m alone in this boat either, us geeks tend to get caught up in the latest technology and want to apply it where ever we can. I guess I’ll just have to keep my blinkers on and keep at my current ideas for a while before I let myself get distracted by new and shiny things again. Hopefully that will give me enough momentum to overcome my inner challenge junkie.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Microsoft was never a major player in the smartphone space. Most people had never really heard of or seen a smartphone until Apple released the iPhone and the market really didn’t heat up until a couple years after that fact. However if you were to go all the way back to 2004 you’d find they were extremely well positioned, capturing 23% of the total market share with many analysts saying that they would be leader in smartphone software by the end of the decade. Today however they’re the next to last option for anyone looking for a smartphone thanks wholly to their inertia in responding to the incoming threats from Apple and Google.
Microsoft wasn’t oblivious to this fact but their response took too long to come to market to save any of the market share they had previously gained. Their new product, Windows Phone 7, is quite good if you consider it on the same level as Android 1.0 and the first iPhone. Strangely enough it also suffers some of the problems that plagued the earlier revisions of its competitors products had (like the lack of copy and paste) but to Microsoft’s credit their PR and response time on the issue is an order of magnitude better. They might have come too late into the game to make a significant grab with their first new offering but as history has shown us Microsoft can make a successful business even if it takes them half a decade of losses to catch up to the competition (read:the Xbox).
More recently though I’ve noticed a shift in the way Microsoft is operating within their mobile space. Traditionally, whilst they’ve been keen to push adoption for their platform through almost any means necessary, they’ve been quick to stand against any unsanctioned uses of their products. You can see this mentality in action with their Xbox department who’s fervently fought any and all means to run homebrew applications on their consoles. Granted the vast majority of users modding their consoles do so for piracy reasons so their stance is understandable but recent developments are starting to show that they might not be adverse to users running homebrew applications on their devices.
ChevronWP7 was the first (and as far as I know, only) application to allow users to to jailbreak their WP7 devices in order to be able to load arbitrary applications onto them. Microsoft wasn’t entirely happy with it’s release but didn’t do anything drastic in order to stop its development. They did however announce that the next update to WP7 would see it disabled, much like Apple does with their iOS updates, but they did something that the others haven’t ever done before, they met with the ChevronWP7 team:
After two full days of meetings with various members of the Windows Phone 7 team, we couldn’t wait to share with everyone some results from these discussions.
To address our goals of homebrew support on Windows Phone 7, we discussed why we think it’s important, the groups of people it affects, its direct and indirect benefits and how to manage any risks.
With that in mind, we will work with Microsoft towards long-term solutions that support mutual goals of broadening access to the platform while protecting intellectual property and ensuring platform security.
Wait, what? In the days gone by it wouldn’t have been out of place for Microsoft to send out a cease and desist letter before unleashing a horde of lawyers to destroy such a project in its infancy. Inviting the developers to your headquarters, showing them the roadmap for future technologies and then allying with them is down right shocking but shows how Microsoft has come to recognise the power of the communities that form around the platforms they develop. In all respects those users of ChevronWP7 probably make up a minority of WP7 users but they’re definitely amongst the most vocal users and potentially future revenue generators should they end up distributing their homebrew into the real world. Heck they’re even reaching out to avid device hacker Geohot since he mentioned his interest in the WP7 platform, offering him a free phone to get him started.
The last few years haven’t been kind to Microsoft in the mobile space and it appears that they’re finally ready to take their medicine so that they might have a shot at recapturing some of their former glory. They’ve got an extremely long and hard fight ahead of them should they want to take back any significant market share from Apple or Google, but the last couple months have shown that they’re willing to work with their users and enthusiasts to deliver products that they and hopefully the world at large will want to have. My next phone is shaping up to be a WP7 device simply because the offering is just that good (and development will be 1000x easier) and should Microsoft continue their recent stint of good behaviour I can only see it getting better and better.