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26Jun/100

Windows LiveID – Microsoft red headed stepchild?

I personally believe Microsoft is missing (if not already missed) the opportunity to monetize serious potential of Windows LiveID.

For years already, there are more then half a billion user accounts (which surpasses current number of Facebook accounts) which Microsoft could’ve use to create serious advertisement revenue the same way Facebook is doing now. The value proposition for users is the fact that they don’t have to remember “yet another user name and password” which is a definite win – at least for me. For identity holder (Microsoft/Facebook), getting information on activities user makes across the web is clearly a win from marketing and advertisement perspective. It is such an obvious case of win-win scenario, that I don’t want to spend any more words on selling it to you, dear reader.

Microsoft (as with many other cool things – Ajax etc) pioneered the Sing sign-on concept more then a decade ago but didn’t do much with it allowing to OpenID, OAuth, Facebook Connect etc to emerge as industry standards.

The reason behind LiveID failure to reach world domination in identity space is related to the poor developer story which prevented wider adoption of the LiveID as “the one online identity”./ Having in mind we are speaking about the Microsoft  as developer oriented company I find that to be quite hilarious in one hand and a proof of lack of Microsoft strategic vision in this area. In other words, I believe no one cared(s) in Microsoft so much about getting the benefits from Windows LiveID as some startup might try to (who said Facebook Connect?).

Why Microsoft failed to dominate with Windows LiveID

Here are couple of reasons why I think thinks are like they are right now…

Year 2003, Microsoft attempts rolling out LiveID (at that time called Passport) to couple of big companies (including eBay and Monster) which dies in 2004. Whatever the reasons were, loosing two of such a big adopters in 2004 is (IMHO) VERY stupid because if it did happen I bet we would be all using LiveID across the web right now “with not much of an alternative”.

Year 2006, MS had a STS running on http://sts.labs.live.com. I can not imagine a reason why would something like that die but there’s no such thing today.
Having an STS (web service auth token issuer) is all I would personally care about in order to adopt LiveID in my apps.

On Mix 2008, they announced Windows LiveID SDK CTP which was up until yesterday the only way of integrating Windows LiveID with client apps and sites. They have also announced on the same mix that LiveID would become OpenID provider, but that didn’t long last too.

Beside this efforts, Microsoft was trying also to pitch LiveID in parallel using its own strongest weapon: Windows.

Microsoft's Windows XP has an option to link a Windows user account with a Windows Live ID (appearing with its former names), logging users into Windows Live ID whenever they log into Windows. To me that sounds very nice (I’ve already auth myself logging on my PC and established a trust relationship which for most of the web sites out there should be sufficient). The only problems with this is that is almost unknown feature. I did a smoke test asking 10 people I know which use Windows Live Messenger on day to day basis if they use it – none of them even knew about it. I don’t even have clear understanding how this thing gets installed other then guessing it gets bundled in Live essentials installer .

Then, there is CardSpace which is industry correct and secure way of handling our online identity information. All great, except for the fact that it is quite a mystery “how to use it” Smile. In 2007, there was a beta of  CardSpace LiveID integration but after that nothing happens.CardSpace being a part of most of Windows apps is such a untapped potential that it is hart for me to believe that no one is trying to utilize it more seriously.

Couple of things I hope Microsoft will do with LiveID in the future

Microsoft still has some chance to emerge as one of the leaders in identity space but to do that they might consider doing some of the next things:

  • promote “LiveID” to become a 1st grade citizen in Windows.

    Ask for LiveID to be entered during the windows installation process (most of us have it anyhow). Windows Live service would then (during the install process itself) issue Card Space managed card for a user. Right from the moment system would be installed, that card should be used on every LiveID site.
    Even better put that card on my Live SkyDrive so it could roam with me while I work on different computers. If not possible to be built in Windows (ether Win7 SP1 or Win8), can we at least consider building it in Internet Explorer 9?

    I know this could be probably breaking some monopoly law, but lets face it – MS didn’t become what it is playing fair but playing bold.
    Apple integrating MobileMe and Chrome integrating google bookmarks and Flash are doing exactly that.

  • Use LiveID on ALL of the Microsoft sites. No excuses. Period.
    Just check out last post on windowsteamblog.com which (ironic isn’t it) introduces newest LiveID “Messenger Connect” API.
    To post a comment you need to Sign In
    image
    but that is not using the LiveID  Smile
    image

    If you don’t trust in it, why should we?

  • Spread it across the web similar to Facebook ‘Like’ button (‘Post with Messenger’) 
    Here’s a sample of how Bing can be used to collect ‘Likes’ by adding a ‘Post With Messenger button’ which would send it to people on messenger contact list andor Facebook, MySpace etc… Even this would end with forwarding it to Facebook as ‘Like’ there is still value in collecting those data associated with LiveID…

Do the same with as much as possible social networking sites.
Aggregate the data and share it with us developers so we can personalize better our content (not only ads)..

  • Stay away from hustling users as much as you can
    Force me to log in only once in 24 hour or more.  I ‘m sure this goes against best security practices etc. but for most web sites it really doesn’t matter. Otherwise you shift from "login screen” to “nag screen“
  • Support other browsers the same you do with IE.
    What’s the story with the FireFox and Windows Live? One of my friends, decided to use DropBox instead of LiveMesh (even offered 250% more storage space) just because he hates LiveID. Reason: he uses Firefox and it looks like that “Remember me”check box on Firefox has slight dementia so the login screen is quite annoying Smile 
  • Support other security protocols
    LiveID as OpenID provider, OAuth etc… The more adapters the merrier.

Last but not the least - respect us developers

I got personally interested in this topic because I choose WPF for my LOB application I am playing lately and I decided to use LiveID for authentication (everyone I know has one – regardless how they use it).

My preferred approach to building this app is S+S (which I am not sure if is still official MS way to go) where a desktop client application gets powered by services from the web/cloud getting with this approach best of both worlds: best user experience on windows machines + data in the cloud.

I was so naïve when I decided to try tout LiveID to expect to find some LiveID STS web service to which I would pass user name + password + ApplicationID and get back in response membership token. Naïve because I didn’t even consider the possibility that such thing doesn’t exist which ended as a true case.I really don’t understand why there is no such offering by Microsoft as we speak.
 
The second in favor solution is “acceptable” experience Microsoft has in its own Live Essential suite tools.Here’s a sample of how to do it.

image

As you can see it is a simple client app window which I am not sure what it does on “Sign in” but whatever it does (POST or web service) I am ok with using it too.

What I don’t want:

  • login control being a web browser control showing the special windows live login html page
  • generic control where I can not change the text (my app + folks not speaking English)

Reasons why I don’t accept those two things are I guess exactly the same as the one Microsoft came up with  when deciding not to use it in their own products.

If Microsoft expects me to use LiveID in my WPF apps they have to provide me a way to get the same user experience they have in dealing with the same problem.

Yesterday Microsoft released new Messenger Connect SDK which contains a sample WPF application and WPF template which is encouraging. In order to run the sample, one need to register application with windows live which right now is done through connect where you fill the request form and someone sometime would consider it.

Based on a quick glance over the sample there are no obvious ”skinning” capabilities – no control just a direct call to some function. The only thing I could do while waiting (hopefully) to get an LiveID was to run the sample as it is out of the b ox and this is the result I got “HTML in a box” – not very encouraging.

image

I’ll wait for the application key before I make a final call but so far it doesn’t look like Microsoft cares about WPF + LiveID integration experience..

Keeping fingers crossed but not holding my breath …

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15Jun/102

What is wrong with Cosmopolitan theme

I am HUGHE fan of Metro design paradigm, so I was more then excited to check out Silverlight business application theme pack  containing the Metro theme template (“Cosmopolitan”) which was released officially couple of days ago.

I am not designer but still wanted to share with community my initial impression and that is: WTF.

Here is picture illustrating why..

UIWaste

Considering the fact that we are speaking here about the web site, the fact that there’s 300 pixel of wasted vertical space (~220 in OOB scenarios) is insane. Think about how usable this site would be used in typical netbook/laptop/slate (any smaller height wide screen).

What they should do is simply copy paste Zune minimalist approach which preserves the UI waste and maximize the central part of the screen showing content.

I am aware that this is template which can be customized etc, but we all know that in a lot of cases it won’t be customized at all and we might end with a bunch of web sites using “Metro theme” (especially once WP7 would be released) which would contribute to Silverlight reputation in a bad way,

In other words, while I really appreciate templates provided to us, I think Microsoft creative ninjas (or someone from the community)  should do a couple more iterations on Cosmopolitan template and make it more usable by default and then we would customize it with 2nd level menu etc.

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2Jun/1017

5 reasons why Silverlight sucks in LOB (compared to WPF)

Recently, Brian Noyes and  Rob Relyea have touched the “WPF VS Silverlight” subject and considering the fact I was also recently thinking about it I wanted to share my thoughts on that topic too.

As I said in previous post, I’ve started at home blogging about the accountingLOB applications in Serbia and one of the questions I got challenged by one of my readers (who knows how BIG Silverlight fan I am)  is

“Would you be using Silverlight for your own accountingLOB application?”

Initially answer looked very clear to me: with all the improvements Silverlight 4 brought to LOB game, desktop like programming model and web deployment looks like a perfect fit for public facing application (outside of intranets)

But, after doing some more thinking on this subject, to my surprise I came up with the opposite conclusion:
WPF is better choice for serious LOB applications.

And here are 5 most important reasons why I think like this:

Silverlight 4 is not cross platform environment any more

The biggest advantage SL had over the WPF (in my mind at least) is ability to be deployed to non-windows machines (MacOS and Linux powered machines).
Having Silverlight 4 with a whole slew of COM+ dependable features virtually prevents creating a Silverlight 4 siteapplication which would run on Mac and Linux. At least, that is the state as of today I am aware – somebody please correct me if I am wrong in this.

The way I see this change is that Silverlight 4 is shifting toward being unique “cross-screen” (desktop, mobile and TV) platform which is perfectly fine with me just it doesn’t have any particular value in context of LOB applications).

UPDATE: I did found a couple of folks with Mac which were kind enough to tell me that on Silverlight.net site there is Silverlight 4 plug-in for Mac which (as long as COM+ features are not used) works fine.

Silverlight adoption rate is not good enough

According to later RIA Stats adoption rate of Silverlight is around 60%. I’ll put aside the fact that I am not seeing that number around me in Czech Republic and accept it as correct one with slightly different interpretation: 40% of PCs are not having Silverlight installed.

The funniest thing is that WPF has 99% adoption rate because every PC with Windows newer then Windows XP SP2 (including Vista and Windows 7) has  WPF installed on it. I am not sure how many Windows 2000 and Windows 98 machines are out there but whatever the number that is personally I don’t think anyone should care targeting that segment as very unlikely to invest any money in purchasing your LOB product.

Even if a PC is not having the .NET framework at all, the download size to get it on PC is just 28 MB which is bigger then 9 Mb size of MacOs Silverlight 3 plug in but who cares (with any non dial up connection it is matter of seconds). In my personal opinion, this is one of the most important WPF features in .NET 4 :)

Silverlight tooling is good enough. WPF tooling is better

Starting with VS 2010 and Blend 4 we can work in SL4 and Silverlight is getting much more attention (just look at the paces of silverlight and wpf toolkits and everything gets to be clear there) but using WPF allows me to use all of the memory profilers, dbg viewers, any framework I want etc. If you are in doubt what exactly I think with this here’s an example: Silverlight does support printing but in case of serious LOB applications you need all the muscle WPF offers. Think something like Crystal Reports for example.

Silverlight programming model is more constrained then the WPF one

Doing Silverlight applications, one is forced to adopt the “make async web service call and get a chunk of data and do something with it” which in my personal experience limits the productivity of LOB developer compared to the speed he has developing with WPF . There’s no direct access to DB (which is actually great) but that ignores the fact that some LOB applications might need just that. For example, application can be written to target local SQL CompactExpress which then is set up to replicatemerge deltas with the central enterprise server. Anything like that (and we know how this things can get crazy in enterprises) is not possible in Silverlight.

Another thing related to this is aspect of offline access. I am aware that Silverlight 4 does have isolated storage and yes it has a bunch of open source DBs sitting on top of it, but it is just a single user storage. In reality, quite often in serious LOB applications we are seeing office andor P2P network topologies where it is essential that you have a “proxy per office” or ability to sync directly the data of “user X”. I know that Sync Framework is coming for Silverlight in 2010 but it is not there now and I am not sure if it would support topologies other then client <->(Azure) server.

Silverlight is still technically inferior to WPF in some areas.

Read Brian's post to see what this point is about.

Conclusion

Now you heard 5 of my most important reasons why I choose to stick with WPF on this. Am I missing the point? Making a false statement? Do you have more reasons in favor of WPF or Silverlight?

Looking forward to hear the comments :)

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