Mysticism and the PDC

I’ve followed with interest some of the discussions touched off by Ole’s entry on “Oh, not Oooh” and his follow-up piece. On the whole, I would have to agree with his overall thesis regarding the run-up to the PDC: even though I work for Microsoft and think the PDC is going to be awesome, I’ve found the quasi-mystical aura that many people (who I won’t mention by name) are trying to impart to the conference somewhat confounding at times.

My biggest issue with the mysticism is that it engenders this whole “complexity vs. simplicity” debate that’s swirled around Ole’s entries, and which I think is a red herring. The question is not how complex a technology is or how simple it is, the question is how organic it is. Case in point: in many of these discussions, the transition from VB6 to VB.NET is held up as a canonical example of moving from less complexity to more. But the truth is that from a complexity standpoint VB6 was probably a more complex product than VB.NET is. What’s different, though, is how the two products surfaced their complexity to the user. VB6 did an excellent job of tucking away the things that most people didn’t need in their day to day work – maybe a little too well at times. And it did an excellent job of sticking features right where you expected them to be. (A big feature for Whidbey is going to be returning Edit and Continue to the product, but the reality is that before VS 2002 most people probably weren’t even aware that Edit and Continue was a feature at all. They just did what they wanted to do and it worked. No thought required.)

In many ways, though, VB.NET is much simpler in terms of design and implementation than VB6 was. The problem (such as there is) is that complexity in VB.NET has been surfaced in ways that still do not feel entirely natural. Indeed, a lot of the work that our team has before us in Whidbey and beyond is not removing complexity but trying to create a more natural way of working with the product. This is what I mean when I say that technology should be “organic.” Well designed products don’t surface every bell and whistle to the user, they follow a principle of Everything in its Place. Using technology should be all about a natural unfolding of the capabilities of the technology as you need them, not shoving all this cool stuff in your face at once. And despite all the hoo-hah about complexity, I think that the .NET platform has actually gotten a pretty good start on this even if there are some rough edges that need to be worked on.

Ultimately, I think that this is really what the PDC is going to be about: letting people know about how we’re going to make your life easier and more natural, not how we’re going to “change Windows as you know it.” If we do our job right, developers moving to Avalon and Longhorn and Yukon and Whidbey and so on should feel like they’re meeting an old friend who they haven’t seen for a long time. Sure, there’s going to be a lot of catching up to do, but you should also immediately feel that familiar rapport, that feeling like you’ve known them all your life.

Whether we achieve that remains to be seen, and I think that’s worth showing up to the PDC for…

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