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Uncertainty and the Nanny Stack
2 min read

Uncertainty and the Nanny Stack

This is an old post and doesn't necessarily reflect my current thinking on a topic, and some links or images may not work. The text is preserved here for posterity.

The drama around Windows 8 is getting a bit tiring. Now there's an Open Plea by Silverlight and WPF developers for Microsoft to make commitments as to the product future:

Three concrete steps or verbal commitments would assure us Silverlight and WPF developers that there is an integral, irreplaceable, and front-facing role to play in Windows 8 and into the future.

I grew up in a small town, about 5 hours from the nearest capital. For the first decade of my life, my parents owned a pet store. They worked hard and it grew to the largest pet store outside of the capital city, though we certainly weren't rich.

It was an industrial town, where the majority of people in the town got their income through the steelworks. One day talk started that the steel mill was going to be closed. As you can imagine, when most of the town expects to have no job tomorrow, they stop spending pretty quickly. Overnight, a huge number of businesses, including my parents, suffered real cash flow problems.

Many months later, the steel mill was sold, and it turned out the town didn't need to be so worried. But it was too long for most small business, who were forced to shut down and almost declare bankruptcy, including my parents. I remember that as one of the most stressful times of their lives.

I learnt a couple of lessons watching this:

  1. Speculation is bad for the economy. The steel mill never closed, but rumours that it might created so much uncertainty that many businesses were forced to close overnight.
  2. Putting all your eggs in one basket (in this case, opening a business in a town wholly dependent on one large business) is great when the going is good, but one day the rug will be pulled out from under you.

The rumours and speculation started the downfall, but my parents don't blame them - they recognise that they needed a backup plan.

Putting these lessons into context, here's what I think about the Windows 8 announcements:

  1. Microsoft's radio silence is creating some speculation that could put real people's jobs at risk.
  2. On the other hand, the people who's jobs are at risk are because they let themselves become wholly dependent on one stack, without a backup plan.
  3. Silverlight "chicken littles" are making the problem worse for themselves. By creating such a hullabaloo over the future of Silverlight, they're putting their own dumb selves out of business (you think your customers aren't looking at your Silverlight.net posts and deciding to go with Flash?) despite no announcements from Microsoft.

In politics I subscribe to the belief that the morals and values of the community should inform the government, not the other way around. When government is making decisions about what is good/not good for its citizens, it's described as a "nanny state".

In the Microsoft community, we seem to be in love with the "Nanny Stack". We expect Microsoft to decide whether the future is HTML or Silverlight. We expect Microsoft to have firm plans for the future, since most of us don't. And we blame Microsoft when they don't get their message 100% right.

As a community, we need to take more responsibility for our role in directing the future of the stack. Then we might learn not to put all of our eggs in one basket, and not let a little speculation destroy our businesses.

PS: Doesn't the Silverlight Open Plea remind you of the Save VB6 Petition?

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Paul Stovell's Blog

Hello, I'm Paul Stovell

I'm a Brisbane-based software developer, and founder of Octopus Deploy, a DevOps automation software company. This is my personal blog where I write about my journey with Octopus and software development.

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