Microsoft's Scott Guthrie on Silverlight and Windows Phone

This year’s MIX 2010 was led by Scott Guthrie, who has emerged from Microsoft’s rank and file to own just about everything developer-related. Where last year’s MIX and PDC conferences were spearheaded by Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, Guthrie’s keynote appearances focused on the progress Silverlight has made in driving the company’s 3 Screens and the Cloud approach to the disruptions going on in mobile, television, and the Web OS desktop. I spoke with Scott after his opening day keynote in Las Vegas:

Steve Gillmor: So, we’re here with Scott Guthrie, who the last time — well, the first time I saw you was at an offsite with Eric Rudder about 10 years ago.

Scott Guthrie: That was a long time ago.

Steve Gillmor: Yeah, and you were just — I don’t even think that — you were showing the ASP.NET development plug-in, wasn’t even part of Visual Studio at that point, and now you’ve basically taken over everything.

Scott Guthrie: Well, maybe not everything, but —

Steve Gillmor:
But, I mean, you know, going from that sort of — I mean, don’t you sometimes think about how — were you aware of what the potential of that particular strategy and that plug-in was at the time?

Scott Guthrie: Well, you know, it’s been fun — I mean, it’s been a fun ride the last couple of years in terms of we’ve seen as .NET’s matured, both on the server but also on the client, and with things like Silverlight, and then seeing Visual Studio really evolve the way it has. You know, where we’re at today with VS 2010, .NET 4, Silverlight 4, and ASP.NET compared to where we were 10 years ago, it does seem sometimes like a different world.

You know, the nice thing, there’s a lot of continuity over the last 10 years, and so the same code that worked 10 years ago still works today. To some extent I think we often think of it just sort of how do we fill in the story and how do we kind of continue to open up new opportunities.

I think today, especially with what we showed with the Windows Phone 7, you know, I think we got a lot of people excited about the possibilities that are provided with that, and it’s great that you can use Silverlight and .NET and the same set of skills and the same tools that you already know to target it.

You know, I think we wowed a lot of people that — with not just the, oh, I can use the same APIs for productivity but also the apps we showed I think people, you know, some people commented, you know, I want to reach out and lick them they looked so good. Hopefully that’s a testament to kind of what you can build and get people excited about.

Steve Gillmor: Well, the time, the speed of development is one of the things that you were pointing out. I was particularly impressed, surprisingly so, I must admit, with how Seesmic seemed to be sort of the heart of the demos. In its showing how you can go, Loic [Le Meur] made an investment in the Windows client, and then backwards leveraged it into the Silverlight client, and then opened up three platforms as a result. That’s pretty spectacular I thought.

Scott Guthrie:
Yeah, I think what we’re trying to do — I mean, ultimately what we’re trying to do is how do we enable developers to be successful on our platform using our tools, and a lot of the focus we’ve had around Silverlight has been primarily around consumer and then also last year more also in the business space where I think we’ve reached a tipping point where the value for companies being able to build an app and sell it or be able to make money is suddenly very compelling.

And I think both what Loic showed with Seesmic and then I think also the eBay app that was shown, that we’re really excited about, it was a great example of people are choosing it, because, wow, I can build an experience that my customers love, I can hit multiple devices, it runs on the PC and it can run on the Mac, it can run in the phone, and the user experience isn’t kind of a lowest common denominator but it’s kind of a wow experience on all the platforms.

You know, I think you’re going to see more and more developers get excited by that. If ultimately developers can build cool apps and make money off of them, you tend to get them interested.

Steve Gillmor: Yeah. I want to go back just for one more second to the original target. To me it’s ironic that ASP.NET was basically a runtime that came out of extending — I may be oversimplifying it here, but I’m going to try it anyway — that came out of extending the AJAX model, if you will, which was sort of born out of a desire to try and extend Exchange Web Services or Outlook Web Services and that whole timeframe. At some point, you and people at that time who were higher up than you were at the time, you’re pretty high up now, somebody made a decision that this was not just a hack but that this was something that you were going to basically turn the whole OS over to over time.

Scott Guthrie: Well, yeah, I mean, I think, you know, part of what we’ve tried to do with .NET from the beginning was how can you build kind of this runtime that was multiple languages, that allowed you to build all types of apps, server apps, client apps, mobile apps, and be able to get a rich development tool experience around them, and a lot of the original ASP.NET predated kind of AJAX, but a lot of our kind of focus —

Steve Gillmor: But it came out of that same sort of point in time where this was almost pre .NET as a matter of fact, wasn’t it?

Scott Guthrie: Well, ASP itself shipped with .NET for the first time, but we’ve kind of — we certainly have been focused on how do you build great apps, and we’ve tried to be very scenario focused both on the server with ASP.NET and obviously on the client as well, and tried to really work with customers and partners to figure out kind of, okay, what are the unique opportunities, what are the things that you’d find really compelling.

The great thing about an event like MIX is the fact that you get a chance not just to present to people, but more importantly get feedback, and walk the halls —

Steve Gillmor: What’s the feedback been?

Scott Guthrie:
As far as today it’s been great.

Steve Gillmor:
But specifically. I mean, what are the things that are interesting to you about the feedback that you’ve gotten so far?

Scott Guthrie:
I think — I think the thing that’s been probably the most gratifying to hear this week so far has been just the number of people that have moved from an evaluation phase to an actual I’m using it phase. So, it always amazes me when I talk to often enterprise customers, and really before Silverlight 4 we didn’t target enterprise business apps as our primary audience, and it’s amazing to hear a large company that sometimes might be conservative in their technology things say, oh, we’ve moved way past evaluating, we’re actually —

Steve Gillmor:
But the trusted aspect of the new —

Scott Guthrie: Yeah, the out of browser capabilities, and the ability to kind of reach outside the sandbox, we’re just starting to see a lot of companies start to adopt that. They like the fact that it’s easy to deploy, they like the capabilities, and it’s great having people come up to me during the event and say, hey, I want to show you a demo of something I built, and this is not just sort of like a little simple thing, these are big apps that people have built.

And I think Loic onstage with Seesmic, that’s not just a client for listening to Twitter or Facebook. You know, he’s built a whole ecosystem around that.

And likewise I think the eBay app that’s going to go live shortly is a great example of a really rich app that is going to be touched by millions of people.

So, that’s the thing that’s most gratifying here, and I think it’s still early, it’s only been a couple hours since the keynote, but I think the feedback on the phone work that we showed has been phenomenal.

Steve Gillmor: Let’s pin down a couple things. I detected a slight messaging, the lack of some words around the phone implementation. Is that Silverlight 4?

Scott Guthrie: That’s a good question. No, it is Silverlight. So, it isn’t Silverlight light or Silverlight something else. It is Silverlight.

Steve Gillmor: Right, well, you said that onstage.

Scott Guthrie: Yeah, right now the bits that we ship today have all the features of Silverlight 3, and about half the features of Silverlight 4 are already in it. So, once Silverlight 4 ships, we’ll then go ahead and obviously put the rest of the features in.

Steve Gillmor: So, you mean in a month we’ll see an upgrade to —

Scott Guthrie:
It probably won’t be in a month but it won’t be too far off.

Steve Gillmor: But you’re not really committing to when the phone is going to be shipping anyway, right?

Scott Guthrie: We’re not right now committing to when the phone ships, but certainly with each update of the phone it will have the most recent version of Silverlight.

Steve Gillmor: And is Silverlight used in the marketplace?

Scott Guthrie: The marketplace app, I’m not actually sure if it uses Silverlight or not. You can certainly put Silverlight apps as opposed to XNA apps in the marketplace. In fact, it’s the only type of app you can put in the marketplace.

In terms of the video we showed, I don’t know exactly what the marketplace team used to build that, but they might have used Silverlight. I’m not 100 percent sure.

Certainly some of the applets that are included are built with Silverlight, and pretty much all of the — every app that we showed today in the keynote, with the exception of the games, was all Silverlight. So, the Netflix app, the Associated Press app, the diary app, Four Square, Seesmic, Shazam, Major League Soccer, the cannon demo and the Marionette app, those were all built in Silverlight.

Steve Gillmor: So, why is there this sort of fork between XNA and Silverlight? What’s that about?

Scott Guthrie:
I wouldn’t have said it — I wouldn’t say it’s a fork. You can use the same language. XNA is built on .NET. So, you can use C#, you’d be able to use VB for both of them.

Kind of the UI mechanics of a game, in particular kind of a high performance 3D game, are typically different than what an application has. It’s much more about being able to create composite assets and be able to kind of quickly draw them to the screen. You will see the ability to have apps that use both Silverlight and XNA UI within them in the not-too-distant future.

But, yeah, there’s a huge ecosystem built up around XNA, and likewise around Silverlight, and so we want to make sure both work great. We typically think it’s a fairly straightforward decision as to whether you use one or the other. If you’re building an app, it’s Silverlight. If it’s a casual game, then, yeah, you could write it in either Silverlight or XNA.

Steve Gillmor: Can you load one into the other?

Scott Guthrie:
Not with today’s build, but that is something that we’ll enable in the near future. And so you could have some UI built with Silverlight and some with XNA.

Steve Gillmor: So, for the free apps, development apps that you’re releasing today, that Expression and Visual Studio, you can build in one and then move it to the other project, right?

Scott Guthrie: Yeah. So, we announced today that we’re shipping Visual Studio 2010 for Windows Phone development Express for free, and then also the Expression Blend for phone also for free. And that’s not just for today but free forever.

And what’s nice about them is one is more focused on developers, one is more focused on both designers and what we call interactive developers. They share the same project system. So, if you create a project in one, you can open the other and vice versa, and you can actually have both tools open and working in the same —

Steve Gillmor: And they’ll stay synched?

Scott Guthrie: Yeah. Yep.

Steve Gillmor:
And they don’t go out of synch in one direction?

Scott Guthrie: No. You can even have them both in the same source control project, and you can even have them both literally opening the same project at the same time, and just flip between them. So, they’ve really been designed to kind of work well together.

Yeah, the nice thing is I think people, basically the reactions of the audience were pretty pumped up after seeing my coding demo and then John’s blend demo, and I think maybe we got credibility immediately after that of like, okay, these are the richest mobile development tools out there, and then be able to announce, oh, by the way, we’re making them free, I think took a lot of people by surprise.

Steve Gillmor: All right, so that’s a good lead into this line of questioning. And you may consult your attorney if you’d like.

I don’t know if it was actually shown, but I was shown the night before the demo at PDC, I think Brian Goldfarb showed me the ability to be able to create something using the IIS Media Server. This was the new build of it, or at least it was new at the time, and be able to click a checkbox and be able to send it to the iPhone.

It seems to me, based on the fact that you’ve released these incredible powerful tools, that you have an opportunity to get at the head of the development chain for applications that not only will run on the Windows phone system, but also on the iPhone. There’s a fair amount of black helicopter strategy that would have to be discussed in order to figure out how you would get the UI to come over, not just the ability to be able to push video. But in general, I mean, you showed Netflix, you showed applications that export video. Does it seem interesting to you to do something — the analogy would be what Adobe has done in announcing — I don’t know if they’ve actually shipped anything, but announcing basically a recompiler or a converter for creating Flash apps and then moving them over to the iPhone. Of course, they have to because Apple won’t put their runtime — as far as I know, they won’t put your runtime on it either on the iPhone. Is that true, number one?

Scott Guthrie: Well, yeah, there’s a couple different aspects. I mean, one is that we showed it at the PDC last November, and that we’ll ship later this year is the ability for our streaming server to basically stream in a format that the iPhone natively consumes. So, that means you can build a Web page with a video tag on the iPhone, point it at a URL on our server, and we can automatically — it’s called (trans-moxing ?) our Smooth Streaming video format to the one that plays in the Apple player. So, you can get a very seamless video player right in your Web page. And if you go to with your iPhone today you can try it out and actually see it working.

And what’s nice about that is it doesn’t require any custom software to be installed on the iPhone, it just works out of the box.

Steve Gillmor: It leverages the H.264 codec.

Scott Guthrie: Yeah, both the H.264 codec and then also the built-in streaming support that Apple supports.

And so, yes, you will definitely see us continue to ship that, and that means that you can encode your streams once, play them on a Mac, a PC, using Silverlight on the desktop, you can play it on an iPhone, and obviously, like we showed in the keynote today, you can play it on a Windows Phone 7 device.

We also today shipped Silverlight for Symbian, which is for Nokia-based devices, and so you can also stream that to Nokia phones.

Steve Gillmor: Well, I find that less interesting than other possible ports like Android.

Scott Guthrie: Well, it’s nice to ship bits. Those bits are available for download now, so you can use them.

In terms of say iPhone specific —

Steve Gillmor: In terms of like a UI recompiler.

Scott Guthrie: I think it’s still a little early in the mobile space. I think one of the things that would be interesting to see, and I think we showed this a lot today, and I think Apple has shown it successfully in the past, is, you know, especially for a consumer device having a UI that performs consistently with a consistent set of metaphors is important. And I think Joe really demonstrated that in his talks and in the apps that we showed where they look the same, they feel the same, and specifically with something like Windows Phone 7 there’s just a notion of motion and fluidity that if you look at other phones, you even look at previous versions of Windows Phones in particular, but you look at Android, you look at other devices, they don’t work that way.

Likewise I think the iPhone has been very successful in terms of having a common set of controls and metaphors to program against. We’ll have to see whether or not if you have an app that looks different than the rest of that, you can certainly port it, but it would be interesting to see kind of what consumers think about that. Forget app stores and things like that, but just sort of if it feels out of place, do people care about it?

There is a way today on the iPhone to use it in a product called Mono Touch that Novell builds, where you can use .NET for all your logic, and then they support the ability to have — to use the standard Apple controls and the standard interface —

Steve Gillmor: Right, which is Miguel [de Icaza]’s project.

Scott Guthrie: Yeah, Miguel’s project.

And so we’ve seen a lot of customers be very successful with that. And so certainly with the announcements we’ve made today you could absolutely reuse the same logic of your app in the iPhone and Windows Mobile Phone 7, and have them different skinned.

Right now we don’t have any plans or anything to announce in terms of Silverlight running on that particular device. Instead we’re spending all of our time really focusing — not all of it but really focusing hard on how do we enable you to build these kind of next generation Windows Phone apps that really take advantage of a lot of the new interface and the hardware acceleration that we showed off. If other people, you know, like Miguel’s project, want to be able to enable that kind of portability, that’s great.

Steve Gillmor: But there wouldn’t be any kind of plug-in into Visual Studio, which would allow you to take advantage of all the work that you’ve done in terms of a Silverlight development environment?

Scott Guthrie: Well, we certainly have our plug-in that works for both Windows Phone 7 and Nokia devices. We don’t right now have any plug-ins or plans that we’ve announced in terms of others, but certainly Visual Studio itself is very pluggable, so anyone could build that plug-in. But right now in terms of what we’re shipping this week, it’s focused pretty much on Windows Phone 7.

Steve Gillmor: Forgive me if I’ve misremembered this, but isn’t there an Eclipse plug-in as well?

Scott Guthrie: Yeah, there’s a full Eclipse tooling support for Silverlight that another company has done, and it’s free. And I think it works both on the PC and the Mac, and so you get standard — I think it’s a design surface, Intellisense and debugging support, all with the Silverlight.

So, yeah, certainly we’re not making any statement around you need to exclusively use VS —

Steve Gillmor: But why not, since it’s free and extremely powerful?

Scott Guthrie: Yeah, I’d love everyone to say I just want to use VS but —

Steve Gillmor: But it doesn’t run on the Mac, right? That’s only a Windows —

Scott Guthrie: Correct, yeah. I mean, Visual Studio today or Visual Studio only works on Windows.

Steve Gillmor: Any plans for Visual Studio built on Silverlight?

Scott Guthrie: No. No, not right now. The new VS 2010 is built on WPF, which is sort of Silverlight’s big brother, so to speak, and shares the same programming model as Silverlight. And I think we’re getting really great feedback now on the VS 2010 RC, be shipping that next month. And so that’s allowed us to do a lot more within the IDE. We don’t have any plans to rebuild VS on top of Silverlight. You know, we’re pretty happy with the version we have that works on WPF.

The nice thing is because the code between Silverlight and WPF is highly portable, we are able to move features around that way, but in terms of what VS 2010 supports, it’s a pretty rich app that really takes full advantage of WPF.

Steve Gillmor: Well, at the PDC we had a lunch with Ray and Bob in which someone asked the question about why don’t you rename WPF, and Ray sort of under his breath said, sure, just call it Silverlight. And Bob looked at him like, you know, this might be a little soon for that was the kind of expression. But I think that it speaks to how far — you call WPF the big brother, but increasingly it’s difficult to tell where one leaves off and the other begins, and what you really have with Silverlight increasingly is a Web operating system.

Scott Guthrie:
It’s certainly our — you know, when we first announced Silverlight, kind of the positioning of it and then also just the technical details of it, we’ve kind of wanted to make sure it wasn’t different than WPF, it was going to be a subset of WPF, but we wanted to make sure it wasn’t a different subset. And each release of both WPF and Silverlight, you know, any new feature we added into Silverlight we made sure was in WPF, and likewise the new features we added in WPF we brought into Silverlight.

So, you have definitely seen these kind of technically converge, which is a good thing, and —

Steve Gillmor: And when you add the phone into the mix, and when you bring those two up, the phone and the Windows and Mac Silverlight versions up to the same code base — not the same code, but effectively Silverlight 4, as you said, will happen shortly, that’s going to tend to again start to minimize the differences between and OS that’s designed for the desktop and the much broader audience that’s now emerging.

Scott Guthrie: Yeah, and I think Loic kind of really — what he’s doing with Seesmic is just a great example of that where at the end of the day it really is for developers the two things that get them excited are — well, three things — one, can I build it, build a really exciting app that’s cool. Two, can I make money from that app, whether it’s advertising, whether it’s subscription, whether it’s purchasing. And three, how easy or painful is it to build those?

I think Seesmic is a great example of they’re able to build incredibly cool apps really, really fast, reuse the code across multiple devices, and ultimately are going to be able to monetize that really well.

So, I think there’s going to be a lot more success stories like Seesmic that we’re going to be able to point to in the months and years ahead. You know what’s great about attending MIX is you start to hear about these stories, you know, some big, some small, and it’s fun to see.

Steve Gillmor: All right, so last question. If you had some time with Steve, and I’m sure you do from time to time, Steve Ballmer, what would you say to them about what’s gone right here, and how that might affect decisions made in the future, like, for example, moving toward a version of Office on Silverlight, et cetera?

Scott Guthrie:
Well, I think the things that we showed today, you know, I think the thing that when you step back and look at today, I think what we showed in the keynote, you know, I think we showed to some extent two or three things that were kind of profound. One was just how kind of how you can marshal a bunch of resources from around the company to really build something that is greater than the sum of the parts in the sense of we showed off Zune integration, we showed off Silverlight integration with dev tools targeting our phone platform, we showed off Xbox integration so that the games could integrate with Xbox avatars and gamer tags and achievement points, we showed off Outlook and e-mail access and calendaring access with a whole bunch of cool features on the phone. This is all about the phone.

And just you go down the litany of the number of scenarios that I think were unique that we were able to kind of connect in a way that consumers really like, and the number of kind of divisions and different groups that we were able to kind of collaborate on to build this kind of experience, and I think that is a — it might look easy sometimes but getting that many teams all aligned around a common vision and something that consumers really love, you know, I think is a great testament.

I think the other thing that I’d say that I feel like went really well was just people were excited. You know, the number of people who told me I want that phone, you know, is pretty cool, and I think the work that the Windows Phone team has done over the last year, some of the work that my team has helped with in terms of Silverlight and the tooling from it, you know, it’s kind of fun to feel like we’re really pushing the envelope in terms of not just what we’ve done in the past but more importantly from the phone industry in general.

And there’s still a lot more work to do. I definitely would not call it done. But it’s exciting to be able to ship the tools today and put them in hopefully millions of developers’ hands and see what they build with it, because I think there’s a lot of power there, there’s a lot of interconnected scenarios that provide huge opportunities for developers everywhere to light up, and I think consumers are going to love it.

Steve Gillmor: But you didn’t answer my question about Silverlight Office.

Scott Guthrie:
Well, the new version of Office, 14 —

Steve Gillmor: It uses it a little bit.

Scott Guthrie: Yeah, it does use Silverlight, yeah.

Steve Gillmor: Do you think that it would be good to say to Steve, you know, we need to be more aggressive with this?

Scott Guthrie: Well, you know, in general I’d say I think the most important thing — and again I think the thing that we showed a little bit today is how do you make sure you’re consumer focused and scenario focused, because ultimately the things that get people excited, and frankly the things that sell products are if you can demonstrate value and uniqueness and get people excited. So, you know, I selfishly think, hey, Silverlight lets you do that, and for a variety of cool scenarios.

Steve Gillmor: What would a scenario be around Office?

Scott Guthrie: Well, I mean, I think some of the things that they’ve done with the Office Web companions in terms of light-up. You know, there’s the PowerPoint support or whether it’s the Word editing support. Ultimately my mom or my sister doesn’t really care what it’s implemented in, but the fact that that app is richer than what she might be able to see somewhere else is compelling.

I think likewise today — you know, Joe I think did a good job. We kind of went back and forth in rehearsals of how much does he call out the technology. In his segment he really focused on the user experience. The user experience, the users don’t care what it’s written in, they care that the motion is fluid, the UI is slick, there’s no jerkiness, it’s just smooth, crystal clear, polished.

Steve Gillmor: But the impact, the cumulative impact of seeing how those user experiences can be developed with an intuitive tool, that’s very impressive I would —

Scott Guthrie: Yeah, and certainly the technology does matter, but the thing I think we’ve learned, and we’re going to make sure we stay focused on is, okay, what’s the end user value, what’s the scenario that’s really going to make people go, I want that. To the extent which, you know, you use Silverlight to do that or you use HTML or you use Win32 or you use COBOL, pick whatever technology —

Steve Gillmor: Yeah, I’m going to bet more on the Silverlight than the COBOL.

Scott Guthrie:
Yeah, certainly that’s where we’re investing, but —

Steve Gillmor: I want that COBOL phone. (Laughter.)

Scott Guthrie:
That will sell well.

But that’s kind of really where we’re focusing on is how do we just nail that scenario, and really get people, the end users excited with it, and I think that was the nice thing about the day’s demos. You know, people more than just knowing like, ooh, Smooth Streaming is enabled on the phone with Silverlight. If you showed Netflix, and you say, oh wow, look, here’s a prototype where I can do instant watch streaming, that’s cool. Oh, I can do Four Square. Okay, I can do that in other platforms, but look, the map is integrated directly within the application, and it’s all seamless and I don’t have to navigate. Or the AP app in terms of gliding through lists of data and seeing the story with photographs in the background and Swivel 3D for the photos. You know, that’s the thing that I think gets people excited, and the fact that it’s really easy to build all those things and that all those apps were built in under three weeks, that’s the thing that will get the developers here excited, but I think it’s important to make sure you keep the consumer first in the center whenever you’re trying to build a client.

Steve Gillmor: Well, you did a nice job of summarizing the keynote today.

Scott Guthrie: I tried, yeah.

Steve Gillmor: Thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Scott Guthrie: Cool. Thanks, Steve.

[Transcript courtesy Waggener Edstrom]