The Dashboard: Microsoft's Unhealthy Relationship With UWP Devs
There is little doubt Microsoft is a developer company. There is, however, serious doubt about Microsoft being a company which supports indie app developers. The demise of UWP and its confusing twists and turns is no secret and is now old news. As that news was bouncing around the Microsoft blogs, UWP developers’ dedication was being tested and even taunted.
Developers Are Now Partners
Access to the Microsoft Store for developers came through the Microsoft Developer Dashboard. This is where UWP creators could: submit their apps, read and respond to reviews, go through feedback, analyze data, and get paid. A year or more ago Microsoft rebranded the developer dashboard to the Partner Center and made it the hub for activities such as Windows Store apps, Cortana, and Cross-Device Experiences. All of which are different ways for developers to leverage Microsoft technology. So, the previous brand “Developer Dashboard” would have still fit.
No matter, with a new header and URL, the new “Partner Center” will be new and improved … right? Wrong. All the previous issues remain, and a few new ones got thrown in. App information such as crash data frequently would not be updated for a week or more and information such as how much money is being made would also be wrong for a couple weeks every month. From the first until the 16th when the payment would be sent to developers payment data was frozen.
Say Goodbye to Traditional PC Lifecycle Management
Traditional IT tools, including Microsoft SCCM, Ghost Solution Suite, and KACE, often require considerable custom configurations by T3 technicians (an expensive and often elusive IT resource) to enable management of a hybrid onsite + remote workforce. In many cases, even with the best resources, organizations are finding that these on-premise tools simply cannot support remote endpoints consistently and reliably due to infrastructure limitations.
The issues did not stop there. Nearly every part of the Partner Center would have stale data, laggy performance, confusing inconsistent UI, and the web page would frequently freeze. Quick graphs would greet developers and give an update on their app performance were a neat idea but had terrible execution. The colors frequently did not match the sentiment. For example, fewer crashes is good but the graph would be all red. Not to mention the mobile experience is riddled with the same issues and a few more for good measure.
It is hard to understand how the world’s most valuable company could build an experience so reliably bad. Microsoft is not just any large Fortune 100 company; they are a technically focused technology company. One major customer group of Microsoft is developers. Obviously wading through this garbage portal did not stop thousands of indie developers from targeting UWP but Microsoft was not done.
Dysfunction On Top of Dysfunction
Beginning around June, the payment system broke. With no warning or communication from Microsoft, payments froze and did not update for months. Eventually, a warning banner was added to the payout page explaining the data was old and a new experience was coming soon. This new payout system would not show the historic payout data from the old system so both would be accessible.
Unsurprisingly, no one from Microsoft ever signed their name to any error banner. Across the dozens of developer-focused blogs Microsoft failed to communicate their plan to their dedicated UWP developers. Still, as of writing this post, it is unclear what Microsoft plans to do with the UWP developers like myself who continue to write UWP apps for Windows 10.
Make no mistake, I am aware that UWP is ‘dead’ and Microsoft is not going to invest any more in this platform. Yet the individuals who still use Microsoft technology, tooling, APIs, and platform are extremely dedicated and talented. This crowd, while small, has stuck around and is actively using their skills to improve Windows by providing an ecosystem of apps, and with users numbering in the hundreds of millions, Windows still provides a good business opportunity for enterprising developers.
Not only are these crazy die-hard UWP developers dedicated to Windows, but they provide obvious spillover benefits to Microsoft in several ways. Most of the developers I connect with say the more they develop for the Microsoft platform the more likely they are likely to buy Surface hardware, play Xbox, use Office, and target Azure.
Most of these developers would like to be full time UWP developers but due to difficulty of making serious money with UWP, they all have day jobs. This means they are either Microsoft technology advocates within their companies, or they are building their skills to enter the technology workforce armed with Microsoft knowledge and tooling.
What Kind of End In Sight
Admittedly, Microsoft is at a crossroads when it comes to their developer story. With DotNet Core 3 around the corner and DotNet 5 on the horizon, Microsoft sees where they need to be. But as for today, Microsoft takes the shotgun approach. Embracing tried and true tech like WPF and WinForms while promoting Azure every chance they get. Talking about awesome upcoming projects like Blazor and even building the incredibly futuristic HoloLens.
Yet UWP is ignored and the silence is painful. Where should we go from here? How should we target Windows? What platform will be there in five years when we are still maintaining our niche apps? What tooling is best for us for CI/CD: AppCenter, Azure DevOps, or GitHub? Microsoft, do you have a plan for what will happen to UWP developers? Are you working on one?