Looking back on "going native" – why I decided to think inside the Microsoft box
I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot recently, with the rather spurious Google privacy policies, and new versions of Chrome / FireFox / Opera popping up every few weeks.. I am looking back on over 12 months of “going native”. By this I mean I have been using nothing but Microsoft technologies for all my core working functions;
- Internet Explorer (no add-ins)
- Bing Search
- No Visual Studio extensions
- Windows Phone 7
And so far .. I am absolutely loving it!
It all started with Bing and Windows Phone 7 …
This really started back in early 2011 when Bing was actually starting to come good. Their mapping service was getting some good reviews, I knew from various Microsoft events that their Search engine had undergone a pretty thorough overhaul from its early days, and I had also recently gotten myself a new (at the time) Windows Phone 7.
The default search engine for this was Bing, and I admit .. I was a very hardened Google search kinda person. I had it as my home page, I used iGoogle, and I had been doing so since its early days in 1999 (when I started at University). So I was more than a little irked to find that in Windows Phone 7 I couldn’t actually change the default search provider (like I had done with each new install of FireFox .. my default browser at the time).
This made me think;
Why do I use Google Search? Is it because it is better, or is it just because it is “what I’ve always done”?
So .. instead of installing one of the half-dozen (slightly dodgy looking) free Google apps on the marketplace, I decided to just start using Bing on a daily basis to see if I could change my habits.
Disclaimer .. I will admit I also have ulterior motives for this. I have spent the past 8 years working for Microsoft Partner firms and (as you can tell from my blog) my day-to-day working life is very heavily Microsoft influenced … so following the “all in” mantra I wanted to see if I could practice what I preach and basically use nothing but Microsoft for a while to see if there was anything lacking.
So anyway .. I started using Bing search .. and you know what? It is actually pretty damned good! I am a pretty heavy user of search (I must use browser based searching at least 10 times every day .. and on heavy days I can be looking for stuff several times an hour). This can be anything from searching for blog posts and technical articles, to using it for a quick-reference for MSDN and finding class library references when coding.
In a six month period I only felt the need to return to Google search twice, and both times I couldn’t find what I was looking for on Google either!
So I ended up pretty much converted overnight. I even started correcting people when they were suggesting a search; they said “Google it” and I said “no, Bing it instead!” (muscle memory is by far the hardest part of change!).
… what came before, is, and shall be again … moving to Internet Explorer …
So next up was the internet browser.. like I said, I was a big FireFox fan and I used to regularly install a whole raft of plug-ins and addons (including custom themes .. the whole works .. yeh, a proper geek-job!). Before that I was (in my youthful ignorance at school) a user of IE (back in the days of IE5, IE5.5 and IE6) .. so it was interesting that this has ended up going full-circle!
For those who don’t know me very well my job also involves a fair bit of client-site work, and quite a lot of the time they will give me a corporate workstation with their own corporate build (which by default was almost always IE8 and IE9). I was also in the habit of re-installing / optimising my own personal laptop as well and was getting pretty fed up of having to install a new browser and a bunch of add-ons every time I setup a new machine (which including all of the client workstations and virtual machines I was given .. this was almost every 2 weeks at one point!).
So I actually un-installed FireFox (to force myself to use IE). This actually worked out quite well because the locked-down corporate workstations were all using IE as well (like I said .. I work in the Microsoft space so they were all usually standard Windows build machines).
A few weeks of painful “argh .. where has that button gone?” moments went past .. and then, I started to realise with a bit of shock, I actually quite liked it!
My RSS driven drop-down favourites worked just as well as they did in FireFox, the pop-up blocker, InPrivate Browsing, page compatibility mode and built in DOM inspector were doing the job for me functionally, and the search (which defaults to Bing .. which was another win from my earlier switch )
Here I am 12 months later, rocking on with IE9 and looking forward to getting IE10 on my machine. The browser still seems really quick (although I’m sure having a fast laptop with tonnes of RAM helps!) and honestly I’ve found that pretty much every single website I visit works perfectly well, first time and every time!
… if you can build it, then you don’t need them to come .. Visual Studio …
Well .. by this time I was well on my way. I was now using exlusively Internet Explorer for my day-to-day work, my search engine was Bing, I was using Bing Maps (on both desktop and my phone) and life was pretty good. Every single new laptop or server I logged onto was already setup exactly how I wanted it to be (i.e. pretty much the default settings).
So I started looking at what else I was using. Visual Studio was a big one, which typically gets bolted on with all sorts of “productivity enhancement” tools (such as Re-Sharper typically being one of my default addins for a couple of years). So I wanted to try coding without this installed!
Now … I have to admit, I’ve never been totally sold on the value of Re-Sharper, but perhaps that harks back to the days of building SharePoint 2003 solutions pretty much in NotePad, creating DDF files and using batch scripts with MakeCAB commands to generate the WSP files. One of my internal concerns about everything being automated for you is that you tend to forget how things work, and why you are doing them in a certain way (but hey .. faster, more consistent development is good for the industry in other ways too).
Again … I found I was suprised by what you can actually achieve out of the box (especially with Visual Studio 2010). I perhaps found I was relying on add-on tools to do things that had been added to the core product over time, but I never realised (such as Ctrl-M, R to refactor code into a method). Sure .. there are a few small things I miss (like removing redundant “USING” statements in C#) but generally speaking 99% of my coding life I can achieve just as fast but using OOTB tools.
Again, when I move between client-site development teams this has been extremely useful. My Muscle memory has now been trained to Visual Studio 2010 in its “native” mode .. so I don’t have any of those “oops, I pressed the wrong key” moments in my first few weeks of development, which has been really nice
.. finding the time to think inside the box ..
So .. all in all a great experience, and I have to admit I feel really good that I can honestly champion Microsoft technology to my clients having been “dog-fooding” the self-same technology myself.
I now also use SkyDrive (with LiveMesh) and Office 365 for all my for my cloud needs (one for personal, one for business) although I’ll be writing another blog post about that another time.
I have found myself more and more looking at the other tools I use and finding out what “off the shelf” solutions I can use instead … I have started using Microsoft OneNote more and more (and my favourite function is Win+S to open up a “screen clipping” tool so you can copy select parts of the screen into the clipboard .. it may seem basic but I used to have another 3rd party tool to do that kind of thing).
Do I still have other kit installed? Sure I do .. I still have Chrome, Opera, Safari and FireFox (hey .. I do web development, it would be criminal if I ignored them completely!) and I do occasionally go back to Google search, or Yahoo / Ask just to find out if they are doing things differently.
But for now .. life is good … life is OOTB!