Slack, Teams and the Failings of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP)

This is going to start of as a bit of a rant…. because it is – I’ve been building desktop and mobile applications using .NET since the first version of the .NET framework shipped many moons ago. In that time we’ve seen the rise and fall of various frameworks, patterns and technologies, all of which were supposed to make our lives as developers, designers and hopefully users better. Whilst the web seems to be this slowly devolving of JavaScript rot, you’d have thought that the .NET Framework after so many years would be everything that a developer needs in order to build amazing apps. Unfortunately, no, some idiot decided it would be great to run all that web-junk inside a native application.

This brings me to the heart of my rant: Depending on our customers and suppliers, we toggle between Microsoft Teams, Slack, Skype, Skype for Business (now mostly deprecated in favour of Teams), HipChat, Hangouts and even Messenger. Whilst we all love to complain about how bad Skype is, the reality is that newer tools such as Teams and Slack are even worse. Both Slack and Teams are built using Electron and as far as desktop applications go, they are both as nasty as each other. They’re both slow; the user interface on both is painful and in no way takes advantage of the fact that I’m running on Windows. The operative word being Windows <<<—it has an S. I have to switch between multiple Slack channels and multiple Teams on a daily basis – they’re all in the same window; switching between them is slow (10-20secs); and it’s hard to keep track of conversations because notifications either don’t work, or are buried behind a single dot (not even a count as to how many unread messages).

So why is it that things are so bad….. well it’s because the other options are no better. Take for instance the Universal Windows Platform – which is now only really Universal to desktop and Xbox because realistically they’re the only targets that you’ll consider (save some end cases for IoT and Hub). What a missed opportunity for Microsoft – they could have nuked the failed Xamarin Forms experiment in favour of extending UWP to really be the Universal Application Platform (UAP – oh wait, that’s the internal target framework for UWP already!!!); instead they’re sinking continued development effort into Xamarin Forms in the hope that it’ll one day be a viable alternative to Electron, Flutter, React Native….

Talking of Xamarin Forms, is this such a bad platform? Well no, I actually quite like Xamarin Forms and I’ve personally invested a lot of time recently trying to help MvvmCross get to a stable v6 so that it can better support Xamarin Forms development. However, I would say that if you’re building for Xamarin Forms and you’re not using a third party Mvvm framework, you really need to – Microsoft’s continual assertion that Xamarin Forms has everything you need is just plain misleading and just leads to poorly architected applications.

So, what is bad about Xamarin Forms? Well it’s hamstrung between at least three platforms (iOS, Android, Windows… Tizen, WPF….) in that they made a decision to rely on the native controls for each platform. React Native has a similar issue, since they decided on a similar approach. Flutter on the other hand has platform independent rendering and for that it’s getting a lot of attention. The design guidance from years ago that you should build for the platform UI is just plain wrong – you’ll end up with an application that just looks bad (lipstick on a pig!). You need to build applications that work for your brand – don’t design it multiple times, build it to suit your brand and your needs. You may decide to adopt some platform UX but the reality is that you want a button in your app to look the same on all platforms.

Anyhow, enough of a rant about the failings of desktop apps…. until next time, enjoy losing hours of your day to responding to messages on Teams, Slack etc

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