TIM FAULKNER — Just confess already. You don't have a clue about Adobe's new Apollo platform, nor about Silverlight, Microsoft's equivalent. You've read, in a crescendo of excitement, Michael Arrington (Here Comes Adobe Apollo ), Robert Scoble (Microsoft 'rebooted the Web' yesterday ) and Steve Gillmor (Today the Web woke up to a real story about itself ). And yet you still have no idea about Apollo and Silverlight. Runtimes for web-enabled rich-media cross-platform desktop applications? Don't pretend you know what I'm talking about. We're not going to explain, but here are a few talking points to bluff you through a geeky discussion.
1. Some history is always impressive. If the conversation starts with "RIAs/Desktop-based web apps are the future/the new web/the web rebooted/etc", remind them of the promises of Java in the early 90s or that Microsoft's original "Hailstorm" vision quickly fizzled after its announcement in 2001. That'll either shut them up or keep them talking for a while.
2. Show a flash of cynicism. If they want to debate the technical merits of the competing platforms, tell them: "They just want to own the tools so they can control the market for new software." This will either resonate with them, or they will proceed to debate the competing technologies for you.
3. Provoke them into taking a side if they haven't already. This should be easy enough. "What if Silverlight is just a trojan horse aimed at getting you addicted to Windows-only technology...?" or "Can Adobe really produce the developer tools necessary to fulfill this vision?" should suffice. Avoid taking a side yourself; simply probe with mild skepticism.
4. Take the contrarian view. Simply take the appropriate question from Step 3, and make it an affirmative statement. If the conversation dwindles (and you still want it to proceed) or if you really want to throw them for a loop, suggest that Sun's JavaFX has real merit.
5. The last resort. If the conversation still is not exhausted, raise the prospect that existing web technologies coupled with other browser or Operating System tools make a broad platform strategy unnecessary. This may get you into trouble if they need further explanation. Stick to your guns, and let them do the talking. Say: "you know what I mean" to keep them going. To end, "You're right, maybe this is big."
6. Blandness befuddles. Complete the conversation by saying: "the marketplace ultimately will be determined by the successful applications and web sites built with these platforms." Always a nugget. Get them imagining what they think is possible. People are always excited to share their ideas whether they are good, bad, impossible, or insane. If they don't have any, the conversation is over. Remember: you're just trying to outlast your interlocutor. They probably understand as little as you.