Microsoft Data Chief Stepping Down

Mary Jo Foley is reporting that  Microsoft Corporate Vice President Ted Kummert is stepping down as of Jan. 31. Kummert was the head of Microsoft's Data Platform Group (DPG), and in this role, as Foley writes, he's the leading visionary for "SQL Server, SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse, Windows Azure Data Services, Windows Embedded and Microsoft's business intelligence and big data offerings."

What does the mean for the future of Microsoft's data initiatives? It's impossible to tell as of now, of course. But it is another high-level loss for Redmond, which has seen its share of defections over the past several years.

At least Kummert wasn't directly in the DevDivision, like the recently-departed Jason Zander, and less-recently-departed but still-missed Scott Guthrie. And don't forget the loss of Big Cheese Steven Sinofsky, just after Windows 8 was released.

Whew. That's a lot of brainpower gone. Microsoft will do what it's always done: carry on and find (hopefully) capable replacements. But with Microsoft's increasing presence in Big Data, the timing isn't great. I think this will become a key growth area for the company going forward, and Kummert's decision to leave could slow things down a bit.

Posted by Keith Ward on 01/25/2013 at 1:15 PM1 comments


Microsoft Unveils a New F# Learning Site

Microsoft has released a new version of its Web site to get developers up to speed on its F# programming language.

To put it in highly technical terms, F# is used for big stuff: huge number crunching, statistics, cloud computing-type scenarios, etc. Here's how Microsoft described the new site in a press release:

"Try F# provides the tutorials, resources and tools needed to begin working with F# right away. This version allows easy learning of the fundamentals of F# through new domain-specific tutorials, and now includes F# 3.0 type providers for information-rich programming and the important abilities to write and share your own F# code in the browser."

F# can be daunting, but it could save you a lot of time for the right project. It's worth checking out, as are these F# articles from our site.

Visual Studio Magazine F# Resources:

Posted by Keith Ward on 01/22/2013 at 1:15 PM3 comments


Should Windows Phone Developers Target Both 7 and 8?

What to do about Windows Phone 7? That's a question developers working on the Windows Phone platform are likely asking themselves. They fall into one of two camps:

  • They have an existing app on Windows Phone 7 and want to tweak it to work with Windows Phone 8
  • They skipped Windows Phone 7 for Windows Phone 8, and have published an app or are currently building one.

If that's you, Microsoft is providing guidance on how to handle the Windows Phone 7 installed base. It comes via a blog posting from Bernardo Zamora. Zamora says if you have a Windows Phone 7 app and want Windows Phone 8 users to be able to use it without upgrading the app itself for Windows Phone 8, you don't need to do anything, since Windows Phone 8 users will see your app (he does recommend, however, testing your app in a Windows Phone 8 emulator to make sure nothing is amiss).

If you want to upgrade a Windows Phone 7 app to Windows Phone 8, it shouldn't be that difficult. The drawback, however, is that Windows Phone 7 users won't be able to see it. How much that potentially affects downloads is an open question, since Windows Phone 7 didn't exactly set the world on fire.

Another possible course is to create a second copy of your XAP, upgrade it to Windows Phone 8, and keep (and maintain, of course) both copies of your app. That would keep the Windows Phone 7 owners happy, as well as your Windows Phone 8 users. You may not be as happy, though, with the additional creation and maintenance work.

In the blog post, Microsoft gives specifics on how to do each of these things. One important point to note is that if you're creating a new app from scratch, use the latest version of the SDK and compile to Windows Phone 7, rather than Windows Phone 8, to make the app available to both Windows Phone versions.

Simple, right?

Posted by Keith Ward on 01/16/2013 at 1:15 PM2 comments


Visual Studio 2012 RC to Expire Jan. 15

If you're using the release candidate version of Visual Studio 2012, you have one day to come up with an alternative plan.

Starting tomorrow, Jan. 15, your copy of Visual Studio goes kaput. Sayonra. Buh-bye. And there are no workarounds to keep it running, according to Microsoft's Brian Harry, who wanted to soothe the souls of those developers who have been asking him about the looming expiration date for the RC.

The only option, Harry writes, is to upgrade to the final release build; the expiration can't be extended. How do you know if you're still on an RC? Harry explains: "You can tell if you have a release candidate build by looking at the version number and look for “RCRel” – like “Version 11.0.50522.01 RCRel”.

The top option for continuing to use VS 2012, in Microsoft's opinion? Not surprisingly, it's to buy it. But if you're cash-poor at the moment, you can install the trial edition of VS2012, which will give you 90 days more without paying.

VS 2012 is a worthy upgrade, and I'd call it essential if you want to build mobile apps using .NET technologies. Keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to spring for the retail version.

Posted by Keith Ward on 01/14/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Microsoft: 40 Million Windows 8 Licenses

If developers are looking for a reason to create apps for Windows 8, Microsoft gave them another one today, when the company announced that it's sold 40 million licenses for its newest operating system.

Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc spread the word on the Windows blog, stating that Tami Reller detailed the numbers at the Credit Suisse 2012 Annual Technology Conference.

That 40 million number, of course, doesn't represent the number of users using Windows 8; it typically includes the licenses bought by Microsoft's army of OEM partners, who are loading it onto their hardware. Still, it's a big, big number, especially for an OS that still has the new-car smell. That translates into a user base, which translates into potential customers for Windows 8 applications. That would naturally spur the developer community to create those apps.

LeBlanc also stated that the number of apps in the Windows Store has doubled since its launch. He added that the Store had more apps in its store at launch "than any other app store at their launch", which sounds great until you notice that he didn't give any hard numbers on how many apps.

Estimates are available, however. The site WinAppUpdate, which tracks apps in the Windows store, said there were just over 9,000 apps in the store at launch, with about 500 being added daily. Those are the latest figures I've seen.

I reported last month that a Microsoft executive listed a goal of 100,000 Windows Store apps by Jan. 26, 90 days after Windows 8's launch. We're now about a month out, and if WinAppUpdate's numbers have remained consistent, that would mean there are approximately 25,000 apps in the store now, with two months to go. That would mean Microsoft's target is unlikely to be hit, especially since the upcoming holidays may slow down developers.

Still, if there were 50,000-plus apps in Windows Store by late January, that's an impressive number. It's also a strong ecosystem, another key factor in wooing developers.

I'll be interested in seeing when Microsoft releases Windows Store app figures; in the meantime, the combination of Windows 8 licenses and growing Windows 8 app ecosystem are good signs for developers considering the new platform.

Posted by Keith Ward on 11/28/2012 at 1:15 PM1 comments


Of Windows Phone 8 and Blue T-Shirts

I buy all my phones at my local AT&T store. Since I live in the sticks, the store serves as a pretty good test case for how well Microsoft is pushing its products. This includes perhaps the most important factor in moving new, non-iPhone or -Android phones: educating salespeople to understand how to differentiate Windows Phone 8 from the competition, and interest consumers into at least considering the platform.

If, for example, Windows Phone 8 has very few models available, or they're tucked away in back of the store, that's a sure sign to potential buyers that it's not a choice they need to take seriously. That's what happened, in fact, with Windows Phone 7 in my local store. So I was interested to see what was happening with Windows Phone 8 when I went in last week -- coincidentally, the kickoff of the crucial holiday shopping period.

When I went in, the first thing I saw was a salesman I've bought a number of phones from. He was wearing a light blue Windows Phone 8 t-shirt, sporting the new Windows logo. That was my first signal that this is a serious push by Redmond. After all, when a potential customer sees that, curiosity is naturally piqued. I'd imagine that many folks have no idea that Microsoft even makes a Windows smartphone. And that gets the conversation rolling.

There was also a strong lineup of Windows Phone 8 devices, at the front of the store -- in other words, right where folks will be browsing. They were next to a display of Android phones, showing in stark contrast the differing UIs. Again, more reasons for consumers to try them out or ask questions of the sales staff.

My salesman knew his stuff when questioned, too. He knew Windows Phone 8's strengths and weaknesses compared to both Android and the iPhone. He presented Windows Phone as a real alternative to the Big Dogs, not as some cur unworthy of mention.

I asked him how Windows Phone is selling in his store. He didn't have specific numbers, but said it's been selling well. Customers are interested, he said, and have been checking it out, even the ones who aren't buying.

Of course, a one-store anecdote isn't representative of how things are going nationwide. But if my experience is being replicated in enough other places, Microsoft might just have something here.

Posted by Keith Ward on 11/27/2012 at 1:15 PM4 comments


Microsoft Releases SkyDrive SDKs for .NET, Windows Phone 8

Microsoft's making a huge push for its SkyDrive cloud data service. It makes sense, since a cloud backend is critical in the consumer space where customers are used to, for instance, Apple's iCloud service. If Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are going to compete with iOS and Android, as Redmond hopes, then SkyDrive needs to be as useful as possible.

Toward that end, Microsoft today announced new SkyDrive SDKs for .NET and Windows Phone 8. The post, by Omar Shahine, explains the need for the new tools:

"Since we first introduced our SDKs, we have seen a lot of developers ask for a .NET library that would work for both client desktop apps and ASP.NET applications. With this release you can now create applications that target traditional desktop scenarios and as well as server side scenarios."

There are two versions of the .NET SDK: client and server. The client SDK enables developers to build console, Windows Form or Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) applications for end users, to help them better integrate SkyDrive with their daily tasks.

The server version is more about building ASP.NET Web sites and Web server components. The post even contains a code snippet showing how to retrieve SkyDrive data from a server .NET application.

As for the Windows Phone 8 SDK, it leverages one of the phone's best new features -- the new Task<T> async pattern and dynamic keyword. "With this you can easily move your code between your Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 application," writes Shahine. He then includes a code snippet showing how to do this, as well.

The SDKs are available from the developer portal, or via NuGet from within Visual Studio.

Posted by Keith Ward on 11/16/2012 at 1:15 PM2 comments


What C++ Means to Windows Phone 8

What's your favorite thing about developing for Windows Phone 8? Is it the new CoreCLR that replaces the .NET Compact Framework, providing unity across both the smartphone and Windows 8 tablet platforms? Is it the inclusion of the async programming model? Maybe the code generation that now happens in the Windows Store cloud, speeding up app delivery by, potentially, a lot? The fact that the annoying SDK delay is finally over?

For developer Bill Reiss, it's none of the above. He has an interesting blog entry on his site about the most exciting thing for him when it comes to building apps for Windows Phone 8: it's the fact that devs can now code natively in C++. He writes:

"...I really think that the changes made in Windows Phone 8, especially the ability to write apps and games in C++ makes a huge difference, and now I think you will see Windows Phone be a first class citizen with developers because they won't have to do nearly as much to support the Windows Phone platform."

It's an important point to make, I believe. The first priority for Windows Phone 8 is to have a great, user-friendly OS that's differentiated from the competition, meaning Android and iPhone.

Check.

Windows Phone 8 looks, feels, and is completely different from its rivals. Next up comes the app ecosystem. If developers aren't creating apps that take advantage of these differences, it won't matter a lick if it's the greatest thing since the first hyperlink was clicked on -- consumers will ignore it and it becomes the next Palm Pre.

Now, I don't expect developers to migrate to C++ in droves -- most of you are C# and VB devotees, and with good reason. However, now that the option exists to use C++ for Windows Phone 8, those with specific needs for the kind of performance and scalability offered by native apps, and the skills to code it, can do so.

For instance, game developers will certainly take a long, hard look at Windows Phone 8, maybe in a way they wouldn't have before. And it's clear that games are still the most popular use of smart devices, be they phones or tablets.

Social media apps are another example. You might remember that Facebook recently rewrote its iOS app from the ground up in Objective-C, after it finally got tired of the delayed responsiveness the app had from its HTML5 roots. And who wouldn't prefer to code an app in Visual Studio using C++ than in Objective-C? It's a pretty clear choice, if the criteria is ease of development and time to market.

Of course, those aren't the only criteria; more important is the potential to make money off an app, and the size of the audience for that app. But smart choices like making C++ a viable language in Windows Phone 8 get developers like Bill Reiss excited; and excited developers tend to make exciting apps. Exciting apps can move consumers to new platforms. You know the rest.

Will you be building C++ apps for Windows Phone 8? If so, let me know what you're creating.

Posted by Keith Ward on 11/09/2012 at 1:15 PM1 comments


Microsoft Exec: 100,000 Windows Store Apps by January

You'd better get to work. Microsoft is counting on you, dear developer, to write Windows 8 apps at a furious pace.

At least, that seems to be Microsoft's stance, based on an interview with Keith Lorizio, Microsoft's vice president of U.S. sales and marketing, that appeared on Beet.tv. In the interview, currently making the rounds of cyberspace, Lorizio says Microsoft's goal is to have "100,000-plus" apps in the Windows Store within 90 days of Windows 8's release, which would put it at Jan. 26.

That's quite a high bar to hit, considering that there are currently fewer than 4,000 apps in the store. That's according to data from a new site, WinAppUpdate.com, started last month by Wes Miller, a Research Vice-President at Directions on Microsoft. Miller also spent time in the Windows division at Microsoft.

Lorizio's counting on huge Windows 8 adoption for the carrot -- if Microsoft builds it, they will come. "It's critical for us to get a critical mass of apps", he says.

The available marketplace for Windows 8, says Lorizio, is one billion-plus consumers. "In order for us to reach our goals, which is a conservative estimate of 400 million units in marketplace by July 1, we know we have to have a very, very healthy ecosystem of apps," Lorizio says.

No kidding. Microsoft continues to face a chicken-and-egg situation: Applications draw customers to a platform, but developers are drawn to platforms with the most customers. But if Microsoft can reach that "conservative" goal of 400 million copies of Windows 8, developers will be falling all over themselves to create apps for it.

Still, 100,000-plus apps would be fairly amazing, considering that the Apple Store and Google Play, both mature marketplaces for products that have been out for years, are at about 700,000 and 675,000 apps each, respectively. That doesn't mean Microsoft can't do it -- just that it will take a phenomenal effort on both Microsoft's part and its legion of developers.

Posted by Keith Ward on 10/10/2012 at 1:15 PM7 comments


Windows Phone 8, and the SDK, Coming Oct. 29

Microsoft has revealed that it will announce Windows Phone 8 later this month, on Oct. 29. The news comes via the always-reliable Mary Jo Foley, Redmond magazine columnist and ZDNet's Microsoft blogger.

Oct. 29, Foley wrote is not the day the phone will be launched, however; rather, the complete feature set and specs will be unveiled. What's even more important for Windows Phone developers, though, is that the Windows Phone 8 SDK should also be available at that time.

As I recently blogged, many developers have been frustrated by Microsoft's unwillingness to widely release the SDK before the phone launches. Microsoft declared in early September that the only developers eligible for the SDK were those who'd already published apps in the Windows Store. In addition, access to the Windows Phone SDK 8.0 Developer Preview program was limited to a five-day signup period.

The angry mobs have a point -- it's hard to get apps prepared for a launch when one doesn't have the SDK to work with. And having apps ready at launch can be a key to building an audience, when the white noise of the market is at its quietest. Why, some asked, isn't having an MSDN subscription good enough?

Todd Brix acknowledged the developer unhappiness, and laid out his reasoning in a blog entry on Sept. 12:

"The reason is that not all Windows Phone 8 features have been announced and our SDK includes comprehensive emulators that allow developers to test apps against a wide range of Windows Phone features."

Whether that explanation satisfied developers is another question entirely. It certainly didn't for a responder to the blog named "hopmedic", who pointed out the difference between this SDK and the one for Mango, Microsoft's big update to Windows Phone 7:

"This is rather a crock...  Last year we were using Mango for what, 2 or 3 months prior to general release?  And this year we can't even have the SDK unless we get picked from the pool of applicants?"

"HowieC42" summed up a lot of the feelings expressed in the comments:

"Not releasing the SDK to interested developers prevents apps being ready for the release of Windows Phone 8. With all the competition in the mobile phone arena, this makes little sense. Phone purchasers are swayed by both the number and quality of apps. A must have app can sell a lot of windows phones. You should be encouraging all developers, not just those with present apps."

Brix responded in the comments, suggesting some options. They include: continuing to write apps using the Windows Phone 7 SDK, as Windows Phone 8 will run Windows Phone 7 apps; and that developers should wait to do final app testing on a shipping Windows Phone 8 device anyway, rather than relying on an emulator. Since those devices aren't out yet, they have time.

In any event, developers don't have that much longer to wait, since the SDK will be out at the end of the month.

Posted by Keith Ward on 10/06/2012 at 1:15 PM7 comments


Microsoft Upgrades Windows Phone Dev Center

The Windows Phone Developer Center, open just a month now, already has its first update. Microsoft's Todd Brix blogged that the Web site has more than 100 upgrades, including reliability, performance and app submission fixes.

One very cool update is the ability to have user feedback on an app translated into a language of the developer's choice. So if you're getting feedback in German, for example, and you don't know German, the dev center can translate comments into English. It does this via the "Microsoft Translator," according to a screenshot on the blog entry.

The Developer Center was renamed in August, being formerly known as App Hub. At the time of the rollout of the new site, a number of developers complained about it being slow and buggy. It appears, based on the number of changes, that Microsoft has worked hard to address those concerns.

Posted by Keith Ward on 09/28/2012 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Intel CEO: Windows 8 Needs 'Improvements'

Is anyone else bothered by this Bloomberg report that quoted Intel CEO Paul Otellini as saying that Windows 8 isn't ready for release?

Otellini allegedly made those comments to employees at a meeting in Taiwan. "Improvements still need to be made to the software," he was quoted as saying.

Yikes.

Remember that Intel isn't some obscure third-party developer making tower defense games for WinRT; it's Microsoft's most important partner. And its CEO says Windows 8 isn't fully baked? The point is that there's a strong desire to treat Otellini's comments as credible, given who he is and the company he runs.

I get the desire to have Surface, and other WinRT tablets, out before Christmas. And I get the need to not fall further behind the iPad, new Android tablets that are finally starting to catch on, etc. Yeah, Microsoft needs to get in the game.

But given the quality of the competition, this is very risky. Consumers will be comparing Windows 8/WinRT tablets to mature tablets from the Other Guys. The old saying about not getting a second chance to make a first impression is relevant here; if Windows-based tablets suffer by comparison, by being incompatible or buggy or insecure or whatever, then those consumers may give up on Windows for anything but desktops and laptops.

(And it could potentially spill over into Windows Phone 8 as well. "Hey, if WinRT stinks, how good could Windows Phone, based on the same technology, be?")

Microsoft sort of responded in the story. Here's what a spokesman said:

"With over 16 million active preview participants, Windows 8 is the most tested, reviewed and ready operating system in Microsoft's history," said Mark Martin, a spokesman for Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft.

That's not a statement that fills me with confidence. Martin did say, specifically, that it's ready, but he didn't say Otellini was wrong, or that his comments had no substance. In my opinion, he used numbers (16 million) to try and obscure the main point -- that Windows isn't ready for release one month from today.

All this could work out, of course. Windows 8, as mentioned in the story, will be updated -- probably frequently -- in the early days of its general availability. But the potential flood of bad publicity that could be coming its way, if those flaws end up being major issues, could seriously suppress sales. This isn't an iPhone, after all, in which tons of negative reviews about the new maps application have no effect due to iPhone's impenetrable public perception of near-perfection. Windows 8 is brand-spanking-new, and Microsoft doesn't have a history in mobile computing yet.

If those issues are minor, on the other hand, they may have no effect on sales at all. But if they were minor, one would think Intel's CEO wouldn't have said what he said.

Posted by Keith Ward on 09/26/2012 at 1:15 PM12 comments


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