In-Depth

Windows 8 Reactions from Build: Dev Experts Weigh In

What will Windows 8 really mean for the future of .NET developers? Four industry experts share their insight on what we've seen so far.

This week Microsoft lifted the veil on Windows 8 (and Visual Studio 11) at its Build conference. We asked four experts -- Andrew Brust, founder of Blue Badge Insights and a Microsoft Regional Director; Alan Stevens, co-founder of Wild Endeavor Inc., an MVP in C# and a member of ASP Insiders; David Platt, who teaches .NET programming at Harvard University Extension School and was named a "Software Legend" by Microsoft; and, Steve Riley, Technical Leader, office of the CTO at Riverbed Technology -- to share their reactions to what they've seen of Windows 8 so far this week.

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Andrew Brust:

We knew it would be nuts to dump the old stack and dump all the people trained on it. It would have to be an inclusive story. On the other hand, the notion of everything running in a separate managed framework, probably given that it was the Windows team, wasn't going to be seen as ideal. So there needed to be some way to unify all that. It appears that they've done that.

The support for XAML is now native in the operating system. I expected that the C# and VB support would be native as well, but apparently the CLR is invoked when you program in those two languages. That wasn't talked about in the keynote.

I expected to look at the HTML 5 and JavaScript stuff and keep walking. I found, to my surprise, that it looked pretty compelling. Because it's not just natively supported on Windows; it's completely supported in Visual Studio. Suddenly, it just doesn't look so nutty. It's not that I'm whipping out Visual Notepad to write some markup and some scripting code. It's professional development, just as it is with other languages. That came as a bit of a surprise. It looks like a really good way to build these rich applications really quickly.

What they have said is that the immersive applications will work on both (high-powered processors and ARM procs). What they haven't said is what the story is for desktop mode on an ARM device. I'm interested to see. I think the pattern is going to be for heavy-duty enterprise apps to stay on the desktop for the foreseeable future, and that means it's going to stay on Intel machines because they're going to be mostly stationary desktop or laptop machines where this work's going to get done. Office is still going to be a desktop application, but it would be nice if we had a Reader++ on the [mobile] side, so we could make relatively trivial edits when necessary.

I could see putting that pattern in on enterprise apps, especially CRM. Looking at my pipeline in a CRM application on a tablet and seeing the revenue funnel visualized, that makes huge sense on a tablet.

Alan Stevens:

The biggest fundamental change for developers was the Windows Runtime, JavaScript inside the Windows OS. I don't know what that means yet.

Apple does the same thing with Lion, blending the desktop OS with the tablet. They're all positive moves.

They [Microsoft] declared a direction on a lot of fronts they needed to show direction on. Their message was pretty consistent.

Which one of those features is the WinFS? [In other words,] which features are they going to cut? You're always going to cut features. What's going to be cut? So the question for me is ‘Which of these things am I going to tool up on?'

I saw Sinofsky setting the tone. That's not a negative; this direction needs leaders and needs vision. He's setting the tone, and I think what he tried to show was that the server team, the consumer products team, they all shared that same vision.

I'm really grateful that they didn't show anything where I thought ‘What were they thinking?'

I've got to make recommendations to clients, and I put my reputation on the line every time I recommend a platform. So I'm here to learn. If what they showed plays out over the next 18 months or however long it is – if they can get the hardware vendors in line, if they can get a little more control of the platform, and to manage this consistent user experience.  Since the Ribbon came out, Windows client app UIs have been chaos. You never know what you're going to get; there's no guidance on what it should look like. If they get the control, and handle all the rote stuff for me to develop this consistent Metro UI, then I am really excited, and I'm going to be very engaged. But I've got to see it; I've got to see what the tooling looks like, I have to hear what the development experience is like.

Now, it's how do they unpack all that. I came here hoping to walk away confident that I can stay on the Microsoft platform and I don't have to retool. I don't want to have to write Objective C. I'm confident that what I'm doing now is going to be relevant for the next few years. We get the sense that the platform is no longer PCs. The platform is all of these hardware devices running against services in the cloud, whether they be your profile or syncing your music in the cloud or whatever that is.

David Platt:

It almost doesn't matter whether [Windows 8] is a good operating system or not, in the sense that from the PC side, all the PC desktop guys and full notebook people that have the full version of Windows – none of them did Windows Vista. They're now moving from XP to Window 7, and they're not going to go to Windows 8 anytime soon. No matter how good it is.

I have a hard time seeing how Windows 8's going to make any market share, unless they come in on a whole lot lower cost of entry. And on the low end of the tablet market, you have Android – which you don't have in the PC market.

The one thing they have is a lot of developers, and they have really good tools. So they can go to their VB developers and say, "Guess what, click these buttons and now you're phone developers, and now you're tablet developers." And no other manufacturer can do that. It's easier to write Microsoft apps than it is to write other kinds of apps. How far is that advantage going to get them? It's hard to say. [But] it would excite me that I can now go play in these worlds which are very important with my existing skill set.

Right now, Windows has exactly zero presence on devices. They do not currently have a parity product. Just because they're saying "Here we are, we're Microsoft" [is no guarantee of sales]. It didn't work for DEC, it didn't work for IBM.

Anybody that has an app has [built one for the] iPhone; a lot of them are starting to have an Android one. But nobody has -- other than guys that purpose-build for Windows because that's where they live -- are building for Windows phone.

Steve Riley:

Watching the demos of Metro, what came through to me was the assumption of constant connectivity. This is remote access to just about everything. [The UI] is fast and fluid, but all that data is most likely somewhere else.

Access to that data in the cloud feels more natural now. The examples that we saw, there was little distinction between the piece of data on the hard drive of the machine we were looking at, and a piece of data on a hard drive of a machine in a data center 4,000 miles away.

I'm thinking that maybe this idea of the cloud as primary compute and primary storage is going to become a reality, because the user interface into that doesn't have a distinction anymore.

What do you think about what you've seen of Windows 8 so far? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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