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.

We also want to hear from you! Please add your thoughts by posting in the comments.

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 Visual Studio Magazine.

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Reader Comments:

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 Rick

I for one am glad I never drank the Silverlight kool-aid. When I first saw SL my first thought was "niche technology, new development architecture, more training, no thanks". I guess I was right. We stayed with HTML and have recently upgraded our "next" standard to HTML5/JQuery. We don't build much for the desktop these days, but at least our developers are in sync with where MS appears to be going. Everyone who has been focused on web development using HTML/JS will be able to apply those skills to the desktop with Windows 8. I see this as a tremendous advantage. I'm not quite sure about Metro, but then again you can turn it off....

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 hr

I for one am confused by the positioning of WinRT, Metro, and Silverlight. These conferences are always about what is new, Silverlight is no longer new so it figures to fall to the background but is SL5 still arriving this year. What is to become of LightSwitch apps on Windows 8. When I first saw Lightswitch I thought I was finally looking at the embryo of a win forms replacement but I am begining to believe the embryo will be still born. The purpose of BUILD to me is/was a marketing ploy. Something to bring energy back to the windows environment, get people talking about something from MS instead of when the next iDevice and iOS or Android release will hit the market. Making strategic decisions on development directions based on an early pre-beta release of anybody's OS is a fools choice. Enterprise apps on HTML5 and jscript seems just as ludicris to me, but then so did MS abandoning Silverlight right when it seemed to be coming of age and into its own. For me BUILD provided more questions on direction than answers and a real concern about what seems to be a shotgun approach to product development at Microsoft. Clear direction and real commitment from Redmond regarding where they are taking Windows is desperately needed or they will loose the only real advantage they have in the market place now - the developers who make buying Windows based devices the only logical choice for a non-enterainment device in the home and the enterprise.

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 Allen Conway Florida, U.S.A.

I really enjoyed the perspectives of the (4) individuals in this article and was glad to see they were not automatically head-over-heels for Metro apps and the like. However, I also agree that some of the fundamental Windows OS changes are going to be interesting to follow and are a move forward to keep up with the times in my mind. So long as MSFT doesn't *completely* make the OS revolve around the 'Social Networking' realm (a bit facetious here), I think we will be OK. I blogged on my own thoughts on Windows 8 which can be read here:

Mon, Sep 19, 2011 Bryan Morris

I've been watching with concern the MS de-emphasizing of Silverlight ever since Muglia shot his mouth off last year. Like everyone else, I've been confused, concerned, pissed off, hating the prospect of devolving to HTML/JS, and completely unable to understand Microsoft's motivations in giving the finger to its developer community. All the emphasis on HTML/JS was pretty worrisome, but recently a somewhat clearer, less bleak picture began to emerge that Build has brought into focus. During and after Build I did a lot of reading and thinking about what MS was saying and not saying. Initially, my impression was that it's not so bad. Today, I had a further thought that takes the form of a question I wanted to pose to this community:

How exactly, other than the deployment mechanism (app store vs. your own website) and perceived platform "reach" (no OSX, I guess), is developing a Windows 8 Metro app in C# different than creating a Silverlight out of browser app in C#?

The both use managed C#. They both use XAML. They both use WCF RIA services. They both make use of isolated storage. They both can access local devices. If anything, the Metro app can do more than the Silverlight OOB app. Am I wrong here? I'd really like to see what everyone has to say about this question.


Of course, why the use of the word "Silverlight" to describe their "new" app model by an MS employee is probably a firing offense is a whole other question.

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 Al

I watched a YouTube video showing the Samsung tablet running Windows 8. While Metro was a bit hard to see throughout, the Samsung had the right form factor to be truly useful. My main concern is whether these devices will more or less be appliances like the iPad as opposed to truly useful mobile computers running Office. I saw the expression, "desktop to hammock" and I think that best describes where the technology needs to be. We don't need extra devices to carry around. We need one device that allows us to be productive when we have to and when the mood strikes.

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 Bryan Morris

I'm gratified that MS didn't drive us all off a cliff by deprecating C#, XAML, and managed coding skills. I couldn't care less about building HTML/JS apps for Windows, and I doubt very many others will either - whether they're MS platform developers or MS-hating Web hackers. I'm less than pleased that the Silverlight runtime is being shown the door, at least in the Metro version of IE. Even Google, if reports about their thinking vis-a-vis Dash/Dart are to be believed, sees that traditional HTML/JS programming is not the future. I think the "Internet", as opposed to the "Web", is at an inflection point. Apple, Android, and now MS have platforms that support Internet connectivity with apps created specifically to take advantage of the capabilities of their native enviroments that run on all three major clases of devices. And they aren't traditional "Web" apps either. The "Internet" seems to be here to stay, but maybe the "Web" is being pushed aside by the "Cloud"?

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