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Developers React to Windows 8 Reveal

So, Microsoft last week drew back the curtain on Windows 8, and the reaction in the developer community has been a heady mix of interest and consternation. The funny thing is, the widespread worry is more about what Microsoft didn't say at the two events where Windows 8 was revealed (Computex in Taipei and All Things Digital near Los Angeles) than what it did.

Both Mike Angiulo, corporate vice president, and Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live business at Microsoft, talked about the new HTML 5 and JavaScript programming environment in Windows 8. The new strategy will enable developers to build native Windows apps based on the next version of the HTML specification. It's a ploy that promises to attract a vast community of developers to the new OS, and opens up a host of possibilities for development across other Microsoft platforms, including Windows-based tablets.

There's just one problem: Sinofsky and Angiulo failed to discuss the XAML technologies -- Silverlight and WPF -- that have been core to Microsoft's developer messaging for nearly half a decade. As one reader commented to Andrew Brust's Redmond Diary blog post on Windows 8:

"I'm confused. If the HTML 5 and JavaScript support is in addition to WPF/Silverlight, then I think it is good, because it will open things up to those developers. However, if it is just HTML 5 and JavaScript and no WPF/Silverlight, then I think this is a terrible idea.

Another reader, identifying himself as Stefan Olson, agreed: "I am extremely disappointed by the choice to use HTML as a development language. This will be okay as long as WPF or Silverlight are able to be used in place of that, but HTML/JavaScript is a horrible development system and a bad choice for an operating system where developers have always been the focus."

You can't blame Microsoft for focusing on the new (and ready to be revealed) stuff in Windows 8. But you would think someone in Microsoft marketing would rise to the defense of Silverlight, a platform that recently took its lumps when All About Microsoft blogger Mary Jo Foley quoted Bob Muglia, former president of the Server and Tools Division, as saying of Silverlight that "our strategy has shifted," and that "HTML is the only true cross-platform solution for everything, including [Apple's] iOS platform." Foley had asked Muglia about Silverlight because the keynote at the Professional Developers Conference featured only one mention of the technology. His response set off a firestorm of developer concern.

Fast forward seven months, and it's déjà vu all over again. At the All Things Digital demo of Windows 8, Sinofsky offered a lengthy look at the new UI with its Metro-inspired, Live Tile interface. He talked about supporting ARM processors and about the compelling value of Windows 8 applications based on HTML 5 and JavaScript. But he never talked about Silverlight. That is, not until asked.

“The browser that we showed runs Silverlight and it will still run on the desktop," Sinofsky responded.

Sinofsky had an opportunity to level set the developer community, to affirm that Microsoft has the resources and will to support both HTML 5 and Silverlight as first-class environments in Windows. Based on reporting early this year by Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurott, it's almost certain that Silverlight will have a strategic role in Windows 8 application development. And yet, the Silverlight development community was once again left with its confidence shaken.

"HTML+jQuery+Javascript compared to Silverlight+.NET+C# is like a Model T compared to an Audi A8," wrote VSM reader Bryan Morris. "The thought of a future where all app development takes a major leap backwards to Web hacking is profoundly depressing."

Other developers urged calm.

"I have no idea why some people think the sky is falling and seem to be absolutely panic stricken," wrote one in response to a Desmond File blog post on the Windows 8 demo. "Anyone who understands what .NET is surely knows that it simply cannot be replaced by lowly HTML 5 and JavaScript."

He also offered some advice: "First, [don't] listen to rumors and fear mongering. Second, don't read more into things than are really there--don't give in to wild speculation (base things on facts). Third, things in the tech world change; don't cling too tightly to any one specific language/framework/etc. I am heavily invested in .NET, but I think of myself as a developer first and foremost and know I will be OK no matter what changes happen in the tech world."

But one enterprise developer said the concern is merited, given the stakes involved in large scale development.

"Enterprise business applications take years to build. There are many thousands of IT shops and ISVs who have embarked on multi-year development projects enthusiastically embracing Silverlight, given clear direction and assurances from Microsoft," he wrote.

"All we are asking for is firm stated, long-term commitment from Microsoft," he continued. "We all recognize that HTML/JavaScript is needed for generic Web coverage (thanks to closed realms like iOS), but PLEASE Microsoft, give us confidence in our choosing to utilize Silverlight to produce the best possible LOB software."

For the moment, a lot of speculation is swirling around the development strategy for Windows 8. As developer Steve Yetter pointed out, we may not know exactly where "Microsoft is going with this," but he preached patience.

"Before jumping to conclusions, let's see what happens at the BUILD conference."

Posted by Michael Desmond on 06/08/2011 at 1:15 PM


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