Are Your Apps Primed for Windows 7
Windows 7 was released to manufacturing (RTM) by Microsoft in July, three months prior to the planned Oct. 22 retail launch.
Windows 7 could be auspicious for the Windows team after the blight of Windows Vista, but developers need to help Microsoft sell it with compatible apps and must-have software.
The arrival of a new OS can exercise dev teams' mettle. In the case of Vista, which shipped in January 2007, the initial lack of drivers-along with complex compatibility and deployment issues-quickly snowballed into the widely held perception that, for many companies, upgrading to the new OS was more trouble than it was worth. In January 2009, Forrester Research Inc. estimated that less than 10 percent of PCs in enterprises were running Vista. However, 31 percent of IT managers surveyed in North America and Europe reported that their companies were preparing to migrate to the OS.
Despite early positive reviews for Windows 7, getting existing apps running on the latest OS could prove challenging, especially at companies that bypassed Vista due to compatibility hurdles.
Upgrading Made Easy
"The Windows Vista Application Compatibility Cookbook is still very relevant for Windows 7, as 99 percent of its topics apply to Windows 7," explains Microsoft Technical Evangelist Yochay Kiriaty, on the Windows team blog. Kiriaty identifies the seven compatibility hot buttons that afflict apps most often: version checking, data redirection, Internet Explorer protected mode, session 0 isolation, installer detection, user-interface privilege isolation and high DPI.
Companies that upgraded their apps to run on Vista should have an easier time. Kiriaty recommends checking out the Windows 7 Quality Cookbook to learn more about changes in components and dependencies between the two systems. Many companies will need to address sticky issues such as User Account Control and IE8 compatibility.
Software company Ellie Mae Inc. is having a fairly easy time migrating its Encompass mortgage-loan origination system to Windows 7. Encompass is used by mortgage brokers to automate the mounds of paperwork in the loan process.
"We have thousands of customers all around the country, and we have no control over what hardware or software platform they're using, so it's pretty much a given that some of our customers will use Windows 7 quickly after the Oct. 22 release," says Ron Yun, Ellie Mae's director of quality assurance. Ellie Mae uses Windows XP internally, "so we don't have Windows 7 available in house," Yun explains.
The development and quality-assurance team, based in Pleasanton, Calif., and Beijing is using Skytap Inc.'s on-demand cloud infrastructure and Windows 7 Ultimate release candidate (RC) virtual machine (VM) template to test Encompass' compatibility with the new OS.
"I was able to create that Windows 7 machine myself in a matter of minutes," Yun says. "The main things we found are some image rendering problems in certain areas, so we had to tweak our application to display certain images correctly. Other than that, we haven't found any functional problems or incompatibilities with our application as of yet. We're still in the process of testing it," he adds.
Ellie Mae made some changes to Encompass when Vista came out, which helped in terms of its compatibility with Windows 7. "Had our application not been Vista-compatible, we probably would've had to do a lot more work to get it to be Windows 7-compatible," notes Yun.
For XP apps that can't be made compatible with Windows 7, Microsoft is offering an XP virtualization solution for Windows 7 desktops called Windows XP Mode. The RC was made available last month. It requires Windows Virtual PC and works with the Windows 7 RTM, in addition to the Windows 7 Professional RC, Ultimate RC and Enterprise RC editions.
Application compatibility and optimization will be the first order of business for many companies, but the new functionality in Windows 7 offers tremendous opportunity for app developers. Microsoft is fueling this effort with its Code7 Contest, which offers finalists in seven geographical locations up to $17,777 and a free trip to the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in November. Contestants submit a three-minute video explaining their app, which must take advantage of at least one of these Windows 7 technologies: Libraries, Windows Touch, Shell Integration, DirectX 11 or Sensor and Location Platform. The entry deadline is Oct. 10, 2009.
The Windows 7 RTM was available to MSDN subscribers (in English only) in early August. In addition to the Windows SDK for Windows 7 and .NET 3.5 Service Pack 1 (SP1), Microsoft is flooding MSDN with resources such as the Windows 7 Training Kit and the Windows 7 API Code Pack for .NET.
Kathleen Richards is the editor of RedDevNews.com and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.