One for All: Build Offers Glimpse of New Windows Apps

Microsoft aims to give developers the means to code one app that's capable of running on Windows, Windows Phone, Microsoft Azure and the new Windows Holographic Platform.

Microsoft today kicked off its Build developer conference in San Francisco with a keynote address that offered a firsthand look at the new universal apps model of Windows 10. Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Operating Systems Group, described how apps written for Windows 10 will run on every Windows 10-supported target -- from phones and tablets to PCs and Microsoft Azure servers to Xbox game consoles and embedded Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

"We're talking about one platform. A single app, a single binary, that can run across all these devices," said Myerson during his portion of the keynote address.

The effort to create a one-size-fits-all development model for Windows devices isn't new. Microsoft touted universal Windows apps as a way to write one code base for both Windows Phone 8 devices and Windows 8.1 PCs last year at Build. The new scheme is significantly more ambitious, promising to let one app run on Windows, Windows Phone, Azure and the new Windows Holographic Platform (code-named "HoloLens").

Integral to the universal apps vision is the Continuum technology that will allow universal apps to scale to different screen sizes and client environments.
"In general we have a vision and an idea that the Windows platform and the apps written for it should be able to flex to different screen sizes and different input methods," said Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of the Operating Systems Group at Microsoft, during his keynote address. "Not by writing separate code, but by having a platform that's smart enough to do it -- in fact, even dynamically on the same device."

Belfiore showed in a simulation how a Windows Phone connected to a large-screen monitor via HDMI and equipped with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse could drive a desktop-style experience. He showed how the simple, mobilized UI of a PowerPoint session on a Windows Phone is transformed when the phone is hooked to a large-screen display.

"What you see on the big screen here sort of looks like the version of PowerPoint that you would see on the PC," said Belfiore, "because in fact it is the same code as the version of PowerPoint that you would download from the Store and see on the PC."

Also demonstrated was a Windows app from newspaper USA Today running on both Windows Phone and Windows. Myerson showed how the app, connecting to an Azure back-end, seamlessly retained its state across the two client devices, so the content that was displayed on the PC came up immediately on the phone when the phone app was launched. Myerson also showed how client detection allows Windows apps to adjust. When the USA Today app was run on an Xbox, the app filtered content so only video content was displayed.

To write flexible Windows apps, developers target the Universal Windows Platform, which provides a common set of APIs for all flavors of Windows. Developers can choose to compile an app so that the resulting binary will run on any Windows 10 target, or they can select which platform the compiled binary will support.

About the Author

Michael Desmond is editor in chief of MSDN Magazine, Microsoft’s flagship publication for software developers working with Microsoft tools and technologies. A 20-year veteran in IT and technology publishing, Desmond was an editor at PC World magazine for six years before launching an editorial consultancy that did work for leading technology firms like IBM, Intel and Sun Microsystems.

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