Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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MIX Report: Windows Phone 7 on Display

Another March, another MIX. For the fifth year running now, Microsoft has chosen to put on a conference aimed less at software development, per se, and more at the products, experiences and designs that software development can generate. In all four prior MIX events, the focus of the show, its keynotes and breakout sessions has been on Web products. On day 1 of MIX 2010, that focus shifted to Windows Phone 7 Series (WP7).

You can read more about the MIX conference here.

What little we had seen of WP7 had been shown to us in a keynote presentation, given by Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain last month. And today, Mr. Belfiore reprised his showmanship for the MIX 2010 audience. Joe showed us the ins and outs of WP7 and, in a breakout session, even gave us a sneak peek of Office (specifically, Excel) on WP7. We didn't get to see that one month ago in Barcelona, nor did get to see email messages opened for reading, which we saw today.

But beyond a tour of the phone itself, impressive though that is, we got to see apps running on it. Those apps included Associated Press news, Seesmic (a major Twitter client) and Foursquare (a social media darling). All three ran, ran well, and looked markedly different and better from their corresponding versions on iPhone and Android. And the games we saw looked even better.

To me though, the best demos involved the creation of WP7 apps, using Silverlight in Visual Studio and Expression Blend. These demos were so effective because they showed important apps being built in very few steps, and by Microsoft executives to boot. Scott Guthrie showed us how to build a Twitter API app in Visual Strudio. Jon Harris showed us how to build a photo management and viewer application in Expression Blend, using virtually no code. Demos of apps built from scratch to F5 without the benefit of a teacher, could be challenging. But they went off fine, without a hitch and without a ton of opaque, generated code. Everything written, be it C# or XAML, was easily understood, and the results were impressive.

That means lots of developers can do this, and I think it means a lot will. What I've seen, thus far, of iPhone and Android development looks very tedious by comparison. Development for those platforms involves a collection of tools that integrate only to a point. Dev work for WP7 involves use of Visual Studio, Silverlight and the same debugging experience .NET developers already know. This was very exciting for me.

All the demos harkened back to days of building apps for with Visual Basic... design the front-end, put in code-behind and then hit F5. And that makes sense, because the phone platform, and the PC of the early 90s are both, essentially, client OS machines. The Web was minimal and the "device" was everything. Same is true of this phone. It's a client app contraption that fits in your pocket.

And if the platforms are comparable, hopefully so too will be the draw of ease-of-development. WP7 has the potential to make mobile developers want to switch over, and to convince enterprise developers to get into the phone scene. Will this propel the new phone platform to new heights, and restore Microsoft's competiveness in the mobile arena?

I hope so. I think so. And if Microsoft uses developers to build themselves a victory, that would be beneficial and would show that Microsoft has learned from its failures, as well as its successes. Today I saw a few beautiful apps. Tomorrow I hope I see a slew of others; maybe not as polished, but plentiful, attractive and stable. That would be a victory for Microsoft, and for developers. And it would show everyone else that developers are the kingmakers. They need cheap, efficient dev tools and lots of respect. Microsoft has always been the company to provide that. Hopefully, with WP7, they will return to that persona and see how very timeless it is.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 03/16/2010

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