Windows 8 demos spur developer worries

Uncertainty over role of Silverlight and .Net in new OS sparks concern

After two brief demonstrations of Microsoft's next-generation operating system, third-party Microsoft Windows developers are expressing frustration over what they consider a lack of clear direction on how to develop applications for Windows 8.

Their concern centers on a new web standards-based development platform that Microsoft may be deploying for the Windows 8 live tile touch-based interface. While promoting this platform in various demonstrations last week, the company said little about the role that its other widely used Windows development platforms, Silverlight and .Net, would play in the new operating system, which is widely expected to be released next year.

As a result, many Silverlight and .Net developers fear their skill sets may become legacy ones.

Microsoft officials "have not clarified where .Net fits in the Windows 8 world," said Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC. "I think developers are justified in feeling that there needs to be more clear strategic guidance on this."

Last week, at the Wall Street Journal's D8 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's corporate vice president of the Windows experience, demonstrated Windows 8.

She showed how the live tiles, a concept borrowed from Windows Phone 7, would be used in Windows 8 to allow users to easily call up and switch applications. At one point during the demonstration, Larson-Green showed off a weather application built for the new interface. "This application was written in our new development platform, based on HTML5 and JavaScript," she said. "People can write new applications for Windows, using the things they are already doing on the Internet."

That week, the company also released its first Windows 8 introductory video, narrated by Jensen Harris, director of program management for the Windows User Experience. Like Larson-Green, Harris alluded to a "new platform based on standard Web technologies, HTML5 and Javascript."

While Microsoft officials have stated that the new Windows would also support applications written for older icon-driven versions of Windows, some developers have wondered if their desktop applications will still get the same support from Microsoft in the years to come.

As first pointed out by tech journalist Tim Anderson, users on Microsoft's own Silverlight forum posted a large number of entries fretting over the demonstrations. Channel 9, another Microsoft developer forum, saw a similar heated reaction.

One participant wrote that the demos were "potentially terrible news. It almost puts me in a state of shock. My biggest fear coming into Windows 8 ... was that they would shift everything to Silverlight and leave the full platform ... in the dust. To my utter shock, they did something much, much, much worse."

Microsoft said it would reveal more details at the Microsoft Build developer conference, to be held in Anaheim, California, in September. For many developers, however, that date is too far off. "It is doubtful that they can stave off developer anxiety until the Build conference in the fall," Hilwa said.

"It is too soon to draw any conclusions," said Rob Sanfilippo, an analyst with the firm Directions on Microsoft. Thanks to Microsoft's late entry into the growing tablet market, Microsoft is under a lot of pressure to get news about Windows 8 out quickly. As a result, the company may not have had the chance to fully coordinate all the messages it needs to deliver about the new operating system. Such mixed messages have led to a lot of "fear and knee-jerk responses," he said.

Sanfilippo doubts that Microsoft would abandon either .Net or Silverlight, though. The Windows development community is a "huge ecosystem," he said, made up of 600,000 developers. "They won't just orphan code with Windows 8," he said.

"As best I can tell, .Net continues to be a strategic approach to build apps, but clearly for Windows 8, they are also building on HTML5," Hilwa said.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Pete Brown, a Microsoft community program manager for the Microsoft Silverlight forum, responded in the forum that, "We're all being quiet right now because we can't comment on this. It's not because we don't care, aren't listening, have given up, or are agreeing or disagreeing with you on something."

Tags .netsilverlightDevelopment IDWindows 8

5 Comments

Dave Lane

1

Anyone who builds a business around MS technologies (or Apple, or any proprietary software development technology) is incurring a huge liability: that MS will "end-of-life" the technology on which their product offerings depend for strategic or profit-related reasons, leaving them at a dead end, facing huge costs to retool and recover. I certainly would want to be answering those sorts of questions from my shareholders or company board.

The alternative, namely using open source development platforms, is much more secure - those technologies will continue to survive for as long as people (and businesses) depend on them.

These technologies are hardly fringe. In fact, they're already far more widely used than any MS development technologies. They include: Javascript, HTML, CSS, C/C++, Java, Python, Perl, PHP, Ruby (on Rails), and many others.

Personally, I can't imagine why anyone would bet their company on .Net or Silverlight - doing so relegates you to providing solutions only for those who run pure Microsoft technology stacks.

That might've been a justifiable business decision when MS was at the top of the game around the turn of the century, but discounts the possibility that MS will lose their monopoly in computing.

Given their performance of late (or lack thereof, particularly in the growth area of mobile technologies), I'd say that's a pretty good bet their decline will continue and perhaps accelerate as their various turkeys come home to roost (Skype and Nokia, anyone?).

Dave Lane

2

Oops, at the end of the first para above, I certainly *wouldn't* want to be answering those sorts of questions. :)

Dave Lane

3

Oops, at the end of the first para above, I certainly *wouldn't* want to be answering those sorts of questions. :)

Anonymous

4

"As a result, many Silverlight and .Net developers fear their skill sets may become legacy ones" I don't think this will happen short term. But long term it is inevitable given MS's dispostion to terminate technologies (VB) and the industries increasing orientation to specific rather than general skillsets

Anonymous

5

One interesting point that comes from the MS Dev forums is how passionate the posters are about their preference for Silverlight as opposed to HTML/Javascript/CSS. It will be tough for MS to drag those people back to the horse and cart. Similarly a glance at the C#/Java comparison page on Wiki illustrates why .NET continues to grow and thrive behind the firewall; who wants to fund Larry Ellison's next America's Cup Campaign and LINQ to Nothing?

Whether Microsoft will gain a large market share in the smartphone and tablet space is a moot point, but my guess is that if anyone can transform these devices from toys to business tools it's Microsoft. So I'll be happy follow the Gartner predictions and stick with the most advanced software development platform.

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