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Building Windows 8

By Steve Ives, Posted on August 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm

As Microsoft’s new Build Windows conference draws ever closer the rumor mill about what the focus of the conference will be is gathering momentum. This is due in no small part to the fact that with the conference only two weeks away there is still no published agenda. But that doesn’t seem to have deterred people from attending, I would estimate that there are generally over 10,000 delegates at these events, and this conference has been sold out since early August!

That being said it’s not too hard to figure out from the name of the conference that the focus will be on the next version of the Windows operating system, which Microsoft have “code named” Windows 8! What might be a surprise to a lot of people however is the scale of the change that is on the way next year, because from all available information it’s looking like the default Windows 8 experience will be VERY different from anything that Windows users have experienced in the past.

This suspicion was confirmed recently when Microsoft posted a video entitled “Building Windows 8 – Video 1” on one of their development team blogs. The video was also uploaded to YouTube, and I’ve embedded it in this post … take a look:

As you can see the default Windows 8 experience is very different, and is sure to bring some new challenges for developers who want to deploy applications that take advantage of the new capabilities of the platform. From Microsoft’s demonstration it is clear that traditional Windows applications will continue to be supported, so there is no need to panic, but as software developers we all need to be thinking about how a change of this magnitude could affect our businesses.

For some time now Microsoft has touted WPF and Silverlight as the flagship technologies of choice for building UI’s for .NET applications. But with Windows 8 is all that about to change? The video makes it clear that the primary UI technologies used to build Windows 8 applications are HTML5 and JavaScript, neither of which have a particularly strong toolset presence in Visual Studio 2010. So for many of the developers at the Build Windows conference the main question will be “what’s new in Visual Studio 2012 and .NET Framework 4.5 that will help me build applications for Windows 8?”.

Clearly Microsoft believe that mobile and tablet devices are going to become far more predominant in the future, and are actively planning for this by merging the various operating systems that are used on the various types of computing platforms. And of course they are not alone in this endeavor as Apple’s recent release of OS X Lion also somewhat takes this approach, although not quite to such a radical degree.

Of course there is another group of people who also have a bunch of work to do, and that’s the hardware vendors. If Windows 8 is to be successful one would assume that the default for personal computer and laptop screens will need to change to be predominantly touch-enabled devices. While it is clearly stated in the video that the new UI will work just fine with a mouse and a keyboard, I for one am very skeptical about how WELL it will work in that mode! And of course the availability of the hardware is only a part of the story … we must also consider how long it will take companies to replace existing hardware with new touch-sensitive devices.

Now don’t get me wrong … I’m not suggesting for one minute that there will be a big rush to do so, and I’m absolutely suggesting that a major change of this type could take many years … but for some of us, with certain types of applications, in certain market places, adopting these new capabilities could offer significant rewards.

By the way, I’m not a betting man but I’d lay good money on the fact that there will be a setting to disable the new Windows 8 UI in favor of reverting to Windows 7’s Aero UI, and I’d also be comfortable predicting that many corporations will be doing just that. So again, don’t panic! While the new UI may make for a fabulous demo, and may be a fantastic way of interacting with photos and videos, and browsing the web, will it really provide a suitable platform for presenting business software to commercial users? Actually, in some cases the answer will be a resounding YES … but in other cases the more traditional approach to presenting applications will continue to be far more appropriate.

Of course in order for Synergy developers to be ready for Windows 8, Synergex must be ready first. I will be attending the Build Windows conference, as will three of my colleagues from the Synergy Development team. We’ll do our best to keep you informed about what we learn.

By the way, if you’re interested in keeping track of what’s going on with Windows 8 then a good place to start is Microsoft Development’s Building Windows 8 BLOG. The blog has some interesting articles, and already has several more videos discussing these new features.


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