Microsoft Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012: A New Era of Software Development

Microsoft Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012: A New Era of Software Development

Find out what Microsoft's announcements at BUILD mean for developers.

The Microsoft BUILD conference has come and gone, and it's launched a new era of software development for its platform. The only thing I don't understand is the secrecy surrounding Windows 8, the consequent surprise, and subsequent retirement to secrecy again. It's fair to say that we are at the end of the .NET decade and seeing the beginning of Windows Runtime (WinRT) era. WinRT is exciting because it's cool and powerful, and it's scary because it's new. But, after all the major announcements at BUILD have been made, why retire to secrecy again?

It's odd because for twenty or more years developers have come to expect full disclosure from Microsoft because it's an important part of the Microsoft culture. Full disclosure is one of the most valuable components of being a Microsoft partner. As a Microsoft partner, we're knowledgeable about Microsoft's upcoming features because we're privy to product plans and roadmaps years in advance. Consequently, developers make important strategic decisions based on that information. Because this is internal information, we're expected to explain new changes to customers.

However, something has changed this time around. Regarding Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 (formerly code named Windows Server 8), we're being held in the dark. It's uncomfortable because Management 101 says you can give, give, give, but you can never take away. And technically that's what has happened. Microsoft (well, Microsoft President Steve Sinofsky and the Windows division of Microsoft to be exact) has taken the strategic product roadmap information pipeline from us and from many front-line Microsoft employees. The majority of Microsoft employees aren't allowed to talk about Windows 8 at any level, and the consequences of doing so results in termination.

Despite this, the BUILD conference made a number of significant Windows 8 announcements. It's strange because it has a communistic type of feeling where information is measured at the highest levels and issued at a strategic level and controlled pace. It's strange because it's kind of similar to Apple's product strategy announcements, which are kept secret until the very last minute. But you don't think that one of the largest and most profitable software companies in history is no longer capable of being a leader and reduced to emulating Apple, do you? I sure hope not. Competition is always great for the software industry, but so is leadership.

Sure, the secrecy leading up to BUILD helped generate excitement. We now know the rumors of .NET's death were grossly exaggerated. But not letting Microsoft's employees talk about the awesomeness of WinRT to generate excitement? If you're attending a developer conference in the next year, don't expect any Microsoft employee to be performing presentations on Windows 8 or WinRT. They're not allowed to, which is very strange to me.

There is a lot of good news to compensate for Microsoft's odd behavior. First, WinRT was announced and its functionality was described. Many people (including me) are saying that these announcements are as significant as .NET's announcement in 2001. Secondly, a surprisingly stable and incredibly featured new developer version of Visual Studio was announced and distributed. Visual Studio 2011 has met rave reviews from its first set of early adopters. Keynote demos showing how to build HTML5 applications with Visual Studio 2011 and Expression Blend were impressive.

Application development in WinRT includes programming in three different ways:

1.     Historically, Win16 and Win32 programming in C++ was challenging and was meant for the most elite of programmers. With the new version of Visual Studio and WinRT, Microsoft promises that C++'s pain will be significantly reduced, if not totally eliminated. Clearly, C++ is still the choice for best performance for applications running on Windows. Programming to WinRT is the only way to write Metro applications.

2.     The .NET FUD was alleviated because the programming languages C# and VB.NET have a place in Windows 8 and the .NET Framework 4.5. In desktop mode, which isn't the native Metro interface mode of Windows 8, .NET applications have a place in legacy applications. There will be a way to access .NET framework classes through WinRT, although this is currently limited in the preview release. There weren't enough details at the BUILD conference to enlighten me on how this could be pulled off, but rest assured that the .NET community is going to figure that out over the next few months as they bang away on the free Windows 8 slate computer that was given to all conference attendees.

3.     It's very clear that the "pretty boy" of applications for the next decade is going to be HTML5. And Microsoft assured us that they are going to throw everything at HTML5 to ensure it's the leader in the space. Combined with CSS3 and JavaScript, Microsoft promises to provide the absolute best tooling in Visual Studio 2011 and Expression Blend with the power and ease of the platform in WinRT.

Only time will tell how significant these announcements are and the reasoning behind the secrecy. Time will tell whether Windows 8 with its Metro application style is a true leader or another slowly adopted desktop OS with a barely adopted application development platform. However, there's one thing that's perfectly clear for .NET programmers: There's a new sheriff in town and his name is HTML5.

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