Redmond Review

Windows 8: Times Are Changing for Developers

Microsoft's BUILD announcements about Windows 8 and other technologies are a break from the past.

On Sept. 7, I took my son to his first day back at school, which was good preparation for Sept. 13 when, in a sense, I went back to school myself, by attending the Microsoft BUILD conference. Along with my classmates (about 5,000 Microsoft-focused developers), I lined up outside of school (the Anaheim Convention Center Arena) to attend my first day of classes (the day-one keynote and "Big Picture" sessions) and get an overview of what I'd be learning this year.

At BUILD, we learned about "Windows 8" and the Windows Runtime (WinRT). We learned about "Metro style" applications and the various ways of writing them, ranging from HTML5, CSS 3 and JavaScript to C#, Visual Basic and .NET. We learned about the Windows Store, about applications that should look and work in a "fast and fluid" manner, and we learned how those applications would coexist with their opposite numbers on the Windows desktop.

BUILD is now well behind us, and the development of Windows 8 lies before us. With that in mind, let's take inventory of what Microsoft shared with us that week in September, form some conclusions about what it all means and think about what lies ahead.

Fears Overblown; Changes Not Imagined
First and foremost, let's acknowledge that Microsoft is offering a comfortable path for .NET developers and a shallow-sloped onramp for them to Windows 8. Many people fretted away their summers worrying that C# and Visual Basic -- and the developers who use them -- would have no entrée into the new Windows 8 world. In my March column this year ("Microsoft, Windows Azure and Assisted Transitions"), I remarked how Microsoft's track record of helping developers through platform shifts was excellent; the BUILD message leaves this record untarnished. In my June 23 Redmond Diary post, I conjectured that HTML and JavaScript were vehicles for bringing in new developers, not forcing out developers already in the Microsoft camp. BUILD validated this conjecture. That makes me happy -- not just for my record of accuracy, but also for Microsoft's record of holding developers in very high esteem.

But make no mistake: Windows 8 marks a change for Microsoft. Yes, Metro apps can be developed in .NET. But HTML, CSS and JavaScript seem at least a little closer to the Metro "metal" and, surprisingly, with their more-welcoming home in Visual Studio, using them doesn't seem so crazy. Microsoft's message in the fall proved the summer's panic in certain circles unfounded. But Microsoft's uncharacteristic secrecy this summer was nonetheless real, and it was at least a little uncomfortable for most of us. This message discipline probably wasn't an anomaly, either; it's likely going to be a standard approach for Microsoft going forward.

Momentum and Loss
So where does this leave us? What should we think? No, Microsoft's not irrational, and it hasn't lost respect for its developer elders. But yes, things are changing. The platform is changing. Microsoft's approach to dissemination of information is changing. And while Microsoft does nearly always assist developers in transition, it doesn't eliminate those transitions -- nor can it prevent all their discomfort. Computing careers are a bit paradoxical: As developers, we reach equilibrium when platforms stabilize, but those platforms (and we) lose competitive value if stasis sets in. Our achievements must be disrupted in order for us to prosper.

Microsoft is no different. Whether it's Apple and Google/Android at the consumer end, or Oracle, IBM, SAP and others on the enterprise side, Microsoft is facing unprecedented, unrelenting competition. It has to change. It has to upset its own equilibrium. Not just in its technology stack but in its market approach, too, and even in its corporate culture.

The company can't disregard, nor disrespect, its heritage. But it must view that heritage in industrial and competitive context, and recognize that as this context changes, the company must change as well. That's what I learned at BUILD. As I had hoped and expected, things aren't all doom and gloom. But they are different, and this difference, in a real way, involves loss.

The back-to-school analogy applies. The transition from senior to freshman is perhaps the hardest. Stature and security slip away. But sometimes, incurring loss puts wider horizons within reach.

About the Author

Andrew Brust is Founder and CEO of Blue Badge Insights, an analysis, strategy and advisory firm serving Microsoft customers and partners. Brust is also a Microsoft Regional Director and MVP; an advisor to the New York Technology Council; and co-author of "Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2012" (Microsoft Press, 2012). A frequent speaker at industry events, Brust is co-chair of the Visual Studio Live! family of conferences and a contributing editor to Visual Studio Magazine. Brust has been a participant in the Microsoft ecosystem for over 20 years, and has worked closely with both Microsoft's Redmond-based corporate team and its field organization for much of the last 15. He is a member of several "insiders" groups that supply him with insight around important technologies out of Redmond. Follow Brust on Twitter @andrewbrust.

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Reader Comments:

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 Bob Scott

I agree with Richard. I'm loving C++ now!

Tue, Jan 17, 2012 Tom

@Jamie - Wow I just looked at the URL you sent regarding db connectivity and Metro apps, and am utterly speechless. This along with the apparent multi-tasking limitation is just unfathomable. Geeez,,,, maybe it'll be addressed by the time it RTMs...

Tue, Jan 17, 2012

If they decide to bin .Net devt in favor of this HTML5/JS script kiddie garbage nonsense, then it's going to lose significant dev support (even from me). They have a fantastic thing going here with .Net and Silverlight, and need to press on with it. If they want to offer 'equal' support for both, then fine,, whatever... But right now I'm so disgusted and disillusioned with the whole prospect and it truly sadens me. Maybe the only way to make things right is for tech people to regain control of the companym but what are the chances in that.

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 Fred G. Vader

@Chuck - I totally agree with you. It's craziness and for who knows why MS is pushing Html5/JS harder than ever. Yeah C#/VB/Xaml is supported but its abundantly clear that they would prefer you use Html5 and JavaScript. Without a doubt if they could push the kill switch on .Net without fear of reprisal they would do it in a heartbeat.

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 Chuck

My only complaint is that MSFT "shifts" seem to be occuring at an ever increasing rate. It's like watching a dog chase a bouncing ball.

Sat, Nov 5, 2011

I'm with Gary - suggest the other poster put down the Kool-Aid and step away from the table...

Fri, Nov 4, 2011

@Garry: We aren't being sent back 10 years. We still have access to the FULL .NET framework, and the FULL stack in .NET 4.5. The only limiting factor is if you want to enter the sandboxed arena that is Metro apps. Then some of the APIs are limited. WinRT has some growing to do, but right now they are concentrating on the functionality required for full screen tablet apps. Come down off of your nerd rage and actually pay attention to reality.

Thu, Nov 3, 2011 Jamie Thomson

This all sounds great, .Net lives on etc... What's hiding under the covers though is that they're stripping out fundamental capabilities that developers rely on. For example, do you want to connect up to the databases running your off-the-shelf packages apps? Sorry can't do that. Don't believe me? Read this:

Tue, Nov 1, 2011

How much does it pay, this cranking out of nonsense as Microsoft apologist? The truth remains that Redmond has lost its way, having run off to chase this latest false messiah, HTML5/JavaScript, all as a result of that which was Steve Jobs' greatest coup of all time, having justified his bias against Flash with false statements about HTML5 and JavaScript being the future. Given the advent of such a world would destroy Apple's iron-fisted control over its native platform, liquidating its kingdom, as much as it would additionally obviate any real further need for a Windows OS, the major players have nothing to gain, creating a marketplace in which catering to an abysmal lowest common denominator (HTML5/JavaScript), Jobs is likely still laughing hysterically somewhere, seeing the degree to which he so easily ran Microsoft off its rails. The most exceptional and incredibly immersive user experiences on the Web are still created via Flash, and for as long as it lasts, Silverlight. Other than insulting the intelligence of those who already know this to be the case, no amount of Redmond propoganda will create the mass delusion for which they're hoping. Looking so forward to something worthwhile rising from the ashes in Redmond once Nero's done playing his fiddle...

Tue, Nov 1, 2011 Garry@TriSys Cambridge, UK

>Our achievements must be disrupted in order for us to prosper - really? So we have to go back 10 years to pre .Net just because of this mistaken premise? Just to be clear; writing spaghetti and unmaintainableJavascript mangled with HTML is absolutely NOT the way developers want to build business applications for windows.

Tue, Nov 1, 2011 Richard Campbell Canada

It strikes me that what Microsoft did is level the playing field - that HTML 5, C++ and .NET all are equal in the Windows 8 landscape. Now we'll see how well they do one way or the other. Each has it's own challenges - I don't think the Javascript engine (aka Chakra) is anybody's dream solution either. That being said, some time in the future we might look back on this moment and say "this was the beginning of the end for .NET."

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