The cards you've been dealt -- being a productive developer without Windows 8.1 RTM

Summary:Microsoft is dead set against giving Windows 8.1 to developers before the general public. But how can a developer make the best of a bad situation...?

Sometimes, Microsoft drives me mad.

I spent the first three-quarters of my career using Microsoft tools exclusively. Over the past five years, because mobility is such a force in our industry now, Microsoft is just part of the mix of things I use.

But I still -- somewhere -- care about them doing well. And when they do things that I think is genuinely damaging to the profession I love (software engineering), and to their chances of remaining relevant as we look forward ten, twenty years, I react.

I got a lot of feedback to the piece I did yesterday -- " Now all Microsoft developers have been thrown under the the bus ". Was it perhaps too harsh? Was I perhaps too angry to go near ZDNet's CMS?

Maybe. But, anyway, let's look at it a different way...

If Microsoft are changing the rules and we still want to play their game, what's a developer to do?

Preparedness

What we lose as developers not being able to access the final bits is some form of guarantee. We don't know that we put out there will work for our customers. That's the advantage of having early release.

Perhaps we can look at Windows 8.1 as a service pack. This TechNet article tells us more about what's in Windows 8.1 from a functionality perspective, and this MSDN article tells us more about the development changes. Most of the changes affect Windows Store apps -- and I'll come onto that.

For those delivering apps on Old Windows (Win32, .NET, WPF etc), we know that unless they are mega-sized service packs like XP SP2 was service packs generally aren't that disruptive. Unless you're writing at the very edge of Windows desktop weirdness (think device drivers, or device companion software) you're unlikely to hit any showstoppers.

What we need to do as developers is plan. The hand we're dealt is that before we had time to ramp up preparedness for a new OS release so that when customers started coming in with problems we had some time to react. We now don't get that. So we're in the situation that every business has when dealing with an emerging reality at the coalface -- stay calm, and be prepared. Make sure you have enough resources, materials, and so on lined up to react calmly when everyone starts to get the final release.

Previews

If you are a developer, you likely already have Windows 8.1 already. You may also have Visual Studio 2013. It's a shame that we still don't know more about the actual release date of Visual Studio 2013. I've been using it on and off for a while and it's better, much more polished, than Visual Studio 2012.

So we have previews, and again this mitigates the chance of being surprised too much on the release date of October 18th.

As developers then something else that we can do is make sure that we have the preview OS installed and ready and that we're happy as we can be with our apps performance on that.

What is a shame is that we're not going to be able to  release Windows 8.1. versions of Windows Store apps  until the release date.

It's hard to square the circle on that one. Visual Studio 2013 obvious allows targeting of apps on Windows 8.1 -- so it implies we can get everything ready to go when submission opens on October 18th, but it seems unnecessarily fussy. If nothing else it's obvious that Microsoft will get a big spike of submissions on that day, and that the validation process will be impacted as a result of that. The only way to guarantee end-user safety in that scenario from Microsoft's perspective is to add delays. They can't rush through reviews and risk having apps that cause damage or embarrassment on the store.

However, this is the part that's changed the most, so if you do target Windows Store apps, you are likely to find the most bumpiness here. (But, it's a smaller market compared to Old Windows apps.)

It's hard to see how not allowing early submissions is anything other than a mistake on Microsoft's part. It doesn't seem to serve anyone particular well, and smacks of making their development partners have to fit into their procedures. It's not very "customer focused".

What do we as developers do? Again -- preparedness. Get everything ported and tested as well as you can for Windows 8.1 and make sure time is scheduled to get the apps submitted. Get the final final bits as soon as you can and have developers able to focus time on that day when the bits are allowed.

Conclusion

There are, of course, developers who are getting special treatment in all this. Those who have NDA'd copies of the final bits, who also will be able to submit their Windows 8.1 apps to the store ahead of time. I stand by my comments in my first piece -- Microsoft loves these developers more than they love you, and if you're not one of those much-loved developers, have a little think about what that means to you and your business.

First we had the  early-access bits rules change with Windows Phone 8 . Now rather than that being an aberration, it looks like "limited early-access" is the new norm.

Unless you want to revisit the thought I had in October.  We Microsoft developers need to form a union to apply pressure to Microsoft to change .

Job one -- reinstate early access to how it's always been. We need the stuff, guys.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: Windows, Windows 8

About

Matt Baxter-Reynolds is a mobile software development consultant and technology sociologist based in the UK. His latest book -- "Death of the PC" -- is available on Amazon now.

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