Developers face Windows 8 conundrum

Developers face Windows 8 conundrum

Summary: Those busy creating apps for iOS and Android have to decide whether to build software for Windows 8 too, with forking of OS for x86- and ARM-based devices complicating matters, analysts note.


Microsoft faces a challenge convincing developers its upcoming Windows 8 operating system (OS) is worth investing and building software for, since many are already busy on iOS and Android apps. Market analysts say the challenge is compounded when developers would have to consider developing apps for either Windows 8 on x86 devices, or Windows RT for ARM-based devices, or both.

Richard Edwards, principal analyst at Ovum, said the Windows 8 development situation reminded him of the days when DOS and Windows applications ran side by side. Then, certain applications--games, for example--required direct access to the hardware to perform well. Microsoft eventually provided the DirectX API (application programming interface) for developers in 1995. Adoption was slow, though, he noted.

From that experience, Edwards said Redmond is now trying to provide a high-performing environment for Metro apps by tying the browser to the underlying hardware. However, there will be apps that will only ship for the x86-based devices instead of WinRT-powered ARM devices due to performance issues, the Ovum analyst noted.

David Johnson, senior analyst at Forrester Research, added that Microsoft faces a "classic catch-22" situation. "App developers need confidence the devices and Metro UI will be widely adopted but, of course, [these devices] will only be widely adopted if the applications exist," he said.

Johnson also speculated the biggest challenge for Microsoft would be luring developers, currently overwhelmed with work for iOS and Android, back to the Windows platform for new Metro app development.

"With Windows 8 on ARM, or Windows RT, in particular, apps will require at least a recompile and potentially much more work to incorporate touch and gestures. In many cases, it will be a complete redesign of the app for tablet devices," he pointed out.

Focused on developer education
Commenting on these observations, two Redmond executives told ZDNet Asia the software vendor recognizes getting developers onboard as a top priority and it is serious in its efforts to educate and raise awareness of the latest OS.

Todd Rutherford, senior product marketing manager at Microsoft's Windows group, said the company had held 560 classes across 30 different countries to educate developers on how to create Metro apps for both architecture platforms. This meant some 190,000 developers, including iOS and Android ones, had sat in on these sessions, Rutherford said, adding that another 270 classes were still in the pipeline.

"These efforts are made to ensure there will be no shortage of developers and their apps, for both platforms, at launch," he said.

Asked what it would take for new developers to create Metro apps for both platforms, Anantha Kancherla, Windows group program manager at Microsoft, shares that for JavaScript developers there is no need to relearn a new language.

C++ developers, though, will have to recompile their apps to run on both Windows 8 and Windows RT, Kancherla said. This is the only extra step they would have to take besides testing for both environments which, he assured, should not be "radically difficult" to do.

As for existing Windows developers with software coded on .NET or Silverlight, Kancherla said XAML acts as a bridge for them to remodel their programs for Windows RT. The only difference is in the name spaces, which developers would have to manually amend within the codes, he added.

The program manager also stated the software giant's intention is neither about moving away from traditional desktop computing nor focusing strictly on mobile computing.

Rather, with both Windows 8 and Windows RT, Microsoft is looking to provide the right context and environment for all developers and the programs they are developing.

Software developers, for example, who engage in "high productivity tasks" using programs such as InDesign can still rely on the Windows 7 interface, which is included within both Windows 8 and Windows RT laptops, Kancherla said.

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software Development, Windows

Kevin Kwang

About Kevin Kwang

A Singapore-based freelance IT writer, Kevin made the move from custom publishing focusing on travel and lifestyle to the ever-changing, jargon-filled world of IT and biz tech reporting, and considered this somewhat a leap of faith. Since then, he has covered a myriad of beats including security, mobile communications, and cloud computing.

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  • Another writer..

    who doesn't know what he's talking about... Come on... get some education before you write stuff.
    • Kevin, please read this before you write FUD

      You really should stop blogging if you are going to write lies and scare people away... oh wait, I forgot. This is ZDNet where you get paid to bash Microsoft and write glowingly about Apple (and sometimes Google). Regardless, you're clearly not qualified for writing about Microsoft. Please leave it to Mary Jo Foley and Ed Botts.

      Metro apps run on Windows 8 and Windows RT. There is NO reason for a developer to pick because it is hardware agnostic. A developer will EASILY be able to port from Windows 8/Windows RT to Windows Phone 8 since they all run on the same kernel.

      ...there should be a flag article button so maybe an editor will read lies and actually have them corrected before getting published.
      • Just be not to call Win32 libraries

        Metro apps on Windows 8 (x86) will have access to win32 libraries but not the Metro apps for Windows RT (ARM) as Mozilla discovered while trying to make a Metro version of Firefox.

        So to make sure your app runs on both Windows 8 and Windows RT avoid win32 libraries.
    • Software prices?

      One thing that I'd like to know; will Metro applications be priced similar to Windows applications, or will they be priced similar to iOS and Android applications?

      If Metro applications are priced similar to iOS and Android applications (most are free, or under $10) the Windows 8 tablets, notebooks, and desktop PCs will be very popular. But it's difficult to imagine this happening, since Windows 8 is a PC operating system.

      For example, why would Adobe sell you its Metro version of Photoshop for $10 (as it does on iOS and Android) when they are selling the current version of Photoshop (that will run on the same PCs) for $1,000.?

      Since Microsoft's goal is to eventually transition to all-Metro PCs in the future, they will encourage developers to make their Metro versions of current Windows software just as feature-rich and useful. That being the case, why would a developer spend time and money to replace their current expensive software with a new version that is free, or next to free?

      Which leads to the second scenario.

      If Metro applications are priced similar to the current Windows versions, no one would want to dump their current Windows software, and then have to spend an exorbitant amount to replace it with Metro versions at the same or similar prices. Also, who in their right mind would want to buy a tablet that uses software at Windows PC prices?
      Harvey Lubin
      • I'm sure it will depend

        Since Metro apps will work on desktops, laptops, and tablets (and phones, if the developer/Microsoft ports it), I am sure you will see a range of apps. Using your example of Adobe, I would think they might release a low-end version similar to the iOS/Android version and also a heavier/filled out verison similar to what you have on Windows 7. The ones I will be interested in is something like Plants Vs. Zombies, where it is already available on phones, Windows 7, etc. and at different prices for everyone.

        As far as your comment about Windows 8 being a PC operating system, I think the intent is to shed that notion that something is this type of OS or that type of OS... that's how I see the three screens philosophy. Phones, Tablets, Laptops, Desktops, and Hybrids will ALL give you a nearly identical experience, with phones being the only one that will be any different... having used Windows 8 and owning a Lumia 710, I can tell you the main difference is that almost all the empty space is gone on the phone and where certain things are in settings are obviously different.

        Why would someone spend time on developing an app that will be useful on computers for the foreseeable future? I don't know... probably the same reason I can't play many of my PC games from my secondary days that don't run on anything after XP. Not to mention, if someone buys all into Windows 8, they can take that app with them any where and every where. They show it off to friends/ marketing.

        Why do people buy iOS apps and then buy the same ones on the Apple Store? What apps does your aunt or neighbor five doors down use that costs tons of money? Do you think only current Windows 7 developers are the ones interested in developing for Windows 8? I don't think so! You'll still have your free apps, your amateur apps, etc. Just like you have with software, if you want the top-of-the-line software, you pay for it. My guess is the overly specialized apps will require desktop mode since they'll probably be coded in something that's not currently metro-friendly. By Windows 9 or 10, I'm sure even those apps will be metro-friendly.

        I think you're speculating too much for your own good. You're looking at this all worst case scenario. Look at the current markets for tablet software... I reckon the majority of apps will be similarly priced. There might be a dollar or so upcharge on it because it can run on more than just a tablet, but I highly doubt it's going to be priced to the point no one will want to buy it. Microsoft has learned that... look at how XBox 360, hardware, and games are priced - competitively with PS3 (I ignore the Wii since it always contained significantly less hardware which meant less graphically intensive games, but even then, XBox 360 vs Wii is fairly priced in my eyes... I'll pay the $10 extra so I can use a proper controller on my XBox and stick to games that benefit from the WiiMote on the Wii).
        • I sort of agree...

          iOS and Android apps (and WP7 apps) that get ported will have similar prices to their counterparts.

          "Professional" level apps, aimed at professional users and corporations, where the time invested can be higher and the market more limited, they will probably have professional style prices - or a corporation will buy a licence and side-load them on their corporate machines.
    • Keep to travel and lifestyle, Kevin has no clue on technology

      Stop spreading this FUD, get educated and start using it before writting stupid articles
  • What about existing .NET developers?

    "Johnson also speculated the biggest challenge for Microsoft would be luring developers, currently overwhelmed with work for iOS and Android, back to the Windows platform for new Metro app development."

    This assertion is seriously flawed by assuming that most developers worldwide are already developing for iOS and Android and they have to learn the new Microsoft environment from scratch before Metro development can kick off.

    If I am not mistaken, there are thousands of already existing .NET developers worldwide who are probably not already developing for iOS or Android but nevertheless possess majority of the core knowledge (XAML, Javascript, WPF, C#, C++, etc.) required to develop for Metro. For these groups of developers, moving over to Metro development is going to be seamless and straightforward.

    I am a good example in this case. I am a .NET developer primarily on C#, XML and ASP.NET technologies. I have never developed for iOS or Android or even Windows Phone 7. I have mainly been into rich database application and web development but decided to jump fully into the Metro train because of the opportunities provided by the Windows 8 environment especially the market place.
    Right now, I am actively developing some Metro applications and hope to finish and have it in the market place by the time of Windows 8 official lunch.

    As an experienced .NET developer, jumping to Metro was seamless for me. All I did was to read the Metro tutorial on Microsoft developer website and with my knowledge of C# and XML, I was able to get a sample Metro app developed in less than 2 hours.

    I think it is very unfortunate for the author to assume that the success of developer adoption of the metro platform is only dependent on existing iOS and Android developers being lured over to the windows camp. Is the author assuming that the .NET developer base is insignificant in the world? If you ask me, I think, we have much more .NET developers than iOS and Android combined.
    • I agree.

      I am in the same boat with you. I work with .NET and have never atttempted to develop for android or iOS.
    • Actually

      In this context, I think the word "Developer" means person or company selling the software to run on Windows ARM/x86.
    • Vastly underestimated

      At thousands, you have vastly underestimated the real number that fits your scenario. And that explain why these new consumer driven, low cost app stores have been exploding so much over the past couple of years. It's why MS's WP apps store made it to 100K so fast and completely proves false the author's point. Now that MS has entered the market with a new runtime, we should see traditional desktop development slow as Metro based development increases, including in the enterprise.
    • Android really isn't all the different.

      I write and oversee .Net software development for my day job.

      But I have dabbled a bit in app Android development after hours...

      Android's preferred course of development includes:
      1) An XML-based mark-up to define UI layout
      2) A curly-braced managed language that borrows quite a bit from C/C++ in terms of syntax.
      3) IDE's that are a lot better thanks to competition from Visual Studio

      Sounds a little like XAML + C#/WPF/Silverlight/ doesn't it?

      Honestly, the hardest part of Android development is #3.
    • Same experience

      As a .Net developer, we found developing a Win phone app easy and are looking forward to Win 8. The most developers in the world target MS systems and while they may not have much experience in writing toy apps for iOS and Android, they don't really need it ;-)
    • Just the opposite.

      I have done the .NET thing. Been there done that.

      Never want to go back. VS's busy cluttered messed up interface has lost me forever.
      • Curious

        What are you coding with now?
      • Seriously?

        Do you mean the infinitely customizable VS UI that allows you to determine precisely how you want it to look? So, what? You're using notepad?
      • VS?

        Let me guess.... You were using Visual Studio 2003 do you?

        VS has come a long way you know.
  • Typo in article

    underlying hardwar.
  • RT Hardware

    Where is the RT hardware for ISVs to develop and test on?
  • Conundrum

    It's should be easy to develop software that runs on both as long as you stick to Windows RT APIs. That's really the whole point of Windows 8, is that you can develop software that runs on your computer, your smart phone or your windows tablet.