Microsoft's Blue: What will developers do?

Microsoft's Blue: What will developers do?

Summary: If Microsoft brings back the Start Button and adds a boot-to-desktop option with Windows Blue, should Windows developers still be counting on Metro as their future?


Since I blogged last week about Microsoft mulling the return of the Start Button and a boot-directly-to-desktop option in Windows Blue, I've heard from a number of developers wondering what the latest Windows plan means for them.


One of Microsoft's goals with Windows 8, sources have said all along, was to try to convince the developer community that it is/was still worth writing "killer apps" for Windows. But if Blue, a k a Windows 8.1, allows users to opt to boot straight to the Desktop and avoid the Metro Start Screen as much as possible, doesn't this undermine the message that Metro is the future? What's the reason Windows devs should bother putting their eggs in the Windows 8/WinRT -- rather than the tried-and-true Win32 -- basket?

Right now, we don't know exactly how the Start Button, if and when it returns to Windows 8 with Blue, will work. Word is that it will simply take users to the Metro Start Screen and not open up the Start Menu (with access to commonly used programs, files, etc.). If this is the case, the Start Button will function as more of a familiar "anchor," designed to calm users' worries about the unfamiliarity of the new Windows 8 interface. This new Start Button will send users to the Metro Start Screen, not the Desktop (again, if rumors are true), so -- in theory at least -- it won't be signaling that Microsoft is backtracking about its Metro commitments.

Microsoft needs to make building Metro apps a more appealing prospect for developers, especially those who are worried about Windows 8's seemingly lackluster acceptance by the public. This is where the changes to the Windows app platforms and a rumored new version of Visual Studio could come into play.

So far, there hasn't been a leak of "Visual Studio Blue," but this is believed to be coming this year. The VS Blue release supposedly will support Microsoft's work to bring more into alignment the app platforms for Windows Phone and Windows 8, from what I've heard from my sources.

The "app platform" is the set of application-programming interface (API) frameworks and control libraries. It includes the WinRT API, the Windows Phone API, the .Net Framework. The app platform also encompasses the layout and rendering engines (HTML, XAML, DirectX) used for designing the user interfaces for Windows variants, as well as supported languages for development, such as C++, C# and JavaScript.

Currently, on the language front, Windows RT supports C#, VB.Net, JavaScript and C++ (primarily for games). Windows Phone supports C#, VB.Net and C++ (also mostly for games). On the layout and rendering front, Windows RT supports XAML, HTML and Direct X; Windows Phone supports XAML and DirectX. The control libraries for Windows RT and Windows Phone are unique, meaning, they are not shared between the two platforms. And on the API front, Windows RT supports WinRT and a small subset of Win32/COM (only accessible from C++ apps). Windows Phone supports a set of .Net APIs; WinPhoneRT, which is a setset of WinRT, plus some new APIs unique to Windows PHone; and some Win32 and COM APIs for access to certain low-level file system and networking features.

(This Windows Phone Dev Center article from Microsoft covers the overlap between the two platforms on the XAML front.)

Development for both Windows RT and Windows Phone can be done in Visual Studio. Windows Store/Metro apps are distributed via the Windows Store in Windows, while Windows Phone apps are distributed via the Windows Phone Store.

With Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, Microsoft took steps toward bringing these two different app platforms closer together. Developers can write Windows 8/Windows Phone 8 apps that share a lot of code. But they also can end up writing apps that can't be ported at all across the two platforms. (If a phone dev writes an app using XAML plus the .Net API set, it can mean a huge rewrite is needed to bring that app to Windows 8, one of my contacts told me.) And they still need to submit their apps to two different stores with different approval procedures and rules.

Supposedly, with the coming Blue updates, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 will be brought into closer alignment -- which would be a big Metro selling point for the Softies. To do this, Microsoft needs to make it possible for devs to reuse as much code as possible, which means the company needs to more closely align the language support, the layout/rendering engines and the control libraries -- not to mention the dev tools and the distribution platforms.

"The holy grail is to fire up Visual Studio, create a single app in any language you want that works on both platforms, with UI and functionality that adapts to the form factor and features of the device, and with one click submit to a unified store," one of my sources said.

But Microsoft is still years away from achieving something even close to that perfect world. The goal with the Windows Blue and Windows Phone Blue releases is to remove some of the more obvious seams between the different platforms and give Microsoft a more appealing, unified dev story.

The Redmondians are betting that Start Button and boot-to-the-desktop won't be perceived by developers as a nod to stop writing to the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 app platforms. Windows devs: Do you think they're betting right or wrong on this one?

Topics: Software Development, Microsoft, Windows 8, Windows Phone


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Mistake for MS

    Unfortunately, they're wrong. The inconsistencies between the two interfaces will be even more stark then. If the user only knows to look for the Start button on the desktop, then there's no incentive for them to use the hot-corner. And if the user doesn't know about the hot corner, then they can't escape WinRT-based apps, which means they just won't use them.

    It pretty much undermines everything they're trying to do with Windows 8... which if rumors correct, means it makes sense that the Windows team is strongly against it and they're being pushed to add this from above.
    • What's the difference between the button and the hot corner?

      According to Mary Jo, the button will have exactly the same function as the hot corner does now. So how will changing it from a corner to a button change how the user views Metro?

      Personally I don't see a need to bring back the button, but if it placates the masses I can understand why they are considering it.
      Michael Kelly
      • It creates inconsistency

        Currently the hot corner and the hidden start button are consistent across both the desktop and any metro based application. There is no need to add a startbutton, as one is already there.
        • I disagree . . .

          The hot corner will go away and the new button will be big enough for touch. They will be consistent.

          Start button that opens the start menu is the best way to go!
          • The charms are much better for touch than a start button

            In an early build of windows 8 there was a start button on the task bar like in windows 7 but designed to match windows 8 appearance. It just took you to the start screen. When they removed in favor of the hot corners I didn't miss it since when you hover in this same area it appears and the charms work much better with touch. The start button is only to appease people who find it difficult to move there mouse into the lower left corner. It's not really necessary to bring it back except to make old people feel comfortable.

            The fact is the start screen is the start menu. Just a better way to access and organize your apps.

            The only way I think the old start button should be brought back is if it had some sort of smart functionality. Like it could act differently for touch and mouse clicks. If clicked with a mouse it brings up a familiar start menu but with larger handles for touch, links to desktop and metro apps, charms, and the start screen. If it is clicked with a touch it could just open the start screen. Swipe gestures to bring up charms and cycling programs remain the same.
          • Old People have not died yet !

            I might be an old person but I still have a brain and I very clearly know what I like and more importantly what I am prepared to pay for. I do not like Windows 8 in its current form - that has absolutely NOTHING to do with my age BUT an awful lot to do with the fact that it is NOT INTUITIVE - nor does it build upon knowledge and training acquired over the past 20 years. I don't find it appealing to be told how to embrace new ways of doing old tasks just because some one younger than myself says its necessary .. Rubbish I say to that . There is a reason why Start menu programs are being downloaded onto Win8 builds and why I am being asked daily if Win 8 built machines can be set back to W7 and in some cases even XP . The problem with everyone who tries to argue otherwise is to be incredibly dismissive of other people's rights to have a diverging opinion. Microsoft ought to have kept a Start Menu option with a choice to default to the desktop and they would have had less criticism. W8 would have been even better if it included an XP like repair restore option as I find system restore to be next to useless. If I was a Microsoft Shareholder I would be really ticked off that their current strategy is clearly alienating at least 50% of its potential customer base and selling Win8 for $40 is hardly making them big bucks or returning a stellar return for investors . Logically I cannot see why Microsft is not rehashing XP with SP4 and extending its life longer for business as many have not even upgraded to W7 yet so W8 is a massive overreach for cash and resource strapeed small business in particular. I am not sure some of you commentators have actually ever run a real business and dealt with actual resource and cash flow problems. If it was your money going South bet you would change your tune very quickly. Just an alternative old persons different take on this - equally valid and not dismissive of your right to metro apps as I am not saying take them out.
          • Guess what?

            If you dislike Windows 8 in its current form, you can always keep using Windows 7. It's not like you are forced to use Windows 8.
          • True BUT

            with the FUD spread by Microsoft to coerce "older people" into upgrading, they are under the impression to have to move to Windows 7 and Windows 8. They are told no more support for XP in a few short months. Soon to be followed in a couple of years with Windows 7. Since most "old people" are computer illiterate - i.e., they know how to do e-mail and surf the internet but not much more, they buy into the misconception that on the "magic date" Microsoft no longer supports XP (or Windows 7) it will stop working.

            I see too many technical types on these commentaries who wear blinders and only think in their own little box. It is one thing when you work in a large IT shop or are supported by such vs a home user. Read columns like Mr. Modem and you might be surprised at the level of knowledge (or should I say lack of) in the questions asked. While you might think those people should never go near a PC, it has been pitched as a household commodity - like turning on a TV - even then a lot of "old people" can find the settings confusing on modern TVs. Keep in mind, someday you will also be one of those "old people" and when you have been away from the technical world a while, may also become confused by the "new" technological changes.
          • not today

            bobc4012 - 20 years ago old people were computer illiterate. Not many today that don't do email. I know a lot of retires who are on "the facebook" with their grandkids every day. Lots of seniors groups and volunteer activities have all their documentation, training and policies on line. Being on fixed incomes the olds find the low cost way to do things. Talking by the hour on Skype for free is something worth learning when you care about cost. I belong to one group called Coots that is over 10 years old and most of the members are retired water rats. They are jazzed by being able to keep charts and maps on a cheap Android tablet that can also document the trip with photos and log updates. One 72 year old I know has just set up an on line business importing electric outboards and he had no business or work experience with computers as he was a jeweler most of his life. I live in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe the seniors in your part of the world are different.
          • old people

            We aren't computer illiterate, I don't feel pressured and most off the fund comes from MSFT haters.
          • You are forced to w8

            Most new hardware comes installed with Windows 8 only, with no option of upgrading to windows 7. Windows 7 itself is becoming increasingly harder to obtain as Microsoft is limiting its availability.
          • That's the problem

            Yeah, he can sticl with Windows 7. Microsoft's big problem right now is that the people doing that vastly outnumber the ones that actually want Windows 8 in it's current form.

            If they really want people to write Metro apps, they first need to get users onto a platform that can actually run them. Being hostile to what those users want is not going to accomplish the goal.
      • The should definitely remove the inconsistencies in Windows

        They shouldn’t only bring back the start menu they should scrap completely the Metro from the desktop. The inconsistency here is the Metro crp that messes up the desktop experience.
        • This can only happen in one scenario

          When Office becomes available as metro/modern/immersive app, Windows RT will have no use for Desktop, since early build leaks seems to also include a metro style Windows Explorer (File Explorer).

          Therefore, with Microsoft Office and File Explorer available as metro apps, Windows RT can be purely a touch tablet without the need for Desktop.
      • The difference is clear.

        One is an interface element that is familiar to almost every person who has used a Windows computer since 1995. The other one is a non-descript corner of the screen that some people might know will trigger a certain function.
      • Brining back the start-button would be great.

        IF it would go to the start-screen, same as in Windows Phone, if you click on the Windows (Phone) logo it brings you to your metro (live) tiles, it's easier to touch, imagine if Windows Phone had a hot cornet, it would be way less popular, also a Windows Orb-styled start-button would be more user-friend and especially ''touch-friendly'' since it would pretty much resemble Android's/iO.S.'es home-button.

        I find the hot-cornet easy to use, but for some reason a lot of people don't, so I applaud anything that attracts more developers and haults resisitance for a great leap into the future (Windows 8).
        Văn Minh Nguyễn
        • windows key

          That is the function of the windows key on your keyboard for Win 8. I have a hard time with the fact that most people don't use the Windows key and complain that they can't maneuver between the two interfaces. Hint: make desktop a big icon and put it first on the start screen. Personally I use the Windows key + D for Desktop, +C for Charms, etc
      • I wonder.

        I wonder, if Microsoft decision makers know the definition on insanity.
        • there is no such thing

          as monkeysoft decision makers.
        • I'm pretty sure they know what insanity means, and that's why they don't

          even bother to acknowledge that people like you exist. You are insanely worthless to MS. ;)