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

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...?

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TOPICS: Windows, Windows 8
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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

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42 comments
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  • Microsoft Has Gone Paranoid-Psychotic

    I seriously think Microsoft has lost touch with reality. Instead of responding to negativity from its customers and developers with attempts to fix the problems, it has decided that it is right and they are wrong, and the way to avoid criticism is to simply stifle the opportunities for it to be voiced.

    In short, it is acting like a monopoly. Trouble is, that monopoly is restricted to a fast-diminishing market niche.
    ldo17
  • for me it is a simple thing

    I intend to ignore the target until there is a supported mechanism to deliver to it. I suggest others do the same.

    If it means a flurry of bugs in October, fix them at your own pace. Microsoft had to know there would be consequences, so let them worry about it.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • People commenting on this post....

    ....aren't Windows 8 App developers. As a Windows 8 App developer I don't really see this as a pressing issue. Sure getting the RTM ahead of launch would have satisfied my lust for it, but it does not affect my apps in the least since they work in the CP.

    1. Microsoft said RTM and CP are generally the same with improvements in the UI. I cannot submit an app for the store until October so I'll build and test it on CP, wait for the final bits, test it, make a few changes and submit.

    2. Microsoft needs to manage this situation because we've seen what people can do 'overreacting' to a pre-launch build can do. Windows 8 was pronounced a disaster way back in September 2011 when the Developer Preview was set loose. They don't want over zealous blogs to review a product before Microsoft gets to launch it.

    3. Who else gives you Final code ahead of launch. Definitely not Google or Apple. They'll give you 30 broken beta versions.

    4. Actual Windows developers realize this and don't listen to sensationalist drivel.

    But it's quite entertaining watching the usual Anti-Microsoft band of lunatics go at the piñata
    Dreyer Smit
    • Isn't that slightly simplistic?

      "Microsoft said RTM and CP are generally the same with improvements in the UI."

      That's nice, but do you have any idea what those "improvements in the UI" might be? For example, I've just completed a code-change where an *apparently* small UI change resulted in me completely refactoring how the thing was implemented underneath. The Devil, as they say, is in the details...
      Zogg
      • Plus

        For Microsoft, "OS and UI" are things they don't distinguish much.
        danbi
    • In all likelihood, I've been a Windows developer

      since you were in grade school (or younger.) Don't make assumptions about your fellow posters, just because you don't happen to share their views.

      If you were the great developer you feel yourself to be, you would be aware (as ironically the other alleged 'non developers' seem to be) that it is traditional practice on MSDN to drop the RTM code to developers at the time it is launched to manufacturers.

      The reference to Apple is irrelevant. They don't go through the RTM process. When the code is released, staff in the stores upgrade the computers in inventory. Everyone, developers included, gets the new code the day it drops.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
      • As a devloper you've not noticed your world changing?

        As a developer you should have noticed by now that your world is changing. Development cycles are shorter, releases are more frequent, and testing is continuous.
        The same is true for the developers working on Windows. So the old RTM process is changing to align with the new realities. Not such a hard thing to understand, and while it’s always nice to have the RTM ‘Golden bits’ to test against, in today’s world what constitutes ‘Golden’?

        In the days of three year development cycles for a Windows version it was vital to get the RTM as soon as possible. Not so much anymore. And what is available today to build against is of far better quality than anything we got in the old days.

        The whole issue doesn’t seem worthy of so much attention.
        Skippy99
        • You're right I have noticed the world changing

          When John Resig has a new jQuery out, it is up right away. That is what I've noticed.

          So that is why it is unfathomable to me that Windows 8.1 exists in its final form, and yet is not available. That is definitely not the way anyone else is doing their agile development.

          it's fine... we'll work with it. That's the other way things are changing... we just go with the flow.
          Mac_PC_FenceSitter
          • Yea jQuery is a different story

            When a new version of jQuery comes out and you upgrade and it has a bunch of breaking changes that you fix, it's no big deal; you're a developer that what you do. When a new version of Windows comes out and it breaks everyone pisses and moans.
            bmonsterman
        • Actually, it feels a little mid-90s-ish

          Remember when (in the Visual Studio 4.x days), a new version of VS (with a greatly changed version of MFC) was coming out every 6 months. Stuff would be working, VS would get released, the MFC libraries would get updated and, presto, things would break.

          We ended up changing all of our dev and test methodologies to cope with the rapid pace that Microsoft was forcing on us. We got our stuff all settled just about the time that they stopped the 6-month release cycle.

          When you are developer using the latest/greatest stuff, you end up living on the edge. Sometimes it works very well, sometimes it doesn't. As they say "that's why they pay you the big bucks".
          Flydog57
    • I've been a Microsoft developer since Windows 3.1

      and it's not just about getting access to the current bit, but more how Microsoft has begun more and more, ignoring developers.
      roteague
      • Frameworks.

        I get the impression the frameworks for Metro software is seriously immature and lacking in features. How bad is it in there?
        LurkingGrue
        • It's pretty bad

          They eviscerated the .NET framework, leaving only something called "Windows Tailored." They've thrown a number of substitute APIs into something called WinRT, which is really just COM tarted up in a .NET dress (called language projections.) The WinRT API is interesting, but rather limited, and designed for a highly sandboxed environment (unlike historical Windows which was designed to allow programs to interoperate in an integrated way.)

          The substitute WinRT API also has only limited data access features. The rich data access capabilities of .NET are part of what was eviscerated in "Windows tailored."

          There is some nice stuff - they have made asynchronous programming much easier, almost too easy. There are some nice standards implementations, like oData.

          But it is a big step down in a lot of ways. You can expect "modern" apps to have many fewer capabilities than desktop apps for some time to come, as a result of this.
          Mac_PC_FenceSitter
          • The 8.1 WinRT opens the edges of the sandbox a bit

            More device support, etc. I expect that every release of WinRT will be a little more open than the last. Microsoft has learned that if they open a door to something, it can never be shut (for app-compat reasons). As a result, they are spending a lot of time making each of those doors very robust.
            Flydog57
      • I've been coding for MS OS since DOS 1.0

        Agree that MS continue to "punish" the developers that made them so popular in the first place. Their continued ignorance of what front line developers face with their end users/clients boggles my mind. The termination of Silverlight was a clear sign that developers are just not important to them ... or so MS think.

        But ultimately, we don't get punished, we just move on to other platforms and where the end user takes us. I see Ballmer's retirement plans have done NOTHING to turn around Microsoft ... so no developer support, no end user interest, this is the "new plan"?
        Rob Ainscough
  • Why bother with Windows 8?

    The real money maker is developing multi-user games for the new Google TV interface plug-in. By Christmas, everyone will have one. Sure, wait for Microsoft to re-release Windows 8.15 and maybe get it right, or not, or your can rake in billions off Google games with a Zinga-like IPO. Your choice!
    Tony Burzio
    • This post is not related to the topic

      There is nothing about Google in this article.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
    • @Tony Burzio

      Then why bother with this article? Don't you have to work to rake billions of Google games?
      spicycheeks
  • Basic language usage

    Your piece is so badly written (in terms of sentence fragments, bad typos, etc.) that I've given up reading after the third paragraph. I just don't have the time or the energy to try to figure out what you're trying to say. I'm not trying to be nit-picky. This is just part of basic human communications.
    mflanery
  • Wow!

    Developers actually care about Metro? So far consumers are not caring and I know I'm not wanting any metro or anything from the windows store.

    Metro as a platform has as much traction and Zune.
    LurkingGrue