Writing business apps for Microsoft's Windows 8: Developers weigh in

Writing business apps for Microsoft's Windows 8: Developers weigh in

Summary: Some business-app developers are starting to wade into the Windows 8 waters. Here are some of their early observations.


Of the new Windows 8 apps Microsoft and its partners have shown and discussed publicly, the vast majority are consumer-focused. But behind the scenes, there are some developers -- beyond those affiliated with Microsoft -- who are working on creating business-focused Windows 8 programs.


I recently interviewed three such shops that have been planning and building Windows 8 business apps.

Microsoft partner and IT services provider Sogeti has been working on building several proof-of-concept Windows 8 apps since January 2012. Sogeti is building apps for power and electric companies, among others, that "embody the spirit of Metro, but aren't too flashy," said Darren Baker, Sogeti's Redmond-based Global Business Development Director.

Sogeti is out to prove a line-of-business app can be a good citizen in the Windows 8 Metro/modern style world.

Here's Sogeti's video overview of some of the Windows 8 proof-of-concept apps it has built:


"Microsoft is adamant about not paying for app development," explained Baker. "Instead, they come to us and say, we have a customer. Microsoft pays a bit for our time, and then, if a customer ends up buying (Windows 8) tablets to further the development, it's considered a win because it stopped an iPad sale."

Sogeti has built four proof-of-concept Windows 8 apps for customers in the U.S. and another 10 in Europe. Even though Sogeti has many developers with HTML5 and JavaScript exepertise, the company has gravitated toward using XAML and C# using Visual Studio 2012 to build its prototype apps, officials said, since those languages and tools were what the mobile app team has used in building Windows Phone apps.

"There is a learning curve with WinRT APIs, but Microsoft has helped us," said Samidip Basu, a Microsoft Mobility Solutions Lead for Sogeti U.S.

In developing the proof-of-concept apps, Sogeti has focused on making sure "it's not a disjointed experience" for customers, Basu said. Sogeti also is focusing on making use of the Charms, app bars, search and share and new touch gestures, even though not all of these features need to be turned on right away. Sogeti also created demo apps which made use of Azure and SQL Azure, as well as a stylus for drawing, Basu said.

Microsoft's proof-of-concept program terms stipulated participants provide two to three iterations per project. Projects typically involved three to four devs and one designer.

Like Sogeti, C-Labs Software also prefers Silverlight/XAML to HTML and JavaScript for developing Windows 8 business applications.

C-Labs has built a middleware framework, known as C-DEngine, that uses connected devices to deliver real-time distributed business intelligence to manufacturers. CEO and foudner Chris Muench has developed a related Windows 8 prototype application called "See My House" which provides home-automation monitoring. Muench said the app ultimately could be sold to consumers or businesses, but that it's definitely an "enterprise-class" app.

It took Muench a half day to bring the user interface of his app over to Windows 8's Metro/modern style. He was able to migrate his controls and build new touch-enabled ones. His next step is to make use of the Charms and Contracts features in Windows 8.

Muench said the commonalities in the Silverlight and XAML are what helped him get his prototype built so quickly.

"Silverlight is being downplayed by Microsoft evangelists and devs, but I still like it, even if they call it XAML," Muench said. "I think HTML and JavaScript is much less secure than with C#/XAML. And encryption is a nightmare with JavaScript."

On the plus side, the full-screen app concept enforced in the Metro/modern environment in Windows 8 makes a lot of sense in the industrial-automation world; the overlapping windows in current Windows versions created a hurdle in this space, Muench said. But to its detriment, Microsoft isn't talking enough about side-loading and how Metro/modern-style business apps will work in the Windows Store, particularly regarding the certification requirements for these kinds of apps, he said.

Not every business app seems destined for the Windows 8 Metro/modern environment, however. As was true with every previous version of Windows, apps that require access to the "guts" of Windows -- the file system, registry, etc. -- often are problematic to port. That's what Laplink has found to be the case this time around, as well.

"Our app won't work with Metro. It needs access to everything on a PC," said Laplink CEO Thomas Koll.

Laplink's sync product will still work in the Desktop app/environment available on Intel/AMD-based Windows 8 PCs and tablets. But Microsoft won't allow the direct sale/download of non-Metro-style apps through its Windows Store, officials have said. (Desktop/legacy apps will be allowed to be listed in the Store, but not serviced and sold.)

Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon are the four ecosystems that independent software vendors (ISVs) need to support or they "won't exist," Koll said. But all four increasingly are restricting developers in their respective walled gardens, Koll noted.

There is a silver lining to this Metro-style cloud for Laplink, however.

"It's good for our migration tool (PCmover) business that Microsoft is changing its operating system," Koll noted, as many of those looking to move from previous versions of Windows to Windows 8 will likely need some help.

Topics: Windows, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Software Development


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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  • No thanks

    We don't want another Vista in our computer
    • CNet's Shell_Coder on Zdnet?

      For god's sake!!!!!

      We don't want another shell_coder troll on zdnet. You were much more than bearable on CNet.
      • Sure we do

        The more the merrier.

        Cylon Centurion
    • Vista sold 400 million licenses

      Adjust that for inflation, it means Windows 8 will be selling 800 million licenses.
      • Vista sold 400 million licenses

        Well said! I believe that's more than all the OSX macines sold. If Vista was a failure, what foes that say about macs?
        • Easy

          It says Apple doesn't have an agreement with OEMs to sell their OS.
          Michael Alan Goff
          • Well, it dosnt really say that...but even if it did...

            So what?

            Last I heard Apple sold Macs. Macs are Macs from what Apple wants to have you beleive; not PC's.

            The fact Apple dosnt let OEM's sell their OS on their machines means absolutly nothing.

            If you dont follow the most simple logic of that then look elswhere for an explaination as to why it dosnt apply to this conversation because I dont think people who are reasonable have time to waste explaining why something so pointless is not in fact a point.
          • Actually....

            "Last I heard Apple sold Macs. Macs are Macs from what Apple wants to have you beleive; not PC's." Actually, Macs ARE PC's. PC = Personal Computer. MS Windows runs on what is known as an IBM compatible. Apple may have invented the "PC", but IBM made them popular, but not necessarily better.

            BTW, I've been using "PC's" since 1990. Everything I've learned has been done the hard way. I've used Apple products so little, I can count the number of times on one hand.
        • It says...

          No matter how many "Mac Guy" commercials Apple created, no matter how big Apple made the blatant LIES, no matter how cool they tried to make Mac users sound, no matter how funny they tried to make the commercials, you cannot replace the utility people want, and find in a Windows computer with a Mac.

          And the public knows it.
          • This is why

            Apple supports "BootCamp", their tool (and driver set) that lets you run Windows on any modern Mac. Why not -- Mac is just a marketing name, they're selling fairly bog standard PC clones these days, in nice metal cases, and at twice the going rate for any given laptop, but still, they are PCs.
          • Poor bitter Cabal

            The name suits you. But since you're a chronic M$ ass kisser, it's understandable.
            Cylon Centurion
          • Wrong

            Apple owns the market it is in, it is a majority player in the 1k+.

            But a majority of the people don't pay 1k$ for their computer, they don't want to. Apple doesn't play the same game that Dell, HP, and so many others, do. They make a product that doesn't pander to those with shallow wallets.

            Their marketshare shows it.
            Michael Alan Goff
        • And the iPhone division

          has made more money in the last 2 quarters than all Microsoft products combined. So what is your point about Mac's again?
    • Win 8 is not VISTA

      It has the same hardware requirements as Windows 7. In most case studies its proven to run better and also works well on older PCs. Drivers aren't a problem because most Win 7 drivers work on 8. Time for the haters to calm down, embrace the OS and realize its coming whether you like it or not!
  • Focus on stopping iPad

    What Sogeti's Darren Baker said about how Microsoft is approaching 3rd party Windows 8 app development, highly focused on stopping the iPad, helps explain why Microsoft is ignoring the desktop. Microsoft has chosen to defend its desktop dominance, not by making the desktop better, but by trying to keep iPads out of enterprises. They know iPads are the camel's nose under the tent, and once they are in, companies can start thinking, "Hey, when we replace these desktops and laptops, we should look at Mac products." Unfortunately, for companies like LapLink (and the company I work for), who sell desktop products that simply will not fit in the Metro sandbox, we're stuck waiting a long time, if not forever, for Microsoft make further enhancements in their desktop application development framework.

    Also, please don't indulge Microsoft by following their lead and calling "Metro" apps "modern". This is a ridiculous choice by Microsoft that should not be tolerated by rational people.
    • Microsoft has many groups, each incented differently

      Just because one group is working to block the iPad doesn't mean that is all Microsoft if trying to do.

      Then again, there are a lot of benefits to Microsoft if the world moves to "Metro-style" apps. In particular, they are signed, sandboxed and (at least the commercial ones) curated. Sandboxing and curating apps goes a long way to getting rid of possible security vulnerabilities.

      If the only applications installable on a machine are signed by either the Microsoft store or by "the enterprise", then the likelihood that a user downloads malware to his box drops to near zero.

      I don't see Microsoft as being in the "app store" business for the money, they are in it to help eliminate malware.

      Not everyone agrees with me, but, that's ok.
    • What do you mean?

      Visual Studio 2012 has been released with Windows 8. From what I've seen so far, 2012 does have enhancements in the desktop application development framework. You're not going to see the desktop going away any time soon. The Metro-style apps will have their place and do will the desktop ones. I'm happy now that I have one, standard tool for developing for Desktop, Metro, Phone, Web, Cloud...etc. Nice!
      • one tool

        you mean eclipse right, 'cos last I looked Visual Studio couldn't make iOS or Android apps and Microsoft barely had a position in phones and tablets.

        anyway, from what I've seen the desktop isn't going away soon, but its going. MS doesn't want that legacy getting in the way of its new strategic products. Think of the desktop like XPMode in Windows 7 - legacy only.
        • You need to look at Xamarin 2.0

          Xamarin 2.0 allows you to write apps for iOS, OSX, Linux and Android in C# & .NET using Visual Studio and/or MonoDevelop. These apps can access each platform's API's and services and if you're smart, you can share a huge amount of code across all platforms.
        • android devs

          android devs have been moving to visual studio so I guess those apps do run okay