Rumour control: Windows 8, WPF and Metro

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the Windows Phone 7 version of the Metro interface should feel very flattered; we've seen the look everywhere from conference Web sites to the new Android Marketplace look (which even has the side-swipe panoramas to go with the Metro tiles) to Windows 7 skins like Newgen and Metro Home to WordPress themes.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the Windows Phone 7 version of the Metro interface should feel very flattered; we've seen the look everywhere from conference Web sites to the new Android Marketplace look (which even has the side-swipe panoramas to go with the Metro tiles) to Windows 7 skins like Newgen and Metro Home to WordPress themes.

The Windows 8 tablet interface has an obvious Metro look (as does the new Xbox look), so it's tempting to see every landscape Metro-style app a potential Windows 8 app. Some of them are, like the USA Today prototype app ZDNet US blogger and Microsoft watcher Stephen Chapman spotted on a designer's portfolio site. It has the Windows 8 look and feel, down to the multi-colour boiled sweet palette, and the designer says it's "built to take advantage of the touch-first, native environment of Windows 8".

A Windows 8 interface designed by Bobby Dillon, the Art Director of USA Today

Others are just referencing a design that was first seen in Windows Media Center, refined in the Zune software and the Zune devices before taking its current form on the phone, and an excellent match for WPF (of which the Silverlight that runs on Windows Phone is both a sub and superset). In particular the seatback app from Jetstream Software that some people have suggested is a Windows 8 app.

Seatback from Jetsoft is designed for the back of an airline seat

Despite the Metro look and tablet layout, the developers clearly label it as a Windows Presentation Foundation app and if you look closely at the images I'd say it's probably designed to go on a seat-back display on a plane - there are chat areas for the flight crew as well as for other people watching the same in-flight movie as you, discussions and guides about the destination of the flight (Dubai) and other in-flight details. The fictional airline is called PanAir.

It's possible that this is a tablet app designed to be used as a companion to the in-flight entertainment - BA and other alirlines are offering loan iPads to some flyers and Virgin America will lend you a Chromebook on some flights. But as the screenshots suggest it's an experience you sign into from your Windows Phone by picking your identity on a social network like Facebook, it's far more likely that it's designed to be the interface to the in-flight entertainment on the back of the seat and I wouldn't expect that to run Windows 8, I'd expect it to run Windows Embedded. Windows Embedded Standard to be exact, which has WPF in. For a while, Microsoft was encouraging partners to build consumer tablets using Embedded, although few ever came onto the market, and it's used for everything from wedding list kiosks to funky drinks dispensers to set-top boxes to ATMs. It would be ideal for a seat-back system - and the beauty of Silverlight and WPF and the Microsoft platform is that it's going to look almost exactly the same whether it runs on a PC or an embedded system.

We know that WPF and Silverlight will be in Windows 8 and that you'll be able to use Silverlight in the 'touch-first' tablet interface as well as in the standard Windows desktop. "The browser that we showed (IE 10) runs Silverlight, just like you would expect," Windows chief Steven Sinofsky said right after showing off the touch interface at the All Things Digital conference. he also talked about the choices developers have of which tools to use depending on issues like screen size and battery life, adding "I think we support the most different ways of writing software. So there is the opportunity for you to reach the most different platforms by targeting the one that we have."

Seeing Windows 8 and Metro-style apps on a wide range of devices, across the full range of Windows operating systems - Xbox and Embedded and Phone and Windows 8 ARM as well as the 'desktop' Windows of full-scale PCs - is exactly what Microsoft wants. It's the 'three screens plus cloud' scenario Microsoft has been pitching for several years. Getting a design that's this iconic and this popular is the best way Microsoft could shake off the 'unhip' associations of the words 'Windows' and 'Microsoft' (so unhip that even when Dilbert creator Scott Adams called Windows Phone better than Android and iPhone, he still had to ding it for the Microsoft association). Having WPF mistaken for something as eagerly awaited as Windows 8 is good news for people who want to use the Microsoft platforms today and know they can take the core of their code elsewhere tomorrow - one of the advantages Miguel de Icaza pointed out for Mono when I spoke to him recently. It's not write once run anywhere, because you need different layouts and interface paradigms for different devices, but as Silverlight evangelist Brian Goldfarb said to us a couple of years ago "it's write once, optimise everywhere". A coherent story for developers is one of the key things Microsoft needs to prove at the BUILD conference next month, along with the consumer wow to avoid the fate of the TouchPad.

Mary Branscombe

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