Home Build 2011: Microsoft – WinRT is the Windows Platform

Build 2011: Microsoft – WinRT is the Windows Platform

“My experience in talking with developers is that they want to take advantage of these form factors. You know what I’m saying? If you take something that’s not really designed for it, it doesn’t turn out well.” This from Jason Zander, Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Visual Studio, in response to a question from one of a select group of reporters yesterday on the future (some use the term “fate”) of Silverlight.

That Microsoft will be releasing another round of updates to its Visual Studio applications development suite and Expression Web app development suite, should surprise absolutely no one, especially in the wake of Tuesday’s momentous news. The programming platform for Windows 8 is widening to make room for a new system services provider called WinRT. It will be separate from .NET.

Developing for WinRT will require tools. Conceivably, Microsoft could have developed a third toolset for WinRT, with the explanation that Visual Studio would be for Desktop apps, Expression would be for Web apps using XAML, and whatever the third thing would be called, would be for open standards-based Web apps. Here is where some veteran Microsoft developers would stop me to say that third tool already exists, in the form of a free, seldom publicized HTML/CSS/JavaScript app environment called WebMatrix. Conceivably, this third tool could be leveraged for WinRT development (and likely will be anyway).

Instead, Microsoft’s plan – announced this morning during the Day 2 keynote at Build 2011 in Anaheim – is to adapt the next Visual Studio to include project support for Metro apps, and to bolster Expression with the ability to prototype and produce Web apps that follow the spirit of HTML5 for producing native Windows Web apps.

In a meeting with reporters including RWW, Zander and Microsoft Developer Division Senior Vice President S. Somasegar explained the architectural decisions that were made for Windows 8, including the bipartite nature of WinRT (Metro) and .NET (Desktop) and why apps cannot, and probably never will, translate across different classifications of Windows – for example, from Windows Phone 7.5 to Windows 8.

“I could take the Phone form factor, and I could try to take that app and run it here,” said Zander, referring to a Windows 8 app. “The problem is, it’s wasting all my screen real estate, and it’s pixelating the app, which doesn’t look quite right.”

There are directions in which Microsoft wants to move developers, but from mobile phone apps to tablet apps is not one of them. Desktop applications to tablet apps is one.

“There are literally 100 million people who are building software in one way, shape, or form,” Somasegar told reporters. “One of the things that we want to do, particularly in this world of connected devices and continuous services, is to say, how can we make our platforms and our tools desirable and relevant to the broader development community? At the same time… we absolutely want to keep in mind that there is a set of people who we call ‘the existing Microsoft developer base,’ and we actually want to figure out how to move them forward into this new world. When you have a .NET or a .NET code base, how do you bring that forward into the new world? Do you want to run it as a Windows Desktop application, or into the Metro world? We want to make it easy for people to bring their skill set, their expertise, and their code forward into this new world.”

Somasegar’s language was unambiguous. The new world, the way “forward,” is with Metro and WinRT from Microsoft’s current vantage point. Meanwhile, Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky this week, including during the Day 1 keynote, has made a valiant effort to underscore the permanent relevance of Desktop applications in Windows. How can both messages co-exist?

“We actually want to figure out how to move them forward into this new world. When you have a .NET or a .NET code base, how do you bring that forward into the new world?”

S. Somasegar
Senior VP, Microsoft Developer Division

“We’re not losing any of the functionality,” Jason Zander told RWW. Visual Studio 11, he said, “is designed to keep your existing apps, build new versions of applications in classic Desktop, but then also do [Metro] all in the same [suite]. In fact, if you look at Visual Studio, it is an example of a classic application. We believe that you really need to have that kind of support. So to me, the ability to continue with your same project assets, build and continue on top of those all the designers, debuggers, and tools of the trade, those continue to work and we’re still investing in them for this Desktop mode… If you’ve got skill sets for writing code, or if you have design skill sets, you can continue to live in both of those worlds.”

Doesn’t Sinofsky’s explanation that Desktop applications have a special relevance that can only be addressed in their native platform, contradict the notion that WinRT is a “forward” motion of evolution to which all developers must move? Won’t developers be compelled to find some kind of Metro-ish scheme for Desktop apps, especially in enterprise scenarios?

“Yea, I think certainly we’re going to expect that,” responded Zander. “The metaphors are nice if you take this kind of a form factor,” he continued, pointing to one of the developers’ preview tablets. He said he believes there will be scenarios where, for example, an enterprise-class user will want to take her tablet into a conference room and launch a simple conferencing app, probably through Metro, but then upon returning to the office, plug it back into the wall or dock and launch Outlook and PowerPoint.

“If you take something that’s not really designed for it, it doesn’t turn out well.”

Jason Zander
Corporate VP, Microsoft Visual Studio

“The thing is, they’re non-exclusive, right?” the Microsoft Corporate VP remarked. “People will want to take advantage of the new functionality, but we also know it’s important, especially in the enterprise… you’ve probably invested in a lot of resources for a long time in order to get those applications going. So we don’t want anyone to feel like they have to abandon their existing investments; that’s absolutely not the case. Actually, one of the beautiful things about Windows 8 is, it’s still just Windows, it still just keep on working. So if you ask what the ‘forward-looking’ space is, are people interested in the form factors, optimizing for them, yes, they’re going to want to do that. We want people to have the flexibility to choose, when do you want to make that transition, to keep your existing investments intact and actually be able to evolve as the business requires?”

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