June 2015

Volume 30 Number 6

Editor's Note - Defragmenting Windows

By Michael Desmond | June 2015

Michael DesmondJust about every year I travel to the Microsoft Build conference to take in the Microsoft message to developers, and just about every year I leave impressed with the event, the audience and the speakers. Build is one of those all-in moments for Microsoft. The pace of work around Redmond heightens ahead of the conference, as product teams finalize their plans and presentations. There’s an urgency around Build, one that comes from understanding how important the conference is to developer decision making over the year to come, and beyond.

And make no mistake, this Build conference was incredibly important. The universal apps strategy that Microsoft articulated around Windows 10 during the three days in San Francisco is both elegant and focused. It offers developers consistent, durable targets in the form of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), device-specific API extensions and robust XAML-based UIs. The new strategy ably integrates both native Windows Runtime apps and—I hesitate to say the word—legacy .NET and Win32 applications as co-first class citizens. Gone are the days of Silverlight and XNA on Windows Phone, and the odd Berlin Wall that stood between Windows Runtime and traditional Windows apps under Windows 8 and 8.1 on the desktop.

Fixing the divide that Microsoft created within itself will take time, but the payoff is potentially immense. Developers will soon be able to write Windows apps that can run, unmodified, on all flavors of Windows, from Windows PCs and tablets to Windows Phones, to Xbox game controllers and a variety of other Windows-­supported device targets. At the same time, Microsoft is working to make Windows a convenient target for iOS and Android mobile developers.

Al Hilwa, program director for Software Development Research at research firm IDC, describes the new Universal Windows apps model as “a triumph.”

“I think if you look at the totality of what they have done in terms of increasing the attractiveness of the platform to developers, it is one of the most massive and widespread outreach efforts I have ever seen in the industry,” Hilwa says. “They have constructed pathways to bring code from various platforms into Windows, including classic Win32 and .NET apps. They have brought support to a broader set of programming languages ranging from Web and C++ through to Objective C with Microsoft’s tools. They have reached out to the Android ecosystem to support working with other IDEs like Eclipse and IntelliJ, which is the basis for Android Studio today. And, finally, they have partnered deeply with Xamarin to make sure that C# (and F#) developers have a strong toolchain to bring their apps to other platforms.”

In short, Microsoft is defragmenting the Windows platform, and in the process offering developers more reasons than ever to support it. The scope and scale of the plan is impressive, says Billy Hollis, a partner at Next Version Systems and an expert on UI development.

“Microsoft’s keynote at Build had more innovation than anything I’ve seen from them since PDC 2000,” Hollis says, referring to the Professional Developers Conference where the company first announced the Microsoft .NET Framework.

I wonder if, 10 years from now, we’ll look back on Build 2015 the same way we do at PDC 2000 today, as the moment when Microsoft rolled out a game-changing dev strategy. What do you think of the Microsoft Universal Windows apps vision? E-mail me at mmeditor@microsoft.com.

Michael Desmond is the Editor-in-Chief of MSDN Magazine.