Friday, July 1, 2011

Read “Win 8-Longhorn Dream Reborn”

Unless you’ve been taking a long and much needed vacation in the woods, you’ve heard something about Windows 8, Microsoft’s promotion of HTML5, and it’s coy silence about the future of .NET.  You are probably a little spooked if you’ve committed some part of yourself, your product, or your company to WPF or Silverlight. Does anyone know what is really going on?

I have no revelations for you. I wouldn’t be allowed to blog about revelations if I had them. I don’t have anything fresh to say either. I do have opinions ... details of which must await a future post.

In summary until then ... I’m not worried. While we at IdeaBlade are exploring what it means to have a DevForce JavaScript client, no one should mistake that interest for wavering in our commitment to .NET. We are confident that XAML clients will thrive for a long time to come.

Of course that’s what we think. Microsoft has done a fabulous job of creating uncertainty about the future of Silverlight and .NET. I’ve had plenty of conversations with colleagues and customers who are paralyzed by doubt. Frankly, that’s not good for our business. I don’t think its good for your business either. Perhaps you can afford to wait … and wait … for some magic moment of clarity. Will we know more in three months at the BUILD conference? Sure … although if I’m certain of anything it is that Microsoft will keep the mixed messages coming.

You have to make a decision at some point based on the best information available. To that end, I direct your attention to a highly-regarded, week-old article in ars technica by Peter Bright: “Windows 8 for software developers: the Longhorn dream reborn?” It’s well-written, well-reasoned, and grounded in a bit more than opinion and rumor … as in the author is talking about what’s actually in some of the early bits.

I’ve read it over a few hundred times and … honestly … it still seems right to me … right down to it’s stirring conclusion:

Far from being a developer disaster, Windows 8 should be a huge leap forward: a release that threatens to make development a pleasure for native, managed, and Web developers alike.

Here are my favorite excerpts:

  • Windows 8 will ship with a pair of runtimes; a new .NET runtime and a native code C++ runtime.
  • There will be a new native user interface library, DirectUI
  • A new version of Silverlight (v.6? codenamed Jupiter?) will run on top of DirectUI
  • DirectUI is built around a core subset of current WPF/Silverlight technology and includes support for XAML.
  • This core will give C++ programs their modern user interface toolkit and, at its heart, it will be the same toolkit that .NET developers use too.
  • XAML and the WPF-like, Silverlight-like way of developing GUIs are going to be absolutely central to Windows development in the future.
  • It gives parity to native C++ and managed .NET code. Instead of being separate, each with its own different capabilities and strengths, they will be peers.
  • Want to write an immersive application in native C++? That's cool. Want to use C# and Silverlight? That's cool too. Both will be supported. Far from being left behind on the legacy desktop—which was the impression that many took from the presentation—native C++ and managed C# will both be first-class, supported ways of developing immersive, touch-first, tablet-friendly Windows 8-style applications.
  • HTML5 and JavaScript will be an option too [with] greater access to operating system functionality than regular webpages … Feature-wise, they should be at the same level as .NET and native programs. It's just that they'll use an HTML5 programming model and JavaScript.

Wouldn’t it be great if Microsoft came out and said this? Or said anything?

They won’t … not until their BUILD conference in Anaheim in September. Microsoft isn’t deaf. They know all about developer anxiety on this score and have decided to do nothing to allay that anxiety.

Fine. Be that way. Meanwhile, those of us who have work to do are wise to keep moving along the .NET client track.

Related Articles

A David Burela post, "Premature cries of Silverlight / WPF skill loss. Windows 8 supports all programming models", offers a wealth of detail extracted from the Windows 8 Milestone 3 leak, all consistent with the ars technica article.

On July 6, InfoWorld published their take on these matters in "The fall and rise of Microsoft Silverlight"

Silverlight found a foothold in Windows Phone and has more recently emerged as a key component of the Jupiter application framework and programming model for Windows 8. If Silverlight has become less important as a rich Internet application (RIA) framework, it has become more important to Microsoft's desktop and mobile platforms overall.

Again, it's more tea-leaf reading than hard news ... but it reflects the emerging consensus that .NET and XAML clients remain at the forefront of Microsoft development technologies.

Stephen Forte of Telerik posted his musings on the future of XAML clients. Noteworthy to me is what Telerik is actually doing about it:

I don't see Silverlight as being dead, but rather reborn bigger and better. Instead of being its funeral, the Build Conference will be Silverlight and XAML's graduation party. At Telerik, we are also going to double down on our XAML strategy. ... We see Native XAML as a massive opportunity and will continue to support our XAML tools now and in the future.

That's putting serious money where their mouth is. Why not you?


Billy Hollis said...

What troubles me are the emails I get almost every day. There fall in one of two categories:

1. Is XAML dead?

2. We have people in our organization who are demanding that we move to HTML5 right now because it's the future and we're just throwing away any investment we make in other UI technology.

Remember that the human mind is designed to fill in gaps during uncertain times. It's not designed to sit around waiting for more information - that would have more likely than not gotten you killed on the savannahs of Africa 50,000 years ago.

So people are filling in the gaps, and they are filling them with the simplest story they can think up - "Microsoft has said HTML5 is the future, and they're not talking about anything else right now, so that must mean they're throwing away everything else."

Nuances, such as the political situation between the Windows Division and Developer Division, and the probable refinement of strategy in Developer Division under new leadership after ScottGu moved to Azure, are not a part of the understanding of most people in the community.

I would have expected to see better understanding within Microsoft of the likely results of their actions, but anticipating the human side of the business has never been Microsoft's strong suit in the last decade or so.

Ward Bell said...

Yes, Billy, we get those emails too.

As it happens I will be returning to the savannah in August after a long absence. When (if) I return I'll report about the comparative virtues of remaining motionless (a successful strategy for the 3-toed sloth in the Amazon) versus running like hell to escape whatever wants to gore or eat me when I step outside the vehicle.

Seriously, "waiting and doing nothing" has been as popular a response as fretting or plunging directly into HTML.

I hope, as time passes and more leaks out, folks will acquire the necessary calm to make reasoned choices (read: write those LOB apps in a XAML client).

As for how MS is playing it, I believe what we are seeing is entirely intentional. Contrary to your speculation, I believe that they did anticipate the developer reaction. I am absolutely certain that they find the present developer distress perfectly acceptable. They may even welcome it. It creates a perpetual frisson around the BUILD conference.

I do wonder if they are prepared for the enormous let down that will follow BUILD. I'm predicting that BUILD will be a dud ... because it won't be actionable. I guess we'll see.

When the dust settles and the herd stops stampeding, we'll all graze again on the XAML platforms. That's my bet ... hedged, of course, by our forays into the jungle of JavaScript clients.

Darwin might have described the last 50,000 years of Human evolution as the "Survival of the Hedgers". Cheerio!

Mario said...

It's not so mysterious anymore.

There's a curious silence on the part of Silverlight team members.

Could it be that they are furiously/frantically integrating SL into Windows 8 assemblies?

XAML will soon become pervasive throughout the Microsoft ecosystem!

Waste not, want not, fear-less.