03 October 2011

Rampant Speculation. Part 8 of 9. Microsoft Build 2011 - Windows 8

Written by Chris Bardon, Posted in Windows 8, Microsoft

Now that the build conference is situated firmly in the past, there are things that we now know, things that we know we don’t know, and things that we don’t know we don’t know. For example, we don’t know the release date of the OS. In the keynote, they committed to a beta and a release candidate, but no hints on timing for either. We can, however, guess when it might be based on what we already know. After spending some time hands on with the OS, I can say that it’s definitely not finished. The claim that “everything that works in 7 works in 8” is not true yet, as I’ve found some of our applications that use features that don’t work in this build. I’ve also had to go into the task manager to kill errant metro apps a few times, and run into UI strangeness like apps disappearing from the back stack when they are killed (which is sure to confuse users). Add to this the fact that everyone is going to need a lot of time to get the hang of developing metro apps, and I’d guess that RTM by next fall is possible, but even optimistic. A year from now we’ll definitely have a new build, and likely even the RC, but having an OS that’s ready to hit the shelves in October 2012 is probably not going to happen. Honestly, that’s fine with me-I’d rather the OS be complete than rushed, and should they be able to prove me wrong with a complete product before then, I’d be happy to take it.

Need more info!!! Raaawrrr

Another big question is what the state of support for ARM vs Intel will be. At build, there were no devices shown running on ARM hardware, but Microsoft did claim that “all your apps will run on both”. While this is likely to be true for Metro apps, the fate of desktop apps is less certain. Without coming right out and saying it, a few people at build implied that there would be ARM devices released that would only run the metro side of things, and not the full desktop. If this is the case, it represents the biggest line in the sand for user base fragmentation that I can think of. Even the transition to 64 bit (and before that 32 bit) processors was helped along by compatibility modes, but having something marked as a “windows tablet”, “windows slate”, or “windows PC” that can’t run desktop windows apps could be a disaster. Not everything is going to be metro on day one, which means anyone buying a PC expecting it to run all their PC software could be disappointed. Having multiple software SKUs (Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate etc) is difficult enough, but if there’s going to be a hardware split like this, then there needs to be a clear way of differentiating it in the marketplace. The idea of being able to run windows on ARM is definitely great for low power devices, but if you’re promising a “no compromise” future, then compromising here would be trouble. I think this decision is still up in the air though, and there should be more answers once there’s ARM hardware to try out.

There are also questions about the interaction between metro and desktop, how things will work in the enterprise, what Microsoft apps will support metro, store approvals, lines between desktop, metro and WinRT, and dozens of other topics that will probably be sorted out in the next few months. That’s not even counting things we don’t know we don’t know yet, which are the questions that will inevitably arise from building real software with the new tools. Either way, it’s an exciting time to be building software for windows, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to work with the new platform this early and see what it can do.

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About the Author

Chris Bardon

Chris is the Chief Software Architect at ComputerTalk Technology, and has been writing code in one form or another since the mid 80s.  He’s been working with Lync since it was called Live Communciations Server (back in 2004), and he’s been working with .NET since 2002.  He’s a big fan of UCMA, WCF, and XAML, and knows enough about most of the Microsoft development technologies to be dangerous. He also collects pinball machines.