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Build – The Developer’s Launch of Windows 8

Ben Dewey

The first keynote of Build was all about the launch of new Windows 8 for developers. As they said, Windows 8 is a reimaging of the way we interact with devices and use computers. With all this reimaging comes some major changes to the development paradigms that we are currently use to and it seems as though this conference is focusing on getting the developers up to speed with all the changes that affect how software will be created for the next version of Windows.

The keynote centered around 2 main topics. First is the changes in computing, including hardware, mobility, and the way in which we interact with multiple devices of all sizes. Second, is the new Metro UI , which is the way in which immersive Windows 8 applications are built and developed to provide rich experiences on the native operating system.

Computers have been changing for quite some time, devices are getting smaller, they are responding to touch input, and customers are using them on the go. This means applications need to be built in a way that allows customers to interact with content in a performant way no matter the screen size. Customers are also using computers in all aspects of their daily lives. They need applications that are mobile and that actively synchronize themselves across multiple devices, so that the experience is seamless.

Touch is an extremely important aspect to all this, with former GUI technologies there were some affordances to lags in performance when using a traditional mouse input. When using touch as a primary input it seriously impacts the user experience if the application doesn’t respond to a gesture. Microsoft has stated that they are committed to increasing performance and with reports of an 8 second boot time, quick resumes through Connected Standby, and a decrease in overall operating system memory consumption to 281 MB of core OS memory (down from 484MB), it is apparent that they are really squeezing every byte possible out of the operating system.

Microsoft also announced a brand new line of computing devices from the small tablet devices (which were given out to all attendees) to large multi-monitor desktops which support touch and hardware accelerated graphics. Power users will also benefit from the new Hyper-V support which is now included in Windows 8. Another important hardware feature that was announced is the ability to Refresh and Reset your desktop settings to a factory state.

The Metro UI is much broader, while reimaging the entire Windows 8 application experience, they have also reimagined the entire application model in the form of new API that sits on top of the Windows kernel call the Windows Runtime. This new Windows Runtime (WinRT) is a brand new application model that is completely different than the previous Win32 model. It offers a fresh new Windows start screen with Live Tiles and Notifications. Applications can now interact with the entire screen real estate without the need for window management complexities like chrome, minimizing, etc. WinRT has built in support for Charms, which allow developers to communication across applications. The only bit of screen real estate consumed by the runtime is a single pixel around the entire screen which is used to invoke both system and application commands via a concept called “first pixel sensitivity”.

There has been a lot of talk about Silverlight and WPF developers getting phased out of the new Windows 8 platform, first off, this is not true. Windows 8 has committed to offering full backwards compatibility with Windows 7 and all the Win32 applications and frameworks which are built on top of it. This doesn’t mean Silverlight or WPF will work on WinRT. However, (before you get too upset), your skills as a XAML developer are not lost. WinRT has rebranded their previous UI frameworks into a new set of components, which you will find very similar, under the distinction of XAML (the UI markup language) and the model/controller language of your choice (ie. C#, VB, C++). They’ve also added to the WinRT the ability to create applications with a view markup defined in HTML5 and CSS with controller logic written in javascript. A move that will hopefully attract designers who were previously constrained to web technologies to come on board and start creating native applications for the windows 8 platform.

Since this is a “Developer’s Preview Release” and since so many changes were made to the application development and deployment model, Microsoft also announced the release of new version of Visual Studio 11 and Expression Blend. The hope is that developers will download the bits and start looking as ways in which they can reimagine their own applications. Everything presented today will be provided for developers to download at http://dev.windows.com.

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