Windows 8 Hurts My Brain

At D9 Microsoft showed the Windows 8 UI for the first time. All the attention was on the touch-oriented “Live Tiles” interface. Business Insider and some other pubs have taken to calling it “Windows 8 for Tablets.” I don’t know if that’s what it is. About all I can tell is that the Live Tiles interface is supposedly an addition to, not a replacement for, the native Windows UI. That’s good. Getting all touchy-panny with some pretty photos on a ginormous wall screen that costs more than my truck is impressive, but it doesn’t mean much to desktop and laptop users.

Live Tiles on desktops and laptops makes about as much sense as wings on a Hyundai Sonata. Microsoft has said that Windows 8 will run on some different processors, i.e. ARM, Intel system-on-a-chip, whatever. Those aren’t running Alienware gaming boxes. So is this meant to be the UI of the mobile version of Windows 8? Who knows? Is it Windows Phone 8? Apparently not. When asked how developers would write applications for the new Windows 8 UI the company said “HTML 5 and javascript.” Developers and some industry pundits interpreted this to mean no Silverlight for Windows Phone apps. To many people this seemed to make sense, given the expansion to new hardware platforms.

But hardware independence is what .NET, the CLR, and Silverlight are all about. Programmers have invested a lot of time learning the technology stack. When Microsoft released Windows Phone 7 they built the application model and UI on Silverlight for Windows Phone. Developers could leverage everything they new about C#, XAML, and the Silverlight version of the framework to write apps for the mobile platform. Then those apps could be submitted to the shiny new Microsoft app store and start generating iOS-like sales. Now… what? The native mobile interface to Windows 8 will be HMTL + script, but you’ll be able to run Silverlight apps too?

According to some comments I’ve read Microsoft has clarified their position and said that there “will be a place” for Silverlight apps on Windows (Phone?) 8 (for Tablets?). I can’t find any direct quote. On the Silverlight forums the official response has essentially been: we can’t talk now, but don’t believe everything you read, and we’ll say more later. But they’ve said too much already. Why launch a platform and all of the tools to support it, and then make such a radical change in the next version? Has Microsoft figured out that they can’t build a native app ecosystem, and decided to attack Apple’s by promoting HTML 5 and javascript?

I’m not sure, but they’ve at least given me another good reason to continue my efforts with iOS, HTML 5 + JQuery, and Android. Why invest in native Silverlight apps for Windows Phone 7 if Microsoft won’t clearly commit to carrying forward the key components of the platform or building the ecosystem?

3 thoughts on “Windows 8 Hurts My Brain

  1. Hi Mark,
    I’m truly amazed at what you’re not seeing here. Tablets are exploding in the marketplace. Why? Because many of the applications that previously required a laptop/desktop can now be done on a device that weighs a few ounces. It’s not ideal for spreadsheet, word processing or CAD, but for email, web access, reports, data visualization etc, it’s perfect.

    What that means is that consumers and many business users will replace existing PCs with tablets when its time to upgrade. So the sale of new PCs in both the consumer and business market will decline – not grow. Microsoft’s mainstay is going to evaporate and they know it.

    Windows 8 is actually very smart direction. It recognizes that tablets will be the primary device for most people, so it has an up-front interface that targets that environment. However, for the handful of apps that still work better with a mouse and keyboard, you can use bluetooth to connect those and use your tablet as a monitor. That allows users to replace laptops (and even desktops) with tablets instead of having to carry multiple devices.

    Unlike Apple’s approach that seems to suggest you can’t do both, Microsoft is trying to prove that, not only CAN you do it, but there’s a real market for it.

  2. Hi, JohnnyG. Thanks for stopping by. I’m actually in complete agreement with you about the hardware trends, and I have no issues with the design and layout of the Windows 8 interface that was shown earlier this month. It sounds like we both agree that it isn’t the right interface for some traditional desktop/laptop application needs, but we probably also agree that that is a shrinking market. No question. My issue is not with Microsoft’s design direction. My issue is with their communication to developers. Is HTML5 + javascript a viable application platform for mobile apps? Definitely. So is Silverlight running on the .NET framework. So is Flash, for that matter. I’m not trying to solve the great “Native Apps vs. HTML 5″ debate here, but I do wish that if Microsoft is migrating the native UI of Windows Phone 7 to HTML 5 in Windows Phone 8 they would just say so clearly. Like a lot of other developers (follow the forum link I included in my post), I just want to know where they are going, and where to invest my time. A year or so ago it was Silverlight + Windows Phone 7 + .NET + the new app store == Microsoft’s mobile ecosystem. What is the story now? I can’t tell.

  3. Silverlight and XNA will be at the heart of Windows 8, MS is trying to reach out to web developers as well as its core audience.

    I admit they messed up the PR with Windows 8 initially but since then, they have said WP7 apps with a bit of adjustment and Silverlight/WPF will be at the heart of Windows 8.

    From what I have read, Windows 8 will support all the old versions of .NET Windows based apps, WPF and Silverlight, along with HTML 5+JS.

    Echo systems are on everyones lips and they have recognised they need to get the old apps in on a tablet, MS’s echo system is ageing, quite badly and this is a very smart move.

    As a business, of course I am going to get a tablet that runs my existing apps used on laptops, rather than go for a completely different OS and app. Plus add all the lock down Microsoft OS have for business, they maintain there present in business and build for the future.

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