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?