Windows optimize

How WP7 prepared Microsoft and developers for Windows 8

Justin James analyzes Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy and encourages developers to learn Windows Phone 7 now.

Three weeks ago, I attended TechRepublic Live 2011. One thing I like about the event is that I get to spend time with people on the non-development side of things. My job involves a lot of networking and systems administration, but when I get together with IT people, it is usually developers. At the event, I was able to chat with people from the other parts of IT, as well as thought leaders like TechRepublic's Jason Hiner, Mark Kaelin, and Bill Detwiler, who spend a lot of time talking to people in the IT trenches. One of the things that gelled for me when I was at TechRepublic Live 2011 is that I realized Windows 8 will be Microsoft's attempt at a Windows 95-like reimaging of what computing should be, and along the way it will initiate a complete rewrite of the development story.

In the TechRepublic post in which I looked at Windows 8 from the perspective of a developer, I was focused pretty closely on the technical details. In this post, I focus on the strategy that will make or break developers in the Microsoft ecosystem.

First and foremost, you have to understand that Microsoft believes desktop computing is an antiquated notion for all but a few specialized tasks. The company's strategy the last couple of years has been to rush full tilt at making the non-desktop computing experiences as good as or better than desktop apps. Here are the basic facts of the situation.

Windows Phone 7 is a conceptual beta

Windows Phone 7 (WP7) is Microsoft's most successful beta program ever. I do not mean that WP7 is a beta at a technical level; it is a well-produced, stable OS with a great UI for its intended purpose. Many pundits prior to the release of the Windows 8 Developer Preview were calling for WP7 to be scaled up to the tablet form factor, not for Windows 8 to be scaled down to tablets. Nearly every independent tech analyst I've read puts WP7 at the top or number two slot in terms of overall quality of phone OSs. That's impressive.

WP7 is a beta of the concepts of things such as the Metro UI and the development model. The lessons Microsoft learned by putting WP7 in front of millions of users, tens of thousands of developers, and a number of hardware makers have clearly played a huge role in the decisions made around Windows 8. If you want to know what developing for Windows 8 will be like, try developing for WP7. While the libraries have some differences, there are a lot of similarities, including the multi-tasking model.

The most important thing that Microsoft learned from WP7 is that with the right support from its community, they could wipe the slate clean on an established development model and a year later have an application market that is booming. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is and how I think it will color Microsoft's strategy for a long time. If you have a deep commitment to the current WinForms or WPF development models, you need to seriously evaluate that commitment in light of the WP7 lesson.

Clients are getting thinner

Many devices that are not corporate controlled PCs (tablets, smartphones, user-provided devices, etc.) are being used for work; in addition, users are now self-provisioning services for themselves via the public cloud. When you also factor in the high total cost of ownership (TCO) of the typical desktop PC and native applications, it's clear the IT department is being squeezed hard. As a result, more and more IT departments are turning to Web applications (both on and off premise) to provide the cross-platform, access-anywhere, zero installation required experience. This allows IT departments to save a ton of money. The real cost savings in the cloud aren't that you get rid of your data center, it's that you no longer have to support locally installed, easily broken applications.

On top of all of this, a variety of Web technologies such as AJAX, Web services, and HTML5 are adding up to an experience that, while not nearly as slick as a good WPF or Adobe AIR application, is "good enough" to meet common needs, and is much easier to develop than a client/server application. While the days of the perfect thin client aren't here yet (the most recent stab at this, Google's Chromebook, hasn't exactly been a success), clients are definitely getting thin to the point where many users don't use native applications other than Office, a multimedia player, and a Web browser.

Office 15: the wildcard

Office 15 (which may be out in late 2012 or early 2013) is going to be the true sign of what will happen here. I wouldn't be surprised if Office 15 was essentially Office 365. I wouldn't be shocked if Office 15 was either an offshoot of Office Mobile as a Metro/WinRT application. I would be even less surprised if Office 15 was the Office Web stuff from Office 365, perhaps beefed up with some sort of local deployment or in-house deployment to placate security concerns.

Office 15 will clearly be the last traditional "desktop" version of Office, if it is offered as a "desktop" application at all. If Microsoft bites the bullet on Office 15 and goes straight to Office Web or Office Metro, the company will clearly be willing to nuke desktop apps completely. If Microsoft hedges its bets and delivers a native Office for x64 and Office Metro (or Office Web) for ARM, then we know the company is willing to give us a little bit of a gentle sunset.

Read more about Microsoft's strategy.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

19 comments
adornoe
adornoe

hypotheticals. I wouldn???t be surprised if Office 15 was essentially Office 365. I wouldn???t be shocked if Office 15 was either an offshoot of Office Mobile as a Metro/WinRT application. I would be even less surprised if Office 15 was the Office Web stuff from Office 365, perhaps beefed up with some sort of local deployment or in-house deployment to placate security concerns. There's a lot of "ifs" and guesswork involved in there, and most of it stemming from your expectation that WP7 is the jumping off point for most other things to come. One thing is for sure, and that is that, a company takes the good and improves upon it and implements it in other areas where it's warranted, and that's true with WP7 and all other software that Microsoft and other software companies get involved in. However, guessing on the future from a current state, is not always correct. Windows 8 is meant to be "a do it all package in all form-factors", and what works well in one format is not necessarily the best for all the other formats. The cloud, which is what you're hinting at for the future of most of Microsoft's offerings, may not be allowed to take off, if all of the potential problems inherent within the paradigm are not "fixed".

Justin James
Justin James

"There's a lot of "ifs" and guesswork involved in there, and most of it stemming from your expectation that WP7 is the jumping off point for most other things to come." Yes, definitely a lot of guesswork and "ifs", but if you look at the Windows 8 developer preview and look at the documentation for developers, you'll see that there is no mistake whatsoever on that expectation regarding WP7 being the starting point. Just as WP7 development is a whole layer on top of the old Windows Mobile core, Windows 8 lays a *nearly identical system* (to the point where it seems to be trivial to remake WP7 apps for Windows 8... like changing DLL references and recompiling...) on top of the Windows kernel. J.Ja

adornoe
adornoe

looks of WP7 or the Metro interface. Metro might be "one" of the faces for new OS, but the internals would have to be a lot more accommodating to all the people who are used to a full-featured OS, like Windows 7 or Mac OS. Developing for WP7 might not be as complicated as developing for a full-featured OS, even if a lot of the work is intended for the "cloud" or internet-like applications.

Justin James
Justin James

The development model from WP7 goes far, far beyond the Metro UI. That's just scratching the surface. It's an fundamentally different experience. The Windows development model has been, "your code can do whatever it wants, except in these cases where it can't". The WP7 and Windows 8 model (with Metro/WinRT), is "your code can do these pre-determined things, that's IT". For example, in M/WRT, you *can't* just open any old file, you can open from the known, shared locations like Documents, or your application's private storage location. It is impossible to specify a filename outside of those areas to open. There is no registry access that I can see. And on and on and on. Yes, you can still write "legacy" applications that do these things, but they don't run in the Metro UI and they won't be able to run on ARM. Microsoft has, whether you agree with it or not, like it or not, drawn a line in the sand and said, "the only thing we're keeping from Windows 7 and before in terms of the development system are C# and VB.NET as languages, and XAML to define UI." J.Ja

nowagil
nowagil

just replace them by fundamentally broken web applications ;-) Enduser productivity of web applications suffers badly. This is another cost driver. Companies will eventually realize that. I am sure we will see the backlash, real GUI applications coming back in some form. The ubiquitious "apps" are just the first wave.

nowagil
nowagil

that's exactly it: a great UI for a phone. But for a computer??

nowagil
nowagil

with a market share below 1%? Hmm...

Justin James
Justin James like.author.displayName 1 Like

Because if you did, you would understand what I meant by "success". I never said it was a "success" in terms of market share or sales figures. J.Ja

nowagil
nowagil

I intentionally twisted your statement "Microsoft's most successful beta program ever" a bit. Even if Microsoft was able to put Windows 7 phones "in front of millions of users" the ultimate gauge for "success" is whether a majority, or at least a noticable portion, of the market found it compelling. Which obviously was NOT the case. Market surveys rate WP7 below 1% of marketshare.

Justin James
Justin James

"Under the hood" WP7 is Windows Mobile, in terms of the base OS that interacts with the hardware. What makes it WP7 is the entire UI replacing the old Windows Mobile UI and the new development model. Basically, WP7 is a container within Windows Mobile. The WP7 UI definitely does not scale well. It's not a screen size issue, it's an input style issue. It's simply too dependent upon touch. In the current Windows 8 developer preview, you feel this all the time, things designed for touch but the mouse just is not the correct substitute. Luckily, they have a lot of time to sort this out and get it right. J.Ja

nowagil
nowagil

some overhaul would have made it much better than iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7. "Getting it right" is all I am talking about. "right" means "meeting the needs of the users". Windows Phone 7 failed in this regard - though it is considered a good solution for its proper environment, i. e. smart phones. How can one expect that scaling it up to an environment whith totally different use cases would be a bigger success? Don't get me wrong: I am not lobbying against trying new things. Disruptive innovation is a must at times. And Micrsoft had been too weak in this area over the last years. Yet Windows 8, in its current state, seems just inadequate from the outset.

Justin James
Justin James

While Microsoft may have been a bit disappointed with the sales numbers, the folks at and around Microsoft that I've talked to in private conversations have all expressed the idea that sales are less important right now than "getting it right" so they can build long term. Remember, Windows Mobile pushed their competitors to the brink, but just because it was a "success" doesn't mean it was any good, and as a result, it was VERY vulnerable when better things came along. Look at Android's sales curve... at 1 year on the market, by all accounts it was a flop, a year later and it was steamrolling everyone. In Android's case, it took the right "must have" hardware (the original Droid) to kickstart it. J.Ja

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

WordPerfect jumped from version 5 to version 7?

xmetal
xmetal

I thought WordPerfect when I saw the title too, and was confused for a second (just a second though, as I knew they had released version 12 at least and it wouldn't make sense for Microsoft's Windows division to learn from version 7, or a desktop application, or would it? sucked me in).

Justin James
Justin James

... , but it's easy to miss, it's right under "Join the conversation!", you can subscribe via RSS or email alerts. J.Ja

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You're right, it's very easy to miss, especially compared to the 'Alert me...' checkbox. You presented a couple of real paradigm changing positions. Like you, I'm very interested in what the next Office will look like. I've been wondering about that since I saw W8.

Rayyanahmed
Rayyanahmed like.author.displayName 1 Like

That seems good. That's what exactly I thought was going to be. An opportunity that Microsoft needs to seize.