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 Monday, 24 October 2011
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At Visual Studio Live! last week I used some slides that several of us at Magenic have been working on to provide clarity around the “Windows 8” development platform, based on what we know from //Build/ 2011. I wanted to share some of these slides here.

We’re also working on a related white paper that will be online soon, and I’ll link to that when it is available.

First, is the obligatory Microsoft “boxology” diagram that generated so much controversy due to its over-simplistic design:

image

Although this diagram is usually found to be lacking, it did set the standard for the green/blue color scheme and overall layout of everyone else’s “boxology” diagrams – including ours.

Magenic Windows 8 Diagram

Here is the Magenic diagram that provides more detail and clarity:

image

Win32 (blue) is the existing Windows operating system API, and it shouldn’t be surprising that it supports existing technologies.

WinRT (green) is the new Windows operating system API, that I suspect will replace Win32 over a period of many, many years. In my mind this is absolutely necessary. Win32 is more than 16 years old, and just doesn’t provide the capabilities we want in a modern operating system. Hopefully the new WinRT API will provide these capabilities, and will last for another 15+ years.

The idea in the Magenic diagram is to clearly show the WinRT (Metro, green) and Win32 (desktop, blue) sides of the Windows 8 platform, and the various development technology stacks that can be used to build software for each operating system API.

To provide even more clarity, we have a series of highlight diagrams for various technology stacks.

The Desktop (blue)

I’ll start by walking through all the technology stacks on the desktop (blue) side of the master diagram:

  • Silverlight
  • WPF
  • Web sites with plugins
  • Web sites with pure HTML/js
  • Windows Forms
  • C++, MFC, ATL

Each technology maps directly from today into Windows 8.

Silverlight

image

Silverlight runs in Win8 in the desktop browser, and out of browser, just like it does today on Win7.

WPF

image

WPF runs in the Win8 desktop just like it does today in Win7.

Web sites with plugin support

image

Today’s web sites that use HTML, js, Flash, Silverlight, ActiveX, and other common web technologies all run in the desktop web browser. This is the same as web sites work today in Win7.

Web sites with pure HTML/js

image

If a web site only uses HTML, CSS, and js, then it can run in the WinRT and desktop browsers interchangeably. Microsoft clearly expects this type of web site to become more common over time, though it is interesting that a large number of existing Microsoft web sites are really only useful in the desktop browser.

Windows Forms

image

Windows Forms continues to run in Windows 8 on the desktop, just like it does in Win7. This isn’t surprising, given that Windows Forms is almost certainly still the dominant technology for building Windows smart client applications, even though the technology hasn’t had anything beyond bug fixes since 2005. It goes to show how stability in a platform is important, and attracts widespread use for business development.

C++, MFC, ATL

image

Although little business development is done with C++ anymore, this technology remains relevant for game developers, OS and device driver developers, and every now and then I encounter someone using it for business development. From my perspective, the important thing about C++ support is that my favorite games will probably continue to run on Win8 in the desktop.

WinRT (green)

Next, I’ll walk through the three technologies that support the WinRT API:

  • WinRT .NET
  • WinRT HTML 5
  • WinRT C++

Each technology draws from existing technologies by the same names, but in each case there’s a little “twist” as you move from the Win32 to the WinRT platform.

WinRT .NET and XAML

image

I expect this to be the most widely used technology stack for building WinRT applications. The .NET available to WinRT applications is (I think) best thought of as being like .NET on the Windows Phone. It is basically the Silverlight subset of .NET, plus a bunch of WinRT-specific features and capabilities. The differences between Silverlight and WinRT are a bit more dramatic than with WP7, but the analogy remains quite accurate.

The XAML is very close to Silverlight and WPF, and the types of code you can write using C# and VB are very comparable to what you can write today using Silverlight.

As a preview: the white paper we’re creating at Magenic ultimately concludes that using Silverlight today provides the easiest transition to WinRT in the future. Not seamless or trivial, but practical. We also conclude that WPF can enable a WinRT transition too – especially if you limit your use of WPF and .NET to the Silverlight subset of behaviors and features.

WinRT HTML 5

image

Microsoft has made much of the HTML 5 technology stack for building WinRT applications. In no way are we talking about web sites, web pages, or web applications here. This is smart client development done using technologies that were previously web-focused.

For a .NET developer, the technologies map like this:

  • HTML instead of XAML
  • JavaScript instead of C#
  • WinJS instead of the .NET BCL

In my conversations with traditional web developers, it is a brain-bending moment when I point out that there is no web server involved, and so no server-side code at all here. All the stuff that is done in ASP.NET or PHP is now done in JavaScript. From an architecture, design, and application functionality perspective, a WinRT HTML 5 app is almost, but not completely, unlike a web app.

On the positive side, if a web developer can learn and embrace the smart client architectural model, their skills with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript will carry over to this new platform. Some HTML and CSS assets, and perhaps some js assets, will carry from web development into this type of smart client development as well.

WinRT C++

image

Finally, C++ remains relevant on WinRT as well. This should come as no surprise, given that the Windows OS developers primarily use C++, and there’ll hopefully be games and other applications that are traditionally created using this technology.

I also suspect that Objective C apps will port to WinRT more directly through C++ than with C# or js, and (at least for my part) I hope that some of the existing iPad/iPhone apps quickly make their way onto WinRT so I can enjoy them.

Summary

Through this series of diagrams, we clearly show how today’s technologies map directly into the Win8 desktop world, still running on the Win32 API. And we show the three technology stacks that enable development of applications on the new WinRT API.

From everything we know today, it seems clear that migrating to WinRT will require effort, regardless of the technology used today, or in the Win8 desktop. Of all existing technologies, Silverlight and then WPF appear to offer the easiest migration. HTML 5, css, and js skills, along with some code assets will also migrate, but there’s a non-trivial architectural difference between web development and smart client development that shouldn’t be overlooked.

As Microsoft releases updates to the Win8 preview and moves into a beta process, I’m sure that we’ll learn more about the platform and how existing technologies map into the future. It will be interesting to see how we need to update these diagrams as Microsoft provides more information over time.

Windows 8 is exciting, and the new WinRT platform is long-overdue. I look forward to building WinRT applications in the not-to-distant future!

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