Microsoft Talks Windows 8, MS Developers Freak Out

Developers are in a tizzy over Microsoft’s Windows 8 demo at D9 (ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch). Although I don’t care much about .NET/Silverlight development, I do like a good tizzy.

To make a long story short, Windows 8 will run in two modes. The new gee-whiz mode is a version of the Windows Phone 7 tiles UI, which is touch and tablet friendly. Then there’s a “classic” mode1, which is plain old Windows that aside from a few gradients hasn’t changed much in UX terms since Windows NT.

What got MS devs up in a tizzy is this: the new UI for Windows 8 will be HTML5 and JavaScript. Narry a mention of .NET, WPF, or Silverlight2.

I can see why developers are up in a tizzy. .NET/Silverlight developers have a lot of their lives and livelihoods tied to Windows, and it isn’t like MS has been gently pushing them away from what they’re using and toward HTML5/JS development. Although there have been hints of this coming (IE9’s hardware acceleration/HTML5/fast JS engine, Bob Muglia’s disastrous Silverlight strategy shift, etc.), there has been a lot of let’s-make-everybody-happy tap dancing from Redmond. Investing all of your skills in tools that are dependent on a single platform you have absolutely no control over can make one prone to panic when the sands start to shift.

But I think this is a good move for Microsoft. Picking a standard, approachable development environment is smart, they need to get rid of mountains of technical debt and refresh their platform, and they’ve been losing ground on phones and tablets (i.e. really big phones). The big selling point for Windows is it (mostly) works. With the way people approach computers changing, a resurgent Apple and an exploding Android, I don’t think that’s going to cut it anymore.

Plus, this could all amount to nothing. Microsoft might come up with a way for Silverlight/.NET to be a first class citizen on the new Windows 8 UI. After all, we all know what Balmer’s mantra is3:

I’ve said before people should stick a fork in Silverlight development, particularly for GIS. I think the proverbial fork for .NET is a long, long way off. But if I didn’t have any investment in .NET, would I start now? It’s a tougher call than it used to be.

1 When you see a term like “classic mode” in this context, it should resonate in your head as “an emulator for all of that old crap we have to support”.
2 Apparently the Silverlight Demo at D9 included 20 long minutes of rotating a house in 3D, followed by showing off the Blue Angels site, which uses Flash (doh!). Not looking good for Silverlight.
3 Yes, this man is in charge of almost 90% of the world’s desktop operating systems.