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Windows 8 Presents Challenges For Developers

Posted on November 30th, 2012

Windows 8 Application DevelopmentWindows 8 launched last month with eye towards the future.

Stalling PC sales and the rise of the tablet forced Microsoft to eliminate the traditional desktop in favor of a touch-friendly, mobile UX design. Gone is the Start button and icons. Arrived is the Start screen and tiles.

With the new mobile touch-screen like interface, Microsoft is pleading with developers to create quality apps for the Windows 8 store. As of last week, the store has over 20,000 available apps. Compare this to the 700,000 and 675,000 for Apple and Google respectively and Microsoft has some work to do. They have invested heavily hoping to reach 100,000 in the first 3 months.

The new interface has presented challenges to developers. Windows 8 is the biggest change we’ve seen in the Windows development model since the move from version 3.X to 95. It has its positives – developers can continue to use their existing skills, whether that is C/C++, C# or Visual Basic, or HTML and JavaScript. But it poses some big challenges that will force developers to adapt.

Back at Square One

If you want your applications to be fully compatible with Windows 8 including running on ARM, you’ll need to do a full rewrite in Windows 8/WinRT. From a business aspect, this is going to cost money. A complete rewrite of an application is going to take time and with time comes higher cost. So you’re either back at square one with recreating the app or you simply don’t create one for Windows 8 until it will actually improve your ROI. Not good news for Microsoft’s attempt at being the largest app store around.

Touch UI and Beyond

The new touch interaction style of Windows 8 on a desktop has made things tricky. Mobile app developers will make this transition with relative ease having worked with touch UI before. But for the rest of the desktop development community, it’s going to be tough.

Making things difficult is creating an app that will work the same using a mouse and keyboard as it does with touch. Often what works well with touch does not work as well on the screen with a mouse and keyboard and vice versa. It’s balancing act – what once was coding with only clicks and keystrokes in mind now includes a world of touch and interaction.

Playing by Microsoft’s app store rules

Play by the Microsoft app store rules or else. Their rules are pretty reasonable, but strict when it comes to the inspection of all apps. The evaluation process includes everything from unhandled exceptions to circular UI paths. While definitely not a bad thing to ensure quality, it does come as a challenge to developers.

Consider the story of Jeffrey Harmon, a long-time windows developer. After winning a Microsoft app contest, he began the process of submitting his app Memorylage for store approval. That was in August.

After receiving his first failure report, Harmon started implementing fixes to remedy the situation. Six submissions later and a failure report for each one, he was ready to give up. “I still don’t know what is causing the failure,” he notes.

Harmon finally got his app approved a few weeks ago at the end of October. The issue wasn’t so much of the store-review process being difficult, but the vague nature of the failure reports. “Everyone at Microsoft that actually looked at the program has said it should pass, and it even made it into a technician’s personal test store. I can’t fix a bug that no one can find.”

He still remains an enthusiastic Windows 8 developer. The approval process was a bump in the road and will be a challenge for those submitting apps in the future.

On the Flip Side

While there are many challenges with Windows revolutionary new interface, there is plenty to cheer about. The Windows 8 SDK is flexible and very powerful. Its versatility makes creating apps for the platform much easier if you grew up on C++ or C#.

Microsoft’s backbone for Windows 8 development may be its support infrastructure. Visual Studio 2012 makes creating Windows 8 app easier with great debugging tools.  Programs like BizSpark and DreamSpark offer developer software tools free for startups and students, expediting the learning process. The Windows App Development Center has endless amounts of documentation.

Challenges for software developers are plentiful but it appears to be short-term. Microsoft has itself positioned to teach developers the skills to create quality apps to put their app store on par with Apple and Google. It may take a while but patience is a virtue.

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