Wednesday 7 September 2011

Microsoft’s Build Windows Conference is Next Week – What’s in Store?

It’s less than a week to go until Microsoft’s Build conference. According to tradition, about now I should be speculating on what the future holds for us faithful Microsoft developers. But there’s still no official session list. Fortunately, we do have a few official hints, and a couple of very unofficial leaks to whet our appetites for what’s in store.

Windows 8

Read the Build homepage, and you’ll see that the conference is focused very clearly on Windows 8. We’ve already had a preview of the new touch-centric, Windows Phone 7-like UI. And over on the Building 8 blog, Steven Sinofsky and others on the Windows team have started announcing some of the to-be-expected features like USB 3.0 support.

Here are some of the other things that we know already:

And now comes the controversial part. Those of you who have not entirely delegated their memories to Google will recall that when Microsoft first showed the new Metro desktop for Windows 8, they announced that developers would be able to use HTML5 and JavaScript for building these new-fangled immersive apps. But they said nothing about the presence of .Net, WPF or Silverlight in this brave new world, stirring up an instant furore in the blogosphere.

But there’s no need to panic. It’s all under control. I think.

Direct UI

This is where we turn to the leaks. Leaked Windows 8 builds, that is.

According to Peter Bright over on Ars Technica, Microsoft are creating a new Windows Runtime (or WinRT), which is intended to be the successor to the Win32 API. It will be a native-code API, but shaped in a way that is pleasing to the eye of a managed-code developer, and what is more, said .Net developers will be able to access WinRT through a new (hopefully painless) version of COM for which support is being built into .Net 4.5.

Included in WinRT is a new UI framework called Direct UI which appears to be a lean-and-mean version of WPF/Silverlight (and also uses XAML – remember how part of the XAML team got moved to the Windows division!). With the official details coming out in less than a week, there’s little point on me elaborating further here, but you can get a taster of the new APIs by reading these two forum threads which dissect some of the leaked Windows 8 builds.

What I look forward to hearing is where WPF fits into the picture. One thing we know with a high degree of confidence, given Microsoft’s backwards-compatibility track record: current WPF applications will continue to work. The question is: will there be further development to WPF? As I reported last year, we know there are some new features coming, including fixing the airspace issues when hosting Hwnds inside WPF controls, and enabling hosting of Silverlight controls. But will there be anything beyond that? And will there be interop between WPF and Direct UI? Watch this space.


Remember that Microsoft stirred up another firestorm at PDC 2010 by staying mum about Silverlight? They put that right a few weeks later by announcing Silverlight 5, which was quite distinctly not a maintenance release, since it included a whole raft of new features like a 3d API, vector printing support, and P/Invoke for Trusted Applications. They’ve now made good on that, with the Silverlight 5 Release Candidate coming out just last week. It will be interesting to learn Microsoft’s vision for how Silverlight, WPF and Direct UI align.

C# 5.0

We already know the headline feature for C# 5: asynchronous methods. We’ve had a CTP. Here’s hoping for a beta release during the conference. One thing Anders did say at his talk last year is that async won’t be the only new feature in C# 5.0. So I wonder what else he has up his sleeves? It would be nice if it was the Roslyn project (Compiler as a Service).

Visual Studio

It sounds like Microsoft are preparing to release a new preview build of Visual Studio at Build. Many of the features that were previously released as PowerToys for VS 2010 are going to part of vNext. But the more interesting news to me is that Microsoft have been taking note of data coming back from PerfWatson to make some big performance improvements. Visual Studio vNext is going to make more use of multi-core machines, and will reduce memory usage in some cases by doing builds out-of-process for C# projects.

Stay Tuned

My new boss has kindly given me some time next week to follow the Build conference from the comfort of my office. And as in previous years, I’ll be reporting back the choicest titbits as I find them. Follow me on twitter to hear it as it happens.

Now, over to you. What are you looking forward to? Have you heard any rumours that I’ve not picked up on?


Jeff Ratcliff said...

I'd say there is a controversy in your list before you got to .Net. Microsoft seems to be following Apple's lead in trying to merge the desktop and mobile experience. Given Apple's tiny share of the desktop market and large share of the mobile market, this strategy has some merit. On the other hand, compromising the desktop experience for a mobile market that they may or may not thrive in is a very risky move for Microsoft. 

There's no reason why embracing mobile should involve compromising the desktop.

Samuel Jack said...

When you talk about "compromising the desktop experience for a mobile market", are you getting at the inclusion of the new Metro interface, or something else? 

I don't know enough to form a real opinion here, but from what I gather, the Metro interface is all about adding capabilities to Windows that some users will in use in some circumstances or on some form factors, rather than taking anything away from the rest of us.

Jeff Ratcliff said...

I was primarily referring to Metro, but the basic principle is that you can't optimize the experience for both the desktop and mobile with a single solution.

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