Saturday, June 04, 2011

Fear, Uncertainty and .Net

[Update: Mary Jo Foley has posted a blog entry saying that her sources are saying that .Net will be available for immersive Windows 8 development. If true, it'd be nice if Microsoft would actually come out and say that.]

Microsoft demoed the tablet application framework for Windows 8 development Thursday. Going forward, traditional apps written in C++, .Net and other legacy technologies will be available to tablet users but utterly painful to use while away from one's keyboard and mouse. You could see a bit of that in the conference video where the presenter fumbles several times trying to snap Excel's document window into place. Old apps are going to be dreaded while in tablet mode. People will need new applications, and combined with the new application store, some developer is going to make a bundle on a touchable version of Notepad.

Flashy new apps were presented written in HTML 5 and Javascript. The interface might look like the Window's Phone 7 Metro UI, but this is not the Silverlight based technology beloved by C# coders. Pure web technologies with no plugins have been embraced by Microsoft, and this is strange and unexpected to me as an observer.

Why is this strange?

One. Microsoft developers are going to go through Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, but mainly anger if this is true. .Net programmers believe they have the best tools, language and framework—as odd as Cocoa programmers might find that belief—they really do. They also tend to have a distain for dynamic languages like Javascript, especially Javascript with it's odd object model, and not quite C syntax. And they've spent the last years mastering the C# language and the massively large .Net frameworks. Any platform company gets its strength from its developer community and this just seems gratuitously hurtful. Finally, they expected to be part of a gold rush to fill both a new Microsoft Windows application store, and custom development orders for the new platform.

Two. It is my impression that Javascript is not an appropriate language for large app design—although I could be convinced otherwise. It's possible that the Javascript part was what was working, and it would be appropriate for lightweight widget like applications like weather apps, twitter feeds, etc. At a later date, Microsoft could add support for other frameworks. This would be the same path as Apple took with the iPhone—web development first followed by native development.

Three. It is conversely and perversely possible that is .Net itself that doesn't scale well in performance at least, and wasn't up to the task of being scaled up from a little phone screen to 30 inch monitors, at least in how Microsoft's OS team would have used it. Presumably, if Microsoft could have released a version of Office built off the .Net framework, they would have. I've had some tangential experience with .Net and complicated renderings, and it hasn't been good, but I'd always assumed things would work out given time to optimize.

Fourth. It is unlike Microsoft, to want their developers to use easily portable technologies. To the extent Windows 8 Javascript and HTML5 isn't littered with calls to Microsoft extensions and framework, will be an indication of a surprising lack of strength on Microsoft's part to convince developers to make unhedged bets on Windows.

As I said perplexing.

And frustrating for anyone seeking to use a base of code across a range of platforms. At one time, a story was building up that you could write a chunk of code in C#, and execute it on the Mac and Linux via Mono, on Java platforms via a code translator, on Android via either Xamarin's .Net framework or a Java translator, on iOS via Xamarin, on Windows Phone 7 via Silverlight, and Windows 8 tablet via either SIlverlight or extensions to .Net. Maybe it wouldn't run well, and wouldn't compete with natively developed apps, but the story was there for project managers to believe. And now that story is sounding iffy.

This might just be a miscommunication. It seems insane for Microsoft to take such an odd route. Maybe when the whole story comes out, JavaScript+HTML5 is just a presentation layer and the bulk of an app will be written in .Net., maybe they just don't have the .Net code ready to demo. But whatever it is, Microsoft owes it to its developers to let them know now, because they can't afford to wait to choose technologies.