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Programmers are still ambivalent towards Windows 8, according to a new poll, piling pressure on Microsoft to win them over before it is too late.

The survey found that although developers are optimistic about Redmond's promise to ensure that code written for Windows 8 will work across desktops, tablets and smartphones, there is "significant doubt that Microsoft can actually accomplish this difficult task and gain the market share required to make it a relevant mobile platform".

The findings, gathered from the opinions of about 5,000 mobile software engineers, emerge practically on the eve of Microsoft's Windows 8 launch.

The new operating system's “shared development capabilities” and "single development environment" for building apps for slabs and desktops were welcomed by programmers, who compared that to the fragmentation in Google's Android world.

But holding a strong market share is crucial for Microsoft and its rivals, according to the survey by market research biz IDC and Appcelerator, which develops cross-platform tools for desktop and mobile.

In the pair's third-quarter study, 53 per cent of app makers quizzed said a large install base is their number-one criterion when picking a platform to write for.

With that in mind, Apple’s iOS for iPhone and iPad continues to be the top pick for developers - 85 and 83 per cent of those polled fancy those devices, respectively - followed by Android phones and tablets in third and fourth place - 76 and 66 per cent, respectively.

IDC-Appcelerator stated in their report: “This indicates that Windows 8 will take time to catch up, given its low penetration in the installed base of devices. Thus, the first task for Microsoft will be to garner significant device sales so as to support a vibrant ecosystem like those Apple and Google have engendered.”

The low cost of devices and, oddly, “revenue potential” came second and third place on app makers' minds when picking a platform. A third of those surveyed said they are interested in building for Windows 8 tablets, compared to 21 per cent for Windows Phone 7.

According to the poll, it’s not rave reviews of products that have drawn programmers to building for the Windows-8-powered Surface laptop-cum-tablets, but rather the promise by Microsoft to aid cross-platform software development.

“We believe this reflects the continuing issues that developers face in supporting so many platforms, so many interaction mediums, and so many different ways that end users will consume an application,” the report writers note.

They described app makers as “cautiously optimistic” that Microsoft could develop what it calls a “single development environment”. But as Reg regular Tim Anderson points out, it’s not very clear what’s meant by Redmond's "single development environment".

Anderson wrote: “It could be about code sharing between desktop applications and Windows Runtime (WinRT) apps. It could be about the ability to run WinRT apps on the desktop as well as the tablet. It could be about Visual Studio and its ability to target multiple Windows platforms.”

With the clock counting down to the big Windows 8 launch, Microsoft needs to get a wriggle on and woo software builders as soon as possible.

“Microsoft has to deliver a strong showing right out of the gate," the report concludes. "With its reduced market share position and falling interest in the Windows phone platform, developers are unlikely to tolerate any missteps.” ®

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