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Microsoft opens Windows Phone 8 dev kit to world+dog

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Build 2012 Microsoft has officially launched the software development kit (SDK) for Windows Phone 8, delivering the final piece of what the company says is a common programming model across all of its latest OS platforms and devices.

"As you can see, we're combining an array of hardware, tools, and technology to deliver a fundamentally reimagined Windows platform," Kevin Gallo, Microsoft's director of program management for Windows Phone, said during his Tuesday keynote at the company's annual Build developer conference in Redmond.

Previously, Redmond had been unusually secretive about the developer tools for its latest smartphone platform, offering the kit only to a limited group of established developers as part of a closed preview program.

Microsoft had justified its clandestine approach by explaining that not all of WP8's features had been publicly announced when the preview SDK became available. Now that Phone 8 has been officially launched, however, there was presumably little reason to conceal the tools from the wider developer community any longer.

Gallo said that along the way, Microsoft asked for input on what coders wanted to see in the Windows Phone development platform. With the public release of the SDK, he said, Redmond has delivered at least 90 per cent of what they asked for.

The SDK, which was made available on Tuesday, is roughly a 1.6GB download, and it requires a 64-bit version of Windows 8 to run. It bundles a version of Microsoft's free Visual Studio Express 2012 IDE tailored specifically for WP8, plus a free version of the Blend 2012 UI design tool, though it can also integrate with tools from the full Visual Studio 2012 Professional Suite.

The kit also includes a selection of Windows Phone emulators based on Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization technology. To use these components, however, developers will need machines based on processors that support Second Level Address Translation (SLAT), which generally means AMD Opteron and Intel Core processors released in 2007 or later.

Developers don't strictly need the emulators to build apps using the SDK, but without them, the only way to deploy and test their apps will be to use an actual Windows Phone.

During his keynote presentation, Gallo explained that in addition to the much-discussed HTML5/JavaScript and XAML/C# app development models, the WP8 SDK also supports native C++ code and Direct3D-based hardware acceleration for high-performance applications – games, in particular.

"Over 75 per cent of the top-grossing apps are games," Gallo said. "With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft now has a common gaming platform across the entire Windows family."

Gallo explained that the common development platform Redmond has built across its various properties makes it easy to reuse code originally written for other platforms in apps for Windows Phone 8.

To demonstrate, he showed off an app built using code from a years-old third-party C++ library. The app package consisted of three Visual Studio projects. Two were frontend UIs; one for Windows 8 and one for Windows Phone 8. The third was a shared code library that contained the code for all the essential functions of the app, and that could be used to build a version for either platform.

As a further incentive to get developers on board, Gallo said Microsoft is slashing the fee for individual developers to register a Windows Phone Dev Center account from $99 to $8 for the next eight days only.

Whether the new SDK and the reduced fee will be enough to entice mobile developers to jump ship from other platforms is questionable, however. In many ways, Windows Phone 8 is the riskiest piece in Microsoft's new, more unified OS push, with earlier versions of the Windows Phone platform having failed to win many converts.

Still, in his own Build keynote on Tuesday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was adamant that the latest incarnation of the company's smartphone OS wouldn't stumble in the market the way earlier versions had, owing to its close ties to Windows 8.

"If you want the best experience with your new Windows computer – the best experience – you'll own a Windows Phone," Ballmer said. "If you want the experience that is most personal, you will buy a Windows Phone." ®

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