Microsoft enlists Apache to help Windows devs build hybrid mobile apps
Cordova tools for Visual Studio can target Android, iOS
TechEd 2014 At its annual TechEd North America conference in Houston, Texas on Monday, Microsoft doubled down on its promise to help developers build cross-platform mobile apps by announcing preliminary support for creating HTML-based hybrid apps within Visual Studio.
The preview tools have been given the lofty-sounding name "Multi-Device Hybrid Apps for Visual Studio 2013 CTP," but Redmond is making no secret that they're actually based on Apache Cordova, the open source development toolkit that's also distributed by Adobe under the name PhoneGap.
For testing apps, Microsoft has integrated VS2013 with Apache Ripple, which lets you simulate mobile apps in a web browser without installing them on a device. You can even connect Ripple to the Visual Studio debugger to manage breakpoints.
There is also preliminary support for debugging apps running on devices or in emulators, but so far only for Android 4.4 "KitKat" and Windows Store apps. You can see console messages for apps running on earlier Android versions in the Output window, but currently there's no in-IDE support for debugging apps on iOS or (perplexingly) Windows Phone. Microsoft has provided another tool, however, that allows for limited iOS debugging capabilities in Safari on OS X.
This release marks the second time Redmond has turned to open source to help Windows devs create cross-platform mobile apps. The first was when it announced a broad partnership with Xamarin, makers of tools that take advantage of the open source Mono project to allow developers to write native apps for iOS and Android in C#.
While Xamarin's tools are pricey commercial products, however – the "Business Edition" that includes Visual Studio support retails for $999 – Microsoft's tools for hybrid apps are a free download, at least for now.
Unfortunately, to an extent you get what you pay for. As a pre-beta release, this Community Technology Preview release comes with a long list of known issues and limitations. Expect a bumpy ride without much direct support from Microsoft; Redmond advises users with questions about the tools to post them to the public developer Q&A forum StackOverflow. ®