Developers, developers, developers! But WILL they support Windows 10?

HoloLens is sexy, but Microsoft faces a battle to win devs' hearts and minds

Analysis Microsoft has revealed more of its plans for Windows 10, with full release expected towards the end of 2015. The press event focused on eye-catching features like HoloLens, a virtual reality and augmented reality headset, but what really counts is this: will Windows 10 attract developers back to the Windows platform?

Windows remains firmly embedded in business, but the version in use is predominantly Windows 7, making the Store app platform introduced in Windows 8 irrelevant. The consumer side has not gone well either, probably because most users live in the desktop environment most of the time.

The Windows desktop lives on, of course, and desktop developers can continue as before. There are even a few signs of life in the tools for desktop development, with a team working on new features for Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF).

“WPF is not quite to the done state yet,” according to Director of Program Manager Jay Schmelzer. His language shows Microsoft’s perspective on this: desktop development will be supported forever, but it is not the strategic direction.

The developer attention Microsoft really wants is for “universal apps”, apps which with only minor modifications can run on PCs, tablets, smartphones and even Xbox One. “We are going to help developers find their next billion customers with Windows 10,” said executive VP Terry Myerson.

In this respect Windows 10 is no different from Windows 8, when Microsoft attempted to kick-start an app ecosystem based on touch-friendly apps installed from the Windows Store. Back then such apps ran only on Windows 8.

The Windows Store: improving, but far short of what Microsoft needs.

Microsoft botched the launch of the Windows Store. Even the first-party Store apps were not great, especially the first iteration of the Mail client. Third-party support was even worse, and the company responded will ill-conceived campaigns to pump up app numbers by rewarding developers for submitting trivial apps, clone apps, and other such junk with campaigns like “Keep The Cash".

The Keep the Cash app campaign

The ill-advised Keep the Cash campaign

The real issue though was that developers could target all Windows users with a desktop or web app, or a small subset with a Store app. That was a no-brainer.

It is a shame in some respects as Store apps do have advantages. They are usable on tablets, unlike most desktop apps, and they run in a sandboxed environment with limited access to the file system or to other apps. Store deployment is easier than traditional Windows setup routines, both for installation and removal. If Microsoft could get to the point where most apps were Store apps, then a strategy like locking down the desktop side (as in the ill-fated Windows RT) would make Windows users more secure from malware and adware.

Will it be different in Windows 10? Microsoft has learned from the Windows 8 experience and is doing some things differently. The Windows Store will also be three years old by the time Windows 10 launches, and has improved somewhat. The junk is less visible, there are apps from well-known names including Facebook, Netflix, Dropbox, Adobe and Amazon, and if you are looking for a casual game or a common utility you will probably find what you need, even though when compared to the Android or iOS stores it remains a sad and lonely place.

A key change in Windows 10 is that Store apps run in desktop windows, avoiding the jarring discontinuity between the desktop and tablet environments. Microsoft must hope that users perceive them simply as Windows apps. Another advantage is the newly unified store, which lets users purchase an app once and install on both phone and PC. On the technical side, .NET Native compilation means that universal apps written with C# compile to true native code, giving faster app start-up than was possible when Windows 8 was launched.

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